In June, Wesley Cole and Will Gould climbed all of the Classic Rock routes in the Peak District in under 11 hours, cycling between crags. Wesley describes the motivation behind the challenge and their logistics...
12 routes, 17 pitches and 55k of cycling in 10 hrs 57 mins
In 1978, the charismatic climbing and mountaineering author Ken Wilson first published 'Classic Rock', a book detailing the 80 best British rock climbs of the time. The book, along with Wilson's subsequent publications 'Hard Rock' and 'Extreme Rock', created a culture of challenges and tick lists that is still going strong today.
Notable recent achievements include Anna Taylor's link-up of all 83 modern routes, cycling 2,400 km between them over 62 days (UKC News). In 2020, Tom Randall climbed the 15 Lake District routes (70 pitches in total), running the 34 miles between them in 12 hours and 2 minutes (UKC News). Katie Mackay recently did the same in just under 24 hours (UKC News).
While the peaks and climbs of the Lake District, North Wales and the North West Highlands have a strong history of adventure challenges and 'rounds', it got me thinking: has anyone tried wrapping the Classic Rock Peak District routes into a challenge?
It's amazing how quickly an idea can escalate into a full blown project. I called Will Gould, who took all of 30 seconds to be convinced of the plan and we started preparing for a Peak 'Classic Rock' challenge.
The aim was to complete all 12 routes, across four crags, in a single push riding bikes the 56km (35miles) between the crags. Alternating leads and carrying all our climbing gear and supplies, we aimed to go from the base of the first route to the top of the last within 12 hours. Ambitious, but just doable. We started researching previous attempts for advice but couldn't find details, so we set out to recce the climbs and routes before setting a date for our attempt (12 June).
4:45 a.m. is a strange time to wake up. It feels like a black hole in time, neither night nor day, nothing feels good and all you want to do is go back to bed. The 40 minute drive to Hen Cloud cleared the head and some porridge helped up the energy levels. We did a quick kit check before unloading bikes from the car and walked them up to the path that separates The Roaches and Hen Cloud. We wandered over to the start of our first route, kitted up and at 6:05 a.m. hit the start button on the watch.
We chose to start at Hen Cloud, knowing we would be getting the hardest and longest routes out of the way early and that a West to East ride to Birchen would likely be downwind, saving energy for later in the day. The first pitch on Central Climb (VS 4c) was a wake up call but Will went on and sailed through the upper section, combining pitches 2 and 3 into a single push.
We scurried down the descent route, still roped-up and re-racking as we went before climbing K2 (S 4b) with our packs, adding to the Himalayan feel as described in the guidebook. As we topped out we left our packs and scrambled down to the base of Modern (VS 4b) and climbed its beautiful flake line before grabbing our bags and trotting over to The Roaches. It was 7:45 a.m. and we were about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
We arrived at the base of Via Dolorosa (VS 4c) at around 8:00 a.m. and Will started up the polished slab to the sound of keen voices on Valkyrie above us. Again climbing with our packs to save time, we topped out and moved over to tackle the bold wall of Technical Slab (HS 4a). Ironically it's neither technical nor a slab really; in fact it's surprisingly bold and quite steep, spurring one of many debates over grades we had throughout the day.
We hurried down the descent route to pick up our packs again and climbed the two pitches of Black and Tans (S 4a) without drama aside from Will startling some early morning walkers with his shout of 'safe' into the strong westerly wind. Six routes down and it was just after 10am —we were 30 minutes ahead of schedule and things were going well.
Roaches to Birchen ride
We jumped on our bikes and travelled the rough path across the moor towards the Winking Man pub before joining the road for 34km of riding to Birchen. The road was the most direct route but did include some torturous hills, including the switchbacks out of Crowdecote, reaching almost 15% gradient at its steepest.
Our mountain / hybrid bikes were the subject of many a chuckle from passing cyclists on lightweight carbon frames, but we knew we would be grateful for them later in the day on the off-road route to Stanage.
The long climb out of Baslow to the Robin Hood pub was hard work, the slow push of bikes along the walk-in path to Birchen a welcome respite from the burning legs of the previous two hours' effort.
Now an hour ahead of schedule, we arrived at Birchen just after midday with our legs and energy levels looking forward to some shorter quick-fire routes. Unfortunately we were greeted with the unwelcome 'technical thrash' up the chimney of Powder Monkey Parade (S 4b) before realising we didn't have the correct sized cam for Topsail (VS 4c). No matter, a single thread was enough for Will to pull through the roof, showing what youth and climbing four days a week does for your ability to deliver when it counts.
The bold move out left on Sail Buttress (HS 4b) felt a grade harder than it did on our recce visit; an early warning sign that the routes to come would be even tougher with 50+km of riding in our legs.
Birchen to Stanage ride
We departed Birchen after an hour and a half, aiming to save a few kilometres and some metres of elevation by staying high and riding the Curbar/Froggatt edge route before skirting up the Burbage Valley and down into Hooks car park.
What we hadn't considered was the mental concentration required to navigate the rutted and eroded paths across the edge for the 90 minute ride, which after 9 hours on the go was a real challenge.
We arrived at Stanage just after 3 p.m. to the rapturous applause from my wife and three and five-year-old boys who had come to cheer us on the final climbs of the day. The walk in through the bracken had never felt harder.
Cramping quads and sore arms from carrying a heavy pack all day were only slightly relieved by some prunes and malt loaf before we spotted Flying Buttress (HVD 4a) free, a rarity at Stanage on a clear dry Sunday in June.
Will shot up the classic almost followed by a three-year-old who assumed it must be an easy ladder if it can be done that quickly. We moved the short distance along to April Crack (HS 4b). By this point I didn't have the strength to pull through the first moves of the crack so I traded the route with Will for the final route of the day, Hargreaves' Original (VS 4c).
Having led the route on a recce a few weeks earlier, I was surprised how much harder it felt after 10 and a half hours on the go. A well-placed offset caught a tired slip before I started again and slowly crept up the route, which required more grit and determination than anything I had climbed in recent times. Will followed me up, topping out 10 hrs 57 minutes after we had started out.
Exhausted and elated, we quickly ducked out of the wind and went in search of our lift back to the Roaches to collect the cars we left behind early in the morning.
We took a stripped-down rack as we had to carry all our gear all day. We settled on the following split between us:
60m Mammut Alpine Classic half rope doubled
Half a set of DMM nuts
7 DMM Dragon cams from sizes 00-5
6 alpine draws
2 x DMM screw gates
1 x 240cm and 1 x 120cm sling
1 x nut key
In addition we each had a helmet, harness, rock shoes, DMM pivot belay device and a spare screw gate each with prusiks. We carried 1.5L of water each with some on the bikes plus food for the day, a waterproof layer, first aid kit and survival bag.
What have we learnt, if anything, from our Peak 'Classic Rock' challenge?
If we were to do it again, then a gravel bike would be preferable with some bike-packing kit to take the weight or perhaps going road only and forsaking the additional distance for an easier ride.
I would also want my climbing to be a grade further on than it is. After a long day, you need 1-1.5 grades in the bag to tackle a route when mentally tired and muscles are broken. Recceing the routes was a real help, but next time I'd try and do some after having ridden there to get a feel for what it's like climbing with sore legs.
We both enjoyed mixing activities and pushing our limits in a way we hadn't done with our climbing before. There's a simplicity to self supported human powered endeavours that brings a sense of achievement that's hard to find these days. If you are considering your own challenge then get out there and try it, you won't be disappointed.
If nothing else, we had a great day doing what we love. There's nothing better than spending the day with great mates, chatting about nothing but climbing for 12 hours and meeting some lovely people along the way (the chap we met belaying on Valkyrie, I hope The Sloth was kind!)
Would we do it again? I think we both agree that we hate riding, so there will be no more challenges that involve bikes for a long while. Running is much more fun. Perhaps an ultra run version should be next…