#summeroftrad and learning to lead

I didn’t think back in January when climbing outdoors made it on to my year’s ‘to try’ list, that I would become addicted to it. So much so that it seems to have replaced hillwalking as this year’s outdoor activity – I’ve had only 2 days trudging over mountains since the end of the winter season (2?!) and 16 so far out trad climbing.  This might have something to do with the ever decreasing list of hills left to bag, and most of these being boring slogs over moors to featureless tops. It might also have something to do with a whole world of route lists on crags suddenly open to me – the tick list addict.

When I started trad climbing at the start of the season, it was to build my confidence and skills on more exposed routes, so that the big mountain routes of the world are more achievable, and Project Tink isn’t just a dream. Little did I know that I would actually grow to love climbing just for the sake of it, and love spending the day climbing up various routes on short crags.

I also didn’t think I would end up leading routes this year either.

I’m not going to pretend moving into trad lead climbing has been easy. Without friends willing to show me how to place gear and give me the confidence to have a go I’m not sure I would have ever tried. Trad climbing is a strange esoteric activity and the grades of routes are completely incomparable to indoor climbing grades. Trad climbing is hard to learn unless you pay a lot of money for a course at a mountaineering centre, or have friends patient enough to show you and crucially friends you trust.

I’ve learnt loads from climbing with Emily Pitts from Womenclimb this summer, most of all I’ve gained a massive amount of confidence, both in my climbing and my ability to laugh at myself when I dangle instead! Here’s Emily climbing a route at Birchen’s Edge.

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Here’s a great shot Emily took of me climbing Trafalgar Wall (Severe 4b) at Birchen’s Edge.

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Here’s Emily leading her first route after knee surgery, hence why its only an easy Diff called Cornette at Cow’s Mouth Quarry. This was the first route this year that I looked at and thought I could have lead it, as it was only 10m high and an easy break about half way. The clouds of midges put me off though!

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Here’s Dave belaying Seazy, Seasier and Sard. Dave is great to climb with as he climbs for fun not ego so the routes are never too knee-trembling-ly hard.

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My first lead was Summer bank holiday weekend with the Karabiner Mountaineering Club on Holyhead mountain in Wales. The route was called Plimsole graded Hard Difficult (HD) in UK trad climbing grades, so supposedly easy. I’d like to pretend that after a morning of climbing much harder routes and having loads of type 2 fun (the kind where you get scared but its still fun), that I enjoyed the experience of leading my first route. But does that ever really happen? Even the gungho guys I know probably didn’t enjoy their first experience leading trad, though I don’t think they’d admit it.

Plimsole well and truly destroyed me mentally. I don’t think it matters how well you climb, having to overcome the fear of falling and having confidence in your new skills of placing gear is much more of a mind game than seconding a route. I’ve managed to haul myself up routes as a second this year that I would never be able to lead.

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From the bottom Plimsole looked like an easy scramble up a gully of large boulders.

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Half way up I found myself trembling on the top of a boulder, trying to place a nut that I was confident would hold me at the same time uncontrollably sobbing through fear. Its the mind game I hadn’t mastered.

I found myself lacking the confidence to step onto a block with no footholds and the handholds a long stretch away. Of course I managed it eventually and got myself to the top of the pitch where I had to pull myself together to sort out the belay anchors and bring up my two seconds, Emily and Dave. After the ordeal of the first pitch I was proud of myself for still wanting to lead the second pitch, despite both Emily and Dave saying some of my nut placements weren’t ideal. Luckily the second pitch was loads easier and shorter.

On reflection it wasn’t really the technical skills I had issues with; most of the anchors where easy to sort out it, and I understood climbing on twin ropes. My issues were the fear of falling. Somewhere in the back of my mind that January winter accident 6 years ago in Scotland has tainted all of my adventures.

After crying so much on Plimsole I really didn’t think I’d lead a route again for a long time, but just like Scottish winters after my accident, its best to have another go quickly or risk never doing it again.

So, one Sunday afternoon with a group of friends we headed to Wharncliffe crags near Sheffield. We climbed 3 routes of varying difficulties – with me finding the traverse on Hamlet’s Climb graded HVD, way harder than Remus graded Severe.

Here’s Jess and Owen on Cheese Cut Crack (a VDiff route). I’ve learned a lot from these two since they first took me outdoors in Wales, and out of everyone I know they are two people I would trust to take me anywhere.

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I hadn’t planned to try to lead another route that day as I was happy just being out climbing with friends. But I managed to lead Alpha Crack – only a Diff, which is the easiest climbing grade – but I don’t care about that. It was important for me to give it a go and get over my fear and manage the route without freezing.

I also managed to avoid any tears despite feeling a bit stuck at one point. So whilst it might be a technically easy route it was a big deal for me as only my second lead route. I’m also pleased Owen got a shot of me looking awesome (that rarely happens!)

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First trad climbs of the season

I’ve actually had two false attempts before this week when the rain ruined any attempt to get out with friends. Thankfully it was dry at the weekend and I headed up to my closest crag at Pule Hill for a spot of abseil practice and climbing, ahead of a trip to the Alps this summer.

What do you think of this rope combo for self rescue?

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Pule Hill is a fantastic outcrop of gritstone with a quarried area. As my first climb of the season I was a bit unnerved by the exposure of Amen, a VDiff which requires managing your height under an overhang and stepping across a void onto a flat wall. Honestly, it induced a lot of swearing for a VDiff!

The route starts heading into a crack, I always feel comforted in a chimney, despite the slime. But when I realise I need to step out,  I have to challenge the feeling to panic. I headed up the face onto the platform below the overhang and then had to work out how to balance, step across the void, grip and haul my way up the flat face across the other side of the chimney, and then bridge my way up onto the top. A lot of swearing indeed!

I wish I’d just followed Kevin and his 5 year old son William who took a scrambling route adjacent to Amen.

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Jess and Owen were climbing on the HVS that runs over the impressive arch of rock, and so Kevin, Steve and I headed over to Pilot Crack next to it, a severe which started with a relatively easy set of steps onto the platform which runs under the arch of a pillar of rock, (to the right of the photo of Jess climbing).

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Unfortunately I’d realised at this point I could bail out as I could walk off under the arch, so when I felt off balance doing the last bit I gave up too easily. Followed by the comment from William that I was a scaredy-cat!

So I’ve found my Achilles heel in trad climbing – if I can bail out for an easy option, I will.

So the only solution is to multi pitch so I can’t bottle it and bail out. Better than that, to head out with a club of amazing and supportive climbers who won’t let my over rationalising take over, encouraging me to bail out.

So I head out Wednesday evening with the Karabiner Mountaineering Club to Alderman Rocks near Dovestones Reservoir. High up on the hillside, Alderman Rocks are an amazing outcrop of gritstone which has an amazing view across the Chew valley.

Despite my protests of wanting to start on an easy climb Andy had me heading up Pigmy Wall a severe, and whilst it tested my nerve due to the lack of handholds it was a nice short route for the start to the evening. We finished the route by climbing the last pitch of Rib and Face (a nice VDiff), here climbed by Giry who went before me.

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It was the third climb up Great Slab Arete (severe) when I truly questioned myself. A third of the way up the first pitch I couldn’t see the foothold round the other side of the Arete and so I did have a moment of panic. Thankfully I made it and managed to smear and haul myself up the rest of the route without too much swearing.

The final climb of the night was Great Slab (VS 4c), by then I was feeling a bit more confident and also happy to admit defeat since I assumed it was above my grade. Despite the tiny holds for feet and hands I did manage to get myself up it without too much swearing. Just look at the view Andy had from his belay spot!

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I’m guessing I have a lot to thank gritstone for, expect perhaps the grazes on my hands!

Winter bog trotting on Kinder Scout

There’s few reasons to get out of bed at 7.30am on Sunday morning, but having the opportunity to go for a decent hike with friends is definitely one of them. In the depths of winter I would much rather be tucked up in bed unless I have a Mountain Rescue training exercise to get to, and even then I drag myself out of bed disgruntled.

Sunday started with dense fog too, as I drove over Holme Moss wondering why I had bothered to get out of my nice warm bed to spend the day in cloud. I could barely see beyond 50m as I headed over the summit. Thankfully as I headed over the Snake Pass it was clear that the fog wasn’t quite as dense the further south in the Peak District so I was relieved.

After a bit of joking about how we’d hoped for the remains of snow but were going to instead spend the day bog trotting, we headed out from the Snake Pass Inn car park and up Ashop Clough track, to where it meets the Pennine Way.

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From there we had a bit of a silent race to the top of the Kinder Plateau with the fell runner in the group being the first, and me second. Which considering the winter junk food splurge I’d indulged in, I was impressed. Especially since I was a long way second.

It was amazing to see the sun shining as we got to the top and be able to see views out across Glossop.

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As we walked around to the Kinder Downfall we had fantastic views and a few remaining snowdrifts, which were deep enough for snow angels and jumping in up to our knees.

IMG_2917 IMG_2920From the Kinder Downfall we stopped for a snack and then headed straight across the moors (and into the fog) to Fairbrook Clough. The purpose of the walk had been to recce a route for a DofE walk later in the year so it was important we checked compasses in the fog for bearings for groups to have later on, but really instinct took us across the moors to the Clough, where we headed down back to the pub and a lunch time pint. The remaining snow drift across the top were certainly fun to disappear in up to our waists!

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Autumn on Bleaklow

I should have gone cycling on Saturday in training for my next big trip. But I’m not a cyclist at heart, so when a friend asked if I wanted to go hill walking it didn’t take long for me to say yes. Especially when I saw the forecast was going to be sunny.  I’d never been up Bleaklow in the sunshine before.

Bleaklow, in the Peak District, is about 30 minutes drive over country lanes from my house. The typical weather I endure is dense fog and rain, but instead on Saturday I had glorious sunshine, although it was cold and windy.

We parked at the car park at Torside Reservoir, next to the Longdendale Trail. This is a section of the longer Trans-Pennine Trail, which is a fantastic long distance route for cyclists and walkers. Our route for the day was to head up Wildboar Clough to check out a mini scramble up the river before heading across the fell top to the summit cairn. From the Trans-Pennine Trail track we clambered over a couple of rickety stiles and through the woodland on a path that is clearly little used.

We soon found that the river, while being a great route to handrail up  or down the hill in the mist and fog, is largely full of green damp and slippy boulders, making a walk hard work and a bit lethal. As we’d both started to slide on the rocks, we decided to head away from the riverbed and up the grassy sides of the clough avoiding the scramble and the potential catastrophe.

There was a lovely view from the top of the river though. IMG_1812

From here we enjoyed a bog trot to get onto the Pennine Way which we then followed to the cairn marking the summit. Bleaklow summit is a bit of a non event, as a huge plateau larger than its neighbour Kinder Scout (but lower) it is a featureless terrain which can test even the best navigators in poor visibility.

At this point, with time on our side we decided to carry on to High Shelf Stones trig point – while this is not the summit top of the plateau (and busy as close to the Snake Pass road) it is considered a top in its own right and worth a wander over to as it has great views out across Manchester and beyond. However, on Saturday it was windy and cold so we had a look at the aircraft wreckage as we passed it and hid behind rocks near the trig point for lunch.

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The aircraft wreckage on Bleaklow is some of the most complete and extensive that I have seen in the Peak District but it is certainly not the only one around as the area is littered with wreckages.

From High Shelf Stones we contoured around to Dog Rocks and then turned right and headed directly across the moors thankfully not bog trotting. We crossed the line of newly restored grouse butts to pick up the Pennine Way trail and head back to the cars in the valley below. The whole walk took about 5 hours, including a lunch and a lovely 15 minutes lying in the heather gazing at the blue sky.

The many layers of landscape photography

What a great article about the landscape where I live!

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What is it about landscape photography that makes me keep going back for more?

I spent much of one Sunday morning asking myself this question, as a ferocious wind did its damnedest to blast me off of Marsden Moor.

A wind blasted morning at Millstone Edge A wind blasted morning at Millstone Edge

Crouched behind a large rock, which provided at least a little shelter from the grasping fingers of the Pennine wind, waiting for a break in the clouds, I began to ponder just what it was that had coaxed me out of bed at 4.00am and up on to the moor on a day like this. I spotted a jogger approaching, the only other living soul that I saw all morning. We waved at each other in grim solidarity, in recognition of each other’s battle with the elements.

It was this that made me realise that it was a question of motivation. I could have…

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Rescue Ramble 2013 – 23 miles is not a ramble!

As part of the team’s fundraising efforts for a new Headquarters, Holme Valley Mountain Rescue team held their first ever ‘Rescue Ramble’ on Saturday. Over 80 participants came along to the walk, billed as a challenge event.

With three distances – 8,16 and 23 miles – circling Holmfirth, the walk was anything but a ramble.

Starting at Armitage Bridge the route headed up to Castle Hill,

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then across the tops through Thurstonland and Hepworth, occasionally skirting off on to the Kirklees Way (as a better footpath in sections)DSCF4957

towards Yateholme and the Digley Reservoirs, before heading back through Upperthong, Netherthong and Honley.

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Knowing that the route didn’t head onto the moorland in the team’s area, I assumed that once up at Castle Hill it would be little ups and downs around the valley. Idiot. The 23 mile route was certainly a challenge in order to complete in under 9 hours, as it dropped into valleys only to rise back out again. 1125m ascended in total over the day.

So, I don’t care if I’m part of the team, I deserved the badge! If you fancy the challenge, the Rescue Ramble is to be an annual event.

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Pennine Way starting out 2006 Day 1

Having embarked on the mission to finish the Pennine Way soon, I thought I’d share some old photos of the route from when I first started, back in 2006.

Day 1- Edale to Standedge – 29 miles/46.7km

Edale is a fantastic place to start a long distance trail, easy access on the train from Manchester and Sheffield and a really easy to follow route to start you off.

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From following the track along the valley you eventually head up Jacobs Ladder a steep brutal ascent to get onto the Kinder Plateau. I’ve been up Kinder many times since and still haven’t seen a view from the top! In mist this isn’t the easiest area to navigate.

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The route along this section has some great metal signposts by the Peak and Northern Footpath Society. This one is looking back to Kinder and the route back to Edale.

The path continues to wind across the moorland to cross the A57 Snake’s Pass and on to more relentless moorland up Devil’s Dyke – a large deep cutting in moorland top which feels like it is winding a lot before you finally reach Bleaklow Head and the descent down to Crowdon.

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Living in Marsden it was too tempting to walk on and make it home so from Crowden I motivated my dad with ice-cream from the visitors centre before dragging him onwards.

The path becomes less barren as it rises up and crosses Laddows Rocks. From here much of the path is now paved to prevent erosion to the peat. Black Hill summit is a bit less barren than this now!

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The paving continues down the other side from Black Hill trig point and down to meet the  A635 at the top of the Wessenden Valley.

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From here it was getting dark as we crossed to descend the Wessenden Valley and follow the route between Black Moss and Swellands Reservoirs to meet the A62 at Standedge.