The Finest Crags in Britain Wimberry Mike Hutton in association with
Occupying a menacing position high above the Chew Valley’s reservoir, is a gritstone monster of truly biblical proportions. By far the grandest crag in the Chew Valley, yet receiving rather less attention that it perhaps deserves. Its forbidding North East facing walls are home to some of the finest challenges on grit. With words like Death, Fear, Coffin, Sectioned, Wrist Cutter, MaD and Danger used to name the routes, one would be forgiven for thinking that this place is only suited to a select group of ultra-talented individuals. This may be the case for those seeking those particular named routes, but there are a wealth of safer and protectable lines in the sub-extreme category, that offer memorable challenges in one of the most peaceful and un-spoilt spots in the UK.
The rock everywhere is impregnated with an abundance of razor sharp pebbles. Often utilizing a combination of them may be the only way to make precarious upward progress, with disastrous consequences should one of them snap. In a crack however, they can bite into your flesh so savagely that days later you may still feel the temporary numbness on your battered wrists and hands.
On hot summer weekends, many of the inhabitants of Manchester’s suburbs can be seen sprawled across the shores of the picturesque reservoir eating ice creams, swilling lager and firing up their disposable barbeques. Whilst this might seem like the easiest option, you could put on your boots and climb the slopes to find peace and solitude. You might stop by the babbling brook and watch the cotton grass blow in the breeze, or test yourself on the enticing boulder problems that are scattered amongst the birch trees and purple heather. Fish Arête is well worth some attention on your first visit. Come prepared for a fight and persist with the green rock and you will be rewarded with an amazing experience on a crag that is free from polish and people.
By 1910 the first routes had been climbed, but for one reason or another it wasn’t until 1948 that any significant developments had begun. Rumours of Joe Brown and Don Whillans both climbing Blue Lights Crack HVS 5b together in this year are slightly dubious, given the fact that the pair didn’t cross paths until 1951. With or without Don, Joe went on to climb The Trident HVS 5b and Freddie’s Finale HVS 5b, which in this present day still repel many accomplished climbers operating in the extremes!
By the 1960’s, desert climber extraordinaire and local legend Tony Howard had discovered the delights of Wimberry and contributed in a significant way. in 1961, Malcolm Baxter and Jim Heys took the crag into the extremes by climbing Wall and Bulge E2 5b. They had little gear and none that would fit, meaning Malcolm effectively soloed the route. Bancroft and Allen dominated the seventies with their antics and created the very fine finger crack of Pinball Wizard E1 5c, which is a damn sight less gnarly than most of the lower grade challenges. Bancroft was rather bemused by Allen’s use of a wire brush on the well-protected peg-crack of Blasphemy E2 5c. However tempting this might seem, it’s generally considered by the modern day climber that frequent ascents are a better way of keeping routes free from the Mooreland pelt. Believe it or not, the greenery wasn’t so much of an issue back in the days of heavy coal use, since the acidic sulphur containing smoke helped keep the lichen under control. One of the only benefits of air pollution it has to be said.
Marcus Buckley on Blasphemy (E2 5c).
In 1981 Jonny Woodward balanced up the incredibly bold and photogenic arête of Consolation Prize E5 6a, which was an amazing feat for its time. I remember vividly an early morning ascent where I had the luxury of photographing guidebook editor Martin Kocsis, as he literally disappeared into a blanket of mist. One of the most memorable and worrying moments of my photographic career, as Niall Grimes once said “There is only victory on this route and no prize for second place.” It seems that worrying moments have featured quite heavily where photographers and belayers have visited Wimberry over the years.
Take for example Dave Pegg’s ascent of MaDMAn E8 6b back in 1994. There was no use of pads and with just Simon Jones and his wife to spot, it’s likely that a fall would have ended very badly. Dave Simmonite’s brilliant photo clearly shows a face displaying both commitment and terror. Dave even got on a rope himself and said that the mantel onto the sloping ledge would have been more than stressful. As Niall stated in the guide, it was as close to a lethal dose of MDMA as one could get.
David Simmonite's iconic image of Dave Pegg on the first ascent of MaDMAn (E8 6b). Dave climbed the route in 1994 and it took twenty years to see a second ascent.
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Sam Whittaker’s ascent of Appointment With Death E9 6c took standards to a whole new level; a wall almost devoid of any useful protection, with moves relying entirely on a series of gritstone pebbles. Pebbles could have snapped at any point resulting in disastrous consequences. Sam didn’t even wait for a full link up on top rope before he went for the lead. A phenomenal achievement.
When you would have thought things couldn’t have got any harder, Miles Gibson, the talented dark horse finally completed the aptly named arête of Dangermouse E9 7a, after 3 years practice. It’s fair to say this was as close to the living end as you could get on gritstone at the time.
I can’t speak for those particular moments, but I was fortunate enough to witness what was perhaps the best day ever on gritstone back in the spring of 2013. As I wandered up to the crag on a baltic day with Tom Randall, Pete Whittaker and Nathan Lee. I don’t think anyone knew for sure what the day had in store. Tom’s 2nd ascent of Appointment With Death E9 6c definitely didn’t go according to plan. On his first attempt, a foot slipped on the lower crux and landed him thankfully on the pad. As he prepared for the second go, I have never been more nervous with the camera in my whole life. I was intensely aware that any sound from the shutter might draw his focus, and there was no margin for error. After the successful ascent, Tom admitted he had awoken during the night in a series of hot sweats just thinking about the day ahead.
Tom Randall on the 2nd ascent of Sam Whittaker's 'Appointment with Death' (E9 6c).
Meanwhile, it was Nathan’s turn to repeat Kevin Thaw’s terrifying Order Of The Phoenix E8 6c; an overhanging and totally unprotected arête, relying on precise smearing and the crimping of fragile pebbles. Thankfully this one went down without mishaps. Finally Pete was on the sharp end for what was perhaps the greatest last problem to go down at Wimberry. The outrageously overhanging prow that terminates up the arête left of Appointment With Fear E7 6b had been admired and tried by Miles Gibson previously in 2011. Miles said that it made Parthian Shot look like a boring slab and was probably the best route on grit stone he had seen. Pete chose to clip the 43-year-old bolts on lead with a specially adapted piece of bamboo, which was a spectacle for the on-lookers, as was his fall just 3 moves from the top. Thankfully the ancient bolts held and Pete came to within three metres of the deck. He smashed the route to pieces on his second and successful go and stuck with Miles' name: Baron Greenback E9 7a, the enemy of Danger Mouse in the well known cartoon series.
Nathan Lee on the repeating 'Order of the Phoenix' - a terrying E8 6c first climbed by Kevin Thaw.
Next Page: Pete Whittaker on the first ascents of 'Baron Greenback' (E9 6c) and 'The Bigger Baron' (E10 7a).
In the autumn of that year, inspired by this amazing day out, Nathan Lee climbed direct up the wall of pebbles left of Appointment with Death. The bad news was Nathan had snapped a crucial pebble on a previous visit, which made the crux much higher and harder. As we trudged up to a damp crag, conditions were better for snapping pebbles than actual climbing, yet Nathan managed to modify his sequence by under-cutting a stump of a pebble in a way that was terrifying to witness. Unknown stones E9 6c as he christened it, was yet another great line requiring tenacity and an exceptional level of commitment.
Finally in the spring of 2014, Pete returned to add the direct start to the prow, naming it The Bigger Baron E10 7a. It was the most impressive pieces of climbing ever I had ever observed.
Bertie’s Bugbear Severe 4a
The gigantic and well-protected groove line to the left of Berlin Wall is definitely the best route of its grade on the crag. Don’t be put off by the green moss as it’s only on part of the route.
Coffin Crack VS 4c
A great introduction to the cracks at Wimberry with plenty of varied climbing. The un-mistakable coffin shaped box is passed by laybacks or jams. Which ever method you choose, it's heaps of fun.
The Trident HVS 5b
No amount of training at the wall will condition you for this. Just be prepared to keep fighting and think how lucky you are to have the luxury of large cams. A typical Joe Brown classic of the very highest quality.
Some say it can be likened to a Chew version of The Peapod, but harder. The fact that it’s on a list of gritstone's finest gruesome and damaging struggles should give you all the information you need.
Pinball Wizard E1 5c
A lovely little well protected finger crack with some hidden pockets, may offer a welcome respite if you’ve run out of skin on the previous two routes. This route actually feels about right for the grade and the conventional climbing might be more appealing to some.
Ian Carr on 'Pinball Wizard' (E1 5c)
Blasphemy E2 5c
An absolute gem of a route. The initial finger crack takes lots of wires and there is even a partial shake out, But just when you think it’s in the bag, be prepared for the perplexing transition onto the top slab. Well named as people often swear on discovering the top is a little greener than expected, as they fluff the mantelshelf finale.
Charm E3 5c
Now the list wouldn’t be complete without a bit of slabby pebble pulling would it?
For once, a non-death slab experience with just enough gear. This one actually feels quite easy for the grade, but just little scary.
Consolation Prize E5 6a
There are no prizes for coming second on this magnificent unprotected arête.
All the hard climbing is in the first steep section, which can feel desperate unless brushed. The top arête is mainly 5b and extremely photogenic, but you would be well advised to clean the top if going for a lead.
Adrian Pedley on 'Blasphemy' (E2 5c)
When to go
The crag is best climbed on between May and September. In the mid-summer a small amount of early morning sunshine can warm up the northeast walls. A perfect place to escape to in a heat wave, provided the there is a wind to keep the midges at bay.
Over The Moors by the BMC is the latest definitive guide to the area, but the latest RockFax Western Grit guide contains pretty much all the routes.
The routes are generally no more than 20m, so you could suffice with a doubled 60m if you wanted to lighten your load for the 30-minute slog up the hillside. A standard lightweight rack with a couple of very large cams will certainly come in handy for the classic lower grade cracks lines.
The Clarence Pub down the road in Greenfield is well worth a visit after a hard day up on the moors. The nearby pie shop is not to be missed either.
Mat Nuttall on 'Halina' E2 5c.
Mike Hutton is an Adventure and Travel Photographer based in the Peak District.
During the past decade Mike has travelled to 30 countries capturing images of climbers in the most serene landscapes. He has accumulated over 1500 photo credits to his name and his work has been extensively published in the world’s leading magazines and books. His editorial client list includes Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, Rock and Ice, Climb, Climber, Climbing, Vertical, Klettern, Desnivel, Pareti, Women’s Adventure, Outdoor Photography, RockFax, The British Mountaineering Council, Derbyshire Life, Royal Geographical Society and The Outdoor Journal.
He’s worked with sponsored athletes from many of the top commercial outdoors brands such as Casio, Berghaus, Patagonia, Rab, Wild Country, Mammut, Boreal, Edelweis, Scarpa, Five Ten and Sherpa. Mike’s sporting background as a Climber, Runner and Cyclist has given him the edge to keep up with some of the best athletes.
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