Queens of Grit

Lindsay McMorran

Following the wall to wall sunshine of the previous year, summer 2019 had thus far been somewhat of a disappointment. After a run of cancelled meets, the climbing itch was strong for both Hayley and I, and the forecast looked like it might just be alright on the upcoming weekend. There was a chance of rain, but that was low, according to the Met Office. We had decided, probably in the pub at some point, that we were strong, independent women or something to that effect and as such we needed to stop attaching ourselves to the experienced climbers and seconding their routes during meets. No, we were going to be the sort of climbers people attached themselves to so they could second our routes. Having discussed it at length with Will Hunt one night in the Cow and Calf, I had decided my issue was confidence and he had prescribed “more time on rock” to improve that. Who was I to argue?

Having already written off Ilkley, Caley, Almscliff and Brimham as suitable venues due to the questionable enjoyment factor of the lower grade trad routes1, Hayley and I determined that we were headed for the gritstone Mecca that is Stanage. On a continuous 5km outcrop, there must be something graded below Severe that is actually worth climbing, right? The morning of the excursion came and I awoke to an overcast sky. Being an eternal optimist (ha), I decided this was a good thing as we wouldn’t be greasing off everything. I set off to pick up Hayley and then we headed for Derbyshire, with the cloud starting to lift and the sun peeking out. Approximately 5 minutes from the crag, the clouds returned (good, grease etc etc) and as we ascended towards the popular end car park, a few spots of rain fell (bugger). Pfft, we thought, it will pass.

1 There, I said it. They’re almost all crap. Come at me, people.

The dangers of optimism in British trad climbing.

Having sat in the car for around 15 minutes with the windows steaming up and the crag barely visible through the near horizontal rain, I backed out of the parking space and headed for Hathersage, cursing our luck and drafting a strongly worded letter to the Met Office in my head. We took refuge in Cintra’s tea room, because tea makes everything better, and treated ourselves to some of their home made cake selection to help take the edge of our grief at losing out on yet more climbing time. As we lamented to one another, a small miracle was unfolding outside. By the time we had finished our goodies, the sky was clear again and we scurried to the car and back up to the crag.

We grabbed our bags and set off up the hill resolutely with the only conversation being to decide which buttress to start on. We put on our gear in record time and Hayley set off up Capstone Chimney as the Capstone had conveniently kept it dry in the deluge. Although a little green, it wasn’t unpleasant and I followed up, happy to be on rock after the disappointment of the morning. Clouds loomed on the horizon, threatening to call a halt to our day out (again) and as delicious as the Victoria sponge had been we didn’t fancy a second trip to the café. We worked our way along the edge, thankful of the fact Stanage takes approximately 8.5 minutes to dry, selecting routes in the D‑HVD range and ticking them off steadily. Before we knew it, we’d smashed out 10 routes each and forgotten to eat our lunch with most of the afternoon spent in glorious sunshine with the clouds skirting past. What a day! We practically skipped back to the car and headed home, chattering happily the whole way.

Two weeks later, buoyed by our previous success, we were back on the M1 headed for Derbyshire, this time in Maureen (Hayley’s Nissan Micra, a car with a bigger personality than me). We were on a high: the sun was out, there were still countless easy routes to work through and we were basically LMC’s answer to Hazel Findlay when it came to trad now. Alas, we were overconfident. We arrived to an absolutely heaving crowd – we’d accidentally crashed the Women’s Trad Festival. Our luck did not improve when I accidentally flashed a minibus full of people while trying to have a sneaky wee behind Maureen.

We deliberated our options but decided that most of the other crags in the area were likely to be similarly busy and the crowd would likely thin the further we got from the car park. After finding a quiet corner, I racked up and started up Shuffle, a starred VD. As I began second guessing my placements, I heard a voice behind me “oh, I wouldn’t do it like that”. With a neck twist and low growl reminiscent of the velociraptor in Jurassic Park, I turned and was eye level with a random bloke on the adjacent down climb. You know the sort. Having explained that I was changing one piece for another and would unclip the first one after the second one was placed; he nodded his unsolicited approval and went about his way. I later found out he’d smacked Hayley in the face with a nut as he’d flounced past her. I’m still not convinced it was accidental. After faffing for what felt like an eternity I made it to the top.

 

Hayley’s lead was next, and she selected an HVD arête – Intermediate Buttress. It looked to be a pleasant amble, but Hayley spent ages in the same position on the final ledge. “Just mantle it!” I called, feeling impatient that we’d never match our epic from a fortnight prior if she was going to stand admiring the view on every route. Eventually, she shuffled right and rolled over the top. I set off quickly to make up time and soon found myself stuck, whimpering, in an identical position, using my head as a fifth point of contact to try and maximise friction. Unsure whether to laugh or cry, I began the shuffle of doom around the arête to find the spot where a torrid struggle allows one to grunt and scrabble over the top. As we dismantled the belay, I congratulated Hayley on keeping her head in such a tenuous position well above the last piece of gear. “I didn’t”, she admitted, “I almost shouted “HELP ME!” at the instructors sitting over there but in the end I was too stubborn to admit defeat”. Guffawing, we made our way back down to the base of the crag.

The pivotal moment of the day came when I decided to lead Heaven Crack, a 3-starred VD. Often three star routes end up a disappointment, and as I looked up at it I felt sceptical, remembering the horrors of the previous route. I set off up one glorious, steep, layback after another, with the breeze blowing my hair. Stopping to place another piece of bomber gear, I could hear whispering from some of the WTF participants on the cliff nearby. “That’s so steep, what grade is it? She looks strong though!”. In that moment, every rained off meet, every lip biting, leg quivering moment, every lost bit of skin was worth it, this might just have been the pinnacle of my climbing career because for those few seconds on Heaven Crack, I felt epic.

Another eight routes ticked, we headed home, yet again chattering excitedly about another great day out. The summer ended without getting a huge amount more climbing in (except from some sport climbing for me in the south of France) due to the unpredictable weather but as the season closed, we vowed we would be back in 2020. We even put a Derbyshire Adventure in the Meets Calendar. Alas, thus far it has not been possible to make the most of the glorious weather we’ve had of late by heading out on another of our trad extravaganzas but the summer of 2019 was a turning point for us. We’d ticked nearly 100 trad routes between us (not counting the sport routes and bouldering we’d done), including swinging leads on a multipitch on the Summer Bash. A year previous, as I was taking my first tentative steps into leading trad routes, this would have felt like a pipe dream. For now, we wait impatiently for the current crisis to end so we can venture out again and recapture those carefree, heady days as Queens of Grit.