Eastern Grit - A Travel Journal
Wild Country ambassador, Naomi Buys takes us on holiday in the Eastern Grit of the UK's Peak District in search of "perma-clean, pristine rock."
Travel Tips & Holiday Wanderings
It’s a commonly known FACT that gritstone is the best rock for climbing in the world…
Our local grit destination is the Lancashire / Yorkshire area, which obviously has the best lines (cough, cough!). Sadly, these climbs mostly face north so, after a spell of inclement weather, these forbidding, green furred horrors are not for the faint-hearted. If you want a fun day out on perma-clean, pristine rock, the Peak District is the mecca.
The Journal - Finding Paradise
I first ventured to the Eastern edges with my cousin Kieran in the mid-90’s. We were two inexperienced but super keen teenagers armed with a cobbled together rack, a furry 10mm single rope, 1 sleeping bag and a hotchpotch collection of snacks, mainly consisting of packets of raw jelly and out-of-date yogurts. In those days we hitched everywhere. The Peak District is really good for this; everyone seems to be ‘outdoorsy’, and drivers don’t generally bat an eyelid at skint climbers cadging a lift.
We were like kids in a sweet shop, although a tad overwhelmed by all the choice at Stanage. We picked the shortest, least intimidating lines to begin with. I still got pumped! Like on the hand traverse of Fina (HVS 5b) when I opted to carry on climbing rather than pausing to place gear…. Soon we thought we were invincible. Despite some terrible nights’ sleep (fighting over the sleeping bag) and comically inadequate nutrition, we moved through the grades. We didn’t own a guidebook, but we leafed through the Youth Hostel copy of On Peak Rock every night to plan the next day’s challenges. Sometimes we bit off more than we could chew – I recall getting spanked by Old Friends (E4), it was much harder and scarier than I had imagined, and we weren’t quite as good as we thought we were!
Nevertheless, we were bitten by the bug. Over the years, I have returned many times to this rock paradise. One of my most memorable experiences was a magical day at Curbar and Froggatt. In the space of a couple of hours I racked up 40 onsight solo E points with the following amazing routes: Don’t Slip Now E5, Hairless Heart E5, Artless E5, Downhill Racer E4, Narcissus E6, Oedipus Ring Your Mother E4, Heartless Hare E5, and Hairy Heart E6. The previous day, I had been frustrating myself by failing on limestone sport routes. I needed some mental therapy and the pure, unadulterated movement on these bold, beautiful slabs reignited my love for climbing.
For me, Peak grit is about playing – whether sampling easy trad, getting serious for a headpoint, or enjoying a day out bouldering, the rock seems designed and sculpted to entertain us, which always brings me pleasure.
Beta - Can't Miss Routes
Clean, compact gritstone – there is a widespread of styles from bold solos to well-protected cracks, slabs, and overhangs. These crags are deservedly popular. You might not have solitude, but you will have accessible, trafficked routes with fantastic climbing.
Warm Ups - Don't Get Sandbagged
Almost all the crags have a good selection of easy routes or boulders to choose from. Check the UKC logbook entries for an idea of which climbs are reasonable for the grade, and which ones are the sandbags if you want to avoid any nasty surprises.
Classic Boulder Problems Stanage: Crescent Arete (V2), Not To Be Taken Away (V4), Green Traverse (V6), Deliverance (V8+), and Brad Pit (V9). Curbar: Trackside (V6), Gorilla Warfare (V6), and Walk On By (V10). Burbage: The Nose (V6), West Side Story (V9), Banana Finger (V2), Remergence (V4), Blind Date (V8+), The Terrace (V9), and Voyager (V13).
Must Do Routes
Cracks: The File (VS) at Higgar, which rewards the jamming specialist, Peapod (HVS) at Curbar, more of an offwidth struggle.
Flying Buttress Direct (HVS) at Stanage – and make sure you have a buddy on standby with a camera! The Rasp (E2) at Higgar is another good steep climb which feels easy for the strong.
Bold, slabby routes:
3 Pebble Slab at Froggatt is a rite of passage, and then you can enter the continually ongoing grade debate (is it HVS, is it E1??).
For The Bold & Strong
Wet your appetite with Archangel (E3) at Stanage, a wonderful bold arete which rewards the confident approach.
Too easy? move to Ulysses (E5), then Master’s Edge (E7) both at Millstone. Along with London Wall (E5), a perfectly designed finger-crack exercise.
Prefer offwidths? Try Goliath (E4) at Burbage South. And if you still need more then try Strapadictomy (E5) at Froggatt and End of the Affair (E8) at Curbar which, have both graced magazine front covers because they are such aesthetically pleasing lines, as well as evoke a ‘heart-in-mouth’ feeling.
Generally, you won’t find a route longer than 20 – 25m, most are much shorter. A normal rack of wires and friends with 10 to 12 quickdraws will usually suffice. Some routes benefit from double ropes, others you can manage with a single, especially if you have a few slings to extend runners. There are mostly well-trodden descent paths to get you back to the bottom of your route – take some flip-flops for the second to bring up if you want to avoid getting gritty dirt embedded in your rock shoes. Landings tend to be mostly quite flat and friendly, but a pad is always a good idea.
The BMC has produced some excellent definitive guides, which include detailed information about the routes and boulders at each specific area. For a more general overview, Rockfax Eastern Edges guide covers all the classic routes and their Peak Bouldering guide is extensive. The Vertebrate Peak District Bouldering Guide is really good, with the benefit of local knowledge and awesome photos.
Seasons - What To Expect
Summer can be too warm for climbing ‘hard grit’, but will be perfect for enjoying the lower grade classics. Autumn through Spring offers the best conditions (when it isn’t raining!). Most of the crags in the Eastern grit area face the sun at least for part of the day, and many of the buttresses are quick-drying, especially the edges on open moorland. Mid-winter can sometimes turn the crags into a ‘snow-balling’ playground, giving climbers the opportunity to boulder out some of the more necky lines in relative safety.
How To Get There
These are popular crags and the parking is relatively limited at most of them – share transport where possible. Public transport is a good option for crags like Burbage South (regular buses between Sheffield and Hathersage stop at the Fox House). There used to be a climber’s bus service that did a circuit to the main climbing areas, but it was sadly under-used and was not viable. Now getting to Stanage on public transport is a bit of a faff and a long walk, unless you are a successful hitch-hiker. There are regular bus and train services to Hathersage and Grindleford.
Insider Tips - Eat, Drink, Sleep Eat & Drink
There are some funky cafes in Hathersage offering a selection from greasy breakfast to healthy, specialist lunches.
Outside Café is climber friendly and has the benefit of a well-stocked shop.
Little John in Hathersage serves hearty, reasonably priced fodder.
Fox House at the Chequers Inn offers a bit posher fare if that is what you prefer. There are also a lot of fantastic eateries in Sheffield if you fancy a bit more International variety.
There is a campsite near Hathersage (North Lees), and a few others dotted about throughout the Peak. Wild camping is not a great idea, you will likely be moved on by the ranger. There are places to park up in a van, but be discreet – most of the car parks are ‘no overnight parking’.
There is reasonably priced accommodation at the Little John, the Fox House, Norfolk Arms at Ringinglow and a few other hotels – check laterooms.com for the best deals. Holiday cottages abound too if you are planning a longer stay.
Eastern Grit Kit Suggestions
1 ISLAND, 2 MONKS AND UNTOUCHED GRANITE
“Why did James and I pick a small dot on the other side of the planet?”
Because Yuji told us about it. The last time Yuji proposed us a trip, we ended up in Kinabalu, the now oh so famous mountain where untouched granite will overwhelm the climber. The Real Rock tour has thrown Kinabalu into fame, but 5 years ago, when we went there, no climber could even put it on the climbing
Kinkasan is a small island not far from Fukushima, on the north east side of Japan. It has 26km circumference and is inhabited by two monks. From Tokyo it is a six hour journey. Yuji didn’t say that much more: Kinkasan’s coast is covered with granite cliffs, and there is a Shinto shrine on it. Yuji mentioned as well the damages made by the tsunami…
We began our journey with next to no expectations about the climbing, and a big question mark for the rest. 3 days in the trip and I know exactly why we came: for Japan.
2 years ago we spent a week in this unique country and both James and I knew that we had to come back one day: how could I compare it? Well, the first time you taste wine, you have heard a lot about it. But you smell, and you only smell the alcohol, you taste and you can’t put words on it because wine is subtle, complicated and requests an education. You have to go back to it, learn to enjoy, differentiate and remember. Japan is maybe a little bit like wine.
There is this astonishing mix of modernity (the Japanese toilets and their multi jets, music and self cleaning options give you an idea of the immensity of your difference) and spirituality, respect, focus.
We arrived at Base Camp, the gym that Yuji opened 5 years ago in Tokyo, and I oscillate between marvel and shame. I am a pro climber, and most of the boulders are too hard for me, the Japanese climbers around me seem to evolve so effortlessly, like flying cats on the wall. But then you realise: the world championship have just finished in Paris and in the bouldering competition, 3 of the 6 medals are not only Japanese, but from Tokyo, from Base Camp. Yuji and his company helps the athletes become professional and they often climb together. Shall I repeat that? Half of the world’s medals come from one gym! Surely there is no wonder that Yuji owns that gym… But that is only just the very top of the iceberg, because behind this 3 medals, there are a lot of other athletes with an incredible level. I have never seen so many good, extremely good boulderers in one place. And I am a former competition climber, trust me, I know what I am talking about.
“Why are they so good?”
The answer is surely complicated but here are a few elements: climbing has become very trendy in Japan, with over a 100 gyms in Tokyo. The Japanese body type is perfect for climbing; light, powerful and explosive muscles. The Japanese constant pursuit of perfection pushes the athletes to train hard, just like everyone around them simply accomplished every task with perfection.
It was dry for the crossing, and after unpacking our bags at the shrine we bouldered on a nearby beach for 1 hour before the rain came. With so much rock to see and so little time, we hiked out anyway along the coast to search out potential lines. The rain became heavier, we became wetter, and after 4 soggy hours we returned to the shrine, hopes high but spirits low. We’d been preparing this trip since September 2015, putting the team together, finding funding from sponsors, organizing the local logistics, yet it would all be in vain if the weather didn’t brighten up.
A morning of rain gave us the excuse to sit down and record some interviews, though truthfully we had little to say as we’d done little climbing. Toru, ever the silent optimist finally dragged me out to the closest boulder spot during a break between two showers, and we were surprisingly able to climb! Toru lived up to his reputation of boldness and brilliance, making the first ascents of two of Kinkasan’s boldest and hardest problems. Finally things were looking up. The forecast was good for the following days, and group psyche could not have been higher. We began to plan our upcoming adventure and our first trip to the other side of the island – the area with the highest concentration of rock, and the biggest cliffs, but had to cut them short as bad news broke.
With my thirst for climbing temporarily quenched, we left the island in limbo, happy, yet sad, but knowing we’d be back in less than 24 hours. We passed the day visiting some of the worst tsunami affected towns in an effort to better understand what hardships the local people had to live through, and how they are moving forwards towards the future. It is one thing to watch the news from the comfort of your lounge back home, it is another thing entirely to see it first hand, and speak to the people who have lost everything - houses, possessions, loved ones!
Suddenly our troubles with the rain seemed embarrassingly small, and we remembered why we were actually here in the first place.
Our personal climbing desires must come second to the larger goal of showing this place to the world. Rain or shine, we have to get out there. Hike around, document the potential, and if in the end we are lucky, open up some new routes.