Five hours is a long old drive. Thankfully Sam drives a mobile hotel (his Peugeot 306 estate) so it was mainly a long drive for him, a long sit for me.
But fear not, my behind and I persevered for the stunning landscapes, gorgeous gritstone and the Bakewell puddings – we were off to the Peak District for the Easter Bank Holiday.
Fortunately we’re young and (almost) without commitment so we set off driving Thursday night to eat through the miles while the sun was resting to make the most of our time up North.
However, things don’t always work out as you’d planned.
Naively we had assumed – or rather hoped – that we’d be more than welcome to use one of the car parks beneath Stanage Edge as our campsite. It became apparent that this was not the case at roughly half five in the morning as dream and reality merged to the tune of a displeased Derbyshire accent repeatedly insisting we wake up. Eventually we reached a level of consciousness that enabled the conversation to begin – something to the effect of: Don’t sleep here, I’ll be back tomorrow and won’t leave until you do. ‘Okay,’ we grumbled as he moved on to inform Pymn and Connie of his intentions. As an aside here – much respect to that guy and anyone who works in any of our National Parks – you in no small way help us do what we love.
We awake to a drizzly, misty morning on the moorland – miserable yet magnificent.
It’s early but still the area surrounding our camp is alive with runners, cyclists and walkers enjoying the best of British weather.
We pitch a tarp’ between the two biggest vans and with a carpet of tacky mud we set about making breakfast at a relaxed pace – we know not much climbing will be happening today as the friction-fest that is gritstone climbing isn’t going to be that fun in the wet and windless conditions.
Resigning ourselves to a day off the rock we throw on waterproof layers and head off walking up to Stanage Edge – we’re quickly put to shame by the ‘clank’ of the trad racks (gear used for protection in trad climbing) of some more intrepid climbers.
For now it’s enough of an experience being close to the rock and beneath the routes that have made so many legends famous.
We then head to Hathersage to put greasy fingerprints on shiny new gear in the town’s outdoor shops and stock up on supplies before driving across the moor to Bakewell to sample an authentic Bakewell pudding.
Puddings and Homity pies scoffed and underwhelming Kopi Luwak (cat shit coffee) sipped – we had to try it – we piled back into the vans and hit the road in search of a more agreeable spot to park up. Ed and Angus’ expert navigations skills with an OS map lead us to just the spot. We establish ourselves and then hit the pub with the guide books to discuss the plan for next day.
The Plantation was the plan so after a slow start the next morning we head back to Stanage Edge.
We park up on a verge due to a lack of change for the car park – resulting in a minor stuck-in-the-mud incident involving Pymn’s van – and strap bouldering pads to our backs and day packs to our fronts and we head off through the woods to the Plantation boulderfield which sits at the foot of Stanage Edge.
We set ourselves up at a boulder called The Pebble, both a good spot to familiarise ourselves with the friction of gritstone, to warm up and to see what we’ve let ourselves in for in coming back for Deliverance – an iconic and striking problem up the scooped back face of the Pebble.
So now I had a choice to make, do I use a pair of shoes that has been lent to me by a friend, which on closer inspection have deteriorating rubber bricks for soles, or an odd pair of my two least worn shoes one of which has worn through on the toe. The bricks, well they feel like bricks. I’ll go for the toeless, badly-matched pair…
The team got to work crushing the slabby west face of the Pebble and before long we were feeling at home on this unfamiliar rock again. I had forgotten how much I love gritstone’s seemingly precarious yet solid ‘footholds’ – on grit a negligible divot in the rock is enough to press your toes onto and stick.
The sun begins to burn through the cloud at this point and it seems we’ve been blessed with a better day than the weather report initially suggested.
Pleased with our performance we move on, meandering around the boulders we come across a problem that Sam had spotted the day before which involved a start pulling on two opposing pockets at quite a stretch, carefully positioning your feet then lunging up to the top with a slap onto a slopey ledge, again sorting your feet and pulling yourself up and over the top using two slopers.
At this point I spotted another boulder problem – one I hadn’t been able to climb the last time I was in the Peak District. I broke off from the group and sat beneath it wondering what was about to happen. I filled myself with strong thoughts and reminded myself I didn’t have the distraction of biblical-plague sized clouds of midges eating me from inside my ears this time around.
Sent, and easily at that. Chuffed, but best not show it too much eh, really wasnt that tough.
After some lunch, a little bit more sending and a fair bit more failure we decide it’s Deliverance time. There’s an international cohort attacking the problem as some Spanish climbers are also trying to figure out the puzzle that is the initial slab traverse to set up for the dynamic jump to the top to finish.
We combine our pads and our beta – technique tips – and, after being spat off countless times, we start to make our way through the first section the base of the real tough move in the problem.
I have made progress since last time and can just about set up beneath the jump but am tired and eventually realise it’s not going to happen today and drop off. One by one, we all reside ourselves to failure – sweetened by the fact that we must come back for the problem again, oh what a shame! All of us that is except Pymn.
Pymn has been looking super strong all day and now he’s going above and beyond crushing the first section, making the jump look easy and coming agonisingly close to the top – on closer inspection on Sam’s camera we can see his fingers are level with the final hold.
Fired up he doesn’t stop going for it: attempt, attempt, attempt, rest and repeat.
But the problem here is it’s already been a long day and fatigue sets in and there’s only so much determination before it becomes impossible, or stupid, to continue.
Sadly Pymn didn’t send it this time, but when we return I have no doubt that he’s going to get it. The man just doesn’t stop getting stronger.
Back to the pub it is then.
We get our pints in and Ed asks the barmaid if she minds if we eat some food at our table, she says its fine and in typically kind Northern style she provides us with paper plates and cutlery to assist us in devouring our weight in cheese, crackers and chutneys.
Pymn has put on quite the spread of cheeses, including his favourite ‘whirl herb’, and Connie has provided the smashed up crackers so, completely without making a mess, we set about making a serious dent in the fromagerie.
Some of the cheese has dirt in from being dropped in the mud earlier that day but we carry on anyway – I’m sure there’s a good metaphor for life in there somewhere…
Cheesed out and full of Black Sheep Ale we head back to camp and quickly find ourselves in bed.
I wake up with a surprising amount of energy the next day so get out of bed (the back of Sam’s car) and get coffees and a pan of porridge on the burn – with an MSR it’s actually pretty difficult not to burn porridge.
Not unusually, Evie (Connie’s pooch) is the first up in Pymn and Connie’s van and is bounding about with unending energy and quickly manages to locate the creepiest thing in the vicinity – an old, half missing doll’s head which quickly took pride of place on Pymn’s van.
Probably overly excited by this find Evie managed to cut her paw while playing which put the twist of an unexpected amount of DIY veterinary care on the morning.
Paw patched and coffees drunk, we drive to Froggatt Edge.
We set off on the arduous slog up the hill to Froggatt and I’ve my sights set on a little crag called Tody’s Playground. The appearance of the rock from the guidebook and the fact that it’s set a little way down from the busier Froggatt Edge make it look appealing.
As it turns out it’s little boulderer’s grotto set about twenty metres down the hill from the Pinnacle and is a dream. The sun is breaking through the trees and we’re surrounded by nature on all sides.
The climbs at Tody’s Playground are great to warm up on but get the mind working too, and the movements you make on the rock are incredible. It’s one of those places where every route leaves you with a feeling of pure joy as you push up over the top.
Angus has succumbed to his injuries today and isn’t climbing so is busy finding the next crag to hit after we’re done. He’s strangely keen and it seems he’s got something up his sleeve but, regardless, we all dutifully follow as he limps the way up through the trees.
‘There we go,’ Angus announces, ‘who’s going to solo that?’
Sam, Connie and Ed decide it’s not for them and go in search of the next boulders.
Pymn and I stand looking up at the face he’s presented us with, apprehensive and excited.
After a quick discussion on the best path up the slab we agree we’ve got to do it.
Almost as we agree to set off into the unknown, Sam returns announcing that he’d found his balls somewhere in his pocket and that this actually was his game.
It’s now a race to get shoes on and chalked hands as we all know each of us wants the first ascent here – not only for pride, but it’s markedly easier leading the way in this situation, feeling your gut and saying ‘yes’ without hesitation.
I manage to get to the foot of the face first and set off.
My nerves are definitely there but I manage to swallow them deep down. I often find that I am less afraid doing something like this than I would be above bolt on a sport route – I guess my mind knows there’s no place for fear here.
The first section is the toughest, thankfully, and after a few well placed feet and some well-timed weight shifts I find myself on the finishing flake, which is still not as positive as I first thought, and I stupidly find myself almost rushing through it.
I get to the top and feel the rush of adrenaline come over me as I realise what I’ve done.
I look down at Sam and Pymn crushing with confidence. Huge care put into each foot and hand placement as they move swiftly but scrupulously.
Sam is the next to arrive over the top and we exchange a fist bump. Pymn has got slightly stuck at one point but after an encouraging shout he’s back on his way and the three of us are reunited at the top.
Angus did an altitude reading on his watch at the top and bottom of the climb which tells us it was 60 feet of vertical ascent.
The feeling of climbing that one route was worth the whole trip in my opinion.
We then venture down through the trees that cover the hillside that drops away from Froggatt Edge to a small collection of scattered rocks called Sunset Boulders.With the afternoon light breaking through the trees this seemed like a perfect spot to end the day.
As we neared the boulders however we could see that they were all but covered in largely wet moss and lichen. We gather around the driest looking part of the biggest of the boulders.
Climbing first, I found a route that was least impeded by the masses of moss that acted as dry lubricant on the foot and hand-holds, it wasn’t all that interesting though.
Knowing our time in the Peak District was waning, Sam took decisive action. With finger tape, a bouldering brush and a carefully selected stick he created the tools to clean a tougher slab route up the face.
With Sam at the top and myself pointing out holds to give a good brushing to, Sam set about creating an eliminate line (one on which we barred the use of certain ‘better’ holds). As it turned out it was a tricky problem involving a couple of ballsy rock-overs and small, slopey holds.
After a thrill ride, slipping down the length of the slab over the moss, it was sent, firmly cementing my love of slabs and rounding off the trip nicely.
We throw climbing shoes back into bags, fold pads and get ready to walk out. By this point Evie has grown tired of her foot bandage so has abandoned it, leaving the only option to make an Evie sandwich with one of the pads for Pymn to carry her back to safety in.
Evie’s foot is now well on the mend and our time in the Peak District just a happy memory. We will be back though.