So Linda spilled the beans on the WhatsApp group, and my little secret is out! I have been “persuaded” to write a bit about it!
Those of you that were around the CMC in 2015 will recall that I climbed my 10,000th different rock climb in July of that year, whilst on holiday in France. Since then, the majority of the next 1,000 ticks seem to have been acquired on trips to Europe, so when Covid turned up, I started to worry that the 37 remaining routes I needed to reach 11,000 might be harder to achieve than anticipated. The problem being, I have climbed extensively in the U.K. over the years, and there are very few options at an easy enough grade that I haven’t climbed already.
When we were finally released from lockdown, even climbing things I had done umpteen times before was hard work, but I did find 3 Diffs and an HVDiff at Castle Naze that had previously escaped me, and so began the chipping away at the 37. A trip to Back Forest (near The Roaches) was very discouraging, as I found that someone had cranked up the angle of the crag since I had last been there, as well as filling all the routes I hadn’t done with vegetation, and coating their finishes in green slime. After that, I struck gritstone off the list, and was pleased to get a really good Severe tick at Pleasley Vale (limestone). 28 to go!
A new strategy was needed, so we booked a campsite near Frodsham, for 4 nights, and headed over there in our trusty VW campervan. Cheshire might not seem a very obvious destination, but it was chosen for the reason that I had a copy of Cheshire & Merseyside Sandstone that I had never used. It contained a delightful-sounding quarry at Irby, in The Wirral – clean, quick-drying, south-facing sunny slabs, with the majority of the 27 routes in the Diff to VS range. Also there was Helsby – I had climbed here twice in 1975, but as we didn’t have a guidebook, I still don’t know what routes I did, so they haven’t been counted.
We duly arrived at Irby Quarry, and were mildly discouraged by a damp-looking west-facing wall, and some fairly extensive growth of gorse bushes at the top of the crag. However, the first section of the south slabs was clean and dry, and the top of the crag clear, so we set to, working our way up from Diff to VS, and thoroughly enjoying the slabby, technical climbing, with just adequate protection. A final Severe on the West Wall proved to be the greatest test of the day. I came away feeling quite pleased with progress, especially as I had managed a couple of VSs. 22 to go!
Helsby is the major crag in Cheshire, and is well seen from the M56 as you head to or from North Wales. My advice is – keep going! The crag faces north to northwest, so doesn’t get much sun until mid-afternoon. The sandstone rock is mostly black (or green with slime!), and mostly very steep to alarmingly overhanging. Just to help matters, it had rained during the night, and was very windy when we inspected the routes. Even getting around at the foot of the West Buttress was hard work, and we didn’t see a single route that attracted us enough to get the gear out. Instead, we flogged up to the top of Helsby Hill, where there was a superb view, and a sunny meadow with sheltering bushes where we had lunch. Suitably fortified, and with the sun now reaching the southern end of the Upper Tier, we finally got the gear out for a pleasant-looking 7 metre long VDiff called CB Crack. Appearances can be deceptive – this was the VDiff from hell! It latched on to you the moment you left the ground, and didn’t relent until you hauled out at the top – thank goodness those final holds were HUGE! Pat put in a valiant effort to remove my runners, but had no strength left for the remaining moves. We returned to camp to lick our wounds. 21 to go, but if they were all going to be like that, I would need the rest of the year!
Back to Irby next day, where we managed to find a few more routes that could be climbed without getting ripped to shreds by gorse on the finishing moves. Someone needs to go there with full body armour and some long clippers, because it deserves to be climbed on more often. 16 to go!
Friday saw us parked at the foot of Hellsby (sic!), but in a quandary. Conditions were similar to Wednesday, i.e. windy and grey, with hints of rain around. There was one other option – drive 38 miles in the wrong direction to get to Dyserth – Dyserth Castle Slab had some nice-sounding sport routes, and 3 of them might even be easy enough for the likes of us. The drive there was rapid, and the weather better there than at Helsby. Unfortunately it took us some time to find the crag, but I won’t go into that! It was well worth it, though, and I had soon ticked three more lovely routes, and we could return to Sheffield with only 13 more needed!
Despite my drubbing at Helsby, I didn’t feel I was climbing too badly, so a few days later we headed up to North Lancashire, to a campsite at Crooklands, on the southeastern end of the Lake District. En route we stopped off at Warton Small Quarry, but unfortunately it had sprouted an inordinate amount of vegetation, as well as getting steeper, since my last visit, in 2001. Working on the basis that these days sports crags get more traffic, we quickly adjourned to Barrow Scout Cove, where the easy routes were still quite hard, and the rest were for wall-rats. 11 to go!
We have been to Hutton Roof crag on several occasions in the past, but despite this, there were still a number of routes to “tick”. We had a lovely day up there, climbing the superb juggy limestone, but got rather more ticks than we bargained for, and these little bloodsuckers had to be removed with a specialist tool! Despite these attentions, we finished the day with only 2 more needed.
So, the great day was to be spent at Farleton Upper crag – quite a long walk-in at 20-25 minutes guidebook time, so longer than that for us. The routes were also a bit longer than the norm around here, and didn’t come into the sun until the afternoon. This provided the perfect excuse for a leisurely walk-in, and lunch before we got our climbing gear on. Route 10,999 was called Hurricane (VDiff), and turned out to be a superb and memorable climb – one helluva vdiff! Unfortunately, Pat strained something in her foot while seconding it, so sat out number 11,000. This was Typhoon (VDiff), which was also excellent, but not quite as fine as Hurricane. I abseiled for the gear, and then decided I might as well do Head Wind (Severe), just to get me on my way to 12,000! Back in camp, a nice bottle of Cremant d’Alsace provided a celebratory accompaniment to our Thursday night curry.
My first recorded climb was in June 1970 (The Turnpike, Diff, on Alport Stone, solo up and down!), though I didn’t do the second until November 1971. I didn’t set out to count the routes I climbed, but recorded the names, grades, who I climbed with, etc and put a number beside it, starting naturally with one. If I was repeating a route, it didn’t get a number. So that it how I know how many routes I have climbed!
Those of you that saw my Desert Island climbs presentation on Zoom earlier this year will know that I found it extremely difficult to select 8 (or was it 9?) of my favourite climbs. As for favourite gritstone climbs, often the ones that I have enjoyed the most have been the ones that I would never want to do again – The Unprintable and Flying Buttress Overhang, at Stanage, come immediately to mind. Puppet Crack at Chatsworth was satisfying because I had failed on it previously. Wuthering at Stanage, Great North Road at Millstone, and Moyer’s Buttress at Gardoms are examples of great routes that I have been happy to repeat (though not too often!). At the end of the day, we climb to enjoy ourselves, and I got as much out of those three routes at Farleton as I ever did out of any Extreme routes that I climbed when I was younger and fitter.
See you on the crags!