2019 has been another great year in the South East for climbing with new developments, new walls and unfortunately some access issues. For the first time since I have started writing this annual round-up in 2013 I have not contributed anything to the climbing in the South East (due to a nasty tendon injury in my hip which wrote most of the year off). However, as I write this article I am both inspired by what has been achieved this year and excited about the southern climbing scene in 2020.
Probably the most significant news in terms of new problems was the addition of a low start to 'Brutus' on the Parisian Affair roof at Eridge Green Rocks. For those of you not familiar with this boulder 'Brutus' is a 7C+ problem that was put up last year by Peter Wycislik, which he made even harder by adding a left-hand exit at 8A. However, it was clear that the boulder could be started from a lower point which would considerably increase the difficulty.
In June Ben Read did just that adding Brutus - Low Start (8A+) which features a couple of very powerful moves into the stand start. Not content Ben then linked from the low start into the left-hand exit to make 'Brutus Maximus Low Start' (8A+/B) in July. This is currently the hardest (or possibly joint hardest with 'Font Blues' graded 8A+ but it could be harder) boulder problem in the South East and it has been great to see Ben add a number of problems in the 8's in the last couple of years. As with all new boulder problems, it will require a few ascents to settle the grade consensus and hopefully, 2020 will bring a repeat.
Staying at Eridge, Rhys Whitehouse has been busy adding a few additions in the 7's in June. First up was the airy highball of Rope Burn (7B+) at the far left-hand end of the crag up a delicate slab. On the Velcro boulder, Rhys added Live Simply (7A) a traverse from right to left and Day Release (7B) a thuggy number up the middle of the wall. Finally, in July Ben Read also added a more amenable 7A at the far end of Eridge. 'Elifun' (7A) starts on the impressive (and unclimbed) face of the Elephant's Head before breaking out left onto easier ground.
Meanwhile, at Harrison's Rocks, a crag that I always think has little left to offer the new router, has proven once again to offer some new climbing to those willing to look (and more often than not clean!). In January a keen as ever Peter Wycislik added a low start to 'Soft Rock' from the obvious undercuts bumping it up to a much more challenging 7B. In September was perhaps the most productive single day of the year on the southern sandstone with Emma Harrington and Daimon Beail adding eight routes from 2+ through to 6a on the Sandown Crags section. Finally after repeating the rarely dry 'Lager Frenzy' Ben Read and Barnaby Ventham cleaned up and squeezed in a new route to the left called Fosters Face (7b) in August.
Finally, there has been some development of a small crag behind Bowles Rocks featuring a nicely overhanging nose feature. In August Hamish Maslen added 'Piece of Phlegm' (7A+/B), which climbs left of the nose, and the next month 'Colonels Delight' (7A+), which goes right to finish on the nose. Unfortunately, it now appears that this outcrop is on private land and that the owner does not want climbers on his property. I am reporting these ascents not only to record the climbing but also to let anyone who is planning on climbing here in the future know that there is no access arrangement, and considering the next section of the article, climbing should be avoided.
It is unfortunate that one of the newsworthy headings for this year's article is access arrangements. The first crag that this affects is Eridge Green Rocks, a crag that has seen a considerable amount of development in recent years (as you can see above). It was decided in September, following a meeting with the Reserves Manager of Sussex Wildlife Trust and the BMC that climbers will be asked to not climb on Yew Crack Buttress due to increased erosion on this part of the outcrop. This includes the 2-star route 'Thutch' (6c), the very popular boulder problem 'Turning The Leaf' (7A+) and the hard test piece 'Jack Strong' (7B+. While the loss of this part of the crag is of course sad news, it is worth putting this into context. The rock on this buttress is very soft, softer than most of the rock at the rest of the crag. I remember climbing 'Turning the Leaf' in 2010 and finding a lot of the holds already wearing poorly and the erosion that has happened is not just due to the popularity of these routes (although that no doubt had an impact). Moving forward from this it is important that this restriction is not only adhered to (not only to protect this buttress, but climber access to other routes at Eridge), but those of us who are climbing on the sandstone should reflect on how delicate the rock is in the South East and follow the Sandstone code of practice.
The second crag that has been affected is Bowles Rocksand I am ashamed to say that this sounds like it is more to do with (a minority of) climber's behaviour. In October the Bowles Rocks Trust (the charity that own the land and support children and young people through outdoor education) announced that they are having some problems with a small minority of climbers. This is focused on climbers urinating in bushes (rather than the toilets provided) and not controlling dogs, which is undermining their primary role of providing a safe environment for young people to experience outdoor education. If the issues continue they will be forced into taking further action, which could (at its most extreme) include the banning of climbing when they have groups in (which is most of the time). This would be a huge loss for climbing in the South East and it goes without saying that climbers should not only follow these rules but encourage others to as well. Hopefully, 2020 will see an improvement in behaviour.
Finally, the South East has seen a relative explosion of new walls in 2019 with three modern centres opening their doors this year. The first of these to open was The Climbing Experience in Maidstone featuring 25,000 square feet of bouldering. Hot on the heels was the second Chimera bouldering wall (the original wall being based in Tunbridge Wells) opening in Canterbury in November. As a native of south-east Kent I have felt for a number of years that this part of the country has been crying out for a wall and it is good to see that this need has finally been met. The last to open was Volume 1, based in East Grinstead, in the final few days of December. This wall is the brainchild of southern sandstone legends Belinda Fuller and Ben Read (yes the same Ben Read who also put up the South East's hardest boulder problem this year, a man with many talents and seemingly very little need for sleep!). It also features one of the widest, steepest and highest walls I have climbed on indoors in quite a while (you have been warned) as well as more moderately angled terrain.
All three walls seem to point to a thriving community and the growth of climbing in the South East that shows no signs of slowing down as we approach the first Olympics that feature climbing. Hopefully, 2020 will prove to be an even better year than 2019 with more development and with all being well better protection of the rock and access that we have.