Climbing at Blue Scar
by Karin Magog 2006
‘The crag deserves to remain thoroughly unpopular; it is loose, devoid of bolts and dries out only occasionally. There are hard routes worth top-roping, and the only route worth doing is the one back to the pub’ David Jones, Rockclimbing in Britain 1988
‘He obviously did not visit the local pub, I wonder if he visited the crag?’ Tony Burnell, YMC limestone guide 1992
Chris Hope climbing The Kill E4 6a Photo Steve Crowe
I would say he did not, as Blue Scar for me offers some of Yorkshire’s finest traditional routes on some immaculate rock. Sustained and technical wall climbing in the main, with a few more powerful routes thrown and with generally good, if a little spaced, gear. To be fair there is a small amount of loose rock but this is mainly confined to the first few feet of the Central Wall routes and perhaps some of the finishes on the Left Wing. However, to enjoy Blue Scar at its best you really want to be confident at E3, and once you are leading E5 and above the rewards are immense. The crag can be divided up into several sections, each with their own distinct style. First off is the Left Wing, offering relatively short (20m) but sustained trad routes, on generally excellent rock, in the E3-E5 range. The climbing is mainly on positive slots, flakes and pockets; although from the ground many of the routes look quite blank. Next along is the impressive Central Wall, with routes in the E5-E7 range. Up to 30m high in places this imposing wall has much to offer the hard trad climber, with sustained, technical routes climbed by a combination of crimps, slots and slopey edges. This is arguably the best collection of trad routes on the Yorkshire limestone, with all being of top quality. From here the nature of the rock changes and lends itself more to sports climbing. For those fond of ‘Gordale adventure routes’ make sure you check out Dolly on the Pig Sheep Buttress, which although a well-bolted F7a, deserves this status. Also on this buttress are a F7b and F7b+, both of which are worth doing. Further right again is the aptly named Right Wing, which is home to the majority of the crags sports routes. The rock here is blockier and a bit more friable, but provides a good range of routes from F6a+ to F7b. Last and least is the Upper Tier providing some very loose easier routes and a clutch of short, intense sports routes in need of re-bolting – best avoided at present.
Nick Clement climbing The Shootist E5 6b Photo Steve Crowe
The crag has always attracted some of the country’s top climbers. In the 1960’s new routes were climbed by the Barley brothers, Robin and Tony, while Alan Austin and Frank Wilkinson were responsible for the first ascents of many of the cracks and chimneys. However, the crag didn’t really start to come into it’s own till the late 1970’s when a young Ron Fawcett cleaned and climbed the first batch of hard routes, such as Unreal, The Kill and Hell’s Teeth, all on the Left Wing. However, it was left to Pete Gomersall to take on the impressive Central Wall. This he did in September 1980 with the first ascent of the now classic Central Wall, a route that should be on every aspiring E5 leader’s ticklist. The following month he added the very bold Deathwish, which was one of the first E7’s in Britain. Over the following few years he added several other routes to this impressive wall, all of E6 and above, including Barracuda, The Great White and Stairway to Heaven. Not wanting to miss out on the action, prolific new router Gary Gibson visited the crag in 1984 and along with Phil Gibson and Darren Ford added several new routes in a space of a few days, including the popular The Shootist, Some Blue for You, Blue Sister and Blue Grit. !985 saw the arrival at the crag of the ‘well-oiled machine’, comprising of Martin Berzins, Chris Sowden and Tony Burnell. Between them they added dozens of new routes (such as the popular Priaprism and the difficult Blue Angel) and brought the bolt to the crag, which was used to greatest effect on the Right Wing (which is home to less solid, blockier rock). This burst of new route activity died out by the 1990’s but come the 15th July each year climbers return to the crag to enjoy the test pieces on offer. 1995 in particular was a good year which saw Ian Vickers and Gareth Parry clear up the Central Wall, with Vickers on-sighting everything in sight, (including Deathwish and Blue Angel) and gave us the first continuous crossing of the awesome Lord of the Dance, the E7 girdle of the Central Wall and thought by the pair to be the hardest trad route on Yorkshire limestone at the time. The next surge of popularity came in 2000, when bolt belays were added to the top of most of the trad routes. A dry August saw all the hard routes repeated with several on-sights/flashes of the increasingly popular Deathwish. The crag continues to attract Yorkshires finest and draws in the hardmen (and women) of the Northeast and Cumbria. Climbers from as far south as Sheffield have even been known to make the long journey north. Is it time for you to make the visit?
Karin Magog onsighting Death Wish E7 6b Photo Steve Crowe
Most of the best routes trad routes are included in Northern Limestone produced by Rockfax (2005). However the definitive guide to Blue Scar is Yorkshire Limestone by the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club (2005) this includes full details of all the rebolting work done at the right hand end as well as dozen new sport climbs in the F6a+ to F7a+.
Gaz Parry on Blue Water White Death E6 6b Photo Steve Crowe
Many of the routes at Blue have some form of fixed protection such as threads and pegs (and even the odd bolt!). The majority of the threads have been replaced in recent years, whereas the pegs are more likely to be the originals. Many of these placements can be backed up and a standard rack of wires is essential. Also likely to be of some use is a rack of cams (all sizes up to a camalot 3) and a bunch of RP’s.
The climbing is generally sustained and fingery, with many of the routes being more balancy than butch (with some notable exceptions).
Some Blue for You, E1 5a (Left Wing) - an excellent route and a good introduction to climbing at Blue. A steady groove (shared with the HVS Blue Bottle) leads to the superb headwall which is climbed on hidden jugs with plenty of small wires for protection. Not to be missed. (NB. This route climbs the headwall to the left of Blue Bottle and not to the right as shown in the YMC guide)
Blue Thunder, E3 5c and Blue Sister E3 5c (Left Wing) - a good pair of routes, both offering interesting and sustained climbing.
Hell’s Teeth, E3 5c (Left Wing) - a very tricky number, with a grade of 6a being more accurate. A very sustained, fingery sequence may lead to a good hold and easier climbing if you’re lucky. You have been warned!
Unreal, E3 6a (Left Wing) - a sustained and interesting route, best approached with confidence, even though the gear is good. Easier for the tall.
The Kill, E4 6a (Left Wing) – definitely the best line on the left wing, up the appealing left-facing corner. Well-protected but super sustained, with two obvious ways of climbing it, but which will suit you best?
Blue Grit, E4 6a (Left Wing) – such a contrast to its neighbour Unreal, offering much more intricate and technical climbing. If you prefer to climb with your feet than your arms then this is the route for you.
Central Wall, E5 6a (Central Wall) – the route of the crag and possibly the best E5 on the Yorkshire limestone. It’s low in the grade but still requires a confident approach. A bold start leads to excellent climbing up a steepening wall to a tricky move high up. Never desperate and with reasonable protection, this is a truly classic route.
The Shootist, E5 6b (Left Wing) – a very good route. A very hard, but well-protected crux (to get established above the roof), leads to excellent climbing up the headwall. Harder for the short.
Priaprism, E5 6b (Central Wall) – another excellent route but unfortunately one of the last to dry out. Steeper than some of its neighbours but with good (just where you need it), although spaced gear, this route feels like a trad route but climbs like a sports route.
Bolt from the Blue, E5 6a (Central Wall) – an often overlooked but very enjoyable route on the left edge of the Central Wall. A poor start up the easy corner leads to a technical, fingery and sustained headwall which more than compensates.
The Great White, E6 6b (Central Wall) – perhaps the most amenable of the E6’s. A boldish start leads to well-protected and sustained climbing up the prominent groove to a good break. From here a long reach to a huge jug, leads to an enjoyable romp up to the belay (yes it’s up there somewhere). For those shorties amongst you, it is possible to bypass the long reach via a tricky and sustained sequence to the left.
Barracuda, E6 6b (Central Wall) – an E6 worth travelling for. A route of contrasting styles with an enjoyable start, a bold and delicate middle section and a steep and sustained finish which is the scene of many airmiles (don’t worry the gear is awesome up there).
Hammerhead, E6 6c (Central Wall) – a hard undertaking, with quite a serious start (even when the pegs on the adjacent Priaprism are clipped), a technical middle section and a fierce but well-protected finish. Was the scene of an impressive fall by Nic Sellars when the (now missing) peg ripped!
Blue Water, White Death, E6 6c (Central Wall) – a less popular route than its neighbour The Great White, which rarely sees an on-sight. Great moves up the big flakes lead to a perplexing move to reach the break. Less difficult but blind moves lead up the wall above to a good hold by the lower-off, or not.
Deathwish, E7 6b (Central Wall) – a steady but bold lead, which has now seen quite a few flashed ascents. The climbing is never desperate but can be quite balancy. Clipping the excellent peg on Stairway reduces the adjectival grade. This route originally started up Central Wall but for ease of ropework the majority of people now start up Barracuda, however this defeats the original concept of a sweeping diagonal line. (Please note the ‘superb’ flexible friend placement mentioned in the YMC guide is not as obvious as it sounds and has also been known to rip-out, take care).
Stairway to Heaven, E7 6c (Central Wall) – another contrasting route, with a very fingery crux at the start, followed by a massive run-out up the intricate and balancy headwall. Has had quite a few headpoint ascents, but not as many on-sights (a good head definitely recommended).
Blue Angel, E7 6c (Central Wall) – offering the most sustained difficulty of all the routes on this wall with some scary climbing thrown in for good measure. It shares the technical crux of Stairway before taking a more direct line up the wall to the left of Deathwish, with similar but harder, technical climbing. The least climbed of the three E7’s but no less worthwhile.
All the routes on the Central Wall are worth doing, as are the majority on the Left Wing. For those stamina monsters amongst you, of for those that have ticked everything else, how about going for the superb Central Wall girdle, Lord of the Dance E7 6a,6b,6c,6b or the awesome Something New E7 6c which starts up The Great White and finishes up Blue Angel.
Some Blue for You (E1)
Blue Thunder (E3)
Blue Sister (E3)
Hell’s Teeth (E3)
Blue Grit (E4)
The Kill (E4)
Central Wall (E5)
Bolt from the Blue (E5)
The Shootist (E5)
The Great White (E6)
Blue Water White Death (E6)
Stairway to Heaven (E7)
Blue Angel (E7)
Something New (E7)
Lord of the Dance (E7)