DESTINATION GUIDE: Chee Tor

The Grit is central to all things Peak, but it is only one half of the coin - the dark half at that. The light half - or should I say the white half - is a very different thing altogether. Often looked down on, and maligned by many, 'Peak Lime' is undoubtedly an acquired taste: the routes are hard, the rock is polished, the holds are occasionally loose. However, there are two jewels in the crown - High Tor in the south and Chee Tor in the north. These are crags worth travelling for in much the same way that you would travel to Dinas Cromlech in North Wales, Bosigran in the South West, or Huntsman's Leap in Pembroke, it's just that people infrequently do (and after reading this many won't). However, hopefully by the end of this article I'll have tempted a few!

Browns, greens, and greys...  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Browns, greens, and greys...
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

High Tor needs a little less PR than Chee Tor, as it's probably the better known (and more liked), a fact that most likely comes down to its open nature, clean routes, and abundant perfect pockets. Chee Tor - for one reason or the next - has fallen out of favour in recent years (decades in fact) and as such fallen off the radar of many climbers. As the routes get dustier they also get harder, and bearing in mind none of them were soft touches in the first place (something of an understatement) people have gone elsewhere and the crag has undoubtedly suffered as a result - quite a contrast with the popularilty of neighbouring crags such as the Cornice, Two Tier, Max Wall, and the Embankment, which seem to be busier than ever.

photo
The Rhubarb, the Rhubarb, the Rhubarb...
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

photo
The Dandelions, moss, cobwebs, and lichen
© Rob Greenwood - UKC


My own love affair with the crag started when I first moved to Sheffield six years ago, but probably reached its height in 2016 when we started The Very Unofficial Chee Tor Revival thread. The result was a few more people going, the routes getting a bit more traffic, and a load of the old threads + lower-offs being replaced. Maybe I'm deluded, but there seemed to be something of a buzz around the crag and it was nice to see it get the love it deserves. As such, I thought I'd spark the flame once-again courtesy of a destination article - if only to fuel my sense of fondness for the crag.

The approach alone is quite memorable, particularly if you let your imagination run as wild as the foliage: a journey back in time through a train tunnel (all very Enid Blyton) followed by a series of steps down into the jungle (qualitatively Quartermain). After a short stroll up the riverbanks there are one of two methods to cross the river: the first (and more traditional) involves wading across and the second (and more recent) is to balance across the tree that fell down in the winter of 2014/15. Whilst the latter is infitely more appealing, it is a lot trickier than it sounds, being rounded (as trees tend to be) and - much like the rock - having a distinct set of conditions that can render it into a very slippery proposition, particularly whilst damp. Be warned, people have fallen!

Back around the time of the original Unofficial Chee Tor Revival in 2016, there was a comment on the UKC thread that attracted my attention, one in reference to UKC Forum regular Jon (aka. Jon De Montjoy), who's party piece was apparently to warm-up on Autobahn. At that point in time I'd just managed to scrape my way up Autobahn, albeit by the skin of my teeth, and the concept of anyone climbing it so casually off the cuff made me think here was a person we needed to hear more from, as such I approached him for his own thoughts and feelings on the crag, with recollections of what it was like back in its heydey of the late 1980s:

I'm a massive fan of Derbyshire limestone, warts an' all, and nothing's more Derbyshire than Chee Dale. Living in Tideswell for three years meant that I spent an embarrassing amount of time there, especially in lower Chee Dale which in my opinion is much more grandiose than the crags in the upper part of the valley. In addition, those three years in the late 80s coincided with the birth of modern sport climbing. The acceptance of fully bolted routes was a slow painful transition. The routes were still for the most part given E grades:

'Yeah, it's 7b+...'

'You French or summat? You mean E6, don't you?'

Bolts were placed, removed, replaced...

And while all this nonsense was being played out on The Cornice, just opposite on Chee Tor, climbing went on as usual - what was soon to be christened 'trad' climbing. My diary throws up a few early-ish visits: The Girdle in December 1971 with Phil Robbins and Queer Street in 1980 with Henry Folkard, but it was really '87, '88 and '89 when I really came to appreciate the crag. We'd approach from the (apparently) now banned Wormhill parking, slide down the steep muddy path in wellies, wade the river past the occasional dead sheep... and voilà, the best trad crag in the Peak..

Stand outs for me were/are:

Absent Friends - just magnificent. We used to climb this on every visit, and, to my great and eternal shame, simply walk around a tree at the top and lower down, oblivious to the fact that we were responsible for its demise. It was around this time that Ken Wilson announced that he'd rather see every tree in Chee Dale dead, than just one bolt! Sadly we did our bit.

Mortlock's Arete - just for the sheer quality. Launching into that layback...

The Golden Mile - a typically bold Liveseyian experience. Perfect.

Ceramic - just so, so precarious!

Laughing - I'd replaced the bolt about 15 minutes before leading it, which slightly took the sting out of it, thank god!

Autobahn - hated by some, but just brilliant anyway! Sees a lot of traffic, eh, Keith?

And finally - though not necessarily for its quality...

Queer Street - which of all the forty routes I've climbed on the Tor, has extracted by far the most calories.

Dave Lyon treading a thin line between VS and E5 on Chee Tor Girdle  © Paul Casey / Joe Brown Shops
Dave Lyon treading a thin line between VS and E5 on Chee Tor Girdle
© Paul Casey / Joe Brown Shops

Can this really be VS?? Brian Seery lapping up the exposure on Chee Tor Girdle  © Paul Casey / Joe Brown Shops
Can this really be VS?? Brian Seery lapping up the exposure on Chee Tor Girdle
© Paul Casey / Joe Brown Shops


So, where better to start than the crag's classic - the Chee Tor Girdle. Grabbed from under the nose of Joe Brown by Chris Jackson, John Atkinson and Brian Starkey, it goes through some very unlikely terrain for VS, swooping in and amongst various E5s, and offering a wild ride at the grade. It also has some fine Yew trees along it, perfect for picnics, and due to the fact you end up using a lot of the lower-offs from the other routs it's almost* a clip-up. The fact that the majority of it stays dry in the rain (the only exception being P1) means that it can be enjoyed in all conditions. Some may even say that only a true ascent is one that takes place at night in the pouring rain, although it would clearly be wildly irresponsible for me to ever recommend such a thing...

*n.b it's not a clip up…

Tom Redwood on Meditation, the finest E1 at Chee Tor  © Alan James
Tom Redwood on Meditation, the finest E1 at Chee Tor
UKC Articles, Jul 2018
© Alan James

After this there's a bit of a jump, as the crag has little to offer in/around the HVS grade. One can scrape around for the odd HVS, such as the first pitch of Great Central Route which is a good HVS in its own right. There is also the two pitch HVS which takes the drainage line next to Apocalypse, but we highly recommend avoiding this as the second pitch is loose and vegetated on a Jurassic scale. Chee Tor soon makes up for the lack of HVS with arguably the finest E1 on Peak Limestone - Meditation. The scoops and pockets throughout provide some unique features to climb on and the novel threads for protection only add to the experience - it's distinctly un-Peak in so many ways. It's also one of those great routes which picks its way through territory guarded by higher-graded adventures, taking a majestic traverse line whilst sticking its nose up at its bigger brothers. The route isn't in isolation either, with the Valentine/One Night Combination being an excellent and underrated outing, then the striking line of Nostradamus, and finally Sergeyenna and Flycatcher for the more esoteric E1 adventurer.

Alan James on Sergeyenna, another of the crag's many classic E1s  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Alan James on Sergeyenna, another of the crag's many classic E1s
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

The E2/3 leader is particularly blessed at Chee Tor, with a plethora of classics. Rave On, Splintered Perspex, Queer Street, and Approaching, are - in my opinion - some of the best, but there's plenty of others too. For each you need a blend of strong fingers and deft footwork. As few follow distinct lines, you've got to have your route finding head on too. If that weren't enough, first time visitors will likely find feet are the greatest challenge, as all the footholds seem to have something of a sheen to them and frequently slope just enough to induce that feeling you're always slipping…slipping…slipping… (and you might well be too!). That said, it's amazing how far familiarity can go to gaining trust in these footholds, so take your time, bear with it, and if you feel up for it embrace one of Chee Tors major challenges - the 6 Classic E3s.

The 6 Classic E3s of Chee Tor

42nd Street: An underrated route, certainly one of the lesser climbed on the list, but also the softest for the grade (always a bonus) and protection where you need it lower down and good moves where you want them high up.
Absent Friends: A psychological thriller, taking a highly unlikely line up a bold and wandering wall. So named due to John Allen's departure to New Zealand...apparently...
Rave On: A fine struggle up a great line, with good protection throughout. Feels like a mini-Mortlock's and, as such, is a good warm-up for the real thing
Approaching: What Rave On is to Mortlock's Approaching is to Ceramic, taking a line remarkably close, yet thankfully easier line than its E4 neighbour, but giving you an idea of what is to come
Splintered Perspex: A punchy number, with a headwall that leaves all but the fittest moving a little quicker than they might like (either an upwards or downwards direction). High in the grade, so much so that it's probably E4...
Queer Street: A route with a massive, massive ego problem that regularly stops E5 climbers in their tracks. In fact, thinking about it I have no idea how this is still E3. A route I have done once and will probably never do again, simply because I couldn't guarantee I'd be able to get up it. So high in the grade it's probably not the grade. Pembroke E5 6b?

Up until this point I've hopefully reflected the quality the crag has to offer, but the best is still yet to come, as the finest routes at the crag are undoubtedly the E4/5s. Mortlock's Arete, Apocolypse, Ceramic, and Golden Mile all rival the best routes anywhere in the country; although in keeping with the rest of the crag none are a giveaway. The thing that marks these out above the rest is they've all got striking and obvious lines. They're the sort of routes that immediately draw your attention upon arrival at the crag and leave you thumbing the guide to see what they are. Each has it's own unique character too, unforgettable in a different way.

The Very Unofficial Chee Tor Revival has begun! Ryan Pasquill tackles the upper crack/flake of Mortlock's Arete  © Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing
The Very Unofficial Chee Tor Revival has begun! Ryan Pasquill tackles the upper crack/flake of Mortlock's Arete
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing, Jul 2016

The 5 Classic E5s of Chee Tor

Midnight Summer Dream - Arguably the easiest of the four, although still no pushover and harder since the loss of a flake hold in 2016.
Autobahn - A Fawcett classic, with go-ey climbing up a very unlikely and hard to read wall.
Ceramic Extension - For those that didn't find Ceramic harrowing enough look no further, as this carries on up and over the lower-off into the stratosphere, clipping a dodgy peg en-route (and not much else!).
The Golden Mile - A Livesey classic, so named due to his claiming to be in Blackpool on the day of the first ascent, so to throw off the competition at the time, leaving him to bag the first ascent (cheeky bugger...).
The Myrmidon - Brought back to life in 2018, this route is the hardest of the lot with 7b+ climbing and a British 6c move.

Duncan Campbell on Golden Mile (E5 6b), at least for the time being...  © Stephen Horne
Duncan Campbell on Golden Mile (E5 6b), at least for the time being...
© Stephen Horne

The final route I'll feature is Ron Fawcett's Tequila Mockingbird, which has a chequered history of bolts being placed, bolts being removed, and even the route being renamed, temporarily going by the name of Gandalf Le Magicien, before settling back to its original. At E6 6b (or 7c+) it is very much the hard classic of the crag, yet infrequently repeated due to the fact that a) it's hard and b) the 2 x bolts and 2 x pegs that protect it don't offer people the easy/safe ride that the nearby Cornice offers in return (n.b. due to the pegs having rotted, the route now comprises of 4 x spaced bolts, in order to maintain the routes sense of character).

Ron Fawcett on top of High Tor having just soloed Darius live on TV  © Al Evans
Ron Fawcett on top of High Tor having just soloed Darius live on TV
© Al Evans

Whilst there are harder routes at the crag, such as Chris Gore's The Ogre, Tequlia really does represent that something more due to not only the level of difficulty, but what it represents for the era, in a time when sport climbs didn't really exist, yet there was a definite pushing of the boundaries in terms of what was possible. 2 bolts, 2 pegs, and lots of run-outs - even in its current form it still feels wild. Fawcett once-again points the way towards the future, yet here we are in modern day and it's still difficult - that says something.

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Jerome Mowat using the signature undercut/sidepulls that adorn Chee Tor to overcome Tequila Mockingbird
© Guy Van Gruening


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16 May

Great article. I've wanted to go to Cheedale for years but always either been put off by the fact it needs time to dry, or just gone elsewhere. Sounds like a great option for when I'm at a loose end in June.

My French family always say to me "but shurely zer is no clime-ing in ze UK?" and I want to scream back "you have no idea how wrong you are, there is TOO MUCH climbing in the UK and I live in a constant state of FOMO!"

Chee Tor is an impressively fast drying crag, more so than people think, and is certainly in a different league of dryness than the likes of the Cornice.

Hopefully the various ticklists + route choices within the article will provide you with a suitable level of entertainment...either that or you'll hate it...

Still, at least the article will elicit some form of a reaction :-)

16 May

Excellent article, it brings back loads of memories of great days down there,

Chria

16 May

Great stuff Rob, long overdue! #whoneedspembroke

16 May

That tree is slippy as f**k. Even with the recent addition of staples for grip I just know one day I'm gonna fall in. It's tricky with a full sac for sure.

Who has took the plunge? Surely someone has.

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