Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Going Off Piste.

Climbing that is, not skiing. Skiing, I am a shameless piste-bashing corduroy whore. Give me the first run on a nightly groomed steep varied red or black and I love it. Which reminds me, having not been for 8 years, I should really sort that shit out. Climbing though, give me the two star routes, the hidden gems, the esoteric classics, the fantastic routes that aren't in bloody Rockfax honeypotting selects and ARE in definitive guides - and thus are one of the many key reasons to buy definitive guides (or select guides by definitive-producing teams), to keep these off-piste crags and routes detailed and highlighted so they get enough attention and don't disappear under the jungle of neglect.

Or crags that, in the case of the current subject, aren't in any print guides but are well-documented online. This is down in Northumberland, where a short hop over the border takes you into the land of new bouldering venues having high quality detailed PDF topo guides, rather than in Scotland where new venue details are hidden by a veil of obfuscation and only come about by clandestine word of mouth IF you're in the right social circle and understand the right accent.

Bouldering has been one saving grace over the late winter (sometimes on rock, sometimes on the shapely, skin-friendly, technique-testing resin over at the new Eden Edinburgh). Having the highest ratio of muscular stress / technical interest to psychological challenge / logistical difficulty of any climbing sub-genre (basically the moves are hard and everything else is piss), it's been easier to get out and do when I'm feeling okay, without having to commit to big changeable plans or expend a lot of energy when I'm a bit fragile. After warming up on the normal areas, I've headed off-piste in The County, and had some great days out:


The most recent escapades with able assistance from The Fox (not enough of this these days since he's spawned a sprog). I'd been here years ago for a bit of nice, typically underused trad, with development of the "quarry" section (distinctly un-quarried feeling) the amount of problems has tripled and made a nice circuit. I was particularly chuffed with the high 6C+ wall as it felt quite committing to dyno (not my forte) even above a good landing, but also with the soundtrack which took a couple of hours of editing to get just right, and is a particular favourite of mine. Having got the latest RT album I saw them a few days after this bouldering trip and they were bloody brilliant live as you might expect.

Edlingham This is both a video from a while ago AND a crag that is in the book, but of course since it's not BowdenKyloe it doesn't get nearly enough attention. It's not got the density of problems but it's got some really nice ones (enough to come back for, see below). I brought in a rope to clean the highball top-outs of the main buttress problems, but it turns out I hardly needed it......this time....

The Stell

.....and this time I didn't bring in a rope and the main holds on the top-out were seeping and the dry holds were lichenous and it was all a bit epic, but the problem was bloody great (one I had an inkling I could do last time but didn't have the energy / skin / conditions then). Then it was swiftly over to The Stell where the blue skies contrasted nicely with the massive snow-drifts beneath the crag, including one that I'd half slid on with my pads to get down over the top, then after completing the first problem decided to hop back down it again and promptly embedded myself up to my waist, cue much paddling and bellyflopping and emptying my chalkbag of snow, all off-camera alas.

The Stell's vibe, modest height, shapely blocs and bewilderingly soft-touch grades enticed me back for another visit. On arrival it was grey and dull, with a few spots of drizzle, and I somehow managed to pick a colossal sandbag to start working. Hard Times is a couple of grades harder than Ed's Cave Arete, I couldn't even pull on the stand-up. Motivation bottomed out somewhere below zero and I was about to sack it off and trek back to Eden, when I started fondling the slimpers on Too Hard For Blakey - this sucked me right in with it's minimal distillation of climbing down to not just one move, but the feel of one hold (getting the left slimper secure enough to slap), and got me psyched enough for a great day, despite the tripod falling over on the last problem as the rain came in and bashing in my camera lens (estimated repair cost: £213, cost of same model new: £219 UHUH).

High Crag

Another typically oddball day on my own. It says something when the most actual fun part of the day was power-hosing the car partway on the very long slog home. This was to reveal some of the bodywork underneath the liberal coating of mud both it and I got when I parked on the minor road (no signal of course) verge, got it stuck in snow-covered mud, and was furiously trying to excavate it just as I got a caffeine peak (back when I was drinking proper coffee) + blood sugar crash meltdown. Well done me. Two passing locals in a Skoda with only single-figures worth of teeth between them but a thoroughly friendly vibe managed to haul me out, and thus it was on to the crag where I spent a lot of time in a freezing gale wondering about crawling out with a mashed ankle and was it really worth it and what on Earth was I doing. But yes of course it was worth it....


Good name, good crag, good bouldering. A surprisingly normal day where I came, I climbed, I carried around a rusty old rifle and a sheep skull as luck totems and they seemed to work.

So there we go, get out and explore, there's cool stuff out there, it deserves and needs your chalk more than the same old honeypot circuits do. Take a brush and a flask and watch what verge you park on. For me, I've still got to go to Garleigh (in the book, but definitely not a honeypot) and maybe Simonside Plateau (looks mighty nice), although maybe I've run out of conditions this year.

Finally, I had my comeuppance going off-piste route climbing at Callerhues. Despite this being a fairly classic, insta-drying, extremely aesthetic crag with fine rock features, the 30 minute walk (which even I can manage), boldness of the routes, and lack of imagination of climbers means it is unfairly neglected and thus somewhat problematic for the outsider. The grades are a black humour joke in the definitive NMC guide and although rightly improved in the Rockfax select, I wonder how many of the routes were actually re-climbed for the latter?? Worse, the generally great rock is suffering from lichen and dustiness, and the routes are bold and committing enough for this to be seriously off-putting. The ease of cleaning a boulder with a quick look around the top and a brush on a stick is of little use here, so what was supposed to be a lengthy mileage day turned out to be a couple of nervy, if good routes and general frustration with the situation. Maybe someone who lives a bit closer than 2.5 hours drive away could give things a wee scrub there so the inherent quality is restored??

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