The Stanage edge VS challenge, the crowning achievement of weekend warrior-dom.
The Where: Stanage Edge the spiritual home of UK climbing for people who haven’t been to Almscliff.
The What;: All 36 starred VS routes in the 1989 Stanage edge guide book. Some are now HVS, one is now HS, either way there will be plenty of jams, slabs and bomber size 5 wire placements.
The Why: It was raining in the Lake District.
The Kit: approx. 1.5l water each, baked goods + snacks, light puffy-ish jacket you can climb in, comfy shoes, socks and/or emergency Haribo packet for blistering ankles (or equivalent plastic bag), approx. 8 extendable quickdraws, small rack wires 1-10, cams – we took BD .5, 1, 2, 3 and found a X4, the latter coming in very useful, 30m rope, screw gates, 240 sling, 1 rucksack.
The Top Tips: be strategical about climbing with the bag – you can often leave it at the bottom. I belayed the whole way on an Italian Hitch. Both of us used guide mode as it’s more efficient to be out the system and Stanage lends well to this.
The VS challenge consists of 36 routes now graded from HS to HVS, but with the majority at about VS 5a.All routes have to be lead or seconded, soloing and down climbing are not allowed. Penny and I decided to attempt it after our initial plan for the Lakes Classic Rock round was rained off… which we were initially doing for the OMM, which is now cancelled. A classic 2020 story.
I have some history with the challenge having attempted it a few years ago and only getting half way in, and having climbed a Stanage plenty of times before. This would be Penny’s first visit to Stanage.
The evening before at North Lees campsite we discussed strategy over apple crumble. Having attempted it before I was full of bright ideas like, let’s lead in blocks of 5 say? (Penny sensibly suggested 6 as there are 36 routes) Let’s get up at 7 (Penny noted that the sun rises at half 6 so we should probably be at the crag by then). My bad ideas safely shot down we packed ready for the following day and I retired to my luxury estate camper conversion which Penny generously described as ‘like a bivi on wheels’.
5:30am we were the first up on the campsite, after a quick coffee we set off and were walking into the crag by quarter past 6. I can’t actually remember how we decided on who would start but I got the first block of 6 leads and man did I luck out (more on this later). We decided on a light rack of a set of wires and 4 cams plus about 8 extendable quickdraws. The leader would tie into one end of a 30m rope and the second would clip into a carabiner on a bight so we won’t have to be tying and untying at the end of each route. Penny had originally thought we’d collectively tie 144 knots on half-ropes throughout the day, and was delighted with this set-up.
Block1 : Anyway, I was feeling pretty cold and dreading cold rock on the walk in, but as soon as I started the first route that totally went and was replaced by the enjoyment of just climbing. One route after another, no faffing or choosing what to do next, it’s a really ace feeling. Due to the first 6 routes being close, Heather Wall to Hargreaves Original the first block was done in about an hour and a quater. Amazing! I thought at this rate we’ll have time to go to the pub after! I even found a BD X4 Cam on the ground at the top of the route. This cam actually came in really handy through the day and really took the edge of some of the other routes.
Block 2: Penny’s first block started with Inverted V and went similarly rapidly, then we hit the last route of her first block, Via Roof Route. Now HVS 5b it consists of an unprotectable difficult slab then a roof crack which you have to get properly horizontal on. 12 routes in that’s a pretty big ask but Penny shouted at it until it went and we were onto block 3.
Block 3: Mississippi Buttress to the Punk. This block also contained my first of some of the classic Stanage jams to come on Hell Crack. But I was still feeling pretty good and got through it fine until the Punk. A contrived route traversing in and round a corner and a forewarning of some of the absolute garbage you have to do on a challenge which his basically someone else’s ticklist. But hey, we were now half way through so cause for some celebration. In the form of sausage roll two of four.
Block 4: (Cleft Wing to Valhallah) This got off to a bit of a weird start with cleft wing. A route that involves falling across a gap and catching the other side. I ended up leading this one due to my height advantage and the crag swag cam came in really handy to protect it. After this Penny was back on it and got the second HVS of the day at Wall Buttress. This is the route I came off on last time when attempting the challenge from the other end so I was glad Penny was leading. Penny managed to swim up the crux crack like Michael Phelps, on second I managed to find a way of avoiding the crack completely by laybacking. At the top I know nothing else would be as hard as that so for me we were home free! Just 15 routes to go!
Block 5: My last lead SeeSaw to Central Buttress. More garbage to start and end but the rest of the routes in this block were great. Fairy Steps is a bold but easy traverse and Fern Crack was the totally unavoidable wide crack I’d been dreading! Great stuff! After topping out on Central Buttress at about 6pm I felt an immense joy that my responsibilities were over and leading through the impending darkness would not be my problem.
Block 6 Titanic to Crab Crawl Arête. Getting further and further from the car park and with the light fading finishing the thing was all on Penny. It got properly dark after Inaccessible Crack and we had to resort to pacing along the top to find the next sections. Penny seemed to really enjoy climbing in the dark and didn’t slow down at all, despite also feel very nauseous. The only thing slowing us down was trying to find the next routes. The final route Crab Crawl Arête does feel like a bit of an anti climax but at least it’s easy. We topped out about half 9 after 15 hours of climbing to an immense feeling of relief and need to vomit.
The VS challenge is a great day out and is a real demonstration of how much you can get done if you really put your mind to it, and you climb from 6am to 9pm without really stopping, and ignore the urge to vomit. I’d recommend it.