A first Avon route… Mike’s Mistake.

I’ll be showing my age by telling you that this was one of the first routes I climbed in Avon back in July 1984, though the route was already 28 years old, more mature than I was for sure.

I don’t remember much about that first visit to Avon except it was a baking hot summer weekend, the foot of Main Area was then shaded by big ash trees, lovely and cool. I was elated by climbing on a new cliff, it was a time for classic routes and exploring new arenas. We climbed Sinister and Petros that day too, guided by Pat Littlejohns now classic South West Climbs. My top grade was HVS at the time, Mikes Mistake was described as VS and Littlejohn combined it with Pink Wall Traverse – a very fine expedition indeed.

Nowadays with the loss of holds and increasing fear the route is graded E1, a grade well felt by most although some Avon slab devotees may find it easy! It has all the hallmarks of a class Avon route; slabby balancy climbing requiring footwork rather than climbing wall brawn, route finding interest though the overused ‘chronic lack of line’ doesn’t quite apply – subtlety being the key to success, smoothed holds and a bold feel with peg protection.

Setting off up the middle of the slab isn’t too bad except for wondering whether you are heading in the right direction, slightly polished holds show that you’re on route. You reach the first overhang, welcome cams shout out before stepping up left onto the pedestal. Subtle moves up and back right take you into the groove, good wires on the left then a new peg protects the crux. You feel around upwards and suddenly decent holds disappear, what’s left feels ever so slippery… Time to look around, moving right on footholds allows balancy nervous upward progress to better holds, past a shallow nut placement then up to a peg on the left. All rather alarming if you were expecting a straightforward ascent!

An interesting wander leftwards and up clears the overhangs and suddenly the slab opens up ahead, utterly devoid of vertical lines but usefully blessed with some good breaks, you set off again nervously, small dimples appear leading up to the now bolted belay of Dawn Walk – the original classic of the gorge and at Severe a fine outing.

During that original weekend I became a convert to Avon climbing and visited many times over the years before eventually settling in to become a local. I learnt early that success on routes here requires a considered approach, taking time to identify potential footholds pays dividends, rushing can lead one down blind alleys.

I’m still curious as to what was Mike Harvey’s mistake in creating such a great route.

Dan Donovan, 26 June 2014

About steve winslow

Chair of the Bristol climbing Scene, Centre Manager of Bloc climbing centre Bristol, Climbing Coaching and Website developer and Coach
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