The recent heavy snowfall brought the country's transport network to its knees, cut off countryside villages and rural houses for days and stranded livestock without food or shelter. But for the climbing community it has proved a boon of late – since the white stuff stopped descending from the skies and temperatures didn't stray too far from zero.
The thick carpet of snow that was left (10+ feet deep in places) turned formerly hazardous landings into soft (if mighty cold) safety mats. Maybe a slight exaggeration, but it seems to have done the trick, because there's been a flurry of action on the Gritstone. Many have been running out with shovels to build landings and snowballing has once again become the word of the month – following the drifts of 2010. Here's this week's UKC Photo of the Week - the classic Stanage arete of Archangel / Don - brilliant!
Chief among the snowballing crowd appears to be Ben Bransby, who could be seen wielding his snow shovel at Burbage North on many a cold evening recently. His ascent of Superstition (E8 7a?) at Burbage North (video below and original UKC News here) – likely the line's second ascent since it was first climbed in 1999 by Miles Gibson – was the first of three in only a handful of days. Both Michele Caminati and Ned Feehally quickly followed suit. Bransby also climbed the rarely repeated and hard to protect Living in Oxford (E7 6c) also at Burbage North. (Keep your eyes peeled for an exclusive UKC interview with Ned Feehally, coming soon.)
David Mason has also been out and about making incredibly short work of some tough and intimidating lines. Most notably, his solo flash of Simba's Pride (E8) at Burbage South Edge (video below) is likely the first time it has been climbed first go, ground up. Of which, he said:
"The snow really didn't make much difference to that one; if you came off the top move you would hurt yourself very badly! It is definitely the scariest thing I have ever done."
Ethan Walker and Pete Whittaker were also in attendance and soloed their way to the top of the fearsome arête themselves. The previous day, both Caminati and Jake Haddock did the same, having practiced the moves on top rope beforehand.
Mason's snowballing tick list also included The Promise (E8 7a) at Burbage North, but not before he put his newly built landing to the test, having "spooged off" from the top of the 8m arête. He said:
"My skin got damp whilst constructing which meant I went through the layers very quickly. Luckily, once I got the body positions sorted, I managed to get it done before splitting. Had one fall from the very top; after matching the sloping break I spooged off. Next go it went to plan though. Really happy as I have wanted to do it since seeing James Pearson on it in Committed!"
Mason and Walker also climbed Return of the Jedi (XS 7a) at Matlock Quarries, where he said there was no snow, but plenty of pads provided a good enough landing (video below). Finally, Mason, alongside Ed Hamer, Pete and Katy Whittaker, also soloed Black Car Burning (E7 6c) at Stanage.
During his latest visit to the UK, which ends this week, (hoping to have a full interview on his trip in the next Peak Area Report), Italian climber Caminati assembled a very impressive tick list. His personal highlight from the trip was Superbloc (8A+ or E8 7a in old money) at Gardoms Edge, which he tried several times over recent years. Interestingly, of a similar bouldering grade, he also completed Super Size Me (8A+) at Curbar, reckoning it wasn't as hard as Superbloc.
Among his other snowball ascents were Samson (E7 7a or 8A) and Messiah (E7 6c), both at Burbage South Edge, as well as the aforementioned Black Car Burning, Superstition and Simba's Pride.
A more comprehensive list from his whole trip will accompany the interview. But just as a snippet: of the trip, he said:
"For most of the time I've been trying Voyager sit start, which was my main goal for this season. I got really close but bad weather and winds always blowing from east made my dream vanish. I think I'll have to come back for that..."
Shock horror! There are still people climbing hard with ropes out there too, and one of those is Oli Grounsell.
After his headpoint ascent of The Zone (E9 6c) at Curbar Edge four weeks ago (see UKC News), he recently climbed Cool Moon (E7 6c) for his first flash of the grade, saying:
"it was a nice contrast to the practiced nature of The Zone. I just fancied it on the day, so it was a nice surprise. I've flashed quite a few E6's but this was my first E7. My climbing seems I have come on quite fast recently, so there isn't quite the mass of E6 flashes you'd expect before E7."
The video of Oli's ascent, as well as Nathan Lee's recent headpoint solo, are both below.
Oli got into the spirit of snowballing, however, and ditched the rope to take advantage of the vast snow dump. His "cheeky snolos" (thanks for that one Oli) include Three Blind Mice (E7 6c) at Burbage North, Black Car Burning, Shine On (E7 6c) and Cemetery Waits (E7 6c) at Stanage, as well as numerous others in the E3 to E6 range. Check his blog for the full list.
"It's been a nice way to end the grit season as it's added a load of fun days out on top of a season I was already content with." he said.
Back on the ropes and there have even been some first ascents in between the snowball repeats of former trad routes. Tom Randall has been out establishing new routes, in between the crack training, of course, ahead of an Italy trad trip. One he'd had his eye on – while waiting for a weather window – was the front face of Crocodile Buttress at Gardoms Edge. Finally, the snow stopped long enough for Tom and Pete Whittaker, respectively, to get out and climb the thing, naming it Nah'han (E8 6c) (video below and original UKC News report here).
He wrote in his blog: "The recent spell on continued cold weather in Sheffield has given me one of the best periods of climbing I could possibly hope for before going away on a trip. The whole of March has been awesome! Fresh winds, good temps and plenty of time to explore the crags that lay a little off the beaten track."
Also on the first ascent front is Nik Jennings, who has established Responsible Parenting (E7 6c) at Summit Quarry in Lancashire (video below). The route is around three metres right of Jaggernath (E4 6b) (which he on-sighted a week previously) and follows an obvious line of bolt holes. He spotted it at the end of last year and suspected he'd need to train mono's to gain the necessary strength. The training paid off as he onsighted it four months later, saying "it's the first time I've ever tried to specifically train for something which is only a guesstimate of what I need to train – and it worked out pretty well". He then onsighted Pylon Route / Jacks Thunder (E6 6c) for good measure. He added: "Massive thanks to Rachel Somerville and Andy Tappa for willingly trudging up there in freezing conditions and cheering me on."
I'm sure there's loads that I've missed but hopefully that gives you a flavour of what can happen when the weather takes a turn for the better.
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