by Mike Coles
Edited by – Richard Hall
The Ramp Challenge was first envisaged by Jonathon “Woody” Woods. Whilst climbing “Tour de France” from the Ramp with his fellow partner-in-crime, Ged Desforges, Woody complained about the lack of big walls to tackle within the Bristol city limits (some people are just never satisfied!). Woody and Ged, not adverse to adventure and long days realised that the lack of an actual big wall did not have to curtail their ambition. They came up with the idea of climbing all of the starred routes that start from the ramp in one session. They thought that this would be great fun and rather a good effort; the idea of the Ramp Challenge was born.
Ollie Benzie on Bold as Love – James Marshall
The Upper Wall of the Unknown Area (The Ramp) is the striking golden band of rock that can be seen above the long rising ledge as you leave Bristol on the Portway. The crag is south facing and sheltered, a suntrap, which makes it a perfect venue for crisp, cold winter days. If you’ve climbed in the Gorge before but not at the Ramp you could be surprised by the style of climbing. It’s quite different from the climbing found on Main and Sea Walls. There is a lot less polish, there aren’t any ledges to fall onto, and it’s not slabby! Now don’t get me wrong, I love climbing at Main Wall and Sea Walls, some of my fondest climbing memories are from adventures I’ve had on these walls. However, it can’t be denied that the Ramp has a different feel to it. The thing that struck me most of all on my first visit was the colour and the quality of the rock. It’s comprised of a hard thin crust of golden quartz-laden limestone with softer sandstone beneath. This provides lots of small, solid crimps and a surprising amount of pockets and pods. Most pitches are between 15 and 20 meters in length, the wall is vertical and most of the routes involve physical, yet technical face climbing. With a lot of the climbs relying on in situ equipment with the odd piece of leader placed protection, it almost has a sport climbing feel to it.
The Ramp was hidden from view until 1977, when a very generous Avon City Council decided to give Bristol’s climbers a new challenge by blasting away the top half of Unknown Buttress. By the end of 1979 the three (cracks) most obvious challenges on the Ramp had been completed and are now established test pieces for the aspiring Avon leader. New Horizons II at E3 5c is a good introduction to climbing on the Ramp. For an added challenge the direct 6a finish is very good. Mirage has the unusual grade of E3 6a/b, it’s not to be underestimated and repels most onsight attempts with gear being tested in one way or another. Perhaps the most famous and sought after route on the Ramp is the last of the three great crack lines to be sent, the aptly named Arms Race E4 5c, it’s superb climbing all the way and a race to beat the pump! During the 70’s and 80’s there was a thriving scene at Avon. The locals were already master technicians, experts at delicate and intricate slab climbing and at running it out above sometimes dubious protection, but the Ramp provided a new challenge that couldn’t be surmounted by technical wizardry alone. The harder routes that leave the sanctuary of the cracks and pods require finger strength and fitness as well as a good head. The majority of the harder routes were quietly ticked off by local Wads in the early to mid 80’s. Without indoor walls, beastmakers and training apps, the only way to get strong was to get out and do some proper climbing! Highlights include; A. Halls’ two E5 6b’s, Lost Illusions and Low Profile, and M. Crockers’ E6 6b Bold as Love, which feels like a pumpy F7c and it was impressively flashed by an on form Ian Vickers in 1993. To my knowledge it has not been flashed or onsighted since. There are quite a few climbers in Bristol that are more than strong enough to repeat this feat, any takers??? Go on youths, leave the plastic for an afternoon and give the onsight a go… it’s free!
Ollie Benzie entering the crux sequence of Bold as Love – James Marshall
The Ramp Challenge
I know that climbers inherently dislike rules, but here we go, it makes it more interesting.
As with big wall climbing you can’t just skip out a pitch willy-nilly so in that vein the routes must be climbed in the order that they appear in the Climbers Club Guide book:
- * Banshee E2 5c (pitch 1)
- * Us E2 5b (pitch 1)
- *** Low Profile E5 6b
- *** Arms Race E4 5c
- ** Mirage E3 6a/b
- ** Bold as Love E6 6b
- ** Lost Illusions E5 6b
- ** New Horizons II E3 5c
- ** Solar Power E5 6b
- * Already Gone E6 6a
- *** Them E3 6a
- ** Tour de France E6 6b (top pitch)
A grand total of 50 E points.
The routes must be climbed in a one day push, no portaledges allowed.
Every route must be climbed clean on lead.
Gear must be placed on lead. However, the person placing the gear can be alternated between routes with the second climber then pulling the ropes and leading the route using the gear placed by their partner.
So far The Ramp Challenge has had attempts from two different teams. Ged Desforges and Charlie Woodburn attempted the challenge first. A very talented and determined team, they just missed out, failing on the last route. If they hadn’t been so relaxed in their initial approach (not turning up until 10.30am) they may well have succeeded. They finished their attempt in the darkness and this combined with fatigue and wet crux holds got the better of them. A great effort chaps, Woody would have loved to see you two trying to climb E6 in the dark, what a fine adventure! Pete Derrett was on hand to capture the action that day and you can see his photos here. Charlie also wrote a brilliant blog entry about their attempt which you can read here.
The other attempt was made by a slightly less talented team (sorry Ollie) comprising of me and Ollie Benzie. We thought that we’d take advantage of the recent cold snap and get an alpine start to avoid Ged and Charlie’s disappointment. We needn’t have worried because we never made it past Bold as Love. In our defence the cold snap had left icicles on Arms Race big enough to sling and use as protection. Although Ollie and I couldn’t feel our fingers and were a little cold we felt this all added to the excitement and it also provided us with a convenient excuse to use when we inevitably failed.
If you’re already familiar with Ramp climbing then you’ll hopefully enjoy the improvements that are in the pipeline with the Avon Gorge Regeneration Project. We plan to introduce bolt belays to the Ramp, which will make lowering off the routes safer and more convenient. If you’re keen to sample the challenges of the Ramp there’s no better time to go. It’s best up there when it’s cold and crisp outside and we certainly can’t complain that it’s not been cold enough of late. Sitting here writing this article has made me keen to give The Ramp Challenge another go, after a winter of training I’m feeling stronger, I just need to regain some fitness. What better way to get it than attempting The Ramp Challenge … that ought to do it! Oh and if you fancy a go at The Ramp Challenge yourself you’d better have a go sooner rather than later, I have it on good authority that the new Avon guide will quite rightly be awarding stars to some of the excellent routes on the Ramp that don’t currently have any. Ramp Challenge is only going to get harder so what are you waiting for?! Hopefully I’ll see you on the Ramp.