Archive for the 'The Peak District' Category

A date with dawn on the Great Ridge

Back Tor
With the country set to descend into chaos within hours a spur of the moment decision was made to pre-empt the madness and head on up to Peakland. Our destination was the Edale YHA and our mission an early morning assault on the great ridge to take in the sunrise.

All was going well until we arrived in Edale and realised that getting the car up to the youth hostel would be impossible without snow chains. Not a problem though; we are a hardy pair and happily carried our bits and bobs up and checked in before heading off to the pub for some much needed nosebag. With a couple of pints of Old Rosie, good grub and the snow piling up on the windowsills it was quite simply a wonderful way to spend a cold winter evening.

There were others too enjoying their stay in Peakland and we got talking to a couple of them on the walk back. Our conversation with Jason and Izabela continued in the YHA bar and later in the communal kitchen where we sang and played guitars while drinking wine, beer and vodka late into the night. Splendid stuff indeed.

It’ll come as no surprise that when my alarm went off at 6am my spirits had dipped somewhat and with a sore head and arid gob I staggered downstairs to meet the bouncing Czech who was also feeling fragile as a result of her nocturnal libations! Still, if there is a better cure for a hangover than winter peaks I have yet to hear about it.

So out into the cold morning went we and soon the white hills started to glow in the pre dawn. If we were to make it up there for sunrise we would have to be quick. The plan had been to traverse the high ridge that separates Edale and the Hope Valley in its entirety but that would mean we would almost certainly miss sun up. I took the executive decision to alter our route and we set about a direct course up to the col betwixt Back Tor and Hollins Cross. In our delicate state breaking trail through the fresh snow was sheer purgatory but as a pink glow filled the sky I upped the pace until at last we hit the ridge with but seconds to spare.
Peakland sunrise
There we stood, gasping for breath as the sun rose in a spectacular show of golden light. The snow on the ridge was virgin, the valley silent below, a stunning scene of pristine beauty and we shared it with no one but each other.

Such moments are bitter sweet for they are so fleeting, not unlike life for those that love the hills; so many places to go, so little time. Today though, time was something that we had in abundance and rejoicing in every step we slowly made our way over the ups and downs of the ridge before finally coming to rest on Mam Tor, the shivering mountain.
Heading off to Mam Tor
We peered down the gully that splits its precipitous face. Stone fall raked the gully which showed signs of a recent ascent, no doubt a pre dawn climb while the icy cold of night bonded together the crumbling bastion above.
Classic choss
Before long a chill wind was upon us followed by a curtain of low cloud, blinding us to all but the ground beneath our feet. The show was over, it was time to go and we retraced our steps, smug in the knowledge that while those in valleys slept we had witnessed the miracle birth of a new born day, a gift that so many take for granted.
The Great Ridge wall

Looking to Back Tor and Lose HIll

Dovestone Tor

Dovestone Tor
A walk on the quiet side
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My summer season is getting off to a shaky start this year and memories of romping carelessly up VS climbs are as distant as the crags themselves. My excuses have been myriad, including favourites such as too little (i.e. no) time spent at the wall, a need to reacquaint myself with the peculiar demands of gritstone and even that I prefer hill walking and winter climbing to short battles on the outcrops of the Peak. Whatever the facts of the matter, one truth is that wobbling up VDiffs at the crowded Meccas of the Roaches and Stanage Popular can be exasperating and embarrassing. The solution is clear; spend more time on the rock and preferably at a venue where spidermen and human flies are less likely to be encountered. In considering the above criteria one place above all others loomed large in my mind and promised manifold delights to one for which ideally the climbs themselves are incidental to a wider day out in the hills and that place is Dovestone Tor.
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By Peakland standards it is remote and has the longest walk in of any of the crags in Eastern Grit. That, allied with its high moorland setting was enough to get my juices flowing, so after mowing the lawn and doing the washing up I asked nicely if we could go there and received an answer in the affirmative. In the end the climbs were merely punctuation points in what turned out to be a walk of rare quality.

Starting at the evocatively named ‘Cut Throat Bridge’ we wandered off into the hot April afternoon and within a few short minutes felt pleasantly detached from the modern world, surrounded as we were by peaty, heather clad moors and savouring an already expansive vista. We met with few people along the way but were somewhat surprised that our route appeared more popular with mountain bikers than walkers, especially when we came upon Whinstone Lee Tor where we were gifted with a classic view taking in the Derwent Valley reservoirs, Bleaklow, Kinder and the Great Ridge up to Mam Tor. Make no mistake, this is wonderful walking country and to my mind should be savoured at length.
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By this point we’d been walking a while and still there was no sign of our crag, only the curving sweep of Derwent Edge and some way ahead a strange isolated collection of buttresses which our map informed us were the Hurkling Stones. A closer look at this curious formation couldn’t come soon enough so our pace quickened along with our pulses and before long we were stood beneath them, admiring their elemental, sculpted form and itching to clamber all over them. However, time waits for no one and we had a pressing appointment at Dovestone Tor to attend to so off again we went until upon it we stumbled.

At once I was smitten. Though a little green in places and not the most extensive crag it was clear that we were onto something a bit special. The centrepiece of the crag is the Great Buttress, at first glance a steep, pocketed wall where no route below VS could possibly exist, an impression that would later be quashed. Yes, the rock looked superb but the setting in which it stands is gloriously bleak and so far removed from the Birchens and Stanages as to be almost of another time and place.

Strangely we were not alone after all and a few other teams were out enjoying the sun if not the solitude but there was plenty to go at and I got started by soloing Handy Hole Wall S4a. That was easy enough so we moved on and roped up for Stingray which at Vdiff was a little stiff for the grade. That set the tone for the day. The Vdiffs we climbed were either tricky, steep or lacking in protection and in the case of Dovestone Wall all three! We finished off with Lucie leading Canker which proved to be a bit of a shocker for the girl but it’s still early in the season and we saw an improvement in our performance (both physical and mental) compared to our previous two outings.
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Before embarking on the walk back to the car we sat awhile, quietly surveying the far reaching panorama and agreed that one day we would return. If you like your gritstone rough textured, unpolished and furnished with positive holds then Dovestone Tor might be the crag for you. If you also enjoy getting away from the crowds, wonderful views and the feeling of wild country then waste time no more, get yourself up there soon…you won’t regret it.
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A Peakland perambulation

A Peakland perambulation
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Fine weather, experienced while tethered to our places of work can brighten our mood and make our daily toil more sufferable, though when the weekend comes and brings with it biblical deluges the mental well being of all hill devotees plummets like a v-differ on an E1! And so it has been for a while. All work and no play makes Nick a grumpy bastard.

This weekend the cabin fever became unbearable and bored with kicking lumps out of each other we decided to brave the rain, resigned to a soaking but in dire need of exercise. On the A14 monsoon conditions were enjoyed with the M6 resembling the Manchester ship canal. Though unspoken our thoughts were in unison…”What is the point”? However, upon junction 27 a strange thing did happen. Away to the north and east a patch of sky in an extravagant shade of blue imbued in us that blind optimism peculiar to those who derive their pleasure and seek solace in our wonderful natural heritage.

We were bound for Stanage Edge with a view to traversing the escarpment as you sometimes do in inclement weather. Still, I packed a sack full of climbing gear just in case and even if it remained unused it would be good for the old fitness to drag it around all day.

Come Hathersage things were really looking up and the dry stone walls were dry, a sure sign that I was going enjoy the gritstone orgy my heart so dearly yearned for. Lucie had other plans and vetoed any climbing. We were “getting fat and a walk would do us good”. Apparently it was also too cold to climb! Well, that was me told! It is at times such as this that one can do well to remind himself of his blessings rather than dwell on what he has not. In truth, I should have been ecstatic. The light was set for a great photography session, the keen breeze was bound to rid us of any cobwebs and the sheer beauty of the Peak would surely banish any hint of urban depression though the sight and sounds of climbers at the popular end did little to convince me of my good fortune. “Never mind” I was once more assured, “A walk will do us good”.
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And do you know what? It did! We made a tour of the many areas, recced future climbs, watched pebble wrestlers at the plantation and strode purposefully on all the way to High Neb where at last good sense was acted upon. “If you won’t belay me I’m going to solo some routes”. Never one to miss out on the fun, Lucie demanded that I should “get the rope out then”!
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We did Tango Crack, after which I was entirely satisfied, declaring that there would be no more climbing today. Funny how things turn out really as Lucie was now in the mood for a few more routes. Unusually I stood my ground, the light was by then far too good to be messing about on rocks and I got to work securing the photos that would make me world famous, rich and more probably neither. During our return leg I mused on how an addiction to climbing can sometimes get in the way of the most important thing, which is simply getting out there and soaking up the goodness that abounds in our precious uplands, a valuable lesson relearned. “Now then, when do I next get to go climbing”!
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Matterhorn Ridge

The wonders of Winnats

A game of choss with my Czech mate
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Needing a fix and harbouring a faint hankering for the esoteric I dug out my thinking cap and blew away the cobwebs. I was after something a little different, a multi pitch climb with a mountain ambience but with the mountains out of reach I had to rummage through the ill frequented corners of my imagination until at last I came up with a suitable plan. We would ignore the none too promising weather forecast and head up to the Peak District to see for ourselves if Winnats Pass was as enchanting as the photos in my books suggested. We were not disappointed.

As we approached Castleton I spied an improbably narrow gash in the hillside beyond and wished we were going to explore its inner sanctum rather than our planned itinerary. A wish wasted for moments later an unmistakeable collection of limestone turrets came into view; improbably narrow gash, here we come.

So, with the car parked we grabbed our sacks and headed into the pass under a threatening sky and buffeted by an enthusiastic bluster. What a place Winnats is, a grand chasm in miniature bristling with sharp towers, peppered with holes leading to who knows where and no doubt inhabited by repulsive trolls (not unlike UKC). Of particular interest to the low grade bumbly are a pair of graceful spurs, the ridges of Matterhorn and Elbow (Vdiff and diff respectively). I quickly found an appropriate viewing station and pointed Lucie at Elbow, “See that there? Go and climb it before it starts raining”.  With an unusual compliance she scampered off and was almost at the top of the first rampart when from above came a mutinous oath. “I don’t like it. There’s ice on the holds and I really don’t like it”. Feeling a keen sense of empathy I demanded that she “come down from there” before hurting herself and once more she was compliant. Not wishing to bring her claims into question we gave Elbow the Spanish archer and moved swiftly on to Matterhorn Ridge where with a wry smile she demanded that I “climb it before it starts raining”.
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The first pitch while slippery was easy enough though the best holds came away in my hands and I had to resist the urge to throw them overboard for fear of injuring passing walkers and motorists so respectfully placed them back in their sockets.  With a little relief I gained a short knife edge and brought Lucie up to inform me that my two pieces of protection had fallen out. I wasn’t overly surprised.  Above was a soaring crest which Lucie declined to lead so off I went employing a technique of climbing with my legs and using hands for balance only, I’d quickly learned that pulling too hard on the holds would see me making a rapid descent to the road below. With a pleasing sense of exposure I ran out a full 50 metres of rope, managing to find two useless gear placements before topping out to the novelty of a blue sky.
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Soon I was joined by the lady and we dashed off to seek shelter from the wind on a palatial bivvy platform. It was still early but we’d had our fill of choss bothering so sauntered back down opting to fill an hour with a descent into Speedwell Cavern, a moderately interesting diversion with an entertaining motor mouth guide at the helm.

We re-emerged from our subterranean experience to find the sky performing all manner of magic so with no time to lose we raced up Winnats and ran up Mam Tor to complete a fantastic peakland day. However, there was one more thing to do before our day could be rightly termed an unequivocal success…fish and chips from the Toll Bar in Stoney Middleton. Perfect.
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Goodbye winter snow, hello summer rock

Goodbye winter snow, hello summer rock

Lucie’s introduction to climbing

So, as the spectacular winter drew to a close it became time to think about the rock climbing season and long sunny days on crag and mountain. Throughout the snowy months I had pondered on how my winter climbing would benefit my mental approach to summer rock and fancied that all the ascents made on an unpredictable medium would leave me much more confident when back on the solid stuff. Come April it was time to put my theory to the test with a visit to Birchen Edge in the Peak District.

This promised to be an interesting exercise as not only would it be my first foray into rock climbing since the previous October, it would also mark the introduction to the outdoors for Lucie who had shown great natural ability on the few visits we had made to the local wall. This worried me slightly as I have not been quick to race through the grades and have settled comfortably as a confirmed Vdiffer. I could foresee that should I fail to up my game then young Lucie would soon progress from absolute beginner to someone dragging me up harder climbs leaving my ego in tatters.

Joining us at Birchen were Psycho Simon, Bat Girl and Big Juggs, an equally rusty bunch who had remained largely inactive during the previous months. So there we were on a glorious day and eager to show the ‘Bouncing Czech’ what climbing was all about. Whilst I sorted gear and ropes Juggs started off solo up a diff, soon retreating after coming cheek to jowl with an awkward bulge. Lucie however took this as a challenge to be met head on and within minutes had completed her first outdoor climb solo. We four more experienced folk looked at each other, incredulous and somewhat taken aback by girl’s boldness and the utter cheek of her dismissal of our closely held tradition of being led by a trusty veteran and learning the ropes before indulging in the lunacy of soloing.

Bristling with indignation I decided to raise the stakes and headed over to Barbette Buttress, a Severe 4b. “That will put her in her place” I thought and it did, but not before I had struggled, huffed, puffed and whimpered my way up first. A pathetic display of cowardice which brought hoots of derision from all present. On joining me at the top of the climb I wondered why Lucie was sporting a fetching wound to her forehead and learned that when wrenching out a well seated rock 6 it had popped out and belted her square on the noggin. I had warned of grit’s unfailing ability to inflict cuts and bruises but had neglected to even imagine such a chuckle-some injury. We live and learn!

With that we sauntered across to Trafalgar Wall for some slab climbing before Juggs decided on Powder Monkey Parade. In the chimney a miraculous exhibition of tomfoolery ensued somewhat akin to an eel giving birth to a whale until can’t became must and a sling for aid was thrown around the chockstone permitting upward progress. Next to tackle the heinous fissure was Lucie who floated up as if her blood was infused with helium. This was becoming embarrassing and I steeled myself in the knowledge that I too would surmount the beast with aplomb. I soon realised that it wasn’t going to be that simple, in fact it was going to be impossible and unbeknown to the two above I climbed onto Bat Girl’s shoulders until I could grasp the chockstone and heave myself to victory.

By now some of us were satisfied but growing tired though at least one of our number had a point to prove so in an audacious plan to lead my hardest climb to date I dragged the party to Sail Buttress, the Classic Rock hard severe (recently down graded from VS). Moving quickly so not to be caught off guard by second thoughts I mantled the first block and then the second, arriving at the crux just in time to realise I hadn’t the right cams on my harness. Big Juggs threw up a couple of 4CUs and I slammed them into the crack before making the big stride left. A nervy moment and then full commitment found me on the nose and the climb all but won. I was ecstatic and hyperventilated awhile before cruising to the top in a blaze of glory. Lucie seconded then Bat Girl and Juggs came up on a top rope, congratulating me on my lead. A great days climbing, a meal in the Robin Hood and a fantastic start to the season. Happy days.



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