Sunday, 7 September 2014

The hardest 7A+ in Britain… in my humble opinion

A rather bold statement to make, but the internet allows me to do that. I haven't climbed every 7A+ in Britain, obviously, but I have climbed a fair few and this, Ousal Low, felt the hardest of the lot to me. As a matter of fact, it felt harder than quite a few 7Bs I've done as well.

Located near Alton Towers, in Staffordshire, Churnet Valley is a beautiful little climbing and walking destination. Two paths lead away from the Ramblers Retreat cafe, the left and the right. If you take the latter of the two, you'll soon end up at Ousal Crag, which has two main lines, both traverses. 

If you're a fan of traverses, you're in for a treat, as both stand out as some of the best of their grade - again, I can only speak for myself. The high traverse is graded 6B+ and the low is apparently 7A+. There are several "up problems" as well, but they're hardly worth the visit. Other areas of Churnet Valley have much better up problems - go to Gentleman's or Wright's for examples.

Anyway, the low traverse has thwarted me on a number of trips. Around 6 months or so ago (it might have been sooner, but I'm taking a guess), I had another go and failed once again at the end… the very last hard move. The last six feet of climbing on the traverse would weigh in at 7B in my book. Maybe it's the way I climbed it, but I wasn't able to figure out any other good methods… at least, not with my big, fat hands.

The traverse, being fairly long, breaks down into three parts:
  1. Six feet of 3+  climbing, where you basically walk along a big ledge
  2. Around 10 feet of 6A/+ climbing to a semi decent rest
  3. Then another 10 feet of climbing weighing in at 7B (IMO)
The moves are brilliant, they flow really nicely on good, sculpted holds. The real difficulty of the whole traverse is that the hardest move is, practically, right at the end. There's a cluster of pebbles you need to squeeze with the left hand to move the right hand to a pocket, meanwhile maintaining body tension to keep the feet on. In itself it's a hard move. But you have to maintain core tension and keep the pump at bay following 15-20 feet of climbing to stand a chance. Sport climbers will waltz it, I'm sure. A sport climber I aint.

Anyway, there was an attempt at editing some footage of me climbing the thing, but it all went awry during the upload process. So you'll have to sit there and imagine me climbing it. Took two minutes, so you shouldn't be there long. Close your eyes. Good. See you in two minutes.


I was good, wasn't I? Thanks for watching.

If you have any other contenders for hardest of their grades in the country, please do comment below.

Finally managed to upload a short edit of the footage. See here.