Chris Craggs has been climbing for, ooh, ages. (Perhaps it was just having such an appropriate surname.) His recommendations for great routes have filled magazines, and UKClimbing too - see his Top Ten climbs, for example.
He has written guides to areas all over the world; from Tenerife to Freyr; from Berdorf to Wilton 3. But his first climbing love was and still is grit... so let him entertain you.
The grit season is already in full swing, the friction is great (when the rain stops) and exhilarating wind-blasted days on the Eastern Edges will blow the cobwebs away for experienced climbers - but the newcomer to climbing may well ask, where is the best place to get into this great game? Which are the best routes to get that grit experience, the quintessential baptism for anyone rock climbing in England?
These days if you're new to climbing, chances are you started on an indoor wall - so expect the unexpected! Climbing outside on "trad" routes can be a real shock to the system: no convenient bolts ready for you every three feet, no topropes ready and waiting (or if they are, not necessarily bombproof), no colour-coded handholds or footholds, grades that feel tough, and horror of horrors... cracks!
Why climb on grit?
- Because it rewards good balance and footwork, and that's what you need to climb really well.
- Improving those aspects of your ability will improve your climbing far faster than muscling up any number of pre-set routes indoors.
- Grit tends to have rounded holds which aren't good enough just to drag yourself up on; you have to trust the friction in your feet, and control your centre of gravity.
- All the best climbers climb on grit. So should you.
Do yourself a favour straight away. Avoid the teams toproping polished horrors at Birchen Edge, or the crowds who spend 90 per cent of the day sat below Stanage waiting for a turn on a toprope to be towed up something far too hard. All you'll learn there is how to wait and do nothing, not how to climb.
With a rope and a small rack of gear, you'll find the routes below give perfect introductions to real gritstone climbing. All the routes listed are safe bets at the grade (well, apart form Birch Tree Wall). But always bear in mind that if you do make mistakes gravity will bite - and hard!
There are 20 climbs here - the first ten on Peak grit, and the second ten on Yorkshire grit.
1. NMC Climb (VDiff), Gardom's Edge
A hidden gem up a stepped groove set in the northern flank of Apple Buttress, originally discovered by members of the Northumbrian Mountaineering Club (hence NMC). The groove has awkward moves and good runners and the finish up a short jamming crack leads to a tiny blocky summit.
2. Pulpit Climb (VDiff), Lawrencefield Quarry
A devious classic that spirals its way above the murky pool. A short (4b?) wall leads to a ramp and then a sitting stance on the pulpit. An exposed stride across the gap on the right gains a sloping ramp that leads to a large ledge with a stout rowan set high above the pool. There is an easy exit to the left though an exposed finish out right is much more fitting.
3. The Arete (VDiff), Hen Cloud
The imposing battlements of Hen Cloud are home to the finest set of jamming cracks on grit. Amongst these towering carnivores are some milder offerings with the rambling ridge of The Arete being the best. Easy steps lead to a ledge below steeper rock best tackled on the left, above a big drop. Easier ground wanders up the ridge above to the cliff top.
4. Zigzag Climb (VDiff), Kinder Downfall
(See photo above) Miles from the road and almost a hundred years old, but what a route, juggy and exposed with the crux right at the top, a real tonic. Make a day of it, visit the Downfall, wander round the rim and see a different side to the Peak.
5. Heather Wall (Severe), Froggatt
One of the easiest jamming cracks in the Peak, a great intro to the game. A short awkward corner leads to a ledge below the superb upper crack. Pockets to the left of the crack are there if you need them, but stick to the crack if you can, just for the practice. Often busy; don't expect to get this to yourself at a weekend.
6. Christmas Crack (HS 4b), Stanage Popular End
Just one offering from grit's greatest edge, a groove and steep crack, with some of the best runner slots on grit, lead to a flying flake finish. Queuing is the norm on 25th December come hail or shine.
7. Mutiny Crack (HS 4b) Burbage North
This jug infested jamming crack splitting a series of stacked bulges is a miniature gem. Short but oh so sweet, if you find it too easy try and do the start of Remergence over the centre of the roof to the left and wonder at the gulf between 4b and 6b!
8. PMC1 (VS 4b) Curbar
A crag with a tough and well-founded reputation, PMC1 (by the Polaris Mountaineering Club - thanks, Phil Nelson) is steep but less brutal than most hereabouts. A steep jamming crack to start leads to small ledges and a possible stance. A series of flakes leads out right (airy) to a spike runner and a finish on big sloping holds, all in all, a Perfectly Maintained Climax.
9. Via Dolorosa (VS 4c) Roaches Lower Tier
A devious and long classic with a tough (but avoidable) start, then it spirals out left past a battered holly tree to a stance below the vast roof. A steep flake in the green side wall of the gully is the key to the ascent from where the front of the buttress leads in a glorious position to the top of natural grits tallest buttress.
10. The File (VS 4c) Higgar Tor
A 'real' jamming crack up the vertical east face of the famous leaning block. The crux is the bulge at the bottom though those unused to planting their hands in a meat grinder may find the whole thing a bit daunting. Protection is excellent as long as you can afford the hardware. If you manage this one there is a world of grit waiting for you. Often not busy.
Next: "much of Yorkshire grit is brutal, the routes in the white rose county have always felt tough and the rock is particularly uncompromising..." Still keen? Discover 10 more easy routes in Yorkshire - and note that "having trained in Yorkshire, routes in the Peak will all feel duff by comparison!"
What about those fortunate enough to be starting their grit apprenticeship in Yorkshire? Well, much of Yorkshire grit is brutal, the routes in the white rose county have always felt tough for the grade, and the rock is particularly uncompromising.
Despite this there are some great low-grade routes hidden amongst the tough stuff. And of course having trained in Yorkshire, routes in the Peak will all feel duff by comparison!
1. Eastby Buttress (VDiff) Eastby
A juggy glory up the sidewall of that spooky classic of Pillar Front. Loads of holds, loads of runners, stunning setting, perfect rock; what more could you ask?
2. & 3. Fluted Columns/Bird's Nest Crack (Severe) Almscliff
Two ticks for the price of one; the best route on the Lower Tier climbs the weirdly eroded eponymous feature, the route is well scratched (from the time when climbing boots had nails in) and has been popular for a century. From its rocky crest dead ahead on the upper tier is this short but compelling dog-legged crack that was once a jackdaw's home. If (as some claim) Joe Brown invented hand-jamming in the Forties, how did Herbert Ingle get up this in 1900?
4. Pedestal Wall (Severe 4b) Caley
Renown for its bouldering, Caley also has some excellent and memorable routes, including the daunting hanging arete of High Noon. Much of the cliff is north facing and so the cracks and corners stay damp after rain. The protruding blocks and buttress catch the wind and dry fast, the central crack is a bit of a grunt but the final exposed arete is superb.
5. Dental Slab (Severe) Rylstone A lofty edge is home to this gem. The 30-minute approach keeps the crowds away, but that is their loss. The centre of the most attractive buttress on the edge is gained by a steep sideways shuffle from its left-hand corner. Then superb open climbing leads up the centre of the face, delicate moves between deep horizontal breaks; the best route of its grade in the county... well maybe just!
6. Fairy Steps (HS 4b) Heptonstall
A hole in the ground, though with some great ways out of it! The west-facing back wall is unremittingly steep, but this route sneaks up a series of ledges and short corners until a stance is reached where all escape appears blocked by roofs. A traverse out left leads to a tiny ledge on the edge of all things where a highly exposed and steep pull gains easy ground.
7. The Three C's (VS 4c) Widdop
Widdop is a fine isolated set of buttresses, with the tallest of these being Mystery Buttress (a crag X - kept unnamed by climbers who discovered it and did as many routes as they could on it before revealing its existence to everyone else - from yesteryear) looking out over the dark bleak reservoir. This devious climb features three varied pitches, The Centipede, Cascara Wall and The Corbel, two stances and a superb airy exit.
8. Chevin Buttress (VS 4c) Chevin Buttress
A steep crack is followed to its end; then the excellent upper arete gives a grand finale. The setting, overlooking lower Warfedale, is superb.
9. Earl Crack (VS 4b) Earl Crag
A steep imposing corner in the centre of this secluded crag. The route is steep and intimidating, as it looks too wide for comfort. Fortunately much of the corner can be bridged, and cracks in the sidewalls offer plenty of protection.
10. Birch Tree Wall (VS 4c) Brimham
Just one poorly protected climb in the selection, a route that still requires a steady leader. I wobbled my way up this in unprotected terror as my first VS lead back in 1967, though nowadays there are some (rather low) runners. The lower crack and short traverse form the technical crux, the delicate upper scoop the psychological one. It's a good introduction to gritstone 'mind games', and as is usual with them it is easy enough - as long as you don't blow it!