What with the new Lancashire Bouldering guidebook and the anticipation of a forthcoming BMC trad guidebook (next year we hope), 2014 was a busy year for Lancastrian climbers. For decades, Lancashire has been something of a sleeping giant. This year, the beast has stirred.
Although the golden age of new routing in Lancashire seems long gone, there are still prize lines to be plucked for those with the inclination to put in a little extra effort. Most of the moorland crags are more suited to bouldering than routes, so the majority of potential lies in the quarries. This means cleaning will likely be required and good conditions will be harder to find. In short, it's hard graft! Although I've done a few new lines, these are really boulder problems with a bit of climbing on top, and I don't include myself when I say this: much respect to the people who are still abbing, cleaning, obsessing and projecting deep in the quarried belly of Lancashire's trad kingdom.
Paul “Crusher” Robins is one of Lancashire's obsessive tradders. You can bet for every new route he does, he's abbed and cleaned ten others, always looking for the next big thing. At Anglezarke this year, he produced one of the county's hardest lines with a direct finish to Karma Mechanic, which he says is “the epitome of hard Lancs cranking”. This is Stained Steel E7 7a (video).
Two of Lancashire's trad heroes put their skills to good use in one of the area's more secretive venues. Naomi Buys climbed her first FA at the grade with The Overlooked E7 6b, which she described as having a “17-move V7 sequence” into a “final terrifying V4/5 boulder problem arete." In her opinion, this was the most demanding route she had ever led. You can read more about her ascent here. Jordan then took a turn on the sharp end to create The Onlooker E8 6c, one of only nine E8's in Lancashire (there are still no E9's!). Both of these routes are featured in this excellent short video.
As previously mentioned, Ousel's Nest has been reinvigorated in 2014 to produce a fantastic spring and summer venue (during the winter months it seeps, but once dry it stays dry all summer, even through heavy rain). Routes which have seen little attention for several decades have now had multiple ascents. Faith And Energy stands out as an under-graded E4 which is actually a classic E5 6c. On the new routes front, I've tackled a few of the obvious highball boulder problems which guarded easier upper sections, producing several lines from E4 to E6. Dave Mann was grateful for Tim Greenhalgh's generous project donation when he climbed the attractive steep S-groove of Goosefat and Budgie Smugglers E3 5c. (These lines can all be seen in this video). Jordan Buys also did his bit by climbing possibly the most visually impressive line of the crag, which overcomes the highest roof and a big runout to give Bambousel E6 6b. Finally, Paul Robins linked a highball Font 7B into tricky UK 6b moves, then a finish on slightly suspect rock. All this done solo above one pad (there's no gear!), to give Ousel's Nest its sternest route yet - Ring Ooze, E7 6c (video).
Jim “Danger” Davies and Wesley Slattery moved swiftly after news of bouldering developments and climbed three new lines on the same buttress, hardest of which was Troy Bien E4/5, “a sequence of unlikely moves up the short arête, with only one piece of piece of gear before the crux.” The landing on this one is “awful” so it sounds like a serious outing.
Following the release of the new bouldering guidebook, interest in the area's bouldering has been at an all time high, with visitors from across the country travelling to sample this newly documented gritstone realm. This round-up covers activity since the guidebook's publication, but it's worth noting that all the latest new problems are documented on this page which is sorted by crag so you can check it before visiting a venue.
There have been swift repeats of some the area's newer 7C+'s – with Jordan Buys impressively flashing No Tome for Losers and battling to the top of Another World in two sessions noting it hard for the grade (this is the 2nd repeat after Dawid Skoczylas, who declared the crux harder than on a Peak 8A+ he did two days later). Ian Vickers has also been busy, making short work of the steep and crimpy Nutcracker at Ousel's Nest, also 7C+ (@3.27 in this video). Several 7C's have been getting attention – with Hellebore (video) and The Starship Wilton (video) proving two of the most popular. Regarding the more well established problems, Longridge has of course seen its fair share of traffic, with Submarine 7C+ (video) repeated most recently by Peter Wilkinson.
Although these grades are far from the cutting edge, it's not a bad start to the bouldering season considering the awful weather in the few months since the guidebook's release. Looking further back, the five Bowland 8's have been repeated only rarely over the years. There have been no repeats of John Gaskins's two 8B's (Endless Nameless and Moment of Clarity) and very few repeats of the ultra classic 7C+ Return Of the Fly, one of the finest wall problems of this grade on gritstone. With increased interest in the region, perhaps these might get some more attention...
On the first ascents front, it seems the visitors have been content to work through the guidebook's newly documented problems for the time being, leaving the hunt for unclimbed rock to the usual suspects. Excellent new lines are still being unearthed (sometimes literally). Here are some of the best.
Greg Chapman made short work of the standout line on a newly discovered block (positioned very accessibly just beneath the main track to the Crag Boulders). This is the steep and powerful Shades of Jae, 7B+ (pic and report here).
I completed the two Weasel Quarry projects described in the guide. Madferret 7B is the star of the duo, climbing a slightly overhanging face with a powerful start on underclings into some stiff and techy sidepull moves. (video of a right hand start to this line here). The companion arete Axis of Weasel 6C is also worthwhile (video).
John Roberts made a noteworthy reascent of the classic Denham Traverse. This had been damaged by fire, but the good news is that's it's now stable and goes at 7A+/7B (video).
This suprisingly popular minor venue continues to yield new climbing. I climbed the sitstart to Pursuit Slappiness at around 7A+, and it's certainly worth a visit for locals (video). Recent council tree felling has made this crag much more open.
Ousel's Nest has emerged as a fantastic spring and summer venue for those operating in the low to mid Font 7's. Densely packed with crimpy problems on slightly overhanging rock, this received some coverage in the new guidebook, but many of the new problems were climbed after it went to print. Almost all the problems are featured in this video, with highlights being Faith And Energy 7A+ (FA Andy Griffiths), Ring Ooze 7B ( FA Paul Robins) and Nutcracker 7C+ (myself). Even more recently, Dawid Skoczylas grabbed the first ascent of the arete left of Faith And Energy, calling it Meeting Palms 7C.
At Troy, I finally got round to trying the waterside arete marked as a project in the guidebook. Climbing a water-sculpted fin, this turned into the very enjoyable Waterbaby 6C+. Troy now has a great circuit of mid grade problems, with Troy A Little Tenderness 7A, Meat in the Middle 7B and Magic Beans 7C (video) all being quality quarry challenges.
I was successful on the long-eyed higher finish to Snakey B, which is now Snakey Beeline 7B+ (video). With a super thin crux on tiny holds, this is a local classic, and has the advantage of being almost perma dry. A great option for damp winter days! Over on the other reliable bit of dry rock, I also added a sitter to The Move, which might scrape in at 7A+.
It also transpires that Jim Holmes climbed the Flywalk Slab with a direct finish back in the day. This is an excellent problem. The version described in the guidebook finishes rightwards at 7A, so Jim's purer line is no doubt harder (Video of the guidebook version @1.20 ).
Another long-neglected crag, Wilton 4 is now cleaner than ever. Overgrown top-outs have been dug back, cracks have been de-ferned and landings have been sorted. Sanction walls has been reimagined as a brilliant highballing buttress, with almost everything having now been climbed above a sea of bouldering pads in the modern style. Routes range from the popular Johnnie Walker 5 to the much tricker Hells Bells 7A (video). More cleaning is planned for Jan 10, 2015. It should be good fun, so come and join us!
Recent efforts have also yielded some normal height bouldering. As well as a few easier lines, I managed to put together a trio of toughies with The Renaissance Men 7B+, Nowt But Chips 7C and Nemesis 7C (more details here). These are all technical beasts, and for many people will provide much more of a battle than steep problems of the same grade!
EAST LANCS MOORS
With several hundred problems scattered along this brilliant crag, it has been a popular destination of late. A few new bits have been done, but I think the best of these is the line I managed during a group seige of the Trig Boulder. From sitting at a LH sloper and RH edge, this climbs the right side of the slab with a tenuous pebble pull to gain the top. Trig of the Light 7A (video). This whole boulder is fast-drying and always good option on damp days. Also new and worth doing on this boulder are the 6B sitter to the RH version of Trig Slab and the low rightwards traverse at 6B+. Both these problems start from the same sloper and edge.
Meanwhile, on the Lady's Not For Gurning boulder, John Wilson has climbed a direct finish which he named Soul Caliber, 7A (video).
Todmorden local John Wilson is lucky enough to have this crag virtually in his back garden. Consequentially, he has produced the crag's hardest problem, by tackling the obvious challenge of climbing Tantalicious without the footledge. He says this “feels like a V5 move into a V6 then a V7” and has called it The Wizard of Tod, 7B. John has also traversed into Tantalicious from the jug of Footless and Fancy Free, using the footledge. This is Boardwalk Empire, 7A.
Although a very minor location, the roadside situation of this small block has resulted in a flurry of visits. Jez Drabble has straightened out the main problem to eliminate the right arete. This gives Sladen Roof Direct 7B (video).
Last but not least, before the weather turned there were a couple of great additions to the brilliant Stony Edge. Along with Andy Emery and James Williamson, I managed to extend Argle Bargle (grade now settled at 7A) to give the very pumpy Bargle Blaster 7A+ (video). On the same day Oliver Mueller demonstrated some fine mantelling skills by flashing the first ascent of It Would Be Who Of You 7A+/B which remains unrepeated and perhaps the hardest mantel in Lancashire to date.
When the rain abates, I expect big things from Lancashire's bouldering hordes. There are projects marked in the guidebook (for the super-ambitious, this blog post is worth a look) and for visitors there are brilliant moorland crags which offer great days out, even in summer when a breeze is blowing. I hope to see more people sampling these great places. Seasoned grit boulderers should really have Lancashire on the list, and novices should consider crags such as Blackstone Edge, Stony Edge, Bull Stones and Thorn Crag as alternatives to overcrowded Peak District venues like Burbage South and Cratcliffe.
On the routes front, let's hope some of the harder additions get the attention they deserve. Wilton 4 and Ousel's Nest both have clean-up days scheduled for 2015, and these crags look set to continue their transformation into popular summer venues. And here's a challenge for hot-shots – Gaz Parry's Wilton 2 route Darwen Weasel E8 7a. Described by Gaz as being like a short sport 8b, this should be within the capabilities of today's top trad climbers. Climbed over a decade ago and with only one repeat (by its namesake Ian Vickers), it still stands out as possibly the toughest test in the quarries...
Bring on the new year!
Wilton 4 Clean-up day. Jan 10 2015
Ousel's Nest Clean-up day. July 4 2015
Rick Ginns' Blogpost about Wilton 4 Revival
BMC Article about Ousel's Nest revival here.
Check out Robin's UKC article about Lancashire Gritstone Bouldering here.