Gritstone Esoterica

Earlier this year I spent quite a bit of time – too much time – working on a first ascent down at Shining Cliff. It was a short gritstone route that linked hard bouldering in with some bold route climbing and produced a really cool bit of physically hard climbing. I’d not really spent much time up until that point trying grit routes that featured climbing above about 7b+. I guess this is because you can climb loads of E6s and E7s in good style without having to go above this! Once you try and step outside of this zone though, it’s pretty much obligatory to be pulling somewhere in the region of 7c-8a.

One of the Wild Country reps, James Blay came down with me to Shining Cliff on the day that I wanted to do it. I’d not really prepared him with the brief that he’d be filming me soloing, but I knew he could handle the task! He’s mates with Ned Freehally, Michele Caminati and all those wads, so he must see that kind of stuff all the time right? James?

Well, he survived the experience and me gibbering around like a scared fool and enjoyed himself so much that he even got round to editing a video short of the route – THANKS JAMES!! I have to put this bit in capitals, as he went out of his way to put this together. Nice one mate.


On a side note I’d also like to congratulate Ethan Walker for making the second ascent of this route. Whilst it might not appear that it’s something that’s off the radar in terms of difficulty, he’s really impressed me by doing something that’s technically hard but also esoteric. There’s no real reward of the big lights for doing this route as it’s stuck in a backwater and you’ve got to do it for yourself. What also makes me think that this lad will go far (sorry to embarrass you Ethan if you’re reading this) is that he also did Unfamiliar at Stanage recently. This is yet another route that’s actually got hard climbing and not just a “bold stroll” once you know the moves.

I’m pretty certain that when you combine this attitude of being prepared to travel off the beaten track and tick the “low-lights” for little reward, then there’s great potential. People often go on about what it takes to be a talent in climbing and my personal opinion will always weight a lot towards those who will follow the path a little less trodden and with unbending, unwavering consistency. No backing down. No loss of psyche. These guys go to the top. Nice one Ethan.

Fast Grit

One of my favourite things about climbing with Pete is that he loves a silly challenge. It doesn’t matter whether it’s painful, tiring, embarrassing or just ridiculous – he’s up for it. I’ve climbed over 500 routes in a day with him, lead Master’s Edge dressed as a transvestite and various animals and also completed the Staffordshire Nose Challenge. 

It’s this “Nose” challenge that I’ve actually grown to be most fond of. It’s an interesting mixture of competitive speed climbing and brutal gritstone crack climbing. Not exactly the day out that most people enjoy, but who said climbing was supposed to be easy?! The task of the day is set out as follows:

1. Climb all of the Brown and Whillans routes in 24hrs at Ramshaw, Hencloud & Roaches

2. Both members of the team must climb each route cleanly and in any order. 

3. The clock starts at the first route and finishes when the seconder tops out the last route. 

4. Beat Andi T’s time!!!

Over the last few years, the challenge has morphed from one where the aim is simply to complete it in 24hrs (it’s actually blooming’ hard) to trying to better the fastest time it’s been done in. Last year the Staffordshire Hotshots (Andi Turner and Pete Bridgwood) broke mine and Pete’s time to set a new record at 8hrs 41mins. They’d prepared well and got some really good section times in, especially at the Roaches. With the record broken, Pete and I started to get really psyched. It was just like Hans Florine and Dean Potter on the Yosemite Nose…. times were coming down and non-serious rivalries developed! 


Andi T & Pete doing an “Uber-Huber” © Dave Hudson

Last week – after a preparation day the week before – Pete and I went for the record. We were pumped up and amped to the max. I’d even persuaded Pete that stopping for lunch was NOT an option. As we waited at the base for our start time, we felt apprehensive as both of us had a developed a need for frequent toilet stops. I’d eaten a month’s worth of Clif Bars at the Kendal Film Fest the day before and I was paying the price. Guy Van Greuning came out to capture the day’s action on film (by the look of his face at the start I think he couldn’t believe that two climbers could be such idiots and still contemplate this day out!).

The day actually went very badly considering all things. The main problem was that only one route on the whole day was actually dry, due to a claggy mist that enveloped all three crags and later rain. Fortunately one of the first routes that we had to do was the dry one, so somehow Pete and I focussed on the positivity of this and pushed on. After an hour or so, it started to rain and things got fairly critical. Pete’s lead of Dorothy’s Dilemma (very bold E1 5b) was “scarier than Meshuga” in his words and I very nearly fell of seconding it as I tried to pull on holds that resembled bars of wet soap. By the time we’d reached Hencloud and 16+ routes were under our belts, we had entered the zone of no return. We were screwed and we knew it. Our trousers and tops were soaking wet, our shoes were drenched and chalk didn’t seem to do very much except colour the rock. 


On our preparation day we’d been careful about cleaning our shoes, making sure there were no damp spots on the rubber and coiling the rope carefully. Now, at 1pm on Hencloud we were soloing Main Crack with feet that were so wet that any drying was hopeless. The water seemed to emanate from within! Fortunately Pete and I had a secret weapon. Neither of us ever admit to the other person that we should probably give up. We know that as long as the fateful words are not spoken then failure isn’t an option until literally someone can’t drag themselves up another single move. 

That did nearly happen at Ramshaw though. I was seconding Masochism (how the hell is that HVS???!!) and reached a point of total exhaustion. I was smoked. I couldn’t breathe and my arms wouldn’t bend. I’d gone all-body anaerobic and Pete just sat above shouting  words that made me feel like a hero. 

“Yes! Nice Tom. You’ve got that. Stick it. STICK IT!”

I felt like a deadman walking. Deadman climbing? Somehow his unrealistically optimistic words booted me in the arse and I crawled upwards. I don’t know how. It was so close I felt like I’d just topped out on Century Crack again. In fact I think I might have tried harder on Masochism?! Just half an hour later Pete lead Ramshaw crack in soaking wet conditions and I joined him at the top, slithering into a pile of Tom-shaped clothes. Guy was screaming, Pete was screaming and we were over the moon to get a new record time of 5 hrs and 53 mins. What a day and so happy to have had those two guys to have enjoyed it with. Think I might do a bit more of this!