#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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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.

11 days to go…. Rescue Ramble 2014

Got a free day on the 13th September 2014 and fancy a day walking around the gorgeous countryside of the Holme Valley in Huddersfield?? Fancy doing so on behalf of the local Mountain Rescue Team to help raise a bit of money for their Headquarters appeal?

There are 3 length of walk to undertake – 8 miles, 16 miles and the full 25 miles of the Holme Valley Way.

All routes are on the Bradford & Hudderfield Explorer Map No. 288 which is 1:25,000 scale.  The major part of the routes will be along tracks and paths crossing fells and pastures, with some pathless sections crossing moorland.
While the routes are way‐marked and a full route description will be sent to you prior to the walk if you pre-register, the onus for route finding is with you, the walker. So the challenge is all yours!

If nothing more its a great chance to see the local area, grab yourself some homemade cake at each check point, and get chance to meet members of the team and learn about their work in the local area.

For more details and a registration form see:

http://holmevalleymrt.org.uk/fundraising/hvmrt-rescue-ramble/

Le Tour de France – Holme Moss

I couldn’t let this weekend go past without a post on the Tour de France, the biggest event to hit Yorkshire.

All the local mountain rescue teams have been out providing safety cover over the weekend in their respective areas, and the Holme Valley team had the luck of being based at Holme Moss mast for the weekend giving us prime position for the race.

As it was, a select bunch of us were deployed to Holme Village, and while that meant that I missed out on seeing the king of the mountain cross the top of Holme Moss summit, it did mean I was able to get a very good position.

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If you look hard you can see just how crowded Holme Moss was!

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.