And how it’s going to change my life.
Like most people, given any choice, I’ll take the easy one. Show me a bed and I’ll lie in it.
That’s why I go to Stanage, Burbage, Gogarth, the Llanberis Pass, and when I’m feeling adventurous, maybe Yorkshire grit; like most people. Adventure is fine, but these days, with the six kids, the rock band, my small business, my TV cookery programme and my work for the European parliament, I’ve really not got the time to travel any more to seek out these adventures.
Which is why I was most surprised to find, while working on the new reprint of On Peak Rock, that all this adventure is actually on my doorstep! Imagine my surprise to find out that I could get myself highly excited and embrace the spirit of adventure within twenty miles of my front door - metaphorically speaking, (and to the wag who stole my front door – that’s not funny); that there’s no need to jump in the car and travel hundreds of miles to Scotland, the South-West or Pembroke just to experience all that’s obscure about climbing. No. With On Peak Rock in my hands, and my petrol tank almost empty (or a little bit full, depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist), I can go and have a weird time in my very own Peak District. So, for 2002, I have made myself a little ticklist of On Peak Rock must-do adventure routes
I hope they don’t go smoothly.
Chee Tor Girdle - VS 4b, 4b, 5a, 4c
An old photo of Joe Brown, degged out in army surplus and sporting his trademark woollen balaclava is burned in my memory. He is sailing across a long horizontal break, steep and undercut. It is winter. Bare trees fade off into the background, and Joe is linked to the photographer by a dark rope festooned of a few sling runners in the break. The Master at work. This photo has inspired me to go and climb many ‘easier’ routes in bad weather, for the challenge and uncertainty they give, but I have never got round to doing this one in particular. Hopefully, some wet day, preferably in a snowstorm, carrying a small sack containing a flask, and of course, wearing a woolly balaclava, I will find myself fighting with Chee Tor Girdle.
High Tor Gully - VD
The first limestone route in the Peak, and the subject of fierce competition between Sheffield’s first cragrat, JW Puttrell, and Dr Baker. “Dr EA Baker was twice repulsed from the bottom and once when trying to descend. When Puttrell’s ‘fine lead and the merits of the climb’ were praised, Baker attacked, condemning it as a ‘huge garbage pit’. Ice axes and crampons may be found useful if the mixed rock and soil pitch is in bad condition.” Despite this, I still want to climb it, inspired as much by the described horror as by an account by one friend and successful ascensionist, who relayed tales of beautiful hanging gardens, tropical flowers in full glory and fabulous birds nesting in cracks and ledges, and an aroma wafting down the gully of love’s first bloom.
Easter Island - E1 5b
Once when down in Dovedale, heading up to do some routes on the Watchblock, we happened upon a crowd gathered by the lazy summer river. Crowds were watching a climber battling with the overhanging wall of a shattered white spire, obviously on big holds, but with big pump. Climber goes for it, higher above runners, when with a scream, climber plummets off. During the fifteen foot fall, crowd go death silent. A fabulous spectacle. Climber roars with spent emotion, and signals the all clear: the crowd, mainly grannies and small children, erupt in pleasure. After a rest, this PT Barnum of the vertical regroups and fights on, this time successfully to the summit, and cheers. The atmosphere is electric. We carry on, and I quietly, and with a sense of anticlimax, climb an E5. Damn that showman. Some sunny summer Sunday I’m going to take that fall off Ilam Rock.
Sirplum - E1 5b
Surviving the winter. Someone at work got me into night climbing, a fine antidote to the athletic sterility of the climbing wall. This led to a development, wet snowy night climbing, whereupon we found ourselves halfway up Kilnsey with one underlengthed 9mm rope and eight quickdraws contemplating Main Overhang by the intermittent light of a faulty headtorch. I shit a brick and the endless hood of dark wet rock disappeared off into the wintry distance. We there and then scrapped wet snowy night climbing. He had lured me there with tales of his night ascent of Sirplum, one of the most spectacular routes in the Peak, making it sound so exciting that I made a mental note to fix my headtorch.
Cave Crack - HVS 5a
One of the most historically important routes in the Peak, a last great problem. Ivar Berg bivvied in a cave below the route in 1916. There is a photo of them asleep, still dressed in boots and blazers, heads propped on boulders, surrounded by ropes and pans, careful as a still life. In the morning Berg rose, stretched, and climbed the route solo. He then takes off his blazer and solos a new E1. In the summertime I am going to meet Andy up there, who will have come over from Liverpool. High over the moors we will sleep on the same boulders, get up in the morning and solo a HVS and E1, and then get a brew on.
Independence Day - E5 6a
Check this out: “for the really serious, Independence Day, E5 6a, (C) (for clean) 36m, provides something exceptional. It really is a hole in the ground, (Eldon Hole). Abseil part way down this bottomless pit to a three bolt belay. It is a fine example of a sporting sport climb (someone has pinched the bolts) so be warned.” Who in their right mind could resist such weirdness?
The Vice - HVS 5b
I like round figures. 0 is my favourite and most round of round figure, but 30 isn’t bad either. Which is exactly how many HVS’s there are in On Peak Rock for Stanage. I’ve never been in to ‘ticking’ days; I like the idea of them, but they always seem like hard work. But here’s a good ticking day that seems like you could still get a lie in on Saturday, and be in the pub at six o’clock. Doing all the Stanage HVS’s in OPR would take in lots of what are arguably the finest routes on grit. There’s Right Unconquerable, of course, almost boringly brilliant, but what about these? Queersville, which I am always relieved to see never gets three stars. It’s too good for that. The Wobbler, E4 territory with VS holds. Fina, even thinking of its technicality now makes me smile. Tower Face, with its snappy flake making it, for me, the most dangerous route on grit. Working from right to left, obviously, the last route to do is The Vice. What a stroke of luck. By the end of the day, I should be warmed up enough to give it a good go, and as I down my pint with hands an inch thick in blood and scabs, I will know that I won’t forget that day’s ticking.
The Thorn - HVS 4b,5a
The bad thing about On Peak Rock, is that it shows how many crags I have never ever visited. And I’m not talking about silly stupid crags like Horseshow Quarry, or the truly esoteric venues of Pike Pool Pinnacle (page 227) or Shy Anne Pinnacle, Bareholm Crag (page 271, and a stunning insight into the level of research that has gone into this book). No. Every time I pull it open it always falls on a page with some awesome crag like Wimberry, Castle Naze or Beeston Tor. Beeston Tor is a crag I have always wanted to go to some fine sunny winter’s day, although the draw of bouldering on grit always seems too strong on days like these. But 2002 will be the year. And the Thorn is the route I most want to do there, having seen photos years ago as a beginner, and marvelling that something as steep as that might one day be within my grasp. And it still might.
Reticent Mass Murderer - E5 6b
One step on from ticking every route of a grade at a crag is to tick the entire crag. And here’s where select guides come in to their own. Whatever crag you might go to, however small or slabby, it is a cert that someone will have sometime have added a crap but desperate route, some E3 6c or something, protected by a peg that is now missing. You can bet on that. On Peak Rock, on the other hand, gives you a chance to tick every route on that crag, because it only includes the good ones. Isn’t that clever. Cratcliffe Tor is a thing. It’s a brilliant crag, really steep and made of fabulous grit, set in that soothing green landscape, cows and crows, hedges and rabbits. Flicking through the chapter on this crag, I see I have done all the routes apart from one – Reticent Mass Murderer. I have tried it once, on a day when jammaster Chris Plant ascended it, then without stopping, climbed back down to remove his gear. I didn’t do so well. But I will go over there some summer Sunday, and somehow, I am going to summon the strength to tick Cratcliffe.
Little-by-Little - S 3c
I saw a slideshow once, a very strange one. An artist called Greg Lucas, who had some background in climbing, would photograph himself each day doing something else. Amid black and whites of him with Eccles cakes in his eyes, and inserting himself into a crack on a golf course, or him with an asteroid, was one of him performing a manoeuvre on a limestone pinnacle. Holding onto a jug at the top with one hand, his lower hand braced on the rock below it, he had levered his body away from the rock at ninety degrees, an amazing example of athletic prowess, the like of which I had not witnessed before. He was also completely nude, and his bits dangled earthwards shamelessly. “This one” he said “is entitled ‘I’m often up here, but not in this position.’” He showed another, similar one: “I’m often in this position, but not up here.” The image remained fixed in my mind, for some reason, never knowing where it was. Then, one fine winter’s evening, flicking through OPR, what do I see, but Greg’s needle. Imagine. I had thought it was in Spain. Harborough Rocks. Well, I am certainly off there come the good weather, and I’m going to have a go myself.
So what's your list?
If you fancy joining Niall on his life changing quest, then where better to start than with the reprint of On Peak Rock. Clutching this reassuring volume, a whole summer of both classic and esoteric entertainment is guaranteed. This edition features all new colour photos, and of course an updated history. But don't worry, there's nowt taken out, so it's just as satisfying as before.
Available now from all reputable sellers of books or direct from the BMC.