It was another busy year in the South East with new problems being established, minor venues further developed, new crags discovered and even a new Rockfax guidebook published.
The first notable ascent of the year was made in February during the depths of winter. At this time of the year very little of the sandstone is dry enough to climb on with Fandango Wall at Bowles often being the only dry rock. It was here that Steve Darling made the second ascent of Face Me 7C+. This is a desperate line that Barnaby Ventham added four years ago, also requiring cold conditions to pull between the miniscule holds. Steve felt this problem was more like 8A and probably would have been given this grade if it wasn't on the southern sandstone. Regardless it was a strong effort!
In March I added a couple of new boulder problems to Ramslye Farm Rocks, an overgrown and often overlooked crag just outside of Tunbridge Wells. One boulder immediately caught my eye due to a rather unique funnel feature at the top, which was very helpful on the rounded top out! This naturally became The Funnel 7A, while the insecure and technical arête to the right became Fear not little flock 7A (video). Neither of these have been repeated yet, although that could be due to the large amount of sitting nettles that grow around the boulder... I returned in May for another boulder that I had spotted that was thankfully much easier to reach. This was a small square-shaped bloc with highly textured slopers on it that would be more at home on the gritstone than southern sandstone. This became The Altar 7A (video) and despite its small statue it is quite an enjoyable problem. Steve Darling repeated it shortly afterwards and confirmed the grade.
Back in December 2016 some clearance work took place on the aptly named Welcome to the Jungle area at Happy Valley Rocks. This rather dramatic transformation allowed me make a couple of additions in April. Firstly I climbed the obvious rising lip feature from the right side of the boulder to finish up Welcome to the Jungle. I named this The Cross at 7A. From the same start as The Cross I climbed the overhanging wall directly which provided a slightly scary top out (which was now possible after the removal of the overgrowth) following some powerful climbing. I named this Good Friday 7A (video).
In May I developed a new venue called Sandhole Wood Quarry. This is quite a long way south west of the main sandstone crags, however it does have the advantage of being roadside. It is possible that some of these routes have been climbed before, although I can't find any record of them if that is the case. I added three independent boulder problems; The Centurion 6A+ a compression problem up to a dirty top out, Good Samaritan 6C a short but dynamic set of moves and finally Sandhole Slab 5+. As the slab was the only problem without a sit start I also added a link up into this from Good Samaritan which became SSSS (Samaritan Start Sandhole Slab) 6C+, a surprisingly tricky little link (video).
Southern Sandstone Climbs from ROCKFAX
Southern Sandstone Climbs by Daimon Beail is the first Rockfax guidebook to cover the climbing and bouldering in this area and is an exciting development for us. The book covers the climbing information in the usual Rockfax style - big full-colour photo-topos, detailed maps and full text descriptions - all lavishly supported by some great action photography.
The crags covered are Bowles Rocks, Eridge Green Rocks, Harrisons Rocks, High Rocks, High Rocks Annexe, Happy Valley Rocks, Bulls Hollow Rocks, Toad Rocks (Denny Bottom Rocks), Mount Edgcumbe Rocks, Bassett's Farm Rocks, Under Rockes and Stone Farm.
Sample chapter here.
The book is also available in full on the Rockfax App.
2017 seems to have been the year that the mantle has come back in vogue. This has also been reflected on the Southern Sandstone when in June I finally sent what has been referred to in the past as The Impossible Mantle Project at Eridge Green. This of course had to be dubbed The Improbable Mantle 7B (video). For 99% of people this could rightly be described as a small and uninspiring bulge of rock in the woods – however for a small circle of sandstone climbers who have tried, and not been able to move more than a few inches off the ground, the sending of this frustrating little problem is news worthy. Rhys Whitehouse swept in for a quick repeat shortly after.
June also saw Peter Wycislik establish what I think is the first recorded climb at Sandfield House Quarry. Sinister Arete climbs the left side of the obvious crack feature that splits the impressive and blank looking main wall. Peter graded it as 7c-7c+ and thought it was a quality addition worthy of 3 stars. As far as I am aware this has not yet had a repeat, although it certainly looks like it packs both quality and some difficult climbing.
The gravity must have been turned down in June as it also saw Rhys Whitehouse climb his project at Harrisons Rocks which he named Pollet Virtus, and at English 7a or sport 8a+ it has become the hardest climb at this well-developed crag. The route starts up South West Corner to a ledge below the eye catching roof. The route then trends outwards into a vague groove via some strenuous long reaches, small crimps, knee wrenching moves and an awesome cut loose. Rhys describes the route as being 'a truly wicked little number in an awesome position and well worth getting on for anyone looking for a hard sandstone tick!' Since his move down south Rhys has been dispatching the harder routes on the sandstone at an impressive pace and it was only a matter of time before he added a hard addition of his own. I can barely see the holds on this line let alone fathom climbing it – it is as yet unrepeated.
In September Daimon Beail's long-awaited Southern Sandstone Climbs guide came out. I have already praised the guidebook in my review here, but what is also worth noting is how many problems Daimon and Emma Harrington have added in the last few years that have gone under the radar. There are literally dozens of routes, particularly in the highly accessible 2-5 grade range, that have been opened up by these two which have not yet been acknowledged. Hopefully this will give an even greater range of routes for locals and visitors alike.
A new guide also brings the opportunity of reflecting where there are still possible gaps. In December Peter Wycislik climbed perhaps one of the most obvious of these - the bold and striking arête to the right of The Watchtower at Eridge Green. Narrenturm 7B+ (video) is certainly an eye catching line – although not one that I would want to fall off at the top. Rhys Whitehouse (who else) swooped in for the second ascent the next day and confirmed the grade.
So another big year for the Southern Sandstone. Let's hope 2018 has even more to offer!