Laughter and Curses

just two ingredients of a great weekend

A sense of déjà vu as I noticed the overhead sign-lost again. The road did not look familiar at all-yes, definitely lost again. The conversation and music had been just too good.

“Uhm . . . I think I’ve missed a turning and we’re on the A1 rather than heading up the A14 toward the M1.” Not so much lost I suppose, more mislaid. Never mind, I have the route-finder general alongside so we’ll be right.

Simon calls for the road atlas, pulls a face at the date (2001) but gets stuck in. One interesting cross-country trip later finds us drinking coffee in a garage car park trying to decide which way to head once we had crossed the M1.

The weather reports had been in flux over the previous few days and it was almost at the last moment that we decided we would go as the Sunday looked good and the Monday would possibly allow us to climb for some of the day. But apart from ‘The Peak district’ we had no other plan.

I’d packed Eastern Grit, Western Grit and Northern Limestone to cover all eventualities and by the time we threw our cups in the bin we had decided on Limestone and pointed the car towards Buxton.

As I drove Simon scoured his OS map and within an hour we were putting up our tents within spitting distance of Chee Dale. Nearby a group was having a noisy party but later, as I lay in my sleeping bag, Dark Side of the Moon drifted over and then all was right with the world.

Early next morning the mist hung low but the sun broke through and by breakfast the day was drying nicely. By half past eight we were walking out of the campsite with our plan.

‘Why Chee Dale?’ I hear you ask

‘ . . . a tick list comprising of the classic trad routes of The Stalk, Sirplum and Chicken Run . . . will be enough to convince many sceptics.’ is Northern Limestone’s riposte in its description of the area.

We were off to put that to the test.

I had been to Chee Dale earlier in the year with Aaron and had noticed that Plum Buttress is shaded early in the day so we decided to start with Chicken Run and then head back to look at our other choices after that.

Chicken Run-HVS 5a,5a with 1 Star. It seemed like a good start to the day but neither Simon nor I could recommend it now. I led the first pitch and have no recall of it at all. Simon came up and led the second pitch that, I think, left as much of a good impression on him as the first had on me. I carried memories of my belay stance for the next week though for whilst belaying, cramped into a bush, I noticed the odd caterpillar wandering over my t-shirt and later I began to notice the itchy rash all round my neck and upper chest. Hey ho

‘Hmm,’ we both thought as we packed up and headed back toward Plum Buttress. ‘Least said the better.’

Plum Buttress
Plum Buttress (click on any image to view in Flickr)

I’d had my eye on Sirplum for a at least a couple of years but when I saw it in the flesh in February I had swallowed hard a couple of times and now, standing below it, it was easy to see where it got its reputation. The route does not get the sun until about lunchtime and we seemed to have timed it well.

Sirplum from below
Sirplum from below

At E1 4c,5b it could seem a little unbalanced but as I followed Simon on the first pitch I felt there were moments when it was not the straightforward warm-up that I had expected and wanted. At the belay Simon agreed, and whilst racking up ‘biting of more than I could chew’ came into my mind.

It is everything the guidebook says, everything that you have heard. And it is fantastic. The first move is a little gymnastic and after that, though more straightforward, certainly does deserve its ‘pumpy arm’ symbol. But there are rests and times just to hang on and gawp down at all that space beneath your feet. Tremendous.

Back at the foot we decided to go for Aplomb which took in The Stalk and then would give Simon some lead time on the top pitch of Sirplum.

The Stalk-wow; 1955, renowned for many great things, comes up trumps again..

A small indiscretion low down began with ‘Gosh, this foothold looks polished’ and finished with a breathless ‘oops’. I seemed to go a long way down, but stopped short of Simon. Just. Nervous laughter, and then I ask to be lowered the last few feet to the ground.

I set off again and this time enjoyed 25 metres of non-stop climbing; a great route which does not let up after the first few metres until you reach the belay. The idea from here was that I would take the next pitch-a short 4c traverse-to allow Simon to do pitches 3 and 4-a mega traverse followed by the top of Sirplum. It was not to be. We prevaricated because of the time and than having led off I couldn’t find any gear and felt less than confident as I moved across a “grassy and slightly loose” wall and further from Simon on the belay. ‘Discretion is the better part . . . ‘ and all that, so I cautiously moved back to the belay whence we abbed off and headed back to the campsite.

Simon heads back
Simon heads back

I felt guilty as I seemed to have had the best of the day, but lying on the grass in a Sunday-evening-empty campsite we enjoyed an ice cream from the shop and agreed what a great day we’d had. And there was still tomorrow.

Tomorrow began very unpromisingly; the early morning mist so thick and close that “you could hardly see your glass in front of your face”. As time passed it didn’t seem to be burning back but we still went through the routine of breakfast and packing as though we were heading to the crag and not straight home.

Monday morning
Monday morning

Wet and limestone not being a good combination we decided on grit-Cratcliffe. Neither of us had been before and it would be a second new place for Simon this weekend. At 8am it was still not looking promising but then suddenly the sun came out and in a matter of minutes summer had arrived..

Cratcliffe is a small crag and, just as the guidebook says, is very picturesque; we had the place to ourselves with only a little farm noise breaking the country quietness.

Suicide Wall-obviously. HVS 5a with three stars, an absolute classic. Simon racked up. The plan-for him to lead it in two pitches, stopping at The Bower to re-rack.





When I joined him at The Bower I agreed with all his sentiments.

From here you are above the trees and into the sun, you can’t see what’s ahead from the ground. Simon led round the corner into unknown territory.

At the top I congratulated him-a brilliant lead. I found it nerve-wracking on a rope so what must it have been like for him?

The sun was blazing now and it was nice to get back into the shade of the trees down below.

My turn-Sepulchrave, HVS5a.

I’ll get my excuses in now: it was too hot; I’d led a lot the previous day; my neck itched; my toes hurt. Falling on deaf ears? Ok, so I just wasn’t good enough.

At the middle section of the second (rightwards) traverse it all went wrong. After some time I realised that I just couldn’t move on and I had nothing left. With my head down I decided to be lowered to the ground asking Simon if he wanted to finish it off.

Cursing in my head I went off to check the time. Whilst I was gone Simon made a pact with himself and when I came back with 2.15pm it meant that he would lead leaving the rope in the gear placed so far and then finish the route. Even after my highpoint the route still challenges the leader but Simon was more than a match for it and he was soon belaying me up. The final crack is, to put it mildly, unusual but great when you have solved its problem. Big smiles at the top and as we sorted the gear and ropes we decided to call it a day.

From an inauspicious start and an unpromising weather report we had conjured up a tremendous weekend; not all successes but the laughter and the curses, the fun, had been in the trying-and we will be back.

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