On Friday I met up with Dan at Chepstow to search a new line on the Chepstow Castle Crags. It required a boat and I had bought an inflatable a couple of years back, when I lived in Bristol. For what ever reason, after numerous planned days, the boat had still not donned the water. Friday was different and we put in and ferry glided across in fine style to the opposite bank. This was always going to be a muddy undertaking, plans had been made for damage limitation. Our situation was made slightly more serious as the outer (and largest section to out inflatable) hit a stone and quickly de-flayed in a blubbering barrage of bubbles. No matter we thought, the boat still seemed to take the weight, we had brought the hand pump with us and we were now at the right place on the crag side of the bank. It was time to get really muddy.
It was tricky sorting the kit on the filthy banks and getting the thick mud off our feet required fairly drastic action... Dan set off on the first pitch, instantly into a puzzling move right under a small roof, to better holds. This then led further out right into some loose ground. Dan is a loose rock master, so when he shouted down to watch him, I did. He arrived at the belay, I "cleaned" my feet, put on my rock boots and followed in Dan's footsteps. An exciting moment just below the belay past, as a hold I pulled on unexpectedly departed the crag, landing with a wonderful splat into the uniform mud below. Dan informed me when I joined him that the belay was "ok". On personal inspection, I felt less than "ok" and I tried not to put to much weight directly onto it (a difficult task when the tiny, off balance ledge you are lightly standing on is disintegrating into blocks and falling to the bottom of the cliff. I looked up at the following pitch and felt scared. Dan handed me the gear and off I went, slowly. Two rests were taken during my pitch, mainly due to having to clean loose rock, getting stupidly pumped and generally feeling pretty gripped all the way. Even the abseil (a thin prussic loop wrapped round an inch and a half thick sapling, backed up by a small wire thinly berried into the ancient cement between blocks of the battlement wall) made me wobble with imagination.
Back at the mud bottom of our new friend, we returned to our weary vessel. As Dan revived our floating casualty, I did my best to navigate us, against the flow to a probable get out. Below the Old Chepstow Bridge we touched land again, onto exposed foundation blocks and deteriorating timbers. We pointlessly washed ourselves in the brown river before we dragged, squelched and sank up the sucking mud bank, with our boat and gear, to emerge like savages to see normal people, looking at us with unusual glances.
Dan texted me later with a couple of name options for our route, I liked Storm The Battlements. It's difficult to give it a grade (due to the amount of loose rock and veg' that was cleaned) but I would say the first pitch was 5b and the second 5c. Anywhere between E2/3, with the first pitch leaning towards the mind warping XS category. Is this a shit route? No. Is this the kind of route that your average indoor/outdoor bolt clipper will like? No. I would, on the other hand give the experience three stars. X
A little collection of photos at: http://youtu.be/_e-k-1rTDIs