Destination Guide: Almscliff, Yorkshireby Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor Jun/2012
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Almscliff. The best gritstone crag in Yorkshire.
This crown of Yorkshire gritstone juts above the gentle fields of the Wharf valley, majestic and proud. Its quick-drying walls take no drainage, and with its elevated position, you are afforded stunning views of rural northern England, but a keen wind is likely your constant companion.
But for me, what really stands out most when I think of Almscliff, is the history, and how the routes at this classic crag take us on a journey through the stages of Yorkshire climbing, with the very best routes being climbed by the very best climbers.
Really it all started around 1870 with Cecil Slingsby from Skipton squirming his way up several of Almscliff's insidious chimneys, but in terms of more modern style, enjoyable climbing, the crag didn't really come alive until the turn of the century when Ingle and team climbed the ever popular Fluted Columns (Severe). However it was a few more years before the main lines of the crag were breached. Almscliff lay quiet until Arthur Dolphin arrived in the 1940s.
Dolphin's Almscliff routes from this decade rank as some of the very best in Yorkshire, mainly weighing in at around HVS, they tackle the plumb lines of the crag. Routes such as the essential Great Western, the perfect Overhanging Groove with its cheeky crux right at the top, and the unlikely Demon Wall, all superb, all HVS. It's almost as if the jutting outcrop of Almscliff has been designed for climbing at this level.
Almscliff HVS Triple Ticklist:
Allan Austin is one of my climbing heroes, and Allan made the first ascent of both Western Front and Wall of Horrors. He soloed the first ascent of both routes, and on his first attempt at Western Front in 1958, he took a ground-fall from the crux.
On Wall of Horrors Austin used 'combined tactics' to pass the boulder problem start, but tackled the technical and thin crux up high without the protection of a rope, or the help of a 'leg-up'. It's also worth remembering that this classic route was first top-roped in 1944 by Arthur Dolphin. Austin also toproped both of these lines before his solo ascents, a practice that was common at the time.
This difficult and steep pair of routes were a significant step up from the past in terms of difficulty and commitment, and although they are now well protected with nuts and cams, they still rank as benchmarks for any aspiring Gritstone climber.
The next route on my ticklist, also an E3, is Big Greeny and is perhaps the hardest of the three routes. Also now well protected with modern gear, the crux of this route is at the top, and a quick look at the UKC Logbooks proves that this rounded gritstone bellyflop is the scene of quite a few falls even today.
This route marked the start of a short but successful climbing career for John Syrett. Syrett, partnered on this occasion by Al Manson, climbed the route in 1973, three years after he had made the first onsight lead of Wall of Horrors.
Almscliff E3 Triple Ticklist:
There are of course harder routes at Almscliff, and the highball Orchrist is a wonderful sculpted roof, graded E5, although perhaps short enough for the modern high-baller to attack it with bouldering mats instead of a rope, but in general Almscliff lacks the big bald slabs or soaring gearless aretes that usually make up gritstone's hardest.
Whilst perhaps lacking in a good choice of extreme modern routes (as if E3 isn't hard enough!), luckily the best hard moves at Almscliff are found on its many beautiful boulders. From tall and scary to low and desperate, there are enough problems on this perfect and quick drying outcrop to literally last a lifetime.
Almscliff Extreme - Triple Boulder Ticklist:
When do I go?
Some of the routes tend to take on a green coat, which is lessened in summer, but these are not the norm, and it is common to see local climbers here all year round.
Where can I buy gear and food?
Ilkley is home to what is probably the nearest climbing shop.
Which guide do I buy?
Northern England (Feb 2008)
A selected crag guide to the best of Yorkshire gritstone, the North York Moors and the Northumberland sandstone. Over 2000 routes across 40 crags.