Dizzy Heights: Climbing in Dorset and beyond

Swanage Extreme

Climbing E1 and above really opens up your options at Swanage. All the cliffs have something worthwhile to get your teeth into, and at least half the major classics fall into this grade band. Just as is the case with the VS and HVS routes along the Ruckle and elsewhere, spectacular is often the adjective of choice when describing these routes. Expect E1s to be steep and strenuous but with rests between the hard bits. By the time the grades get to E3 expect the same but without all the rests. As always at Swanage, care is needed with rope-work and gear placement, and some of the finishes are a bit loose. However, all the routes below are fairly well-protected and any funny stuff is mentioned.

Stroof (E1)

Although many people choose this as their first Swanage E1 - it being short, well-protected on the crux, and with all the psychological benefits of being at Subluminal - the hard bit is pretty hard and many people's first Swanage E1 involves sitting on the gear. The first bulge requires a bit of oomph and is quite hard to protect - once you go for it, don't change your mind half-way. However, that's just the preamble; the main event is the crack in the headwall. Good, bigger gear goes in the horizontal crack before pulling up to get smaller wires in the crack itself. You can't just throw these in - make sure they're good. When the gear is sorted, scope out the little footholds - you'll need these in a moment - and come down for a breather. Psyche and burn! Don't mess around, if you make it up the crack the finish is fine.

Rufty's Roll Up (E1)

Hidden away at the unfrequented Blacker's Hole, this is a neat little route based around a vertical crack in the headwall. There is a big jug on the lower wall which is paler than the surrounding rock. This takes a great sling but keep it as short as possible to protect the rock-over onto the jug and a couple of balancy moves to reach good holds. Easy moves lead up to the vertical crack. Climb this and then move slightly left at the top into a shallow scoop before topping out carefully over steep earth. This last bit might be a bit scary but it's okay if you keep your wits about you. There are several stakes, one directly above the route, an obvious brown tube to the left, and a hard-to-spot short one lower down on the right. If you're really worried about the finish, drop a rope down.

The Vapour Edge (E1)

If Rufty's Roll Up goes well then this route is just a little bit further right, it's another headwall crack, and is a touch harder - the perfect progression? The lower part of the route is a formality - start from the raised ledge as for Tobacco Road if that helps avoid getting wet. Get up to the headwall and make a strenuous pull up right to the crack (it's not the rather fine looking, marginally wider crack, on the left; it's the thin one nearest the arete). You may want to place gear and retreat for a breather before committing. Fortunately the fingerlocks do improve with height but the first few moves are tough and a bit technical. Some of the horizontal holds turn out to be good and the finish, though steep, does have some hidden jugs. The top out is up a steep earth bank again but this one is a bit worse than above Rufty's Roll Up and a pre-placed rope is probably worthwhile unless you feel confident about Swanage top-outs. There are belay stakes above both this route and Ruftyís Roll Up just to the left. Coming across from the start of the descent gully, the first stake is a prominent brown tube, which is above Sport Free World. At the same level further along is the stake above Rufty's Roll Up - use this and then go down the little ridge immediately beyond to find a second stake that is hard to spot because it is low in the grass. This stake is directly above Tobacco Road and The Vapour Edge and should be used as your second anchor for the pre-placed rope. In the little valley further east is a prominent grey tube - this is above Snout and is really too far across to be useful.

Sinbad (E1)

This is a very fine outing with a slightly intimidating feel due to the bulging rock barrier that looks to be defending access to the top of the cliff. In fact it is an amenable E1 apart from a well-protected bugger of a move right at the start. It is possible to do the move into the V-groove as a moderately stylish 5c gaston/layaway-type-thing but I certainly got by with desperate 5b thrutching on my first attempt. Above things are much more pleasant with the climbing following cracks up to the fault. I have a vague recollection of belaying quite far over to the left here; this would be out of the line of fire of the top pitch, and would help minimise rope drag on the top pitch too. More recently, Boulder Ruckle routes done in one pitch has become more common for me and this route certainly offers that option for those with solid skills in double ropework and the requisite rack. Whatever the choice, the upper section leads into an alarming cul-de-sac of overhanging rock,escaped by a brilliantly airy bit of slab manouevering up and out to the right at steady but unlikely 5a: marvellous!

Elysium (E1)

This is another top quality E1 in The Ruckle with good climbing on solid rock to a clean finish. It starts with a mildly committing pull onto steep rock - get a decent wire or two in on this bit but don't hang around too long - there's a good rest above. Next come some thin cracks with a dodgy old peg to mark the route. I wouldn't even bother clipping the peg; there's plenty of good wires to be had. A couple of crimpy pulls take you up to an intimidating position under the roof. Get good gear here but think about extending it carefully to keep the ropes running freely. Pulling round the right end of the roof is a bit brutal but a determined approach will see you through. Alternatively, move a touch further right for a more graceful option but beware of getting stuck out on the wall - if taking this alternative you need to move back into the corner immediately. The hanging corner above the roof is an easy place to succumb to panic as it pushes you out and doesn't offer the security you might expect. Stay calm, place gear, and push on upwards; the climbing quickly relents and pleasant grooves lead to the top.

Ashes and Diamonds (E1)

This route is much better than its neighbour, Director's Groove, but for some reason has never made it into the Rockfax guide. Start behind a massive boulder a few metres right of the start of Director's Groove. The line follows a crack/groove that runs up the face just in a bit from the arete on the right. There's one steep bit but it's pretty easy up to the mid-height break. Above this is an intimidating bulge. Start by getting bombproof gear in the thin crack running up to the bulge, then move up on good holds and use these to make big moves round the bulge on good, and then great, holds. You can get a wire in the flake that forms the crucial hold mid-crux but only if you are strong or have very long arms. Things almost immediately ease off so pick you way steadily up to stand on a square block. This is the belay on Director's Groove, marked by a big, rusty peg. It is possible to finish straight up the wide crack of Director's Groove from here but Ashes and Diamonds goes diagonally up and left, heading for a pair of massive flakes a few metres below the top. Standing on the top of the flakes, a small wire goes in a convenient crack at face level to protect a couple of fingery moves up the wall just to the left. Haul out on the finishing jugs to complete a long and varied pitch.

Strongbow (E1)

Sapphire (E1)

Sueís Route (E1)

This is a very good route with a lot of variety for its relatively short length. Itís not an easy E1 but the gear is mostly good and there are rests between the hard bits. There are two ways of approaching this route: down-climb Helix (D), as for the Conner Cove deep-water solos, walk across the wave-cut platform, and scramble onto the high boulder ledges; or abseil in directly. The first option is out if the sea is covering the platform Ė which it may be at high tide, and will be if there is any swell running. For the abseil, find the top of the cliff, and rig the abseil rope from two low stakes that look like pieces of scaffolding pole (the more obvious pipe and T-shaped girder ten metres further west are directly above Limited Edition), this should take you straight down onto the high boulder ledges and the start of the route.

The first corner looks like straightforward laybacking but youíll find it has a hard move unless you have exceptionally thin fingers. The gear is brilliant though. At the top of the corner is a small ledge and the crack continues above. Again the gear is good and all will seem to be under control. However, the crack runs out and unhelpful flakes take over. A couple of tricky moves take you up to a semi-bridging, semi-rest and some slightly less convincing gear, but then good holds are the reward for pressing on, and the final few moves are simple.

Girl from the Snow Country (E1)

This is one of the best short E1s at Swanage. The gear is good, the rock is remarkably helpful, and Ė like all the routes on this sector Ė the top-out is ideal. However, it doesnít get a 5c technical grade for nothing and the roof is definitely harder climbing than you would normally encounter at this grade. Reaching the roof is steady and there is a hands-off rest when you get there. Place bomber gear in the corner but make sure you extend it sufficiently. Then get gear in the roof itself Ė thereís a good thread in one of the pockets above your head here. It doesnít seem likely but the route now goes straight through the roof. The first holds over the lip are quite a long way away and are disappointingly rounded. Above this is a good finger jug, and then itís a case of getting your feet up. Once all the drama of the roof is over, there is another small thread and some bigger gear. Then head on up. The climbing looks as though it might get hard but good holds appear as needed, and itís not really more than HVS to the top.

Billy Pigg (E1)

This is basically VS but with a monster of a roof on the first pitch. The crack at the back of the roof will take a variety of wires and cams and had a couple corroding gently, abandoned by desperate seconds, in 2005. Being a roof, the usual experience of placing bomber gear above your head and then having to extend it down to your knees applies. In this case you can also get gear near the lip Ė a lump of corroded aluminium blocks the best crack (Iíll remove it if I find myself on the route again) but a small wire goes in nearby. You should be able to waste a good ten minutes placing, checking, and re-checking the gear, but sooner or later you have to go for it. There are decent holds up there, and thereís another wire placement (a biggish one) if you donít mind hanging around to place it, but this route isnít really VS, itís E1, so youíd be wise to assume the need for a bit of technical thuggery. Donít forget to roar like a lion when you cut loose: rooaaaaar!

October Lady (E1) [Tidal] [R]

Good climbing throughout but it's the traverse across rightwards and around the end of the roof on the upper wall that will linger in the mind. The start is lovely, stepping up and out left onto the rib, then the graunchy move back right will succumb either to a little flexibility and technical nous, or a suitable amount of flailing and grunting. Up the hanging groove to the break is steady and very pleasant bridging. This route would go in a oner but only if you are carrying a lot of 8' slings and are certain you don't mind all the gear on the crux traverse extended down to your feet; most will definitely want to belay on the spacious ledge (but round to the left rather than under the start of pitch 2). From here the moves up to the roof are okay but then the traverse across rightwards is a bit short on footholds and is therefore significantly thuggy. Fortunately the jams up under the roof are mostly really good and can be matched with suitable cams. No doubt there are other holds for those who haven't learned to jam yet, and other gear for those with Hexs, but you might want to go armed with both to keep the experience just the right side of traumatic. At the end of the roof you are in a position of some exposure. The thread mentioned in both the Rockfax and the old CC guide is not apparent but a quick layawy up round the end of the roof leads to a nice downward pointing flake (small cam) and then a solid but slightly tricky corner. A couple more moves, possibly on rather pumped arms by this point, lead to better wires and then, finally, a stance in balance, allowing you to gather your thoughts before exiting up easier ground, either slightly rightwards across exposed slabs, or slightly leftwards up a broken corner. There are a lot of new stakes (2014) along this section of crag but unfortunately not one above this exit. There is a new stake over to the left and an older piece of angle iron to the right (above Jasper) but much lower on the slope than the new stakes.

RIP Direct (E1)

This route didn't make it into either the 2005 or 2012 Rockfax, which is a shame because it's well worth doing with a good line, mostly terrific gear, and fine climbing. The start is at the first hanging corner right of Koo-Koo; it's about half-way between Koo-Koo and Wide Awake in America. Strictly speaking, the route is HVS with a sneaky dogleg to avoid a difficult corner near the top. By taking this corner direct, the route crosses the extreme barrier and can be done in one pitch with good ropework, and a big rack. Climb up into the hanging corner and yard up some ferociously steep ground on jugs. When things back off, move up and traverse right on rather sandy rock to the fault. If you do belay here, then try to avoid being directly in the firing line of anything coming down the corner above. Pull over the bulge and climb the corner by spectacular but straightforward bridging until the footholds on the right wall run out. It's possible to move round the arete on the left, climb up another groove, and regain the line near the top, but the direct goes straight up the coprner by some further spectacular, but rather more technical, bridging. At the very top of the groove pull out onto the slab on the left and follow this to the top over some solid (by Swanage standards) stacked blocks.

The next couple of routes are both at Guillemot Ledge East and are conveniently in similar positions in my graded list so I have put them together.

Yellow Wall (E1)

This is a tremendous route with cool rock, good positions, and good climbing. The start is easy and it's not entirely clear which exact line to take but you need to end up at the downward-pointing spike. This is more of a narrow, rectangular flake really. Move left and up from here, passing some excellent wire slots and then a peg at the bottom of the shallow groove. Lovely technical moves up the groove lead to jugs in the form of two slightly dubious blocks. Belay standing on these - there's a dodgy peg that needs backing up with several wires to avoid relying on any one flake of rock but a sound belay is certainly possible. The second pitch is immediately hard; don't fall straight onto the belay! Pull up into sidepulls and undercuts, put gear in, then make a difficult move right to a rest. Don't hesitate too long here looking for good holds - there are no good holds to find. Move right round the arete into a corner and climb this more easily, past the massive flake, to the top. This corner is a great reward for any earlier desperation - solid, on great holds. As an alternative finish, it is also possible to pull up and move left after the hard bit on the second pitch, to reach a corner leading to the top. This is a bit straighter and may be worth considering if you're going to try and climb it in one pitch.

August Angie (E1)

Nowhere is this route terribly hard but there is a lot of climbing on it. It starts easily up the big groove but gets harder just before the roof. At this point gear options get more limited but decent protection is available with a bit of fiddling about. The move to reach the roof is fine once committed and there is then good gear in the roof. Traversing rightwards looks outrageous but leads to a ledge and hands-off rest round the corner. Above this is a sandy groove leading to the mid-height break; it's all a bit unnerving but the huge flake in the break is solid and there are good wires on its left side. Another wild traverse leads left to a good ledge (hands above the break and feet below it - don't try to crawl along the break itself). Belay on this ledge. The next pitch climbs easily up to the next roof, under which is a rusty peg that can be backed up with small cams. The third and final exposed traverse, around the arete on the right, is easier than it looks. Good wires on the far side of the arete protect some strenuous moves that lead to the top. It is possible to climb this route in one pitch if your ropework is good enough but you may have to forego gear between reaching the mid-height break and the top roof. Many will struggle just to reach the normal belay without bad rope drag. Try left rope for all the gear approaching and in the main roof - extended well; right rope only for the gear in the sandy groove.

Mars (E1)

This is probably one of the most outrageous E1ís in the country. Massively overhanging, sustained, awkward in places, hard to reach, and all above a thundering sea in a dark zawn. Okay, so itís been upgraded to E2 in the new Rockfax. Probably one of the most outrageous E2ís in the country. Massively overhanging, sustained, awkward in places, hard to reach, a soft touch, and all above a thundering sea in a dark zawn. Itís only a soft touch if itís more or less dry though so maybe wait for good weather and a calm-ish sea. The approach adds a lot to the route.

Here are some tips for successfully reaching the start of the route:

  • Donít hurl your abseil rope into the sea. Lower it gently until it reaches the water, pull it up a metre, and tie it off at this length.
  • Run the rope from the twin abseil stakes, over the right side (looking out) of the ledge.
  • Place wires (two or three) as you go to maintain contact with the wall.
  • Have a cowstail ready to clip into the belay thread. You can also get large wires in just above the thread.
  • Think ahead with regard to your lead ropes. One option is for the second to take the ends down and stack the ropes as the leader comes down, already tied in to the top ends. This minimises faffing on the hanging belay but take precautions against pulling the leader off the top ledge.
  • Once all is organised, the first pitch across to the base of the route is a git. Climbing down, across, and back up is definitely easier if the sea allows. And all this effort just to get to the main pitch.

    What a pitch. It just goes out, and out, and out again. If you can keep your head then there are loads of hands off, bridging rests, separated by steep but short lived struggles round the lip of each roof. Take lots of slings to extend gear and avoid rope drag. And make sure you have plenty of large wires as well. The ability to jam is a big help. When things get particularly pressing remember to look for holds behind you. And youíll be pleased to know that the first roof is probably the hardest. Thatís about all the advice I can give you; the rest youíll have to find out for yourself.

    The Peccary (E2)

    This route is approached as for Mars (above) but the actual climbing is rather more conventional and some may actually find it easier. From the hanging belay traverse left for a few metres to a thin crack. Climb this, and continue straight up, via some nice moves, passing plenty of good gear.

    Tudor Rose (E2) [R]

    The Adventures of Portland Bill (E2)

    This is a lovely horizontal expedition crossing a decent chunk of the fine wall to the east of Marmolata Buttress. There is really only one hard bit, on pitch 3, but the first two pitches offer lovely traversing along horizontal breaks, with the ever-present threat of harder climbing never really materialising. Climb Elysium to a ledge and then head diagonally up and right to reach the thin horizontal cracks that cut across the wall. Just be a little careful with gear; you need to keep both ropes running smoothly up to the horizontal cracks and then ensure that your first gear after this is not going to lift out and leave your partner in trouble. Some smallish cams would be worth having here although there are generally good wires in the many vertical cracks that cross the traverse line as well. The steep crack on pitch 3 is undoubtedly a bit of a fight. You can get gear in and then retreat for a rest before committing if you wish. The position of the belay means that some longer extenders and a hefty tug to seat the gear would be wise. Once engaged, it's probably better not to stop until the climbing relents. The final pitch is easier although it doesn't immediately look it.

    The Tool (E2)

    This route consists of lots of easier climbing leading to a balancy and slightly runout finish that you want to get right because it could feel hard if you don't. It's really very straightforward up to the small roof at two-thirds height. Belaying here isn't a particularly good idea so keep your ropes running cleanly up to this point. Now make intimidating moves leftwards round the arete and finish the route by a series of slightly precarious moves protected only by some fiddly and uninspiring small wires. It isn't really strenuous here - there are some good footholds - but the situation is exposed and the climbing requires some thought to keep it down to 5b. This is one of those routes that feels fine if you're steady at the grade but maybe not if E2 is pushing things for you.

    Ray of Sunshine (E2)

    I've not done this yet but I've heard it's good. Info to follow when I get it done, which will probably coincide with getting stuck into Magic Mountain to justify visiting this bit of cliff again.

    Gypsy (E2)

    I followed a mate up this several years ago and can't remember anything except that it was good, and that there was a hard bit on the first pitch, climbing the shallow, right-facing corner - which is nicer but more intimidating if you layback the arete rather than grovelling in the back. I'll update this when I get round to climbing the route again

    Flying Finish (E2)

    This is a cool route; it has just two hard bits, one on each pitch, pulling through roofs, and is well-protected throughout. It starts with some very easy climbing until a tough swing round left onto a hanging shield of rock leads to some tougher moves to get past the roof. Easy climbing leads to the break. You can take a semi-hanging belay here but, if your ropes are running freely, it's better to do this route as a single pitch. Pull over into the corner above and follow it fairly easily to the big roof. Step right to a slightly dubious-looking flake and power through the roof with a long reach to excellent holds. Once you're stood on these it's plain sailing to the top, with the obligatory touch of looseness and a fairly steep bank of soil to finish.

    Sun Streets (E2)

    This is a very reasonable E2; not soft, but the gear is quite good, and the climbing reasonable at this grade. The first pitch starts with a steep pull into a hanging groove. At the top of the groove, after placing good gear, you have to traverse out to the left arÍte. A couple of finger slots for undercuts give the impression that things might get hard but there is a monster jug on the arÍte that re-dresses the balance. Easy climbing on weird rock formations leads to a line of flakes heading diagonally right to the arÍte. Use these for hands, with feet on the lip of the bulge. There is a shallow pocket out towards the arÍte that will take a No.2Ĺ / 3 cam; above this the next gear is at the fault but the precarious climbing up the arÍte does get easier as the gear gets further away. The belay at the fault is awkward to arrange. The thin crack in the roof of the fault will take gear but for bombproof anchors you need to place wires in the crack above the fault Ė the lip of the roof has good holds but it feels a bit strenuous getting this gear in and tied off. Donít try to belay from in the fault Ė you wonít be able to look after your mate on the top pitch from here Ė take a hanging stance on the arÍte instead. The second pitch is steep but the moves arenít too bad Ė thereís not really anything harder than 5b. Get some gear in to protect the belay, then pull over the roof just to the right of the main crack. Head straight up to the roof above, watching for bridging opportunities higher up. Just below the roof, pull out round the arÍte on the left. Suddenly everything is in balance and you can have a little rest before tackling the finish. This is a bit loose so go slowly and take advantage of any gear you can find.

    Philatus (E2)

    Having moved up to E-grades in The Ruckle, it may take you a while to try the harder routes at Subluminal but this is well worth squeezing in Ė itís short and there are no roofs, but it does have possibly the best rock anywhere at Swanage. The comments in the guidebook about fiddly gear and it being tiring to protect give the impression that it is a bold route but there is plenty of good gear to be had. It is very sustained though, but this is what makes it so good.

    Buccaneer (E2)

    This is yet another spetacular Swanage classic. The long initial crack can be a touch grotty - this is just a combination of greasy condensation and slightly sandy rock so pick a bright, breezy day and give it a few hours to dry up. Having said that the lower section isn't too hard and the crucial bit at the top is clean so conditions aren't critical. You should definitely do this route in one pitch. It's possible to climb the lower crack without deviation but it is easier to sneak out right to by-pass a tricky bit part-way. Don't get thrown if this lower section is a bit harder than expected, take plenty of gear and wait for the good rest under the roof. When you get here, wedge yourself under the roof and take a bit of time to sort the gear - I suggest you put your own sling round the huge thread and then extend it to allow the ropes to run above. When you're ready (or at least before it gets dark) swing round the roof praying that there are good holds above. There are! But don't be complacent - the next few moves are properly steep even if the holds and solid jams keep things the right side of reasonable.

    Squid (E2)

    Full-on roof action! This is a route with an absolutely desperate crux separating sections of easier but intimidating climbing. The wave-cut platform below the route is above the high-tide line but will be wet if there is a swell. The route itself also suffers from dampness - pick a sunny day with a bit of a breeze and wait until after lunch for the rock to dry. The initial diagonal crack is straightforward, then things steepen up and a big swing out right is required to reach a decent ledge. This is traditionally the belay but there is definitely an argument for pressing on. Whichever option is chosen the main event is painfully obvious in the form of a roof crack leading into a bottomless V-groove. Get some gear in and haul away - the jam above the lip is not as good as it might be but there is a flat edge to help with reaching the jugs above and some moderately helpful things for feet when you get them over the lip. As soon as you can get wedged in the V-groove it's all over but, unless your second is an absolute monster, get bomb-proof gear in before you move on. The traverse into the light is exposed and awkward but not hard. Once out from under the roof the climbing relents completely but my suggestion is to take a belay on the sloping slab just above the roof. From here you can communicate with your second as they come through the roof - if you continue to the top then, apart from rope-drag issues, it will be impossible to look after your mate if they have a hard time at the roof.

    Calcitron (E2)

    This is a tough, pumpy route in a secluded spot between Palace of the Brine and the west end of the Promenade. It benefits from good rock and decent protection and is well worth seeking out. The abseil point is just below the pylons; you're looking for a newish stainless rod and a galvanised piece of angle with a hole drilled in it. From here abseil straight down over some small rock outcrops then down a slabby groove and vertical wall to a decent ledge above the high tide level. The route starts with a tricky pull onto the wall to reach a thread with a good hold immediately above. Continue up, making hard moves between good, but hidden, holds in the line of the crack, to reach a groove above the small roof. At this point there are good holds left of the groove which are worth seeking out. Above the groove the angle thankfully eases; head diagonally right following a 'finger-ramp' to avoid another roof and finish more easily straight up. It's a very tough E2 but it's all there.

    D Sharp (HVS/E1)

    If heading down for Calcitron, Test Department, and maybe the E3s on this wall, you might want a warm up. In which case D Sharp fits the bill nicely. I think a big block has come off this route since the Rockfax and CC descriptions were written but it's hard to tell. Possibly I was having a bad day but after climbing the steady lower section of the groove there seems to be a couple of hard moves with footholds in unhelpful places that felt like 5b/c to me. This leads onto an area of amazing calcite reminiscent of Cheyne Weares and then some wild moves round the arete, which fortunately lead to a deep hidden pocket, a position more or less in balance, and a thread. From here to the top is steady. Gear throughout is fiddly but good.

    Dune Dust (E3)

    The good bit on this one is fairly short but is definitely one of the best bits of climbing at the crag. The crux is certainly 6a but the gear is excellent and the fall is clean, so itís a good choice if you want something hard to throw yourself at.

    After reaching the big chert holds via the start of Thunder Groove (stay low as you traverse across or it won't be HVS) the way forward becomes obvious. Yard up for brilliant holds and make another few moves to reach the horizontal break. This takes either small/medium cams, or wires, or both. Move up to the blind horizontal seam above and get the peg Ė you may want to thread it with a short sling Ė which looks to be in reasonable condition (2009). Make hard moves up the wall, first going right for a slopey shelf and then back left a bit for another decent hold, before another move to reach the front edge of the fault. You can clip the second peg here to protect the awkward mantelshelf into the fault but it is a wee bit rusty; fortunately the move isnít too hard. There is good gear in the lip of the fault. This protects a final hard move to pull over onto the wall above. Step out right from under the roof and climb much easier, but slightly loose, ground to the belay.

    If youíre climbing in an unequal partnership you can abseil for the gear from here and then climb Thunder Groove (HVS) back to the same stance. Finish up left for Dune Dust, and right at about the same standard for Thunder Groove.

    Ocean Boulevard (E3)

    This is one of Swanageís most famous routes. Standing at the bottom, it looks very reasonable, with cracks and flakes guaranteeing both good holds and good gear. There certainly are plenty of both but the angle of this wall is just not clear from below. A rope hanging down this route reaches the ground a good five metres out so itís all a question of how long you can hang on. A detailed description is superfluous; start on the ramp on the right, pull into the main crack and climb like a gibbon. There's a bit of a rest at the fault, a couple of very steep moves above, then another shakeout. From this point the easiest option is the crack on the left. Possibly the hardest moves are just below the fault, but what you see is what you get. At the top the climbing eases just at the point where itís possible to move left into the final niche. Beat your chest after a successful ascent!

    Necromancy (E3)

    Although it gets E4 in the Rockfax I thought this was a pretty relaxed E3. It is a bit bold, but in an amenable way. The pull through the first roof is probably the technical crux but there is good gear available. Next, make an intimidating traverse diagonally rightwards to the peg; this turns out to be on positive holds and ends with a fantastic jug above the peg. This hefty flake takes a comforting sling. Rock over onto the slabby wall above and make thin, technical moves up towards the big ledge; the good news is that, just as a fall starts to become an unpalatable option, the climbing relents. The wall above the big ledge is easier. Climb this on a rising diagonal line from bottom left, heading for a big crescent-shaped pocket a few feet below the top. Pull over onto ledges and scramble to the top.

    Limited Edition (E3)

    Following a rockfall, the Rockfax team decided to describe this with an alternative, easier, start coming in from the right, and it's a better route as a result, with a steady start, some swinging about on jugs in the big corner, and an intense, pumpy finish.

    The wave-cut platform at the bottom of the route can catch waves on rough days but it is usually fairly dry even if the section nearer Conner Cove is catching a lot of spray. It is possible to abseil straight down the line from stakes at the top (a T-shape girder and a pipe) if necessary.

    I can't actually remember the start, although I have a vague recollection of a hard move to leave the ground, so I think it's fine as far as the big corner. The corner is a bit awkward and doesnít feel as permanent as the rest of the route (although the rock is not actually loose) so itís good to make a commiting swing out left onto the face at its top (mediocre peg). The climbing above is reasonable as far as the final peg, although none too obvious as it weaves about to find the best line. The final peg is quite good (2009) and can be backed up with small wires. The last bit is very pumpy, on small flat holds; the break below the top is disappointing but there are jugs just over the lip so press on before the juice runs out.

    Facedancin' (E3) [R]

    Top quality climbing with some fierce moves, the climbing is mostly well-protected but requires some commitment at the top. The belay at the fault is awkward and uncomfortable but don't skimp on medium wires and quickdraws if you are taking the better option of doing the route as one long pitch. It starts with some steep moves in the line of a broken crack; when the climbing eases, move across left to a footledge then head up steep rock to a tricky pull into a short, open corner (this is probably the technical crux) before balancing up to the fault and on up to the headwall. This is pumpy and sustained but the holds are positive and the run out above the top peg holds no nasty surprises. The only detraction is the ageing nature of the pegs. Some additional gear is available but don't spend too long hanging around - better to just get on with it.

    Soul Sacrifice (E3) [Tidal] [R]

    This is a long, sustained, pumpy, and brilliant route, on fantastic rock. The gear is good and appears regularly but the upper wall is so sustained that it can still feel bold pushing on past it. Start up the easy crack and follow it to a ledge Ė donít try and traverse out too low. The reach out right feels a bit precarious but the holds are good when you get to them. Stop and place gear here and then make some hard moves up to reach good holds leading to the overlap. You can get cams in the break to protect the layback into the chimney. This looks really hard but there is a deep crack in the right wall of the chimney that helps a lot. There is a hands-off rest once you have moved up and got your feet above the overlap; make the most of it because thereís no respite above this point. When youíre ready, pull up over the bulge to large but horribly flat holds by the peg, and then get going up the wall above. After a few edges this is all on tiring, deep vertical pockets until eventually the juggy right edge of the wall comes within reach. The pockets will take a variety of smallish cams in addition to the odd wire placement, but as is so often the case at Swanage, you have to be careful not to blow all your stamina placing gear. Arguably never more than 5b moves but itís solid E3 nevertheless.

    Marmolata Buttress (E3)

    This is an entertaining multi-pitch adventure. It catches the morning sun but is a cool option after midday if you're getting roasted in the summer. The first pitch is a good grade harder than the other two and requires commitment plus the ability to place gear under pressure. The climbing to the good horizontal break is steep right off the deck and the first really worthwhile gear goes in at and above this break. The crack is then steep and strenuous, although the holds are good enough. Gear is available before the crack peters out but it is a bit fiddly. The final bit is not as grim as it looks but you do need to make a very clear-headed decision about what you are doing. There is a small crack on the right that takes a good medium wire but this is a good place to get seriously pumped and you must either place the gear, or do the moves - the result of managing neither is not appealing. There is currently an in-situ wire here but it is pretty corroded (2009). As soon as the pull left is made, it's all over. Belay on the ledge round to the left. The second pitch starts with an outrageous hand-traverse followed by easier, slightly scrappy climbing, heading across into the massive corner. The final pitch is a cracker; following a line of flakes on strenuous lay-aways up the steep wall. If you stick with it, initial efforts are rewarded with some stonking jugs higher up, and a romp to the finish on top of the buttress.

    So, ready for E4? The last article on Swanage routes is for those of you pushing the boat out.

    Dorset...

    ...Britain's most under-rated climbing area

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