26 May 2015

On climbing a mountain?


North-Wales Easter. Words that strike dread into the adventure seeker past thier first flush of youth. Unrelenting drizzle, the musty wet dog smell of gear that won't dry and another afternoon aborting to the cafe as you can't stand a misty, drizzly walk again.

And there we were, mine and my brother families in North Wales looking out over the Rhinogs from our cabins and not a cloud in it. All is crisp blue and brightly lit a proper result, let us make hay.

We scream to Ogwen to get into the Lay-by before the masses. We are a party of eight aged from 4 to 46 with snack food, the north ridge of Tryfan will do for us. Me and my brother figure we will be down for 1 ish, off we plod.

Tryfan's North Ridge is the quality grade one, roadside, mountain experience in the UK. No preamble you get out the car and start climbing. You can keep your hands in your pockets for 20 minutes and after that the craglets start. You can avoid some by slithering up gullies and outflanking where you can, but after an hour the ridge is narrowing from a broad rib to a rocky crest and you are mostly scrambling.

Trying to persuade the youngest two to use their hands becomes a relentless mantra as we watch their backs and lift them up the bigger steps. You can look down now, towards Little Tryfan, a rock slab below with some easy bits of multi pitch on. We watch people playing their games with ropes and runners and apply (whisper it) sun screen, in Wales, in April.

Lunch is eaten with 200 metres still to go where the ridge narrows even more. 12 O' clock and our time up and back looks laughable. Still the sun beats down and there is not a breath of wind, perfect.

We take a route that leads us left along a track that narrows and degenerates. We could go left but I don't like it, we find a dank looking gully and things get all 3d as we stop to help everyone up. A rock bridge blocks the way. I  get a rope out, but we can pass the smallest kids up onto the bridge with out to  much drama, it goes back in the bag. Sister-in-law has by now the look of intense concentration that the worried wear. Mrs Timeticks who is a fear immune, flinty-eyed killer, does the right thing and takes pictures.

We all pop out on the ridge and  scramble the last 100m to the summit where a throng have gathered. All four boys having climbed their first mountain (more on this opinion later).

Summit pics and a rocky, painfully slow descent down to Llyn Bochlwyd which is shaped like Australia but smaller. We dip our toes in, my youngest dipping in to the knees. An hour later we are at Owen Cottage eating Lamb and Mint pasties, a mere 7 hours after setting off, the last food having been eaten four hours ago. Me and my Brother run off for the cars in the lay-bay, as everyone else sunbathes.

All good, a perfect day and yet the autopsy begins. My Eldest won't have it, mountains are apparently 1000m high Tryfan is no mountain says he, just a big hill. My definition has always been rather more generous, if it is pointy and rocky and quite big it is a mountain. I take to social media and the wisdom of the crowd on the book of Face. A couple of Mountain Instructors and a cast of thousands, tell him it is indeed a mountain. Alas like pharaoh he hardens his heart and will not listen.

I switch networks and try twitter. Alan Hinkes is blatantly trawled for help and comes up trumps. Tryfan is indeed a mountain says the first Britain to climb all of the 8000 peaks on the planet. Not interested says stubborn Eldest Pharaoh of Starbeck.

But you can see it in his eyes, he knows and only his 9 year old pride will stop him admitting it. I think he is pleased and maybe he will climb another. He is building a scale model of Mount Olympus at the moment and suddenly it is on his brand new mountain tick list, which bodes well. I hope I will climb many more with my family it was fun.
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21 May 2015

Palleys Crag



4 pm I'm leaving the madness of central Leeds on my bike, pedalling away from all that  humanity and towards the trees and the green.

By the time I get to Blubberhouses people are few and even the trees are thinning out. I wander up though the moss and the bog to Palley's Crag, a few bits of Moorland grit, tonight covered in sun and a wind with still a hint of chill on a micro moor near nowhere much. The only sign of humanity as I chuck my mat down are a bit of Paul Clarke' s chalk in a slot under a low steep wall and a farmhouse down the hill. I can see for miles around me.

I pull on a few of the sit start roof/wall problems, they are lovely, pockets and slots to rounded tops. The big throw number beats me at the mantel and press move,  I cheat a reachy finish on the left but I know it will not do and now you know.

Stu wanders up with drier feet than I bought and we sort out a few of the easier problems which are still steep but good, pockets and flakes with bowls at the top.

Another block has less holds and more roundness from the wind, it is different climbing but it is still good. I'm cold now. As we head out a curlew flapping like a UKIP candidate under questioning struggles to make progress against the wind as the sun starts to leave us. 

A mini adventure, a city break. How lucky am I?
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10 May 2015

Sharphaw



Nice weather, let's head over the hill. Meet Ali at the cars, wander into Sharphaw. Quite a long way up the track.

The boulders look down on the A65, it's quite a view. The first buttress Airedale Wall looks rubbish. It is not. Undercut at the base, rough, with thin breaks it is good. It gets my arms burning as we work our way though a few problems and finish on some sitter at an alleged 4+, odd that it takes three goes. We wander on to Geronweeit and Estafonit. Great names for quality problems, undercut ribs on lovely wind eroded breaks, sublime. A low wall has some thin crimps to slappy tops.

Ali shows me the way on undercut rib, I can only flail and cheat my way up it but get to pull on the best pocket on grit. I find some silly dyno for a distant lip and it sticks after a few throws, more fun. Rough slab is that and more, again quality and we finish on a techy slab where you can climb on just your finger ends if you believe enough.

Wind is up now and skin is thin, there is a burn in my arms, time to head off. A change is as good as a rest. Good session 20 problems, all new ground, mint.
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22 April 2015

Crackin' sesh - Caley Roadside, 22.04.2015

Caley Roadside. Two Daves, an Oli and a Bryn were warming the place up, and a Louis soon followed. The crag was smooth and clear of bracken, an open playground. We dabbled here and there, with quite a lot of steady slab work going on, and a lot of basking in the evening sun.


As the light started to fade, we found ourselves below (not on) Otley Wall. Here, in fact...


A high-ball crack with a chipped problem just off to the left, Bryn and I last looked at this in, I think, 2010. I hoped that I would have improved in that interval, so I stepped up for a turn. I tried to keep my feet left, and once I took them right I stalled. Bryn shouted encouragement, wondering if I could gain the top. Not from where I was, but it inspired me to spot the move that could. Left hand first, not amazing, but enough to send home the right hand, which found a glorious hold, and let me skip my feet over the top. I was pretty pleased with this, and returned to the bottom to encourage Louis in his attempt... And it wouldn't go. What? Bryn stepped up. Same story, he couldn't send it. Dave P had done it years ago, but was happy with that. Dave B appeared from round the corner and took a look... Once more, it didn't click for him. I demonstrated it - okay, twice... - but still, no-one else sent it.

Now, okay, I felt like the proverbial cat with the cream, and Bryn did compare me to certain children who may be smug about getting a climb... But I took no pleasure in my comrades having to wait till another day to see it home. I would have liked nothing more to help them through it, but it wasn't to be. To be fair, it's good that they knew where to stop.

And, for myself, not against anyone else, I needed this. I needed the boost. A few climbs recently had not felt so good, so this was not about lording it over anyone else, it was about recharging my own enthusiasm batteries. Mission accomplished, in that respect. Now, just to complement that with better food, more exercise, more training - then I may actually notice improvement in a period shorter than 5 years...
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15 March 2015

What the Fock?

When is a rock not a rock? When it's a fake rock. Round our house we eat a fair bit of fake meat, soya imitations like fake bacon. We call it 'fakon', and so it only seems right that fake rock, such as the 'boulder park' Enterprise built at Whickham Thorns Outdoor Centre in Gateshead, should be called 'fock'. Hidden away in plain sight, just a few hundred metres from the A1 and the sprawling shopping experience of the Metro Centre, lies an oasis of calm and a strange- looking large piece of fock specifically designed for bouldering. You're immediately struck by its odd sprawling shape that looks more like it would be at home in Alton Towers and painted purple. However, this is largely due to the fact that it is purpose built- it's circular nature means you can climb it at any point inside and out. It also means the designers have been able to provide a good mix of slabs, overhangs, pockets, jugs, cracks, and chimneys. 

A slabby central descent route for some more technical ascents either side
The online guide suggests 68 problems from Font 1 to 7c+, and there are clearly a huge amount of further permutations and eliminates. Certainly enough to keep you happy for an afternoon, and return visits. Whickham Thorns also provides an experience definitely lacking with indoor walls- topping out. In fact, the topping out was one of the more challenging aspects for some of the climbs, especially on one side where the top mushrooms out and requires some high stepping. They have, however, provided a fun descent chute should you get stuck up there. 

So, it's not the real thing but Whickham Thorns does have a number of advantages over an indoor wall. Possibly the biggest of these is that it's totally free to use. It's also one of the few places you can combine a climb and a trip to Ikea, and it definitely made my visit to the Swedish Labyrinth a hell of a lot more enjoyable.

Looking across the A1 towards Gateshead.
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8 March 2015

Springwatch

Some weeks really drag. This week dragged me, kicking off with a proper dose of the flu. From whence it came I do not know but it slapped me upside down and left me pretty much bed ridden for 4 days. 4 days of sickly inertia, whilst work, family, climbing, reunions, and life in general passed me by. However, as I finally emerged out of my onesie I felt like a butterfly breaking out of its chrysalis. The sun shone, birds sang, the wind was actually rather pleasant- Spring had arrived! My limbs started moving again and I, blinking, staggered out into the light. It was Friday night, and the final of the Depot Bouldering League and I started to think I could actually get there. Now I'm not normally a competitive person, but I had set myself a goal of trying to get into the Top Ten this year. As a post-40 year old Veteran, old but not necessarily wise, this was actually looking realistic due to diminishing numbers. Two things stood in my way 1. I still had my last score sheet and as such that round currently stood at zero, and 2. The last round offered a one-night-only deal of double points, a chance to boost me up from my current standing at #12. So, joints creaking, I popped some ibuprofen, grabbed plenty of juice and Lucozade tablets, and headed off to Leeds. Surprisingly I turned out to be climbing pretty well, although there were moments I thought I might need resuscitation. Maybe a week of physical collapse with lots of water and little food is just the preparation you need for a competition. I never did find out if I made Top Ten by the way, but I didn't really care by then.
Spring sunset, standing on a chockstone. Almscliff

Saturday morning offered the chance for some more sedate climbing, as plans were in motion to continue the work on the low-grade Caley Crag circuit. Temperatures were forecast to hit double figures so it would have been rude not to go, and sure enough it was very fine day. We spent a good hour or two cleaning and climbing the slabby and rather mossy face of Yule Log, much improved after the blitz the top got back in January, and had some fun remembering how to smear again by climbing the left arete. Amazing how quickly you forget after a few months indoors. Then it was back over to the Ice Cream slabs where the group grew in numbers, Paul cracking the sit start. Caley at the start of Spring is such a different place, you can feel the vibrancy of the woods coming back to life yet still actually see all the boulders and orientate yourself. I could feel myself coming back to life too, with the moves of the climbs and the laughs that we shared. Back home for some rest and food, then it only felt right to finish the day up at Almscliff. A gentle scramble up around the top revealed a stunning sunset, and as I rested I felt the strong Southern wind blowing through me, rejuvenating. Spring has sprung, have a good one people!
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15 February 2015

Forgotten Flasby, Hellboy's Arse

I think Bryn was going to blog this one - the trip was his suggestion, and felt like his day to stretch the legs of his penmanship (you know what I mean) - but the lack of blog to this point and the fact that Bryn currently has bigger fish (mountains) to fry (slide down) means I'm hopeful that he won't mind me taking up the mantle. I'll try to do his standard justice...

So, we haz dun a clime an' it woz rite gud...

Last weekend, after a Saturday of gin, burgers, chinese food, and general debauchery, I slithered from my pit altogether too early on Sunday morning to meet with Bryn and make for Flasby Fell. The day was glorious, crisp air, bright skies, clear views. Until, that is, we took up the walk-in to the crag... The directions Bryn was working from didn't mention walking up into a cloud...

Our first glimpse of crag, and a couple of nice problems.
Sans guidebook, we gave... erm... desolate tree area? a stern examination. A first look at the lower rock was fruitless, but the upper rock looked to have some potential, with lots of texture on its face. Turned out, after a big swing to a low rail, the move was to miss out all that face - none of it was as good as it looked - and gain the top. Not that the top was a life saver - slopey, and with only a small crimp to work with in order to proceed, I really made sure of my position before topping out.

To give Bryn an idea of the crimp, but he was on the rock by the time I descended.
Bryn topped it smoother for having seen me do it, and we moved back to the boulder near the tree. I'd spotted a problem that needed some spotting, a couple of delicate high steps onto a slab top. I think Bryn had had a look already, but it was the team effort that saw it done - and don't underestimate it, a slip would have led to an awkward landing.

Up and over the ridge, to a spot sadly massively exposed to the winds, being able to see them whirl and eddie thanks to the cloud cover only marginally making up for their bitterness. More of a general play in this area, with a huge easy slab like Cheeseblock+, and a face with a delicate start and ridiculously easy finish. Plus, some climbing with big gloves on, running away from tumbling boulders (note: very small, and more like shifting slightly than tumbling), and playing with ice pools atop the rock.

Just general ambience
Last but by no means least, Rough Slab... Wait, sorry, what? 'Rough Slab'? Really? Is that the best anyone could come up with? (And how did we know this, since we had no guide? I can't even remember...) No, this Lovecraftian horror of a piece of rock, sinewy, arcane, almost designed to tear at a climbers soul as much as their palms, this deserved a finer moniker...

HELLBOY'S ARSE

Credit to Bryn for that one! Thankfully, it was actually less windy around these parts...

And here she is. Photo doesn't really do her justice. And why is Hellboy's bottom a she?
Use of the obvious mounting boulder to start served as warm-up, and Bryn found a more subtle traverse in from the right. The key move was to tackle it direct - the two lips on it conspired to create a thorny problem. Right hand on the top lib, left hand just below. Left foot locked under the larger lower lip, right foot then... Where? It took several goes - twice! - to get to a point where I knew what I was doing - locking the right foot out lower and wider meant that I was hanging more off the right hand, and could more comfortably move the left hand (this is starting to sound like Twister...) without dismounting. With both hands on the arse's top lip - ewww! - both feet then found the lower, and onwards and upwards from there. Most rewarding, though some of the chalk in evidence suggested lower starts still...

And there we called it. It doesn't sound like much, just a few areas, but it felt like a good session, substantial enough, with some good unraveling of moves and sequences, and fine philosophical banter throughout. Might be nice to go back in the sunshine someday...
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1 February 2015

The Ice cream Sunday

Pic Matt Rickard
Good forecast, we have Mats and a Matt as we head below the track at Caley. The Yule Log's easier problems climb well once more after their wash and brush up, we even have a few pulls on  Pine Tree Arete, but I can't make sense of it and Matt did no better, we sneak off to the Flapjack. The Scoop is as good as ever even if the descent is sheet ice and more harrowing than the climb. Dave arrives on his bike followed by Louis and we pootle about a bit

Below the scone is a boulder I helped clean a few weeks ago, It has dried out, most of the moss is gone and as far as I can tell it is un-recorded and judging by the state of the rock unclimbed there was plenty of scrittle and no sign of wear.


The "Ice Cream Sunday" gives me a nice little font four mantle up the middle,  a one move wonder but worthwhile. Along with a couple of high stepping rock overs at 5ish on the left that are Dave Booth's work. Louis picks the plum. On the right side is an open handed flared scoop with little for your feet and what there is will be better in a few months, when it has dried out yet more.

He bothers it for ages, we all do but in the end he gets his feet up, throws for the top and latches it. Some sort of 6 today but probably 5+ when the foot "holds" dry out properly. A nice little boulder if you are passing.

If they were all done years ago, so be it but it kept us amused for an hour, thanks for coming gents I had a ball.
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18 January 2015

Onward


A snow plastered Glen, well the bits that aren't seeping. Pete twists arms we head through a gathering blizzard to Halifax, snow piled as high as cars in places. We park up by somebody's drive on a street in town. There is a crag hidden on the other side of the road, how convenient. 

It's a belter, highball territory with some smaller bits knocking about. Most all is minging today alas.

We find a cave, it's dry to the lip. We throw some shapes, Callum the closet to finishing one thing.

Clingen bay is weatherproof, some locals tip us off. When they have done gracefully easing up it we get on it too. It is good, sharp holds on steep rock to a jump off break. We play a few tunes and finish a few things. Smiles return as skin is shed and feet freeze. Good call, worth the trip worth another, there is plenty to do.
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11 January 2015

Ours and hours

photo Pete Jackson


And you shall have a rock garden.

I hadn't really noticed, it just crept up on me. I was doing less and less at Caley below the track as the problems were reclaimed by the forest. Those fillers in, the easy ones you knock off on your way to to the classics or your projects, were going feral all moss, and loss.

What should be the best lower grade circuit in Yorkshire was becoming somewhere with more walking than climbing.

Yesterday after Pete Jackson and a few locals got involved we rebuilt a circuit that will amuse the lower and middle grade climber for a few more years.

The wind was keen as I parked up on the road, I was worried I would be too hot as I got out the car, it was not a problem. Maybe a dozen fronted up at the Horn and armed like a communist collective farm. We got going, we scraped and brushed and pruned and even dug a little. As the tree canopy was trimmed back and the moss and vegetation on top and on the faces was removed you could watch the boulders dry and start to come back into condition even in the middle of winter.

The Yule Log's slab is once more a beginners playground, Luna is drying out, the Flpapjack Scoop has a few more holds exposed from the green. So you have an even greater choice of holds on that finest of problems and the traverse should seep less as you flail round the corner.

On the Roadside, Will Hunt has tried to help Terry dry out, that whole wall probably needs a little more love yet.

Three or four other boulders, over towards the Scone and the Creme Eggs, that I have never climbed as they were always too vegetated, are available. They have been de-mossed and allowed some air. Thanks to Paul Clarke for knowing that they were ever climbable, some of them looked like non-starters. Nothing too hard but if you operate around V0 - V4 you now have a circuit once more. It might be the spring before it is really back in condition. If you are going soon I would take a stiff brush for a few bits and pieces, but if you are wanting somewhere for families or beginners you could do worse.

Thanks to Pete for doing the hard work negotiating with the BMC and the Landowners and then doing his share of hardwork on a rope in the trees. Thanks to everyone else who turned out from HBC and Leeds Wall and other locals who wielded a trowel or a pruning saw, we did good, we should have an opening meet up when the sun gets back on it in the spring.





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5 January 2015

Stop Motion - Roundhill, 04.01.2015

Bryn spotted grit weather good and early in the year, and lined up Roundhill for an examination. He and I met at Masham and made for the reservoir. Two steps into our walk-in, Dave pulled up with his boys, and we all made the walk-in together. Dave had said it was longer than we would have though, and since he took us on a dubious shortcut he managed to prove himself right.

Gritty
A decent slab - 'The Slab', apparently - gave us our first taste of grit, with a good selection of crimpy delicate problems. Mantles and other top-out moves felt somewhat rusty, but that only illustrated how good it was to be out there again. Dave's son, however, didn't necessarily agree, and started to feel pangs for home. At this stage, Bryn nobly took one for the team - for Dave, mainly - and entertained the boys with hat stealing antics and the like. This let Dave have a decent crack at the right rib, and then let me finish off the problem just to the rib's right.

Bryn noodled it up for a while, I took my turn entertaining the boys by dropping them off a rock that was around their height, then I vanished to go and look at the nearby... monument? Folly? Actually - it turns out, thanks to my Mum's research later - a sighting tower, used during the construction of the dam. I elected not to ascend, the downclimb would have been a killer.

Not so natural.
Once I returned, Dave and the boys - no longer concerned that I might have fallen down a mine - departed, leaving Bryn and me to scout for new play. And it was all aretes from there on in, first a kind of multi-pitch of a boulder, with a big jug on its mid-level ledge and a hold made from pure erosion at the top.

Bryn is actually off the ground here.

Then, the best of the bunch...


Reminiscent of a levelled up version of a classy little arete near Brimham's pommel area, the photos don't do it justice. But here's what was so good about it - Bryn and I chipping away at it, one us of us getting it started, the other suggesting a move, repeat and elaborate, encourage and seek feedback. Brilliant. A real collaborative effort, lots of small moves coming together to make something more than the sum of its parts. I don't think it could have worked out fairer, and we both topped it out and agreed that it was the highlight. I know that I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much if I'd been alone and done much the same without Bryn's turns punctuating it.

As an ineffectual coda, we threw ourselves at Top Pocket and its friends, but the wind was strong by that point, and we felt that the true narrative had been concluded. We were near the true path anyway by this point, and so we elected not to tromp through the heather for some reason, and headed off into the sunset...

Sunset-ish.

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11 December 2014

A mountain not made of rock

No crag in this blog post. No routes, no problems. No bouldering mats, no belays. Plenty of climbers though - a very lucky 13 or so, so dramatis personae...

Ellen, Cosmo, Bryn, Giovanni, Rob, Dave, James (+Laura), Kirsty, Pete, Louis (+Liz). And me.

So, where the heck were we? What was our challenge?

The Cheeful Chilli, on The Chevin. Their banquet meal. Halloumi cheese, nachos, goats cheese tartlets, pizzas, enchiladas, curry, cheesecakes, ice cream. Mountains of food.

As we do when we take on the crags, we went at it with gusto, and as a team. As we share spotting duties and beta, so we shared stories - of how we started climbing, of how we met - and of course the food. Wonderful to see everyone catch up with each other. And that's the beauty of it. We're all in it together, helping each other through, bringing each other along. We use what we share on the rock and we turn it to cementing friendships and camaraderie. We might be a bit leaden - weighed down by so much vegetaria - the next time we hit the rock (or plastic), but there will be springs in our steps that only climbing kinsmanship can bring.




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6 December 2014

Deer Gallows - might as well be hung for a sheep than behave like a lamb

I knew it would be mint, the forecast was bluebirds, cold and clear. A grit day. Pete said Deer Gallows, I fronted up but the weather barely showed. Everywhere frozen at the sailing club. A muddle headed Kirsty talking of too many cocktails and being pulled from her bed. We start the trudge up to the ridge. You could see the crag a way off, a stiff little guidebook "20 minutes".

I'm soon sweating up my down jacket, too hot. The occasional burst of sunlight making me overheat even more. We get to the crag and the noose is round our necks. Any thoughts of being too warm evaporate in a bitter winter wind that is chilling to the core. Nice crag, but harsh day for these games. Pete won't be beaten, he racks up for a VS, as the cold seeps in it becomes a V Diff and finally a Diff on to the pinnacle's top is what he sets off up, in all the clothes he has brought.

In big boots gloves hats and jackets we follow Pete. Up the sombre frozen grit as the weather changes from icy cold to a light driving rain.  The view goes from the other side of the valley to fifty feet in fifty seconds. We manage a few quick summit pics and then we are climbing back down as fast as we can. Pete abs off.  Then we are throwing gear in bags and making a swift exit as the rain gathers pace, laughing at what we will do for fun. A beer makes everything right and we are soon warming through. At home I am exhausted, good clean fun.
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30 November 2014

Taking a chance.

Planning a climbing trip in advance always seems like a rash decision given that it rains pretty much half of the year in the UK. When you figure in that the higher up you go, the higher the chance of it raining gets, then picking a date out of the air is probably even worse than flipping a coin. And so it was that I found myself last week sitting at home constantly checking the Metoffice forecast, whilst outside a seemingly neverending mix of mist, drizzle, and full-on rain set in. Planning to get my annual trip to Northumberland in November might have seemed a bit optimistic, but previous experience had taught me that you never knew what to expect up there no matter the time of year. As it was the Gods looked like they might be throwing me the crumbs from their plates- the mist looked like it might be breaking this weekend!

We headed up to our base for the weekend- the delightful and luxurious Tillmouth Cottages (disclaimer: I'm one of the owners and might be slightly biased)- on a Friday afternoon, hugging the A697 as the sun went down and the mist closed further in. Wooler appeared to be keeping some of the mist at bay, however, looking as quaint as ever when we stopped off for supplies and a curry. Boardgames and beer carried us gently off to bed, and I rose eager on the Saturday morning to draw back the curtains and see... more mist. At least it meant we were in no rush and I spent some time sawing up wood and doing some chores, before we eventually headed out into the gloom.

The sun appears, sort of. Bowden Doors
One of fantastic things about Northumberland as a climbing venue is that each year I get to check out new crags, and I'm still only halfway through the list. I'd been to Bowden Doors, and Back Bowden on previous years, and this time thought we should have a look at their neighbour Ravens Crag. As we set off it properly started to rain, but by some magic things were looking a bit clearer by the time we got to Bowden. Well, clear enough to see anyhow. The rock, however, was persisting in remaining damp. Luckily, Ravens Crag itself is a roof, and so a large part of it was dry. Dry enough to sit under and picnic anyhow and look out across the misty hills. The atmosphere was heightened by the distant baning of hounds and the horn of a hunt- we weren't the only ones out searching. The roof itself proved too powerful and the holds too painful, and so we moved along the crag to look for a problem called Juggler. Given that Stu and I had met through juggling, and that juggling continues to compete with climbing as our main hobby, it seemed like we had to give it a pop. Despite the minging nature of the conditions, the positive holds and the nice wide ledge were positive enough for us to get up onto the problem, and whilst the damp/slimy/sandy top was too much for me Stu powered on through and ticked it off. Not much else looked safe enough to try, however, and so we walked along further. At this point the hounds and their followers charged across the fields below us. Whether they were chasing a fox or just a scent we'll never know- it was hard enough seeing the dogs as it was! This brought us up to the end of Bowden Doors, and we walked back under the imposing wave of sandstone as the mist turned pink with the setting sun, reminiscing about our trip there in 2012.



Fine views above Oxen Wood.
Sunday morning brought hope in the shape of a sunrise. Things had indeed turned a corner, though only a small one it turned out. The first part of the plan was to hit up some crags near Alnwick, in particular Oxen Wood in the hope that its elevation would help it dry. It turned that it had indeed helped, though only 2 boulders and only one of those partially. It was enough to give us 6 problems and we savoured every one of them. It was also a fine spot for a tromp around, with fine views across to Wooler and the Cheviots. Definitely not a crag to visit in the summer though, we seemed to pass through a lot of dead bracken. But I would happily return in better conditions and work the other boulders, there looked like some good low to moderate grade problems. Part 2 of the plan was to drive a few minutes down the road and check out Corby's Crag. Photos of this on a fine summer's evening look idyllic and I seemed to had forgotten this when I was dreaming away on ukclimbing's crag map. This was seeping like I had never seen a crag seep before, complete with waterfalls and slime. It also didn't help that some people seem to think the car park at the top is a great place to park up, have a drink whilst admiring the view, then chuck their can or Mcdonald's cup over the edge. Classy. Then it started raining. Still, I'm sure if I was up there in the Summer and passing then it would be worth giving another shot as there was plenty of good looking rock. I guess the main problem is that there are so many other crags I want to see, like Callerhues, or Ravensheugh.
Stu enjoying Summit Block, Oxen Wood.

So was it worth driving all that way to climb 6 and a half problems? Of course! As it was we actually did pretty well to get any climbing at all done given how shite the weather has been for the last 2 weeks. It helped break up my overuse of indoor bouldering, where all the holds are kindly coloured and there are no scary top outs. Yes, some of those holds were sandy or slimy, but the views were great, the company sublime, and we got curry and boardgames. And herbal schnapps in test tube shot glasses (not part of the plan). We'll be back next year, flipping a coin and seeing what we get.
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