Well this weekend I was expecting to write an article regailing my climbing exploits in North Wales. And as it turns out going to North Wales would have been a good choice after all, at least in terms of weather. However the great british weather did a double u-turn on us which resulted in a cancellation of Snowdonian climbing adventures. To be replaced with something more local and so it was off to Matlock Bath to enjoy the climbs at Wildcat crag.
Or not, as we only discovered after having paid for our all day parking tickets that it was not possible to reach Wildcat crag. As the nice man from Derbyshire council explained on the foot bridge over the river, they had a team sorting out the loose rock above the path and we would not be able to reach the crag. As a side note this team were basically up in the woods dangling around on ropes and pushing off all the loose rock and boulderers down to the bottom of the hill. So they were basically getting paid to trundle all day, sounds alright.
Anyway with no access to wildcat from Matlock Bath we decided to drive down to Willersley to see if there was a way up the river to Wildcat from there. Unfortunately we couldn't discover a likely looking path so in the end we settled for climbing on Willersley castle rocks. No easy warm ups here as VS 4c is the minimum grade, so Tony 'volunteered' to be first up with a lead of Garrotter VS 4c. Which in true Willersley style was a pretty polished affair, and upon seconding the route I decided I was very glad to not be leading it, especially on the 'hard move' which probably was 4c before it got polished up and now felt distinctly harder.
Despite having arrived in Matlock at 9am, by the time we'd faffed around, gone to Willersley and done our first climb it was time for lunch. Following which we decided to up the ante a little and climb Pothole Wall VS 5a. This was to be done in two pitches with me leading the first pitch (4c). However the polished start did not inspire me and I decided that polished steep limestone (steep climbing not being my forteit) was not conducive to an enjoyable climbing experience. So Tony took the lead instead and after an initial struggle he was soon making good progress up the cliff to the 1st pitch belay. When I seconded I was a bit unnerved by the polish and steepness, and certainly if I had been leading the first half of the 1st pitch it would have been a scary experience so I was jolly grateful to Tony for taking over.
However upon joining Tony at the 1st pitch belay he very kindly offered me the lead of the 2nd pitch. Which we could see from the belay involved a very airy traverse on rather minimal foot holds. Now originally I had expected Tony to be leading this pitch and I must confess my head was not completely 'in the game' after the polish of the first pitch. Plus having done all the hardwork of getting us here it seemd a little unfair that Tony should not get to lead this pitch as the traverse looked pretty awesome, hard, but awesome. However the traverse did appear to be well protected and a fall would have been into free space so I knew that I ought to take the opportunity to do something at the top-end of my grade in relative safety. Especially as the pitch was fairly short and looked like it was probably just the traverse that was 5a (although we couldn't actually see the finish so I wasn't entirely sure).
So I decided to 'man up' and go for it. After all Tony would be right there with me for moral support and perhaps some beta. It didn't take too long to setup the protection for the hard move of the traverse, and fortunately the protection could be setup from an easy stance. However making 'the move' required quite a bit of back and forth trying different ways of starting and sussing out the hand holds (well finger holds, no jugs just here). And the successful execution of the move came about a little unexpectedly as I moved across trying a different combination of finger pockets and before I knew my right hand was across the far side on a nice jug. From this point I realised that I was pretty much there and a quick foot swap had me in a comfortable position and placing another piece of gear before moving up into would turned out to be much easier ground, and a welcome easy finish with reasonable gear, hurrah!
Needless to say I was pretty pleased with myself and very grateful to Tony for being generous and letting me have all the fun. After this we decided we'd had enough of Willersley and retreated to the nearby Cafe for a cup of tea and to make plans. Which ended up with us driving up to Chatsworth crag, a venue neither of us had been too. The guidebook suggested there should be plenty for us to go at so what could possibly go wrong?
Well having arrived at Chatsworth about a bit of half-an-hour later we found the crag to be a little green and dusty (as expected from the guidebook description). As we had been in Limestone mode we thought a nice easy Severe 4a (Cave Crack) would be a good way to get our heads into Grit mode. Plus it would take us to the top of the crag near an HVS 5b (The Puppet Crack) which Tony wanted to have a go at on top-rope.
But right from the first move this supposedly easy climb was not going to give the easy route to the top that we wanted. Again Tony was on lead and just getting off the ground and into the inital crack was a nightmare. So much so that I went and got the guidebook to just triple check that the route really did start here (which it did). With no easy way out Tony got stuck back in and what followed can only be described as an epic stuggle between man and crack as Tony wedged himself in the crack with a fantastic full body jam until he was able to get a piece of gear in. And then much more udging and back footing and every other kind of movement ensued until finally Tony was up to the first ledge.
From where I was stood the remainder of the climb looked pretty straight forward. But oh no there was more to come as firstly the climb did not exactly bristle with gear placements. And secondly another awkward move awaited in the final third of the climb that again had Tony trying all kinds of different movements with limited success until finally the climb succombed to Tonys skills and he was victorious upon the summit of the crag. Needless to say none of this was filling me the confidence as Tony is a better and stronger climber than me, but also given this was supposedly a 4a I hadn't bothered with climbing shoes thinking I'd just cruise up in my trainers. I suggested to Tony that I untie and go back for my climbing shoes but he pointed out there was barely any foot holds and that it probably wouldn't make any difference. I think in hindsight he might have been partly joking, or maybe he just wanted me to experience the struggle despite being on second. Anyway I proceeded to climb with my trainers and I have to say I found the first section an absolutely desperate struggle and for the 2nd time that day I was very glad not to have been leading. This was a total sandbag and although in the newer guidebooks the climb now gets Severe 4b I would still consider it a sandbag even at that grading.
Tony did get to make an attempt to top-rope The Puppet Crack however as if the crag hadn't already made things difficult enough for us, Tony suffered a recurrence of a previous shoulder injury in the attempt, so that put an end to his climbing for the day. Treating this as an omen we packed up and left Chatsworth, which is a crag I would probably like to revisit but I will perhaps start by leading a Diff, just in case sand bagging is this crags modus-operandi. After a day of adventures that probably eclipsed what we might have experienced in North Wales we decided we'd earned a drink and some grub. So it was off to Burton to enjoy a pint of the local finest ale, followed by a very nice Thai dinner and a good nights sleep. And so ended another day of adventures in climbing, what adventures await on the next climbing trip I wonder? Why not join us and find out!