The Five Best HVS Routes in the UK?

© petemacpherson

It's not really possible, is it? To choose just five 'best' HVS routes in the UK. So I've picked out a selection of my favourites, and I've tried to include a range of styles. Each of these routes has something magical about it, be that the feel of the holds or the uncompromising steepness of the rock. And I'd stick my neck out and say that if you can onsight all of these routes you can confidently call yourself a well rounded HVS leader.

A sense of scale - a climber on The Sloth at the Roaches - &copy JamieSparkes  © JamieSparkes
A sense of scale - a climber on The Sloth at the Roaches - © JamieSparkes

Have you done them all? Why not join this UKC Logbook Ticklist.

Here are my top five HVSs, but what are yours?

History - Kipling Groove, Gimmer Crag

It's a Dolphin route, Kipling Groove, and I've always sought out Dolphin routes, ever since I was a kid. Born in 1924 Arthur Dolphin's short climbing career included many outstanding first ascents, but the pick of the bunch (and remember Dolphin made the first acsent of Great Western in Yorkshire, and I'm a Yorkshireman!) is, in my opinion, Kipling Groove.

Gimmer Crag, Langdale  © Sean Kelly
Gimmer Crag, Langdale
© Sean Kelly, Aug 2010

Firstly, Kipling Groove is brilliantly named. Why Kipling Groove? Because Dolphin thought it to be "Ruddy 'ard!" I've always loved the Jungle Book. And the position and climbing are just magnificent. Dolphin top roped the climb prior to his first ascent, some say he top roped down the route, others say he top roped up, but however he climbed it, it was a ground-breaking ascent. There's no denying that Arthur Dolphin was a driving force in pushing the standards of post war rock climbing in Britain. His premature death from a slip in the Alps just four years after his ascent of Kipling Groove undoubtedly changed the course of British climbing history. Who knows which plum lines Dolphin would have tackled next. In a time when standards were sky rocketing, with Brown, Whillans and the likes making first ascents of some of the countries finest climbs, Dolphin was right up there as one of the leaders of the pack.

The last word on this magnificent climb is simply, Langdale. Need I say more? Well I will. Langdale is for me the ultimate British valley. Picturesque in that chocolate-box kind of way, friendly yet rugged, quiet yet accessible, flanked on all sides with wonderful mountain rock, and of course home to excellent pubs and fantastic beer. I'm sold!

Steepness - The Sloth, The Roaches

Gritstone, it means one of two things; either protectionless slabs or steep hand-chewing jamming. These days I'm quick to choose pain over fear, and is it possible that having long feet is a disadvantage on technical slabs? It's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

No such excuses needed for The Sloth, one of the biggest roofs on Gritstone, and split, as if by a huge axe, with the most perfect of cracks. And that's not all, in case the crack is too intimidating, this route has been gifted with huge pancake style flakes, you know, those ones that you can hang on for ages and get really, really pumped!

the sloth  © morley.10
the sloth
© morley.10, Jan 2012

This truely is a gritstone HVS that thinks it's an E6; it's as steep as it gets, being a horizontal roof, and the upper tier of the Roaches, perched high on the moorland throne gives an feeling of exposure more akin to a huge mountain route than a small outcrop climb. Go forth, take your large gear and swing on to this beast of a climb.

The Sloth - page from Rockfax guidebook  © Rockfax
The Sloth - page from Rockfax guidebook
© Rockfax

Holdless - Hammer, Etive Slabs

The Hammer HVS Etive  © petemacpherson
The Hammer HVS Etive
© petemacpherson
The mere mention of the Etive slabs strikes fear in to my heart, and rightly so, long pitches with no holds, difficult route-finding, sparse protection.. need I go on? But what about Hammer? With its infamous 'holdless scoop' leading, you hope, to a huge layback corner with good holds and gear, this friction climb, this low-angled temptress is one of the most perfect climbs I have ever done. Trusting your feet, trying not to think about a cheese-grating slide back to your belayer, stepping up, higher and higher until those laybacks are reached. Don't tell anyone, but that's not even the crux!

The outlook from the slabs is simply sublime, with Glen Etive sweeping away below all green and lush, with the loch laying quiet and blue ready to sooth your slab rash should a slip occur.

Glen Etive from top of the slabs  © A Crook
Glen Etive from top of the slabs
© A Crook, Jul 2006

Juggy - Riders on the Storm - Stennis Head

Everyone loves a good jug, especially when they least expect it and Riders on the Storm has more than its fair share of big holds. What I like most about this sea cliff jug-fest is the sheer gall of the route, how dare it cross that terrain, and have holds that big whilst all the while looking like an E7! And to top it all off you have to down-climb just to reach the starting ledge. A real adventure that requires skill, nerve, ropework and a competent second.

Rob Howell finishing Riders of the Storm (HVS) at Stennis Head. Photo: Tim Wilkinson  © Tim Wilkinson
Rob Howell finishing Riders of the Storm (HVS) at Stennis Head. Photo: Tim Wilkinson
© Tim Wilkinson

And Pembroke is just bloody brilliant. It's the end of the world, the cliff tops as flat as pancakes, and then they just end, falling vertically in to the sea with a forty metre limestone wall seemingly holding up the whole of west Wales. With pumpy walls, steep cracks, overhangs, good gear, if you've the arms for it, there's so many adventures to be found on these miraculous sea sprayed walls.

Riders of the Storm - page from Rockfax guidebook  © Rockfax
Riders of the Storm - page from Rockfax guidebook
© Rockfax

Texture - Merlin Direct - Tremadog

It's a funny one, isn't it, texture. I generally prefer the feel of sandstone myself, but it's hard not to get excited by the compact and fine-grained dolerite on the upper reaches of Merlin Direct. Whilst being super solid, meaning any gear you stuff in feels like it will hold a bus, the rock maintains a subtle softness of texture; a grippy, sticky wonderfulness that is a joy to climb.

Merlin Direct  © vinspin
Merlin Direct
© vinspin, Aug 2010

But one of the top five HVSs in the UK? With its sunny outlook, two contrasting pitches, easy access and good protection, it has all the hallmarks of a three star classic, but so do many other climbs in North Wales. It certainly isn't a 'King Line' in a visual sense, there is no huge, sweeping arete, or striking prow, or soaring crackline, but for those for whom a tactile experience outweighs the look of a route, Merlin Direct is one of my favourites.

Merlin Direct - page from Rockfax guidebook  © Rockfax
Merlin Direct - page from Rockfax guidebook
© Rockfax

So there you have it - my favourite five. And is it only me who finds HVSs just a little bit harder than E1s?! Now why is that...

22 May, 2014
I'd replace Merlin Direct with Bald Eagle at Stone Valley Crags for the texture category. Simply one of the best HVSs anywhere in the country.
22 May, 2014
Wait until Pylon King sees this - brace yourself for an alternative list of moss and choss 8 feet high in deepest Gloucestershire or somesuch.
22 May, 2014
Riders on the Storm a strange inclusion. No line whatsoever. Heart of Darkness, for eg, is far more impressive. I'd replace Merlin Direct with Scratch Arete.
22 May, 2014
Great Western, Almscliff
22 May, 2014
A list of top five HVS routes without Centurion on the Ben in it? Some mistake, surely... T.
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