#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!

Calder Valley Greenway – Huddersfield to Sowerby Bridge

Despite the grey skies I headed out on my trusty/rusty bike on Sunday. Having cycled the Huddersfield Narrow Canal a few times I decided in the drizzle it would be quicker and nicer to stick to the A62, so I made good time into Huddersfield as I bombed down the main road.

Knowing full well I was going to have to cycle around the backstreets of Huddersfield anyway as the Narrow Canal disappears around the university at street level, I decided against jumping on the Broad Canal and opted for the A62 right out of town, until I got near to Deighton train station, where I then joined the canal to cycle to Cooper Bridge. (Following the green line that follows the canal on Sustrans map below.) I’d not previously cycled this section of the canal network so I wanted to check it out.

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The route is a bit rough but otherwise a nice alternative to the main A62 road, which at this point can start to get a bit congested with traffic, even on Sunday morning it isn’t much fun. The Huddersfield Broad Canal along the section from Deighton to Cooper Bridge is a great and quiet alternative; bumpy to cycle and the path is narrow in places, but it looks like the towpath is undergoing improvements.

IMG_3397 IMG_3404Once you reach this final lock you join back with the A62 and are faced with 2 choices in order to get to Brighouse and onto Sowerby Bridge (my intended destination) on the Calder Valley Greenway – 1) the A644 which takes you direct to Brighouse but across Junction 25 of the M62 (no thank you!) or to continue along the Canal, following the Calder Hebble Navigation. No contest in my opinion, traffic free canal wins hands down. Or so I thought.

I quickly realised why this section isn’t marked as a cycle route on Sustrans website.

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To start with the route is a nice amble along a rough road across fields away from the canal, that is until you reach the road end at Brearley Bridge. Here your first challenge is to get onto the canal. With a bike this involves wheeling across the adjacent muddy field – the lovely steps next to the bridge for access to the towpath are no good for getting a bike down.

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From here the towpath slowly disintegrates into what I could only describe as a quagmire. Had it been raining heavily I would have struggled to make it at all on a bike. I’m a bit disappointed with myself for not stopping and taking a picture of how horrendous the route becomes as it gets closer to and goes under the M62.

Frankly it was so muddy that despite a tow path nearly 2 metres wide I was hugging the tree line to stay out of the super deep sections – its beyond ruts and puddles. Even peddling slowly with feet out I nearly slid off a few times in the stretch of mud 1 foot deep that lasted for about half a mile. I needed a mountain bike to make it through.

I was surprised to see two dog walkers out, as even for walkers this section of towpath isn’t much fun. Which is a massive shame as its the only alternative to dicing with death at the M62 roundabout and is actually a pleasant section of canal. I’ve read somewhere that this is in a section of planned improvements to ensure a connected cycleway in the region – so fingers crossed!

Here’s a snap from the Pennine Waterways website of this section taken from the water.

Thankfully, as you near Brighouse its easy to hop on to the road to cycle into town and then pick up the very lovely tarmac Calder Valley Greenway which takes you into Sowerby Bridge.

The Greenway along this stretch of the Calder Hebble Navigation is fantastic as its mostly off the roads and very well surfaced. But in between dodging the hoard of Sunday morning dog walkers and peddling fast to get to Sowerby Bridge before I was totally soaked and starved, I didn’t take photos. I was pleased to have got there in 2 hours despite the slower speed along the muddy section.

Had it not been raining hard as I got into Sowerby I might have cycled on to Hebden Bridge, but it was lunchtime so food was calling.

Celebrating 30 years of Slaithwaite Moonraking

Someone’s just made a passing comment that the further you get from civilisation strange rituals and celebrations exist. That may be the case (I live a community which certainly has some interesting festivals). However I prefer to think that the further you get from the monotony of urban life, art and creativity flourish.

Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival certainly demonstrates that. Started 30 years ago by Satellite Arts the festival takes place every other year, and this weekend saw the birthday celebrations.

In the 8 years I’ve lived in the valley Slaithwaite has transformed into a place with growth in artisan businesses creating and selling individuality and uniqueness – from the local cooperative Green Valley Grocers to the Emporium with space for local artists to sell their creations – from the Handmade Bakery with its amazing range of breads and pastries to Empire Brewery creating a range of locally named real ales.

So it was fantastic that this year’s Moonraking festival included a celebration of all that is fantastic about the village and providing the influx of visitors with an opportunity to see more than just the lantern parade. I have to admit to being surprised to find McNair Shirts tucked away in the mill creating high quality merino shirts. Gorgeous and designed as a lifetime investment, but a bit out of my price range.

So by the time the Festival kicked off we were already a bit merry from eating and drinking.

Here’s the story of Moonraking from their website and some of my photos from the evening:

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The long way to Slaithwaite for lunch

Ok, so I didn’t get out on a big hike this weekend  – and all I really wanted when I woke up Sunday was a fantastic coffee and to play out in the snow which is still on the hills around the South Pennines.

So, with no great trek involved I headed the longest way I could manage down the valley to Slaithwaite for a coffee and lunch. Lazy I know, but just look at the views whilst I headed on the Colne Valley Way from Marsden up to Cupwith Reservoir and down Merrydale Clough into Slaithwaite centre. All in all about a 6 miles circle, heading back along the Huddersfield Canal.

The Colne Valley Way is a fantastic 13 miles walk around the top of the valley – but as much of it is on either the moors or farmland it is boggy, unless you tackle it at this time of the year when the ground is frozen. Its a great walk though with some fantastic pubs en-route and this is certainly my favourite section.

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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!

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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