Anyone who knows Steve Boote knows that he's great fun and always good for a wind up. It started at The Climbing Hangar. He encouraged us to join him in the last bouldering comp. We'd been there 3 hours already and were pretty tired. He was fresh. However, he didn't spend his time there just climbing, he was busy having a laugh behind my back and bigging up my reputation, particularly my 3rd ascent of The Bells! The Bells! way back in 1990. As we were leaving, one of the climbing coaches (Mike) said "You're Mike Owen, didn't you do the 3rd ascent of The Bells! The Bells?" (or words similar to that). We had a nice chat about the routes on North Stack and the fact that Bootie had been spreading the word.
When we next went to The Hangar, the word had spread further (much to my surprise) and one of the young lads behind the counter said "You're Mike Owen..........." Infact he then asked for my autograph (saying it was for Mike). Well, I couldn't refuse, could I?
The story really begins even further back in time. Way back in 1983, to be a bit more precise. Andy Pollitt and I come from the same area of North Wales and got to know each other through climbing at our local crag, Craig y Forwyn, in the late 70's. In 1983, he stayed with us for 3 months as he worked with me at Black's in Liverpool. We used to talk for hours about climbing, trading tales and sharing wish lists, and so on. We'd both done The Cad that same year, so obviously we sowed the first seeds about doing The Bells! The Bells! which was first climbed by the talented and very brave John Redhead. At that time it was probably the most dangerous route in Britain. Still, Andy and I were both young and we had high aspirations.
Andy moved to Sheffield and became one of the first professional climbers, making phenomenal new routes in the Peak and back in Wales. He went on to make the coveted 2nd ascent of John's death route test piece in 1986. I have his signature on the Berghaus poster from the time in the cave downstairs (next to Phil Davidson soloing Right Wall in 1984). It took me a few years longer to realise my dream.
|The Berghaus poster showing Andy Pollitt making the coveted 2nd ascent of The Bells! The Bells! in 1986 (Andy's faded signature is down right from his right hand).|
Graham George and I abbed down North Stack Wall on a reasonable busy day and I set of on-sight. To be honest, things didn't feel right. I remember finding the start (in common with The Cad) harder than it should have been. At the end of the first traverse I placed a small offset HB2 which was basically the only thing between me and the floor. After several half hearted attempts to commit myself to the moves leading to John's 10 year old peg I called for a toprope which, thankfully, arrived pretty quickly. I cursed myself for being a wimp as the move seemed ok, albeit with protection from above. However, I found the (wrong) sequence going rightwards from the peg desperate and covered in "grandfather's whiskers" vegetation so typical at Gogarth. It was a very empty feeling I had at the top. Ok, I'd climbed The Bells! The Bells! but hadn't actually led it on the sharp end of the rope. To tell the truth I was gutted even though I had underestimated the severity of the challenge. Still, Graham was well chuffed to follow, which he did impeccably. I returned, much better prepared, next weekend but I was still concerned about the moves right from the peg.
Saturday 9th June 1990. There was a lot of moisture in the air and the sky was grey. Still I was ready, the time had come to either realise my dream or die on the jagged boulders at the foot of the cliff. I abseiled down The Bells! to brush off the vegetation and to tie off the peg, which was in a pretty sorry state after ten years of weathering. I was shocked when I saw a line of finger incuts going directly above the peg. This was the obvious sequence to gain the second traverse where, later on again, I was shocked to find a bomber Hex 4 placement just to the left whilst doing The Hollow Man with Phil Ralph!