Ten Top Climbs from VS to E3, by Charles Arthur

Charles Arthur

My personal list of top 10 climbs is maybe a touch more self-indulgent than others - though I hope maybe it'll be more fun than those which limit themselves to just 10 "all-timers".

Instead, here are 10 each within a distinct leading grade - each still fresh in my memory as routes which for one reason or another left me feeling that rush of happiness once at the top. Either because I found them to be so exhilarating, or so scary, or technically enjoyable, or all three. For anyone seeking to establish themselves at each of these grades, I would say these are leads that you won't forget.

Usually I prefer slabs, and of those preferably gritstone, but there's a fair bit of variety here: limestone, cracks, slate, slabby, vertical, overhung, big holds, small edges. Well, that's rock for you.


  • Paradise Wall (4c), Stanage.
    A wonderful twin crack climb in the land of hexes. This was my second lead: I was sure I was about to fall off and die.

  • Valkyrie (4b, 4c), Roaches Lower Tier.
    You've seen the picture, now try the move.

  • Kinkyboots (4c, 4b), Baggy Point, North Devon.
    A wonderful start, and it goes on..

  • Blue Sky (4b, 4b), Saddle Head, Pembroke.
    Tidal, vertical, and long and fun.

  • Anvil Chorus (4c, 4c), Bosigran, Cornwall.
    Protect the layback, or sprint for the top?

  • Hargreaves's Original Route (4c), Stanage.
    Delicate, exposed, seek help from Friends.

  • Perverted Staircase (5a), Roaches Upper Tier.
    No crack, yet a right thrutch.

  • High Neb Buttress (4c), Stanage.
    Another high, slabby gritstone experience.

  • Arch Slab (4c), Three Cliffs Bay, Gower.
    An exposed limestone outing.

  • Hawk's Nest Crack (4c), Froggatt.
    Improve your hand-jamming in one lesson... or not.


  • Sunset Slab (4b), Froggatt.
    Unprotected gritstone slabs, start here.

  • Climber's Club Direct (5a, 4c), Dewerstone, Dartmoor.
    160ft of granite crack climbing.

  • Front Line (5a), St Govan's Head, Pembroke.
    Tough start.. but the crux comes later.

  • Chouinard's Route 1 (5a), Baggy Point, North Devon.
    Another unprotected slab.

  • Flying Buttress Direct (5b), Stanage.
    Eye-catching, unforgettable, fantastic. Go for one, then two heel hooks and DON'T STOP!

  • Heart of Darkness (4c, 5b), Mowing Word, Pembroke.
    An overhung sea cave traverse with marvellous atmosphere.

  • Valkyrie (5a, 4c), Froggatt.
    How's the hand-jamming coming along?

  • Malbogies (5b, 5a), Avon Gorge.
    Polished wonder of the roadside; route-finding is extra.

  • The Scoop (5a), Stanage.
    If you like rounded breaks.. well, you have to on this one.

  • Tactician (5a), St Govan's Head, Pembroke.
    It looks so easy.. and then you get to a place with the wrong number of holds.


  • Cenotaph Corner (5c), Dinas Cromlech.
    With the crux at the top of 150 ft of bridging.

  • Nanoq Slab (5b), Froggatt.
    Right of 3 Pebble Slab, a tougher solo than that trade route.

  • Incest is Best (5b), St Govan's Head, Pembroke.
    Slightly overhung to try your stamina.

  • Thin Wall Special (5b, 5a), Bosigran, Cornwall.
    Delicate first pitch, weird second one involving a roof with hidden holds.

  • Sinecure (5b), Carreg-y-Barcud, North Pembroke.
    Thin moves on incut holds: got yer RPs?

  • Reptile Smile (5b/F6a), Blacknor North, Portland.
    Bolts don't always make it easy to reach the end. This has probably beaten off more would-be "I'll warm up on this.." folk than any other sport route. (Upgraded in the new guidebook.)

  • Superdirect (4b, 5b, 5b), Dinas Mot.
    An unforgettable middle pitch and intimidating top.

  • The Plum (5b, 5b), Bwlych y Moch, Tremadog.
    Break through the treeline via a sweet rockover.

  • Superdirect (5c), Little Tor, Gower.
    Short, sharp, fun on small holds and small wires. Usually occupied by people who can't do it, on topropes. (That was me, once. So I came back a year later and led it.)

  • M1 (5b), Main Wall, Avon Gorge.
    With a tough crux including pro that's hard to clip. Enjoy.


  • Keelhaul (5c), Bosherston Head, Pembroke.
    Fantastic limestone slab climbing.

  • Elegy (5c), Roaches Lower Tier.
    A very confusing move to get on the hanging slab (wimp out and you have to do a offwidth VS - even harder!). Then the runout slab: fall off and you're likely hanging in space. "A real man-boy sorter", to quote Ken Wilson.

  • Pot Black (5b), Stanage.
    Balance pays its usual dividends on grit. It's all over quickly.

  • Impossible Slab (5c), Stanage.
    Here, you need balance plus faith in your shoe rubber.

  • Vice is Nice (5b), St Govan's Head, Pembroke.
    Overhung, pumpy, but safe.

  • Sundowner (5a), Froggatt.
    Who needs pro when you're on a grit slab?

  • Beast from the Undergrowth (5b), Huntsman's Leap, Pembroke.
    A long and lonely lead.

  • Massambula (5b), Bus Stop Quarry, Llanberis.
    A slate delight, if tiny edges delight you. On slate, they'd better.

  • Pull My Daisy (5c), Rainbow Slab, Llanberis.
    The poor man's Dervish? Certainly a wonderful low crux, then great pro (a pipe) and a runout top section. Can't argue with that.

  • Something Better Change (5b), Roaches Lower Tier.
    More fun with unprotected slabs.


A bit less variation in style here: mostly slabs, because slabs are what I'm so much better at.

  • Wall End Slab Direct (5c), Stanage.
    A great line requiring lots of faith and technique, as the crux is at the top away from gear.

  • Long John's Slab, (5c), Froggatt.
    Crank it out up to the flake and take care at the top.

  • Archangel (5b), Stanage.
    A compelling arete demanding dry hands and a steady head. And feet, come to that.

  • Great Slab (5b), Froggatt.
    Don't do what I did and fall off the crux. It hurts. Lots. (Don't fall off higher up either.)

  • Comes the Dervish (5c), Vivian Quarry, Llanberis.
    The slate route that started it all. Only eases up when you reach the top slab.

  • Chalkstorm (5c), Roaches Lower Tier.
    All right, the guidebook gives it E4, but put some gear in the LH crack and head up and it feels E3-ish.

  • Kitten Claws (5c), Carreg-y-Barcud, North Pembroke.
    A long and very thin climb: take a double set of RPs as you won't get a full-size wire in for 70ft.

  • San Melas (5c), Roaches Skyline Area.
    Short, gear halfway up. How hard can a slab be? Very hard, without holds. Shorter but tougher than Chalkstorm.

  • Scarlet Runner (5c), Bus Stop Quarry, Llanberis.
    Again, this gets E4 (in the Slate guidebook - at least, the old one) so I pre-clipped the first bolt. Sustained! Others I've spoken to think the leading grade is more like E3; and I'd agree

  • Rambling Moses... (F6c/E3 6a), Dancing Ledge, Swanage.
    A very vertical slab! Downgraded to 6b+ in the latest guide - I don't agree. A tough workout with marvellous moves, and sustained. (Almost as long as the route's full name, in fact.)

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