Friday, 28 December 2012

Ogmore Bouldering.

This article was written some years ago now. Its main focus, the boulder problem ‘Work Hard Canoe Home,’ like many beach boulder problems is no more; consumed by the very elements that created it. Wind, waves and water have turned this wall of limestone into pebbles and sand, dispersed now across the Bristol Channel. The sentiment that prompted the writing of this piece still remains despite the demise of the problem; it points to the fundamental emotions involved in project climbing. It turned out that “Work Hard” was not 7b, more like easy 7a+, but this does not detract from the experience of climbing it. As for Bouldering down at Ogmore, like the rock on its beaches, it has evolved and developed over time and I will highlight some of the developments on this shoreline later.

Owen McShane on the end of Fatneck Special 7b

Obsession by the Sea.

Have you ever got locked into something? A project near your limit, an aesthetic line, or something you’ve just got to do? Boulder problems like these become a personal journey which can tax your mental and physical resources. If you get really obsessed you can open your life to a myriad of potential torments: conditions, strength, skin, and motivation; if any of these are less than perfect you might fail. However you’ll keep on going back because until you’ve done it you won’t really climb well on anything else. It will be there in your subconscious nagging away until it’s done. My climbing life has been littered with such projects, but one really stands out as a tribute to my manic obsessiveness.

Ogmore by Sea.

I’ve been climbing at Ogmore, on the South East coast of Wales, for a long time. I’m actually a Welshman in exile on Merseyside but it won’t be long before I’m a naturalised Scouser, which is no bad thing (after all, I have married one!) Most of my family live in Cardiff, which keeps me grounded Welshside, and leads to many visits to the greatest country on earth. After a bit of research through back issues of old climbing magazines I found out about Hardy’s bay and the Trench at Ogmore. That was six years ago. I fell for the climbing there and have been visiting ever since.
The first time you visit Ogmore you’d think there was no real bouldering here, just a poor limestone conglomerate platform that slopes into the sea. However a walk along the beach at low tide quickly dispels this misconception. The platform has been eroded by our friend the sea to create narrow zawns of perfect bouldering height. The climbing, like its northern cousin Angel Bay, is smooth, hold less and undercut with big frictionless slopers – just how we like it.
The Trench at Ogmore is well known and well documented. An old article in “On the Edge” likened the Trench to “slippery grit by the sea.” I must admit this is a good analogy. There are features to be climbed at this venue, but no real holds until the top. The climbing is technical and brilliant. Grades begin in the fives, and stretch up to 7c (a word of warning though most things here feel hard for the grade). Pebble levels can vary by up to a meter and a half- on one day your problem might be a sit down, the next it’s a jump start!! There are still some unclimbed lines here. Unclimbed lines, now that grabbed your attention didn’t it. Some of these projects are fairly reasonable as most of the climbing in Hardy’s bay area 4 is in the font 5 to 6c grade range, with only the newer lines breaking into the mid 7’s. There is something for everyone here.


My fixation, the object I desired, is also found in Hardy’s Bay. In general the climbing is steadier here and it is closer to the car park yielding a good ‘metres climbed to time spent away’ co-efficient. This is a vital mathematical equation to master when you really should be with your long suffering relatives.
Hardy’s has a great circuit and I got to know it inside out. It was at this point that I deviated from the topo and looked for potential – a dark twist on a beach of white limestone. The point is that the potential is there, especially for those who like impossible mantels with no holds (however I don’t).
The line that got me is obvious; a left to right traverse following one line of weakness for fifteen feet, fully undercut so heel hooks and feet in the same weakness is all you’ve got. All of this is followed by slappy moves on generous slopers up the wall just when you are boxed with fatigue.
In its original state this problem had a block jammed under the overhang near the end providing some respite for the feet and making the slappy moves easy. I sent this original problem in one session- it felt good and in the region of 7a. However, instead of feeling happy with my day out on the beach and celebrating with a few kilos of ice cream I felt cheated - the block needed to be eliminated. I had taken my first step into a dark place.

Work Hard Canoe Home


I went back a few months later and my prayers had been answered! Storms had pushed the block further underneath the overhang and it could no longer be used. The line had become pure and I was about to be locked into climbing it. Step two into the dark pit. The new problem was going to be better but a good deal harder, it would have to be worked – from Liverpool! However that was fine; there are only 200 miles, a family and a fulltime job separating these locations.
On another visit I linked the moves and only had the final slaps left. Step three into the pit. The point of no return on a project – nearly doing it and being sooo close. This is also the point at which excuses for failure can be made; I would talk about damp rock, illness, and stress amongst other things but the problem needed to be sent and I lived so far away. I found myself watching the weather for Cardiff, working out the tide times for Ogmore, looking for reasons to return and try the moves. I don’t remember exactly how many times I went back to try the problem, I just remember the looks of pity on my friend’s faces.

The End is Nigh.

My mother was going backpacking somewhere exotic and mentioned that she needed a coat. So I bought her one and of course time waits for no man- she needed it so I would have to drive it down to her! On the four hour drive to Cardiff on a busy, wintery Friday night I started musing on the pointlessness of it all. What if it did not go this time? What if it rained? I convinced myself that beach bouldering dries quickly because of the salt in the atmosphere! I know I was clutching at straws; all that sea water may have had something to say about my salt theory.
I get to Cardiff at 10, bed by 1, up at 7.30, at the crag by 10, warm up, have a first go, fail and try again. Then suddenly it’s done! All that time invested, working the moves, paying for petrol, making excuses... and it’s done. Do all projects end with an anticlimax? As these thoughts swirl around my brain busily occupied fighting endorphins, doubts, and fatigue, the adrenalin begins to fade. The dark cloud that has enveloped my climbing world begins to dissipate, a grin manically stretches across my face and the name comes to me- Work Hard, Canoe Home. The only problem is that I am alone. I want to tell someone- now!! The old women walking their dogs on the beach just won’t understand.
Now is the time to use my phone (this is the real reason why mobiles were invented) - time to text my mates. I tell them about sending the line, how it felt easy and how life is now very good. The only problem with such instant means of communication across vast distances is that your mates’ suspicions about your sanity are confirmed. In one silly moment of elation people know that you have committed to a seven hour 400 mile round trip to climb a boulder problem no one will ever be interested in, that may even have been climbed before.
“That’s nice” or, “Well done” they text back.
I reckon that deep down they’re just as excited as I am – they just don’t have the words or time to fully express their feelings.

Sequential shots of Hip Hop Paper Boi Scandal 7a+

Recent Developments.

I mentioned earlier that “Work Hard Canoe Home” has gone, in fact a whole wall of problems in that area has disappeared, however Hardy’s Bay at Ogmore remains one of my favourite places to climb. There is something about the quality of the slopers here, steep sit-starts coupled with elements of endurance that draw me back visit after visit. Extensive topos for all of Ogmore’s areas can be found by copy and pasting the following link into the task bar of your browser:

The South Wales bouldering website has lots of good information on Ogmore. The sections of this online guide worth visiting are areas 3, 4, 5, and 6. One problem is that it’s Hardy’s bay section (particularly area 4) is now massively out of date, as it has not kept pace with the erosive forces of the Bristol Channel. To save you time, copy and paste this next link into your browser and it will take you to the relevant page for the remaining, recently and fully developed “Daylight robbery” area of Hardy’s bay:

If you need any more encouragement to visit Ogmore, here are some videos from Kev Hughes’s collection. Kev is probably South Wales most active boulderer- his video topo to Dinas in Glyn Neath is proof of this (there will be more about this later in the year) The videos show problems from the Daylight Robbery section (area 4), and the Pebble Dash area (area 5). Enjoy! – Skinny and Hoobs

Cheers Owen

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