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Gritstone quality overload

30 Apr 2009

Since coming back from Northumberland I’ve been meaning to get my hands on some limestone but have felt the pull of glorious gritstone. It seems I’m in a period of not falling off. And now I’m faced with two brand new favourites. Two Sundays ago Nic, Bob, Mia and I headed to the Roaches Skyline. Bob and Mia wanted to try Art Nouveau – it proved to be monstrously hot and there was no way – however I did store it in the ‘future bank’.

My aim didn’t have any hand holds so the heat didn’t matter. For perhaps the first time ever Nic came away from a route truly disappointed because he just didn’t get the same experience as me. Wings of Unreason (E4 6a/b in the book but also described as E2 if you’re taller) takes a smooth slab via an initial undercut. Whilst the bottom is technically quite hard, it’s the top where all the action is. A lay person would see it involves a jump – but how far depends on your height. In this picture you can see the hilarious blankness.

Wings of Unreason 

At your feet is an almighty foothold (so good I actually changed my boots standing on it) and very good gear. Disappointingly (although some would think this luckily) for Nic he was within a couple of inches of the top and with a small hop he was there. For me, the sequence was much wilder. Most people do one smear and jump up – I knew this wouldn’t be enough – for me it was one no handed smear followed by another! All the tiniest of footholds I had ever stood on flashed through my mind. Barely possible, but possible, exquisite!

I know I’m climbing well at the moment, but sometimes the realisation of what I can do with it makes me hide away. This Sunday I woke and announced I wanted to go to Cheedale and clip bolts. Nic was alarmed and Tom was very disappointed in me. After an admission of my worries (I just didn’t want to fail) we were going to Frogatt to do what I’d been meaning to try all along – Strapadictomy E5 6b. I warmed up on Cave Wall (E3 5c), a bold classic, which again I’ve always shied away from. And I seconded Tom on a couple of other things. Soon enough, the moment came.

You know when a route wants you to climb it when the gear goes in easily. The crucial gear in the crack was a long way for me to place and Tom came up with the idea of joining 2 wires together giving me another foot of reach. I came to the ground and tested the pieces. I tied back on and then untied. I wanted to check the top out. When I think now, these delaying tactics were about prolonging and savouring the experience. The daft idea of going to Cheedale was far away now and I was ready to climb this masterpiece. If I could get though the long reach into the crack I knew I’d have a damn fine chance. Grimer told me the night before – once you get on the flake, you’ve 10 seconds to get off it. I pulled onto it – my shoulders proved reliable again and as I laybacked, I wondered not about where I was in my 10 seconds, but where Steve Bancroft’s feet were exactly in the famous photo. Was I in that moment? Did I look as relaxed as him? Probably not, but I was doing it, I was going upwards.


The swivel around the arête was scruffy but my shoulders powered through the moves. And then I was reaching the top. Ecstatic.

Northumberland Extravaganza

23 Apr 2009

In Winter 1992 I remember leading some VSs and HVSs at Bowden and Kyloe. Since then I’ve visited Northumberland almost every year… but strictly to go bouldering. Nic, Bob, Mia, Tom, Rachel and I were determined this Easter to not do any bouldering whatsoever. The outcome was something like discovering the Peak District for the first time.

Actually our first day wasn’t quite up to standard but since the rest of the country was under water we weren’t having such a bad time at the quirky venue of Jack Rock – at least it was dry, we had fun and I succeeded in getting exceptionally pumped on the Butcher E3.


On our second day we discovered the wonders of Callerhues. This is something like a remote version of Yorkshire’s Slipstones; a cross over of bouldering and micro routes with pristine, sunny sandstone and grassy ‘ready to picnic’ slopes. We discovered that Callerhues has its own grading system and soloing the protectionless MVS proved to be more than a warm-up for me and Mia. At least it prepared us for the neighbouring E1s. The guys spent much of the afternoon trying to summit on Crouching the Mahogony E4 6b. Eventually they succeeded and I have some video footage of Nic climbing this apparently often but rarely climbed testpiece. Top tip, don’t miss Weeping Fingers E1 – a truly beautiful climb.

Our third day found us at Great Wanney. The name has been jangling about in my head for many years and was great to finally see it in the flesh. I dived straight on Northumberland Wall, one of the best E2s in the county and wasn’t disappointed. Then I found myself leading Thin Ice E4 6a, very friendly at the grade but a lovely set of moves on the ironstone edges which seem to characterise many of the climbs in the area.

Psychologically I had been saving myself for a later day (which I’ll come on to) and when Nic forcefully said I shouldn’t second his lead of Endless Flight E5 6a, my heart started beating hard. Clearly it was amazing and a total all time classic and clearly it takes pride of place on the guide book cover. But such a bold under taking with an E5 tag didn’t quite sit with me. I was supposed to be building up my trad climbing this year slowly. My heart started to beat even harder. I couldn’t deny to myself I was climbing well. After my experience on Janus recently I knew that a ‘seize the day’ mentality was something I was trying to develop. Inevitably I stepped on to the route.

Endless Flight

My movement seemed good but I burned energy placing the ‘waste of time’ tiny wire that used to be good (previously making the route E4). As I rounded the arête and pulled onto the head wall (pictured above) my forearms were shouting at me. The speed at which I was climbing was unlike me and on the verge of dangerous. However I ploughed on reaching the final jugs after the almighty run out. Success!

I didn’t know if this ascent would fry my head or make it stronger. My ambition for the trip was Poseidon Adventure at Bowden Doors. On my first visit to this crag many years ago I couldn’t help notice the beautiful sculpted wave feature. At E4 this route takes the easiest line of weakness up this feature. For years I’ve heard tales of its quality but also its danger and potential for broken ankles. On our journey to the crag mist swirled around but sun poured through as we neared. The route went without episode and I kept my head together on the dangerous upper moves to the break, no thoughts, just movement, how its supposed to be.  What a great moment. Soon I found my fingers curling around the famous wave and I knew I had conquered Northumberland’s most famous route.  Here's the moment I was waiting for: finally making contact with the immaculate wave.

Poseidon Adventure 

I just want to add a big thank you to Bob who pretty much supplies me with pictures because for one reason or another Nic and I are useless with a camera.  The excuse this time was our battery went flat...