Bored with my job, and tired from the to'ing and fro'ing from home in south Sheffield to work in Barnsley, I was delighted when I got a research studentship at the Uni. After discussing it with my partner, who said he'd keep me in pasta from Netto, I decided to make the most of the once in a lifetime opportunity to have the whole summer off and spend it, among other things, climbing local grit.
None of the climbers I knew locally had as much free time as me to climb during the week, so, after asking around a bit, I ended up posting for daytime partners on UKClimbing.com.
Over the summer I ended up climbing with about 15 or so different climbing partners through the UKClimbing.com 'Lifts and Partners' forum. A varied and interesting bunch, by far the majority of whom were called either Dave or Andy! Friends still say to me now, “Oh I met this bloke Dave down the climbing wall and he said he'd climbed with you”, and I just have to shrug my shoulders and say, “uh-huh, what did he look like ?”
Some people have come out as a one-off, travelling two and a half hours for a day's climbing on Peak grit. Some have been inspired by the weather to take a day's holiday during the week. Some have been filling in time before a big trip abroad, or their regular daytime partner has been on holiday or ill. Some people work for themselves or from home and have bouts of getting out regularly followed by intensive periods of work when they can't climb at all for a fortnight.
I've led nearly 100 climbs now altogether - about 75 of them this summer. I've moved from leading lower grades to regularly leading Very Severe, occasional HVS. I even got 3 Pebble Slab under my belt. It would be impossible to relate the whole summer to you in detail but here are a few of the odder moments from My Summer of Grit.
Sometimes you get lucky, but always wear a helmet just in case you don't - One day I met up with an early “Dave” at Burbage South in an attempt to escape the blistering heat of the summer. The crag is north-facing but it was still incredibly hot and sweaty for grit. All jams were slipping!
I was leading a route called the Staircase (HS) and two guys were climbing Drainpipe, a pumpy Severe, just around the corner. I was two-thirds of the way up when I heard this really loud “thwack”, so loud, in fact, that I stopped mid-awkward-move and shouted “You alright mate?” Dave leaned round the corner to check on them after I'd returned to a safe stance.
What had happened was that the guy belaying had been trying to shelter from the blazing hot sun under his bouldering mat, but it had kept falling over, so he'd pushed it to the ground in frustration and left it. About three quarters of the way up the climb, the leader had taken a fall, and all of his gear had ripped – boing boing boing. Gritta, the Goddess of climbing must have been watching over him that day, because he landed smack bang in the middle of his partner's mat! Which was just as well because his floppy cotton sun-hat didn't look like it was reinforced to me.
Dave is a wise man though, and did not avail me of the facts until after we'd finished the climb and were safely back on the ground. Strangely, I have taken to bringing Col's bouldering mat out with me climbing since that day ... as a talisman of good luck!!! Even if I don't use it.
Everyday is different ... but more different for some than for others. - One thing I learned early on was just how variable peoples' climbing performance can be on different days. One example of this was early on in the summer when I climbed with someone at Stanage. We were going really well, sort of sparking off each other to perform at our best. Although I'd noticed they'd struggled a bit mentally through some moves of Right-hand Trinity (Severe - well I said it was early on in the summer!!), I didn't think anything of it, especially as they named some quite heady VS's they said they'd led with sparse gear.
But when we met up a few days later they got really stuck three or four moves up leading an Hard Very Difficult at the Roaches. I mean really stuck. I tell you, no matter what I did or how supportive I was, I could not get this climber to move up or down the route. After about an hour or more I was beginning to think, “S***! What the **** am I going to do if I can't get this climber to move from that point?!?”
Our only option was for me to tie off an anchor to the ground to make them safe, and then to solo up, possibly clipping into the placed gear with a couple of slings for safety. Luckily they finally got it together enough to slowly down-climb before I had to take any action. PHEW!! I led the same route then another harder one which they seconded me on without any apparent problem!
A couple of months later I went out with the same climber. Once again they reached a point of stasis on a Very Difficult despite having bomber gear in place. They then followed this up by working themselves up into such a distressed state on their second VDiff (again with good gear) that people were commenting “Why do people climb when they don't enjoy it?,” as they walked past.
Now I'd be the first to admit that I've had some thwacking “off” days myself (notably when I've tried to do climbs that were too hard for me, which I probably do far too often) or when – Ok I admit it Dave – when the person I'm climbing with can lead a climb I've specially chosen but I can't. Yes, it really P***** me off - Aaarghhh! There, I've said it. Anyway, I usually do admit defeat after a few thrashes and let the other person lead.
Climbers keep falling on my Head - One early experience led me to the understanding that one should not, as a rule of thumb, stand directly under climbers one doesn't know very well. This was evidenced, somewhat inevitably, by Dave. Dave, who'd been leading less than a year, was bravely attempting Byne's Crack. He had tackled the first Severe so confidently that he had lulled me into a false sense of security. Consequently when he fell off with little or no warning after the first couple of moves, I just wasn't quite expecting it. He had clipped one (in situ) bit of gear, and started moving up when suddenly – fwomf!!! He landed on me. Which, in retrospect, was quite lucky really because underneath me was a big flat rock.
After a moment or two of embarrassment, he disentangled his leg from my shoulder and apologized. Manfully admitting that all that was hurt was his pride, we moved on to another climb. This was an early and invaluable lesson to me. Always, always being ready to brake and weight the rope while belaying.
Not to worry though Dave! I recently repaid the compliment to another partner during our first climb together. While lowering to a safe stance in order to re-group before having another thrash at the crux of a rather pumpy Severe, Sand Crack, my first piece of gear popped. I took a nose-dive at my alarmed-looking belayer, having first caught the rope round my leg during the fall. There's nothing quite like dangling upside down by an ankle with your helmet on the ground to really make you appreciate the true 'inner beauty' of a bouldering mat (yes, I'd taken it with me!!!). Fortunately, as a man of many years climbing experience, he did not run back to the car park – NO !! He stayed and belayed me up two Very Severes, Paradise Arete and Paradise Wall – what a constitution!
Well Dave, as your old mate says, “If you're not flying, you're not trying?” Right? Well, I've certainly proved that I'm trying.
Handy Hint for Climbers' Partners - I'd recommend anyone living with an obsessional climber who bruises easily, to have a handy wall-chart showing which bit of you in particular they should avoid on any given day! My partner is affectionately clumsy and as I am usually sporting a whole plethora of injuries ranging from grit-rash, ankle-grazes and bruises (which mysteriously appear around the knee area for some inexplicable reason) or just a general paucity of skin particularly around the knuckles, it just helps him to visualize, in advance, the pain he is about to cause by jumping on me on the sofa like an enthusiastic puppy. Just circle in red, look and point – it's so easy !!!
Acknowledgements - I just wanted to say a Big Thanks to all the people I've climbed with this summer. It's been great to meet you all. Thanks for the encouragement and the experienced belaying which has made me feel secure enough to push my grade. Thanks also for holding me when I slipped, and of course, for the company! It's been really interesting picking up tips/advice, and to learn that everyone has off days and to see first hand how incredibly encouraging and supportive some people can be.
In particular thanks to :
Woody - for solid belaying and positive reassurance - giving me the confidence to push my grade esp on : Gingerbread, Meringue and Once-pegged Wall. Also for making me feel like I'm good at jamming and a strong-armed climber.
Andy - probably the most laid back climber I've met. Thanks for your solid experience and coming out to belay me up Sunset, CMC Slab & Three Pebble all in a row one night when I was on a roll.
Jonathan - for being patient and laid back enough to belay me up Paradise Wall, Paradise Arete & Sand Crack even after I took a dive at your head. Thanks also for Yarncliffe & Grindleford.
Paul- for our day early on in the Summer seconding you up Sundowner at Froggatt. Gave me a lot of confidence on slabs. Thank you also for belaying me up Terrace Crack - my 2nd ever VS.
Matt G - For your support and knowledge and experienced belaying up Wall End Flake Crack, Wall End Slab, Inverted V and Sail Buttress.
Heather - for being an inspiring role model of a lean, mean climbing machine and for belaying me up Hargreave's Original and Zigzag Flake Crack.
Dave (the Chef) - for our day at High Neb on Tango Buttress, Inaccessible Crack Direct and Gunter.
Les and Andy - for belaying me up Knights Move, my first HVS climb.
Mark and Lee - the two Lovely Brummy lads, for belaying me up Via Media and for spotting me onto my mat when the first bit of skinny gear popped early on.
Dave (St Helen's) - for inspiring me to do off-width cracks at Burbage South early on in the summer and to invest in a large cam. Also for persevering with me on August Arete.
Chris - for your support and patience during our day at Froggatt when I had a day where I just chose (almost) all the wrong climbs.
J - for belaying me up Balcony Buttress, Technical Slab, Manchester Buttress & especially Black Hawk.
Chesterfield Dave - for belaying me up Anarchist's Arete & Sidewinder when I was having an off day. Also for reminding me that I don't have to push my grade all the time.
Rich - for our days at the Roaches (when it didn't rain).
Colin B - for belay back-up very early on in the summer, and for your patience the day I did Diamond Crack.
To my mate Jane (just in case she's logged on) for being interested enough in my leading progress to look at my route-list (and know what the **** I was on about) and encourage me.
To UKClimbing.com for hosting the “Lifts & Partners” forum. had to say that didn't I!
And last but not least, to my mainstay at home. A crag widower in the week and a belay bunny at the weekends. Thank you for having the dinner on or ready for sometimes five days in a row at the peak of summer. For belaying me safely up Dunkleys' Eliminate and Fox House Flake, and for listening to me going on and on about my days' climbs. For listening to me moan about my aches/bruises/grit-rash and for sharing my frustrations and achievements. Thank you for making sure the hot water was on and for running the bath. Thank you for giving me a hug when I'd had a bad day and for saying "Yeah, right ..." every time I come home and say "I'm just gonna stick to VDiffs and Severes from now on"
Well, alright, maybe just the odd Hard Severe then ........