I'm left breathless for a moment, then come to realise what has occurred. There is the pocket I was trying to hold so desperately before. And sure enough, there is a piece of my hand still attached to it. Warm liquid begins to trickle around my wrist and spiral to the sea below. Even had I been able to regain contact with the rock, this attempt on the climb is over. I now face the ignominy of a lower back to the belay.
The climb is 'Mirrorball', one of a number of fantastic sport climbs at Dorset's least celebrated cliff, Amphitheatre Roofs. Why least celebrated? Perhaps it is one of those accidents of geomorphology that while Lulworth’s other well-known cliffs are often crowded with deep-water soloists in the summer and sport climbers in the winter, Amphitheatre Roofs remain resolutely deserted. Similarly, while those other easily accessible traditional climbing spots of the Cattle Troughs and Subluminal are thoroughly climbed out and perennially busy, the cliffs here remain underdeveloped and not only quiet, but until recently, empty. Perhaps its reputation of being considered a 'hard' crag has made it unappealing for the sport climbing hordes. Or is it the nature of the routes themselves, with their short intense cruxes on intimidating blank roofs? Whatever it is, it is not the quality of the rock or the positions, and with the recent addition of low-grade traditional climbs, the Amphitheatre Roofs has a little something for everyone.
In some ways ‘Mirrorball’ is THE archetypal Amphitheatre Roofs climb: a relatively easy slab and an overwhelmingly steep overhang. Some people may well wonder what the attraction is of routes that are seemingly so short and unbalanced, however this is missing the point: the roof sections are so intense, both in the physical and mental sense, and somehow the abruptness of transition from slab to overhang gives the routes an impact out of all proportion to their length.
After a prolonged session of ‘taping-up’ it is time for the slabby amble up the lower wall (the entertainment value of this section is dependent on the conditions: in dry and airy conditions all is well, however in the dreaded ‘minging’ conditions it can become a battle of nerves and soapy rock). After circumventing the lower wall, the halfway break is reached, where a comfortable rest can be had. Unfortunately this gives you plenty of time to contemplate the impending roof ahead (or behind?), which has grown alarmingly, in direct proportion to its proximity!
A quick stretch out to clip the first bolt in the roof and you can begin to feel a little more sanguine about the challenge ahead. It is now that you are faced with a common dilemma on the routes at this crag, a dilemma that is Boolean in nature: right or left hand in the first pocket? A wrong choice at this point will leave you in an irreversible position, and almost certainly ‘boxed-out’ of your mind!