Don’t be put off; there are loads of options for climbing whether indoors or out. I climb all year round and have hardly been to a wall in the last year! After years of getting out there I've managed to get a feel for what's likely to be in condition on any given day, so to help you out here's a few tips. If you fancy a bit of a drive, the southern end of the Peak District can be worth a look. There's a lot of steep, quick-drying limestone down there, on generally good, pockety holds, but in this article I've concentrated mainly on the northern Peak District area, as it's closest to home and work for me, and extremely popular for locals and visitors alike.
The most famous of all grit crags, it's popular for good reason, and in unsettled weather it's not a bad bet as it's is one of the quickest to dry, so long as there's a breeze! Stop for a brew in Robin Hood's Cave if it does start to rain, it'll be dry before you know it.
Who says you can’t polish a turd? My favorite crag has sections that stay dry in the rain and often it has dried as soon as it stopped raining, as does the nearby bolted Horseshoe Quarry.
Yes, it’s hard, but the clean, exposed rock dries in seconds and often (being that tiny bit further south) gets slightly different weather to Hathersage. The same can be said for the end of Froggatt (Chequers Buttress), which is basically Curbar anyway.
It’s always worth trying somewhere at Burbage because there are crags facing every direction, so if you’re hoping to get wind or sun, or avoid wind or sun there, is always somewhere to try. Also sometimes the rain comes down so sideways it blows straight over the crag; this happens a lot at Burbage West in particular. Plus, Higgar Tor is so steep you can climb on it in almost any weather, until you get to that heinous slopey top-out that is!
THE Tor. The best hard sport crag in the Peak can be treated as an indoor wall most of the summer. Stays dry in full on downpours but be aware; it can seep in winter. The routes are hard (the warm up is 7b+) but don’t be put off: go down there, pick a route and don’t be ashamed to fall off every move, that’s what everyone does. Work on it and it will come. Also there is a ton of bouldering that will get you super strong.
A 2 minute approach will take you to a lovely spot by the river with lots of bouldering and traversing which again, can remain dry in heavy rain until the whole place floods or seeps!
The original eliminate wall! Much less steep than the previous 2 options but it’s got more polish than Pledge. You can make your own problems up or follow the (strict) guidebook but it is a great training area and you will learn faith in friction! If you're after bolted routes, there's a handful on Garage Buttress that stay dry in the rain, although you may want to bring your belayer up to the ledge so they don't get a soaking. And should it absolutely shell it down, there's spooky caves to explore.
One for the connoisseur. We love it. Grit’s answer to Minus Ten is Burglar Buttress; a short steep lump with a huge capping roof that keeps it (nearly) dry all the time. Low level bouldering and traversing is the name of the game but unlike its limestone competitors it is littered with jugs. Start eliminating holds and there are some very hard problems to be had!
Ok it’s a bit far from Hathersage but it’s ace. Trad, bouldering, sport, flood lit, all on grit and all under one roof! Confused? It is an odd place, but take a look in the Over the Moors guide to see what I'm talking about. The "other" Tor is steep quarried grit with great trad. It has trees capping most routes and a viaduct (!!) over the main wall keeping it very dry. The starts are steep making for great bouldering and someone has bolted the viaduct pillars to create the only sport climbing on grit. As if this wasn’t enough they've put up flood lights, so come rain or darkness, there’s no excuse!
Conditions can be a fickle thing, it takes many years of climbing on wet rock to learn where to go at any given time to get the best out of a bad day. Jon Fullwood wrote a great article on the Nectar Climbing blog that you may find useful, or, if you're visiting, you could just pop into the shop and chat to someone in the Rock Room for advice. We've also got a webcam, pointing towards Millstone, if you want live weather updates. It's a bit grainy (even though Dad's just cleaned the lens) but it gives you some idea of what the weather is doing before you head out.
Of course you could just climb anywhere anyway! Just occasionally, it’s adventurous and character building to get the waterproofs on and climb on in the rain. Not to mention a valuable skill to have if you have any alpine aspirations. Obviously lower your grade (a lot!), pick well protected routes and have fun! Or simply go aid climbing, an art that it is useful to know about!
If none of these take your fancy, and you're ready to admit defeat, then head to Hathersage to check out the Best Climbing Shop in the World Ever, before hitting one of the Sheffield climbing walls.
Warning – if you don’t want fairly explicit beta on a Tremadog classic, stop reading now.
I stare up at the finger crack. It glares back at me. Both of us are a little exposed and potentially off-route, but only one of us is intimidated by the situation. Politely and with the barest tremor of outright fear in my voice, I call down to my second/wife (not second wife, I’m fairly sure) and query whether I might have inadvertently strayed onto an E5. Her voice comes floating back up from the comfortable belay spot – “gain the ledge and ascend the thin crack above”. Bugger. I’m in the right place. Mindful of the presence of my father-in-law on the same belay ledge below, I restrict myself to a few muttered profanities about the likelihood of this actually being 4b climbing. Whose idea was it to climb Christmas Curry anyway?
Our morning’s climbing at Tremadog had already gone fairly spectacularly wrong. We made the short slog up to Craig Y Gesail, then left Hannah’s dad and his climbing partner to the lovely looking Bramble Buttress, having spotted a promising-looking VS called Princess further to the right. The start was a touch vegetated, but undeterred I geared up and headed skywards. What followed could best be summed up as “might be off route – carry on anyway – definitely off route – unlikely traverse to attempt to regain route – awkward belay in a gorse bush – no idea where the route goes – traverse again – no idea where we are now – time to retreat… via an incredibly awkward abseil down a steep hillside full of brambles”. Hot, scratched, bruised and with our tails firmly between our legs, we decided stopping for lunch was the only sensible solution.
Refueled and ready to go, I was fairly insistent that we left this particular crag behind and went somewhere else to try and do some actual climbing. Christmas Curry had been on my hit list for a while and the Micah Eliminate finish looked like it would add a little spice. Off to Bwlch y Moch we traipsed, (although with no attempt to pronounce it correctly) and after a brief diversion to the wrong bit of the crag, we arrived at the bottom of the route. Two and a half nice pitches later and here I am, the crack and I still eyeballing each other.
Having established that I am unfortunately in the right place, I slot a small nut into a very poor placement, purely for my own peace of mind and taking care not to tug it into place too hard in case it falls out (come on, we’ve all done it). I take a deep breath and look up at the crack once more. Come on, I did Three Pebble Slab the other day, why am I finding this so scary? Then, like one of those magic eye pictures you’ve been staring at for fifteen minutes, handholds and footholds suddenly materialise. It’s still intimidating but at least I can be fairly sure I’m not going to fall off instantly. I grasp the sidepull that’s appeared from nowhere and set off. Oh look, positive handholds and good footholds everywhere. Who would have thought it? The steep bit is over almost immediately and in a much more positive frame of mind I skip merrily towards the arête like a hyperactive squirrel, lobbing a cam in a crack on the way past and mentally chastising myself for being such a massive coward.
Disappointingly, hiding behind the arête and waiting for just this moment is a small put powerful gale force wind, which blows my recently-acquired confidence straight out to sea. Suddenly I wish I’d taken a little more time placing some gear that would, y’know, actually be of any use in a fall. Gibbering like an idiot and keeping as many body parts in contact with the arête as possible, I scramble upwards on reassuringly excellent holds and top out. Phew. Whilst waiting for the hyperventilation to calm itself down, I set up a belay and call to Hannah to start climbing. Sadly there’s no easy way to look down the route in order to make sure she’s just as terrified as I was so I sit back and relax (whilst keeping the rope tight of course, dear). As my heartbeat slowly returns to normal, as so often happens in these situations, the route segues swiftly in my head from “well, that’ll keep me up at night” to “awesome, let’s do it again”.
Eventually Hannah’s helmet appears over the top of the crag, she looks up at me and utters the sweetest words any climber can ever hear: “Crikey, I’m glad it was your lead. Pub?”
I have never climbed in the Rhinogs area of North Wales before and I have certainly never heard of Foel Penolau and Craig Galch, the two crags we climbed on. Foel Penolau is on the 2000’ contour line high above Llyn Trawsfynydd with commanding views towards Tremadog Bay and the Lleyn Peninsula. A series of short routes that pack a punch like ‘Do the Monkey’ E2 5c are well worth the effort on a good day.
However the stand-out route was on Craig Galch overlooking the Dwyryd estuary. ‘Subservient Elephant’ is a Mark Reeves /Leo Holding creation first climbed in 1998; it is given an unconfirmed E1 5b and 3 stars. Steve and myself can confirm that it is an outrageous E1 and definitely worth 3 stars. It has wild, ‘heart-in-your-mouth’ positions, just enough gear and holds that appear just when you really need them. On this occasion we gave it an extra star because as we topped out there was a peregrine falcon calmly watching us from a perch only 10m away.
As good as selective guidebooks are, you could well be missing out on some brilliant routes unless you consult some of the older, less fashionable definitive guides. Meirionnydd (The Climbers’ Club, 2002) is such an example because ‘Subservient Elephant’ appears nowhere else.
Crazy Germans huh? For some reason, Dennis insists on visiting the Peak District every year in the middle of summer. Undeterred by slopers hot and slippery, unfazed by clouds of midges thick, black and hungry, he returns, tries really hard, and falls off. A lot. "It's good for my head" he says. I try to convince him otherwise, at least get him out to the Lime, but he always declines. " I have much limestone in Frankenjura" . Maybe he's never experienced good connies? After a few evenings I just refuse to climb with him anymore. "See you next year," I say, "and you really should come earlier next time!"
Finally he listened, and came back for a couple of weeks in May. Much cooler than before, he starts ticking some slightly harder routes, It's still not exactly primo, but it's passable, and no midges! For his last weekend I bundle him into the car and head for North Wales, keen to show him what British climbing does best - big gnarly sea cliffs.
As is the norm for Welsh Wales, we arrive in the pouring rain. A full winter of chronic desk-related RSI has left me too weak to even consider the standard climber's wet weather option of Parisella's Cave, so we head off to explore the slate quarries. I explain some of the history, how unique slate climbing is, but he isn't one bit impressed. Rusty chains, wobbly ladders and choss scrambling sind furchtbar. We bimble round half of the Snakes and Ladders route before sacking it in.
The next day sees sunshine and the seaside is calling! Yellow gorse flowers fill the air with their thick, buttery scent as we stumble across the cliff top. What better introduction to proper UK trad (grit really doesn't count) than Drummond's classic Dream of White Horses? An exciting ab into an impressive zawn, belaying above the sea, fiddly gear, double ropes, tons of exposure and easy climbing. Unfortunately there's another team up ahead and they're taking forever to leave the first belay. Two teams behind too, it's gonna get busy.
Under normal circumstances, climbing a girdle traverse on a popular crag on a busy Saturday is about as anti-social as queue jumping at the bar, but what if the girdle traverse is THE major route of the crag? Surely then, climbing the straight-up routes is the charmless thing to do?
I ponder a moment, see the tangle of ropes surrounding the first team and zip off down the rope for a plan B. The tide is fully in, so we amble along the belay ledge to start the second pitch of Concrete Chimney, a delightful romp (yup, it's actually better than Dream) on steep and satisfying jugs. As planned, we're up and off in no time.
Basking in the sunshine, Dennis spots the striking line of the Quartz Icicle and racks up. "Make sure you take lots of nuts!" I advise, handing him my bunch of smalls, knowing full well that he's come to the UK with a double set of cams, 8 DMM Offsets and that's it.
The Icicle Pitch is amazing, nice and sustained, mostly incut holds, a bit tricky for feet at times, and generally decent gear. Dennis sprints up but stops at the first distinct crux. He dallies; heavy breathing, some bizarre Ondra-style noises, a shout of "Watch Me" and ….. oh …. he seems to have traversed into Concrete Chimney and reversed all of the way back to the belay.
“I am really scared of this rock. It is like nothing I have ever climbed before, I think the hold will snap, maybe you try?” Sounds good to me! And hopefully it will get me out of leading the last pitch cos I found that really hard last time!
I pull the ropes, and rack up. Dennis has only gone and left all the small nuts on the top of the cliff, no wonder he's frightened! I give it a go, micro cams seem to do okay, although I could really do with a Wallnut 3 to stop my leg from trembling. Dennis leads the top pitch in good style, having finally got his head around the double rope system, and relaxed into the weird, flakey quartzite. Grinning from ear to ear we stroll back to the van.
Next morning, I have the great idea of nipping down to Castell Helen for a quick route before the South Stack Cafe opens for breakfast. Tangled ropes, soaking wet rock, razorbills and far too much fun mean we don't reach the top until after 1pm, and we stagger into the Caff and order two lunches, each. And cake.
Unfortunately, the rest of the day isn't quite as fun. I manage to twang my shoulder on The Strand, I think the repetitive left hand slapping for 40 metres bores it to death or something, then, on his final route of the trip, Dennis totally shreds his hands on some little overhanging jam-crack up on Holyhead Mountain. And that's it, see you next year buddy!
So it's been a while since my last blog, sorry about that, but as I mentioned many moons ago, I was about to become a father and hence the climbing may slow down a little. So now I am a father, and my daughter Isla is bloody ace, but this is a climbing blog. If you want to see one of my billion photos of her you will have to come in the shop and see me.
Just before Isla was born we hosted a lecture in the shop by Mr Energizer Bunny himself, Tim Emmett. As a father we asked him if it had slowed him down, his reply was simple “Dads crush!”. Hence the title. My climbing has slowed and changed, but I wouldn't say suffered. Having time constraints turned me into a boulderer for a little while, embarrassingly I quite enjoyed it and, for once, stuck with one discipline and I think I saw improvements.
Many of the Peak classics I had previously thought too hard for me got sent, which was cool! The Terrace (7C), T-Crack (7B), Late Junction (7B), Electrical Storm (7B), Purple Haze (7A+) all got ticked for the first time, and things I'd barely scraped up like Submergance (7C), Sparks (7B), Boyager (7A+) and Monochrome (7A) went with relative ease. It was nice to have felt the extra power from just bouldering, but unfortunately I don't feel like I used it on any real routes and I’m sure it's faded now, booo!
However bouldering season is over and it's time for trad! Of course we headed to Stoney, the greatest crag on earth, to re-familiarise ourselves with the classics including Scoop Wall, the easiest E2 on the Windy Ledge in our eyes (or is that E3, as the BMC Grading Squad seem to think?). Not many big things have been climbed of interest since the ropes came out but it was great to reclimb some amazing routes such as Asp (E3 6a), Tippler Direct (E3 6a), Chameleon (E4 6a) and other mega classics. The other reason for this blog is for once I have some awesome photos for you, since the one and only POD (Pete O’Donovan) was on hand to take some great pictures. Keep an eye out for (yet another) great selective guide book to the Peak District from him.
So now it's summer it means it's time for lime! If you ever struggle for motivation the brand new BMC Peak Limestone guide book is now here too, the greatest guide ever written to the greatest crags on earth! You lucky, lucky people. I will try my best to do as advised by Mr Emmett and next time, hopefully, have some more exciting things to write about.
Thanks to Pete O'Donovan for the photos!
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