Ten of us turned out to climb at Rylstone on what turned out to be a lovely evening. Steve Wilson and I brushed off the millipedes on Dental Slab (S**), Chimney Slabs Route Two (S*) and Castrol’s 1st Pitch (VS**). I’m unsure what the others did so please add your routes in the comment.
While discussing with Steve an appropriate climbing celebration for the CMC’s 40th anniversary, the idea came to me of doing 40 routes in a day. Needless to say, Steve was up for this, and after considering a few options, we agreed that the most obvious venue was Stanage. Needing plenty of daylight, the date was set for the 9th June, but when the venture was publicised, a degree of scepticism was expressed amongst club members, particularly in relation to my sedate climbing style, with suggestions that we’d need a good supply of headtorch batteries as it might take several days to complete the 40 routes. Despite this vote of no confidence, we developed our tactics, which included leading in blocks of four routes at a time, using a single rope and a lightweight rack, limiting ourselves to the shorter and lower grade routes, and regular but short breaks for food and drink. I also took some time out to recce the descent routes in advance, so as to ensure a speedy return to the base of the crag.
For a recent retiree, a 5.00 a.m. alarm call isn’t a very pleasant thought, but that’s the time that I got up on the big day. Arriving at Steve’s at the appointed hour of 6.00 a.m. we motored on to Stanage and parked up at the Popular End at 7.15, along with three other vehicles. There were a few figures on top of the crag, but no one else was actually climbing, and we soon discovered why when we entered the kingdom of the moorland midge, i.e. the crag base. Somewhat non-plussed at this unhappy prospect, we took defensive measures that included tucking trouser legs into socks, applying Shirley’s out of date midge repellant (looks a bit like Brylcreme but seems effective), and in my case, wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a midge net over it. Steve just pulled up the hood on his jacket, which tended to flop down over his eyes and rather limited his vision, so as I was merely suffering from midge net blurring, it was decided that I lead off at an uncommonly early 7.45 a.m.
Just for the record, the first four routes; Square Buttress Corner (D), Fire Curtain (VD), The Be All
And End All (VD), and The End of All Things (S), were dispatched in a mere 45 minutes. Steve’s turn took us into starred territory with Mantelpiece Buttress (D), but with an evil glint in his eye, he mentioned the “C” word when announcing that Black Chimney (D) would be our 7th route. Thinking quickly, I mentioned that he couldn’t miss out the delectable Monkey Crack (VD), but despite then doing the slippery Small Crack (VD), he wouldn’t be dissuaded from thrusting himself into the innards of Black Chimney (D). I don’t know if was an excess of bratwurst on his recent German holiday, or merely a lack of the lubricating effect of the rain that was falling when we did this route two years ago, but this time Steve got stuck. With the clock ticking away, he thrashed and squirmed until he finally managed to extricate himself, but unfortunately this was in a downwards direction and so he arrived back at base. Things were looking grim, well to be honest, it was me who was looking grim at what was clearly turning into a fool’s errand, but with a slightly more lateral approach he launched off upwards again. With thrusters on full, and leaving me to deal with the ghastly emissions of his excess wind, Steve forged a somewhat noisy path up to the top of the chimney. Not really wishing to follow in his wake, I climbed the chimney on the outside and soon enough we were back at base and it was only 9.30.
My second shift started with another star on Grotto Slab (D), but despite having descended this in the past, I made rather a meal of the upper section. Anatomy (VD) and Physiology (VD *) followed, but with the routes getting longer and a more tricky descent, time was drifting by. The last route of this block, Sociology (S) had a stuck Torque Nut in it, which would have come out with a little effort, but we didn’t have time for extracting crag swag, so I repositioned it, then clipped it and climbed on. By now the sun had come out, which had a subduing effect on the midge, so I abandoned my “demented bee keeper in plus fours” look as we exchanged gear for round four.
Steve was very keen to get on Black Hawk Hell Crack (S 4a ***) but a lycra clad teenager was struggling to make progress on the route (well, what can you expect when you’re dressed like an Eighties throw-back) so to avoid loss of momentum, I deflected him onto Black Hawk Traverse Right (D **), otherwise known as Blizzard Chimney – yes, another chimney. Fortunately this went without incident and soon we were round again to do battle with the Hell Crack, from which the troublesome teenager had been removed. A swift and sure ascent followed as Steve moved into top gear – clearly the previous wind expulsion had done the trick and it was smiles all round on the only three star route of the day. Good though these last two routes were, we needed to keep an eye on the clock and so moved on to slightly shorter fare with Albert’s Amble (HVD) and Straight Chimney (VD). With the day heating up and some longer ascents completed, we had been unable to keep up with our earlier speedy progress, so it was 12.30 as we took our next break. Still, 16 routes in 4 ¾ hours isn’t bad going.
My third shift in the lead started with an ascent of the jaunty little Bee (D *), followed by Balcony Corner (VD) and The Flue (VD). There’s a saying that VS is only VD without the ledges, which I could well believe as I struggled to overcome The Flue’s bulging steepness and suffered my only upping and downing experience of the day. Steve was suitably impressed with the difficulties and although I tried to inject some more pace on the arête of Awl (HVD *), thoughts of time waits for no man were not far away as we completed our twentieth route. It was around this point that we started to flag; it was hot in the sun, the crag was very busy so we couldn’t always get on our route of choice and we were feeling a few aches and pains. Steve had stubbed his toe, which was no fun in his technical Anasazi velcros and later in the day saw him descending with one shoe off. My left knee was aching, which made walking on uneven ground rather troublesome, and we were only half way through the challenge.
Just to add to the physical burden, Steve’s next three routes were all chimneys. Irrespective of grade, chimneys invariably extract a physical price, and the first two, Right Twin Chimney (VD **) and Left Twin Chimney (D **) were the longest routes of the day. On Left Twin especially, I was finding it difficult to summon the energy to make the moves, which didn’t bode well for getting to 40 routes. It didn’t help that it was now really hot, especially at the base of the crag, and the only respite was at the crag top where you caught the easterly breeze – advantage to the leader there. Still, we plodded on to Fairy Chimney (D), which boasts a protruding rib that can be passed on its right or left, and having previously tackled the right-hand variant and found it to be about VS, I strongly urged Steve to keep left, which he did, and I was relieved to find it much easier. Fairy Castle Crack (D) completed that set of four, but we’d stopped looking at the clock as it was getting to be rather depressing. It was around this time that I noticed that Steve’s neck had turned bright pink. Upon enquiring it turned out that Steve’s advance planning hadn’t allowed for all eventualities; midges I already knew about, but it appeared that the sun was another. An application of my much favoured Lundy sun cream seemed stem the spread of the pink glow and so we carried on.
Looking for short, easier routes led me into the dreaded chimney territory with Narrowing Chimney (D) and Little Tower Chimney (HD), both of which required taking a big lungfull of air then holding your breath while racing through the final moves to avoid sucking in the cloud of midges that were massing in the dark recesses just below the crag top. Not much fun, but at least the breeze on top was keeping them pinned below. Deciding that I’d had enough of dark and narrow places, I switched to more open climbing on Beads (S) and Trinket (S), both of which offered good open climbing.
Steve’s fourth shift started with Turf Crack (VD *) and it’s fair to say that he was making much heavier weather of the crux moves than he had when we did this route in 2015. The fact that we were now on route number 29, which was beyond the most that either of us had previously climbed in a day, plus the heat and the attentions of the midges, were all conspiring to make the final run in anything but easy. Eventually Turf Crack was despatched so we moved on to Verandah Crack Left (VD) and Verandah Crack Right (D), which, with his passion for anything involving cracks, I would have expected Steve to despatch with ease, but they again proved to be a struggle, with Steve looking like a tired man, which of course I’d become about ten routes earlier. Corner Crack (D) made for an easier finale to that set, but I was a bit disappointed that Steve had chosen that one as I’d quite fancied an easy lead on it myself.
In fact, Steve did me a favour, because the next obvious route was Recess Rib (VD) which provided more open climbing between horizontal breaks, which is very much my style. Reenergised, I proceeded onto Top Block Rock (S) which provides similar but slightly more difficult climbing, and yes, the top block certainly does rock. My last leading of the day came with The Nays (D) and, almost appropriately, Jon’s Route (S 4a), both of which were very enjoyable, but the midge net had to be kept close to hand as the beasts were livening up again, much to Steve’s dismay as he belayed at the bottom.
With the end in sight and the sun dropping in the sky, Steve started his final set with Ramsgate, which at S 4b offered the highest technical grade of the day, but felt much easier than some of the other offerings that we’d sampled, which just goes to prove that grades don’t tell you all you need to know about the difficulty of a climb. The nautical ports theme was maintained with Newhaven (HD), where Steve had a bit of both bother getting a wire in and exclaimed “ah, you might have some trouble with that – it’s dropped down a bit”. Arriving at the wire, I just looked at it and it dropped out – I think it must have been caught on a piece of grass and little else. Steve’s second and top wire was also loose and wobbly so I started to feel concerned that delirium was setting in. In fact, the penultimate route convinced me that it was me who was having a bad dream when we arrived at the foot of Palermo (VD). I’m sure there’s nothing to rival this ugly vertical off-width fissure in Sicily’s capital, so can’t imagine where it got its name from, nor could I understand Steve’s inclination to get on it at this stage of proceedings, but get on it he did, then got stuck in it, then writhed around a bit, then udged and struggled with sweat pouring down his face. This finally confirmed that Steve had lost control of his mental faculties and were it not for the fact that he was reasonably welI buried in the cleft, I would have been expecting his imminent arrival back at the base of the crag at any moment. However, with a herculean effort he hauled himself up the fissure, making the most inelegant, full body contact top-out seen that day, if not possibly ever. At least he was up, but due to this area having a slightly lower elevation than the moor behind, there was no breeze, so he was consigned to belaying in a cloud of midges. Having watched Steve’s performance with grave concern, I’d figured out a less strenuous approach to the problem and was able to quickly release him from his infernal belay stance. However, the next and final route; Pal Joey (VD) landed him in exactly the same spot, but at least this time the climbing was a delight on a lay-away flake crack.
At 9.00 p.m. with the job done, we took our gear up to the top of the crag for a final sort out, where it turned out that another anomaly in Steve’s preparations was bringing only 1 ½ litres of fluid, compared to my 2 ½. No wonder he was looking frazzled towards the end. Still, he’d shown character in the face of adversity and never complained. We chose to walk out along the cliff top to get the benefit of the breeze and called in at a Coop for additional water supplies to help with rehydration. Possibly a bit late for Steve as he had to stop the car twice to get out and walk off some bad leg cramps. On the face of it, the 40 @ 40 had all the makings of a brilliant day with dry and sunny weather on the country’s finest gritstone crag, but factor in an easterly air flow providing no relief from the very high temperatures and creating a haven for the midge when the sun wasn’t out, meant that 13 ¼ hours of climbing felt like quite a chore, so we’ll mark it up as a memorable day, but not a great one. And as for 50 @ 50 in ten years time, well I think we’ll pass the baton to some younger and fitter climbers for that one!
Eight of us enjoyed a hot and sunny evening on superb limestone ticking off most of the ‘lower grades!!’. These included Living the Dream(F5*); Dr Frank’s Nightmare(F6) aptly named; Subterranean Homesick Blues(F6+**); Wheels on Fire(F6a+***), while a number struggled up the vegetated trad crack of Central Gully(S**). If anyone can put a name to the two sports routes to the right of the gully that Dave and Brian led I’d like to know as my guide has no names or description as far as I can tell.
Ten of us spent a fabulous week at Mol Mor bunkhouse, a building owned by the National Trust for Scotland that the club haven’t previously visited. It is part of a converted farm steading located in a superbly peaceful spot at the head of the Loch Torridon and has doorstep parking, ample storage for bikes and a delightful picnic bench for evening refreshment after long hill days. Varying winds kept the midges at bay and apart from one day of drizzle, the weather was dry, sunny and warm – just perfect for a fun-filled week of biking, hill walking and climbing.
During our week, the Munro baggers ticked an impressive 10 new hills (Chris, JohnB, Steve, Michael, Dick and Shirley), the Corbett baggers ticked an equally impressive 9 new hills (Flo, Martin, Sylvia, Wardy, JohnB, Dick, Shirley and Steve), and our only Graham ticker ticked 6 new hills(JohnB in case you hadn’t already guessed)!
In no particular order, ascents included Slioch from Incheril, Moruisg and Sgurr nan Ceannaichean from Glen Carron, Beinn Tarsuinn and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair biking from Incheril, Maoile Lunndaidh, biking from Craig, Maol Chean-Dearg from Annat, Fionn Bheinn, Sgorr Ruadh from both the Ling hut and Achnashellach, Mullach an Rathan, Sail Mhor and A’Choinneach Mor from Coire Dubh, Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe from Cromasaig, Beinn na-h Eaglaise and Ben Damph from the Torridon Hotel, Ruadh stac Beag , Fuar Tholl from Strathcarron, Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine and Sgurr Dubh from the Ling (2 cars), An Ruadh-Stac from Annat, , Beinn an Eoin, biking from Am Feur-loch and an amazing close up siting of a sea eagle soaring near the ridge in the mist, and Baosbheinn.
Michael and Dick spent an excellent day climbing on Laithach, firstly tackling the 250m Diff North ridge to Meall Dearg, then on to the Northern Pinnacles finishing on Mullach an Rathan summit.
Steve did a couple of impressive road biking trips…. to Diabaig and back from the bunkhouse and the Applecross Peninsula loop from Shieldaig which passes over Bealach na Ba, the UK’s highest tarmac road. On route, he stopped for a siting of John and I who were having an adventure on the Cioch Nose …a route that’s been on my tick list for so many years and was well worth the wait…. more about that to follow!!
Arranging a mid-week communal meal proved tricky with everyone arriving home at different times (and differing states) but on the final evening, it all came together with a mixture of leftover ingredients and the 6 of us remaining had a delicious mushroom risotto followed by bread and butter pudding prepared by Steve and Flo.
Thanks to everyone who joined in to make this another very enjoyable hut meet. We were especially fortunate to have such fabulous weather and I’m sure that it’s a bunkhouse we’ll return to in the future. ShirleyE
…. and now sit comfortably for John’s amusing account of our day on The Cioch Nose
The Cioch Nose on Sgurr a’ Chaorachain, above Applecross, was first climbed by Tom Patey and Chris Bonnington in 1960. Viewed from the road approaching the Bealach na Ba, it presents a striking prospect and it’s rumoured that Patey “imported” Bonnington for the hard climbing that was likely to be encountered, but found it much easier than expected and declared it “the Diff of all Diffs”. For a long time it has lurked in my peripheral vision as one of those must do routes, but without ever forming a plan to get on it. Well, the CMC Torridon meet gave me the chance to put that to rights, so on the Friday of the meet, I teamed up with Shirley and we set out in search of it.
Unusually for a mountain route, you can park at the top and descend a steep track that winds its way down and round to the base of the crag (not unlike the upper approach to Baildon, although some may say that the view is slightly better). Shirley’s unerring sense of direction proved invaluable in keeping me on my navigational toes, but despite taking a faultless line, we were being overhauled by two young lads who’d set off after us. Shirley was convinced that they were lost and merely following us, but wanting to check out the competition at close quarters, I suggested a tea break, something that’s becoming an increasing feature of my climbing now that I’m in my 7th decade. In fact they knew exactly where they were going and we felt it prudent to give way to the exuberance of youth by letting them go first.
By the time we’d finished our tea break, the leader was halfway up pitch one, so we congratulated ourselves on judging them to be the speedier team. On approaching the gearing up spot the second advised me that there was plenty of room for me and my wife (!). Just as I was putting him to rights, Shirley appeared and clarified matters by stating that if we were together we would undoubtedly kill each other. Not realising that I’d teamed up with a partner of such murderous intent, I resolved to be on my best behaviour for the rest of the route.
The first pitch starts up a wide crack where the guidebook advises that a Hex 10 or 11 would be useful. Having just had a garage clear-out, said heavy metal items are no longer in my armoury, so I launched up the leering fissure with a sense of apprehension. Smaller gear is available to those with an inclination to look for it, and at the top of the crack you’re rewarded with a threadable wire placement. However, in my enthusiasm to take advantage of this kind offering, a Rock 9 went spiralling down the crag in the general direction of my belayer. Mindful of her earlier comments I feared that if it hit her then ghastly reprisals would ensue, but thankfully the offending item landed by her feet, thus saving my bacon and the cost of a replacement piece of kit – a Yorkshireman’s life and wallet being inextricably linked of course. The route continues via a series of tricky corners, the final one of which involved a rather tenuous layback that caused me to cast doubt on Patey’s judgement of grading, if not his parentage, but then I suppose he was rather good. Shirley confirmed my assessment of the pitch’s difficulty and handed back the Rock 9 with neither comment nor a stab to the heart with the dirk that may well have been concealed about her person.
Pitch two climbs a short V-chimney with an undercut base, and after a further short tea break, we felt sufficiently fortified to inspect it. Shirley declared that it looked much nicer than pitch one, but I feared that she had donned her rose tinted glasses and was underestimating the challenge that lay ahead. Clearly the boys, who were by now completing pitch three, had gone this way, at least judging by the copious amount of chalk that had been used. This proved to be something of a clue as to the difficulty of the pitch, especially as my light is right strategy had seen my chalkbag stowed firmly at home. Nonetheless, fearing an appearance of the dirk, I kept quiet about my reservations and set about the pitch. After several attempts I returned to ground level having been impeded by the undercut base and the fact that all the holds pointed downwards (Diff indeed, if Patey was still around I’d be tempted to take a dirk to him myself). Abandoning my rucksack I tried again but still couldn’t make it past the undercut base which was making the footholds virtually unusable with my excessively long legs, and the downward pointing holds were no more accommodating. Retreating to base I resorted to grovelling tactics by asking to borrow Shirley’s chalkbag, which she kindly supplied. However, I couldn’t get my hands in it as it was tied up with an elaborate system of knots – being a rather fetching shade of pink maybe Shirley sees it as a fashion accessory rather than a functional item? Eventually I gained access to the chalk, and suitably armed, I managed to levitate my way around the undercut base and so to the top of the V-chimney. What the club’s resident chimney specialist would have made of this performance I’m not sure, but it had taken so long that the sun was now off the east facing crag and we were consigned to the shade for the rest of the ascent. I now set up an intermediate belay and hauled up my sack, but being fearful of the dirk, a sense of self preservation obliged me to act in a gentlemanly manner and do the same with Shirley’s. Once upon the pitch, the tint rapidly drained from Shirley’s glasses as she complained of a lack of holds, but despite the loss of her much valued fashion accessory, a determined effort saw her through to the mid-pitch belay. An easier ramp then took us to another capacious belay ledge, where we made the most of things by taking a further tea break.
Pitch three is reported as the crux, which was a little alarming given the effort that had gone into pitch two. There was neither sight nor sound from the team in front, which left us feeling rather alone, and at this point Shirley chose to announce that she hadn’t brought a headtorch. Maybe this was a ploy to speed me up, but with time ticking and a long way to go, it did seem like a rather optimistic omission. The pitch starts with a rising traverse beyond the belay ledge, where the exposure increases dramatically and the best climbing on the route is found as you weave an intricate line to the next capacious belay ledge. The open style of climbing was much more to my liking and it was big grins all round when Shirley joined me at the ledge. Needless to say we celebrated completion of the crux with yet another tea break while soaking up the view, which just gets better and better as you progress up the climb.
Pitch four is something of an anti-climax giving easier climbing up left trending grooves to the summit of A’ Cioch. Just beyond here you have the option to descend South Gully, but we chose the continuation ridge which gives very enjoyable scrambling over a series of summits with sharp gaps in-between that eventually takes you to the crest of the corrie and for us, evening sunshine. A team hug ensued, which gave me confidence that I would survive a little longer. Overall, the route gives a really enjoyable outing in a magnificent setting, and although it now gets a grade of Severe, it’s certainly no pushover and you also get a Classic Rock tick for your efforts.
Ten of us turned up for a bright, if a little breezy evening at Ash Tree Crag last night. Its been five years since my last visit and had forgotten how good some of the classics such as West Wall Direct (S**) and Guantanamo Bay (VS**) were. Others did Wobbling Wall (HVD**) and a range of VDs and Ss until the sun had sunk below the horizon. The New Inn was also better than I recall and now serves some excellently Settle Ales.