There are few photographs and no maps in this post, I’m sworn to secrecy.
Any climber will admit to you that if he comes across a cliff face that apparently hasn’t been climbed on he keeps it very much to himself until he has climbed all the routes or at least the ones he is capable. Climbing lore is full of Crag X’s. I’ve known climbers spend hours on Google Earth trying to spot unknown crags. The protagonists will go to all lengths to ensure their apparent rivals don’t come across the location. Leaking the wrong grid reference or the wrong county if they think they could be robbed of the new route’s kudos. Talk of going to Wales this weekend when in fact they are sneaking into the Lake District. There are tales of car chases to try and follow the new routers to their new crag. Many a secret has however unfortunately slipped out over a few, too many, beers on a Friday night.
New routes on an already well climbed out crag are more difficult to hide before completion and there are many tales of rivals stepping in and ‘pinching’ the route from under the noses of the originator. A nonclimber will say isn’t the rock available to all, there are no property rights. But if a team have spent hours if not days cleaning, and in these times on certain crags placing expensive protection bolts, then they feel they have an unwritten right to first go. There was always a certain climber’s ethic and code protecting this ethos.
The first ascentionist’s list in climbing guide books is always of interest, if not heated debate in some circumstances. There is a wealth of tradition and history contained within. The top climbers satisfied with a select list of quality climbs to their name. Others have produced a plethora of named routes of dubious quality that rarely see anyone else climbing.
To be honest most of, if not all, the decent climbable rock on our small island has been identified. You just need to take a look at UK Climbing’s map to see that even the smallest and most esoteric pieces of rock have been climbed on. However, in recent years the popularity of bouldering, smaller rocks without ropes, has broadened the perception of what is possible away from the traditional areas.
I’ve modestly developed a few rather grotty quarries on Longridge Fell, non are popular but occasionally someone comments on a good route which is satisfying.
I remember a walk, 45 ago, up the Croasdale Valley one winter’s day looking at some craglets, Bull Stones, marked on the OS map. (Aren’t we lucky to have this fantastic mapping source, the envy of the world.) There was lots of rock but little of it high enough for roped climbing as was the norm then. I dismissed it. Step forward 20 years and the sport of bouldering has mushroomed. Every boulder, no matter how small, can be climbed by a variety of ways with just your rock boots and chalk bag, no rope required, Bouldering mats, a safety pad to soften your falls appeared later. That blurred vision of Bull Stones resurfaced, and I mentioned to my climbing partner Batesyman the possibilities up there.
The next weekend we were hiking up there, dodging the gamekeepers, and like kids in a sweetshop climbing everything we could. Bouldering mats were purchased and our boldness multiplied. Over several months we systematically climbed and charted over 300 problems on the extensive edges. M (see below) himself joined in on some new routing. Thankfully the 2004 CRoW act gave access to many previously forbidden upland areas, particularly in the Bowland Hills, a bastion of grouse shooting. ( by the way they will be at it this week – the glorious 12th has passed) I produced a PDF guide to the edge, and it has been incorporated into Robin Mueller’s exhaustive Lancashire Bouldering Guide. If you are interested there is a delightful video http://vimeo.com/183222521
So when I receive an email from M. “How do you fancy helping me develop a crag that I have found? Between 10 and 20 m high?”
I’m hooked and despite my unfitness I was only too keen to join in the fun. I obviously had reservations of what could be new? A drive south on long forgotten roads. M and his wife have bought an isolated property in a secluded valley to start a new life. A lovely C17th farm house with flagged floors and low ceilings.
A walk on what is one of the hottest days of the year brings us to the crags where thankfully there is a pleasant breeze. M shows me the first buttress – I’m blown away. Perfect rock, up to 20 metres high with cracks and breaks. I struggle to follow him up the first new route which he climbed on sight. There was a heart stopping traverse move at half height where you leave a crack and blindly grope for a rounded layaway flake.
His next offering, again previously unclimbed though cleaned this week, involved some very steep moves which I found impossible with my injured left knee, lots of undignified shuffling to get my right leg onto the nose and up to more interesting climbing on immaculate rock. A good lead from M, I couldn’t have done it.
Refreshed by sandwiches and fluid, and it was time for his ‘triple buttress’ route. He had done this before but wanted my opinion of the grade – to be honest I found each of its three sections hard and thought-provoking, probably at least 4c/5a, harder than the other routes had been. But I’m not fit, so maybe I’m overestimating them. M is climbing well, and I’m impressed with the quality of the routes.
We were both exhausted from the climbing and the heat and agreed we had had enough. Back at M’s cottage we went down to the river where there is a secluded swimming pool. The cool water was so refreshing. Wouldn’t you all love this on your door step this weather? The day was topped off with tea and scones.
The secret pool.
M will be busy prospecting new lines and I can’t wait to join him again.