24 year-old Sam Hamer writes about completing the list of Top 50 climbs from the 2001 Rockfax Peak Gritstone East guide - an achievement which was 10 years in the making from 2005-2015.
The string of Middle Carboniferous, sandstone outcrops that almost completely surround the Derbyshire Dales boast an astonishing variety of top quality climbs. Peak gritstone has inspired rock climbers for more than a century and the list of ground-breaking first ascents includes many of the better known names in climbing lore. From Puttrell’s early explorations in the 1890s to the present day, ‘the grit’ has been at the forefront of British climbing.
This is not a description of an epic first ascent or even a speedy repeat of a super hard test piece; it’s simply a personal account about climbing iconic gritstone routes.
It began for me in 2005, with my first ever outdoor lead climb. I was enjoying a ‘learning to lead climb’ weekend in the Peak District and we were climbing at Rivelin. After a spot of bouldering to warm up, I sorted out a gear rack to tackle my first traditional lead, Croton Oil, a classic HVS 5a that tops out on a fine pinnacle of gritstone. Up to this point, I had only seconded outdoor routes and top-roped indoors. It was the moment of truth and the elation of setting up a belay on top of the pinnacle and then bringing my brother Ed and my Dad up to join me was immensely satisfying.
This proved to be a major turning point in my climbing career. It gave me confidence and showed me the way forward. It was also, unknown to me at the time, one of the 50 of the Best climbs listed in the 2001 Peak Gritstone (East), Rockfax Guide. This is a list of classic gritstone routes ranging from Difficult to E8. It’s an awesome list; enough to inspire any climber.
From that day onwards, I was mad for it and all I wanted to do was to lead routes and become a solid ‘trad’ climber. I spent a lot of time consolidating my skills and getting as much leading experience through a range of grades. In the process, I began working my way through the easier and middle graded routes in the list. It paid dividends in spades. A year later, I onsighted my first E4 6a, Moon Walk, at Curbar - a fabulous pitch, with excellent gear to help you through the energy-sapping crux! I realised that I was making progress at this climbing game and wanted to push myself even further.
My climbing continued to develop, but I kept referring back to that list of classics and gradually ticked my way through them. The next personal milestone was London Wall (E5 6a), a major crack line at Millstone. It involves 22m of painful finger jamming - with barely a respite - and the crux is right at the top! It’s an amazing climb and one of the most famous cracks climbs in the UK. When I did London Wall, it was freezing cold and I could barely feel my fingers. I got incredibly pumped hanging around placing loads of gear and almost took the big ride from the crux. Luckily I just managed to pull over the top! It was a mind-blowing experience.
The grades kept coming as I got stronger, fitter and more technically savvy. All roads led to the Derwent Valley and with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach to End of the Affair E8 6c at Curbar. Arguably the most serious proposition on the list, End of the Affair has gear at one third height and a crux right at the top! Not the place you want to risk a slip. I approached it in headpoint fashion, working the moves on a top rope and then, once I felt happy, pulled the ropes down to lead it. It’s a good way of tackling the harder and more serious routes.
On the day of that successful ascent, my two climbing mates – my brother Ed and Finn McCann - were both keen for the big lead, so the pressure was really on. Fortunately, the temperatures were cold enough and friction was great. In the space of an hour, all three of us managed to get up the arête with no incidents. We were all delighted and very relieved!
Last winter, I returned to End of the Affair on the other end of the rope - as a belayer. This turned out to be almost as scary as the day of our triple ascent. I had to throw myself down the gully to prevent a ‘certain Londoner’ from ending up at Sheffield A&E! A rather sketchy experience to say the least!
At the start of 2015, I looked at the list again and realised that I had only a handful of routes left to do. I set myself the target of completing them before the spring.
The hardest of the remaining bunch was Beau Geste E7 6c at Froggatt. This is definitely the line of the crag - an imposing arête, with minimal protection and some very thin moves. On yet another freezing cold day in late January, while everyone else was sensibly indoors or bouldering, Ed and I were shivering at Froggatt, gazing upwards at Johnny Woodward’s extraordinary creation. It was absolutely Baltic. Barely able to feel my fingertips, I sketched my way up the desperate moves, inserted the key wire placement and ran it out to the top. It was a red-letter moment for me. I had wanted to do it since first marvelling at the photo on the rear cover of Extreme Rock and reading John Allen’s memorable quotation:
‘Beau Geste - it seemed to me that its ascent was a moment of inspiration fired by desire…a classic natural sculpture and challenge…made to be climbed - but only by the best.’
So finally, it came down to the last two, and one Saturday morning in April, I led Goliath’s Groove HVS 5a at Stanage and then shot over to Cratcliffe for the two-pitch Requiem E3 6a. It was an awesome end to the day topping out on the final headwall in glorious sunshine, overlooking the wonderful Peak District and feeling really proud to have climbed 50 of the best gritstone routes in the eastern Peak.
Postscript: I've come to realise that having a list such as this is really important. It keeps you focussed on your climbing ambitions, but it’s so much more than just a physical and technical challenge - it’s a history lesson. It also takes you to some of the less frequented spots. So I’d like to say thanks to Rockfax who produced the list and a great guide book! I’d recommend any climber to have a list like this and see how many you can get done. There’s a great sense of achievement in climbing just one of these magical routes and if you’ve done one, you’ll definitely want to do more. So get out there, get crushing and good luck!
Eastern Grit from ROCKFAX
Eastern Grit has become the Country's most popular guidebook. Since its first incarnation in 2001 as Peak Grit East, and second in 2006, this book more than any other has redefined the standard that all other climbing guidebooks are measured by.
The 2015 version weighs in at a massive 560 pages, covering over 4060 routes on 26 different crags. It has many a lifetime's worth of climbing on the best gritstone in the UK. There's a sample chapter here.
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