After coming back from a frustrating and ultimately disappointing trip to the Alps, I decided I wanted to focus on pure rock climbing for a while. Not only trad, but sport as well, something I'd neglected to the probable detriment of my overall ability and fitness. I was fed up with fannying around on routes whenever they got steep, placing too much gear and always getting pumped to buggery. It felt like I'd been stuck on a plateau for too long, it was time to sort myself out and get better. Maybe get steady leading E1 if I could.
So with a really positive attitude I went out and climbed a shitload. First time out since the Alps I went to Boulder Ruckle and cruised up a couple of routes I would've struggled on before. Then I did a few sport sessions at Winspit and Portland, building strength and confidence. Suddenly everything was feeling easy. I tested this on a couple of 'Hard Very Swanage' routes, normally the stuff of my nightmares, and was almost offended by how straightforward they were. Jug after jug after jug.
Then I got the chance to spend a couple of days climbing in the Peak District with a guy called Adam from UKC. I'd shamefully never done anything on grit before, and couldn't wait to get up there and have a go.
Day 1 saw us ticking off tons of classics at Stanage Popular. The friction was amazing, even the slopers felt like jugs. After getting started on some easy stuff, I had a go at a HVS called Queersville. Some thin and balancy moves up an arête then across to a ledge led me to the crux; a steep wall with a long reach around an overlap to a flat block. It flowed perfectly. Match hands on flat edge, high foot smears, layaway on pocket, step up, drop knee to pull into wall, and at the same time reach through to just grab the top of the block. An incredible, effortless 5a sequence. The mantelshelf wasn't quite so elegant but there you go. I couldn't remember ever doing moves so good on limestone.
We did a few more classics, the best of which was Manchester Buttress, with the most hilarious being Verandah Buttress. The latter route was given the insane grade of HVD 5b so of course I had to have a go. It was exactly what you might expect; an insanely hard move to get off the ground followed by an easy plod to the top. Adam showed me his method, a kind of hand jam layback to finger crack thing, but it wasn't for me. Instead I cranked on a sloper out right and slapped up an even more sloping arete before sort of falling onto the ledge like a sack of wet shit. Utter madness.
The next day we wandered across the top to High Neb and did a few routes there. I started out on the classic 'High Neb Buttress', a fairly steady romp up sloping breaks, then Adam led a fantastic route called Inaccessible Crack. After that I was psyched to get on something harder, and decided to try Kelly's Overhang (HVS 5b or E1 5c, take your pick...).
My god it was nails.
It followed an easy corner to a mid height break, before traversing steeply rightwards to an undercut pedestal block. From here you had to pull up and right onto the wall above, and follow easier ground to finish. At the top of the corner there was a flat hand rail between me and the block, but the wall beneath it overhung and was completely smooth. Rather than do some idiotic dyno lunge, I cut loose onto the rail, heel hooked, and traversed to the block with some degree of style. It was one of those irritating places where you're sure you can engineer a rest but can't quite manage it. Hanging off my arms, I slung the block and moved rightwards around it, into a reasonable knee bar that just about stopped me getting more pumped.
The next bit was ridiculous. I somehow had to make a rockover onto a foot ledge way out right with my only handhold level with my feet, the rock pushing me outwards. There was a tiny sloping layaway on the wall above and nothing else. Gibbering away, I managed to establish myself on the ledge, all my weight on my completely bent right leg. Cheek flush to the steep wall I palmed nothing and smeared my left toes against whatever the fuck. Feeling like even breathing would send me into space I inched myself upwards, weight shifting gram by gram, until somehow I was stood up on the foothold and gasping for breath. Then I hurried up the unprotected groove to the top before I could think too much about it. I was elated to get the route onsight, and I'll stick my neck out and say easy E1 but definitely 5c, and a really hard move to read from a pumpy position.
I could've happily left it at that, but the weather held, so we did a cool slab called Tango Buttress and then ambled over to Stanage Plantation. Here I found the amazing line of Goliath's Groove, and couldn't resist getting on it. The start was brutal; a horrible thrutch up a flared off-width, and I slithered out of a knee jam on my first attempt and didn't have the energy to prevent a slide onto the gear. So I lowered off, punched the rock a few times, and got back on it. This time, a bit more focused, I made it to the top of the off-width and pulled through a bulge on bomber fingerlocks to a resting ledge. After the desperate struggle below, the upper section felt easy, and I laybacked stylishly on brilliant holds up the steep groove to the top. Adam then rounded off an awesome couple of days with his first HVS lead, up a tricky route called Lancashire Wall. A well deserved reward after patiently belaying me on Kelly's and Goliath's and giving me the perfect intro to the magic of grit.
So now, when anyone asks the typical question 'what have you done on grit?', I'll be able to answer, with pride, 'some routes'.