Journeys in the hills and mountains
Tom, Joe and I spent a day climbing at Stanage Edge. Both Tom and I are new to lead climbing, though after our exploits on y Lliwedd at Easter we decided we wanted to try our hand at some more challenging climbs. Joe, who has done a bit more climbing than us, was also interested in a trip, so we set off early from Cambridge for a day trip to England’s most popular climbing crags at Stanage Edge in the Peak District.
My last trip to Stanage had been in (I think) 2008 when I went with Dave Gruar, Alex Tuck and Alex Pericleous. I seconded Dave for the whole day, enjoying my first outdoor climbing trip in the UK. My aim, on returning over three years later, was to spend most of the day climbing Mods and Diffs to build up some practice at leading. After following Tom up a Diff (‘Jammy’), we realised that we were well within our comfort zone, and so I led a VDiff (‘Pillar Arete’). This was a short, easy climb though poorly protected. Spurred on we continued along the edge to the Watch Tower where Tom led ‘Accessory Chimney’ (HVD), which was a more difficult though thoroughly enjoyable climb. I then led another VDiff, ‘Hidden Crack’ which was a rather unusual route up behind Pisa Pillar.
Our next route proved more challenging. ‘Heaven Crack’ (VDiff) is rated in my guidebook (Craggs & James, Eastern Grit, 2006) as a Top 50 climb; we figured this must be pretty impressive in a guidebook of over 2500 routes! Tom led the route, which had good gear placements but required laybacking off of a crack, which proved rather tiring. Tom came down half way up, and I finished the route using the gear he already had placed, before completing the haul over the top. It was, indeed, an excellent route. And where had Joe been all of this time? He was quite happy soloing all of the easier routes around the area, including several Diffs and VDiffs, his only concern being that his mother might find out what he had been doing. He soloed ‘Heaven Crack’ while we were sorting out our rope and gear at the top of the route. The wind was very strong indeed, and we quickly came off the edge to find a relatively sheltered spot in which we could eat our lunch. After eating, I led ‘Mississippi Chimney’, a straightforward VDiff with lots of protection. From ‘Heaven Crack’ we had watched a guide teaching two men how to lead on this route. Feeling a bit tired, I now untied from the rope and handed over to Joe. He and Tom set out to do ‘The Flue’, a route graded HVD with a tricky and exposed exit crack. Being off rope allowed me to scramble up a little to take photos of Tom leading the route.
After this, I roped up again to join Joe on ‘Balcony Buttress’, a three-star Severe route in the book. Joe made steady progress up, despite having little opportunity to place gear on some tricky sections, and he reached the top to set up his belay. I followed him up the route, and I was increasingly impressed at his climbing abilities. I found the route quite tricky, even seconding, and I most certainly would have felt uncomfortable without the support of a top rope. The lower section was very slippery and the upper section, which was an exposed arete, proved challenging in the wind. I hauled over the top, and congratulated Joe on leading what was to be the most difficult route of the day. I had tied into the middle of a 60m rope for this, allowing Tom to follow me up. No doubt feeling tired after his previous climb, Tom decided to come off the route leaving us the problem of removing the gear. An abseil was required. I gathered the rope to throw down the crag and, casting it out with a cry of “rope!” I was somewhat bewildered when the rope caught the wind, flew up in the air, and landed five metres behind me and Joe. The wind made the abseil difficult, but eventually I got down having retrieved all of the gear.
We decided on a more leisurely end to the day and Tom and I climbed Left Twin Chimney (Diff) and Right Twin Chimney (VDiff), Joe soloing each route in no time at all. Tired, not least from fighting the wind all day, I dozed as Tom drove us home, waking only to discuss where and when our next trip would be.