Pex Hill Quarry is a place very close to my heart and indeed is important to most Merseyside climbers. Hopefully this article will give a taste of what the little crag with the large personality is all about and inspire people to pay it a visit.
History and Character
Quarrying at Pex Hill, Cheshire began in the 16th century and continued until the late 1800s. A notable time for Pex was the Second World War when the quarry, most obviously Pisa Wall, was used as an area for target practice by the Home Guard. This gave rise to very varied climbing with the Pisa Wall offering distinct shallow, rounded pockets (some of which still contain bullets) and the Lady Jane Wall and much of the rest of the quarry giving blank and crimpy wall climbing. Pex later became the stomping ground of Phil Davidson, Joe Healey and other talents giving ample training for their hard ascents elsewhere and remains an important location for honing skills of local hard men. The quarry now lies in a Country Park and is popular with locals and their families. Ignore what you've heard about needles, violent youths and thieves, simply remember that you are at a more urban crag and leave the valuables hidden away. If you are heckled by a shrill Scouse voice telling you that it could be done better then simply add a grade to your ascent.
Recommended guidebooks for the area are the Cheshire Sandstone Guide or Western Grit by Rockfax.
Approach and Access Info:
For a google map with info and directions to Pex Hill Quarry simply click here.
Driving to Pex: A5080 - Lunts Heath Road, then right after the college (possibly yellow gates)
For accurate directions: http://www.liv.ac.uk/~ggastro/images/MapPEX.jpg
Public Transport: You can get the No. 6 bus from either Warrington or Liverpool which drops you at the nearby college. From there it's a five minute walk up the hill.
Parking: Park at the Pex Hill Observatory car park.
Access to the Crag: 5 minute walk from the car park, from the gate opposite the Observatory, take the centre path through the trees and follow the path round to the right.
Restrictions: None, except don't belay from the railings at the top of the crag.
When to go/Conditions: Climbing is possible all year round
Bear in mind that the routes listed here are merely my favourites plus a couple of extras that I have not climbed. All grades are my personal opinion and are therefore subject to being hopelessly incorrect. As you teeter upon atomic crimps far, far away from your last marginal runner remember that it's best to use your own judgement on a climb's feasibility from the ground. Grades are given for a lead ascent and top roping should be avoided if possible but is now, sadly, very common. Natural protection is mentioned and is usually a luxury.
Tequila Sunrise – V3 5c
A fantastic problem involving a high rock up using an improbable sloping sidepull. Trust it! Don't be fooled into thinking the action is over. Head straight up via another difficult move until the top can be gained.
Harvey Wallbanger is next door and is at a similar grade and quality.
Bermuda Triangle – E3 6a
Attempt the first move. Come back with extra pads to stand on and try the excruciatingly reachy start again. A series of monos lead to another easier but higher crux at the alcove. Don't vanish without trace! Dare I say a good introduction to soloing at Pex? If you can crack the first move then you should be able to navigate to the top. It can't be that hard, its been climbed barefoot!
Catalepsy – V7 6c
The problem, originally called "Chip 2" climbs a blank wall with great difficulty, the holds forming a perfect "C" shape. Maintain a cool head until you clutch the "thank god" tree root at the top. I am informed by a reliable source that John Redhead didn't get this far and had to be thrown a rope after cruising the crux and finding himself stranded high on the wall with little urge to continue.
Monoblock – Hard
Take a magnifying glass. The route has seen only a handful of repeats since its conception in the 80s. If you are having trouble finding the problem then simply select the blankest part of Lady Jane Wall and prostate yourself in front of it. A more suitable name might be Posh Spice, it really is very very thin and is the hardest offering at Pex that has been free climbed. We are not worthy!
Algripper - E2 5c
Back in the realm of mortals this climb is the home of holds that look better than they are. Go carefully and enjoy the sanctuary that the steady top out provides. Truly brilliant. Having a friend to heckle at the bottom should you consider retreat is a great confidence booster as you commit to the higher moves.
Creeping Jesus - E1 5c
At last! A safe lead! After a couple of initial tricky mantles slip a bomber wire or two into the small forked lightning crack to the right. Stepping right from here on thin footholds is the perfectly protected crux and the sequence scuppers many.
Hart's Arete - V4 6a
The small rib is climbed to the break using a leap requiring sniper-like accuracy or excruciating static moves. Got it wired? Now try the one handed version at V7.
The Web - HVS 5b
Another safe lead with a nicely protected crux. The infamous double smear bridging move puzzles many and delights all. Those of a taller stature can reach past the difficulties but this is both boring and sissy.
Cobweb Crack - E1 5b
The crack is often deceptively damp in its upper reaches and has a cruel and unforgiving personality. At least two hopeful soloists have been discarded from the top moves in recent years, one earning spinal injuries and a ride in the air ambulance for his efforts. Fortunately the crack takes adequate gear and can be lead in relative safety.
Sweeney Arete - V0
A mini classic that will draw your attention to the sadly neglected Memorial Wall. The arête is often sopping wet in its lower half as it seeps enthusiastically but don't let this put you off. The climb is very enjoyable at the grade. Climb Hunter's Walk, said to be a much scarier and harder proposition, while you're here.
The Knife - E4 6a
A terrifying but utterly compelling line that demands to be climbed and speaks for itself. Protection has previously been arranged in various ways, a tricam at around two thirds height being the most obvious. Most climbers abandon protection and solo the route making the route feel more like E5. This will make the 6a slap at the very top much more unnerving. One of the first hopeful climbers to try the line found this move a little too hard and performed a complete somersault in the air before landing on his feet to climb another day. Beware, you may not be so lucky.
Dateline - E3 5c
The crack has been led many a time before on natural gear but still holds a reputation for heinous and sustained climbing. Beware this climb if there has not been a recent prolonged dry spell as the upper sections can become greasy.
Black Magic - E5 6b
The pinnacle of Pex. The line has been soloed up and down in the past by the truly talented but now sees few leads. Take heart! The low crux can be protected on lead by threading nuts over some ancient bolt heads and the moves on the long runout to the last gear a metre shy of the top are a mere 6a. Another climb that allegedly caused Redhead to reverse to the ground!
Mankey Road - V2 5b
The top of the crack has a knack to it and the successful climber of the thin crack will be treated to a bizarre top out. Make sure somebody doing the route for the first time is not informed that the crux is a little high and that the top out is devious for maximum comedy value.
Pisa Traverse - V4 5c
The traverse can be done a thousand different ways at different heights but following the path of least resistance is no pushover. After being worn out after traversing from Gorilla you will find the crux directly before the finish at Two Eyes. Cling on for dear life and hope you still have some reserves left to make the bizarre move (which everybody seems to do differently) at the very end because, if you don't, its all the way back to the start. Still not pumped? Reverse it!
Apologies to John Redhead who, in retrospect, has taken some knocking in this article! He wouldn't be the only major talent to come unstuck when confronted with the vagaries of Pex.
Thanks to Will for this excellent article and photographs. Thanks also to those forum users who kindly gave advice on approach and access to the crag.