Tuesday, 23 August 2011


The weather recently has been pretty dry, but this seems to have coincided with a spell of no wind. Having already been midged off Stanage once this month, I was a bit apprehensive when Adam and I went to Curbar last week. There didn't seem to be any in the car park, but I was on guard. We wandered along to the Flying Buttress area, where a couple of two-star VS 5a's lay in wait. My limited experience of Curbar VS 5a's is that they're impossible. Like everything else at Curbar. I was afraid.

Adam took the initiative and set off up Calver Wall, a pleasant wall with a top crack requiring 'hard fingerlocking' or 'insecure laybacking'. Oh goody. Although he made a few harassed noises, and put in more than two bits of gear, Adam didn't seem to take too long, but he did seem to do some laybacking. Eek. I followed, and found the top crack steep and unhelpfully wide (you'd have to be some kind of massive-fingered hero to fingerlock it) as well as a bit steep for comfort. Eventually impending pump forced me to actually do something and I tried Adam's laybacking solution. Distressingly it seemed to work. Must have been a one off. It wasn't easy for 5a though. I think I'd have been upset on the sharp end.

Curbar and Baslow in the evening sun

With this in mind I was pretty apprehensive about Wall Climb (inspired naming). I was promised "surprisingly sustained" climbing, with a comment about tired arms. Double whoop. Somehow I had actually found the only soft touch on all of Curbar, and every move was followed by a rest and gear. I got to the top feeling a bit cheated, especially when a cloud of midges tried to eat my face off whilst I was belaying Adam. Once he was at the top I took full evasive action and engaged full midge lockdown. This left me feeling rather warm whilst belaying Adam on the next route, but the slow massacre of the little buggers as they landed on my hands (the only bit of me they could get to) made me feel a little better.

The next route in question was Baron's Wall, a VS 5b with a Joe Brown pedigree. The start looked hard. Even more so when Adam essentially dynoed for a pocket of unknown goodness and made some pleased sounding grunts when it was good and he didn't fall off again. I was unable (or maybe just unwilling) to replicate his dynamism, but found a desperate static sequence and just managed to tickle my hand into the pocket before I peeled off backwards. 5b my arse. The top crack was fun, but would be stiff for VS on its own. It was kind of reassuring to get back to proper Curbar grading. Unfortunately by this stage the midges were unbearable, so we ran away bravely in the style of Sir Robin.

A few days later we were back out again, but this time I lobbied for an exploratory foray to Stoney Middleton (is there any other kind of foray there?) to see if the fabled midge-repelling properties of limestone were really all they're cracked up to be. It turns out that it isn't all a conspiracy, and there really weren't any midges (hooray). I was super-keen to do Evasor, and Adam graciously/foolishly volunteered to lead the 'poor and sparsely protected' (and totally cack looking) first pitch. He climbed slower than I've ever seen him climb, and spent an awful lot of time moaning about the gear being rubbish and the rock being loose, but eventually he reached the stout tree belay. Only it wasn't very stout, being rotten and full of grass. He didn't seem very happy about this.

Around about this point Kate told me she was sure it was going to rain, and then disappeared off with Tammy the enthusiastic hound. Psyche. The first pitch was indeed rubbish, but at least it wasn't polished (at least I don't think there was any polish under all of the dirt). The second pitch started with a traverse which hadn't looked far from the ground but seemed to go on forever when I was actually there. It was relatively easy, but quite exposed and I was wary of running out of quickdraws.

A terrible photo, but proof of Adam climbing on something that isn't grit!

After a lot of sideways scuttling I looked up to see the corner I was aiming for above me. It looked steep. Very steep. The start seemed to be well-blessed with jugs though, so I hauled on them and found some more jugs and then some more jugs. And then I looked down and realised what the guide was on about when it mentioned VS climbing in an E3 position. Wow. Some more jugs and exposure later (with the crux exactly where it should be) I placed my last quickdraw and tiptoed up the slightly dusty exit to the belay. One of those routes where the first pitch is worth -1 stars, but the second is worth 3, so it averages out at 2. Adam appeared mostly to still be too grumpy about the first pitch to really enjoy himself (although perhaps that was just being on more than 15 metres off the ground), but did begrudgingly admit that it had been quite good.

So, another win for Stoney. I'm almost starting to like the place...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Squeeze Chimneys, Rain And Rather Too Much Limestone Part 3

In the middle of the night, in Eric's field, Simon and I were woken by a rather bold fox, which had taken a shine to the cool box in our porch. Shining a torch in its face had little effect, but shouting at it seemed to have done the trick. We moved all of the food inside the tent and went back to sleep, only to be woken again a few minutes later by the fox trying to eat its way through the tent into the cool box (there wasn't even anything particularly exciting in it). I instinctively lept at the raging beast in my sleeping bag and let out a blood curdling roar. At least that's what I imagined. Simon claims I rolled about a bit and went "Rar" in a slightly camp manner. Either way we eventually persuaded the animal to take its attentions elsewhere.

The next day dawned much wetter than we had been promised. And after extensive forecast consultation we were forced to accept that the only hope for dry rock lay at the other end of Wales in the Wye Valley. We set out driving and about 27 hours later arrived at the top of Wintour's Leap (via a rather tasty steak baguette in Rhaeyadr and an awesome old school gear shop in Crickhowell), where it was gloriously not raining. We high-tailed it down to the base of the crag and yomped up Left-Hand Route (which had a rather unpleasantly shiny crux) and Bacchanalian, with its unique finish in somebody's garden.

The next day it was raining again, so we decided to explore 1km long abandoned railway tunnel under Ban-y-Gor which the guidebook mentioned. After some fun and games trying to locate the entrance to the tunnel, we were in. The tunnel was far from straight, so it wasn't long before we were in total darkness. After what seemed like an eternity we eventually reached the other end and looped back via the majesterial tottering choss of Tintern Quarry for a celebratory pub lunch.

Goodbye daylight...

After this the rain had stopped, so we nipped up Zelda (which was slightly underwhelming for a three star route, but perhaps I just don't like Wintour's and it's shiny quarried nonsense) and then retreated to the campsite for a barbecue.

The next day was forecast to be dry, so we got up early and made a beeline for Shorn Cliff. We both got on with the unquarried, non-shiny, hold and gear infested limestone, and had a thoroughly excellent day. I led the 3 classic HVSs I'd not led on my last visit (although not Tiger's Don't Cry, that looks nails), and managed to persuade/bully/chide/harass Simon into leading The Laughing Cavaliers as his first proper HVS. Bo.

The next day was Saturday, so we decided to head back Sheffieldwards. The Roaches provided a convenient stopping-off point and the forecast rain even stayed away for once. We began with a gentle saunter up the uber-classic VS Valkyrie, which I'd somehow failed to climb on every previous visit. After a slightly damp first pitch, Simon tackled the crux flake with gusto (and some comedy faces and mild hyper-ventilation) and impressed some watching passers-by.

Continuing the general classic theme I led Technical Slab with the excitingly green (but thankfully very easy) Neb Finish, Simon led Brown and Whillans' Aqua and I had fun with juggy flakes on the ironically named Runner Route. We finished the day with a tussle with Calcutta Crack (comically undergraded at Severe in the BMC guide) and another Left-Hand Route, then an epic-pizza-y win.

Simon enjoying the greenery on the Neb Finish

The final day of our trip involved yet more limestone. We were joined by J-Rowe and team Lewis at Ravensdale, where everything is buffed to a high sheen. I did lead a rather delightful jamming crack and a pretty tricky HVS. Simon lost all psyche and ran away back to London, so James and I moved to the main buttress and finished the day with a fun jaunt up the mega-polished Medusa. I had particular fun protecting the second pitch entirely with hexes. Old Skool.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Squeeze Chimneys, Rain And Rather Too Much Limestone Part 2

The next part of my fiendish holiday plan started with meeting Oli and a couple of his friends, Ruth and Tom, in the campsite opposite the Vaynol in Nant Peris. Saturday morning announced its arrival with some rain, so we moseyed down to Llanberis to get some internet reception and see what was going down. After an age sitting in the car as the rain hammered down we found a promising forecast for Tremadog, so we headed South. As we arrived the crag was drying out, so we stopped for a quick cuppa in Eric's and Tom and I started up the alternate start to Merlin. The first few moves were damp, but once above the trees everything was dry and good (except for the large puddle hiding in a jug that got us both). The route was good, and the weather carried on improving, so we nipped up a couple of routes near Yogi after lunch, before a quick romp up Christmas Curry.

We finished the day by climbing Axeover, a VS newly promoted to 2 stars in the latest guide, which many people walk past on the descent, but probably never gets climbed. The description promised a precarious crux near the top, so I was slightly put out at the slap-in-the-face 5a layback near the bottom, and the juggy but foothold free (and also possibly 5a) flake above. When I finally reached the overhang at the crux I was presented with a tree-jug of questionable stability, but reasoning that as my last 3 bits of gear were slings on various branches and roots of the same tree I was pretty well committed to its long term survival, I yarded on it and reached the top rather harassed and ready for a nice lie down.

The tree-jug on Axeover

The next day the forecast guided us back to Eric's, and I managed to talk Oli into the dark delights of Shadrach. Under advisement I abandoned my helmet and squirmed into the inviting cleft. It was a little tighter than I'd been expecting, but whilst this made upwards progress difficult, it also made it impossible to slide back down. After much amusement the chimney above closed up and I began to wonder how I was ever going to get out. After a bit more thrashing around the answer presented itself in the form of a horizontal letterbox in the sidewall. I tried to manouvre myself into a position to crawl out of this, but couldn't turn round, and ended up sliding out of the crag lying on my back. All very amusing.

Oli emerging from Shadrach

The top pitch was a whole lot more conventional, but still very good in an entirely different way. After lunch we decided to do Christmas Curry via the Treemudrock Finish (which I'd looked at the day before and looked a bit vegetated, but it gets 2 stars in the guide, so it had to be done...), but it was rather covered in people, so we ended up at the bottom of The Fang instead. I led the first pitch, which was steep but not too bad, before Oli and I got a little tangled up at the belay. I couldn't get far enough out of the corner to let him past, so things got a little bit friendly for a while, before he managed to escape. I imagine the 5a moves straight afterwards came as blessed relief! After I gave him some slightly duff beta about the line to take, we worked it out, and everything was good.

We had to drop Tom and Ruth off at the station in Bangor at 7 so they could get back to civilisation, but we had time after that to run up to Dinas Cromlech (which is further away than it looks) and nip up Spiral Stairs. Easy enough, but quite pleasant and nice to get a Classic Rock tick.

Yet again we headed to Tremadog the next day, but decided to visit a different crag, and rocked up at the bottom of Creag Dhu Wall Direct with a howling wind blowing. The crux on the first pitch had me bamboozled for a while before I remembered that I'm much better at jamming than footwork and tried a more 'get stuck in' approach to the undercut handholds. The top pitch was fairly easy, which was good as it had started raining by that stage. We hid in Eric's for a bit until the rain died down and then made another attempt on the Treemudrock Finish. Oli led up to it, but declined the option of running the pitches together, so it fell to me to battle with the vegetation. With no small amount of effort I managed to get past this, only to discover that that wasn't the hard bit. Above lay an unhelpful crack too wide for fingers and too thin for hands, with no footholds to be seen. In the end I went for an unconventional combination of laybacking and chimneying, and reached the sanctuary of the top just as it began to rain again. Oli sounded like he really enjoyed seconding the pitch in the rain. Fnar fnar.

After all this rain it was getting on a bit, so we parted company and I drove back over to Sheffield to meet Simon. Our plan was to spend the next 6 days in the Lake District, but the weather had other ideas and so less than 12 hours after leaving, I was back in North Wales. We headed to Carreg Alltrem, which I'd been wanting to visit for ages, but never seemed to get round to. The crag looked steep and a bit green when we arrived, but the first route we did, Lightnin Visit, was excellent. The second pitch was a great carnival of wonderful jugs and bountiful gear placements. The descent was a bit of a tedious scramble down a tottering gully, but we still had the classic of the crag to do. Duly, Simon led up the tricky first pitch of Lavaredo and I followed him and sat at the belay slightly concerned about what was to come. North Wales Rock makes great play of the top pitch being steep and strenuous, but actually there was only one steep move, and loads of jugs and rests (woohoo). It was a totally brilliant route, made even better by the fact that we found an abseil station at the top to avoid having to negotiate the gully of fear again.

Apparently Alltrem means steep. They weren't joking...

We didn't fancy the steep looking HVSs, or incredible, but very very green E1, so we ran away to Clogwyn Cyrau above Betws, and had a pleasant wee evening climb. The forecast for the next day was pretty grim, but offered promise in the South, so we drove over to Eric's yet again and pitched camp in the field at the back.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Squeeze Chimneys, Rain And Rather Too Much Limestone Part 1

So, summer is here (arf), Avril had abandoned me to hone her kung fu skills in Cornwall, so I decided to take a week or so off work and have some adventures. This was initially hampered by nobody else having any time off, but harnessing the power of the internets to my advantage, I arranged to meet up with the talented Mr Ripley (of legend) in Tesco in Bangor. We pooled cars and negotiated the A55 and some barbed wire (though no farmers with shotguns, hurrah) to find ourselves at the start of the Smurf Girdle. A 2 star HVS trip around one of Gogarth's less frequented zawns. We were aided and abetted by a cheeky printout of the forthcoming guide, but it seemed nobody had actually climbed this route to check it's grade, and we were soon sent packing by unreasonable overhangingness. After managing to locate a suitable escape traverse we moved our aims somewhat and I found myself chimneying downwards towards the sea, inside an impressive, but very wet cave.

The Green Light's suppurating orifice

I'd been intrigued by Green Light, as Gogarth's only 3 star VS, but was always put off by the fact that it sounded a little, ahem, adventurous. The water dripping off the walls of the route did little to allay my concerns, but the first pitch turned out to be fairly reasonable, and I was soon perched on a ledge deep in the bowels of the earth. Tom joined me, then disappeared back towards the light, eventually belaying some distance away, apparently out of the darkness. I followed the line of the ropes, with much amusing bridging, chimneying and general inelegance, until I found myself taking the last piece of gear out several metres directly above Tom. I tried not to think about falling off and burrowed downwards, eventually emerging, dazed and confused, into the outside world again. The top pitch was a brief carnival of guano-encrusted juggery, followed by a rather exciting Lundy-esque finale, replete with tottering blocks and lush vegetation. Definitely a three-star route (and not hard for the grade) and a proper adventure all the same.

The second belay is out there somewhere...

Keen for something more prosaic we made for the slate quarries, where I finally got round to leading Combat Rock, which was nice (but I can wholeheartedly recommend taking more than 2 no.2 nuts, and definitely not placing them both in the first 5 metres of the route), and we had a little adventure not climbing a nearby E2 arete.

The next day we reconvened at the Gribin Facet, and Tom somehow agreed to do Monolith Crack. I suspect he didn't really know what he was letting himself in for. The first two pitches were amusing, if slightly ridiculous, but the real fun is in the third pitch. Tom spent some minutes posting himself into, and then back out of, the rather tight chimney before passing the lead over to me. I got stuck in and tried not to think about the impracticalities of being rescued from somewhere inside the mountain. Somehow I made it by a matter of millimetres and found enough space at the back of the chimney to reinflate my chest cavity and contemplate my predicament. I wasn't going back where I'd come from, but up looked equally challenging. At one point I found myself simultaneously offwidthing with both sides of my body in different cracks, which was an odd sensation. Along the way I placed a runner just to offer a little incentive to Tom to follow me, before emerging, in a fit of childish giggles, at the top of the pitch.

No caption required!

Alas, in spite of a few game efforts, Tom was either unwilling or unable (I'm not entirely sure which) to follow, and scuttled off round the outside via De Selincourt's Variation. This left me with the fun task of chimneying back into the dark to retrieve the gear. Fun fun fun. The top pitch was much easier, but still involved a tight squeeze. Lovely. After this we stuck to more sensible climbing, including the rather fun Flake Crack (with it's eponymous giant wobbly flake) and the delectable jamming of Herford's Crack. I rounded the day off with a speedy ascent of Western Slabs on Dinas Mot as the sun set with one of Tom's girlfriend's colleagues. Or something. She was very friendly anyway.