Thursday, 28 April 2011

Spring Sunshine

For once a bank holiday that had decent weather! A couple of days of it were spent sorting out the garden then on Sunday we were heading over to the Lakes, initially to Gimmer, then it was decided on Dow before we eventually settled on Pavey Ark. Nice, south facing and wonderful bubbly rock.

Surprisingly even on an Easter Sunday the NT car park at Stickle Barn was only half full - we parked in the field in front of the New Dungeon Gill hotel, cheaper for one thing and not a stupid, don't have the right money and we ain't giving change sort of price that the NT car park does. Then it was the steady slog up to Stickle Tarn.

There were a few teams on the crag but it turned out that no-one was heading for our intended routes, at least not yet, so Alex and I set off up Capella, a surprisingly recent find at E1 and a very good sustained route in to the bargain. Steve and Mike were doing Arcturus to our right, the two routes share the same first belay. I was a bit nervous leading at times but soon got going and found the top bit of the first pitch easier than I'd remembered, having struggled previously. Alex didn't want to lead the second pitch (also 5b) so I headed off again and got myself all wrong on the start before wandering up the final slabby walls and grooves.

Once on Jack's Rake we wandered up to the start of Golden Slipper, one of the classic Lakeland HVSs, simply brilliant climbing on lovely rock. The main pitch is a bit bold though so not one for a nervous leader. Having done this several times, including soloing it, before I reckoned that Alex would enjoy it more on the lead than simply following. A couple of friends had turned up to do Aardvark - an E1 with a stiff crux move then delicate rib climbing so I had a bit of a chat whilst Alex dispatched the first pitch. A quick changeover on the commodious ledge, she took her time on the main slab but figured it out without too much fuss. By now Mike was leading Poker Face, another good route. The top pitch is an anticlimax and it would have been better to abseil off but we took the long walk round in rock shoes - ouch!

After a bit of (late) lunch and recuperation and we headed over to do Rake End Wall. I'd only done this once before, solo, and couldn't remember anything about it. Suffice to say, the first pitch is bold and the belay is behind a large loose flake with strenuous moves just above at the start of the second pitch. I think we were both a bit jaded in the heat and although only VS it felt just as hard as Capella.

By now it was getting on so we headed down to the Stickle Barn for a pint and then home.

Wednesday afternoon saw Simon and myself heading up to Great Close Scar hoping to get out of the cold northerly breeze. As it turned out it was a good choice, in fact it was almost too warm! After four routes of variable and debatable quality we'd had enough. Still need to go back though.

Now we just have to find somewhere quiet for the coming weekend to get away from all the Royal Wedding awfulness - I simply can't stand all the toadyism - the papers and TV channels seem to be trying to outdo one another in how obsequious they can be. OBNs to the lot of them!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Somewhere New

Didn't think I was going to get any climbing done last weekend, with it being Easter school hols, regular partners were away with family. However Simon wanted to get out on Sunday, it being his birthday and all that. We'd only have the afternoon as our wives were out biking in the morning.

After the usual, "where shall we go then?" we settled on Hawkswick Crag which lies opposite Blue Scar in Littondale. Neither of us had ever been so off we went. The approach is a bit brutal: 20m of easy tarmac followed by a blast straight up the hillside to the crag. Then it was a case of find the routes - the crag is quite long, maybe a kilometre, but the routes aren't exactly close together so there are a lot of features that aren't climbed. Eventually we ended up at the right-hand end of the crag where there were some starred routes in the guide.

Simon led the first route, a VS, which was pleasant enough - not polished but not overgrown either. My turn next and the last route on the crag was a HVS but it looked a little bold in the lower half, and so it proved with good gear only coming after you'd done the hard climbing. I was quite pleased that I'm now concentrating on my footwork rather than my hands, usually a sign that things are coming along.

Next up was the three star E1, Simon's lead again and after a bit of dithering getting in the inital gear for the crux wall he did it with no problems. Limestone is really awkward to protect - what look like good cracks for wires turn out to be anything but and it can take some time to sort things out. Don't know why it gets 3 stars as it's only the middle third (about four moves) that's any good.

Final route of the day was a VS crack - Flash Harry (had to do this because of the name) which we both led. Looking at the other routes we've probably done the best of the crag. All followed by a quick visit to the pub in Cracoe on the way home for a celebratory pint.

Saturday saw us at the bike shop in Skipton where Cath bought me a very nice new road bike for my upcoming birthday, she wouldn't let me ride it until the actual day though! When I did get to ride it it was very nice and have done some quick times to and from work. New bike syndrome?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Simply Gorgeous!

Another Friday off (I have to use up my holiday allowance before the end of April) and it was a cracker! Didn't start out too well though as I nipped in to Skipton to try out a new bike and like a fool forgot to take off my road shoes when going down the stairs in the bike shop and went a right clatter! A few bruises but mostly pride.

As a totally left-field suggestion to Mike I'd come up with Great Close Scar behind Malham Tarn. The last time I'd been to the crag was thirty years ago! I remembered it being somewhat loose and scrappy but that may have been due to us going on the easier stuff, the hope was that once you moved up the grades things would be better. A nice flat walk in and just a gentle breeze with not a cloud in the sky.

First up was a nice looking VS. Good holds and easy climbing but not much gear in the first five metres or so and some of the rock needed careful handling but once I got a couple of runners in I started to feel happier and the upper section though no easier was straightforward. Mike then fancied an E1 he'd done on his only previous visit (11 years ago) so armed with medium to big cams he set off up Gorm. Just one tricky move but quite easy for 5c, pumpy though.

In the middle of the crag is a three star E1, Black Death, that I fancied doing, with a description that talked of hard moves on the lower wall and a difficult overhang at the top. The hard wall at the bottom certainly was, plus it had the same lack of good gear as the VS, cams in limestone don't inspire confidence. After a rest on the gear (to check it would hold of course) I got the moves sorted and reached the jugs at 6 metres and after another move got good gear in. The groove above was steep but on good holds and led to a good rest beneath the top roof. I laced this with gear then went for it - it was hardly any harder than the groove. Following, Mike reckoned that the lower wall was pushing 5c, at least the guide put it towards the top of the E1s in the graded list. Not bad for my first E1 of the year.

To the left was an E2 that Mike fancied, again a lower wall that was awkward to protect then long reaches between good jugs led to the crux: a narrow wall between two cracklines. It was actually really contrived as whichever set of holds you used you got pushed into one of the routes on either side - you could span the pillar without much trouble. We finally finished off with Nomad, one of the routes that I'd done previously and is actually pretty good. All in all a good call and well worth another visit or two, the routes pack a lot in and they are a reasonable length (15 - 25 metres).

Saturday was another fine sunny day and I'd promised Cath that I'd go biking with her as part of her training for LEJOG. The plan was to ride up to Hawes and back. "We could park at Hetton and go from there", "no", "If we parked at Gargrave then we don't have the nasty hill back up to home at the end", "NO!". In the end I gave in and started from home, she was quite insistent :-)

The overall plan was to ride for about an hour and a half then have a café stop then ride another block, café stop, etc. as this is what she'd be doing on LEJOG. After an hour and forty we pulled in to Kettlewell and a cake stop before the first of the big climbs of the day past Cray to Bishopdale. Suitably fortified we pedalled along the valley bottom to Buckden and the start of the climb proper. The first part up to the pub at Cray is steady, typical alpine gradient, but it then steepens up for the last half mile with the last couple of hundred yards being the steepest. The reward was a long sweep down Bishopdale before a short sharp climb in to Aysgarth. The next bit was along the main road to Hawes which was mostly flat but with one or two short sharp climbs to throw you off your rhythm.

More tea and food in Hawes in a rather quirky café/restaurant then it was on to the second big climb of the day, Red Moss. This time the (light) wind was in our faces. The steepest part of the climb is immediately out of Hawes but it soon eases and even drops down again, probably losing all of the height already gained, before the long slog up to the summit. Even going down the other side was now hard work with the wind distinctly fresher. A sharp left turn at Ribblehead and we were soon passing through Horton. Just by Helwith Bridge Cath's chain came off, our only mechanical of the day, but we still made the café in Settle before it shut.

Then it was just a matter of working our way back through the various villages away from the A65 to get back to Gargrave before heading back home. Of course I totally messed up the gear changes at the start of the final steep hill. Final stats were 7:30hrs riding time for 90 miles which wasn't too bad. Definitely saddle sore though!

Sunday's plan was for an afternoon's climbing at Witches' Quarry near Clitheroe so some gardening in the morning in stifling heat. I'd visited the quarry some years ago in damp conditions and wasn't impressed, still it's a nice location. Cath and Pat were going to go biking whilst we climbed.

Gaz on the tricky groove of Crucible.

I was pretty well wiped from the previous two days so was happy just to second things while Mike and Gaz did the leading. I think we did most of the decent routes though another visit would mop up the remaining lines. A post climb visit to the local pub then head home for a rest after a pretty decent weekend of activity.

Gaz on the pleasant cracks of The Reeve.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

April Showers

After one of the driest Marches on record - certainly in the ten years we have been here I can't remember a March being so dry, though certainly we've had one or two Aprils that have been pretty arid.

True to form as soon as we get in to April we get heavy showers! Of course the farmer then decides to spread muck on the fields next to the house so the lane is covered in muck and soil from the fields so you have to be really careful with the power when driving up the lane so that you don't spin, it's nearly as bad as with the snow and ice through the winter.

We went to Anglezarke on Sunday afternoon, first we were going, then we weren't (April shower) then we decided to head over anyway. Years ago we used to visit Anglezarke in the early spring but the trees in the middle of the quarry have really grown (we saw the same last year with our aborted visit to Houghton Quarry) so that it now feels much more enclosed than it used to. Perhaps the BMC should have one of their crag clean-ups, much more useful here than at places like Egerton Quarry.

Kicked off proceedings with Terror Cotta, HVS though it felt awkward for some reason, then the classic VS Metamorphosis before an E1 that I hadn't done before - First Finale. Given E2 in the guide it felt easier than Terror Cotta - a good route to break in to the grade but beware the loose hold at half-height. Then another April shower or two and a bit of mooching around before Mike decided to do Mu'Azib an E1 to the left of Tangerine Dream (an E3 I'd done many years ago). The first few metres looked tricky and he was a bit worried about the top section since that was getting wet but it turned out not too bad. I didn't find it too bad seconding even though it's quite a bit steeper than most things I've been on this year though leading it might have been a different matter.

By the time we'd got back down it was after six so time to pack up and head home. I think I still need more footage to get my head in to gear, going climbing more than once a week is going to be the thing.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Cool Again

Of course no sooner have you thought that spring has arrived then the temperature drops by six or seven degrees and the cloud and murk return.

Last Sunday we were going to head down to Chee Tor but the weather suddenly turned and going on a north facing crag with a strong easterly blowing wasn't going to be the best idea in March so we relocated to Trowbarrow Quarry to get a few routes done there. With five of us in the team we ended up as a three and a two but since most routes are single pitch or have an easy pitch to get to the main climbing.
Gaz on the crux of Coral Sea, VS 4c

Having grown up not far away from the quarry on the other side of the bay, I've done most of the routes that are worth doing here several times so it was more a case of getting more footage done to get my head in to shape. Whilst we did nothing above HVS, I found everything felt at least a technical grade less than it was given so it seems that things are coming together. Just need more climbing now and I'll start progressing through the grades.

Mike on the middle section of Javelin, E1 5b