Avon Gorge – The VS Challenge

The VS Challenge 

By Dave Talbot


Avon Gorge

Here I am, up here-somewhere cold, somewhere in the Alps. God help me – we started at 2 am and now it’s my lead on pitch 10 or 11, I am not sure. Doesn’t matter anyway I am bloody stuck here, scratching around trying to find that solid feeling hook placement through cruddy snow. Getting tired now but must stay focused, where is that hook? There it is, now don’t get scared just pull like crazy it will be fine, won’t it?
Watch me!! I shout and with all the strength and courage I could muster and I was going upwards away from my gear but closer to the summit and closer to being done, sitting down, drinking tea and being cosy.

Someone…probably someone important that I can’t remember, said that “you can only be brave when you are scared” and this is true. This is especially true when climbing at Avon!!

Suspension Bridge Bristol

Wobbly pegs and wobbly legs are the order of the day here. Yes going indoor climbing gets you strong but here at Avon you gotta have some balls. Thinking about it, you have to have more then that, you need skill. You need a rack too and that can be expensive unless you steal your mate’s? Technique is useful and so are climbing shoes. Especially climbing shoes that can stick on mirror polish that Mr Tesco would be happy fixing his comb over before heading out for lunch with big boy Branson.
Yes that’s right, we have all heard the rumours, ‘Avon’s polished’ but it’s not that bad really and you can always say ‘that’s right you big girl it is, but have you ever climbed at Stoney?’ Anyway, it’s character building. Avon hasn’t got any man eating off-widths or chimneys of doom, so we need a bit of spice, something for the weekend and all that. Something to get your teeth into and tell tales of in the pub. “Snapped that peg off with my hands the other day, yeah E5 now”. That’s all changing by the fantastic work of many and soon all of the routes will have a little scrub up, a touch of paint and a tightening of the loose bolts and holds.

Avon’s great, it’s in Bristol for a start, and Bristol’s great so it just gets better and better. I just want to add this little glint, something to keep you guessing, something hard but do-able, something Alpine!!?? Well maybe not something Alpine but here goes anyway….

The ‘VS challenge’ – it’s Biblicaly brilliant, great for the visiting climber to get to know the different areas and primed for all those that think speed climbing ‘The Gronk’ is easy.
Simple – climb all the 2 star VS’s in the gorge, back to back, with no other transport other than left foot – right foot – repeat, quickly to shave off those all important seconds.

Unknown Wall
The Gronk
Piton Route
Giants Cave Buttress

Some say that ‘Clarion’ might spoil the flow because it’s not a multi-pitch and doesn’t finish at the top but it doesn’t really matter, it’s just a challenge of which there are many.

Clarion Avon Gorge

Firstly there is ‘Unknown Wall’. A fantastic route that weaves around finding reasonable ground and great climbing up an exposed wall. Top out of this one – now you face the biggest test. Do you eat an ice cream from the ice cream van (which will slow you down when speed climbing)? I think it would be fun to add it in for all the teams up to the task of chinning a 99 while descending through the trees to the start of ‘The Gronk’ which is the next route.

I am going to stop at this point and say that I know those people with a hearty merit could solo these routes and blast a time Buzz Light Year would be proud of but I want this challenge to be for everyone and whatever time you clock gets a double thumbs up from me.
I can then add if you would like a benchmark, try doing ‘Unknown Wall’, roped up and in pitches, car to car in under 22 minutes and that is a good pace to be going at for the day.

The Gronk is long and winding and has balancy climbing with much traversing that makes this route hard to go fast on but an absolute Avon classic. After this one heading away from Sea Walls running with gusto and brute (or walking casually eating a kebab, whatever takes your fancy). You will arrive at Main Wall and it’s about time too.

The Gronk – Avon Gorge

Clarion is next on the list – a fine single pitch that climbs with style up the right hand side of Morning Slab to a small forked tree. Descent now is the only option for the speeding climbing teams and sitting on a skate board with a bouncy castle at the bottom is almost certainly the fast way off. Others may choose to abseil.

Cleaning and shining your shoes to a ‘Daz’ clean finish is what you need to do to match some of the footholds on the next route. Piton Route is in the bed-time reading novel ‘Classic Rock’ and because of this popular series this route has seen its fair share of ascents, epics, arguments and entertainment for car drivers clogged on their way to work. This, ladies and gentlemen, is an Avon Gorge slippery slide but its still good and tests your balance and careful placing of your feet. Once at the top deciding how to get to the start of ‘Giants Cave Buttress’ is the next task. If the bouncy castle is still there consider this a quick descent option for achieving a very quick time.

Disclaimer – use of bouncy castles at Main Wall is strictly prohibited and jumping off the top of any rock climb is considered dangerous.

The last route climbs the arete to the observatory tower on the amphitheatre walls next to the iconic suspension bridge. You start with a scramble to get you going, then 2 more pitches that lands you with the ‘move around the arete’ to the surprise of the onlookers standing on the viewing platform. A nipper up the wall and you’re on the top and bravo for finishing.

The View From Giants Cave Buttress

Admire the view and take your breath because you’ve just done something great, something different, something Avon has to offer us, covering some of Avon’s climbing history and soaking up the atmosphere of its different walls. How did you get on?
P.S. Many people I know could get some very fast times at doing this challenge but speed climbing is dangerous and I don’t recommend it and anyway I am a mountaineering instructor and I should teach you how to equalise anchors. Www.davetalbot.net :)

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