What do you get when you cross Steve McClure, a Lord Mayor and "the most disgusting thing ever"? A fantastically memorable celebration of climbing at Avon Gorge, with over 250 festival-goers, from new climbers to Avon veterans alike, enjoying the Bristol Climbing Festival. Dean Russell from ClimbBristol reports.
Climbing festivals and rain go about as well together as orange juice and Nutella and seriously take my word for it before you think about trying such a disgusting combination! Thankfully it was clear from the weather forecast a few days before that we were going to be blessed with some sensational weather and that it certainly was.
The festival aimed to promote the value of Avon Gorge as a nationally important climbing site and to celebrate a certain representative body for climbers' grand 70th anniversary. The day could not be described as anything else but a complete success on both counts.
We started in style with a grand opening by the Lady Mayoress and Lord Mayor of Bristol who are by no means new to climbing, with the Lord Mayor himself being a member of the BMC for the last 10 years. Both the Lady and Lord Mayor showed an array of spectators and cameras that climbing is open to all with an ascent on Floating Water (VS).
With the formalities out of the way Avon Gorge saw around 250+ climbers and spectators rub shoulders with some of Avon’s early pioneers such as Pat Littlejohn, Barrie Page, Oliver Hill to name just a few.
It was also great to see teams climbing routes such as Nightmare (S), Gronk (VS), Puke (HVS) and Depravity (E1), with the one of the first ascensionists - Mike Thompson - watching on from the comfort of the marquee.
There were also speed climbing competitions, outdoor taster sessions, master classes from BMC ambassador Steve McClure, bouldering, slacklining, stalls and a great display of some of Avon’s historic climbing gear including pegs that have been replaced by the ClimbBristol team of volunteers.
In the eight years I have lived and climbed in Bristol I have never seen so many local teams, and climbers from Birmingham, Cornwall, London and Swindon, spanning the whole length of the gorge from Unknown Wall to Suspension Bridge Buttress. Teams battled with the heat to bag routes including Sinister (HS), Malbogies (HVS), Us (E2) and Arms Race (E4).
Recently I was reading in a national climbing magazine where Alex Honnold - best known for his free solo ascents of some pretty big walls - described Avon Gorge as ”the most disgusting thing ever” and so it was great to see so many people enjoy the climbing and have people experience Avon’s climbing for the first time. Lauren, who was one such first timer from Swindon, commented on “the quality of the rock with the routes being good but hard for the uninitiated”.
Maybe I am biased but there is so much history attached to the climbing in Avon, that combined with its unique nature and sheer variety makes it my favourite urban crag. One of the pioneers, Frank Cannings, summed up the Avon Gorge perfectly describing it as having the full set of climbs - full trad, pegged trad, trad with bolt protection and sports climbing. For an urban crag that is five minutes from the city centre you can’t really ask for much more and the ongoing work from the ClimbBristol project is certainly making it a safer and more accessible place to climb.
The festival wouldn’t have been possible without our partners and special thanks go to Avon and Somerset Search and Rescue, Redpoint, Bloc, Undercover Rock, Taunton Leisure, Dick's Climbing, DMM and of course all the steering committee’s efforts in pulling off what will be a day to remember for years to come.
In partnership with landowners, the statutory authorities and conservation bodies, the ClimbBristol project group (which comprises enthusiastic volunteers from the local climbing community) is carrying out a programme of improvements to the climbs, the rock-faces, and to the base of the Gorge. There is still much to be done to improve facilities and access; our campaign work continues...