We’ve been having fun all summer long
Tales of a bumbly summer
It is early October and here in the Welland Valley the mornings are beginning to freshen, the mist hangs low and the foliage is showing signs of the spectacular changes that will soon turn our part of the world -and indeed my beloved uplands- into a wonderland of golden loveliness. Time then, to reflect on a summer of rare vintage. A summer filled with great climbs, inexplicable grade breakthroughs and dominated by a new-found love of gritstone climbing. Since the start of May I have been very active, climbing 114 routes in a variety of venues from grotty Leicestershire quarries to Lakeland Crags via the Peakland outcrops and of course my spiritual home in Eryri. 114 routes, many were forgettable, some frightening, others joyous but most of them worthwhile in one way or another.
May was the month of a strange obsession fuelled by my move to the Leicestershire/Rutland border. Esoteric ‘delights’ close to home became the objects of my desire and a Saturday morning ritual developed centring around the Leicestershire Climbs website and the UKC logbooks. “Where shall we climb today” was the call and in due course we took in the polished hornstone of Beacon Hill, Markfield’s igneous intrusion, the day-glow orange precambrian slate agglomerate of the Outwoods and even a spot of buildering at Slawston Bridge. Things were starting to get a little weird and my fevered dreams were giving cause for concern so a departure from our local outcrops was in order and where better than the mountains of Lakeland to sooth a troubled mind?
So it was off to Borrowdale for Lucie’s first taste of multi-pitch on Bentley Beetham’s big boot extravaganza ‘Corvus’ followed by an afternoon at ‘Shepherds’ where we added to the polish on Brown Slabs. Accompanied by Croc and Peter the highlight of the weekend (for some) may well have been our scenic drive home through North Yorkshire and a well earned meal at the Tan Hill Inn but Lucie will tell you that it was her ascent of Brown Slabs Crack after one of our number ignominiously called for a top rope. She can be a cruel, unfeeling wench.
June was a bumper month with wall to wall sunshine enabling me to bag 46 routes. Three out of four weekends were spent camping in the Peak with only a trip to Craig Buddon in Leicestershire bucking the trend. We started with Lucie’s first visit to Stanage’s High Neb where cracks, corners and bold slabs were climbed. Most memorable for me was struggling up a short severe trying desperately not to fall on poor gear only to top out to a mob of marauding teenagers, one of which enquired as to my well being, “Are you ok”? “No, I’m fucking well not” came my terse reply!
So, on to the compact rock of Craig Buddon which overlooks the picturesque Swithland reservoir. Only two routes were climbed; one a dirty and forgettable VDiff and the other a stiffer proposition. Starco (HVS 5a) turned out to be a complete bastard and largely gearless save for a shiny new piton which took our weight on more occasions than I care to mention. Stiff moves to vanquish the overhang proved too much for a short arse and soon I was pumped. The bouncing Czech fared no better and was soon back beside me wondering when we could go home.
Inspiration was sorely needed and came in the form of a magnificent display from a spitfire which flew overhead performing a number of breathtaking aerobatic manoeuvres. Suitably inspired I jumped back on the route reaching the crux overhang only to glance down at my ‘attentive’ belayer who was gawping in every direction but mine as our airborne chum continued to throw shapes high above. Poise turned to rage and in a blur of flailing limbs I suddenly had two hands on a huge jug and pulled through the move roaring out my victory in no uncertain terms. A one move wonder and a terrible dog but I’d climbed my first HVS. Now we could go home.
The next weekend found us back at Stanage, this time at the (ever) popular end where an early start paid dividends. With the crag to ourselves we bagged route after route including the wonderful Black Hawk Hell Crack, Flying Buttress, Hollybush Crack, Heaven Crack and Lucie’s first lead on Straight Chimney.
By mid June we were really finding our rhythm and headed north again stopping off at Birchen en route to our camp site. As has become our custom we soloed a few Vdiffs as an aperitif before moving on to better things. Captain’s Prerogative fell easily (HS my arse), Fo’c’sle Wall felt stiff at VS 4c while Wonderful Copenhagen served up a perplexing 5a move before I could add it to my newly bulging log book. The route I really wanted though was the ‘Classic Rock’ tick of Topsail. I had seconded it a few years ago and had harboured a desire to lead it ever since, now seemed as good a time as any to bag it. Sadly the crux put up absolutely no resistance whatsoever and I regret to say that it was a complete anti climax, a timely reminder that to get the most from certain routes they must be tackled at just the right time in one’s climbing career; as it happened I had missed the boat my about a month!
The following day was a ‘two crag’ day and an early start found us at a deserted Bamford Edge. Now, although Lucie was none to keen I have to say that I found this quiet and wonderfully positioned crag a balm for the soul and will surely return before too long as a certain Gargoyle Flake is sounding the clarion call. First though I need a willing friend to take my picture on the photogenic finishing moves which will adorn our mantelpiece. Anyhow, we climbed some nice little numbers with ‘Possibility’ (S4a) giving me a chuckle-some scare as a startled pigeon parted my hair on the hand traverse but best of all by a country mile was the brilliant ‘Brown’s Crack’ (HS4b), a wonderful arrow-straight line affording a sustained but well protected orgy of jamming. Haven’t climbed it yet? Then put it on your list and see for yourself, you will not be disappointed.
At midday we’d (read Lucie had) had enough of Bamford’s skin shredding ramparts but were still eager to climb more so we headed off to Burbage North which I was sure would hit the spot and keep the Bouncing Czech smiling…it did and she found herself rejoicing (perversely I might add) in Green Groove and Sentinel Chimney, grot encrusted fissures which have since become her speciality. With her appetite for constriction satiated she more sensibly commandeered pole position for her first leads at the grade of severe, collecting Ring Climb and then Still Orange after which she goaded me with claims that I was a cheating wimp for taking a slightly lower line on the short traverse. The girl was getting too big for her Mammuts and suffering from delusions of Dawes-like natural ability but since it had taken me two years of climbing before I managed my first severe and her a mere six weeks I had scant grounds for protestation. Playing the long game I held my tongue until a suitable opportunity to redress the balance of power presented itself. I didn’t have to wait too long and when I came upon Black Slab (VS 4b) I lost no time in jumping on it. Moving smoothly and in my mind’s eye with great style I made it look easy and to me it was, I like slabs. Lucie however doesn’t and wobbled amusingly up on thin moves emitting snorts of displeasure. Male pride was restored.
Next weekend saw us back at Burbage where 12 more routes were added to our collection. After our customary solos we got onto the good stuff with three brilliant VS cracks, Brooks’ Layback, Greeny Crack and most satisfyingly Amazon Crack which I had struggled to climb on top rope a couple of years ago. It was about this time that I started to feel like a real climber and wanting to prove it beyond all doubt I got on Bilberry Cake, a slabby little number which at HVS 5a flatters the ego and makes one wonder where the 5a move is. Strangely I have climbed harder Vdiffs! Lucie meanwhile was continuing her reign of terror though I am not sure who was more terrified when after a guide book reading error she found herself soloing Right Recess Crack. Sketchy moves saw her to the top and not wanting to be outdone I engaged with the bugger before losing my resolve and down climbing. A brief consultation of Eastern Grit revealed that our Vdiff was in fact Hard Severe!
The following day we headed off to Higgar Tor as I was keen to climb on the leaning tower. A cold and blustery wind kept our endeavours to a minimum and after climbing Hecate we scurried away and drove to Manchester to visit my Grandad. On our return home we decided to take a detour through Western Grit country for a quick reconnoitre of Ramshaw and the Roaches. By the time we reached Hen Cloud it was 7 pm and I was fairly itching to climb but dared not broach the subject for fear of being branded a crag glutton. Now, I have for a time suspected that Lucie is the perfect woman but conclusive proof arrived when without any prompting on my part she got out of the car and pulled our sacks from the boot, the words “Let’s climb something” were music to my ears. As had been the case in Derbyshire earlier in the day it was very, very windy but from memory I knew of a Vdiff (The Arete) which we could get done without too much fuss.
The climb starts with a boulder problem on an elephant’s arse and for the life of me I couldn’t make the move, yo yo-ing ignominiously and quite convinced I was going to fall off. This amused the bouncing Czech enormously until I was forced to silence her mirth with a stern “Shut up”! She then pointed out that maybe I was taking the wrong line…she was right (as per usual) and soon I was below the steep and exposed crux with the wind threatening to rip my helmet off. An exciting manoeuvre led me to easier ground and the first belay. Lucie followed easily hooting at the exposure and climbing like a monkey. The next two pitches were uneventful and we topped out in the evening sunshine to a round of applause from and old gentleman who had been watching our antics. It had been a strange day but Hen Cloud had provided just the tonic we needed to fortify us for the long journey home.
A week lifting carpets whilst dreaming of rock followed and I was glad when the weekend came around. Sadly Lucie had to work so with ‘Team Demon’ member Gavin I made for Froggatt where tales of bold slabs had me gagging for some action. After a couple of warm up climbs I made a bee line for that doyen of debate, Three Pebble Slab which I climbed with no apparent difficulty. In less than three months I’d gone from a confirmed Vdiffer to leading my first E1, or at least I thought I had, TPS has since been downgraded to HVS but I am taking the tick folks! Full of bravado and puffed up with pride there was only one climb I was interested in, Tody’s Wall which surely would go without incident. In actuality it didn’t happen and after surmounting the overhang in a most unorthodox fashion I found myself in a tangle of limbs knowing that any move I made would see me plummet earthwards. I had to do something but what could I do? Before I could puzzle out the answer I peeled off backwards and in a flash was hanging off Gavin’s brand new ‘Dragon Cam’ sporting a nasty rope burn on my hand. Never again will I berate university freshers grappling with a three star classic. Well, not until I can myself dispatch the said classic with aplomb, though I like them should stick to the less popular routes until developing the prerequisite skills!
So, whilst enjoying my cragging immensely it was time to get back to the mountains, this time with Gavin and ‘Psycho’ Simon Perkins. Unfortunately we arrived in Eryri to a forecast of rain and more rain but unperturbed we waited for a break in the deluge and legged it over to Grooved Arete on the East Face of Tryfan. We all knew it was a bad idea but dogged optimism allied with a mongoloid bent found us abseiling off the third pitch. We must have made a sorry sight soloing Tryfan Bach soggy and dishevelled on the way back to the car. The next day was no better so off home we went stopping only to grab an impromptu couple of routes at Castle Inn Quarry, one of which (Route 1 5+) proved to be an absolute beauty with some fantastic flowstone features.
Now then, up until this point (mid July) I had been out climbing or walking every weekend since early April and when my progress was derailed by a three week hiatus I apparently became a pig to live and work with (my sincerest apologies are hereby extended to my nearest and dearest), so it was a great relief to everyone involved when once again Lucie and I found ourselves back home in Eryri.
Arriving as we did in the middle of the day we took in a brief tour of the Dinorwig quarry and whilst there I gave Lucie her first taste of the slate on Equinox, Seamstress and First Stop, one of the bolted routes at Bus Stop with a lower off attached a dangerously loose block, if you know what’s good for you etc. Though a little unsure of the climbing style, Lucie was very impressed with Dinorwig’s sombre and other worldly environs. Indeed, I foresee another visit before too long.
The next day dawned beautifully bright and dry so it was back to Tryfan for my forth ascent of First Pinnacle Rib and Lucie’s first multi pitch leads. The girl did good and as a result we monstered the climb in less than three hours which left plenty of scope for more. With that in mind we descended the South Ridge and contoured around Y Gribin to have a play on Sub Cneifion Rib which was even better than I remembered it to be with lovely delicate pitches bookending a scrappy middle section. We left the mountains more than satisfied but I’m told that for the following 20 days I was a grumpy arse and a complete nightmare to live with. Can anyone see a pattern forming?
Anyway, I became the perfect partner after another blast in the mountains, this time with my ‘Team Desperate’ cohorts Andy and the Nobz. A great day on Sentries Ridge was augmented by some more rain dodging on Craig Caseg Fraith Isaf where polished severes were the order of the day. That evening we were joined by the bouncing Czech who I had missed terribly and possibly more so than the mountains whilst in exile so it was great to be with my two true loves again, a happy man was I. With a half day to play with we dragged Andy to Cwm Idwal as Lucie had developed a preoccupation with the eponymous slabs and knowing her as I do there was no danger of me getting any peace until she had got to grips with their polished holds. As per usual the more popular courses were busy so we chose Faith which gave a pleasant outing and an abject lesson in why I insist that Lucie faces in to the rock when descending steep ground. A lesson she hasn’t quite taken on board resulting in a lower off from some in situ tat.
So, to bring us right up to date we must visit Cwm Graianog -home of the Atlantic Slab- with big Peter Lane and ‘Dangerous’ Croc. Readers will already be aware that I am big fan of climbing in Graianog so I won’t wax lyrical but merely give you the facts. Our main objective was the fantastic Left Edge but first big Peter insisted that we warm up on the Red Slab. Lucie and I chose Underlap, an uneventful Vdiff but a good introduction to the climbing style there whilst ‘Team Dangerous’ enjoyed Savannah. After our warm up some nasty scree bashing led us the bottom of Left Edge where as soon as I set foot on the first pitch the rain started and refused to abate until we reached the car some hours later. Ok, so it wasn’t the best way to end a spectacular summer season but it was much better than nothing and who knows, it’s only October, the weather for the next week is looking good and I will be spending that week in beautiful Lakeland. Watch this space.