John Haxon and a group of friends have completed what they've coined the 'County Classics 24-Hours Challenge' - climbing as many of the Diff to VS classic Northumberland routes in a 24-hour window. They successfully climbed 18 routes, visiting 6 of Northumberland's major crags.
John sent in a report of their big day out. Who's keen to take it on?
I came up with the idea for a 24-hour Northumberland climbing challenge during a winter indoor training session while discussing possible trip ideas and goals for the following year with my climbing buddies.
The usual suspects were mentioned: Scotland, the Peaks and North Wales. We also considered completing all the 'Classic Rock' routes in the Lake District over a weekend.
It was after this latter suggestion that the idea of climbing the Northumberland classics over a 24-hour period sparked in my mind – which everyone seemed up for.
When I started looking into it, I couldn't find a definitive list of classics, but further research revealed that there were quite a few routes that could be contenders.
I decided to only select Diff-VS routes and used a combination of first ascent dates, number of 'stars' and frequency of ascents to come up with the list of 45 routes at 18 crags. I also included routes that lie in impressive or iconic locations (e.g. The Drake Stone)
After discussing the list with the team who were to join me on the challenge (seven of us in all), we decided 20 routes would be a good target, and that we would try to visit Crag Lough, Peel, Great Wanney, Simonside, Bowden Doors and Kyloe (out of the woods), dropping in at other crags if time allowed.
In terms of 'rules' for the challenge, I decided to keep them simple. Firstly, the routes are to be climbed either by leading or seconding. Secondly, the official time starts at the moment you leave the ground on your first route, and finishes when you're standing on the top of your last route - providing it's within the 24-hour window. If you happen to be part-way up a route when your time elapses, unfortunately that route won't count towards your total.
As for the date of our challenge, we picked the first weekend after the summer solstice to maximise the available daylight.
8:55am (Saturday) - Crag Lough
On the sunny morning of Saturday 23rd June, we all met at Crag Lough. As these routes were the longest on our list, we figured that it would be the best crag to start at.
At 8:55am, I set off on Main Wall. I always forget how big Main Wall is – and the top section certainly grabs your attention. We climbed as 2's and 3's and steadily ticked off the routes. The trio I climbed with followed Main Wall with Jezebel, Tarzan, Hadrian's Buttress and the imposing Pinnacle Face.
1:00pm (Saturday) - Peel
As we had spent a large chunk of time on Crag Lough, we decided to only tick off Sunset on Peel, which took no time at all. Sunset's a great route with varied climbing and a must for anyone visiting the crag. We left Peel around 2pm and set off for Great Wanney.
3:30pm (Saturday) - Great Wanney
By 3:30pm we had walked in to Great Wanney and I was heading up Boundary Corner. Although only V.Diff, if you're not particularly flexible you may find the high right foot half way up quite tricky. By now, we were well into the groove and quickly completed Jacob's Ladder, Main Wall and Idiot's Delight.
Idiot's Delight is one of my favourite routes where the traverse out to the arete is wonderfully exposed. Once everyone had finished, we packed up and walked to the cars, arriving back at 6pm.
7:30pm (Saturday) - Simonside
By the time we arrived at Simonside the strong wind that had been a constant throughout the day had dropped almost completely. We resumed climbing at 8:25pm, but as we started to feel the effects of a long day's climbing, our pace dropped and only three routes were ticked off; Innominate Crack, Flake Corner and Great Chimney. That said, we were pleased to find the rock was in really good condition and still loved the climbing.
Before setting off back to the car park we took a few moments to enjoy the sunset.
At this stage, we had ticked 13 routes and visited 4 crags and needed a pit stop. On our way to Bowden we headed for the service station for something to eat just outside of Alnwick. We arrived at Bowden around 1am and settled down for a few hours' sleep in our cars. Four hours later, we had pulled ourselves out of 'bed' and walked to the crag – raring to go (kind of!).
5:20am (Sunday) - Bowden Doors
By 6am we had ticked off Russet Groove, Grovel Groove and Black & Tan. Grovel Groove is one of those routes very deserving of its name; although the moves are awkward, they make for exciting climbing.
With time getting on, we decided to head for Kyloe to ensure we had time to fit in a few routes at the 6th crag.
8:00am (Sunday) - Kyloe (out of the woods)
Before we knew it, it was 8am. We walked in to Kyloe, leaving us less than an hour left to complete our challenge.
We quickly racked up, picked two routes from the list and aimed to get everyone up before our 8.55am deadline.
With time against us, and now fully awake, I blasted up Flake Crack, and then belayed the group up after me, before jogging back to the bottom to ascend Christmas Tree Arete. I left the ground on my final route at 8:47am and was the last one in our party to top out.
As I stood at the top of Christmas Tree Arete, my watch clicked over to 8:52am and that was that, we had done it!
In just under 24-hours we had visited 6 crags and ticked off 18 routes, falling just short of our 20 target.
We took a few photos and congratulated each other before heading back down the descent.
I was a bit disappointed that the challenge was over and I think everyone felt the same. We immediately started talking about what we would do differently next time, and how to streamline the whole process to increase our total tally.
Despite being exhausted, we had all loved our 24-hour Northumbrian adventure and, as we walked back to the cars, it struck us that we're incredibly lucky to live in such a fantastic county.
The dramatic landscape we had experienced during the challenge is at times breathtaking, which – because we live here – we can sometimes take for granted. From watching the sun setting behind the Cheviot Hills at Simonside, to watching it rise behind Holy Island and the North East coast, it had truly been an excellent day – and one we will definitely be repeating!