Tag Archives: weekend away

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.

Rounding off on Slopers

I thought i’d posted this and have just come to give the latest update in my life when i suddenly realised it wasn’t published… Originally written on the 19th September

 

It is now Wednesday and while the ache in my shoulders has now finally subsided – putting my down jacket on yesterday was still causing me to wince slightly – it has been replaced by tiredness after a long night of dealing with a sleepless 18-month old. It seems my little weekend trip is now most definitely over.

Once you come back from something like that, it’s inevitable to be asked how it went and i’m not entirely sure how to answer this time. Even two days on the grit, people are interested and in the past i’ve been known to judge my time away by the sends i’ve come back with. This time, that leaves me a little disappointed.

I had become very focused on the idea of Seven 7s on film and as i mentioned in my last post, once we’d lost the Friday it was an unlikely and tall order. The experience on Gorilla Warefare and Early Doors had left me slightly dejected but a quick send of Kiss Me Arsee 7a at Birchen late on the Saturday had renewed hope.

Again, i was left in the balance come rise on Sunday: the tents were sheltered and dry but a glance across to the next field could show driving drizzle. Not bad enough conditions to simply give up but not good enough to drive psyche.

So we did what all good Brits do in these conditions: we went for a sandwich and a cup of tea. Pack up reasonably efficiently, drive north, first to Calver and then on to the familiar Outside in Hathersage. In the time it took to eat and drink (and begin a conversation about Bob Dylan that would last two days) the ground had dried up enough to get us going. We were now psyched, despite Lewis’s fingertips so thin they were almost leaking plasma.

I’d prompted us in the direction of Cratcliffe, as i was keen for both Jerry’s Problem 7b and T Crack 7b and i thought the shelter may help us in getting something done. One or both of those problems would almost definitely make the weekend a success, especially if i could capture it on film!

On the way, though, the weather turned again. Little rain began to fall on the windscreen and i realised it was drier further north, where we’d just come from. A session at a crag we weren’t as keen for would be better than nothing at a crag we weren’t so the sensible option was to turn around and find somewhere nearer Hathersage, where there was no liquid falling out of the sky.

Yet. After so much faffing – in hindsight at least – we eventually arrived at the good old Suprise View car park with a view to hit up Millstone, only to look across the valley and see the familiar drizzle we’d been running away from had found us. Damn you, weather gods.

I figured shelter was what was now needed and so, as i have done many times before, we made the short slog into Secret Garden. I enacted my revenge on Lewis for his bushwacking exploits of the day before, unintentionally mind, as we ploughed through ferns taller then me, let alone my companion and eventually stumbled across the small scar that i’d first visited back in my undergrad days, all those many years ago.

Beachball 7a fit the bill for my plans and has been on my radar for very many years but alas, there was just not enough energy left in the tank. Much as with Early Doors i couldn’t have been closer without getting the tick, i was that close but that problem has thwarted me time and again. Everything else followed suit.

Looking back, the indecision of the weekend certainly contributed to our poor return in terms of climbs and the remarkably large amount of walking definitely didn’t help with overall fitness levels. Our pads were heavy and uncomfortable over such distances and it sapped the life out of me, the straps digging into my collarbones. In retrospect, having a more definitive plan and sticking to it would’ve probably yielded more success.

And that, right there, has probably tipped the balance on the verdict for the weekend. Poor trips are part of climbing, we have bad days and in turn, they contribute to make the good ones all the better. Being able to learn from that is what makes us better climbers, nay better people, in the long run.

 

A huge thanks to Lewis for coming along and putting up with me for the weekend! Here’s looking forward to many more in the future. 

Burgered and Broken

With burgers in our bellies and Climb On now covering our fingertips, both my companion for the weekend – who, Mr annoying man at Frogatt is neither my son nor am i his “chaffeur” – and i are throughly wiped out after a day that saw us at three separate crags. Sadly, though, despite this valiant effort, my goal of Seven 7s on film now looks increasingly unlikely.

You’ll recall from my last post that we were hoping to head to the Lakes for this weekend but as i woke on Friday morning, i checked the forecast and instantly wrote it off: apololyptic rain and climbing don’t mix and no amount of wishful thinking was going to get us anywhere with this one.

So the decision was quickly made to head east and a surly disposition soon followed. Every time i try and go to the Lakes, i get rained off. Every fucking time.

What made it slightly worse was the relentless drizzle we found ourselves taking with us from North Wales right to the campsite. We ran into Ben Brandsby in Outside in Hathersage – a friend of little Lewis, who introduced me – and at one point, his reply to the question of where would be dry was “The Works will be dry…”

We found a nice site near our intended crags, pitched camp and went shopping for food. Still the drizzle fell and soon nightfall with it and with that, we found ourselves in the local pub, me nearly falling out a couple of pints, hours and a hefty pudding later.

At this point, the idea of filming us completing Seven 7s and compiling a short movie was unlikely but i was undeterred and this morning, after a bit of a lie in, we awoke and i chatted with a woman for whom a tin-foil hat would’ve been entirely appropriate – “you’re not Jewish are you?” she asked me while watching me eat a bacon sandwich before railing on our collective decision to poison our bodies with meat and wheat and pretty much anything else! Soon we were heading for the quick-drying Curbar.

Trackside was my very first 7a back in April 2006 and for a little while, i’ve wanted to repeat it. It seemed fitting now was the chance, with another huge life-change just around the corner. Lewis ticked it first (today that is, he was five back when i got it the first time) while i eagerly filmed from a distance. Then it was my turn, along with pretty much anyone else who was passing. I’ve been flashing 7a outside lately but the retro flash most certainly didn’t and after the first attempt, i was clutching my thigh before i even hit the ground, cursing my aging and creaking body. It’s still sore nearly 12 hours later.

Still, a repeat did indeed follow, as well as a stunning photo of a new friend:

Feeling buoyed, we headed up slightly to finish off an old project line, Gorilla Warefare 7a. I’d set up the tripod before i set up the pad and quickly realised the reason i’ve always been put off is the large rock right underneath the finish. However, a more direct finish, Early Doors 7a+ avoids this and was now well within my capabilities. Or at least i thought.

I’m not sure if i bottled it or ran out of juice, i’ll have to watch the video, but in my experience, if you’re asking that question, you could’ve finished it if you really wanted to. Sadly, either way, it was not to be and with that went our last realistic chance of Seven 7s in a weekend.

We packed up, bickered slightly about the route ahead before Lewis led us across a non-path through chest high bracken and seriously broken ground and i got the hump. We traversed the bottom of Curbar crag, missed the path we were looking for and before we knew it, were at Froggatt.

I wasn’t really that inspired by the routes Lewis not aptly threw himself at, never really being sold on crag problems that finish half-way up the wall and still grumbling internally at being led somewhere like this without any discussion. Still, it’s his trip too and it was only fair to let him crack on. Eventually i wandered off to see if i could see something that did insprire me nearby.

What i saw didn’t inspire anything other than hurry. The Peak District is a laregly flat (remember where i’m from) area that allows for a lot of vision for miles around and a few miles away, you could make out the rain falling from a very dark sky. Suddenly very conscious of quite how far from the sanctuary of our vehicle we were, i wasn’t about to suggest we started on a different problem; i was suggesting we quickly run away.

Lewis finished up nicely and we packed up and took another beeline back to Curbar. We still didn’t find that elusive path and made an impromptu descent down some more sketchy and broken ground with more bushwacking, this time with rain gently falling on us from above.

Still we made it to the car largely dry and unscathed and with the sky now clearing. It was only 5:30 and that offered either a very long evening of not a lot or a chance to get another crag in. We opted for the latter.

I thought the walk in to Birchen was shorter than it is but it is quite easy and largely flat. Annoyingly the problem i had in mind was at the far end of the crag and after a gut busting route march, we made it.

Kiss Me Arsee 7a didn’t give up easy and manages to hide her beta well. What’s more, with a whopping 1 seven filmed so far, the camera battery died and we were left with a mobile phone instead; oh well. That largely didn’t matter as i seemed to inexplicably stick two very slappy moves to slopers and soon found myself topping out my second 7 of the day.

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After a long trudge across the top of Curbar to Froggatt, where @lil_lewis_climber made some nice repeats of old classics (#photo coming soon) we made a hasty retreat, watching some ominous black clouds heading our way. But while we did get rained on a little, it really wasn't much and was still early when we got back to the truck. So we made an equally hasty beeline for #birchenedge and this little beauty: Kiss Me Arsee 7a. I've been flashing 7a back home but this was a fight and she didn't give away her beta easy. Still, there was just about enough juice in the tank for one last and off the day #peak #peakbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #weekendaway Thanks to @lil_lewis_climber for the photo

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And that brings us to now: sitting quietly in my tent while Lewis is crashed out in the tent next door, exhausted from our day’s exploits, sat on my laptop, bloggin away happily. I did marvel for a moment about how far technology has come, that i can connect my computer to the internet in a tent in the middle of nowhere, until i remembered i did this up an almost uninhabited Alpine valley back in 2010* . Still, my tent has an electric hookup this time. Funny how things move on.

 

(*may not have had internet through my phone, may have just written it and posted it later, too long ago, can’t remember but i’ve DEFINITELY done this before in a tent somewhere.)

A Break From the Norm

Approximately 10 million people visit Snowdonia every year, so i hear. What i do know is a lot of people travel up from London, Birmingham or West from Manchester, Liverpool and Chester. Spending their weeks commuting through the city, the hustle and bustle of life everywhere, the cars, the smoke, the constant orange glow through the night, you can see why they do.

I understand it as i used to do it. I grew up in the city, moving to Birmingham when i was seven. For the last eighteen months (or thereabouts) that i was there, i even worked in the city centre; either driving or bussing in, seeing literally thousands of people every week. The calm and peace of the countryside is world’s apart.

But what would you do if you lived in that peaceful idyllic little haven? That’s the question i face quite regularly. As beautiful and wonderful as the hills i call home may well be, periodically, i need to leave – to charge the batteries in the same way as those 10 million people mentioned in the first paragraph.

As regular readers will know, this is normally to some different idyllic little haven, quite often abroad. Anybody reading for a while will know of my periodic pilgrimage to Fontainebleau, or my annual summer birthday trip. However, it’s not quite as easy as that a lot of the time.

Going off on jolly foreign holidays can get a bit expensive. While it is TOTALLY worth it, and i wouldn’t change it for the world, sometimes the fact is that i just can’t afford to go. This autumn, for example, i would normally sod off somewhere cool but for two reasons: firstly, i’m broke from this summer in Switzerland and secondly, Fredrik is coming to visit.

So i now find myself in Birmingham for a weekend break. The looks and comments i received at work when i told people of my weekend plans were much the same as i’ve seen before: bemused and confused as to why i’d chose to spend my spare time in the big smoke. The simple fact is that i miss it.

This is where i’m from, what i grew up with and what i know. The anonymity of a crowd, the people watching and midnight kebabs are all things i do miss. That’s not to say i’d change it back, move back to the city, but every now and again, it is refreshing to come back. I was last here for any length of time earlier this year, to work on the Land Rover, as this is home to my mechanic. His name is Dad.

And now I am due for a return. I arrived last night and today have been visiting family – my cousin Lindsay and her husband Rich, with their two beautiful little girls, who had visited last me last weekend but only for an hour, due to work and various commitments. Tomorrow meanwhile i will be going to town with my mum, not with anything in mind, (i’m broke remember) just a wander round to be around people and experience what i’ve been missing.

And that will probably be my fill. It doesn’t take much, and please don’t get me wrong: i’m not doing it to remind me why i left but instead, what i left. There is beauty in life everywhere; sometimes you need to leave to see it.