East is East
by Chris Craggs Jun/2005
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A stormy Stanage© Chris Craggs, Jun 2005
I am not sure what it is that makes the difference between a climber who spends five or ten years at this great game of ours before getting on with a normal life, and those of us who know that we in for 'the duration', but it might be something to do with initial accessibility. With modern indoor walls it is possible to climb as often as you want, to get good (at least at bolt clipping) pretty quickly and get stale almost as quickly. I started to get interested in hill walking and then rock climbing whilst living in Richmond, North Yorkshire in the mid 1960s. As a mad-keen teenager with an absence of both transport and a partner I struggled to get at 'proper' cliffs and so instead devoured books about anything from scrambling to Himalayan first ascents, making do with rare visits to the short limestone edge and shattered quarries of Swaledale, near my home. One especially inspiring volume was The English Outcrops by Walt Unsworth, a sort of mini guide to all the best routes on the best cliffs from Land's End to Northumberland, and I was entranced by the brief descriptions and pen sketches of what he called the Throne of the Gritstone Gods, Stanage and the other Eastern Edges, just to the west of Sheffield. By 1968 I had fallen in with a couple of like-minded individuals who being a bit older had the major advantage of personal transportation and soon we were headed Peakwards.
My introduction to the area was about as classical as you could wish; a Friday night journey down the A1 squatted in the back of a van through heavy rain, and then tacking through the black canyons of eastern Sheffield, with the ruddy glow of hot steel lighting the huge buildings. On for that first ride up Ringinglow Road and over the crest to the small campsite at North Lees Farm. The cold night and lack of a decent sleeping bag were only part of the reason I did not sleep that night and by the time the dawn was flushing the eastern sky I was walking up the road to get a first look at Stanage. The blackened rock face disappeared of in both directions as far as the eye could see, an inspirational site indeed.
That first weekend we dodged the showers and did a bunch of lower grade classics, including the superb Inverted V (including a mid-height stance) and the classic crack of Robin Hood's Right-hand Buttress Direct. Topping out on Martello Buttress in a roaring gale was fun as was balancing up the unprotected Wall End Slab. We also visited the beetling walls of Millstone Quarry and bashed pegs into Embankment 2 (such decadence) and were briefly perplexed by the tricky start to Great Slab. The weekend set the scene, suddenly I knew what I wanted to do with my life, I moved to Sheffield a couple of years later and apart from a few years away in the late 70s have lived here ever since, within a ten minute drive of some of the best climbing on the planet.
Organising trips away and travelling the world in search of great climbing is important and I would find it hard to stay keen without that excitement, but the return to these harsh black outcrops of abrasive rock is always a great thrill. There must be a few crannies I have still not explored (I even spotted a potential new route the last time I was on Stanage) but nowadays just soloing stuff on Burbage North or repeating the great classics of Froggatt is enough of a pleasure. Working on the new series of guides with Alan James of Rockfax has been a different kind of challenge but has also been a great experience, it made me realise how well I have come to know what Kurt Diemburger call our 'small green rocks', though I always thought that Royal Robins' description of these routes as 'inlaid jewels' was nearer the mark.
The Eastern Edges start with the harsh black outcrop of Wharncliffe and continue with the luminous bits of rock that poke out of the boggy wastes of Howden Moor. They twist their way south from Dovestone Tor gradually increasing in grandeur and continue running on all the way on to Chatsworth Edge more than ten miles distant where they fizzle out again except for the minor gems of Cratcliffe and the Black Rocks of Cromford which pop up even further south.
Wharncliffe - blackened and beautiful
A long neglected crag that is probably less popular now than it was 100 years ago, though the advent of Peak Grit East as improved the situation somewhat! Good fingery climbing with notoriously bad landings. The crag is to the east of the main bulk of The Peak and it is often dry here when Stanage has its heads in the cloud.
Beta Crack, VDiff, a fine line up the huge 'ringing' and nail-scratched flakes, the direct finish is best though this is more like Severe
Himelswillen, VS 4c, a perfect introduction to this odd edge, steep and juggy with good gear but the gymnastic start and pumpy finish will keep you focused.
Great Buttress Arete, E1 5b, fine climbing up a compelling line. A flake takes a tape runner, and there are more modern alternatives to protect the final tricky moves.
Dovestone Tor - in the middle of nowhere
Remote and green but with a fabulous outlook, the longish (40 min) walk in keeps the crowds away but that is their loss. Another cliff that has seen a bit of a
renaissance since PGE's publication.
Dovestone Wall, Diff, not a great classic but an amenable and enjoyable introduction to the cliff.
Route 1, VS 4c, a jutting prow, gargoyled and of great rock. The climb is tricky and sustained, requiring a series of mantelshelf moves. At the top sneak right or launch left for the well-named Shylock Finish, 5a.
Great Buttress, E1 5b, up graded from VS to HVS to E1 and admittedly low in the grade but impressively steep and powerful to where the jugs end and then suddenly delicate climbing concludes a fine outing.
Rivelin - steel city crag
A midgy overgrown hell in summer, a much better bet in the depths of winter when its low lying south facing aspect means the crag comes into prime condition.
Altar Crack, VS 4c, a striking line and perfect gear but the route always feels hard-work at the grade - a VS with attitude!
Croton Oil, HVS 5a, a great line up the south face of grits most inaccessible summit. Originally climbed with some pegs for aid (sinful) it now gives a well protected and balance climb to a shelving island in the sky.
Auto da Fe, E4 6a, a steep and pumpy finger-crack leads to a poor rest and cluster of indifferent gear from where the arete has to be attacked with determination; dithering and technical duffery are punished with immediate rejection.
Bamford - high and wild
Keepered and always quiet in the past, the cliff with the finest outlook in the Peak and some of the roughest grit around, has become massively popular over the past few years.
Brown's Crack, HS 4b, a gem of a line, on corking jams throughout! And by he way ń it wasn't Joe!
Quein Sabe? VS 4c, from the arrow straight Brown's head left to exposed cracks in the nose of the buttress where good wires protect the technical crux moves. If you cruise this one you are ready for your first HVS!
Stanage - best of them all
The best crag in the world, the queen of grit, the main event - choose your own epithet, a rolling wave of grit that stretches to both horizons and beyond. With over 1200 routes - where do you start? You could do worse than try these -
Black Hawk Traverse Left, VDiff, in the every public arena of 'The Popular End' a route that sneaks up a steep wall by including a long step round a jutting belly called 'The Bishop's Stride'. Protection on this one is so good it makes a great first lead.
Goliath's Groove, HVS 5a, the finest line on the cliff always gives climbers not used to grit a good slapping, for the rest of us it just about warrants the grade. With a rack of Friends and Rocks the route is perfectly protected.
Old Friends, E4 5c, bold and technical, for a while RPs tamed the crux moves though with the placements now blown away the route is once again unsettlingly bold.
The Burbage Edges - roadside delights
The North Edge is short sunny and friendly, the south grim shady and desperate, choose your poison. With well over 200 routes to go at, the place should keep you busy for a while!
Knight's Move, HVS 5a, very mild at the grade and well protected, the climb is varied and delicate and manages to feel big for a Burbage route.
The Braille Trail, E7 6c, with so many hard routes on Burbage - how do you choose? This one is archetypal grit, no footholds, little in the way of handholds, a six-inch nail for a runner and the crux above a big emptiness. Hats off to Dawes for its sheer audaciousness.
Higgar Tor - small crag, big ambience
A small outcrop with a big impact, steep stuff is the order of the day here, with all the routes succumbing to a forceful approach and having very rough rock.
The File, VS 4c, one of grit's prime cracks, steep and solid at the grade, unless of course you can't jam!
The Rasp, E2 5b, my favourite gritstone route, uncompromisingly steep and butch though with no really hard moves. A truly memorable event when you haul your shattered carcass on to the top of the Leaning Block for the first time.
The Quarries - man-made mastery
Three contrasting quarries, Millstone is big and glorious, Lawrencefield leafy and retiring and Yarncliffe just an accessible hole in the ground.
Pulpit Climb, VDiff, a wandering but interesting climb featuring a ramp, a sit-down stance a delicate and exposed traverse and a great finish high above the pool.
Great North Road, HVS 5a grit's answer to Cenotaph Corner, well nearly. Biven and Peck hammered their way up the superb groove, Joe Brown stepped in a short time later to show them how it should really be done - oops.
London Wall, E5 6a, one of the finest finger cracks around and still hard all these years on. Spectacular fliers from the final crack are the norm.
Froggatt - slab heaven
The second most popular of the eastern Edges, Froggatt is low lying, faces the afternoon sun and is renown for it superb slabs, though don't forget it also has a great collection of crack climbs too.
Heather Wall, S 3c, mild enough to be a tough VDiff but why break with tradition, THE perfect introduction to jamming and with protection to match.
Valkerie, HVS 5a, not a slab route but a superb spiralling classic, with two varied pitches and a proper summit - brilliant.
Three Pebble Slab, HVS 5a, the most popular E1 in the Peak, dead easy but padding up the final slab focuses the mind!
Great Slab, E3 5b, mild by today's standards but still unprotected. Probably the scene of more broken bones than any other route in the country - you have been warned!
Curbar - this way if you think your 'ard enough
Hard action-packed cracks and terrifying bold faces are the order of the day here, with hardly an easy route for miles.
The Peapod, HVS 5b, how classic do you want? The greasy crack in the back of the ever-narrowing pod used too be a sod to protect, nowadays rapidly place Friends do a great job watching you on the ungainly crucial exit.
Right Eliminate, E3 5b, the least popular three star route in the Peak perhaps, an exhausting struggle for most. Sliding a big cam above you as you do the route is ethically highly dubious; after all it's really only a mobile top rope! Sad souls with nothing better to do have removed the historic chockstone recently
Gardoms - the sylvan edge
Much tree-ridden rock but some fine jutting buttresses poke out from the foliage. The place is in prime condition through the spring and autumn.
NMC Climb, HVDiff, An excellent and safe stepped groove on the northern side of the elegant Apple Buttress is the best low-grade route on the Edge, by miles.
Moyer's Buttress, E1 5b, possibly the best E1 in the Peak; strenuous then technical and then delicate, a monument to how good Austin was. Leave the small Friends behind to get a real flavour of that first ascent - mind-boggling.
Birchen - beginner's playground
Popular with 'newbies' and groups of all sorts and sizes. Many lower grade routes though many a polished from years of popularity.
Trafalgar Wall, S 4b or VDiff 4a, a tricky polished bulge leads to the squeaky clean but slightly serious upper section. The grade is still hotly debated
Ratline, E1 5b, bold and delicate. I gave it this grade in the the old BMC Chatsworth guide though 'the Committee' deemed it worth only HVS - I doubt if any of them had done it for 10 years and I still think they were wrong!
Chatsworth - hidden gems
Cinderella of the Eastern Edges, a rather retiring cliff, which can be green and midgy after rain and is perhaps at its best on sunny summer evenings
Sentinel Crack, E3 5c, Whillans's seminal offering, big fists and big guns are the order of the day. Thought by some puny sport climbers to be nearer 7b+.
Cratcliffe - perfection personified
An idyllic crag set in the heart of rural Derbyshire and a far cry from Dovestone Tor. It has a small set of magnificent climbs and is popular with the bouldering brigade.
Suicide Wall, HVS 5a, two superb pitches plus an equally brilliant stance lashed to the mighty oak. Hard for the grade but safe enough and the best HVS for 50 miles.
Requiem, E3 6a, Paul Nunn used a couple of nuts to escape from The Bower and access the magnificent wall above, an on-form John Allen, didn't need them. Spectacular climbing on a route that feels far too big to be on grit.
The Black Rocks of Cromford - back to black
A big blobby outcrop looking out over the limestone dales of the Matlock Area. Very popular with tourist and very green for much of the year, though a great venue when it dries out.
Birch Tree Wall, VS 5a, two varied on the sunniest wall of the cliff. The narrow initial jamming crack is taxing for a move or three!
Promontory Traverse, E1 5b, Another two pitch outing of rounded gritstone weirdness with a stance out in space. Oddly - the climb ends up right where it started!