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.

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