Thursday, 9 April 2015

Exploring new grit stone crags - and the Eastwood Traverse (video)

Eastwood Traverse, Amber Valley
Technology has made it very easy to get beta for practically any boulder problem on the planet. Camera phones and the internet have taken the mystery out of rock climbing, to an extent. And, for me, that has taken some of the joy out of figuring out a boulder problem for yourself.

Of course I'm guilty of the same thing. Especially when you've travelled hours to reach a crag. You want to be able to get the most out of it. And if that means watching a stream of poor quality and terribly edited YouTube films so I can get up a series of problems faster then, sometimes, that's what I'll do.

However, when I head into the Peak without plans and end up at a crag I had never intended on visiting, I can find myself staring at an amazing looking boulder problem with no prior clue as to how it climbs. I suppose that's why first ascents are so alluring, although I've yet to do much of that myself. But I can understand the attraction of exploring new crags with lines that are not chalk saturated and obvious. Figuring a sequence of moves out for yourself adds another layer of satisfaction when the eventual send does arrive - making it all the sweeter. A watered down version of that, I suppose, is going to a crag to get on boulder problems you've never seen or heard of, even if they have been climbed before.

This occurred on the recent bank holiday weekend. Due to poor weather beforehand, I had climbed indoors two days running. Things had improved for the Saturday and I got a call from a friend wanting to climb. Driving out into the Peak, aching from both bouldering and lead climbing sessions, I had no plans, no expectations. I just wanted to get some fresh air and maybe try to climb a little.

So we sat down to a cup of tea and a peruse of the old guidebook and decided to go exploring crags we'd never encountered before. First on the list was the little visited Bradley Edge. In all honesty, we didn't realise this was even in our guides. My friend had seen a large boulder on a hillside and wanted to go check it out, so we did. Only after we arrived, seeing some chalk (not a lot) on some holds did we realise it was not virgin territory, so to speak. I also vaguely recollected one of the lines from a Twitter exchange with Peak District bouldering pioneer Jon Fullwood. And then later we found the crag in two separate guide books.

Armed with zero knowledge at the time, however, we started easy on a couple of aretes towards the bottom of the crag. Then we moved onto a slightly overhanging wall full of crimps. And finally onto a small roof climb - the best looking line at the crag. We had no idea of grade or how to climb it, so began the usual pull on and try whatever came to mind. It was good fun, but the warm made it hard to hang the lip holds and after a short while we decided to visit somewhere new. The roof climb, which latterly we discovered was called Swingers Party, was the best of the bunch here, in my opinion. A lot of the other climbs seemed quite brittle, even chossy in places.

Next we decided to try a lesser known area near the small village of Ashover, called Eastwood Rocks. As we later read in the guide book, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CLIMB HERE. Permission has not been forthcoming for over 30 years now, apparently. So it was by chance that we found it. There are no signs in the vicinity of the crag or the approach path to say access is forbidden, so how were we to know? 

We came across a fantastic buttress and it screamed out to be explored. One line in particular, the least impressive to look at, incidentally, had coatings of chalk on all the major holds, so it had clearly seen some action. That's the line that firmly grabbed my attention. I had to try it. The line of which I speak is a traverse that I later discovered was called Eastwood Traverse, a mega classic that has been dubbed "The Powerband of Grit Stone". It's much better than Powerband, in my opinion, because a) it's not limestone and b) it doesn't have a dirty, dirty mono on it. There are also more moves, a greater variety of holds and it's in a much better setting. If anything, Powerband should be dubbed "The Eastwood Traverse of Limestone". It probably would be if access to Eastwood hadn't been an issue for so long.

Well, as I talked around at the start of this blog, I began the joyous experience of working out how to climb this boulder problem. It broke down into three distinct sections, with the middle section being the crux. It wasn't only the crux to climb but also to figure out. It took over an hour for me to realise there was even a knee-bar! Idiot, I hear you cry. But how often do you find a knee-bar on a gritstone climb? I can't say I've had to break that little move out of the box frequently. There are also an assortment of other little tricks to learn: finicky heel hooks, double hand bumps, matches and swings. Like I said, it contains a huge variety for a 20ft long traverse.

After spending time working it out, I was wiped but thoroughly satisfied. The aforementioned ache had multiplied and I was now in need of a fish & chip recovery dinner. I had to return one evening after work a few days later to put all those moves together and finish Eastwood Traverse - it was one of those I just couldn't leave alone until it was done. Thankfully I pulled it out of the bag on my third go from the start on that trip. Below is a short video of that effort. (Expand it and increase the quality - blogger has the annoying habit of importing these videos incredibly small.)

So, if there's a moral to this blog (does a blog need a moral?) it is to stop watching YouTube and figure out how to climb something for yourself! But not at Eastwood Rocks because, once again, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CLIMB THERE. That, of course, is very rich coming from someone who has just added a YouTube clip to this blog. So you can ignore all of that if you wish. Do what you like. See if I care. 

Ta'Rah (as we say in Yorkshire).