7 July 2012

The Crook Climber Rises - Barefoot at Crookrise Crag

With the Cliffhanger outdoor festival in Sheffield cancelled due to a spot or two of rain, our merry band determined that something must be done to make up for this setback. Striking out into a somewhat drier Saturday gloom, Crookrise in the Barden Fell area was the crag of choice - new to most of us, and with a decent walk-in to contribute to the adventure.

Meeting with Bryn and Cosmo, the weather had already started to take a turn for the brighter, and by the time we were chasing the Prince party up to the crag conditions were positively Mediterranean. Things got off to a flyer when Bryn and I attempted a walking shoe scramble on the boulder that Dave had set up camp on. We both fell, our clumsy boots lacking the requisite bite, but Bryn fell worse, pivoting under the edge of the rock, landing on a smaller rock next to the mat, and getting healthy scrapes to shin, forearm and love-handle in the process. Dave called lunch time and we settled beneath the next set of boulders.

Bloody Bryn

Once we'd eaten our fill, the boulders we'd been leaning on beckoned. I instantly discovered that I had a toenail issue - you don't want to know more than that - on my right foot, and couldn't operate with my right shoe on, as it pinched constantly and bit sharply when I landed on it. The alternative was plain to see - I would need to go barefoot. I removed my right shoe and - yes - sock, but found myself stopping at that - I would go half and half, getting the feel of the rock with my right and the solid grip of 5.10 rubber with my left.

The first boulder, tricky mantle top, was climbed with little trouble. The second, a cracky layaway, with a hint more interest, and the third, shallow slab with a naughty no-arete challenge, in a most satisfying manner, as my toes scrambled for purchase and I bridged my arms between a variety of flakes and small breaks.

Moving on, the next area, just below the top of the fell, was centred around a large slabby boulder. I scampered up that one with ease, and the top-out revealed a monolithic column further back. I managed to get off the ground, but was finding that my bare foot made the second move troublesome - I couldn't smear well enough to send my weight through my foot. Dave arrived to make short work of the problem and inspire me to further attempts. The limitation provided by being half shoeless forced me to be a little more creative and consider my technique further - never let it be said that a limitation is automatically a bad thing. Putting a mantle in the break above the smear allowed my right arm to bear some of my load, and I got my left foot up to where the break met the arete - the key starting move. Rocking over into a standing position, it was just a case of gaining the top (with chalk - a hint damp, and not amazingly positive) and carefully bringing my feet into a position to support the top-out - again, harder due to the lack of right shoe. I was very pleased with this climb, which apparently is harder than Almscliffe's crucifix. Taking the vagaries of the grading system with a pinch of salt, I feel that this climb probably just suits me more than the crucifix, but I'm still delighted with my achievement.

Left side. The angle probably makes it look easier than it was...

Leaving the path-side boulders behind, we crossed a stile and found ourselves on the edge of the fell, above the forest, stretching romantically out below us, untamed and alive, unmappable... until the Skipton to Grassington road cut through it in the valley. Still, this seemed to be where the meat of the climbing would tend to take place. We made our way past some impressive slabs - not wanting to linger for fear of overexciting Dave and Rachael's children - and found a niche in which we once again stopped for a cup of tea. The Princes called it a day, while Bryn, Cosmo and myself sat contemplating the landscape with said tea. (Side note: the first four paragraphs of this blog were written on my phone at that point.) Tentative exploration found Bryn in a pit he was unable to escape until Cosmo fetched his climbing shoes, while I found a cyclopean slab to play with. I was getting nowhere without a mat to rely on, but Bryn turned up with it and, switching from shirts to skins in the blistering heat, we started to tackle the slab in earnest. After a couple of efforts each, we both managed to reach the top, but some trickle down from the sodden moor (and, again, my bare foot) meant that the top-out was a poor option compared to the escape to the boulder to the right. Given our collaborative attempts on the rock in question, Bryn and I agreed that we could still take the points, though I'd be happy to give it another try on some future dry-spell day when I'm able to wear both shoes.

Our scramble up off the edge. This shot doesn't really convey the height.

More play on a nearby slab - including a refreshing dip in a wet pocket for my by-now burning bare foot - seemed likely to be the end of proceedings, but as we looked further along the edge for a way back to the top, we found ourselves ascending - in walking boots - a bizarre slabby solo, with water running here and there down it, patches of mud to negotiate, and with me pushing the bouldering mat ahead of me up much of the climb (though I was ready to spin it beneath me, should I have fallen...). We all survived this ordeal, and a cordial walk back to the car followed. The journey back to Huby illustrated that we - at Bryn's suggestion - had picked the perfect spot - we soon hit cloudy areas, and torrential rains followed closer to home. Given that good choice, it's hard to think that a weekend in a park in Sheffield could have been better than a day like this.
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