Following on from Nick Dixon's recent ascent of Cassini (reported last month) Nesscliffe has very much been in vogue amongst both locals and visitors alike. For those that haven't been, this sandstone quarry sits amongst unlikely surroundings within the heart of rural Shropshire and could be considered to be a little like Millstone, only sandier, and with lines that make Master's Edge look positively unimpressive. With 104 E-points racked up last weekend, we thought we'd take another look at the crag, its developers, and the individuals involved.
Until relatively recently in its climbing history Nesscliffe was the preserve of locals, most notably the crag's custodian Nick Dixon and the custodian in waiting, Ed Booth. The crag was propelled into a fame when Mark Glaister's image of Alison Martindale climbing Yukan II was featured on the front cover of On The Edge, which undoubtedly raised a few eyes at the time - not least because a great many people hadn't heard of the crag, Alison, or realised that it was even in the UK (appearing far more Blue Mountains, Australia than Shropshire). Since then popularity has grown, as has the awareness and appreciation of the quality of the routes. Due to its sandy style, head pointing is often the favoured means of ascent as routes often benefit from gentle brushing before they can be climbed. This isn't to say on-sighting doesn't occur, it does, but only by the likes of Dave Birkett, James Pearson, Jordan Buys, and James McHaffie (just to name a few).
When asked about Nesscliffe's 'coming of age', Ed Booth had this to say:
"I have been climbing at Nesscliffe for 16 years. When I started, the routes were basically all Nick Dixon's along with a collection of Martin Crocker routes added in the late nineties. I would probably go a whole year and only see a maximum of 10 other faces at the crag. Many of Nick's lines had not been repeated and and as such they were very much unknown quantities. I enjoyed working through many of these, and in more recent years, have enjoyed seeing people drawn in from further afield to climb here. I think this is mainly down to Nick's guidebook, the Ali Martindale photo and also Birkett in onsight.
It was great to see loads of mates doing all of these climbs which all hold a special place in my memory, but not only that - all of them agreeing on the quality. It was a really important place for me at an early stage in my climbing, but seeing friends of similar abilities coming here now and doing the routes so quickly looked so much fun, and whilst I no longer have the option to try these routes onsight or ground up, being part of their experiences was just as good and is now firmly etched into my memories at the crag. It also inspires me to hope that I can try the same at other venues."
Despite the hair lines, Nick Dixon (left) and Ed Booth (right) are not related in any way other than their love for Shropshire sandstone
The most impressive came from Angus Kille and Emma Twyford's ascents of Cassini , which represented the third and fourth ascents. The second ascent came in shortly after the first, courtesy of Ed Booth. We asked Emma a little more about her experiences on the route, and about the crag as a whole:
"I first visited Nesscliffe two years ago and immediately felt a heart warming affinity with the crag. Staying relatively sheltered from the elements it makes an excellent autumnal/winter venue, with the added beauty of the changing colours in the foliage. It reminds me somewhat of the gritstone, but with holds you can actually pull on, so you don't need to have unpleasantly frozen extremities to climb hard. The rock has a sandy nature so you've got to watch what you're standing on, though! Aside from the beautiful colours and technical climbing many of the routes have some quirky kit with pegs, threads, and the occasional ice screw in the route it has this odd 'je ne sais quoi' that adds up to a weird appeal.
On Sunday we rocked up to a social hub of what can only be described as some of the strongest UK trad climbing names, with an average trad climbing grade of about E6/7 and an incredibly relaxed atmosphere. What started off with some wonderful social catch ups whilst being top rope tough guys then turned into an onslaught of casual lead ascents of E7s and upwards.
This weekend at nesscliff Gravity was being kind to us! Great to see so many ascents of E6 and above! @tom__livingstone smashed my piano (E7/8 6b/c), ground upped 10 o'clock (E7 6c) and flonsighted yukan 2E6/7 6b). @rob_greenwood smashed 10 o'clock and gathering sun (E7) and climbed my piano and yukan 2 on Saturday. @ramon.marin did my piano on Saturday, a fine effort after a nasty fall the weekend before. @caffinspain was checking out a gnarly new route......watch this space!!! ______________________________ On Friday myself and @angus.kille had a look at Nick Dixons striking new route Cassini (E8 6c) but the conditions were a bit iffy. On Saturday we both top roped it clean twice. @angus.kille set up for the lead and walked up it though admitting he got a bit more pumped than expected placing the gear. For me I felt more on the tougher end of the 7c - 8a grade scale for this route depending on height. I found belaying Angus made me more nervous about the start than I had been previously. Belaying him up to the break at 10 metres I kept on thinking please don't fall, which made me think too much. I got myself 'in the zone' I brushed the first two starting holds, my ritual that is been doing before leaving the ground on top rope! I hit the hard moves on the bold bit after so many tic tacking moves between pockets, I placed the sawn off peg at 8 metres and hammered it with the palm of my hand. Great, I could pretend it was a bomber piece of kit. I moved up and the peg fell out (not ideal!), I tried not to panic as I entered the tricky moves before the break and good gear. My only thought was that I had to smash on and hit the break, no half arsed commitment! I hit the break and could breathe again at 10 metres as I got the gear in, it was safe from here but it wasn't over. With the crux right at the top I was nervous, I didn't want to climb the start again! As I hit the two shallow monos at the top I built my feet eyed up the hold that I had to pop up to and went, I hit it and let out a whoop of relief that I didn't have to climb the start again! Nice one Nick for putting up another great line! What a legend! 📸 @ray_wood @angus.kille @caffinspain
Originally I was going to try the route Une Jeune Fille Quatre Vingt Dix Ans but the rope wasn't set up for it, so I started trying Cassini (E8 6c) with Angus. I immediately fell in love with the moves and I was hooked. We had the "essential" sawn off peg from Ed Booth who made the second ascent. As we top roped the route to warm up, the serious nature of it kicked in, with a slopey downhill landing and a 10 metre solo with tricky moves to the first gear, we wanted to be damn sure we weren't going to fall off. Angus set off first on lead for the third ascent, he'd cruised it on top rope but as he placed the sawn off peg I started to feel nervous belaying/spotting him. As he placed the gear above the peg fell out, but at least he was safe now. I think Angus was happy to get another local(ish) ascent in before the outsiders climb it.
I was more nervous after belaying, as it had given me a little too much time to think about the fall. As I set off it felt like everyone stopped to watch. I climbed at my pace up to the sawn off peg placement (not too difficult, but not easy either), placed it, and tapped it hard with the palm of my hand thinking it might hold a fall if you were incredibly lucky. I started to move up into the tricky section just before the break and good gear at 10 metres and as I moved I saw the peg fall out. Even if it is just psychological kit this was not what I wanted to happen and I'm pretty sure it had everyone else on the ground crossing their fingers. I had a nano second to think (oh shit!), then I recomposed in to 'the zone'. I had to be confident of going up as it was now definitely a solo with no psychological buffer. I hit the break knowing I didn't want to climb the start again which made me climb a bit tensed up. I relaxed at the breaks before committing to the hard moves. As I set up I didn't want to fluff it, I eyed up the hold that would decide my fate and committed. I hit the hold and immediately whooped. Now I could relax and enjoy the emotions that were coursing through me and savour the success.
As I finished up the route I saw that Nick Dixon had turned up and seen the last crux moves I'd performed on the ascent in the same method as him. I think he was pleased that as a fellow shorty I'd had to make the same hard moves as him to reach the holds, for me it felt even more special to have the first ascensionist and an absolute legend at the crag watching. It wasn't just that though, the camaraderie and fun vibe made it extra special with everyone on a high after each sucessful ascent. That team spirit makes climbing unique and special, that moment when you're thankful that everyone came away unscathed and ready for the next adventure, it's days like this that make climbing special."
Tom Livingstone also had a good day at the crag, making a swift head point ascent of My Piano, a ground-up ascent of 10 O'Clock Saturday Morning , and an onsight of Yukan II. Commenting on the atmosphere of the day, Tom said "When there's a big team of people there's so much energy, enthusiasm and beta, so I thought I might as well make the most of it and go big!"
UKC regular Ramon Marin also deserves a special mention for the culmination in his 3 year project, My Piano. Originally climbed by Nick Dixon at the grade of E8, it has gained a reputation as being one of the best hard/bold routes at the crag, taking a soaring line up a majestic arete. The route was made all the more famous when Dave Birkett managed to onsight it for filming of - you guessed it - Onsight, all on his 40th birthday too. Ramon, who is better known for his dry-tooling than his rock climbing, has eschewed the tools in recent years, instead focussing his efforts on climbing some of the finest rock routes throughout the UK. About the route, he said:
"It's fair to say that I felt under the spell of Nesscliffe on my very first visit. We decided to go there on a whim, only to discover an enchanted, magical place with intriguing mythical routes. The line that immediately caught my attention was My Piano, a soaring arete carved out of the orange sandstone of the Main Wall. The only problem was that the route was supposedly E8, a long way above my pay grade, so for the next three years I became a regular at the crag, trying to hone my skills. I worked through the routes at my level and eventually found myself dropping a top rope on the route that initially inspired me. The other slight detail about the route is that it couldn't have been more my anti-style: vertical, insecure, balancey climbing on sloping holds with some big run-outs, even potential for decking out. In fact, it couldn't have been a worse candidate for my hardest trad route yet! This culminated last weekend, with quite a gathering, where the group psyche was so high that I think the gravity level must have dropped considerably for me to finally get up the route without falling (I took a fall from high up earlier on, resulting in a broken helmet and bruised body). I couldn't have timed it better to climb My Piano on that particular weekend. As for the grade, My Piano might be E6 or E8 - depends how you look at it, but I certainly didn't climb it for the number, it was an experience I won't forget any time soon."The Nuance on Sunday as well as Marlene Direct, another of the crag's 3 star E7s.
If you do visit Nesscliffe, it is worth re-iterating that the rock is soft - as such be careful whilst climbing, use as little chalk as possible, and gently brush it off when you leave.