Lower Sharpnose

Lower Sharpnose must rank as one of the most unusual and spectacular climbing venues in the UK. Three parallel fins of rock, unfeasibly thin and seemingly fragile, jut defiantly out of the Atlantic. Canted over at just a few degrees, the sunny south faces enjoy the sun and better rock quality, at the expense of being that little bit more uphill!

It’s easy to spot the rough location of the crag – GCHQ have kindly planted a series of highly visible markers on top

I’d have included a closeup but apparently that would be in contravention of the Official Secrets Act.

Parking nearby, our enthusiasm was dampened by an intense rain shower. Bad memories, of a frustrating and ultimately fruitless wait for rain to stop on a previous visit with Jake, had us pondering alternative venues. However, where else would measure up? And Dave had never visited, so we had to at least go and have a look. Anyway, you skirt the barbed wire and make your way to the coast path, pausing to admire Lundy,

… before dropping down to stumble upon the fins.

We spotted a couple of guys (Michael and Matt?) just topping out on The Smile

… and were surprised to hear that they hadn’t felt a drop of rain! Game on!

The guys had kindly offered the use of their ab rope, and heading down the line of Out of the Blue, the sequence of well-chalked jugs was irresistible, so we geared up and made our way straight back up. It’s a fab route, and one of those that seems easy if you are feeling confident and strong (I know that’s a tautology, but some routes are especially suited to climbing quickly without too much gear, and turn into self-fulfilling suffer-fests if you linger). I topped out just in time to get these shots of Michel on Diamond Smiles:

Here’s Dave following

Inspired by the boys, and the fact that Diamond Smiles also featured on my late 80s post-it note tick-list (see https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2021/04/29/compass-point/) we jumped on there next. There was also a bit of a score to settle as I’d backed off it a few years ago when the lower wall was streaked with seepage. No such problem this time, as the rock was in perfect condition and the run-out bottom 10m passed without incident.

Steady away up to the break of The Smile then a leftwards dog-leg to beneath the (now non-existent) ring peg. Happily the line through the headwall is fairly obvious (and currently well-chalked) and one committing pull gets you established on the road to glory.

I was at the top before I knew it and, to coin a phrase, “not even pumped”. Meanwhile another team were just arriving and Katie shouted over “you made that look easy! – I’ve got a couple of pictures if you want them”. I confessed to being a complete photo-tart and here they are 🙂

Dave was inspired by now, and we rapped in again planning for him to lead The Smile, but fate had other ideas as Katie and her team were already geared up and setting off. From out of nowhere, I heard a voice saying “let’s stick our heads around on the Middle Fin and have a look whilst we wait”… and realised it was mine.

I don’t know how many million years of sedimentary deposits separate the two main fins at Sharpnose, but there are subtle differences in the resulting rock formations. The Middle Fin has a dustier, more friable, and less featured texture and seems to lean over by an extra degree or so. The result is that the entry price is ratcheted up to E4, with Fay and Break on Through both representing absolute classics at the grade. I was in two minds about which one to try, but when I saw that Michael had just finished Pacemaker my mind was suddenly made up, and I dumped the ropes at the bottom. It had quite a reputation when it was first put up, and our 1988 CC guide gave it E6 6b “A magnificent pitch – as good as Lord of the Flies…” It’s now given a more realistic E5 6a, and is probably at the easier end at that, but still represents the upper limits of my pay-grade. However, that little voice is quite insistent: “If not now, then when?”

Pacemaker takes a cunning zigzag line up the left hand end of the Middle Fin, following good holds in the diagonal quartz breaks, and linking them with more tenuous sequences giving the two devious cruxes.

The lower crux just needs a steady head, whilst the upper one requires a couple of techy layaways before better holds and a very welcome peg in the upper break are reached. All that remains is a steep diagonal dash leftwards on better holds, but there’s not much for your feet, the gear has run out and the pump is setting in. I picture myself messaging Jake to tell him I’ve done it,

… and press on, delighted to yard over onto the finishing arete and clip the newly installed lower-off (thanks Michael!) Happy days!

The Smile is free now, so Dave draws deep on tired arms to make this vaulting diagonal traverse of the North Fin, successfully batting the cumulative pump to top out with a Big Smile.

What a fab day, and a fantastic spot.

Back for well-earned celebration beers with Helen and Lins

… and another gobsmacking sunset.

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