Mantels aren't cool. Grinding your way up a rounded blob of rock doesn't really make for a good Instagram post. These days it's all about "power" and "dynos". The cool kids want to swing about on something steep and get home in time to do some one-armers and post a picture of their skinny soy protein latte. They do not want to fail on a mantel.
Fortunately now I'm getting on a bit, I'm free from the shackles of being cool. I gave up trying years ago and as a result I've been able to spend some quality time on (mostly off) a load of mantels.
Gritstone is the perfect rock type for mantels. It's generally low angled, rounded and bulging with very few features and rarely a positive hold. However, the coarse texture of the rock allows you to stick to almost anything. The most unlikely looking holds and the vaguest of footholds just somehow work. Learning how to make the most of the friction isn't easy, but it can be incredibly satisfying when you finally adhere to something which you were convinced you could not.
Here are some of my favourite mantels from around the Peak. I've not included grades - there seems little point! They are all horrendous and some are harder than others. Hats off to anyone who can tick the lot, or who bothers to try...
Bus Stop Mantel - Rowtor
This looks so simple, just flop on top of the weird carved room surely? But until you find the trick it may as well be the world's hardest mantel. And after you've got the trick you can lap it...Until you tell your mates that it's easy and proceed to fall off it again!
On one of those rare days when you can lap it, take a step to the right and things go up a notch. Mantel Illness is just like the Bus Stop Mantel, but without the big holds, or the useful heel hook out left...
We asked Ben, the man who put MAN into mantelshelving, on his thoughts regarding this unorthodox discipline of rock climbing:
"Mantelling is essentially offwidth climbing but with only half the crack. Like offwidths (and boulder problems in Font) the easy mantels are the hardest whilst the hard ones are the easiest. The more I think about it the more similar wide cracks and mantels are:
- Really f***ing hard work
- Lots of effort but hardly any upwards movement
- Easy to give up, need to be stubborn/stupid
- Look easy, mostly not
- End up covered in grazes
- You think it'll just be a case of squirming upwards but there is actually loads of technique
- Weirdos (see Ned, Johnny, Pete Whit etc)
And like all the best types of climbing they are good fun once you have got home and had a hot bath.
The Beast - Stanage
Tucked away in the quiet backwater of High Neb is this little animal. As you approach it looks pretty simple. Almost a 90 degree top out surely? But no, as is often the case the undercut nature of the feature means your lower leg gets jammed up against the roof mid mantel, halting all progress. While you feel like you can hang there all day you just can't achieve any upwards movement.
Originally climbed by Jon Fullwood with a bizarre hands-facing-in double-palm it has also been 'conquered' by more conventional means (by folk who can't dislocate their shoulders at will), mainly the tried and tested heel-up-and-writhe method.
Ironically using a Beastmaker probably won't help you much on The Beast...
"I did The Beast in 2003 just after returning from three months of mantel practice at Castle Hill, New Zealand. Think I gave it 7A at the time. The grade has gradually crept up thereafter. As far as I know no one else has employed the 'clack-clack' sequence, so named by Lee Anderson in homage to a guy on TV who cracked eggs between his upturned elbows. Personally I don't know what the fuss is about, just turn both hands 180 degrees inward and push, like a chicken straining to lay an egg (imagine it's for a weird guy to smash with his elbows if you like). A heavy head might also help tip you forwards, or light feet. Tiny people/8B+ wads have been known to heel hook instead, shame on them."
Tip 4: try dislocating your shoulders in order to ascertain a standing position, remember - long term damage frequently leads to short term gains.
The Mantelist - Rowtor
More mantles at Rowtor? Yeah!
This cheerful looking little blob of rock is home to a tricky smear and flop style mantel. It doesn't really go anywhere - you pull on, stand up then jump off. However, it's a classy and perplexing move and it's about as close to Castle Hill as you're likely to get in the UK, just on a tiny scale and with texture. So nothing like Castle Hill really. But you'll fall off it, like you do at Castle Hill.
If you're after some 'warm-up' mantels at Rowtor, that may or may not be somewhere near their given grades (plus are easier than any of the individual ones listed here), how about trying:
- Chip Shop Mantel - a glorious jug-rail leads to a particularly inglorious top-out (which is also said to be the crux of the direct start The Yoghurt Hypnotist )
- The Line - a good warm-up for some of the sterner stuff at the crag, insofar as it actually bears some resemblance to the grade it's given.
Victorian Overmantel, Stanage
An innocuous little problem right at the heart of the Stanage plantation. Easily dismissed as some rubbish lowball, this problem's delights are well hidden. Start hanging the obvious rail then flop upwards and turn red until you fall off. Oh wait, there's a small seam up there. Nope it's rubbish and it's miles away and your feet are still sticking under the roof preventing upwards progress. Apparently this has lost a "crucial" pebble for the heel which made all the difference.
Comically this was climbed by visiting superhuman Toro Nakajima during the height of summer a few years ago. Yes, the summer. Laughing in the face of conditions as he topped out through a thick cloud of midges. Never mind climbing E9s in the heat and humidity, this is properly impressive.
In fact, could this be one of the hardest moves on Stanage?
Ned Zeppelin - The Roaches
Not a mantel in the classic sense but it utilises mantel manoeuvres to overcome the blankness. The bottom is easier for the tall, but they will be cursing their long limbs once they've got on board. Shorties will have a tough time getting on but will be loving life when they casually wander up the bunched moves at the top. I say "moves" but they can't really be described with the usual climbing vocabulary. You just kind of squirm around clumsily, hoping that some part of your body will maintain cohesion for long enough for you to grope up an extra inch or two.
Mother Cap and Quarry - (the whole crag)
They're all basically the same here: climb up some breaks to a horrendous top out. The grades vary depending on where your feet can go, and whether there is a chipped hold within reach when you get up there. Although none of these are full blown tricep destroyers, they have strength in numbers and will wear you down.
If you've got the constitution for it, how about giving the following Font-esque circuit a go:
- The Blue Whale - the easiest of the lot, but still far from easy
- Pet Cemetery - some consider this the same level of difficulty as the above, but who knows…
- Mother's Pride - now we're getting serious, although not about holds - there aren't any!
- Orca - see that pebble, yes - that's it - now go upwards
- Pets Win Prizes - despite its short stature this problem packs a punch both with the moves low down and the grind required to achieve the summit
If, after surviving this lot you've still got palm skin to burn, then head left for 50m or so until you find a small ball shaped boulder. Mother's Ruin mauls its way up this and tends to end your day.
Cut Throat Snake - Cut Throat Bridge
Spied and attempted many times over the years but generally always abandoned, this problem is no soft touch. Ben Bransby (50% gecko) nipped in for a quick first ascent a few years ago. It's a classic example of lying with your upper body spread eagled across the sloping top and trying to blindly step your foot up to your waist. It definitely suits people with short legs. Fortunately a lanky sequence has appeared for everyone else. Strap a knee bar pad over your knee cap and rock over on a knee smear! This helps on the crux but you'll be cursing your new outfit as you totter about on the "easy" start moves, unable to bend your leg.
It is definitely well worth seeking this one out. You'll thank the secluded location as you wriggle about on a dirty rock, covered in pine needles with rubber strapped to your leg.
Tom Newman has recently become a keen Mantelist*, working his way through many of the arbitrarily graded classics throughout Yorkshire and the Peak. In the video below he employs what could be considered the finest array of mantleshelving skills ever displayed on film. Whether this is because there are few videos around, or because he has genuinely displayed a feat of greatness, the tenacity deserves a special mention:
"I'm not very good at mantles really, but an injury forced me to give it a go. Leave your ego at home, pay no attention to the grade, then prepare to try really, really, really hard. Then prepare to most likely fail and you'll have a great time."
*n.b. yes, 'Mantelist' and 'mantelshelver' are made up words...
About the author:
Ned's name will be familiar to many, having consistently performed at a high level within a variety of different disciplines. Ned's recent flash of Trust Issues (8B+) in Rocklands was particularly noteworthy, as it's only been achieved by a handful of climbers. Add into the mix countless other hard repeats up to 8C, taking highballing to a new level, and having been the British Bouldering Champion on multiple occasions, his CV is as diverse as this article is narrow.
When he's not climbing, mantleshelving, or walking the dog, he's most likely making beasts with his own brand Beastmaker.