Hard Rock - Shared Stories Article

© Rob Greenwood - UKC

4th Edition  © Baton Wicks
Last week we published a review of the 4th Edition of Hard Rock. Whilst putting together the review it occurred to us just how many memories we all had from climbing the routes within its pages and how many others would likely feel the same. As a result we decided to start Hard Rock Stories, whereby users can share their most memorable accounts on the Forums. We will then pick a few of the best and put them into an article, alongside a selection of photographs. To kick things off Rob Greenwood has shared his account of climbing Shibboleth (E2) back in 2016.

When the weather is good there's nowhere better to be than Scotland, but in bad weather - or midge season - there's nowhere worse. Perseverance plays dividends though, as does a beady eye on the forecast. On this particular occasion we struck lucky, with ten days straight of wall-to-wall sunshine. Starting on Hoy we climbed The Old Man, then ventured south playfully picking crags based on how we felt and where we most wanted to go. We felt privileged to be a part of it and even now, four years on, the thought of it still makes me smile.

Looking up towards the Buachaille Etive Mòr  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Looking up towards the Buachaille Etive Mòr
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

On our penultimate day things took a turn and our weather app presented us with something that had become quite unfamiliar: a rain cloud coming through in the middle of the afternoon. Fired up my the fact that this could indeed become our last day we opted to get an early 6 a.m. start and head up to Buachaille Etive Mòr's enticingly named Slime Wall to climb Robin Smith's classic (and slightly infamous) Shibboleth. Given that it was June, the sun was up even earlier than we were and by the time we set up it was beaming. As we set off past the Lagangarbh hut we took a twist underneath the mountain before taking a direct line up towards the deep, foreboding gully which featured a sizeable snow patch. I'm not sure whether it was the sight of this or the 6 a.m. shade but there was suddenly a chill in the air, an atmosphere that several steps ago wasn't there. Looking up at the route we were about to climb suddenly became daunting, despite the fact we had climbed significantly harder over the past few days. Some routes, such as Shibboleth, hold the psychological advantage over all of us.

The first part of the route takes a line up a groove, which is easy to follow but difficult to climb. It is here that you gain full appreciation of Robin Smith's skills and how this might have felt way back in 1958. It is also here that you gain full appreciation of the corrosive powers of water on steel, as the peg that protects this particular section is of a mature vintage. With that in mind, there's a certain sense of airiness, as a fall would be highly undesirable at this point and alternative protection is hard-won as a result of the compact, bubbly rock that adorns the route's walls. To make matters worse several key holds were wet, but for some reason it would have felt wrong for them to be dry. These routes aren't meant to be easy…

Penny Orr coming to the end of P2  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Penny Orr coming to the end of P2
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

After completing the crux you leave the groove and venture boldly onto the face. Whilst the moves are indeed easier, the rock is inscrutable and hard to read. Whilst it is obvious that you've got to go up, it's hard to see exactly how. Holds hide, waiting to be found, but once used offer a perfect and reassuring texture. A small stance is eventually reached where you can finally relax, although whilst you are now above the difficulties there is still a whole lot of adventure to follow. In addition to this I am conscious that hidden as we are within this great gully, we cannot see what the clouds are doing on the horizon: is the gathering storm coming our way? This would be an exceptionally poor choice of places to be caught out….

Penny seconds the pitch looking cold, climbing in her down jacket to generate warmth. It's hard to enjoy a pitch in this style, but I think she looks back fondly on it from the comfort of our living room, several years on. Arriving at the belay we swap things around, then I head off up the next pitch. This time it's my turn to feel the cold, first through hot aches, then through my feet. Whilst I've had cold feet before I've never had anything quite like this, as my toes are like blocks of ice, with so little sensation that I'm unable to trust any of the footholds. Wobbling a little and making several worrying noises I climb back down to a small ledge and remove the heels of my shoes so I can wiggle my toes. This has the desired effect, but those who haven't been in this position won't know it's a lot easier to get your shoes off than it is to get them back on. As a result of this revelation I spend the next few minutes trying to put my shoes on again whilst simultaneously trying not to fall - no mean feat…

Slime Wall: not as slimy as the name would suggest  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Slime Wall: not as slimy as the name would suggest
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

High up on the route, with the gully a long way below  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
High up on the route, with the gully a long way below
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Beyond that the climbing style continues in that unlikely and unreadable form. Whilst you are aware that you need to go up or across, it's hard to know how until you're right on top of it. Never have I climbed on a rock type where I've felt so completely and utterly blind, which is what makes the first ascent of this unlikely route all the more amazing. To pioneer up this back when it was unchartered terrain must have been terrifying, not least because it's still terrifying now.

Eventually we top out into blazing sunshine. We were, as we always are, quick to climb the route and it's barely mid-morning. We bask for a moment before heading back down to our bags, then on to our van. With time to burn we drive a short distance down Glen Etive, parking up beside some pools before making our way down to them with towels, ready to sunbathe and swim. The contrast is almost comical: only an hour ago we were screaming barfies, cold as ice, yet here we are now lapping up the rays.

The rain never did arrive and the following day we did our final route before heading south. The return home felt surreal, almost like we'd been away in a parallel universe. Did that really just happen? Several years on I still feel the same.

Life doesn't get much better than this: sunshine and swimming in Glen Etive  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Life doesn't get much better than this: sunshine and swimming in Glen Etive
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

If you've enjoyed this article and fancy contributing, please tell us your story on the thread. If you're not sure whether you've done any Hard Rock routes you can sign up to the ticklist below. If you wish to read more about other people's experiences on this particular route then check out its page on the UKC Logbooks, it would suffice to say that it's a route that makes an impression!

Login as Existing User to subscribe, which will show the climbs you've already ticked.

Add Climb name Grade Height Crag name
DragonE1 5b ***105m• 4Carnmore Crag
GobHVS 4c ***105m• 4Carnmore Crag
The NeedleE1 5b ***260mShelterstone Crag
King RatE1 5c ***?Broad Cairn - Creag...
GoliathHVS 5a **?Broad Cairn - Creag...
Angel FaceE2 5c ***?Beinn Eighe
SwastikaE2 6a **?Beinn Trilleachan...
ShibbolethE2 5c ***167m• 7Buachaille Etive Mor
Raven's Gully (Summer)HVS ***?Buachaille Etive Mor
CarnivoreE2 5c **160mCreag a'...
Yo YoE1 5b ***?• 3Aonach Dubh
TrapezeE1 5b **?Aonach Dubh
CenturionHVS 5a ***?Ben Nevis
The BatE2 5b ***?Ben Nevis
East Face Route (Original Route)E1 5b ***130m• 5(Old Man of) Hoy
The Great ProwHVS 5a *85m• 5Bla Bheinn
Vulcan WallHVS 5a ***66m• 3Sron na Ciche
Prophecy of DrowningE2 5c ***115m• 4Pabbay
South Ridge DirectVS 5a ***?• 13Cir Mhor
Central ButtressE1 5b ***122m• 6Scafell Crag
IchabodE2 5c ***?Scafell East...
Central PillarE2 5b ***?• 6Esk Buttress (Dow...
GormenghastE1 5b ***53m• 3Heron Crag, Eskdale
Engineer's SlabsVS 4c ***60m• 2Gable Crag
Praying MantisE1 5b ***?• 4Goat Crag,...
TotalitarianE1 5c ***?• 4Raven Crag,...
ExtolE2 5c **?Dove Crag (Dovedale)
NimrodE1 5c ***?Dow Crag
The CrackVS 4c ***?Gimmer Crag
Kipling GrooveHVS 5a ***?Gimmer Crag
MousetrapE2 5a ***128m• 3Gogarth South Stack
GogarthE1 5b ***112m• 5Gogarth North Stack...
The Big GrooveE3 5c ***105m• 3Gogarth North Stack...
A Dream of White HorsesHVS 4c ***?• 4Gogarth North Stack...
The GroovesE1 5b ***116m• 3Cyrn Las (Gyrn Las)
DiagonalHVS 5a ***78m• 4Dinas Mot
Cenotaph CornerE1 5c ***?Dinas Cromlech
Great - Bow CombinationHVS 5a ***?Clogwyn Du'r...
Great WallE4 6a ***60m• 2Clogwyn Du'r...
White SlabE2 5c ***?Clogwyn Du'r...
Slanting SlabE4 6a *?Clogwyn Du'r...
VemberE1 5b ***?Clogwyn Du'r...
DwmE3 6a ***?Castell Cidwm
VectorE2 5c ***?Craig Bwlch y Moch...
The GrooveE1 5b ***?Llech Ddu (Black...
Plane SailingE3 5c ***130m• 6Stackpole Head
Heart of Darkness/New MorningE1 5b ***54m• 2Mowing Word
Rock IdolE1 5a ***45mMother Carey's...
ZeppelinE3 5c ***35m• 2Mother Carey's...
North West GirdleE1 5b ***65m• 4Almscliff
CarnageE2 5b ***42m• 2Malham Cove
The Right UnconquerableHVS 5a ***16mStanage Plantation
ValkyrieHVS 5a ***20m• 2Froggatt Edge
Elder CrackE2 5b ***18mCurbar Edge
Suicide WallHVS 5b ***30m• 2Cratcliffe Tor
AlcasanE2 5c ***102m• 5Stoney Middleton
Chee Tor GirdleVS 5a ***?• 4Chee Dale Lower
SirplumE1 5b ***50m• 2Chee Dale Upper
DebaucheryE1 5b ***45m• 2High Tor
MalbogiesHVS 5a ***57m• 2Avon Gorge (Main...
Coronation Street (WW)E1 5b ***?Cheddar Gorge South
Double DiamondHVS 5b ***35mLundy
QuatermassE2 5c ***?Lundy
MarsE2 5b ***25m• 2Subluminal and...
Soul SacrificeE3 5c ***35mBoulder Ruckle
MoonrakerHVS 5a ***76m• 3Berry Head - The...
Bishop's RibE1 5b ***53m• 3Chair Ladder
Suicide WallE1 5c ***78m• 5Bosigran
Bow WallE2 5b ***52m• 2Bosigran
83 Es
198 stars
177 pitches

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2 Apr, 2020

Cool article Rob. Thanks.

Hard Rock has had quite an influence on my climbing. I remember reading (more likely looking at the pictures) my Dad’s copy being a catalyst for getting into climbing, when I was twelve or thirteen.

The first route I did in it was Preying Mantis with my Dad. We climbed it after school in about 2003 or 2004. Looking back it was a great lead from Dad, as E1 was his limit, and my teenage belaying was probably less than inspiring. Later that year, on the last day of the summer term, we climbed Kipling Groove together. I was well chuffed to lead the undercling.

I’m a fairly obsessive ticker, and will often seek out the Hard Rock routes first, when I’m visiting a new area.

I’ve now climbed 45 routes on the new list (46 if you count North Crag Eliminate, which I climbed after my GCSE biology exam, with my school friend Joe Dixon). I’m pleased that the new edition has given me some new climbs and crags to seek out, but I’m slightly saddened/relieved that I don’t have to aid Kilnsey Main Overhang and the Scoop. Secretly, however I’d still like to, any takers?

My most recent Hard Rock tick was the Northwest Girdle or Almscliff, climbed with Phil Evans of BackcountryUK after purchasing some ski boots from him. The crag was bathed in evening sunshine, and we raced across it as the sun dropped below the horizon. I seconded the last pitch, which down climbs into Western Front, before reversing the traverse on Great Western. It’s an outrageous situation to be in, and I was more than a little bit gripped.

Thanks to Ken Wilson for having the vision in the first place, and to Ian Parnell for bringing it kicking and screaming into 2020. It’s definitely cheered me up during lockdown.


2 Apr, 2020
Quick question....I'm originally from NZ, and when I arrived in the UK in the mid 80's I went to work on Hard Rock and have done all the original routes except two. I now live in the US which has diminished progress on these two...I wrote some accounts of various Hard Rock routes for the New Zealand Alpine Journal and could post these here in response to your suggestion. I'm unclear as to whether the text should be posted directly here or is there another thread/way to include these? The accounts are in the form of word documents and describe ascents of Coronation St, Great Wall, The Bat amongst others...thanks


Hi Simon,

Post them up here on this thread.

I’d be really interested to hear more about The Bat, but by all means included whichever was most memorable to you.

Hope you manage to make it back over to do some more as/when the current state of affairs has passed by.

2 Apr, 2020

thx Rob - will put them here shortly. I've noted that the new edition has 13 additions/replacements, six of which I've already done so off to a head start! I've already keyed up my UK climbing mates for a new campaign to start later this summer assuming I don't have to row across the atlantic first....

2 Apr, 2020

All except two is good going! Which two are they?

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