Girls on the Gritstone

In the past two years and eight months, we have had at least three major family trips away with the kids, to climbing destinations where we’ve tried to combine our old pre-child lives with our current situation. I’ve made quite a big deal about getting out with younger ones in tow, being very vocal on social media and writing articles for ukclimbing and for The Project Magazine about this subject, not to mention the countless days out locally. And yet, despite all this experience, there is still a massive amount of apprehension before going away with the children.

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"we're going on an adventure!" that's what I've been telling our eldest before we head off this weekend to the gritstone for a family climbing trip. And its scary! More scary for us, full of apprehension and nerves; what if they're sick? What about their sleeping? Have we got enough stuff? Have we got the RIGHT stuff?! What if we get distracted working a project and the cold disappears into a hole in the ground…? Okay that last one is more me than Em but it is nerving. But that shouldn't hold us back and for the last two and a half years, it hasn't; this photo is by @emks93 on our first baby climbing trip to Ireland. She was four months old. Granted, we've had to do things differently but there's a word for that: parenting. Everything in our lives is now done differently! And, for us, it's really important that they get these experiences and that they get them young. We want to show them that they CAN go and have adventures, that there are no limits to their abilities. We want strong, empowered children that become rounded, enlightened people. We want them to develop experiences from different people in different places, to show them to keep learning. So come on kids, we're going to show you the world. It's amazing, you'll love it.

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This weekend has been planned for nearly a year and yet at the back end of last week, with days to go, we nearly sacked it off on account of stress. Granted there were slightly extenuating circumstances – with sickness and general sleep deprivation – but even at the time, it seemed more that the stresses of getting everything ready and in line were taking their toll and didn’t entirely seem worth it.

Even once we arrived at the hut, we weren’t sure how long we’d last and at one point, even i was ready to pack everyone back up in the truck and go straight home again; stereo screaming echoing in my ears. And yet, partly through our resolve to allow the kids into this aspect of our lives and partly through the knowledge that valuable reinforcements were on their way, we stuck out that first night, and the second and returned having had another fantastic child/climbing adventure.

Girls at the Gritstone

The scene for this particular adventure was the Roaches in Staffordshire: one of England’s most famous crags, with a fantastic circuit of easier grade bouldering to accomany the more established and iconic trad lines of the last seventy years. On the face of it, this weekend should’ve been significantly easier as we were staying in the old Don Whillans Memorial Hut at the basse of the crag.

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An eventful end to and adventure weekend at the Don Whillans Memorial Hut at the Roaches. Such a convenient and awesome place to stay, where you could literally throw the pads out the front door and hit an established boulder! And yet one of the things that struck me was how much was there that wasn't developed! Do people assume that because it's one of the countries most famous crags, there's nothing new left?! Or have they been done before and long since forgotten about? Most likely I imagine is that it takes a different mindset to go off piste and try something green and undone before. Still, I'd love to go spend a week here and do nothing but new lines. I reckon it could easily be done #peak #peakbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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The hut is pretty incredible and dates back to the early 1880s, although later became a gamekeepers hut in 1862 (for a more detailed and interesting history, see this article by the BMC, who now own and run the venue) and is a thing to behold. With a rustic charm indicating it’s history, the hut holds a slightly industrial feel – steel sinks and table in the kitchen for example and distinct lack of sofa – that at first feels a little cold but probably stems from an attempt to live alongside the inevitable wildlife that share the grounds. Still, considering the locale and the intentions of anyone staying there, this makes sense as it is unlikely people will want to spend too much time indoors when staying here.

Such was the case for our crew: our family of four and their maternal grandparents, who had booked the hut, plus their son James and his two friends, Tom and Karl. If it hadn’t been for England and Wales both being in action in the rugby world cup, i dare say we’d have been out even more than we were; which was practically all hours we were awake! Thankfully, we had the weather to make that work.

Routes of All Lengths

The England match coincided with a foggy and murky start to the day, luckily, meaning we could watch the Aussies get a thumping while waiting for the rock to dry out. Once full time had been blown, it was game on and after a short reccie, we were up at the famous and popular Upper Tier boulders.

For me, it turned out to be an apt place to start. I have no idea when i first climbed at the Roaches, probably sometime around 2003, but i do remember the first problems i tried: namely those on the obvious bloc under The Sloth and the very same boulders we began at this Saturday gone. These days i climb a lot harder than back then, meaning i have much less fear of actually trying the tougher lines (see this article written for Prowess last week about grades and performance) opening up more oppotunities than last time.

Having a substantial landing helps too and soon, instead of utilising this fact, i was dangling from the lip on the dyno eliminate Apocolypse Now 7a+ feeling my recent form might carry through to the weekend. There was an infectious drive within the group too and it was great to see the crew studiously working on the tricksome Don’s Crack 4+ to form a bit of a send train up the awkward moves. It spurred me on to flash Broken Wing 7a, although if anyone can shed light on the start of this i’d be grateful, as it appears that a “hanging start” is no longer possible without a one-arm lock off…

Lunchtime timed out immaculately with a heavy shower that stopped just as we finished munching and soon, the lads were off out in search of dry routes on the nearby crag. They managed to find something suitable: a wet hand jam crack that saw multiple ascents again as our little family walked up to catch some of the action. I’m sure there was some disappointment not to get on something a touch tougher but such is life when things are booked in advance; you play the cards you’re dealt and it was great to see people making the most, rather than sitting, complaining about conditions.

The evening rolled around, pizzas all round and while the children slept (mostly anyway) and most of the group played an enthusiastic game of Articulate, Em and myself took the lanterns out for a night-boulder. The last time i was at the Roaches was around the time we got together and i was distracted in freezing conditions on the Tetris boulder with very little in the way of any tangible success. At the time, i’d thought i didn’t need to come back but time introduces an element of doubt and i thought i should give it another try, with the added irony that i am now here with the same wonderful girl i was trying to court from the last time. For me, that evening held a beautiful symmetry.

It did not yield any sends though and did bring a rather bad knock to my arse when i fell hard and landed on a rock. Tetris 7c is hard, high and scary in the daylight, let alone by torchlight and i was happy to get the first four moves or so. I’ve no need to go back now, although i can’t say i won’t change my mind again in the next three years…

Easy Like a Sunday Morning

Sunday saw the lads run out as a foursome, eager to make the most of the sunshine while i cheered on the Welsh in their 20-19 quarter final win over France and the girls recovered from another tumultuous night. A boys bedroom and a girls bedroom kept me separated from any parental responsilibity for the weekend and while i do feel a bit bad, it’s the first time i find myself glad we have two daughters.

Soon enough, after packing some kit, we were kitted out and went in search of the climbers, taking a lovely walk over the top of the moors trying to find them. I had intended to get Rosie on a rope but the one thing we’ve learnt about being active with kids is that you can’t force it; you put things in place to try and make it happen but always remember that it still might not. In this case it didn’t but even so, it was another good day for them to experience the outdoors and to see their family in action.

Once again, the rain hinted that we should stop on the rock and we headed back to pack up and clean before heading for home. We could’ve climbed more if things had worked out differently but it could’ve been significantly worse and the most important aspect to the weekend was to get out with others and have a good time. All told, we accomplished that in spades and i dare say, will be back next year to continue what it fast becoming a very good tradition.

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