New Year Hard Rock tick – Kilnsey Main Overhang

Staying in the UK for the majority of 2021 was a good opportunity to get some outstanding routes from Hard Rock ticked, including: Extol, Engineers Slab, Centurion, North West Girdle and The Needle – but of course every tick makes it more compelling to press on and complete the set! Unfortunately, all the remaining routes are either esoteric or remote (or in the case of The Scoop – both!)

The day after New Year’s day is a good time to set about resolutions, and the forecast didn’t inspire alternative activities, so I trundled over to Kilnsey to take a look at the Main Overhang. A rainbow over Crookrise on the way had me wondering whether I’d made the right call…

… but as Kilnsey Crag hoved into view the weather was already turning (phew!) – it’s an impressive lump of rock regardless of how many times you’ve seen it, and all the more so for appearing out of nothing in the seemingly flat countryside.

First aided in 1957 by Ron Moseley and John Sumner at A3, the final 11-hour push across the roof was the culmination of many weeks’ effort and marked the pinnacle of aid-climbing in UK at the time (though the fact that the NW Face of Half Dome was climbed in the same year does lend perspective). John ‘Fritz’ Sumner, later a member of The Rucksack Club, went on to further fame as the main inspiration of climbing development in Mid-Wales (as well as helping to start me along my own journey in climbing). It was in this ‘dangle and whack’ form that The Main Overhang was included in Hard Rock, and indeed it was noted that: ‘Because of its uncompromising structure it can never suffer the ritualistic cleansing of the free climber‘. That prophecy lasted barely 30 years until Mark Leach’s free ascent in 1988, creating the brilliantly named Mandela ‘Because they said it would never go free‘ now deemed 8a+.

With the bolts associated with the free climb supplementing the rotting pegs and other tat, much of the sting has been taken out of an aid ascent, and I was somewhat wondering whether it would be interesting or challenging, rather than just a ‘ticking’ exercise. To add a bit of spice back into the equation I decided to make a solo ascent – in reality this doesn’t really increase the difficulty much and meant that I wouldn’t have to try to persuade someone into a miserable, chilly few hours on belay duty in North Yorkshire. The swollen beck barring access to the crag gave a hint that my ascent wouldn’t be without discomfort (despite me taking the precaution of spare footwear, I had forgotten spare socks 😦 ) and the intermittent trickle running down the line of the route suggested it might be a damp and cold experience.

The first 30m up to the roof takes the line of The Directissima, now a 30m 6c sport route (that I’ve climbed free a couple of times). Aid climbing is a slow business, and it was almost an hour before I was clipping the chain (compared with probably 10 minutes if I’d been free climbing – though that would have been impossible with the waterfall running down it!) It certainly isn’t just a question of hauling up a bolt-ladder – the shiny glue-ins are far enough apart that you need to make one or two placements between each to make progress. a small assortment of wires and a handful of small cams did the trick, and I managed to avoid the temptation to use a clip-stick to retain a modicum of authenticity. I was surprised how much nervous energy I expended in the process – the ‘clean’ placements were all pretty bomber and were backed up by bolts not too far below, but the experience was more tense than most El Cap pitches I’ve lead. Maybe the chill, the trickle of water running down my neck, or the absence of a climbing partner.

Talking of which, a quick word on my solo aid set-up… Note – this comes with a health warning – there isn’t a well-accepted ‘safe’ way of doing this, and whilst I was happy with my approach I certainly wouldn’t ‘recommend’ it. Do some web research or get Andy Kirkpatrick’s book https://www.andy-kirkpatrick.com/shop/product/me_myself_i_the_dark_art_of_big_wall_soloing

I used an Edelrid Eddy (my regular sport climbing belay device – a bit like a GriGri but not quite) and carried the rope on my back in a rope-bag, pre-tied with regular overhand ‘back-up knots’. The other end of the rope was tied off to the bottom bolt (and backed up on the second bolt) and then I fed more rope out from over my shoulder and clipped it into the bolts as I climbed upwards. In the event of a fall (happily untested) the rope hopefully causes the Eddy to ‘catch’ and stops you beneath the last piece of gear, and worst case slides down as far as the next stopper knot.

Rope in rope-bag and feeding over my shoulder
A few ‘clean’ trad placements between bolts
Note – if you ever plan to do this, don’t wear a fluorescent green jacket if you don’t want passing punters in cars and on bikes stopping to shout encouragement or take photos!

Up at the roof, the shiny glue-ins give way to conventional bolts, but they’re still in pretty good nick – which is more than can be said for most of the decaying fixed tat. Time for a change of direction, as the line heads outwards towards the lip and then follows a prominent flake crack diagonally towards the daylight.

Progress becomes pretty strenuous simply because you are dangling completely free, and there’s no opportunity to use the rock to orient yourself or take any weight. The bolts are closely spaced, but you still need to make an intermediary move between each of them – usually on an in-situ piece of rusted junk: Clip in your etrier; weight it; bounce a bit; then commit (whilst leaving the minimum of slack back to the previous bolt in case the peg pops). Another hour and I was across the roof and the ‘tick’ was in the bag. The only downside to not having a partner along (apart from the banter and moral support, of course!) is that whilst the climb was done, my day wasn’t – I now had to reverse the whole process to get back to the start of the roof to retrieve the gear. Hey ho!

The view back to the start of the roof

Closer inspection of one or two of the pegs encouraged gentle treatment…

Happily, having reversed the roof, I could now allow gravity to kick in and enable me to strip the rest of the gear in the vertical pitch as if I was lowering off a sport route (all be it a very wet one)!

Back on the ground around three hours after setting off, I was glad of a flask of hot chocolate and a change of clothing. No wonder they stayed strong through winter ‘back in the day’ before indoor walls – I was completely pooped despite only being out for a short afternoon! Definitely not the ‘pushover’ I’d feared, and a fun (Type 2) and satisfying way to see in the New Year. Also a great start to my 2022 Hard Rock account – Fifty down and a dozen to go…

6 responses to “New Year Hard Rock tick – Kilnsey Main Overhang

  1. Very well done Dom, impressive. I and a friend Dave, ( still) took a day off from Day release in June 1970 to attempt this, passing my boss going into work the opposite way! I led the first pitch, a mix of mainly free and intermittent aid. Set up the belay in what I recall resembled a pile of Jenga. Thé more pegs you banged in the more the slack in the Jenga was taken up. Very atmospheric position. The first few bolts etc out across the roof were missing and a piece of tat spanned the distance from belay to about 10 foot across the roof. Our hard up apprentice wages stock of pegs and sense of adventure didn’t quite match the situation. Crag 1, climbers 0. After ensuringDave was belayed independent of the Jenga set up I abseiled off. Don’t know what he’d have done if Jenga gave way! Thanks for bring back some great memories. Take care and Best wishes for 2022. Tom

  2. Well done Dom! Mildly reminiscent of the time Mike Warwick led us over the Big Plum Cheedale on dreary cold day with sleet/snow around Christmas/New Year. I was last man spent what seemed like an eternity lying down in the mud in the half way ledge/cave. Was so cold I barely was able to follow and get the gear out with Ben shouting encouragement from below and making allusions to Tony Kurz. So good to get to the Anglers Rest afterward. Different level doing Kilnsey solo though with no moral support and crac.

    • Happy days! At least “Eddy” the belay device didn’t get frostbite, but not great company in the pub afterwards 😉 Happy New Year to you and Barbara and the kids!

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