Freedom Fighter

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Scott Muir - 26/01/2006

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Chalk climbing is about as esoteric an offshoot from winter climbing as you could possibly get (after dry tooling in summer). Driven along and explored by the masters of the unusual and scary, Mick Fowler, Chris Watts, Victor Saunders and the connoisseur of Chalk himself, Mr Pete Thornhill. Chalk Cliff climbing has always looked totally mental and the shots portraying these names in the mags such as in Mountain Review and in Garth Hattinghs book 'Extreme Rock and Ice' sell an image few folk have ever taken further, no wonder. In these early ascents and in most cases 'only' ascents, these dudes adopted tactics which are still not entirely clear, but which in the true sense of adventure mostly started from the bottom and mostly topped out, on sight and ground up.

Aleister Crawley first ventured onto this ever eroding surface back in the late 1890's but it wasn't until the late 90's when Gresham, Emmett and the current driving force behind the southern chalk scene Dave Pegler made steps more akin to sport mixed climbing and developed a totally new beast, 'sport chalk' a somewhat more trendy sub sport. Although, no less mental! Sport chalk is a 'loose' description of pre-placed bulldogs, snarg's or other such unreliable warthog like bits of protection wellied into putty consistency chalk, which 'may' hold a fall!

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These activists utilised the chalk at Telescombe (below the Badgers Watch - good pint of Stella) where it forms some steep walls, roofs and caves. This was the perfect venue to train for forthcoming world cup ice events and continental mixed routes whilst at the same time establishing some excellent routes in their own right. Only a few of these original routes remain today (they fell down) at the Pleasure Dome. With similar goals in mind, with new eyes, new strength and new enthusiasm (a must for aspiring chalkster's) Matt Spenceley set about achieving White Wave C10 - a big step forward for this style of Chalk and a route that undoubtedly helped his success in the coming season abroad.

Whilst Matt battered away at the chalk that year, I swung around at the same time in the slightly less sunny destination of Birnam Quarry climbing Too Fast Too Furious D12 with the same goals as Matt in mind, trying to get fit for a stonking mixed season abroad, which it certainly was! This evidence leads easily to the conclusion that without places and styles of climbing similar to Continental Sport Mixed in which to train, it would be difficult to operate at a level high enough to get up even the easiest 'M' Graded routes abroad. Chalk and Dry Tooling Venues like Birnam are essential venues to this end.

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Being totally inspired by all that had gone before and having just read Pegler's update in OTE, I became ever more game for the long pilgrimage south to the sunny Brighton and Eastbourne Coast, Ice Creams, Granny's and souvenirs et al. I was tempted here by the Pleasure dome routes and Matt's White Wave as well as the contrasting the awesome walls at Beachy Head, a cliff line that ends so abruptly it would be easy to come on it and drop 140m without hitting anything until the sea!

As the south coasts premier jumping site (know what I mean) a chaplain has to walk the edge all night, every night talking to prospectors and selling life not death. Attention paid to this unfortunate situation is so close that in second's, climbers trying to enhance there lives through adventure and new experiences by climbing routes on this cliff are SAS style descended upon by the Coastguard, Council, Police and Local Ranger. A heavy-duty group of folk for any climber to deal with! Normally fist-wielding landlords are scary enough, but this is something quite different. Not a second short of pounding in an abseil stake, they arrived mob handed.

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Accused of enhancing the profile of the cliff - other folk might try it and want to do it (don't try this at home stylee). Encouraging suicide attempts, as well as causing irreparable damage with Ice Tools to the cliff surface (vandalism), a surface and material that disappears faster than a five pound note on a Glasgow main street, I was asked to leave before I was reprimanded and charged for something. I felt that my freedom and the ability to experience adventure and make personal choices about my life had been totally compromised and removed. It was the ultimate example of Red Tape and the continued development of a cotton wool society.

So much for the ground up, on-sight advances in chalk climbing then. Disappointed I left Eastbourne Council for the refuge of Brighton and Hove. The BMC have made arrangements for Telescombe and the current situation is cool, with the only worry here, being shagged by a passing nudist / streaker (Ice Axe appears a good deterrent) being caught by the tide (not easy to swim with crampons) and surviving the rapidly decaying insitu protection in the event of a fall. Dave Pegler and team have done really well keeping on top of gear, developing new routes and building an electric scene that operates all year round. He is definitely the man to speak to for current info. He can be found at Pegler's outdoor in the pretty town of Arundel.

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The Thunderdome, a cave just past the established Pleasure dome area offered an unbelievably missed and unclimbed roof section that undoubtedly provides the steepest rock in the area. And so, after an evening's exciting aiding and a near miss with the tides, I had the route rigged and ready to go. The following day I had a quick work through the moves hog to hog and had a short rest before sending it first red-point. It felt of equivalent difficulty to the rock sections of some M10+ abroad and so I gave it C10+. Some of the local grades of already established chalk routes felt a full grade to two grades lower than their continental equivalents. Not being certain of whether they should equate I used the only guide I had which was to bring them all together, C10+ is M10+ or D10+ making comparisons easier. Freedom Fighter C10+ is currently the hardest sport style route on chalk and although it may change / fall down; it is undoubtedly the nature of the beast that chalk is uncertain to the end! One of the most inspiring battles I've seen for years by an on form Kevin Shields, led the same day to the creation of another of the coasts hardest chalk routes 'Something in the Water' C9, a totally brilliant effort.

Chalk is a magical material to work with though - It lives and breathes, being soft on warm, humid or wet days and rock solid on dry, windy and sunny days. It as close to Ice as you can get and is the ultimate medium to train on for Continental or Scottish Ice, The possibilities for on-sight style routes is unlimited and well recommended. The 'C' style sport routes are super exciting give a mega work out and are tremendous for mixed training. The only draw back is the sheer cost, you need a mega rack of Warthogs and Hooks (I bought 40 at crazy expense) if you intend new routing. Otherwise, borrow all your mate's gear, see a blacksmith or get funky with blowtorch and some steel rod.

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