Monday, 16 August 2010

Big One

Since the last post the siege engines have been well and truly wheeled out on Monumental. I’ve been happy to do this because it’s without doubt one of the Peak’s great lines. Much as I love it, sporty limestone of the Peak variety rarely has much of a line, climbs tend to join together the bitty features, or more often just blast up in a straight line a given distance from the neighbouring ‘line’. Even when a strong feature does exist, those on Revelations or Mecca for example, these often fizzle out halfway up the crag. Not so the mighty Monumental, this is a great big slash across the whole face of the Cornice, overhung in all dimensions – this thing has more line than Network Rail. Yorkshire lime has the Big Three, the Triple Crown, a triplet of peerless 8a+ routes on the Dales’ big three limestone crags. The Peak has only one 8a+ (grade debate aside) of this calibre, as such Monumental is surely the Peak’s Single Crown, this is our Big One.
I’ve passed by this feature many many times and it’s always intrigued me a lot. It just looked so unattainable, as much because on almost all occasions it was festering under gallons of alien death slime and peppered with half buried rust blobs for bolts. The crown had slipped, the Big One was long in the wilderness, unclimbed and unclimbable for over a decade. Years have come and gone and all attempts to resurrect it have been vain. Reviving this route would clearly take an exceptionally dry year and several determined climbers several days of misery. 2010 looked like it might just be the year. Simon Davies and myself both spent a day tunnelling through years of accreted slime crust, one man saviour of Peak sport climbing Jon Clark put in two days of bolting and cleaning, then Kris Clemmow finished the job by removing the old bolts. This was a month or two ago and with subsequent traffic (at least eight ascents to date) the route is now in fantastic condition, bone dry, super clean and re-equipped with shiny new 12mm resin bolts. Standing beneath it today it’s hard to picture just how horrendous it was at the start of the season. For a brief while the Big One is back in all its glory. Long may it hold out, though in the end the slime will always win.
The window of opportunity being brief and unpredictable, I really wanted to take the chance while it lasted. The only problem was that it didn’t seem to want me to get up it. Despite having lots of knees and weirdness it just didn’t suit me, the reputedly ok crux section felt like the world’s hardest move to me(a persistent left wrist injury didn’t help) and the final lurch into the groove hurt my dupytren’s afflicted hand, as well as being a notorious sting in the tail from hell. Progress was slow and sessions on it left me feeling beasted for days. Gradually though the pieces were coming together. The fettling of kneepads became a minor obsession for me and Nige. The ultimate pad arrangement involved one on the left knee stiffened with a plastic insert and a thinner one for the right with a grippy rubber top layer, both held in place with a combo of gaffer tape, lacing and double sided sticky tape. Each use incurs a price in kneepit chaffing and hairloss on removal, though I never quite stooped to shaving the knees.
An uncounted number of sessions later (I’d guess at about nine!), the war of attrition was won, second redpoint on a Thursday afternoon session with back two Dan. I was lucky it went down that go too, as I acquired a split tip and a tweaked shoulder on route. Nige turned up shortly after and finished off his (somewhat shorter) Monumental battle.
All in all I really enjoyed the whole thing and I’m happy to add to the hype around the route. It’s a superb climb, with brilliant satisfying moves and not a single glued hold throughout ( a rare thing on a Peak route of this grade). Get on it people, it’ll soon be gone again and for who knows how long this time.

I haven't got any pics of Monumental, so here's one of Roy Mosley on nearby jug Jockey. This pic was taken in 2005, the last time the crag dried out. MA is the (dirty)left to right groove left some way left of Roy.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Giving it away

Back in August 08 I wrote about a project found and bolted at the Cornice . It’s essentially a direct start to Love Among the Butterflies, breaking right from the initial bulge of R’n’P. Unfortunately since that date it got wet almost straight away and remained so for the rest of that year then the whole of the next. So except for a bit of fettling in poor conditions I never gave it a proper go. Along comes summer 2010 and exceptional conditions at the Cornice to find me critically short of the time, power and fitness needed to have a decent hope of getting the thing done. So a dilemma, do I wade into a no doubt protracted siege with low hopes for success, do I sit on it until some future confluence of conditions and fitness, or do I pass it on to a better man then sit back and let them do the hard work? From the way I just phrased this dilemma it’s probably obvious that I opted to call in the big guns. In truth the project was beyond the level of my best sport climbing efforts and would have required a serious step up and I just can’t be arsed with big sieges, never could be. I’m more a middle distance redpointer. One to three days is fun, four to six is just about tolerable if the route is amazing, more than that and it feels like time ill spent. On top of this, had I thrown my eggs into the project basket I would have missed out on a rare opportunity to climb some of the countries best sport routes.
So I told Bransby the project was now open and he gave it a go. He then suggested Caff have a go as he had just done Love Among the Butterflies so already had half the route in the bank. I was fortunate enough to be at the crag some days later when he succeeded on the route. Now this guy’s a well oiled carbon fibre crush machine and the route plays to his strengths, but he still managed to make it look hard, so I think it’s safe to say it was a good idea for me to give the thing up. Subsequent attention from Steve McClure and Jon Clark has confirmed Caff’s suggestion of 8b+.
Being a proper nice guy/machine Caff suggested that as equipper I name the route on his behalf. The name Barney Ragin’ refers to Caffisms which might be familiar to belayers, typically after a ten second shake out before a mind pulping runout - “Sorry guys I’m just being a total ragin’, I’ll be off for a barney in a sec” – proceed to casually dispatch. His on route apologising is legendary.
The only condition for giving away the proj was that whoever did it must go to Thor’s and get on one of my 7c+s. So finally after endless exhortations to all and sundry and an arm made sore from beating the same drum for five years I had finally managed to bribe someone to get on Escape to Valhalla, hoo-fuckin-ray! I was glad to see it didn’t go down without a fight (to be fair he had just climbed Thormen’s and had done Monumental Armblaster the day before, plus the crux has two reachy moves, but nevertheless….), taking a couple of redpoints. What’s even better is that he thought it was “amazing”, “totally bonkers” and “8a”. Going back on it myself I was surprised how hard the crux was and bemused as to why I’d not given it 8a in the first place, I mean everyone knows no one gets out of bed for 7c+s these days, even three star ones, so by undergrading it I’d ensured a lack of repeats. For the tick hungry 8a.noodler 7c+ is just too much like an 8’s worth of effort without the number to show for it. I’m sure it sounds mighty hubristic being so bothered about people repeating my route, but to me it feels more like a wish to share an amazing thing, rather than a chance to trumpet my own merit. The best bit about climbing is surely enthusing about a climb with someone who’s experienced the same and this is especially so when the route in question is treasure you’ve personally unearthed.
As it turned out I got a bit more crag time than expected and the time not spent seiging the project was put to good use reeling in a pair of splendid 8a+s in K3 and R’n’P. Now I’ve gone and got myself embroiled in a potential siege on Monumental, which is surely 8b and feels like a big undertaking for me, but it’s one of those rare mega routes where I don’t mind putting in the extra sessions. At least I think I’ll manage a few more before I get bored. Or maybe it’s just the technical challenge of making the perfect kneepad that’s keeping me interested.

Starting the crux sequence on Escape

Final tricky moves to gain the belfry belay

P.S. Having written that bit about folk being 8 obsessed number whores I thought I’d best check my facts. So I did a search for 7c, 7c+ and 8a ascents in the UK, in the last month, registered on There were 47 ascents at 7c, 23 ascents at 7c+ and 55 ascents of 8a. Factoring in five ascents of Lockless Monster, a book graded 8a which has only just been downgraded to 7c+ due to recent ascents, i.e. the five ascents probably went on it as an 8a; it comes to 60 at 8a and only 18 at 7c+! I rinky-dink rest my case.

P.P.S Big thanks to JC and Chris for all the hard work re-bolting! And hiya to Andy C, good to get the old team back in action again. Hope the shoulder recovers quickly

Friday, 18 June 2010

Buried Alive

So far the summer of 2010 is proving to be a good one for peak sport climbing conditions. The Cornice is already as dry as late summer 2005, which was the last time it came into condition, and we aren’t even at longest day yet. Now it could all go horribly wrong and I hate to tempt fate, mid-summer monsoons do seem to be the pattern after all, but you never know this might just turn out to be a mega summer. If the Cornice fully dries and stays dry I predict that it’ll get the re-bolt it needs, loads of things that haven’t been repeated in years (including the legendary Monumental Armblaster), will see some action, second ascents will happen and maybe even the odd new things will get put up.
All this dry climbing at the Cornice reminds me of the year I got involved with another seepage prone peak crag, Thor’s Cave. Yep, I'm going to bang the Thor's drum, again! It’d be nice to think that now we have some dryness that this awesome venue will also see some well deserved attention. I guess part of it’s apparent obscurity is that there aren’t many inspiring pictures of the routes out there, it’s a bit of a drive from Sheffield and it’s just off the collective radar of most sport climbers. This is a damn shame as it’s the nearest you’ll get to Spanish madness without having to get on a plane. The other problem is that people have tended to only think of the place when wracking their brains for somewhere cool and shady to go in the worst muggy days of summer. As the wise will know, cave get goppy in such weather. Conditions wise the crag behaves somewhat like a seacliff and if treated the same way you won’t go wrong. Just like for instance St Govan’s it will suffer condensation on hot still days, especially in the morning. Go late in the day on muggy days, or save it for a fresher day, maybe with a bit of a breeze and it will be fine. Or ask me to assess the forecast and I’ll make an educated guess for you.
I’ll describe the route here and maybe someone will be tempted to check the place out.
Thormen’s is a well known and justly popular 7c+/8a with spectacular upside down climbing in the arch barrel of the front entrance. Further back the cave opens out into a huge vaulted chamber, well lit by the main entrance and the west window. The routes in the body of the cave by the nature of the space tend to finish at the apex of roof as opposed to the top of the crag.


The easiest and most popular of these is Midgard Serpent 7b+, a crazy line up a ridiculously overhanging trench, requiring imagination and proficient use of knees.
Its companion route Fenris is a touch less steep following a line of attractive pods to a boulder problem crux, again at 7b+.

Aussie nice guy Matt Kelly on Midgard Serpent

Next up difficulty wise is Loki the Trickster 7c. Loki initially climbs a flat overhanging wall on spaced pockets to a mini flake, it then makes a desperate move left on a slopey hold that looks like a fossil plum and finishes up a steady groove. You’re then on to the real quality, a pair of long 7c+s taking either side of the internal arch at its highest.
The lefthand one, Spear of Odin, takes a Malhamesque gently overhanging wall on pockets flakes, undercuts, rock ears and a short tufa. It then gets really steep until a swing onto the opposite side of the arch is forced, then some amazing 3D strangeness with bridging, a kneebar, cutlooses and footlocks to gain ‘the belfry’ a hanging chimney hands off rest where the route finishes.

Spear of Odin

The other 7c+ Escape to Valhalla is my favourite route in the cave with totally unique climbing from start to finish on brilliant rock. It gains the same finishing moves as Spear but this time via a line of huecos up the cave’s central grey pillar. The moves to get in and out of the crux hueco are truly bonkers and bound to put a smile on your face. The crux involves quite a span and the only repeat ascent so far was by a shorty who was forced to make an inferior leftward deviation here, which is a shame as this misses out the best climbing. The extended finish along the lower of the two roof faults is a thrutchy 8a called Ragnarok, but it makes more sense to do this section as part of the next route.

Escape goes up the pillar on the left into a huge hole in the roof, the continuation along the roof is Ragnarok

Most recently Dan Varian upped the cave ante with his Muoguo 8b+. Which take the theme of super steep technical roofwork to a whole different level. And there are still a few lines to go.
As well as the single pitch stuff the crag has one exceedingly weird outing that has yet to be repeated, or indeed completed without falls in a single push. You will not find anything even remotely similar anywhere else in the Peak. It’s more akin to seacave oddities like Preposterous Tales than anything else in the peak, but being an old aid route is very well protected with bolts. Buried Alive is a six pitch outing which frees the aid route Osiris in its entirety, starting in the cave’s darkest eastern recess, following a twisting line of weakness in the roof and eventually emerging to finish at the top of the crag via the classic HVS West Window Groove.

Looking back at the start of Buried Alive. Spear goes up the LH sidewall, Escape goes up the right.

Kristian on pitch one of Buried Alive

Here’s the description:
Buried Alive 7c+ ***
A very weird journey freeing the old aid route Osiris. Starting in the deepest recesses of the cave and finishing on top of the hill. Could probably be done in fewer pitches with careful ropework.

Pitch 1: E3 5c/6b+ - From almost the far end of the west passage climb a muddy ramp (bold) on the right to gain the line of bolts in the roof. Chimney along the rift past lots of aid bolts and spiders to an awkward about turn move to gain a subsidiary chimney on the North wall. Headtorchs essential!
Pitch 2: 6c+ - Traverse from the sub-chimney along the north wall up into the high rift. Continue along this clipping what bolts you can reach beneath you. Where the rift closes off make a tricky dropdown onto a muddy jug and swing down onto the south wall where a hanging belay can be arranged.
Pitch 3: 7c+ - Traverse the south wall into Ragnarok and follow this passing the crux moves around a corner into a hanging slab/ramp, belay.
Pitch 4: 7b+ - The thrutchy bunched traverse section of Ragnarok followed to where this ends at a hands off position in a small chimney, belay.
Pitch 5: 6a – A short pitch dropping down and through the west window to attain the outside world. The second may wish to use a back rope.
Pitch 6: HVS – Finish up West Window Groove for the summit experience.

The forecast for the weekend looks ideal, sunny with a breeze. Someone for god sake go and do some of these route, then there'll be two of us banging on about how good they are rather than just me!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Almost a tweet

Whilst on my lunchtime stroll to Tesco a few weeks back I spotted a four leaf clover beside the road. I hurried back to the office, sprig in hand and quickly laminated it to trap the luck! I’m still waiting for some hard evidence of its power, though I did find a tenner on the street yesterday.

Here’s why I haven’t blogged in a while. Mr Spike J Fullwood.

Here’s a Spider Crab and a Brown Crab I foraged in Cornwall last week.

I’m building up to writing something interesting from the doings of the last six months or so, but one step at time eh, don’t want to rush into anything!