I have not posted on my blog for a very long time, years in fact, but of late I’ve been reminiscing and it got me thinking, how did I get into climbing and whats it all about? A lot has happened since my last blog post. I’ve done the odd new route on the moors, fallen out of love with climbing and got back into it, I’ve had two trips to the alps, Switzerland and Chamonix and most recently found myself at home up on the mountain crags of Scotland and the lake district, something I always hoped to be true but never believed was the case.
As a young lad I was bloody petrified of heights, but I was always adventurous and loved being in the fells and getting to the top of ‘inaccessible peaks’ seemed like fair challenge. This remains my main motivation.
Anyway, after numerous attempts to get over my fear goign out climbing with the scouts it wasnt until a good friend found his way with heights that at the age of 13 I pulled myself together. I wasn’t going to be outdone was I? A school trip to brimham rocks was bizarrely enough what started my interest in 'propper' climbing.
My parents have always encouraged me to be adventurous, giving me free reign to explore on my own from a young age – but alas neither were ever particularly into climbing as such. Luckily a few friends’ parents have been into climbing in their youth and their parents were equally lenient. And so it was, we would go off to a wood nearby that had some cliffs and scramble and abseil about. Looking back I remember once lowering myself down a cliff hand over hand down some telephone cabling we found, but you give it a good tug and if it holds your weight it holds your weight i suppose, these days we often get caught up in following the 'prefered practice'.
The other lads however never had quite the same interest in actually becoming ‘climbers’ as I did – Theyy had their own adventurous hobbies but like the other lads i had to find something id be the best at.
I started by getting some climbing books out of the school library and learning a couple of basics. As a big coincidence the school decided to build a small climbing wall in the school hall and so I joined the after school and leasuire centre ‘climbing club’ to try and find some people who could actually take me climbing on the crags.
It was probably only a matter of weeks before I met my first mentor – Matt Capsey, who very kindly took me under his wing, taking me to stanage edge. We would go on an evening to the local crags of peak scar and whitestone cliffe, climbing in the dark by headtorch on large adventurous cliffs the lights of thrisk shining from the vale of york – these were some of my best early memories of my climbing and it was the excitement of it all that no doubt had me hooked from that point onwards.
I was 13 going on 14 at the time and for Christmas I was chuffed to get a rope. I thought I knew everything there was to know and do back I went to my good friends Jake and Tom whom I’d spent many an hour with scrambling up the crags in the local wood and we searched out the local crags – little did I know I was living in the North York Moors, only the best climbing back water in Britain. It is this next year of my climbing that I had almost forgotten until recently. Of course at the time we had no leading gear and i surprise myself to remember when I return to the crags that I began climbing on that I had already soloed some reasonable routes by this point, not knowing that they were featured in any sort of ‘guide’ or given any ‘grade’. So my parents would dewly drive us onto the moors and leave three young lads with two harnesses and a rope between them to try and scale whatever crags we could find.
I bought 8 nuts and a few hexes, I was 14 and this is where it all started:
I really don’t know if I knew what I was doing at the time. My mentor and the books had taught me well, I was climbing by myself out on the crags with my mates I did everything with. We had some gear (mostly ancient caving gear) and I felt confident I knew all there was.
My first lead came at Ravenswick Quarry. (Entertaining video above). We picked the day for it, it was snowy, the crag was soaking wet and we even had a camera to film it all go wrong. I remember to this day having to kick steps at the top, I was shitting it, but this was what it was all about! Within a few weeks time, we were up on the moors and leading routes we'd looked at before as impossible without real climbing gear. We rocked up and as usual, Tom in his Whillans harness pulled out a set of pegs, he began to hammer one in. Climbing was a completely unorganised activity with no rules to us at the time and it was only I who had mild idea of ethics - a simple fact of learning to climb in this way we were still just scrambling up our local crags looking for a bit of an adventure, we worked it out for ourselves, it was a frontier!
Anyway, I’ve lost track, I climbed my first proper lead in rock boots on that day at oak crag, a VS. We worked our way along the cag and I climbed another. I understood the order of the grading system, but I had no real idea what the difficulties really meant.. After that I led an HVS slab, I got to the top and all my wires fell out, I shat my pants quite frankly, but I got to the top. Next up of course was an E1, I put the gear in and attempted the crux, I fell off, all the gear fell out and I landed flat on my back. It knocked my confidence but looking back I'm thankfull I learnt that lesson early on really.
Climbing at Camp Hill Crag just as I was getting into it.
For my 15th birthday I persuaded my parents to drop me off at the famous almscliff crag. Id climbed there once before with Matt Capsey but I remember still how miss guided I was about the routes. I had on my list to do great western an HVS, and then after that western front, an e3 I have still never done. What I now know of course is that I had no chance, but I was ambitious and they would be climbed one day.
Learning to Jam on square chimney
That Easter the three of us got dropped off at stanage edge, we spent three days living in a hole and fending for ourselves. We had a better idea of what routes we could climb, we had the gear, tom still wanted to peg the routes like the old boys, but we had a great time. It remains one of my best memories. I was beginning a new chapter in my climbing and over the next few months I would meet some of the most influential people in my climing to date, however reluctant I might be to tell them this!
Around the same time that I discovered the recordings of the routes in our local areas I discovered two names: Franco Cookson and Dave Warburton. At the time I had assumed they were quite a bit older than me, as I suppose they were to a 14 year old. I’d read their blogs and it was only then that I began to discover what climbing there was to explore. I also stumbled across Lee Robinson who was trying to discover the bouldering of the north York moors and produce a guide. I got in contact and somehow it happened that my mother dropped me off in a random carpark on the top of the moor to go climbing with this random middle aged man. With Lee I discovered bouldering and we made several discoveries of good bouldering venues, including the potential at clemitt's crag. It was also through Lee that I ended up running into Franco and Dave at ravenswick, and via some unclear circumstance I ended up in tow around the moors in search for the next unclimbed line.
Early Days of the Ravenswick Massif
The great thing about following Franco and Dave was it really allowed me to see how possible it was to climb at the higher grades. They too had come into climbing in a similar fashion to us as far as I can tell, they were only further along in their apprenticeship. Over the next couple of years from the age of 14 to 16 I worked my way up the grades, I got into new routing and began climbing all over the country with Jake using public transport and cadging lifts where we could.
Luke, Franco and Dave
Fathoming Multi Pitch climbing with Jake at Peak Scar
Sea cliff climbing on Jersey
Rory and Jake enjoying a bivi by Ulswater in the Lake District
Trying to free Mars Bar onsight at whitestone cliff - a stupid idea.
Very entertaining aid climbing video^
A block pulled out trying to onsight new routes at Smugglers Terrace - Very Scary
A new route in Newton Dale, I thought it was e1 at the time but i still cant repeat it on top rope...
Valiant at Danby Crag
Starting up Tophet wall on Napes Crag
Warrior - the second E2 I ever led and easily still the hardest.
Cooking at Ravenscar during a weekend doing new routes at the Smugglers Terrace with Dave and Franco.
Trying to climb Mane Vision E4 6b, this didnt end well after a bit of a bad fall.
New routing at Roseberry Topping
An entertaining picture of Myself Dave Franco and Matthew, whos doing what is unclear.
Whilst researching on the internet I stumbled across the names of two other young lads from the ‘other side’ of the moors of a similar age and so it was that we met at the wainstones. I began climbing with Matthew Ferrier a lot over the following year or so and he too got very involved in the moors new routing scene.
The lads at the wainstones
Matthew climbing ornithology
Ali Baba at the Wainstones
Winter climbing was of course the next stage in learning how to scale the peaks of the alps and beyond and once again Matt Capsey stepped in taking me away for a weekend in the cairngorms. I learnt some invaluable skills here, I nearly fell through a cornice, I had to do a genuine self-arrest and it remains one my most memorable climbing experiences.
On my 16th birthday the natural thing to do was buy a moped and so this really opened up the possibilities. Every weekend I would be up on the moors, searching for new routes and new crags. It was just the same as when I started only I knew what I was doing a bit more.
Searching out New Crags
A nasty fingure injury whilst trying to put up our new route Beaver Direct E4 6a
Tense moments as Franco climbs Fly Agaric E8 7a
Fever Pitch at Ravenscar
Onsighting a new route 'Swift Tuttle' E5 6b up on the moors
A recent video taken after a climbing new route in rosedale
Whilst climbing at a local crag, I met two other local lads who were also into their climbing. They like us we just the same in that they didn’t know what the hell they were doing when they started out. Infact when I met them they were setting up a zip wire from the top of the crag. One of these lads turned out to be Jack Hodgson who over the next few months became one of my main climbing partners.
Wee Nippers in Pembroke
Black Crag in Borrowdale
An absolute disaster trying to climb on an icy Raven Crag
Alas, two years later I got rid of the moped and my climbing all but stopped over a-level exams. That summer however saw me go on my first trip to the alps with Jack. At the time this was the big one, its what I had read about when I first started climbing, a trip here in my eyes would make me a ‘real climber’. On heading to the Alps, it was very much the same situation as all of my previous climbing, I’d read the books, I’d asked for information, but essentially I didn’t have a bloody clue what it was all about. Our aim was to climb the North Ridge of the Piz Badile, a technically easy but long objective with a relatively large amount of commitment compared to the rock routes of Chamonix or such places. The alps were everything I’d hoped for, not very well planned, an adventure, cold bivuacs, long committing routes, sharp rocky ridges, scary snow sloped and a true summit. We climbed the route in good time and its totally changed my climbing ever since.
A rather luxurious Bivi
Good memories in Switzerland
Summit of the Piz Badile - Only 4 hitch hikes and 2 rains back round into Switzerland
That September I started university at Leeds providing the perfect opportunity to get back into my climbing and over the coming year I did so, all be it a bit slower than I had hoped. The following summer I travelled to Chamonix, this time with George Newham, a member of the Leeds Uni Mountaineering Club. The weather wasn’t ideal and we couldn’t complete our objectives, however on the other hand it give me the opportunity to try some more technical alpine rock routes, which together with a recent trip to Skye and glen coe really semented my love for climbing on the big fells.
An E3 up in Coire Lagan
George enjoying some mountain trad in Coire Lagan
A very old route on the Etive Slabs - Initially I found myself out on the slab to the right of the picture which I now know to be an E6 6a, thankfullu I realised something wasnt quite right...
High up in Glen Coe
Le Ticket on the Aiguille du peigne
George Seconding one of the crux pitches of 'Echec et Marx' ED2/7a+/E4(with the odd pull on a bolt)
A good Belay
So where am I now? Well, Ive climbed a good few routes here and there. But at the end of the day climbing always me right back to the start. Climbing for me has never been about the moves or the gymnastics of it all and to call it a sport is something that I still find something difficult to understand. Climbing in the sence I had always imagined it is dying out. And whilst I was excited when I discovered a climbing community actually existed several years ago, with rules and ethics came a side to the past time that remains frustrating, for it was all about the lack of rules, to be able to do what I wanted, the danger, the tenacity and the adventure that came with it. It still feels to me the same as it did when I started out though, it’s a bit of rock, and to climb it would mean to reach a point which other people cannot access, a real adventure, a challenge, no more and no less.
Was it down there Jake?
There was no Piggy to make sense.