Alright, us Brits don't half like to whinge. It's too cold, too wet, too windy, and at the moment, way way waaaay too hot! Seriously, I've only just walked out of the shop and my Solero is already running down my elbows. Well don't let that spoil your fun, here's some of my favourite tips to keep climbing when the mercury shoots sky high. Most of these are really quite obvious, but there might be one or two that you've not considered.
Check the compass – north facing crags are generally your best bet, or you may have to move around to avoid the sun, starting on a west facing crag in the morning before moving to an east-facing one in the afternoon. Don’t forget that this advice completely changes in the southern hemisphere! On my first trip to South Africa I thought I was being smart by picking a north-facing crag to climb on, only once the sun had started to get high did I realise my mistake!
Check the wind direction – even a slight breeze can help reduce your body temperature. Be careful though, you might feel totally chill but end up burning to a crisp from the sun.
Shady zawns and obscure little holes – if you can’t find a suitable north facing crag, you’ll just have to make do with what you’ve got. Seek out gullies, slots, zawns, caves and blowholes. Even a small corner/groove line can provide some respite on an otherwise completely exposed crag.
Get high – Gain some altitude! In dry air you can expect a temperature drop of almost 1˚C for every 100m gained (in saturated air the lapse rate will less pronounced, maybe around 0.3˚C per 100m) so get yourself to those high mountain crags. Wind velocity also increases with altitude, adding to the cooling effect.
Bonus tip - there's often an icecream van situated on top of Sea Walls at Avon, don't forget to bring some pennies with you!
All other thing being equal, the coolest time of the day occurs half an hour after sunrise, so go to bed early, set your alarm and get to it. You’ll also get the smug satisfaction of seeing the sunrise and being first on the crag. Try not to gloat (well not too much anyway) as you pass all the losers while you stroll back for mid-morning pastries having sent your project already. Catch a late lunch and a snoozy siesta (or go to work?!) before heading back out in the evening for another session.
Proximity to water is good for the soul, and your body temperature. Go deep water soloing, try hard, fall off, it’s all good fun! If you’re nowhere near the sea, then riverside crags are the place to be. Dunk your feet in the stream between routes and you’re whole body will feel the effects.
Feet will swell in the heat. Your already tight climbing shoes will become instruments of torture, capable of reducing a grown man to tears, so break out your sloppy comfy pair. I’ve actually had a Pink Anasazi physically pop off my heel mid crux on a slabby, runout E4 before - not an experience I’d like to repeat! If you do need to stop and loosen your laces mid-pitch, make sure you’re in a position where you can do them up again (yup I’ve made that mistake too!)
Seriously. Just do it. Pick something non-greasy so your hands don’t get too slippery (or have someone else do it for you), choose factor 50 and re-apply often. You don’t want this to happen to you…
What, you want me to tell you how to dress? I’m not your mum! Sheesh. Well just one hint… a proper shirt, light cotton or linen. Wear that, unbutton all but two and pop that collar.
Super-important, and you probably don’t need reminding of this, but remember to keep your salt intake up when your sweating and drinking – adding an electrolyte mix to your water will help your body to absorb it more effectively and reduce cramping. Slightly less obvious is filling a wide-mouth Nalgene with ice, or even better, a vacuum flask. They keep drinks cold as well as hot you know.
Baggy boots and sweaty hands, honestly, now is not the time for hard climbing. Find some classic easy thing to climb, with good sharp jugs that you can just romp up.
If you’ve not heeded any of this advice, you’re gonna have to deal with it as best you can. My favourite is the impromptu legionnaire’s cap – take a t-shirt, drape it over your head so the sleeves hang over your ears and the body hangs over your neck, and secure with a helmet or long sling. This’ll keep the sun off your neck and face while allowing the breeze to pass through, and prevent sweat from dripping into your eyes. Certainly not stylish in the least, but who cares?
This is the last resort. If it’s really that hot just sack it in, go for a swim, find some shady trees for slacklining. Seriously, this is Britain, it’ll be freezing cold again in a day or two.
A little while back I had an amazing evening going ground up on the brilliant Block and Tackle (E6 6b) at Higgar Tor. A few safe but fun falls were taken before topping out and I left the crag buzzing from the sheer fun and quality of the climbing. Meanwhile, work colleague and crusher Nathan Lee had a similar ground-up experience on the harder and even more classic Balance It Is (E7 6c) just across the valley at Burbage South. Chatting about it the next day, we came to the conclusion that Neil Foster routes are awesome. It did start me thinking what makes them so good? Well normally a stunning line (are they all arêtes?), good gear but hard moves above it, and great quality rock. Only a few days after that evening I ran into Neil in the shop. I explained the current trend and asked “what would be your top 5 first ascents on grit?”.
The answer has lead to a great grit season for myself, also resulting in an incredible ticklist that MUST be completed. Below is what Neil came back with, someone out there must have repeated them all. I have one to go but the obvious ultimate challenge is all of them in a day! Hmmm maybe not for me but let's see…
The amazing thing about this list is there are so many other stunning routes out there from Neil not on it, Ulysses or Bust (E5 6b) at Curbar, Carpe Diem (E6 6c) at Stanage and Linkline (E6 6c) at Higgar Tor just to mention a few. So why do so many of Neil’s routes get forgotten or go unclimbed for so long? Firstly: Neil is so modest that he never even gave stars for his routes, allowing other people to judge the quality. Also, around the same time, a certain Mr Dawes was picking even bigger plums a little less quietly. Oddly enough I think having amazing, hard routes at Britain's most popular crag, Stanage, doesn't seem quite right. Who do you know who headpoints at the Popular End (other than me!). Last but not least a lot of these routes are in a mythical grade spectrum. It seems to be common place to try to onsight anything up to E5, but if a route is E7 this is definitely headpoint material (for all but the best). E6 seems a little lost, especially if it is generally considered a “safe”(ish!) route. Too hard to onsight, not hard enough for a head point? Whatever your style: get these routes done, they are amazing! Here goes:
Neil must have been laughing all the way home after finding this one. Good gear is placed at the start of the difficulties and then full commitment up the incredible arête. For me the crux of the route was to leave the gear, a hard undercut move allows a standing position (it doesn't climb like an arête at all!) next a powerful series of moves and rockovers leads away from the gear before a slap/stretch to the break and gear, ooofff! Beautiful, bold yet safe, forceful climbing.
This was the first ticked off the big five and I was very pleased to flash it with good beta from Dave Brown. A must for any aspiring E6 grit leader. With it being just to the left of the famous E3 Crocodile and slightly unnerving flexy hold it had to be “Make it Snappy!”
How can such an obvious line be left alone? Neil has a few awesome first ascents on this mighty crag, but he chose this one for the list. Starting in the gully you quickly reach the first break and once again find bomber gear. The steepness of the crag quickly becomes apparent and the next section up the arête is amazing. Burly slapping, heel hooks and commitment are what's needed to get you to the sanctuary of the next break. A stunning gritstone evening going ground-up on this cracker left me so psyched for more of the same. This route was the reason I got in touch with Neil about his list. So much fun! (see the last blog for more on this)
I have thought about this one for years, long before I even thought I may get good enough to climb it. There was a stunning picture of Neil on it from an old Stanage guide and then the story of the first ascent in the next. What’s even more impressive is that in the picture, (shown here) Neil has no belayer! Dave Simmonite had just belayed for the first ascent then afterwards ran round the top to get the shot while Neil posed with a tied off rope in a vest! Gnarly! He must have thought I was a wuss in my helmet, with a pad and a belayer.
I also loved the story that they both got up early to get the route done before work, hence the name.
This must be the most neglected of all his routes, when I first abbed the line it was filthy. It is a proud line at the most popular cliff in the country, crazy to think it appears to have had only a handful of ascents.
After a brush and a go on a rope one misty evening I could just about do “the move” but it was very hard and the fall would be a nasty clatter. The conditions put me off and I left it, but didn't forget. A week later and in true Foster fashion I had rallied some troops and met at the crag at 6.40am. Brilliantly I then received a text “Hi James, heard you're going to try my route. What time and can I come to take photos? Neil” 10 minutes later, Neil joins us. I felt honoured to have the first ascensionist there, especially so early! What a hero! I’d better not blow it now.
Easy moves lead to the break below the overlap and good gear. A great undercut move leads to a good flatty, a long lock to the crappy sloper. This morning it all feels great. Foot up, slap, done! This route went from feeling impossible to really steady, but that’s grit. All done by 8am. I really hope this spurs on more ascents, Neil described it as “small but perfectly formed”. I couldn't agree more.
When I asked Neil for this list I was worried he may put this one on it, the guidebooks description made it sound terrifying with the only gear coming from hand placed blade pegs. It didn't sound very reassuring, even scarier was the thought of Neil soloing the first ascent.
Winter's Grip follows one the the many proud Millstone arêtes, however this one is a little smaller than its famous neighbours. Neil said I should go ground up but I bottled it and another headpoint was on the cards. Once again the hard working Andy had prepared the rope in advance and we set to it. Quickly moves were figured out and the pegs we decided “might hold?!?”. We both top-roped it cleanly and I quickly lead it afterwards, it went very smoothly and was nearly a little bit of an anti-climax. However the excitement was to come, Andy stepped up.
Andy, who had top-roped the route a number of times cleanly, clearly didn't have his head in the right place this time. I could feel the trembles through the rope. He climbed up to the first peg then launched into the crux: hand up the arête, left foot to hand, left hand crimp, high right smear on the arête…. shaking, we watched on, terrified but relieved as he made it to the rest and the second peg. However as Andy tried to calm down he felt himself toppling over backwards from the rest. Frantic scrambling ensued and somehow he pulled himself back onto the rock shouting “DON'T FALL OFF!” (sound advice) Anyway he didn't and then he sketched to the top. Sorry about that Andy - but you did! Another awesome route ticked off from an awesome list.
The big one. The hardest, and strangely, probably the most repeated. That will be because it is at the classic hard grit crag. “Balance it is” is currently the only route unticked for me on this list. It may always be, but I’m damn sure going to try it one day. I just need some cold winter conditions back!
Balance It Is climbs the stunning left arête (yep they are all arêtes!) of one of the main buttresses at Burbage South. You start up a crack belonging to Boggart left hand (E4 6a) but just before the niche you blast out left and layback powerfully and with great balance up the arête. Near the top used to be a small slot for an RP4 but this has since blown due to many a spark-creating whipper. This now means the final run out is even more scary - however, once again, with these brilliant routes, you won't hit anything if you decide to take the ride.
There are many great videos of people taking said whipper and I think it was a fine effort of our very own Nathan Lee to climb it ground up, albeit with a battle. 7c sport grade has been mentioned so it's not surprising this is no pushover and may well stay unticked, but I can't wait to try! Here is a particularly brilliant video of the route.
This one must sit with pride of place on a stunning list of first ascents from Neil.
So there you have it: an amazing list of amazing routes on amazing rock all climbed by an amazing climber. You can tick them off over at UKC on their ticklists. Neil is a legend and mega nice guy too, so do him the honour of climbing his routes, all in a season? All in a week? All in a day? All in a lifetime? I’ll be happy with just trying them all. What would Neil do?
It must be a sign of getting older when you decide to set your alarm for 5am to "make the most of the day", either that or the fact that trying to fit in hill days around a young family makes you do strange things. On our recent holiday to the west coast of Scotland I snuck out early to get my fix of being in the mountains, and tick off a few more Munros. The early starts went down well as it allowed me to return back home for mid morning to spend the day with wife and son. Usually I walk on my own in the mountains but as I have been running in the Peak a lot recently I decided to head out in my running gear. The weather was great and had been very dry which resulted in the terrain being good for moving quickly.
I walk fairly briskly on my own in the hills but this was my first time running up Munros. Unsurprisingly I didn't see anyone else out at that time as it was early which gave me the mountains to myself. I was rewarded with the most amazing cloud inversion from An Caisteal which resulted in the surrounding hills looking like islands in a sea of cloud.
I have always walked in the mountains with poles but after my friends at Beta Climbing Designs (who supply Outside with Guidetti Poles) recommended to try them while running I found them a great advantage on the ascents, they certainly help push you along on the long slogs up! However I stashed them away in my pack for the descents as I found they tended to get in the way a bit way on steeper rocky sections, probably due to bad technique! I will definitely use them again on longer runs and more steady non technical terrain. I really enjoyed my first real taste of running in the mountains, and I'll certainly make sure my fell shoes are packed next time I head north.
Were you brought up outdoors? Maybe you remember your first time up the Pyg track on your Dad’s shoulders, or your first go at climbing outside with the family. Or maybe it’s something you discovered for yourself and your parents are a little bemused by your outdoor obsessions.
With Fathers’ Day coming up we’ve had a trawl through the Outside site and come up with ideas for Dads of every stripe. Which one’s yours?
Mystified by the outdoors and your apparently insatiable need to scale rocks and mountains. Can’t understand why you don’t enjoy watching football and/or doing your nails.
A name he'll know off the telly, a cracking good read and perhaps even some inspiration.
"To accompany her primetime ITV series, Best Walks with a View, Julia Bradbury takes us on eight of the UK's best-loved walks, showcasing the beauty of Britain and navigating the reader through the sights and sounds, the flora and fauna and the past and present of eight fascinating and relaxing paths, all of them well-trodden but still full of discoveries waiting to be made, including some excellent pubs."
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Introduced you to the great outdoors, is full of tall tales about his exploits and embarrassing ones about yours when you were a nipper. Doesn’t know whether to be proud of you or jealous; either way he stopped trying when you started burning him off all those years ago.
GSI Commuter Javapress £26.00
For those rests on the trail - the nifty Commuter Javapress keeps your luxurious French Press coffee warm on walks or car journeys. Add a sit mat and he's got a portable café in his rucksack.
Black Diamond Trail Poles £70.00
If he hasn’t tried walking poles yet, it’s time he (and you) did. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
"This attractive and cleverly structured guide gives walkers ten of the best walks to the finest pubs and inns in the Peak District National Park in a popular pocketable format. With clear information, an overview and introduction for each walk, expertly written numbered directions, large scale Ordnance Survey maps, superb, eye-grabbing panoramic photographs, and interpretation of points of interest along the way, these guides set a new standard in clarity and ease-of-use."
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Irritatingly hale and hearty, he's still leading the way on every expedition. He's climbed it at least once before, and he probably did it before it had bolts in.
Get him to finally retire those MOACs!
Ocun Crack Gloves £30.00
Outside's father and son team Turnbull recently tried out the latest in crack climbing gloves and were quickly converted; see the review here.
Peak District Through the Lens: £23.95
Just added to the Outside books collection, this spectacular photography book offers a different perspective on the Peak District. A beautiful guidebook to over 80 of the most picturesque locations in the Peak District and surrounding areas, with photography tips and stunning shots to pore over together.
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You can never have too many...
I've been meaning to write a few words since January however things seem to always be too hectic to sit down for a minute. I really wanted to write about the fact I finally lanked my way up the mega classic boulder problem at Burbage West Side Story (7C) by head torch, but I don't have time for that now, and it seems like ages ago.
Then I thought about the awesome time with Aiden in the Cairngorms back in February. The conditions were bad for hard mixed, but the easier stuff had great ice in the grooves making progress quick. I wanted to tell you about a battle with a buried Deep Throat (V,6) and brilliant The Seam (IV,5). Also I had to tell you about finally climbing in the Loch Avon basin on a stunning day with the mega classic Route Major (IV,5) and finishing at 12.30pm so a quick ascent of a big route. Or even talk about The Message (IV,6) in a storm. Well I don't have time to tell you anymore so there are some nice pictures here:
All those things were great but I feel caught up in the moment and that seems to be all about hard(ish) grit routes right now. A special mention needs to go out to Andy Gardner on this subject. When I met Andy he seemed to be an E2 leader on a good day, but all of a sudden he had lots of free time on his hands and psyche on tap. Next thing we know E5 onsights and multiple E6 headpoints are commonplace for him! He was also the perfect partner. Who else can you call when you have only an hour and a half free and you need a belay? Cheers mate!
Andy is especially to thank for the first route of a good run for me. Adams Smith’s Invisible Hand (E6 6b) at Millstone, a strange and rarely repeated Johnny Dawes route which is either well protected or not depending on your view of 50 year old bolts threaded with 4mm tat. Andy was keen to try it and did all the hard work: abbed it, replaced the tat, figured out the moves and even set up the top rope. Thanks mate! I tried it on a rope and it felt nails, however we had been doing it all wrong! With the correct amazing high-stepping, arête-pinching beta it was game on. Gulp! Luckily it got dark. We returned a few days later with a 45 minute window, once again Andy had done the graft and set everything up before I arrived. A quick refresh of the moves and I was running out of excuses. Sharp end, deep breath, clip the skinny tat, go, crimp, pinch the arête, high foot, pull…...harder…..Phew! All that worry and it's over in less than a minute. We arrived at 6pm and were in the Broadie for beers by 7:30. Big thank you to Andy for that one.
This seemed to spark a bit of a roll. A few days later and a beautiful evening up at Stanage. We warmed up on the classics of Fern Crack (VS 4c) and Fern Groove (E2 5c) and then moved over to the main event. I have wanted to do White Wand (E5 6a) for years, it's elegant but deeply committing and very bold. Someone mentioned it could be made safe with a sea of pads, people were summoned from far and wide to try and tame it for me. Some bailed, some were at the Plantation, but needed all 5 of their pads for the 3ft high Green Traverse (yes you Adam!) and so with a pile much smaller than I had hoped (5 pads, but not sure Simon's little one really counts!) set off anyway. I was rushing, I took a deep breath and…. climbed back down. Next time up there were no mistakes and before I knew it I was laybacking the sharp upper arête. Beautiful. Thanks to Bart and Simon for a patient spot.
Another week later a new plan had been formed. I’d seen photos of co-worker and PROPER climber Nathan Lee on and off Block and Tackle (E6 6b) at Higgar Tor, a classic Neil Foster route (more to come on Foster routes, stay tuned!) This looked great, bomber gear followed by burly slapping and heel hooks up the overhanging left arête. We had to try, ground up this time. A quick Raspy warm up and Adam starts up and sorts the gear, returning to the ground. Its winner stays on! Heel, crimp, left hand slap, stand up, higher heel, OFF! We both have a few whippy falls, mine a bit further being so weighty (some call it fat). Faith is failing us as is the light by the 3rd go. “Let’s strip it says Adam”, just the phrase I needed to get psyched for one more go! This time I know exactly what I need to do, try harder. I slap to the break and hold it in disbelief. Hurried gear is placed in fading light and one more move leads to dancing on the summit! Woohoo! Possibly the most fun I have had on a grit route! Thanks to Adam for this one.
2 weeks pass with a little lull in activity other than a touch of sport and bouldering with a sleeping baby in the pram. Another steady Monday in the shop with indifferent weather and my psyche is bubbling. The forecast is bad but optimism is high and Steve, who isn’t even climbing at the moment, agrees to come and hold my rope, hero. As we walk into Gardoms after work the rain pours and the wind blows, we hide under a boulder. Steve says something about watching snooker in the warmth. I convince him it will dry soon and I set up the rope in the drizzle and towel down the holds. 10 minutes later and the sun tries and the wind dries. Nah’han (E8 6c) is looking possible. This is a recent Tom Randall offering, hugging a prow at Gardoms to the left of another classic Neil Foster route (sensing a theme?) Make it Snappy (E6 6b) that I did a few years back. I always thought the burly, slappy nature would suit me and even though a big fall is on the cards it could be relatively safe(ish). A few goes on a toprope and I can't believe how steady and controlled it feels and I’m not worried, this will feel great on lead with a casual reach to the break instead of the scary slap I’d seen in the videos. So I pull the ropes. I climb to the gear, a little tangle in the ropes, sorted. Deep breath. As I set off my foot pings on the first move but I snatch the crimp, calm down, heel pops, hold the arête, oh dear. Climbing further above the gear I fully realise why it's called headpointing and make the final slap to the break in a totally different position to how I'd practised. I’m up, I’m safe but not happy with how it went. Either way tick. (Note: it may say E8 in Rockfax but we all know I can’t climb that hard, it's E7 really, still awesome though.) Thanks to Steve for this one!
So I’m sorry to have ranted more than normal, that's it for now. But then again I'm climbing tonight and who knows what adventures that will bring. The Peak District is awesome!
PS. Look out for an extra special article (it's not really a blog) I will be writing soon, clues in the text above!
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