Enjoying a Bristolian Classic, The Suspension Bridge Arete

Enjoying a Bristolian Classic, The Suspension Bridge Arete

The Route

The Suspension Bridge Arete is one of the more famous routes in Avon Gorge.  First climbed in 1956, the route has had countless numbers of ascents and is succumbing to the inevitable polish, but it does not take away from its grandeur.   

Starting 4 meters right of the arete, climb the easy pocketed wall to a large ledge 12 meters above.  Step left along the ledge until under a clear groove on the arete.  Take your time to arrange protection before commencing the real climbing.  Follow the obvious line until you are wedged in shallow overhanging chimney.  Before the pump strikes whilst arranging thread protection, figure out how to get yourself out of the chimney and overcome the bulge above.  An exciting sequence of moves leads to another ledge.  Climb the easy corner before exciting to the fixed metal plate on the left.  This metal plate is the belay and abseil point. 

The Main Face of the Suspension Bridge Buttress


Accessing the Suspension Bridge Buttress is not as straight forward as Sea Walls or Main Area.  There are 2 possible parking spaces off the A4.  They are on the right-hand side after passing under the Bridge as you head out of Bristol.  These are tricky to access due to the road being busy so alternatively, park in the layby at Main Wall or on Clifton Down.  From Main Wall it is a bit less than a kilometre walk back along the A4 to access the crag.  From Clifton Down, walk towards the observatory.  When nearing Engineers House on the left, there is a trail heading steeply down on the right (565766).  Follow this to the bottom until you reach some stairs.  At the bottom of the stairs, you be back on the A4.

From the A4, walk towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge passing under the overpass.  On your left will be a clearly walked path through the fence.  Take this whilst being careful not to damage the fence as the council are responsible for maintaining these fences and damage could cause crag access to be revoked.  Once crossing the fence, follow it up hill, ducking under/or over the fence supports, up the steep slope.  After 20 meters, do not continue up the path and instead, pass through another gap on the left.  After a few more meters you will be on the large grass platform beneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge. 

The Main Face of the Suspension Bridge Buttress often has nesting birds in the large pockets, including Jackdaws and potentially Peregrine Falcons.  It is advisable to avoid this route from April to June to minimise disruption to the nests, but it is essential that you check the information on BMC RAD which contains the most up to date information on crag restrictions.  BMC RAD linked here.

The Climb

On Monday 19th, after a rather brutal start to the week, I was in dire need of getting out of the house for a good session on rock.  The Suspension Bridge Buttress is a brilliant crag, it catches sun until late and can feel quite tropical on a hot day.  As a result, it dries quickly after rain and the protection of the Clifton Suspension Bridge above provides shelter for the worst of the weather. 

The Suspension Bridge Arete can be seen to a few meters left of the abseil rope

A friend and I had parked on Clifton Down and enjoyed a sunny but brisk walk down to the crag.  Once walking up from the A4 to the base of the crag, we set our bags down and sorted out the rack, I was going to lead this one, so I prepared myself with plenty of 10mm slings for the thread protection.  Thin slings are easier to poke through than thicker slings.  

From the large grassy bank, there is a clear well walked path up to the base of the crag.  A fixed rope makes walking up the lose ground easier.  When reaching the base of the route, we flaked the rope, tied in and I got ready to climb.

Stepping onto the rock is always a brilliant feeling, pushing my feet into the crag and feeling the first holds.  I moved up a few meters and placed some early protection, this is more to protect the belay than myself as if I fell, I would have dragged my friend down the bramble and nettle ridden slope.  I then powered up to the ledge 12 meters above, enjoying the start of the route.  When I reached the ledge, I heard my mate shouting up at me “you should place something now!”  On the easier start, I ran it out to the ledge where I spent time arranging bomber protection once under the main grove of the route.  From the ledge the climbing steepens and once off it, you are committed to the route. 

Using a series of pockets, I climbed up, until a overcoming a difficult move along the edge of a slab which took me into the awkward overhanging chimney.  I had wrong footed myself so could feel the tension in my calves as I tried to rearrange my position.  I fumbled in the thread protection, which took more time than I like to admit.  This meant my arms were starting to feel the strain. 

Once the protection was in, I had a bit of difficulty figuring out how to exit the chimney.  There was a small foothold outside of the chimney to the right which meant I could step out of it to shake out my arms and check the best way forward.  Using more brawn than brain, I pulled out of the chimney, attacking the bulge with gusto.  A few powerful moves and a bit of grunting later, I reached the next ledge. 

A bit shaky, I placed bomber protection and caught my breath.  The next section up the corner I climbed with ease but stupidly, I excited the corner to the right, not the left.  I looked at the less worn section of rock in front of me, thinking “this does not feel right”.  Realising I was off route, I made a rather sketchy down climb and stepped back across onto the other slide of the corner I had just exited where I saw the metal plate clearly in front.  Always pay attention to the guides.

I set up an anchor and belayed my friend up, who also had difficulty exiting the chimney.  After a few shouts of confusion, he overcame the bulge, climbed the corner, and joined me at the belay.  We set up the abseil, throwing the ropes to the base of the crag and then enjoyed the 30+ meter abseil back to the bottom. 

My pulling over the challenging bulge, taken from my GoPro

A long abseil later, and we were at the base of the Suspension Bridge Buttress having sent another of the classic routes of the Avon Gorge. 

A long way to the bottom

Thankfully there are still plenty left.

Ian enjoying the huge abseil on a sunny day

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