21 September 2013

Memory Lane - Stanage

A couple of weekends back I was chasing my fading youth. In the days before I was a fat punter I was a callow youth who wanted to climb, little else mattered. I was part of a venture scout unit that didn't do dib, dib, dibbing but did lots of getting out there. It was run by Pete Mitchell a driven, chain smoking genius that could make you do things that seemed way beyond possible, he changed my world more than anybody has before or since. This weekend was about getting 150 ex-members in a room to drink beer and say thanks, this was the first course. In those days we drove a nearly broken minibus to the Alps, we climbed, caved, scaled mountains and fell ran with the best of them. Some times it went wrong usually it went very right and anyway nobody died.

These days some of us still are or have been the best of them. Chris Rice with some hard routes on the steep, icy side of  Ben Nevis, Andy Crome with a hat full of hard routes in Yorkshire. A few others were here who's stories I didn't know. Older or younger than me but who moved like wads and climbed well in that understated way that means belief and competence.

Saturday morning plantation car park, with a fat head from too much beer and god help me after 10 years of restraint, a few roll up fags. The night before in a caving hut that time had passed by. Frank flying in from Botswanna to rough it in a hut good effort. I'm stood waiting with Ben as we put the band back together after 20 years. The cars roll in one by one, the faces are wider, the hair a little greyer, but the people have changed  little if at all.

We now have jobs and lives and wives and children but today there is a sparkle in the eyes and a grin on the faces, we are just kids again. We get going, there is some bouldering round the pebble but most of us never did  it, slowly we head down to the Unconquerables.

We start with  a VDiff chimney some people getting to grips with grit for the first time in 20 years. There are a few epic struggles, Ben having to climb the outside of the chimney as he can't get in it any more, but there is also some easy movement despite the lack of practice.

Justin lands from Edingburgh, once more largely unchanged by the years. The same chatty, charming, good natured character. A little flash and competitive, now more mellow like we all seem to be. he gets on the chimney and climbs well for a man who hasn't seen a rope this millenium.

Someone sprints up Left Unconquerable a classic from the Joe Brown era but still no path at E1 5B. Its laybacking pure and simple, big holds but steep and unrelenting in the first 40 ft before a blankish move and then some welcome jugs before the top.

I get offered a rope and I'm off, the first bit flows nicely, I find bits for my feet. 30 ft in and the arms start complaining, they see me through the stiff pulls at the crux, but then they are pumped and useless. I cling on like a pathetic slug thing and get the huge finishing jugs, then flail over the top spent. Quality route.

I had my eyes on leading the Right Unconquerable a huge flake of gently overhanging grit. Again all laybacking with little for the feet. 25 years ago I took a good'ish fall off it skimming the January snowdrift at the bottom as my lone runner held, it shook me up, I was here to try and lay some ghosts and get over my poor form on the most protectable route on gritstone. I decided today was not the day for a second go on the lead with my arms having little stamina after lots of bouldering it would be a short trip out.

The gathered throng though had other ideas and egged me on. Ben with his shop steward's head on leading the chanting. I resisted and settled for a rope over my head, I'm glad I did, it seemed less keen to give in to technique and just needed a burly approach not something I have in my armoury. By halfway I had  a waist of runners still clipped to the rope as I frantically stripped the gear and moved on looking for rests that aren't there. The top is a Brimham style beached whale crawl. Which is probably font five 10ft off the ground but with a a belt off friends and arms screaming for a rest was quite memorable as  inched my belly over the lip. Edwyn commented on my grunting and its was definitely a case of effort over form. Glad its done even in poor style and not actually that good a route I thought, more history than quality.

We finally headed down towards Heaven Crack still the best V Difff in the world. A punters Right Unconquerable with footholds but non the worse for that. If you haven't done it you should. A few of the wads sorted out Wuthering and Andy took a solo trip up Namenlos as the sun broke through and turned it in to a beautiful late summer day.

We were out of time now and headed off back to Derby for more amiable grinning. We all said we should do it again and I think we might.
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