/ BMC Peak Area Meeting - Aldery Cliff discussions

TobyA 09:57 Thu

I thought it was a interesting, well-attended and productive Peak area meeting last night. There was discussion about  Aldery Cliff as it is firmly within the Peak area and the BMC owns the cliff.

Because of the work/vandalism (delete as personally preferable) done there a couple of years ago has meant a loss of natural anchors above some of the routes and, without the tree cover, the "easy scrambles" from the top of the routes up to the big trees at the top of the quarry are now very vegetated, often nettles, and also loose in parts; it was felt that a decision needs to be made as to whether to just leave the cliff as it is or do something - probably safely bolt a number of abseil points so climbers don't have to scramble off through the nettles and looseness above the good rock.

Two people from Buxton MC were there and reported on some of their clearing efforts to try and keep the cliff a nice place to climb - many thanks to them.

There was a discussion about the practicality of bolting abseil points versus some kind of extended anchors from the big trees up top and vote was taken over whether the room supported or not the use of bolts for abseil points (only!). There were a fair few more votes for than against, but also a lot of people abstained. I voted for, but I was struck that the two chaps from Buxton MC voted against - and as they've been there working to keep the crag usable I'd be really interested to hear why they personally don't think abseil points are the right solution.

As the BMC is the landowner I think the final decision will rest with the organisation centrally, but I suppose its fair to say the Peak Area meeting was, with many caveats, in favour of maintaining Aldery as a relatively user-friendly lower to mid grade trad venue by use of bolted abseil points where necessary. 

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In reply to TobyA:

Thanks Toby, that is an interesting summation, sorry I couldn't make the meeting.

I too would be in favour of abseil/belay bolts in a few of locations but I agree that it is probably up to the BMC. I would say though that the crag is a bad accident waiting to happen in its current state.

Having just been working on the new edition of Peak Limestone Rockfax I have got some idea of where I think the bolts should be placed.

Somewhere above The Arete/Mitre Crack - current belay is on a nearly rotten root and escape upwards a nightmare. The problem might be that there isn't a substantial enough bit of rock above the routes to place the bolts here.

Solid rock above Nettlerash - Current belay is the poisoned twin tree stumps so that won't last.

Ledge above Surface Plate - most popular section and the rock above is poor although the line that can be picked out on the right side of the arete above Clothesline is not too bad, and ends at a live tree, so maybe not needed.

The Fly and The Spider - These really need something since they have to cross one of the worst bits of rock although this would most likely be a lower-off rather than a belay which is slightly out of character for this crag.

Top of Terrace Corner - This would serve a bunch of routes.

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Dave Garnett 10:18 Thu
In reply to TobyA:

Damn!  I meant to come to the meeting and completely forgot.

Thanks for summary.  I agree with you.  I've reluctantly concluded that a few bolted belay/abseil points are the best option (where the routes now naturally finish below the top) with perhaps a couple of tree-friendly abseil points at the top, but I'd also like to hear why Buxton MC don't agree.

If this is how we proceed, I'd also like the cable across the top removed too.  If not, I'd at least like it attached in a more sustainable way. 

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Kim 10:36 Thu
In reply to Dave Garnett:

The guys from Buxton MC did make it clear that the club as a whole was split 50/50 on the issue, it just happened that the two reps at the meeting last night were from the half against bolting.

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johncook 10:45 Thu
In reply to TobyA:

I voted against because of the vagueness of what was proposed. If the proposal had been abseil points, I would have been in favour. What I would not like to see are lower-offs above some of the routes, which would encourage top-roping. The rock is quite soft and would polish very quickly. For example, at the top of the Surface Plate slab there are plenty of natural anchors. The escape is somewhat iffy, but doable. If bolt anchors/ab points were placed at the ledge I could envision these becoming a magnet for top-roping, possibly by groups. If an ab point could be bolted which made it impossible to top rope routes from them I could accept that. At the top of Mitre Slab, the only solid placement would be the top of the slab itself, removing the top few moves of the routes, especially Chance in a Marrillion. The same goes for the Ash Tree Wall/Broken Toe area.

I think that until a detailed and positive plan has been drawn up on placement of ab points and votes taken on these detailed plans, the place should be left as is. 

Fpr topping out, I have found my old steel nut tool is excellent for clearing a way and securing a hand hold. But each to his own. I have had harder scrambles, to get to the base of some sport routes in the Peak, than these top-outs.

The path down is not the desperate epic people make it out to be. Admitted it takes some care, but it is quite reasonable. The fence and the rope now have alleviated much of the problem. The steel cable across the top is probably unnecessary for experienced climbers, and maybe alternatives should be considered.

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Offwidth 10:47 Thu
In reply to TobyA:

To be fair to them, they declared their position and said the club was split 50/50.

I abstained as I think a solution would be good but it needs to be sympathetic: I don't want convenience anchors below the middle ledges that risk acting as a magnet  for TR groups (this could be an awful precedent as a BMC owned crag). I would like to see something on some of the ledges that avoids having to climb the tottering choss above some routes and the loose muddy tops with nettle rash on many.

It's a trad crag that was always a bit adventurous, even on some of the classics, and very much so on the minor lines (I've climbed nearly evereything there as crag co-author in the recent BMC guide and dogged the ones I failed on) and I've climbed there in every month of the year... summer nettles were always an issue on some routes top and/or bottom. I've done a lot of work keeping the place clean and removing smaller choss on quiet days. It was in good condition just before the unapproved major work was done.

I thought Rob was overstating the split of concerns on the walk off. My view was we had several issues: damage to the side fence and wall above are a potential access problem (the new rope helps); getting up to the walk-off was dangerous in places given the state of the top of some of the less climbed routes (and even some classics like those on Mitre Crack area); in wet conditions a few people have slipped in smooth climbing shoes on the exposed slope traverse section above the cave and one day someone might not be able to stop themselves; and now we have this new exposed step as part of the path, near the tree stump. As descents go its far from the worse but it needs some care.

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TobyA 10:59 Thu
In reply to Kim:

Thanks Kim, yes - I should have remember that. Yep, they were very open that that was their personal view, and the club was split on the best way to proceed.

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TobyA 11:06 Thu
In reply to johncook:

Agree with much of that - I was the one who said last night that I don't remember the path down being particularly difficult.

I was there with Dave Garnett last summer and we did some moving around at the top so we could ab down the E3 Dave wanted to lead. Can't remember now, but possibly we walked around to get up there? Anyway I'm quite a cautious person, recently thought that 'path' above Wen Zawn to get to the DOWH abseil point was terrifying!, and don't remember any problems at the top of Aldery.

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Coel Hellier 11:41 Thu
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

What are the possibilities for some stakes, rather than bolts?

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Dave Garnett 12:16 Thu
In reply to TobyA:

> Agree with much of that - I was the one who said last night that I don't remember the path down being particularly difficult.

Yes, we walked round the top to get to the tree to abseil down the Hard Labour/Pig in the Middle slab and it was very straightforward - if you are used to adventurous crags there's nothing at Aldery that presents much of a problem.  Some the scrambles to the starts of routes in the Lakes or off the top of many of the routes in North Devon are harder than most of the routes at Aldery!

However, the actual climbing at Aldery is mostly pretty friendly and it's just about the most accessible crag in Britain, so it's perhaps a bit out of character to have dodgy top-outs (especially since they have been made much worse deliberately) .  Also, given it's quite popular, I think there is a conservation argument in favour of convenient descents that minimise the amount of trampling and disturbance. 

That said, I'm also concerned that it shouldn't have lower-offs that encourage group toproping.

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johncook 12:19 Thu
In reply to Coel Hellier:

There is not enough depth of soil for stakes and stakes would still leave the problem of the steep/loose/nettle top out to get to them. 

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JHiley 12:20 Thu
In reply to TobyA:

I forgot about the meeting but I'd support some bolted belay/ab points. I used to really like this crag for its low grade, pleasant limestone which is quite rare. I wouldn't want that spoiled for the sake of an ethical stand which I don't think is necessary in this case.

However, like johncook, I wouldn't want bolts which could be used as lower offs/ easy top(bottom)-rope anchors. I think this would make the crag an easy target for the minibus brigade. I'm not sure this could even be avoided since 'groups gonna top rope" regardless of how suitable the anchor is but perhaps putting the anchor a bit further back (if possible) could help.

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EarlyBird 19:45 Thu
In reply to TobyA:

I'm one of the two Buxton MC members who spoke last night. I voted to leave the crag as is - partly because currently it is possible to do the routes and get off without having fixed ab points/lower offs; and partly because it seems to me fixed ab points/lower offs was what the individual who created this situation in the first place wanted.

I would accept that not wanting "tree-killer" to get his way isn't the best basis for making a final decision. I would also accept that the current lower off/ab options from above Mitre Cracks and Nettlerash will only deteriorate with time and other options will need to be considered - and even now you need to make your own judgement before using them. The top out to Carmen etc. is a concern as the area does seem very loose and the tower that defines the top left edge of the slab seems a bit suspect.

The club will revisit the crag and do some more scything. We'll also have a look at some of the more sketchy top outs i.e. above Mitre Cracks. Also, I'm glad Dave Garnett mentioned the cable on the descent path as I forgot to mention it at last night's meeting - it's garrotting one of the trees at the moment and needs sorting out.  

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Luke90 20:29 Thu
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

> Somewhere above The Arete/Mitre Crack - current belay is on a nearly rotten root and escape upwards a nightmare. The problem might be that there isn't a substantial enough bit of rock above the routes to place the bolts here.

I definitely agree that this area could use some kind of solution. I abbed off the root a couple of weeks ago but that already felt a bit sketchy and continuing onwards also looked distinctly dodgy. Even building a belay wasn't particularly easy. Also agree, however, that finding a solid, accessible and useful spot for bolts might be tricky.

I believe that another party at the crag that day might have chopped the tat off the root because they thought that trusting it was going to get somebody hurt.

> Solid rock above Nettlerash - Current belay is the poisoned twin tree stumps so that won't last.

I used the twin stump and its roots when I was there but it looked like there were more good tree options only a little further back? My memory isn't great so perhaps I'm misremembering but I'm less sure a belay is needed here. Any bolts would have to be below or quite close to the top so might lend themselves rather well to the top-roping hordes that people fear.

> Ledge above Surface Plate - most popular section and the rock above is poor although the line that can be picked out on the right side of the arete above Clothesline is not too bad, and ends at a live tree, so maybe not needed.

I agree with the "maybe not needed". I did a couple of the relevant routes and although having to continue to the top (and good tree belays) via vastly lower quality climbing was irritating, I don't think it was particularly difficult or dangerous if you pick a sensible line. The removal of the option to belay on the ledge has certainly degraded the experience but I'm not sure it needs an abseil point any more than lots of other trad crags that happen to have mediocre finishes.

Can't comment on the last two you suggested because I haven't climbed in the relevant areas. I only visited for the first time a couple of weeks ago so I wonder whether my views would be different if I'd experienced the crag before it was decimated. If you've previously had the option to abseil off solid trees in convenient places, it must be more tempting to restore that status quo.

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Darron 00:03 Sat
In reply to TobyA:

The top out traverse left and descent at Earl Sterndale (we always called it this) has always been a bit tricky. My opinion is that a solution should not be rushed into, let things settle a little, then a considered and measured approach taken. Lower off’s , in my view should not be countenanced as this would endanger the historical character of the crag. If it’s too ‘adventurous’ for me, or others, then so be it.

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TobyA 08:45 Sat
In reply to Darron:

I suppose the counter point to your argument is the BMC spent "our" money buying the crag to ensure climbers could climb there. If people stop climbing there not because the rock climbing is bad or dangerous, but because the nettle choked loose slopes above are dangerous, it would be a great shame and a waste of BMC money.

> If it’s too ‘adventurous’ for me, or others, then so be it.

Fair enough, I just reckon on a minor crag like this the adventure should be on the routes, not the getting too or off them.

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toad 08:45 Sat
In reply to TobyA:

I dont expect this to happen for a second, but...

Shut the gate for a significant period, say 20yrs and restrict access. Allows the site to stabilise and revegetate; It would allow a new generation to rediscover the crag in future. It also might make people think twice about doing work without consultation.

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TobyA 08:47 Sat
In reply to Darron:

> My opinion is that a solution should not be rushed into, let things settle a little, then a considered and measured approach taken. Lower off’s , in my view should not be countenanced

BTW, isn't this a bit self contradictory - you've already decided what the solution should NOT be. Presumably if things are allowed to "settle" for another two years, your opinion isn't going to change on that?

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Offwidth 09:10 Sat
In reply to toad:

It's purchased to retain access for climbing.  It mostly won't stabilise... volunteer TLC is what kept away the annual new loose rock at the top.

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gravy 10:30 Sat
In reply to Luke90:

Please don't bolt and please don't install bolted lower offs.  Drop an anchor point from the trees above for use in problem areas if need be.

The visual impact won't be significant because the nettles will hide all.

While bolting or putting in lower offs here would add ease of use, this act would be highly symbolic and stand as a marker for any would be bolter / vandal in the future.  There are other, more irritating solutions but the symbolism is worth the extra effort.  I would also suggest tactical tree planting as an investment for a longer term solution.

It would also be nice to make the VF cable at the top a bit more tree-friendly especially where the cable is wrapped around the trees with no padding.

The climb out of the arete isn't pleasant but isn't hard and a fixed rope would make it easy.  The problem is without the trees the nettles have become rampant and that makes it quite a lot more dangerous.

Post edited at 10:37
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Howard J 10:39 Sat
In reply to TobyA:

I agree that on a crag like this the adventure should be on the routes, not the descent.  It's probably the case that the risks of the descent have been increased by the unfortunate intervention.  The traverse across the top of the crag in rock shoes is usually slippery in both damp and dry conditions, on a steepish slope that ends in a drop.  That hasn't changed, but with the removal of many of the trees you have even less chance of stopping if you were to slip.  At one point the path is now very narrow, as a result of rockfall caused by the work, and is possibly unstable.  I think the cable is appropriate, although it needs to be better fixed.  The alternatives are to abseil, assuming there are suitable anchors, or even consider staying on belay until past the most dangerous section of the traverse.

I agree that lower-offs have to be thought about very carefully.  However the character of the crag has been changed drastically by human intervention. In this exceptional case I don't think the usual ethical presumptions should necessarily rule (although they need to be considered) but there are certainly practical concerns about top-roping.

Climbing can't be made totally safe, nor should it.  But in this case a venue of some local importance, and one owned by the BMC, has been buggered up by ill-judged human interference, and if it is to remain climbable then steps have to be taken which probably wouldn't be countenanced in other circumstances.

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Michael Hood 07:51 Sun
In reply to all:

I seem to remember that you could descend off to the right (looking in) as well. This was many years ago, but I don't recall it being particularly bad.

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TobyA 20:37 Sun
In reply to TobyA:

So Dave G and I went to  Aldery Cliff today in part because I wanted to remind myself what's what in the light of last week's debate.

There are some photos here of some of the things under discussion.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/tuS5cS4q8QzKCVBz9

A few thoughts:

  • I climbed Clothesline and carried on up the upper arete to the top. There is a rope sling with an insitu krab on it round a stout tree. You finish Surface Plate there as well. The upper climbing seems solid and not that grubby even after all the rain. I don't think that section of cliff needs any bolted abseil point as you can belay safely and abseil or walk off as we did.
  • Walking off is fine. There is "the bad step" but it's not hard and you could clip in to the "via Ferrara" cable if you want. The path down was muddier than I remember and super slippy today, but it's only a muddy path - if you fell I don't think there is any danger besides getting your bum muddy. I've ridden my mountain bike down similar paths and i'm no gnarly-extreme-dude on a bike. If the BMC organised a work party to put some wooden steps in for 20 mtrs or so, you probably wouldn't even need the rope hand rail (which is super useful currently!).
  • The wire strop is looped round one of the trees at the top and is now cutting in to it, it needs rearranging or it will kill the tree.
  • The farmer has put some stuff up to form a fence where the wall has collapsed. It was suggested at the meeting the damage might have been climbers who were trying to avoid the bad step. I'm not sure if that's the case or whether it could have just been the sheep that knocked the wall down. It didn't seem necessary for us to cross the wall at any point.
  • Dave climbed Carmen and agreed with what was said at the meeting that the top seemed very loose. He thinks this might be because of erosion since the 'work' was done. Lower on the route had the top of the good rock seems like a place where a bolted lower off might be sensible. it started hammering down with rain at this point so I never got chance to climb it.
  • I chopped a bit of a path with a machete up to the base of Carmen. We were going to do the arete to the right but it was very hard to get to the base at the root without getting very stung.
  • There is one lower off above common with an epoxided-closed carabiner on it. It's made out of thick rope which looks very old. I have some suitable rope to replace it with but of course forgot to bring it today. If some community-minded person remembers and takes 3 or so metres of 11 mm to replace it, that would be great.
  • There are lots of lovely flowers there at the moment amongst all the nettles. Dave told me what they were called but I of course have forgotten!
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flowerpot 21:32 Sun
In reply to gravy:

Stop using trees for climbing access! It does not properly address the bolt lower off issue and is not the easy solution to the problem.

Perhaps as a tree surgeon I am more sensitive and aware of the damage that is done. Look at any trees that have been used in this way even if using slings etc around trunks and I will  show you a tree that has been sent into early decline and death. The constant stepping around of root areas causing compaction and root damage and ultimate premature death. Many trees used in this way have grown in unique situations against all adversity and it can be quite heartbreaking to see this happen.

 Whether on the top of Tremadoc where some ancient oaks are showing advanced signs of die back  to many crags in Lakes or more locally and specific birch tree used to ab off Dexterity at Millstone though i could give many more examples.

I personally have had to remove a large 150+year old oak from the top of Mather Crack that was completely dead as a direct result of us climbers.

 I'm not saying I have the  solution to this problem, maybe stakes could work in more situations but whatever the consensus using trees is only a delaying  tactic too often at the  cost of their timely destruction.

I for one like to think I participate in a low impact pastime, but the wanton destruction of many unique and pretty much irreplaceable trees as a temporary non sustainable solution for climbers to descend or belay from is not what I personally want to be identified with. 

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Dave Garnett 09:08 Mon
In reply to TobyA:

> There are lots of lovely flowers there at the moment amongst all the nettles. Dave told me what they were called but I of course have forgotten!

Night-scented stock, I think.  An escaped garden plant but very good for bees and butterflies.

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Dave Garnett 09:13 Mon
In reply to flowerpot:

> I for one like to think I participate in a low impact pastime, but the wanton destruction of many unique and pretty much irreplaceable trees as a temporary non sustainable solution for climbers to descend or belay from is not what I personally want to be identified with. 

I have to say I'm persuaded by your view.  Certainly, if the choice is a thoughtfully-placed, discrete new bolt anchor or a prematurely dead tree that's an easy choice for me.

Ironic really, given the widespread felling and poisoning of trees that is the source* of the problem!

* I very nearly said root cause...

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Offwidth 09:35 Mon
In reply to TobyA:

The really dangerous bit on the path across the top is near the end of the traverse where the  path crosses a convex slope with a big drop below. This can be very slippery when wet for those  in climbing shoes. The old problem with the final descent was people using the old fence.

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Dave Garnett 10:36 Mon
In reply to TobyA:

> There is one lower off above common with an epoxided-closed carabiner on it. It's made out of thick rope which looks very old. I have some suitable rope to replace it with but of course forgot to bring it today. If some community-minded person remembers and takes 3 or so metres of 11 mm to replace it, that would be great.

Actually, I'm not sure even this is in a very helpful position.  In order to ab down Carmen I had quite an awkward diagonal start to avoid the muddy and rather ominous gap that has opened up and then moved the rope to run over the top of the increasingly detached pillar.  I've had worse abseils but it's out of character at what used to be a very user-friendly non-serious crag.  As a belay, it definitely isn't in the right place for the popular Carmen/ Carmen Jones / Carmen Miranda routes.  I really do think there needs to be a bolt belay and abseil point below the top here, near the tree stump.

The other thing that struck me yesterday is just how quickly the whole place is being overgrown due to the the increased light and soil disturbance.  It's always been a bit nettly, and it has been very wet recently but it's really becoming a jungle.  I'm not averse to a bit of bhundu bashing but we couldn't get to the bottom of Ash Tree Arete without protective equipment!  

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mrphilipoldham 10:48 Mon
In reply to flowerpot:

I wondered why it had been removed - though I always remember it looking healthy in leaf, certainly enough so to be surprised when it had gone. I'm surprised that it was used enough to cause damage, the routes around it don't see that much attention, certainly in comparison to the one atop The Flake/Original Route area. Interesting reading though, thank you.

Post edited at 10:51
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kipper12 12:58 Mon
In reply to TobyA:

An interesting discussion.

This raises in my mind the issue of liability, which has not come up.  I appreciate climbing is dangerous etc, but:

As far as I can tell (not climbed there for over 10 yrs) but there are issues getting back down safely from some routes and putting in fixed ab points may help. 

Clearly the owners (BMC) know there is an issue, hence the discussions.

Should someone take a tumble and the owners, knowing that there was a problem and have discussed possible remedies, fail to act, is there liability if we do nothing?

I'm thinking of the strange judgments made in recent years where apparently negligent behaviour is set aside.

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TobyA 13:20 Mon
In reply to Dave Garnett:

> Actually, I'm not sure even this is in a very helpful position.  In order to ab down Carmen I had quite an awkward diagonal start to avoid the muddy and rather ominous gap that has opened up and then moved the rope to run over the top of the increasingly detached pillar. 

Yes - I think I stand accused of failing to do some "joined up thinking". I noted in my long post that what you said about the top of Carmen lined up exactly with what the Buxton MC guys said, and that a lower off at the top of the good rock could be sensible, then didn't really think that abbing down the whole route from the top probably isn't that wise!

Could that old abseil point be for routes to the right? Nettlerash maybe? Or is that much further to the right?

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TobyA 13:26 Mon
In reply to kipper12:

Dave was talking about exactly that was as we were sliding down the muddy path at the side of the crag yesterday! Because the crag was bought by the BMC to allow climbing to take place there, it might put them in a legally different position to a landowner who sticks a fence round a crag with no entry signs on it, then turns a blind eye to anyone will to climb over the fence.

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Howard J 13:46 Mon
In reply to TobyA:

I'm sure the BMC has taken legal advice and its legal position will be part of its deliberations.   With the caveat that I'm not a lawyer, recent cases on occupier's liability have confirmed that a landowner is generally not liable for obvious hazards.  The hazards here are obvious enough, and the only people at risk are climbers who have deliberately put themselves in that position - it is unlikely that any casual passers-by will find themselves accidentally facing the 'bad step' at the top of the crag. 

However this is a crag which is owned by the national mountaineering body for the purpose of rock climbing.  It was traditionally a low-grade and fairly user-friendly location.  The reason the hazards have increased is not due to natural causes but deliberate human intervention (although one not approved by the landowner).  Regardless of strict legal liability, there is a clear need for the place to be made reasonably safe and stable so that climbing can continue into the future.  The challenge will be to do this in a safe and sustainable way, and in my opinion these considerations should take priority over our self-imposed "rules" about bolts and lower-offs.  I don't want to see either proliferate, but if they are the most appropriate solutions then so be it.

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