Finding Patum Peperium in Chee Dale
‘A map has come into my possession,’ the indomitable Mr Culverhouse breathed quietly to his vertically-challenged companion Paramo Brown, their conversation anonymous in the hubbub of the hostelry. He told the tale of its discovery, in a darkly mysterious gearshop, thus.
“Behind the counter the assistant had an air of a man who had sold too many Friend 6s to novice Mod leaders but still, if rumour was to be believed, he had treasures to sell. In these situations it is important to make your first impression count – walk in and check the Moon T-shirts, those oversize chalkbags or the beanies and any chance of seeing the good stuff is gone.
I walked to the counter and looked him in the eye,
‘Four metres of that ab tat please, and a rockcentric 7 – on dyneema mind.’
At this the assistant looked at me sharply before heading off to find my items and I knew I’d found the right man.
‘And will there be anything else Sir?” he asked.
‘I hear you have some ‘special’ goods for sale,” I replied.
At this he looked conspiratorially around the shop, shooed a younger staff member over to the bouldering mats and pull-up boards then beckoned me closer.
‘I may have something for the discerning, er, traditional, gentleman. I can do . . . Ronhills.”
‘No dice,” I retorted. ‘I can already walk the walk, but I need . . . directions, pitch grades, topos………..for Chee Tor.’
At this the assistant sucked in his breath, thought for a moment but then drew out, from under the counter, a brown volume.
‘The treasure of Chee Tor,’ he began, ‘and many other places beside, may be found in here, but, mark my words, not one man in a hundred will make it there through all the ordeals that he will encounter on the way, and fewer still make it back.’”
Glancing furtively around Mr Culverhouse unfolded a piece of paper, pointed to a picture of the route and its arcane description, “Here be dragons” was the only thing missing, and smiled.
It didn’t actually start quite like that but should have done.
The next morning we left the car in Miller Dale and took the track heading toward Chee Tor and its famous girdle.
“Chee Dale takes a long time to dry out and a good spell of dry weather is required . . .” After dropping down to the river bank just by the abseil bridge we certainly found this to be true for the underfoot conditions – one day, albeit the very sunny previous one which we had spent at Beeston Tor, is not enough; under the canopy of tree cover “squelch” was the order of the day.
Flanders and Swann sang in my head
Approach: Along the riverbank, under Rhubarb buttress and Cornice, over a bridge and then double back.
|Under Cornice (click on any image to view in Flickr)|
Sounds so simple, but there is plenty to keep you entertained even before you reach the start of the route.
|Proceed with care|
A strangely beautiful walk-in takes you into the set of ‘The Lost World’. Impressive rockfaces tower above, whilst all around there is luxuriant undergrowth in profusion; bushes, nettles and huge rhubarb leaves swallow you up whilst brambles snag cloth and skin.
|In the Undergrowth|
Even once over the bridge there is still some more bushwhacking and a short downclimb on wet rock to keep the interest going.
And then we were there.
Over a sandwich decisions were made and Steve racked up ready to take pitches 1, 3 and 5, whilst I would lead 2 and 4.
|Ready to go|
Doggone Groove, the traditional start, is a 4b pitch with attitude, particularly in the day’s dampish conditions; a curse or two and the odd “ooh-er” was the sound track as Steve got us underway.
And I realised why when I followed him up to the stout belay amongst trees.
As I led out on the second pitch the rock and the route, no longer under the tree canopy, changed condition. Now the rock was clean and dry, and all about was an airiness and great views; a smile crept onto my face.
Pitches two and three keep up interest without being taxing. The wall below is just about vertical whilst above there is almost always a small roof signalling the start of the great headwall. The sense of adventure stays with you as you move steadily across the face of the rock but well above the trees,
|Along the way|
Luckily for us Chee Tor was deserted because we necessarily crossed any number of routes as we meandered along the fault line. The intense quiet also added to the unique strangeness of the outing; we could hear nature as we slowly traversed across the rock face.
Pitch four is, at 5a, the supposed crux and during it sight is lost between leader and second. There are a couple of tricky moves but the whole time one is able to continually enjoy the exposure and airiness of the situations. Threads abound, as do bomber gear placements, not forgetting the numerous belay points for the routes that we were crossing.
|Paramo Brown on pitch four|
From the hanging belay Steve would set out on the fifth and last pitch – passing a big corner groove and then across a fantastic big open face before going just round a corner to the final belay.
Just after he moved away from the groove I heard him ask about footholds; asking as in, ‘where the “goodness gracious” are they?’
The route had kept a little sting in its tail; one that I discovered for myself on the second when I enjoyed a moment of hanging-on-by-my-fingertips before finding somewhere to plant a toe. This surely is a 5a pitch too we agreed later.
Round the corner Steve found a glut of new and shiny stainless steel. A fine abseil/belay station. He was both happy and sad as he realised that we had reached the end of our excitement.
|The final belay|
It took us under 10 minutes to walk back to our rucksacks – rucksacks that we had left some three and a half hours earlier – where we sat smiling and had a little something to eat.
The rock was not in good condition below the traverse line so more climbing at Chee Tor was not on but it was too early to head back to the tents.
A quick decision (surely anathema to the IMC) had us packing up and making ready to do some reconnaissance work. We were off to find Harpur Hill (where Steve led a great HVS despite wind and impeding rain, but that’s another story).
But even the escape was not without its fun as we decided to brave the water on the return . . .
And boy, was it cold.
On our day out we had found the Patum Peperium for a jaded climber’s palate. The girdle was just so much fun; challenging without ever being too difficult. It just has to be done as no article can do it justice.