Friday, June 15, 2012

Low-hanging fruit

By Rod Smith

John raps into Shipley Lower
 “That’s a fair gloopy title. Whoever heard of A Clockwork Orange?” – Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

 “That’s a fair gloopy title. Whoever heard of A Clockwork Orange?” – John Shaw when I suggested the route to him.

When my droog* John Shaw got it into his gulliver* that he wanted to do some Blue Mountains multi-pitch madness (BMMPM) I was keen.

But I made it clear that I wasn’t going to do some cal*, malenky* route.

It had to be khrosho* or by Bog* I would do the ultra-violent* on his litso*.

A scan of the Glueys* Guide revealed that 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of a trad classic – the Keith Bell/Ray Lassman route Clockwork Orange (20), on Shipley Lower.

With an eye on that historical fact as well as it being the 50th anniversary of Anthony Burgess’s classic dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, the inspiration for the 1971 Kubrick film which itself inspired the route name, I was excited about climbing another Blueys classic.

After a flurry of emails and a helpful image showing three legendary shorts-wearing John Crokers – thanks to the magic of pre-digital photography – climbing the crux pitch, John also became hysterically psyched.
John Croker x 3 on the crux of Clockwork Orange.

Game day was preceded by two nights of somehow dreaming about doing the moves on a route I’d never been on before. Exhausted by all of that mental thrutching, I needed a double dose of Victory CafĂ© java when we arrived in Blackheath.

The weather was autumn at its most sunny-perfect as we walked through the Upper Shipley sport bunnies’ shit and toilet paper, down the hill to the rap into Lower Shipley.

Later in the day we would encounter more Upper Shipley sport climbers’ shit as we listened to them drama-queen screaming their way up routes too hard for them, their voices crashing down the lower cliff.

We’d brought an old 50m rope as a rap-line – as recommended by the guide – and was glad to have done so after it became soaked by the picturesque waterfall that it followed to the deck.

As we approached the base of the climb the perfect morning’s sun deepened and warmed the beautiful orange sandstone, that no doubt was the initial spark for the route’s classic name.

As fans of Scottish climbing legend Dave MacLeod, I don’t mind admitting that John and I had absorbed the brilliant advice of his e-book How to Climb Hard Trad – available at for a measly £5.

That’s why he spent the next 10 minutes scrutinising the opening moves of pitch 1 from every conceivable angle. Which I was glad he did.

The undercut start and slightly dodgy rock gives away to some tricky moves on a rounded arĂȘte and small holds.

John took all in his stride and was soon on the generous ledge that is the first belay. I seconded up to him congratulating him on such a fast and confident lead.
John begins pitch 1

He silenced my jabbering by simply pointing at the next pitch. From our belay a gentle slab led to an undercut and overhanging corner crack that, helpfully, also leaned off vertical to the left… “That’ll be the crux,” I said, unnecessarily.

John suggested that I hand over the camera so he could capture the moment of victory. I was glad of his confidence because for a moment the combination of an unnecessarily massive rack, lack of sleep and too much coffee were destroying my concentration.

With his words the blur of orange rock in front of me resolved back into a climbing route. I began noticing cams placements, possible rest places, holds and footers…

The pitch flowed nicely and much, much too soon I was standing in a narrow belay niche, lashed into a nest of cams and yelling out safe.

I fire up the second pitch.
Opting to climb the route as a three-pitch route gave John the sharp end for the short, alleged 15 top-out up a short corner. Probably closer to 17 and quite tricky, the pitch was dispensed with quickly.

I joined John at the belay, each of us gibbering with excitement about the excellence of the route. With plenty of day left – having climbed the route in a leisurely two and a bit hours – we ascended through the stinking leavings to join the crowds at the grey slab area.

But we only lasted a couple of routes’ worth of bolt clipping. After Clockwork Orange it all seemed a load of old yarbles.


The following are translations for words in the Nadsat slang language invented by Burgess and used in his novel A Clockwork Orange and also here.

droog = friend

gulliver (golova) = head

cal = crap

malenky = little

khrosho (horrorshow) = good

Bog = God

ultra-violent = unjustified violence

litso = face

yarbles = bollocks

The following is a Mexican (ie Victorian) word for the increasingly glue-bolted Blue Mountains.

Glueys = Blue Mountains.

NB: Clockwork Orange contains NO bolts.