People travel from all over the world to come and climb in what is now my back yard, Chamonix – it is truly exceptional with so much variety; from sport climbing to ice, to alpine mountaineering to alpine rock climbing. It truly is a climbing Mecca.
One thing I’ve missed, however, is single pitch rock climbing in the Peak District – the sort of climbing where you can go and experience so much variety, really challenging yourself both physically and mentally. Nowhere – well, at least according to most Brits – is that more true than in the heart of England on grit.
Climbing with an old friend
Will, one of my original climbing buddies, had just returned from 2 months on the Hot Rock climbing road trip in South America and his climbing psych is overflowing. He was in a similar mindset to me, having climbed on some incredible, huge, and wild routes, he was missing the rock climbing that he had grown up on.
Not having seen each other for over a year, we agreed that a day in his old backyard was the perfect remedy for both of us being cooped up in London too long. We packed the car up on Friday night and, in 4 short hours, we had set up camp and made it to the local pub for last orders.
One of my favourite aspects to climbing is the excitement the night before a day’s climbing. Tomorrow is full of wonder, surprise, and, hope. The rain rain pattering against the window did nothing to dampen our excitement and, after a few beers, it was back to the tent for a good night’s sleep before we unleashed ourselves on the local crags.
I have climbed at the Roaches a number of times, this sprawling area has some of the most iconic British rock climbs nestled amongst dozens of equally worthwhile objectives. The recent rain meant we had to head to the upper tiers that, by our leisurely arrival, had already dried in the wind.
Wandering up, we walked past some of the classics of the crag; Valkyrie, a devious route I had climbed a few years ago; and, The Sloth, a huge and intimidating roof split by a stunning crack. Over beers the night before, i had set my sights on The Sloth but, on quick inspection, the moss and plant life that the recent rains had brought made the route look very unappealing. We headed on up higher and decided to warm up on some easy routes.
The great thing about grit is that the routes are never more than about 15m, though sometimes you want them to carry on longer, it also means that you can climb a lot of different routes and easily get a lot of mileage in.
We started off with soloing a few easy routes but the previous wet weather made it all feel a little unsafe and so we quickly opted to get the ropes out and play it a little more safely. The wind was unrelenting and so climbing just in baselayers also quickly gave way to layering up. Berghaus had recently sent me a jacket to try out – the Vapourlight Hypertherm hoodie – that I knew hoped be perfect for these conditions. Thankfully it proved true also holding up to the rough and abrasive grit with no sign of wear, no matter how much I thrutched and struggled up the routes!
A good day to climb
Will and I quickly started climbing, alternating leads, and before we knew it we were tearing through the routes. By lunch we had soloed two routes and lead 3 routes each – not a bad morning. There are a number of challenges revolving around ticking of huge numbers of routes in a day, our numbers might be modest but, for me, I was feeling great.
We were treated to having Will’s family pop by, taking their dog for a walk and bringing chocolate and snacks to keep fuelling us. After a little rest, some much needed fuel, and catching up with his family, Will was keen to crack on.
We managed two more leads each before I had to call it quits – my mental and physical strength was really starting to wane and, with a 4 hour drive back to London coming up, I was happy to call it a day at this point. We packed up and, with that satisfaction brought on only by a good day in the hills, headed back down South and to home.
How I have missed it
There is something so intense about single pitch trad climbing, especially on grit. Though I love the type of rock, I don’t think that is just it. The fact that each route is so short means that the routes can be deceptively difficult. You can see the top so close, once you’re at the crux it is incredibly tough knowing that safety and success is so close yet so far.
I also believe that, by the routes being so short, you are constantly switching from safety and relaxation to needing to psych yourself up for the next lead. These massively contrasting states of mind become very tiring after a while but oh so rewarding when you bring it all together.
I know I am very lucky to have the terrain on my doorstep that I do have but, when I come back to the UK, it really does make me miss what used to be on my doorstep here. There is something so pure about the UK climbing ethic, the attitudes of the people at the crags, and the shared pride that comes with having world class rock climbing in the most unlikeliest of settings. I know I’ll be back for more soon and, if conditions permit, hopefully The Sloth.
See you soon, Britain!