Saturday, 28 September 2013

Not Straying Far From The B5289

The start of last week marked the annual meeting of great minds that is mine and Oli's annual climbing holiday. Sadly a combination of dissertation work and Oli spending most of the summer swanning around the west coast of America meant that it was curtailed to only 3 days in Borrowdale, but there are worse places in the world to be. The weather forecast was fairly obliging, although it was somewhat vague when it came to predicting the cloud level, unhelpfully suggesting somewhere between 200 and 800m, encompassing almost every crag with a greater or lesser degree of probability. Oli had also broken his little toe in a tragic surfing accident a few weeks previously, with an unknown impact on his ability to climb.

Undeterred by any of this, or a very late start on Monday, we opted for the roadside delights of Shepherd's, the Lakes' answer to Tremadog, where a quick bimble up the surprisingly not totally shit in spite of the polish Brown Slabs Corner confirmed that Oli's toe wasn't too debilitating. So I sent him off up Brown Crag Wall, another ticklist VS, to check he could remember how to lead. Turned out he could. After romping up the actually quite good top pitches, we decided that the other ticklist VS at that end of the crag looked like it was 85% moss, and headed to the CC hut for bangers and mash. And whisky. Far too much whisky.

Would you trust this man?
Apparently drinking most of a bottle of whisky (a very, very nice 12 year old Hibiki in case you were wondering) leads to some kind of epic hangover. At least it does now that we're old men. Fortuitously Oli had forseen this problem and bought bacon and eggs for breakfast, which improved matters significantly. The cloud was still looming ominously on the hillsides above, so we stumbled back to Shepherd's and decided to ease ourselves into the day with some topological non-triviality on Donkey's Ears. It was ace. Two through routes, a very traditional VDiff thrash and the sun even came out briefly at the top. Lovely. A quick tick of Kransic Crack followed before we felt sufficiently recovered to attempt some kind of silly girdle traversey nonsense. My pitch started up a 4b crack that was suspiciously desperate for 4b, followed by some bold moves up suspect rock with no gear, then a bit of a shuffle leftwards for a few metres and a downclimb to a belay. All very daft. The rest of the route linked pitches of other, proper, climbs, so was altogether more sensible, although Oli found the direct finish to Ardus quite exciting. Apparently back-and-footing is quite painful when you're not wearing a t-shirt. Arf. The day's final route was Shepherd's Chimney, which the guide warns is 'noted for its pitch 3'. In fact it wasn't a chimney, pitch 3 was fine and the unheralded pitch 4 was where the stars were at.
Making the prosaic into the EPIC!
After a day of VSs with not substantial toe-related issues, I persuaded Oli that we should head up to Black Crag the next day for a go at The Mortician and Troutdale Pinnacle Superdirect. So obviously the valley was filled with mist the next morning, making everything a bit wet. Bah. So we went to the still very roadside Quayfoot Buttress, which was still damp, but at least a bit less out of the clouds. Eventually it dried out and we had another good day. The Crypt had a filthy looking first pitch, which we avoided, but the top pitch was good. Morceau had a very ferny looking first pitch, which I didn't avoid and which was actually not that bad, and a brilliant second pitch traversing right across the headwall (not one for a busy day). The Mound was a lot better than it looked (just as well) and Mandrake was still as classic as ever. Bo. Then it was home time. Next time, we'll hopefully be allowed to venture further than 100 yards from the main road...
Deutsche leaf

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Banned Crags, Esoteric Rambling & The Joy Of Nostars

I'm never very useful when it comes to deciding which eastern grit crag to go to - I've climbed so much that most of the things I have left to do are either perma-green or will involve trying hard, and I hate going to a crag having tacitly committed to trying hard. Luckily I have a near infinite capacity for having a good time climbing unstarred nonsense eliminates. And so, when J-Rowe, Kyle, Joswald, Stacey, Chris and I headed up to the Popular End of Stanage last weekend, the piratical Mr Rowe and I decided to spend the day climbing obscure no-star VSs (whilst Kyle and Oswald backed off all of the routes. ALL OF THEM). In spite of the midges, occasional greenery and a few cases of having to avoid the obvious holds because they weren't 'in', we had a pretty good day. It's been a long time since I climbed anything on grit, so it was good to ease myself back into things too. It's much knackier than other rock types, and going well on anything else doesn't really translate to any kind of ability on grit. Sadly. Although that is part of its charm. That and the glorious man-eating jams that no other rock does quite so seductively...
Kyle sticking it to Agony Crack
With Friday off and a good forecast, Sophie and I hatched a plan to go and climb some rocks. After some dithering over venue (again) we ended up at Wharncliffe, a crag I often forget exists. It's a funny spot, with it's industrial-feeling outlook, positive holds, often dodgy gear and occasional gigantic loose blocks at the top (and bottom) of the crag. We initially stuck to the good stuff and ticked all the 3-star routes at the crag below E4. Admittedly this was only 3 routes, but they were all good, even if Great Buttress Arete was neither hard nor bold as had been promised. We then went for an explore of the distant southern reaches of the crag, where the buttresses become more shy and retiring among the trees. We found a lot of verdant rock, some good looking (if damp) lines and some funky bouldering, including a pleasant little VS arete that we both soloed. The sun had even come out by then. Marvellous. There's even a few ticklist routes down there to do next time we get a dry spell.
Soph bimbling up some Wharncliffe esoterica
Inspired by this exploratory venture, Adam and I headed south yesterday in search of some adventures in the southern Peak. The first stop was Stone Crag, an obscure buttress just north of the Amber valley, which is hidden in some trees next to the road. The guidebook suggests that it is definitely on private land, so to keep a low profile, and the keep out signs and barbed wire definitely reinforced the feeling that we weren't welcome. The rock was a bit scruffy, but good fun, with the highlight being a very pleasant little E1 called Stoned that we both soloed (the crux being exercising the mental fortitude to avoid the massive crack right next to the crux).
Adam throwing shapes on Stoned
So, after one banned crag, the obvious thing to do next was to visit Eastwood Rocks, 'The best banned crag in the Peak'. Apparently evictions by the landowner are not infrequent, but plenty of people still manage to climb there. We left the gear in the car and went for a flying visit with just our rock shoes and the guide. A lengthy creep through very rustly bracken and brambles we found the crag. It's a beauty. A bit steep like, but the rock's great and there's some cracking lines. Corpse Crack looks a bit like a refugee from Ramshaw and the hard routes through the roofs look very impressive. We tiptoed along to the far end of the crag, where a 2-star Diff girdle and a 3-star through route awaited us. They were both fairly unique, particularly the squeezy through route (beta alert - the crux is avoiding chafing your left nipple on the overlap near the entrance!) and well worth the effort. I'm very keen to go back with a rope, although I doubt that visiting once the leaves are off the trees is a very good idea. Maybe next spring.
The man-eating Nod's Cave
Having had our fill of forbidden crags, but not esoterica with knobs on, we headed down to Chasecliffe, near Crich. A single buttress squirreled away at the bottom of a field, with a ticklist HS and a lovely outlook over the Derwent valley. The routes were good fun and a decent length and it was all very pleasant. It was also a bit of a relief not to be worrying about getting kicked off by a grumpy farmer with a shotgun.
Lazy Groove at Chasecliffe
We finished the day with a visit to the far end of Baslow. Esoteric by normal eastern grit standards, but much more frequented than any of our previous venues. Hell, there were even other people there. I had an appointment with a ticklist VS first put up by a certain Don Whillans. How hard can 6m of climbing be? Quite hard it turns out. No brutal cracks, just some oomph required (and a slightly desperate slap for the top in my case). I then got gripped soloing some slabby VSs I've soloed before, before we found the last ticklist route on the crag, a delightful gopping wet VDiff chimney which was actually quite fun. Another spot to come back to after a dry spell, as there were some pretty good lines (including a terrifying overhanging HVS jamming crack) waiting to dry out.

After all this exploratory silliness I'm feeling a lot more positive about gritstone again. I don't think I'll ever forgive it for the fact that it has HVSs that would probably kill me as soon as look at me, but the fact that after the best part of 2,000 routes there are still plenty of undiscovered gems lurking about the place means that it'll be a while yet before I get sick of it and have to learn to love Peak limestone (ugh). I am looking forwards to a few days climbing proper rock with actual holds in the Lakes though.