Avon Gorge Suspension Bridge Buttress: Hell Gates

Avon Gorge Suspension Bridge Buttress: Hell Gates

Hell Gates is an HVS 5a 3* classic in Avon Gorge on the Suspension Bridge buttress.  Avon gorge is an urban crag in Bristol that is well equipped with adventurous climbs up to 70 metres on the limestone cliffs.  Some of the routes, especially in the Main Area can be very run out making the routes feel precarious and gripping.  Avon Gorge has a rich history of climbing with Chris Bonnington completing first ascents like the classic Malbogies in 1957.

The Suspension Bridge buttress

Hell Gates has been on my “wish list” for quite some time.  It is broken into 3 pitches; 20m 5a, 18m 5a & 25m 4b.  The first taking you from the base of the buttress to the infamous cave belay.  The cave is a body sized cave which contains the Hell Gates Visitors Book.  From the cave, you must make a difficult exit and then continue on easier broken ground to a belay stance.  The final pitch is an exposed traverse around the arete and then climb up to a rock anchor.

My topo of the route

It actually took 2 attempts to climb Hell Gates, but still an onsight.  As my climbing partner and I stood at the bottom of the route staring up at the first pitch, while I clipped gear to my harness, he got a phone call.  It was his heavily pregnant girlfriend raising the alarm.  After the phone call we had a quick discussion, bailing was the only option.  We power walked back up the hill to the top where we had parked, never have I seen him walk so quickly, I struggled to keep up without breaking into a jog!!  One baby boy was born a wee bit earlier than expected.

So, 2 weeks later, we are once again stood at the bottom of the route staring up at the first pitch, while I clipped gear to my harness.  The first pitch has an easy horizontal line leading up to an intimidating bulge.  This is the first crux.  I climbed steadily up to the bulge; the Suspension Bridge Buttress is better protected than other areas in Avon Gorge.  At the bulge, I placed a high piece of protection, and stood feeling gripped, trying to psyche myself to making the next few moves.  I stood trying to build the confidence for too long and my left leg started to shake, the fearsome disco leg.  Time to go, I pulled on a less than desirable side pull and reached up, thankfully finding a great hold.  A few strong moves later and I was over the bulge on easier ground which I quickly ascended and hopped into the cave.

The cave belay

The sun was shining straight on the crag and the heat was almost overwhelming.  The heat combined with the strenuous climbing meant I was sweating profusely by the time I reached the cave.

After an awkward shuffle I was ready to start figuring out how to get above the cave

I set up an anchor, signed myself into the visitors’ book and then belayed my friend to the cave.  After an awkward shuffle, we swapped around.  My climbing partner, having had been out of action for the last couple weeks, for obvious reasons, so I lead the second pitch.  The exit from the cave is one of those moves that is easier once you have done it.  I put in a few pieces of gear as high as I could out the cave entrance.  I could see it piton a couple meters up.  With a couple athletic moves, I had pulled out to the piton which I clipped a draw into, whether it would hold a fall or not is not worth testing so I got a nut in near it.  Exiting the cave is the crux after which the disco had real set in so with dancing leg I made the next few easy moves up the broken ground to the solid belay stance with a large, fixed anchor.

Looking down from a belay stance

When my climbing partner arrived at the stance, he looked a bit anxious, the climb had taken a little longer than we had planned, and he needed to get back to his family.  Fortunately, the hard climbing was over so I lead on and whipped around the exposed arete as quickly and safely as I could.  From here an airy and long abseil all the way to the base of the buttress.

The airy traverse of the final pitch

We then packed up and walked back up to the top.

Thankfully, at a slower pace than the last time!

For this climb I took a set of 0.4 – 3 Wild Country cams, 1 – 10 nuts, 4 hexes, 4 extenders, 8 various length quick draws and a selection of slings.  I could have dropped the hexes, often can as nuts can cover the size range but I find something reassuring about placing a bomber hex.

Congratulations for the baby boy aka Bazzaaa!!

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