Climbing, it seems, is about more than hauling ones bulk up to the top of a wall/crag/mountain and getting back safely again. There is also a social aspect to it which I had never considered. From the strong bond of trust forged between a climber and his belayer, to the meeting up of loosely associated groups of people on a regular basis who have nothing in common other than a desire to climb, there are always people around a climber. This is one aspect of climbing that I struggle to deal with to be honest, as I am a miserable surly git at the best of times, and am very uncomfortable in large groups. So when I arrived at the Stowmarket wall last Thursday evening to find it so full that there was only one rope that didn’t have a small group congregated at it’s base, I was, frankly, rather dismayed at the prospect of spending an evening accidentally bumping into people and apologising to them. Happily, in the end, it was a good evenings climbing. The crowds dispersed after an hour or so, and left Sol & I virtually alone in the place to get on with it. Very good.
Compare that with Saturday. I had arranged to travel up to Birchen to meet up with a few friends for a day on the gritstone. Birchen is a three hour drive away for me, so it was an early start, and I arrived just before 9am. The car park was empty, which was a good sign. So I picked up my gear, and walked up to the crag. And I had the whole place to myself. Not just the crag. The whole valley stretched out around me, and there was not a soul to be seen or heard. So I fired up the Trangia, made a cuppa, and just sat there, listening to the birdsong and revelling in the tranquility and solitude. Really, it was the most pleasant half hour I’ve had for a long time. And the creeping realisation that I would be doing a lot more of this in future filled me with an optimism that I will be carrying with me for a long time to come.
Blimey. Almost seems trivial to talk about the climbing after that, but climb I did, and ticked off another grade – an HS 4a was chosen as my first route of the day (Stoker’s Hole), and after a little struggle to get the first move, the rest of it went swimmingly. Comedy moment of the day was when we eyed up the next route, Trafalgar Wall, a highly rated climb. We looked at it, scratched our heads, and both fell off the starting move before giving up, heading left and wandering up Trafalgar Crack instead, which proved to be very enjoyable. I’ll have another crack at Trafalgar Wall next time I’m there, hopefully with someone who has done it before so I can get a bit of information about how to get off the ground. I don’t particularly care about not being able to claim it as onsight, but I do want to have another go at it. Final climb of the day for me was Yo-ho crack which I chose just because it looked like a nice line, rather than the grade. I’m not sure what I screwed up, but I really found this one a struggle at one point – I just couldn’t work out what to do with my feet. In the end I just pulled myself up on a rather uninspiring hand hold and used a couple of smears to gain height, which felt a bit precarious, and certainly not in keeping with the character of the rest of the climb which was lovely. Again, I’ll have another go at this one at some point, as I’m sure it’s a lot easier than I made it.
A grand day out. And made all the better by that 30 minutes of solitude at the start of the day which I will remember for a long time to come.