Yesterday, mathematic modeller Sophie Whyte and primary school teacher Lindy Smith overcame the heat wave, Ramshaw Crack and 500 metres of feisty climbing to complete the Staffordshire Gritstone Challenge: a climbing adventure of a deeply traditional style. Their reward? A scotch egg.
The Staffordshire Gritstone Challenge, also innocuously titled “The Brown and Whillans Day Out”, is a tick list of 31 intimidating Staffordshire gritstone routes put up in the 50s by those two Brit Kings of thug, thrutch, crack and ‘udge.
First claimed by infamous crack hands and pro-climbers Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall in 2009, Sophie and Lindy are the first ladies to achieve this feat of endurance, skin thickness and trad efficiency.
It must be completed in 24 hours, each route lead, seconded or soloed clean, and entails over 500 meters of climbing - the same number of pitches as the Yosemite Nose on El Capitan, but climbed in the inclement British weather.
Most other parties who have previously completed the challenge drove between the Roaches crags, but Sophie and Lindy decided that was not quite ‘In the spirit of things’ and walked the whole route, still achieving a time of 11 hours 50 minutes.
We met them at the top of the last route. To check they weren’t in tatters, and to ask why they picked a challenge on the very, very sweaty grit...
Did you have a nice day out?
Sophie: Oh yes! Jolly good fun!
So, why this particular grit game?
L: I’m going on a climbing trip to the States, so it was a good reason to really go at crack climbing, and I saw the video of Pete and Tom having a mad time last year and I thought, “That's what I want to do!”.
S: It’s good to have a direction when you haven’t got all the time in the world to climb, it makes you decisive about which crag to go to; Ramshaw again!
You appear to have several bits of paper secreted in your sports bra?
S: Well we recced all the routes and made spreadsheets for each crag with the gear and occasional move beta.
L: None of the routes are that hard, I only climb E2, so it’s really doable; we just had to be efficient to get them all done at once.
S: We were a bit German with our preparation but it’s 500 meters of climbing, in the Alps that would be a big day out! And we did a bit of walking, the boys drove between crags but we didn't think that was the way it should be done, we got lost with the cows last week but made it through today.
What did you have to practice the most? Your rope work seemed pretty slick.
S: We had to do five or more sessions on Ramshaw Crack, and we could only have two goes each time before we went through our skin. I couldn’t find this fist jam that she was on about until my sixth go.
L: And then I found the chicken wing!
S : That we completed the challenge isn’t that big a deal, but that we persevered with Ramshaw is.
Did the practice make the day perfect?
S: Well we were very efficient at Ramshaw, except when Lindy dropped her belay down a crack, and then my arm was too fat to get it out, and we only really fell out twice.
L: When did we fall out?
S: When you told me I’d put the belay in the wrong place and when we couldn't decide where to put the bags...
L: Well that's quite good for you Sophie!
Sounds like good partner dynamics. Are you psyched to be the first girl team to complete the challenge?
S: We’ll we might not be, but if we are, it’s only because it’s quite new; Airlie Anderson would have done it otherwise. It’s just a nice focus outside, lots of ticks and I’m quite psyched about butterfly jams now.
L: It’s nice to achieve a goal. Sophie did her first headpoint, and it’s made me think about the history of the Peak District. It’s mad to think of Brown and Whillans doing it in big boots!
S: I got tons of smears.
What was the hardest bit?
S: Being in an oven
L: It wasn’t that hard
S: Getting up at 5am was hard!
Advice for anyone thinking of having a crack?
L: Definitely do it!
S: Make tape gloves
Lindy’s boyfriend rings.
Time for a celebration?
S: Has he got a paddling pool?
L: He’s got a scotch egg!
And so we leave these apparently average ladies to an evening celebration of bitter shandy and scotch eggs. A very British Day Out indeed. Well done girls.
READ: more information
If you are inspired to follow in the hand jams of Sophie and Lindy, Brown and Whillians, then get a copy of the BMC Roaches Guidebook, the only guide to the area to contain all the routes - and get cracking.
View the access information for the Roaches
Support the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Footpath appeal
WATCH BMC TV: Pete Whittaker on Headless Horseman Arête at the Roaches
WATCH BMC TV: Mina Leslie-Wujastyk on climbing as a woman