Bouldering at Cresciano and Crironico in Ticino

Updated Steve Crowe 30th April 2021

Cresciano 2005 © Steve Crowe
Cresciano 2005 © Steve Crowe

In early 2005 I was invited by Andy Earl on a trip to go bouldering on the superb granite blocs of Cresciano and Crironico in the Ticino area in Switzerland. I’d gone along with a serious knee injury and although my main role was as a photographer I couldn’t resist packing my climbing shoes.

Everyone climbed as a team, they took on a lot of serious highball problems that required a lot of mats and attentive spotters. Generally the rule was once one person got up the problem then everyone moved on. Most of the climbs attempted received successful ascents but not necessarily by the person in my photos. There was some terrific banter and looking back it was a privilege to be part of amazing trip to be a part of.

Andy Earl sponsored by E9 © Steve Crowe 2006
Andy Earl sponsored by E9 © Steve Crowe 2006

The strong British team of Andy Earl, Gaz Parry, Ian Vickers, Percy Bishton and the young Jamie Cassidy (Taz) was given an international flavour when we were joined for the week by Wouter Jongeneelen and Dennis Teijsse two of the strongest climbers from the Netherlands at that time, (oh and myself and my cameras).

Flicking through Gaz’s guidebook was impressive with whole sections already ticked. On previous trips Gaz was more interested in mileage but this time he sought to fill the gaps and he managed this with great efficiency. The highlight of the trip for Gaz was probably success on the very powerful Extreme Ironing.  For the rest of the team however it was his effeminate victory scream as Gaz topped out on another eight, La Pelle

Considering that Andy Earl’s trip was marred by a bad cold he still managed to pull off some astoundingly quick ascents of many of the hardest problems in the area mixed with a few spicy highballs that had his spotters unsure whether to spot Andy or protect themselves as he plummeted ground wards prior to his eventual success on Stinky Pete’s a mere Font 7B!

Andy Earl climbing Stinky Pete 7B Cresciano © Steve Crowe 2005
Andy Earl climbing Stinky Pete 7B Cresciano © Steve Crowe 2005

Andy, Gaz and Wouter all managed to make short work of the standing start to the infamous Dreamtime (8A+) for Wouter success came on his last attempt of his last problem for the week.

Ian spent this trip taping his tattered tips and quietly clearing up many outstanding problems that had eluded him on previous visits. Butch spent a long time looking for the right problem to get his 8A tick in for the trip, steeper the better. After an awesome flash of Soucoupe LH (7C+) he found just the thing on the last day at Crironico, a powerful sequence across a huge horizontal roof overlooking the valley.

Andy Earl on Soucupe LH 7C+ at Crironico © Steve Crowe 2005
Andy Earl on Soucupe LH 7C+ at Crironico © Steve Crowe 2005

While Percy was pleased to tick an 8A, the popular le Pillar at Crironico. 

Percy © Steve Crowe 2005
Percy © Steve Crowe 2005

The grades in the Cresciano Area have a reputation for being soft but that’s not how I found it, variable certainly. Some of the warmups in the sixes appeared to be just as challenging as the many more famous grade eight problems that succumbed to the team like La Boule, Franks Wild Years, Kirk Windtain and The Jungle

© Steve Crowe 2005
© Steve Crowe 2005

West to Bill and Ben – Coast to Coast Walk

Frozen Feet!

After a fitful night’s sleep, I woke trying desperately to keep out the cold. Moving to get up I noticed a white frost on my sleeping bag. Then, that the condensation on the inner tent was frozen. Fearing the worst, I opened the flysheet, which was nearly white inside and out, and removed the top from my water container. The bottom stayed on the ground thus spilling a few drops of water on to my sweaty socks. When I picked them up, they too were frozen. Worse still, my boots were frozen stiff. This could have meant the end of the trip but fortunately only three tarmac miles remained to Fort William (fondly known as Fort Bill) and the salt waters of Loch Linnhe on the West Coast.

Beinn a’Bhuird and Coire an Dubh Lochan © Steve Crowe 1981
Beinn a’Bhuird and Coire an Dubh Lochan © Steve Crowe 1981

Let’s Start at the Beginning

The idea of a coast-to-coast walk came about long before the “Ultimate Challenge” was conceived. A walk across Scotland seemed like ‘a good idea’. I struggled to decide between walking from East-West or West-East. I finally decided to get the day walking on tarmac over at the beginning and leave the opportunity of catching a train home at one the many stations on the West Coast. Originally, I intended to try to carry less than a week’s food at a time, but this did not work out. Some food was left in a tin under a bridge near Dalwhinnie and more fresh food was bought at Braemar and Dalwhinnie; the rest was carried from the start which made the first couple of days a chore. The train journey from home to Montrose seemed to help me acclimatize to the change over the next fortnight, of which I wrote in my diary “I am going to enjoy every day… after tomorrow”.  People on trains are intriguing; groups of rowdy people, couples getting close, solitary shifty-eyed people and then there are the kids – the entertainers.

Montrose Beach - Coast to Coast Walk April 1981 © Steve Crowe
Coast to Coast Walk April 1981 © Steve Crowe

Unrewarded (Saturday 11th April 1981)

After a reasonable Bed and Breakfast for £5 at “Bonavista” in Montrose, I left and headed down to the beach in a slight drizzle. That’s the way it stayed until about three thirty in the afternoon. I took two self-portraits on Montrose beach and then set off for Fort Bill. My planning included a scenic route for Glen Esk, but I wasn’t rewarded with the expected views of the basin. The walking was tougher than I had envisaged, I only managed seventeen miles and was glad to stop when I did. I also began to doubt whether I could make it to Glen Doll Youth Hostel by the following evening as planned. However, I had to telephone home Monday morning as arranged, mainly for Mam’s peace of mind. I tried to eat as much as possible that first evening to ease my burden for the following day.

Craig Maskeldie rising above Glen Lee with Lochnagar in the distance © Steve Crowe 1981
Craig Maskeldie rising above Glen Lee with Lochnagar beyond © Steve Crowe 1981

A Welcome Bed (Sunday 12th April 1981)

What a day! I tried to get to Glen Effock for lunch but stopped short at Dalbrack Bridge. The push up to Cairn Caidlock had me doubting whether I would make the Youth Hostel. I stopped once, twice, and again for a photograph of Glen Esk; then shattered, sat down at the top. I followed the track towards Burnt Hill and when I left it at the bealach, my troubles began. I stopped many times, tired of the terrain, the weight of my sack and the distances left to go. It wasn’t until I neared White Hill that my hopes began to rise, my throbbing thighs eased, and I could see Green Hill. A couple more stops down by Loch Brandy, where I was excited to see many white hares, and I was in the Ogilvy Arms for a pint and a toastie. By now, I was willing to accept a lift, but the last four tarmac miles were walked in one hour ten minutes. I tried to buy a bottle of milk from a party in Acharn but instead they just gave me one free. Then I booked into the familiar Glen Doll Youth Hostel for food and a welcome bed, tired, but pleased after twenty-five miles to be on schedule.

Glen Doll Youth Hostel Coast to Coast Walk April 1981 © Steve Crowe
Glen Doll Youth Hostel

Murderous Miles (Monday 13th April 1981)

I could afford a late start from Glen Doll after yesterday’s efforts, so left the Youth Hostel at 9.45 a.m. Taking Jocks Road, I made for Tolmount. After putting my damp tent out to dry, I ate lunch, then climbed Tolmount, sackless. It was a scorching hot day with just a slight welcome breeze in exposed places. The views were terrific, back over Glen Clova and Glen Esk, and my way ahead over Ben Avon and the Cairngorms. I continued on my way at 1pm and arrived at Loch Callater Lodge at 4pm. It then took a murderous one and a quarter hour to cover the same map miles to the road. Again, I was willing to accept a lift but no-one stopped. Braemar Youth Hostel was quite full with a noisy school party so they gave me a family dormitory all to myself. I saw my second ever lizard during the day and I was to see many more before Fort Bill.

Looking across Loch Callater to the Cairngorms from Tolmount. Coast to Coast Walk April 1981 © Steve Crowe
Looking across Loch Callater to the Cairngorms from Tolmount. © Steve Crowe

Sunstroke (Tuesday 14th April 1981)

Before leaving Braemar I stocked up my supplies, posted two used maps and four post cards. Approximately one mile west of the village I managed to cross an icy cold river Dee, reasonably easily since there had been no rain for two days. In fact, I had more trouble crossing the drainage ditches. A good track took me to the bealach between Carn Elrig Nor and Carn na Criche where I stopped for lunch in the shade of a boulder. Then I stumbled along various sheep and deer tracks down towards Quoich Water and took a photograph as an excuse for another stop in the shade. I came across a tent, then a nearby path so I made better time for about five minutes until I lost the path by turning left too soon. Realising my mistake, I cut up hill to find a good stalkers track and took even more photographs from this point just as excuses for a rest, before crossing Quoich Water to stumble wearily up the slopes to a frozen Dubh Lochan. The ten and a half miles from Braemar took a lot of time and effort. On reflection, I feel I must have suffered slight sunstroke because when I put up my tent all I wanted to do was to get in the shade. I forced myself out later to take some photos of this fantastic “high altitude” camp site.

Camping below Beinn a’Bhuird beside the frozen Dubh Lochan © Steve Crowe 1981
Camping below Beinn a’Bhuird beside the frozen Dubh Lochan © Steve Crowe 1981

Magnificent Views (Wednesday 15th April 1981)

Since my watch stopped last night I guessed the time was eight o’clock, actually I discovered later, it was only 6.30am! I looked outside the tent and saw a cool clear cloudless sky. I was in no rush, so after an ambling breakfast of fresh food, I struck camp. It was up hill straight away so I aimed for the shade and took a short rest before returning to the sun-kissed ridge. I left my sack on the summit ridge and wandered along to Beinn a’ Bhuird’s south summit. It was about this time that I began to notice the magnificent views as far as the eye could see; Glas Moel, Tolmount, Coire Etchachan, Beinn MacDuibh, Cairngorm and many more that I couldn’t name. With raised spirit, I walked to the North Top and took some panoramic photographs. I set off for Beinn a’ Chaorainn Bheag and when the sun was due south I set my watch to twelve o’clock. A short chat with some lunching walkers set me in high spirits again to spurt up Beinn a’Chaorainn. I ate an apple to reduce weight for the descent into Larig an Laoigh. Then, following the path south for a while before crossing to the Coire Etchachan path, I noticed a party of twenty walkers! I hoped they wouldn’t stop for the night and disturb the solitude. They sat around for ages before deciding to carry on to Ben Macdui, relieved, I settled down for the evening.

Hutchison Memorial Hut below Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan © Steve Crowe 1981
Hutchison Memorial Hut below Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan © Steve Crowe 1981

Snow Bunting (Thursday 16th April 1981)

By eight thirty I was on my way up to Ben Macdui where I spotted some Snow Bunting. I tried to photograph them, but they flew off. I made good time only stopping for some quick photographs and reached the summit by 10:15 am where I was greeted with fantastic panoramic views. Another fantastic photo session followed. Eventually I left the summit ridge by March Burn. After half an hour’s steep scramble, slide, fall, down to the Pools of Dee, I managed to pick out a line of weakness so avoiding snow up to Sron na Lairige. I got almost to the top so stopped and ate lunch, all within an hour. I finally made Braeriach at two fifteen and stopped for more photographs and a chat with a party that had just taken five hours to get here from Glen Feshie. It took me four and a quarter hours to get down. My biggest worry going over the plateau was the sun on my legs. It was far too hot for my warm trousers so I wrapped my Kagole over my shorts to try and protect my legs from burning.

Caingorm in the distance beyond Loch Etchachan © Steve Crowe 1981
Caingorm in the distance beyond Loch Etchachan © Steve Crowe 1981

Just a Thought (Friday 17th April 1981)

I was woken in Glen Feshie Bothy by my motorcycling friends at six in the morning. A little worried about all my gear I rose at half past six but they left just then without any bother and even set the fire after them. I took time to wash, change the film in the camera then swept up. A paddle across River Feshie took me directly to the stalkers path up by Lochan an t-Sluic. Once through a forest, the path became indistinct. Frustratingly, this was right on the join of two maps. Whilst carefully examining the maps I’m sure I spotted a Golden Eagle. The day was so calm that he struggled to find an updraught to soar on. I wandered along various tracks going in my direction until I stumbled upon a road which wasn’t marked on my first series OS map. It led to a weir which fed all the water through a tunnel to Loch an t-Seilich, which is a hydro dam. During lunch I thought how good it would be to work here, especially if paid, and even in the rain. A Swiss registered Citroen passed me with Gaick Lodge Ranger written on it. The path unfortunately took me through the grounds of the lodge, where the Swiss were sitting in the sun. A few polite words and I was allowed through the grounds to the foot of Sgor Dearg where I dozed for twenty-five minutes in the heat of the day. An indistinct path took me around the lip of Coire Chaich and a Land Rover track led down to Loch Cuaich.

Loch an t-Seilich from Sgor Dearg © Steve Crowe April 1981
Loch an t-Seilich from Sgor Dearg © Steve Crowe April 1981

Low Cloud over Dalwhinnie (Saturday 18th April 1981)

Early next morning there was quite some cloud on the hillsides above me and over Dalwhinnie below. It was a pleasant cool change from the last seven days of unrelenting sunshine. After a later start than intended, I set off by Allt Cuaich. Suddenly a dam diverted the water to feed Loch Ericht via an aqueduct. I uncovered the box of food which I had hidden a month earlier. I was pleasantly surprised to find more food in the box than I remembered leaving. Hurriedly I packed hoping to catch the solitary Dalwhinnie shop before it closed for Easter. With three quarters of an hour to spare, I bought more fresh food. After posting more maps home, I made some phone calls, my last contact with home before Fort Bill. I then made my way along the shore of Loch Ericht where I stopped for lunch. Reading the Daily Express as I walked to Ben Alder Lodge along a good Land Rover track. Just behind the lodge there was a herd of almost tame deer. I tried to get a good stag pose but could only see their tails. However, a pair of white horses insisted that I took their photographs. The last two miles were hard work and when I looked in the bothy, I saw thirteen people. Apparently, they were London Bankers on an Outdoor Course. Why can’t these groups carry tents? I pitched my tent at a short distance away from the Bothy. I enjoyed walking today. 

Heading down Loch Ericht towards Ben Alder © Steve Crowe April 1981
Heading down Loch Ericht towards Ben Alder © Steve Crowe April 1981

A Day Off (Sunday 19th April 1981)

The cloud base was around 900m, covering all the tops surrounding Cuhra Lodge, so I lazed through breakfast wondering what to do for the best. Eventually I decided to leave the tent up and stay here another night. So with just a camera over my shoulder I set out for a lightweight ascent of Ben Alder. At Bealach Beithe I sat and ate salted peanuts, watching clouds for encouragement. I ambled across to the buttress when clouds rolled up the ridge, so I hurried upwards. The clouds lay on the summit as a freezing mist. Wandering over to the summit I stopped for another self-portrait then after a quick bite to eat, I moved on. Just as I left the summit the clouds lifted revealing excellent views and I ran over to photograph The Ben before it closed in again. I need not have worried as it stayed clear for the rest of the day. It was “photos galore” all the way down to Bealach Brebag and lunch. A heavily laden walker passed by so after following him to the first top, we stopped for a chat. Then it was on to Beinn Bheoil for another photographic session. On the track back I met someone called Bob, he was the only one left in the bothy so I took down my tent and joined him. Although we were strangers to each other, we were soon exchanging tales like two old pals.

Summit of Ben Avon © Steve Crowe April 1981
Summit of Ben Avon © Steve Crowe April 1981

Another Excellent Day (Monday 20th April 1981)

I was concerned that I only had enough fuel for approximately two days so Bob made a brew for both of us. I left the bothy at 8.30am on another beautiful day. Inspired by the weather I decided to follow the ridge from Carn Dearg via Geal-Chairn and Aonach Beag to Beinn Eibhinn, which provided incredible views further west of Blackmount, Glencoe and Lochaber. Then from Beinn Eibhinn down to the footbridge seemed to take ages i.e. from twelve fifteen to two o’clock to be exact. I saw my fourth lizard basking in the sun when on my way down to lunch under the bridge. As I was enjoying the shade of the bridge I washed in the cool waters. Refreshed, I set off towards Ossian Youth Hostel. It was really hot work along the beautiful rhododendron lined track by Loch Ossian. There were people in the distance beside the Youth Hostel so I walked up to them hoping to cadge an overnight stay but I was just told that it did not open until 15th May. Disappointed, I sat down and ate a couple of biscuits. When no offer of accommodation or even a cuppa was apparent, I set off for Larig Leacach. The walking was pretty mechanical along good paths and tracks. I expected to camp by Creag Uaineach Lodge but I couldn’t get near enough to flowing water so I carried on up Larog Leacach to find a good site. At 6:20pm I wrote in my log:- “I could have possibly made it to the bothy but my feet are quite sore after a long day. I hope to make an early start in the morning and all being well it’s The Ben tomorrow”.

Blackmount, Glencoe and Lochaber from Beinn Eibhinn © Steve Crowe 1981
Blackmount, Glencoe and Lochaber from Beinn Eibhinn © Steve Crowe 1981

Gray Coires Ridge (Tuesday 21st April 1981)

What a day of ups and downs in more ways than one.  First up at 6:15am, first down was around 6:30am when my watch still said 6:15am! I had struck camp by 8:15am but didn’t make the bothy until 9:40am. I ate a packed lunch whilst sitting not wanting to go on. I felt that it was too late. However, fearing a change in the weather I set off at 10am. It was hard work up to Stob Coire na Ceannian but I made good time stopping only once. A good ridge took me up to Stob Choire Claurigh where I tried to photograph a snow bunting. I left there at 11:20am on a good ridge to Stob Coire Easain, then I sat down at the next bealach. It was getting very hot and the next climb looked steep. It was 2pm and another packed lunch eaten before I moved on up Sgurr Choinnich Mor. A grass slope led down and up again to Sgurr Choinnich Beag. From here the climb to Aonach Beag appeared too much so I gave up and sat in the sun.

I wandered down to the Bealach to look for a camp site and found one under Sgurr a’ Bhuic. I thought that I should have kept going but I felt so drained and did not have the will to keep going. Noticing some Nimbus Cumulus, I thought to myself “is that rain tomorrow?”.

The Grey Corries, Aonach Beag, Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis in the distance © Steve Crowe 1981
The Grey Corries, Aonach Beag, Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis in the distance © Steve Crowe 1981

The Ben (Wednesday 22nd April 1981)

In my log I wrote “Well, I’m certainly glad I stopped yesterday. The time it took me today would have meant arriving at Loohan Meall an t-Suidhe at approximately 10.30pm.”

The wind got up to give me a noisy night in my lightweight tent. I woke to find that the condensation on my flysheet was frozen. Cups of lemsip and tea, some muesli and three scrambled eggs set me on my way. I left at 8am with my duvet on and under the threat of snow or rain. Still unsure of the way, I returned to the path following the fence posts. They went slightly left then up to an arete, but I soon left it to traverse to the ridge running down to Sgurr a’Bhuic. From here it was more straight forward. I took off my duvet but before I reached the summit of Aonach Beag I had it back on again and thus it stayed until I descended off The Ben.  The way to Carn Mor Dearg was marked with a cairn on the slope of Aonach Mor. I think I must have gone wrong somewhere because going down was a bit ‘hairy’ at times, dropping all the way down to the col at 830m. The path climbing 400m straight back up to Carn Mor Dearg was a little indistinct at first but it soon became an impressive knife edged ridge. On this summit I saw yet another snow bunting. An enjoyable ridge dropped down to a cairn marking a possible descent into Coire Leis. Then it became more and more broken boulders up to the Ben. It was a slow haul up but stepping over the lip, there was the summit mess in all its glory. The views from the summit weren’t too bad, the Glencoe hills and Knoydart but not much more. It was 1:50pm so I ate my lunch before climbing Carn Dearg, (mainly to avoid the tourist track). Then it was downhill all the way to Lochan Meall an t‘Suidhe and beyond to Glen Nevis where I camped. By now I had very little paraffin left so I bought tins of stew, rice pudding and fruit. It cost me a pound for the privilege of camping but I thoroughly enjoyed a twenty pence shower, my first since Braemar. I lay down exhausted at 9pm fortunately in my sleeping bag and snap – I was out like a light.

Ben Nevis from Carn Mor Dearg © Steve Crowe 1981
Ben Nevis from Carn Mor Dearg © Steve Crowe 1981

And on to Bill (Thursay 23rd April 1981)

The three tarmac miles to Fort Bill and the salt waters of Loch Linnhe were a non-event, but I completed 173 miles of walking and 9376 metres of climbing, over 13 days and although it snowed a little just once it never rained after the first day.

Ben Nevis © Steve Crowe 1981
Ben Nevis © Steve Crowe 1981

Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis

Walking in, Ben Nevis @ Steve Crowe 1987
Walking in, Ben Nevis @ Steve Crowe 1987

I clearly remember that weekend in 1987, we had quite an epic adventure on Ben Nevis. Bob Bennett had written the Lake District Winter Climbs Guide and climbed all the important winter climbs in the Lake District adding many new routes there too but he still hadn’t had an opportunity to climb the super classic Point Five Gully V,5 up on Ben Nevis.

Heading up to climb Point Five Gully V,5 © Steve Crowe
Heading up to climb Point Five Gully V,5 © Steve Crowe

We set off up the hill on a perfect day. Bob was so psyched to finally be getting to grips with Point Five, he allocated the pitches so that he got the plum pitch! I happily set off up the first pitch of the historic Point Five Gully, expecting an easy ride, suddenly as I climbed up I got smashed in the face by a small but painful lump of ice, it was a warning to keep my head down! I set up a good sheltered stance off to the side and out of the line of fie! Soon I would be seconding Bob on the infamous second pitch.

Point Five Gully V,5 © Steve Crowe
Starting up the First Pitch, Point Five Gully V,5 © Steve Crowe

Bob followed me and was soon making smooth work of the second pitch, conditions were excellent. Just as some spindrift rushed down the pitch I thought I could hear Bob calling down “climb when you’re ready”.

Bob leading the second pitch on Point Five Gully V,5 © Steve Crowe
Bob leading the second pitch on Point Five Gully V,5 © Steve Crowe

I waited safely to one side for the spindrift to ease but it continued to get worse. After quite a while I thought to myself time is pressing so I’d better set off now and it should soon ease and anyway I am on top rope. I called “climbing” and traversed out and into the spindrift. Keeping my head well down I climbed quickly with the confidence of the rope above me and in a blur was soon stood below pitch three and finally the spindrift had stopped. “Well done Steve” Bob shouted across “You may as well continue , there’s no need to come over here.” With no more incident the angle eased and we were soon up on the summit.

Bob Bennett on Point Five Gully V,5 © Steve Crowe
Bob Bennett on Point Five Gully V,5 © Steve Crowe

Another party were just leaving the summit as we sat down all self congratulatory for a quick snack. Visiability was difficult in near whiteout conditions so I dug out my crib sheet for navigating off the top. Meanwhile another party arrived at the top. But no!, it was the same party that had just left and walked around in a big loop only to end up back at the summit cairn all confused! We all set off together this time I was navigating down, counting paces… Soon there was more voices appearing out of the mist “Are you heading down? do you know where the top of the descent gully is? came we join you?” So there I was leading a dozen folks down off the hill. One party left us to descend back down the north face towards the hut while the day trippers followed me down out out of the clouds and safely back towards the cars. While walking down Bob commented on how fast I had climbed the crux pitch and how difficult it had been to take in the iced up rope through his belay plate. It was one summer’s evening six months later in a bar in the Lake District that Bob finally admitted that while I climbed the second pitch, head down, he was taking in the ropes had over hand and when I topped the second pitch he didn’t want me to see what happened which is why he pressed me to continue quickly up the third pitch while he sorted out the ropes behind my back as I continued upwards!

Carn Dearg Buttress, Ben Nevis © Steve Crowe
Carn Dearg Buttress, Ben Nevis © Steve Crowe

Climbing Guide to Whickham Boulder

Whickham Thorns Boulder © Steve Crowe 2010
Whickham Thorns Boulder © Steve Crowe 2010

Situated off Market Lane, Dunston, Gateshead, Whickham Boulder was the first man made outdoor boulder park in Britain was made by Enterprise for Whickham Thorns Outdoor Activity Centre. Officially opened in October 1998 the boulder park has proved extemely popular with top climbers, regular boulderers and novices alike. The boulder enjoys a sunny aspect and its use is free and unrestricted.

Access and Approaches
Just off the A1 Western By Pass opposite Gateshead Metro Centre. Take the Dunston/Whickham exit then turn south to the traffic lights where you need to turn right. Park in the Whickham Thorns Activity Centre car park. The boulder park is easily reached in less the a minute from the car park. 

Climbing at Whickham Boulder © Steve Crowe 2010
Climbing problem two at Whickham Boulder © Steve Crowe 2010

Bouldering Etiquette
Using an old towel or rag to keep your boots squeeky clean makes good sense, it can even make the problems feel easier. NO WIRE BRUSHING & NO RESIN. Nylon brushes acceptableto brush chalk and pebbles from the holds.

The grading system used here was first used by the French for the bouldering in Fontainbleau near Paris and is becoming increasingly popular with climbers in the UK. 

Steve Crowe climbing at Whickham Thorns Boulder © Steve Crowe 2010
Steve Crowe climbing at Whickham Thorns Boulder © Steve Crowe 2010

The Problems
The boulder is one complex cirque. The problems are described from left to right first around the outside, then returning around the inside. All the problems finish on the top. Finally some traverses are described, these are given sport route grades. The first climb described tackles the left edge of the east face and is one of the nearest problems to the approach path.


Click the image above to view the Whickham Thorns Mini Guide (PDF).

Holwick Scar

Holwick Scar  © Steve Crowe
Holwick Scar © Steve Crowe
  • OS Landranger Sheet: 92
  • Map Reference: NY902269
  • Aspect: North East
  • Altitude: 300m
  • Approach Time: 5 minutes

Situation and Character 
This splendid escarpment of igneous rock is part of the Great Whin Sill, which faces northeast across Upper Teesdale near the village of Holwick. This whole area has a high level of legal protection, and anyone damaging conservation interests is jeopardizing future access and can be punished by a large fine and/or imprisonment (on open access land it is illegal to damage or remove any plant, shrub, tree or root including crag vegetation). Through consultation with the Countryside Agency and English Nature a voluntary managed approach to climbing on Holwick Scar and a voluntary climbing exclusion to the rest of the Whin Sill in the Upper Teesdale area has been agreed.

Holwick Scar Access
A management agreement has been made between the BMC, English Nature, the Countryside Agency and Durham County Council to enable climbing on this crag after a gap of 25 years. Photo of Karin Magog climbing Right  Escalator VS 4c © Steve Crowe
Holwick Scar Access
A management agreement has been made between the BMC, English Nature, the Countryside Agency and Durham County Council to enable climbing on this crag after a gap of 25 years. Photo of Karin Magog climbing Right Escalator VS 4c © Steve Crowe

Records go back to the early 1960s and the exploits of Tony Gooding and the Yackley Mountaineering Club. The Cleveland Mountaineering Club also played a part in the development. The crag was first documented in a small guide produced by the Yackley MC, then the Rock Climbers Guide to the North of England (Pointer 1980) and more recently North of England Rock Climbs by Stewart Wilson (Cordee 1992).

Approaches and Access
The crag is approached from the small hamlet of Holwick, which is 4 miles North West of Middleton-in-Teesdale. From Middleton cross the River Tees on the B6277 going south. Take the first right which is the minor road leading to Holwick. Park considerately in the lay-by. The crags are now clearly visible one field away and dominating the scene. To reach the crag walk to the west end of the village, where at a bend in the road, a Public Bridleway leads off to the left. Follow this for a short distance to where it divides and a branch of the Public Bridleway goes up through the escarpment in the direction of Selset reservoir. 

Access Agreement Guidelines

Holwick Scar forms part of the Upper Teesdale Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the rich diversity of rare species and relict arctic-alpine plants. The site (including the Whin Sill crags) are also of European importance as recognized by designations of Special Area for Conservation and Special Protection Area. This area has a high level of legal protection, and anyone damaging conservation interests can be punished by a large fine and/or imprisonment. Through consultation with the Countryside Agency and English Nature, the BMC have produced the following guidance for climbers.

The BMC have now negotiated access guidelines (with the Countryside Agency and English Nature) for climbers. Holwick Scar forms part of the Upper Teesdale Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the rich diversity of rare species and relict arctic-alpine plants. The site (including the other Whin Sill crags) are also of European importance with Special Area for Conservation and Special Protection Area designations. This area has a high level of legal protection, and anyone damaging conservation interests can be punished by a large fine and/or imprisonment.
· Do not remove cliff vegetation this is an illegal (and punishable) offence under the Wildlife and Countryside and CRoW Acts
· Climbing is only permitted on buttresses numbered 1 to 5 (in crag pamphlet)
· Do not climb on the buttress between Great Chimney and Charlie’s Chimney (inc. these routes), or on the area under the black lines on buttress 3 (see pamphlet)
· Avoid climbing onto the large vegetated ledges
· Do not abseil from the trees
· Descend from buttresses 1, 2, and 3 down the back
When topping-out from buttresses 4 and 5 descend via the large grassy gully on the right
· When moving between buttresses stay on the obvious ‘sheep-track’
· Do not walk on ANY of the scree slopes
· Only approach the crag by the designated access point
· Follow the Countryside Code
· If you spot Ring Ouzel’s in early-mid March, call English Nature
Guidelines photo-pamphlet available at the crag.

Check the BMC RAD for the latest information.

The Strathmore Arms at Holwick closed in 2020. There is accommodation and a good campsite less than a mile down the road at Low Way Farm

The Climbs
These are described from left to right. Take note none of the grades of these climbs have been checked for over 30 years. Take care. 

Buttress One  

Descent to left.

Appetite for Construction(Route 101)  9m  HVS 5a.

Climb the corner crack adjacent to the left-hand arête. Well protected in the lower section. Care with some loose blocks at the top. 

Alan Dougherty 22.4.06

Dustbin Day Crack (Route 102)  9m  E1 5b 

Taller climbers will be able to climb the crack-line by bridging spaced flat holds on its outside. Those unable to make the reaches, or in need of a good thrutch, will find some helpful edges inside the off-width. Size 3 – 4 Friends useful.

Alan Dougherty and Maggie Ingram 25.8.06

“Route 103” has been inspected on a top-rope (Alan Dougherty 25.8.06.). The essentially unprotectable wall is lichenous and presents a sustained ?6a pitch with ?6b rock-over onto a small flake that is not above suspicion.

Buttress Two

When the CRoW Flies ? 6m E1 5b 

Line slightly left of “Route 104.” Wall right of wide crack and left of nose. Long reach to good flake/diagonal break (some pro). MOVE LEFT AT TOP TO AVOID LEDGE VEGETATION.

Guy Keating and Alan Dougherty 14.6.06.

Buttress Three 

Lichen Strikes 8m HVS 5a (Route 108) 

Straight up the well protected corner to ledge, using the thin crack at its rear and wider crack to left. DO NOT STRAY INTO THE OFF-WIDTH CRACK FURTHER LEFT WHICH IS EXCLUDED FOR CONSERVATION REASONS. The end of the pitch is well below the top of the crag and the exit directly upwards, passing a large flake, involves covering some vegetated and poorly protected but easy ground. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TRAVERSE OFF AT THE TOP OF THE PITCH AS THIS IS ACROSS GROUND WHICH IS BOTH UNSTABLE AND OF CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Alan Dougherty 26.4.06.

Great Buttress

The first route starts 6m up the wide, grassy gully on the left-hand side of the crag.

1. “A” Chimney   15m   VD

Climb blocks in the corner until it is possible to enter the chimney proper. Straight up to a grassy ledge then trend rightwards to the top. 

Variation Finish  HS 4a

From the top of the chimney step across onto the right wall and climb over a loose spike to finish. This variation finish is not recommended in it’s current state. 

2. Spiral Staircase   18m   D

Climb “A” Chimney for 2m then follow the obvious line rightwards to a series of ledges and a tree (belay). Move down right to a platform, then into a groove (take care with loose blocks). Follow this until a traverse right leads to a short chimney and the top.

Variation: Carol’s Delightful Hand   D

A better finish. From the tree belay climb the direct line to the top. Finish up a short chimney.

Just to the right of the start of A Chimney/Spiral Stairs, an off-width crack leads to the large ledge and tree. (4c, Alan Dougherty, 11.6.06.) Left Escalator, Right Escalator and Derision Groove are good climbing on relatively clean lines. 

3. Left Escalator   24m  HS   **            

Starts 4m right of Spiral Staircase in a wide groove with a pinnacle on the right.

2m 4a   Climb the wide crack on the left of the groove to a tree belay on Spiral Staircase.

12m      Move down and right to a platform, then into a groove. Follow this until a traverse right leads to a short chimney and the top. (It may be better to finish by  Carols Delightful Hand or reverse down pitch one of Spiral Staircase).

Steve Crowe climbing Right  Escalator VS 4c © Steve Crowe 2006

4. Right Escalator   12m   VS 4c   *

Start at the foot of the wide groove. Climb the pinnacle and make an awkward step left into a groove (delicate). Finish at the tree belay on Spiral Staircase.WE Pattison & A Robson 14/07/63

5. Derision Groove   24m   VS   *

Start to the right of the pinnacle at a black groove. 

12m 5a  Climb the groove to a sentry box. Belay high in a crack on the left. 

12m      Bridge up the sentry box and pull across left on excellent holds to join Spiral Staircase.

6. Master’s Groove   26m   VS

Start at the lowest point of the buttress 2m right of Derision Groove.

11m 4b Climb easily to a grass ledge on the left. Ascend the left hand crack and move right to a big ledge and tree belay.

15m 4c Step back left above the crack and climb a steep groove. Continue up the V-groove surmounting an overhang to finish on grassy ledges.

WE Pattison & AJK Gooding 13/7/1963

7. Surprise   28m   S   *

Start at the protruding rib of the buttress 2m right of Master’s Groove.

12m      Climb the rib direct to a ledge and tree. 

16m      Move right behind the tree and make a series of awkward moves up the steep gangway to the top. 

8. Rigor Mortis   23m   VS 5b   **

Start 2m left of the obvious, deep chimney; Great Chimney. Climb a steep crack to a niche at 4m. Climb past three old pegs to an easier finish.

FFA Alan Dougherty 8.8.06

Climbers have agreed with English Nature to avoid climbing routes 9 – 14.

9. Great Chimney   23m   S    

Start at the foot of the obvious chimney. Climb this over chock-stones and move left over blocks at the top overhang to reach the top. A fine climb.

10. Cascade   25m   VS 4b

Start below a groove little more than a metre right of Great Chim­ney. Climb the groove to a resting place on the right at 6m. Swing left across the groove using a flake, the bulge above is climbed on good holds and a prominent block is passed towards the finish.

11. Strathmore Crescent   28m   S

Starts 7m right of Great Chimney just beyond a thin crack, which widens into a groove higher up. Climb diagonally leftwards up the wall for 3m then traverse left into a groove. Follow the groove to a ledge and rickety spike. Step right past the spike to another ledge. Climb the rib and groove to exit right over blocks to a grassy ledge and a tree.

12. Central Climb   28m   S

This climb finds a way up the wall between Great Chimney and another obvious chimney; Charlie’s Chimney. Climb the wall from left to right to finish on a ledge with an Ash tree.

13. Sentinel’s Stride   28m   HS

Start below the gangway, which goes up the wall to the left of the deep-cut Charlie’s Chimney.

15m 4a Climb the wall for 4m then make a delicate move up right to the gangway. Climb this into a chimney and step across onto a large, grass ledge.

13m 4a From the ledge, step back across the chimney and into a shallow groove. Move up to a horizontal crack and regain the gangway by a swing to the left. Climb over a pinnacle to the top.

14. Charlie’s Chimney   21m   VD 

Climb the obvious deep chimney. WE Pattison & A Robson & Charlie Thew 14/07/63

15. Groundhog   10m   HVS 5a

Start at the foot of Charlie’s Chimney. Climb the groove on the right wall of the chimney. Exit onto a grass ledge halfway up the chimney. Poor protection.

16. Chimney and Slab   14m   D

Start 2m right of Charlie’s Chimney below another chimney. Climb the chimney and exit right onto a slab. Climb this to a tree. The corner above is climbed to the top. This route is dirty and not recommended. The chock-stone is loose and little protection is available!

To the right the crag is at its lowest height and has a bay bounded on the left by a corner crack.

17. Interrupted Crack   21m   VS

Climb the well protected corner crack, with some difficulty, to a good ledge. Climb the continuation crack above to an awkward exit onto a slab. Finish above the tree as for Chimney and Slab.

Bishop’s Buttress

This section contains some of the best climbs on the crag. The imposing face provides greater steepness and continuity than any­where else on the crag.

18. Stroll On   23m   E2 5b   *   

Start at a little niche in the projecting corner of the buttress just to the right of interrupted Crack. Climb up and out of the niche and pull round the rib onto the wall on the right. Climb straight up for almost 5m and move back left onto a large ledge. From the right-hand end of the ledge move up a mossy wall to finish up a the corner crack. The “mossy wall,” actually well covered in lichen, constitutes the crux. It’s a fine pitch but not well protected.WE Pattison& AJK Gooding and A Robson 20/07/63

19. Thrombosis   28m   E2 5b

An exciting, strenuous and spectacular climb. Start at the little niche as for Stroll On.

5m 5a Move up and out of the niche onto the right wall. Climb this on good holds until a traverse can be made to a stance and belay in the narrow chimney; Bishop’s Chimney on the right.

13m 5a From the chimney move up and back onto the wall above the traverse line. Move up to holds, which are followed leftwards to a spike. Move up past the spike and traverse right to reach and climb the obvious, flake crack.WE Pattison, AGK Gooding 29/06/63


The original description, moving towards Bishop’s Chimney (where there is a wobbly block), then back left, on largely hidden holds, “…towards a spike” is an elegant solution to an improbable looking line. The straightened-out description, as on Steve Crowe’s topo looks as if it would involve harder climbing – three old pegs are present in the independent section – perhaps that bit was aided? The chock-stone in the final flake crack moves but seems okay.

20. Bishop’s Chimney   18m   VS 4b         

The steep, narrow chimney in the right angle of Bishop’s Buttress. (Could be excellent if it got more traffic and stayed cleaner. Not much vegetation once you get to the chimney proper, but lots of lichen including on crucial smears.)

9m        Climb the corner to a large platform at the foot of the chimney proper.

9m 4a   Climb the chimney facing right. An awkward move over chock-stones leads to the top. (Take care with a loose block at the top.)

21. Sabre Cut   12m   VS

Start 3m right of Bishop’s Chimney below a steep, narrow crack. Climb the awkward and strenuous, narrow crack. 

(“We couldn’t find this. If it’s the thin crack and wider chimney parallel to Bishops Chimney then it’s been lost to the vegetation.” Simon)


To the right of the last climbs and about 6m left of the dry stonewall, is a pinnacle, with a recess to the right of the pinnacle.

22. Straight Up   12m   VS 4c   

Climb the steep narrow crack , which runs up a corner in the left-hand side of the recess, with an energetic mix of jamming, lay-backing and bridging.  The large block which offers the obvious hand-holds for moving onto the belay ledge wobbles and requires caution.

It should be noted that routes in this vicinity require a long ascent of vegetated and poorly protected ground to reach a safe position. It might be a better alternative to descend the chimney behind the pinnacle.

Climbers have agreed with English Nature to avoid climbing routes 23 and 25.

23. Yackley Chimney   14m   D            

Start at the foot of a clean-cut chimney at the back of the recess. Climb the left wall until the chimney proper can be entered. Climb this to block belays on the left.

Various other climbs exist in the area above the drystone wall but are not recorded. Beyond the dry stonewall is a tall buttress with a climb following a series of grooves:

24. G-String Grooves    VS 4c

Climb the grooves; the first of these is prominent and smooth. 

25. Sarongster   88m   HVS 

An excellent left to right high-level girdle. Start as for Left Escalator. 

12m   4a   Climb the wide crack on the left of the groove to a tree belay on Spiral Staircase.

19m   4c   Traverse right to Derision Groove and continue past Master’s Groove to a good ledge on the arête. Make an awkward move onto Surprise and continue to a stance and belay below the roof of Great Chimney.

 6m   3c   Move out of the chimney rightwards, passing the prominent block on Cascade. Enter the groove of Strathmore Crescent and follow it to the top. Tree belay.

12m   4a   Descend the last pitch of Sentinel’s Stride to a grassy ledge and nut belay.

 9m   4a   Traverse delicately right to a tree belay on Chimney and Slab.

20m   5a   Move down and rightwards and traverse onto Stroll On to a peg runner below the final crack. Continue rightwards to another peg runner on Thrombosis. Traverse right and finish up the flake crack as for Thrombosis.WEPattison & A Robson 14/07/63

Kayser Bonder VS

A low level girdle traverse starting up Charlie’s Chimney and finishing up Spiral Stairs. The way is obvious and is never more than 5m above the ground except for the accent of Bishops Chimney and the descent of Chimney and Slab.WE Pattison & Charlie Thew 30/06/63

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Scottish Rock by Gary Latter

Scottish Rock Volume 2 North by Gary Latter
Scottish Rock Volume 2 North 3rd Edition by Gary Latter

SCOTTISH ROCK Volume 2 North 3rd edition

ISBN: 978-1-906095-71-0

Written by Gary Latter

Published by Pesda Press

Reviewed by Steve Crowe May 2020

I was invited to review the third edition of Scottish Rock North Volume 2 but I have decided to discuss both books. What started out as a two-year project to celebrate the 1000 best climbs on Scottish rock and write them up for a stunning selective guidebook has become a lifetime obsession for Gary Latter. By the time Scottish Rock was ready for print there was more than enough superb routes to fill two volumes. Volume One covers all the best routes south of the Great Glen, while the third edition of the popular Volume Two covers all the very best climbs on the mainland north of the Great Glen along with Skye, the Outer Hebrides and Orkney.  

Both editions of the guide have an entertaining and informative introduction with headings such as Using the Guide, Accommodation, Eating Out, Access, Wild Camping, Caravans (very amusing), Birds, Seasonal Restrictions, Directions, Conservation, Ethics, Style, Quality Assessment, Climate, Tidal Information, Weather Information, Wee Bastards (aka midges and ticks), Mountain Rescue and Grades. Following this in Volume 1 is brief section on geology.

Gary Latter on Misha E6 6b at   Reiff © Steve Crowe
Gary Latter on Misha E6 6b at Reiff © Steve Crowe

Now onto the climbing areas themselves and each of the sections start with a good, overall map (more detailed maps follow if required), a short intro, info on accommodation and amenities. Next the routes and the guide is well served throughout with clear photo diagrams (an excellent effort given some of the territory the guide covers), as well as detailed written descriptions. Presented in a well laid out, generally uncluttered style means the guide is a pleasure to use. The route numbers in the text and diagrams appear in a coloured dot, the colour of which signifies a particular grade range e.g. green for moderate to severe, purple for E4 and above. This makes identifying crags of interest much easier when flicking through the guide. Each grade range is well served so whether you’re after long, multi-pitch severes or hard, technical extremes there’s enough here to satisfy even the most manic of climbers. There’s also plenty of action pictures which are well placed in the text and cover the full range of grades and styles of climbing on offer (amazingly the sun always seems to be shining). Each volume stands at approaching 500 pages and describing 1670 and 2550 routes respectively they offer amazing value for money. It also means they’ll be heavy to carry up those multi-pitch mountain routes but I reckon that’s a small price to pay.

Karin Magog on Cross Eyed E2 5b © Steve Crowe Collection 2004
Karin Magog on Cross Eyed E2 5b © Steve Crowe Collection 2004

Scottish Rock North is a fantastic mixture of modern masterpieces alongside an impressive collection of timeless classics covering all grades so no one will feel short changed. For this updated third edition Gary has selected over 2550 climbs and described them all within 480 colourful pages and there is definitely enough quality climbs described here to last any keen climber a lifetime. There is a huge variety of rock types throughout the Highlands and Islands from the rough Gabbro of The Cullin on Skye, to the Old Red Sandstone famous for The Old Man of Hoy, the superb Torridonian sandstone, the excellent cracks and vertical Dolerite columns of Kilt Rock on Skye and my favourite, the multi coloured Lewisian Gneiss of the Outer Hebrides. 

Specifically, for the third edition there has been 300 new routes added alongside 60 new photo topos and over 50 additional action photos too. The highlights include Super Crag Sport overlooking Loch Maree and Super Crag Trad an amazing sea cliff near Lochinver. To fit all this in Gary decided to delete all the historical introductions and about 150 less popular routes.

Being particularly familiar with many of the areas in the far north I can testify to the excellent job that Gary has done with his third edition of Volume 2. I was browsing through the book with sweaty palms and exclamations of ‘we must get back there’, ‘that crag looks amazing’, ‘I would love to do that route’, etc. Gary ought to be proud of both volumes of Scottish Rock, his love and knowledge of climbing in Scotland are present throughout the guides and help make them truly inspiring. Get your copies now.

Scottish Rock South & North by Gary Latter
Scottish Rock South & North by Gary Latter

From the Foreword by Hamish MacInnes … “If you have an ambition to do all the climbs in these two Scottish Rock guides I think you’d better schedule time off in your next life. This labour of Gary’s has been of gargantuan proportions. Those of you who use the guides will benefit by his dedication and the sheer choice offered; if you divide the retail price of these by the number of good routes you’ll realise this is a bargain. Volume 1 covers a proliferation of Scottish crags up to the natural demarcation of the Great Glen. They are easier to access than most in Volume 2 and present infinite variety. I have been a long-time advocate of selected climbs and the use of photographs to illustrate both climbs and action. I’m glad that this principle has been used throughout these two volumes. It gives you a push to get up and do things. The list seems endless and if you succeed in doing half of them you’ll be a much better climber and know a lot more about Scotland – have a good decade!”

Climbing in Chulilla

El muro de las Lamentaciones from Chullia © Steve Crowe 2011
El muro de las Lamentaciones from Chullia © Steve Crowe 2011

Rock climbing in Chulilla has changed a lot since the heydays of the 1980’s, many new sectors have been developed many older routes have got longer too! A 70m rope is essential for many of the newer routes and for some climbers an 80m rope is preferred. The routes are generally well protected so take plenty of quickdraws too! There is plenty of climbing surrounding the town of Chulilla itself and the some of newer sectors are clearly visible a short walk across the river. The most popular of the newer sectors is the south facing wall of El muro de las lamentaciones. Then a little to its right and directly opposite the new Refugio is the east facing wall of Pared de Enfrente which catches the sun until about 2pm. The NW facing wall of Embalse is a beautiful orange wall which gets steeper as you head left, but ranges between slabs and bulges at the right-hand end to about 10 degrees constantly overhanging for the main middle section, then some harder routes at the left-hand end with steep barrel shaped starts into less steep headwalls. The climbing is mainly technical on a variety of thin tufas, crimps, side-pulls – a face climbers dream venue really. There’s plenty of good 6’s and some superb 7a’s but the main event is the middle section offering a superb choice of 7c and 7c+’s.

The stunning Los Calderones de Chulilla (walkway) through the gorge to the dam has been restored which has eased access to many of the newer sectors nearer the dam and it is a superb walk for rest days and non climbers alike.

El Altico Refugio, Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2013
El Altico Refugio, Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2013

The popular climbers refugio El Altico is situated in a prominent position overlooking the crags and it is ran by local activist Pedro Pons. It is always open however it is important to book in advance preferably by email ( The prices are reasonable: about 15 € person/night (or 10 € for people who like to sleep in their van but they want to use the excellent El Altico facilities). For more information about the climber friendly accommodation at  El Altico visit their website here:

Reflections at Chulilla  © Steve Crowe 2013
Reflections at Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2013

The recent Chulilla sport climbing boom started with a climbing topo that was first published in the Spanish climbing magazine Desnival in November 2010. Desnival also published a Chulilla update in December 2013. The January 2015 issue of Climber Magazine featured with “Climbing in a Spanish Paradise” an excellent article by local activist Marijne Lekkerkerker who details this magical place festooned with high quality rock and routes. The best source of information can be found at

Kaplan 7a, Cañaveral  © Steve Crowe 2013
Kaplan 7a, Cañaveral © Steve Crowe 2013

Top Chulilla Climbs This is a selection of some of the very best climbs at Chulilla. (Note: the list keeps getting longer!)

 Magnetoresistencia 6b+, Oasis
 El Ramallito 6c, El muro de las lamentaciones
 La Diagonal 6c,7a, Sex Shop
 Blue Agave 7a, El muro de las lamentaciones
 Top of the Rock 7a, Oasis
 Richer Line 7a, Chorreras
 Plan Z.  7a, Oasis
 Pim Pam Pons 7a+, Chorreras
 Sendero sinuoso 7a+, Oasis
 Dale duro negro 7b, Sex Shop
 Cantalobos 7b, Pared de enfrente
 Segul lluitan 7b, Nano Park
 Daños colaterales 7b+, Oasis
 Los Franceses 7b+, Pared de enfrente
 El gran dinosaurio blanco 7b+, Cañaveral
 La conjura de los nachos, Cañaveral
 Nibelungalos 7c,  Algarrobo
 Todo un clásico 7c, Cañaveral
 Super Zeb 7c, Pared blanca
 Los Caminantes 7c, Chorreras
 Moon Safari 7c+,  Algarrobo
 El rey de a palanca 7c+,  Algarrobo
 El diablo viste de prana 7c+,  Algarrobo
 El Ramallar 7c+, Pared de enfrente
 El Romanso de las mulas 7c+, Pared de enfrente
 El Bufa 7c+/8a, Balconcito
 El Agent Naranja 8a, Balcon
 La Montana magica 8a+/b, Balconcito
 La bella protegida 8b, Balconcito
Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2012
Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2012

Celestial Journey

Karin Magog leading Celestial Journey 22 Wolfberg Cracks  © Steve Crowe 2006
Karin Magog leading Celestial Journey 22 Wolfberg Cracks © Steve Crowe 2006

An Introduction to Rock Climbing in the Western Cape of South Africa by Karin Magog 

South Africa, like the States, has many different climbing areas so where do you start?  Well you couldn’t go wrong with a trip to the Western Cape.  Cape Town itself is one of the top cities in the world, and a very popular venue in it’s own right.  It’s in a fantastic situation with Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles curving through the city and surrounded by fantastic beaches.  Accommodation is plentiful, with several cheap Back Packers and it’s generally very cheap to eat out. There’s plenty of climbing around Cape Town but it’s worth exploring inland as well, with several good climbing venues along the N1 to the east, and, to the north, the Cederberg Mountains in particular offer some fantastic climbing. The majority of the crags are hard sandstone but all have their own unique character and are very different to the sandstone here in Britain.

Celestial Journey 22 Wolfberg Cracks © Steve Crowe 2006
Celestial Journey 22 Wolfberg Cracks © Steve Crowe 2006


You can’t miss this as it is literally in the middle of Cape Town.  A steep 1.5 hours walk leads up to the ledges (there is a cable car but it’s not the done thing!), from where you have a choice of climbing in the sun or shade, with Africa Ledge on the left getting the morning sun and Fountain Ledge to the right the afternoon.  It is possible to climb here all year round depending on the weather.  Even when the ‘south easter’ is blowing the tablecloth over the mountain, Fountain Ledge is usually the most sheltered spot to climb on the Peninsula.  The rock is very hard, compact sandstone with regular breaks (or rails as the locals call them), which take good gear – plenty of cams are essential.  It also forms some fantastic juggy chickenheads.  The crag offers some great multi-pitch trad routes of all grades and the views are spectacular.  Just some of the routes to look out for are: – Africa Crag (12), Atlantic Crag (18), Oddshouters Outing (22), Africa Arête  (25), No Longer at Ease (25) and African Lunch (23), all on the African Ledge, and Arms Race (23), The Dream (21), Touch and Go (21), Triple Indirect into Magnetic Wall (20), Captain Hook (23), Jacob’s Ladder (16) (which traverses out on monster holds above a massive roof – not for weak-kneed seconds!) and Roulette (20/21), on the Fountain Ledge. The crag also offers several testpieces including One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (30), Jeopardy (29), Double Jeopardy (30) (by Britain’s Dave Birkett) and the recent Mary Poppins and her Umbrella (32).  For an interesting route to the main crag try linking Frasers Variation (on the lower buttresses) into Arrow Final, this gives good quality climbing at a low grade (V Diff) and breaks up the tedious walk-in.  The lower buttresses are worth a visit if time is short, check out the classic Bombay Duck (17). As well as the climbing Table Mountain has much more to offer.  Combined with the Cape Peninsula it is one of the 6 floral kingdoms of the world with more species diversity than the whole of the British Isles.  The mountain also offers many classic walks and scrambles.

Table Mountain © Steve Crowe 2006
Table Mountain © Steve Crowe 2006


Both are good sports climbing venues near Muizenburg, about 20 mins drive from Cape Town.  They offer a good range of grades with the climbing being vertical to overhanging and are climbable year round.  Silvermine has four bolted crags (Main Crag, Blaze of Glory, Fawlty Towers and Lower Silvermine) with the Main Crag offering routes up to 30m on vertical walls with small, friendly crimps.  The routes are mainly in 18-26 range with Sterling Silver (21) and Trance Dance (23) both well worth doing.  The Mine is a lot steeper and it is possible to climb here in the rain.  It is also quite shady in the summer when the sun is high in the sky.  It offers very steep, powerful climbing through lots of roofs.  Some recommended routes include Red Guitar on Fire (25), Swan Lake (25), Gift of Wings (28) and Sickle Moon (22).

Jill Blackburn lowering off at Silvermine © Steve Crowe 2006
Jill Blackburn lowering off at Silvermine © Steve Crowe 2006


Again this is on the coast near Muizenburg and is a good venue for a half day.  It offers incredibly overhanging sports routes on mainly good holds and wears you down quickly.  The main climbing is generally in the 24 – 28 range but there are a few routes on the left in the 19-21 range which can be used as warm-ups.   Good routes include Fleur de Mer (24+), Fleur D’Afrique (25) and Poisson Flambe (25+).  There’s often a chilly breeze so it can be a good venue on a hot day, but beware the ‘south-easter’ though as this can make the crag very smeggy (unfortunately this is the prevailing wind in the summer!).  The crag is also prone to seepage in wet winters.

Fleur de Mer 24 at The Hole, Muizenberg  © Steve Crowe 2006
Fleur de Mer 24 at The Hole, Muizenberg © Steve Crowe


This is the name given to the two large granite domes just outside the town of Paarl.  The name means ‘Pearl’ in Afrikaans and when it’s wet and the sun shines you can see why.  Easily accessible from Cape Town they are about a 50 mins drive northeast along the N1.  Rather an esoteric venue (reminiscent of Picnic at Hanging Rock) but offering some excellent climbing with a mixture of trad and sports climbs.  The earlier climbs tend to be quite gnarly with long run-outs between old bolts and some trad gear; however, there are some newer bolted routes that are well equipped.  The routes are generally slabby with small holds and very intricate, balancey climbing.  Children of the Lesser God (22) is a unique route with most of the gear comprising of slings over the prominent extrusions plus a couple of bolts on the blanker sections.  Look out for the excellent and sustained slab of Children of the Corn (25) and the superb Parklife (27/28).  This 40m route follows the black water streak and gives excellent and sustained climbing on generally good, if small, edges.  Also good is the newly bolted Little Dutch Boy (20) and Wonderland (22).

Paarl Rocks © Steve Crowe 2006
Paarl Rocks © Steve Crowe 2006


Follow the N1 for about an hour from Cape Town and you drive through the Huguenot Tunnel and out into Du Toit’s Kloof, a spectacular alpine valley with the main road to Jo’Burg running through its centre.  If you fancy a big day out there are plenty of trad routes up to 400m long, with a hard walk-in to start (makes the walk-in to Scafell look like a stroll apparently!) and plenty of commitment, despite the road at the bottom.  Recommended routes include Exposure in F Major (18)North West Frontal (19) and Armageddon Time (23).

If you fancy something less committing check out Hellfire.  Just 45 mins from the road is a band of solid, red sandstone offering single pitch trad, sport and mixed routes with a good spread of grades.  It gets plenty of sun making it too hot generally in summer but a good venue at other times of the year.

Jill Blackburn on sighting Lip Service 22 Sandrif  © Steve Crowe 2006
Jill Blackburn on sighting Lip Service 22 Sandrif © Steve Crowe 2006


Further along the N1 again, about 2.5 hours drive from Cape Town in the Klein Karoo is the sports climbing mecca of Montagu.  Instead of the usual sandstone the rock here is quartzite and offers extensive climbing at all grades from 10 (F4) to 33 (F8b+). The routes are mainly single pitch and of every different length and angle, so there’s literally something for everyone. There are numerous different crags in the kloofs (gorges) formed as part of the Cape Fold Mountains. The low rainfall makes this a good option in the winter months as it is often sunny and warm here when the weather is bad in Cape Town.  It is also possible to climb here in the hotter summer months though, as some shade can usually be found.  In Bosch Kloof check out Ramset Crag, Bosch Crag, Twin Fins and Skull Crag for Latin Lessons (21), Partners in Crime (24) and the crimp fest Never Say Goodbye (27). The Steeple at the Riverside Crags is a must with long slabby routes like the excellent Gospel Express (17) on one side, and very short, steep routes including The Church of Frederico (23) on the other. 

Karin on Church of Frederico 23, Montagu   © Steve Crowe 2006
Karin on Church of Frederico 23, Montagu © Steve Crowe 2006

Bad Kloof has several excellent sectors including The Scoop, Sloth Crag, Supertubes, The Palace, Uriah Heap and Berlin Wall.  Look out for routes Cool like That (29)The Vision Thing (23), If I go it Will be Double (24), Thruster (26), and Cyberpunk (25). Voted South Africa’s town of the year in 2002, Montagu is a peaceful place steeped in history offering coffee shops, restaurants, hot springs, wine tasting, mountain biking and hiking.

Karin Magog climbing Vision Thing 23 Montagu  © Steve Crowe 2006
Karin Magog climbing Vision Thing 23 Montagu © Steve Crowe 2006


If it’s limestone you are after then this is the place, in fact it’s the only limestone crag in the Country.  An awesome venue about six hours drive from Cape Town along the N2 highway.  Definitely worth a trip if you enjoy overhanging, tufa sports climbs.  Although Oudtshoorn itself can be one of the hottest places in the country with temperatures in summer regularly in the mid thirties, the climbing area is up in the De Hoek mountain resort and the main wall is shady in the afternoon allowing a leisurely start and time for a swim in the resort pool. . There are only a handful of routes here unfortunately, but many of these are among the best, and hardest, sport climbs in the country with a grade range of 18-33.  Look out for Short Circuit (31)Phallic Mechanic (24)Paws (26)Sid Vicious (27) and Lost Safari (an extension to Sid Vicious which gives an awesom40m 28). Oudtshoorn is also famous for the Cango Show Caves and ostrich farms.  There are also plenty of wildlife parks and the spectacular Swartberg Pass.

Karin Magog flashing Lost Safari 28 Oudtshoorn  © Steve Crowe 2006
Karin Magog flashing Lost Safari 28 Oudtshoorn © Steve Crowe 2006


This mountain range is about two/three hours drive (an hour of which is on dirt tracks) north of Cape Town.  It is named after the beautiful cedar trees whose numbers have sadly been decimated by repeated veld fires.  There are several climbing venues here, perhaps the most well known being Rocklands (Northern Cederberg), which offers world-class bouldering as well as several routes.  Rocklands is relatively low-lying so is a great venue in the late autumn or early spring, although the hard-core boulderers visit in the winter.  There is also some sports climbing at Truitjies Kraal (Central Cederberg) and some at Sandrift Crag, both near Wolfberg. The area however, offers some fantastic multi-pitch trad climbing up in the mountains.  Perhaps the most accessible is Wolfberg, with a good campsite located near the climbing (60mins walk to the crag) and the routes being typically 4-7 pitches long.  Although it is very hot here in the summer as long as you get the walk-in done early the climbing is mostly in the shade.  It’s also a good venue for autumn and spring. Great routes include Celestial Journey (22), Alone In Space (22) and Energy Crisis (20).  For more of an adventure however, the crags of Tafelberg and Krakadouw are well worth visiting.  They both involve a 2-3hr. walk up into the mountains and it is usual to bivvi here for a few days.  For Krakadouw water is available about 30 mins from the camping spot so it is usual to fill up several bottles on the walk-in.  For Tafelberg, water is sometimes available near the crag, but there’s very seldom any left by the autumn. Tafelberg is definitely a summer crag as it is pretty shady and can be very cold, whereas Krakadouw gets plenty of sun so you can climb here from spring to autumn.  The rock is very hard and compact sandstone, with routes tending to follow the main weaknesses of cracks, chimneys and the horizontal ‘rails’. Good protection is the norm, but the routes are often steep and fairly burly so a positive approach is needed.  Recommended routes at Krakadouw include the fantastic 10 pitch King Kone (20) on the big crag and the equally as good Icthyasaurus (21)Juggernaut (22), and Valhalla (26) on the smaller of the two crags (all  routes about 5 pitches).  At Tafelberg check out Tafelberg Frontal (12), Comes a Time (20), Oscillation (21), Oceans of Air (23) (the name says it all!) and Blue Planet (25).

Mary Jenner climbing on Tafelberg Pillar © Steve Crowe 2006
Mary Jenner climbing on Tafelberg Pillar © Steve Crowe 2006


Getting There

Flights are available to Cape Town International Airport from all major UK airports, but flights aren’t cheap.  Expect to pay at least £550.

Car Hire

Available from the usual companies such as Hertz and Avis for about £180/week for a 4 door with A/C.  Check out for prices.

When to go

For routes an excellent time is March/April, it’s still very warm which is good for the higher crags.  For bouldering July seems to be a good month, generally low rainfall out at Rocklands but still sunny without being too warm.


For Table Mountain check out The Ledge, Table Mountain by Leonhard Rust. A very clear guide with excellent photo topos.  There’s an excellent new guidebook to all the sports venues in the Western Cape (2004) called Western Cape Rock by Tony Lourens.  It covers Montagu, Oudtshoorn, Cape Town and the Cederberg sports routes.  He is currently working on guidebooks to the rest of the Cederberg.  There is a guide to Wolfberg by Jason Orton.  Information for other crags can be found on the Climb South Africa website (, as well as loads of other useful information.


For some venues (e.g. The Cederberg) it is necessary to obtain a permit before you can climb in the area.  Contact the Mountain Club of South Africa ( before your visit for more info.


In all the towns and cities there are plenty of Back Packers, hostels and B&BS.  Back Packers in particular can be very cheap (although some can be very noisy).  Many climbing areas also have decent campsites with hot showers eg. Rocklands, Wolfberg, Montagu.  Many of the campsites also have self-catering bungalows which can be a cheap option if there’s a few of you.  For Montagu check out De Bos (campsite, bunk barn, bungalows and rooms) which is ran by climbers Stuart and Regula Brown ( At Wolfberg the Sanddrift campsite is ideally located below the crag and for Oudtshoorn there’s the De Hoek Mountain Resort just 10mins from the crag.  For the more remote venues it is usual to go in for a few days and just bivvi at the crag eg. Krakadouw, Tafelberg.

Food and Drink

Generally very cheap and very good.  It’s easily possible to get a three course meal for less than £10.  The wine is also excellent with the vineyards of Stellenbosch less than an hour from Cape Town and South Africa’s highest winery situated right next to Wolfberg.  Bakeries and Coffee Shops abound, with plenty of tempting morsels (flapjack is highly recommended and worth checking out, it won’t be what you’re used to!) Tea and scones are also very popular.

Rest Days

Plenty of fantastic beaches, water sports, abseiling off Table Mountain, beautiful walks, Jackass Penguins, diving with sharks, Botanical Gardens, Cape Point, wine tasting.  The list is endless.


Baboons – don’t feed them as it encourages them to approach cars.

Snakes – don’t wear sandals when walking through the bush.  Make a noise and most snakes will move out the way (except the puff adder which is lazy but has a very swift strike!). As well as the puff adder there are cobras, berg adders and various others.

Crime – try not to look like a tourist and keep your wits about you.

Car-jacking – not unheard of in the cities.

Dangerous aggressive drivers – especially taxis and vehicles with no lights at night.

Great White Sharks – well you never know!

Jill Blackburn on Partners in Crime 24 Montagu  © Steve Crowe 2006
Jill Blackburn on Partners in Crime 24 Montagu © Steve Crowe 2006

Summer of Dove by Steve Crowe

2003 was the Summer of Dove

A short history of climbing on Dove Crag leading up to the awesome summer of 2003. The original article was written for and published in Climber magazine in December 2003. 

by Steve Crowe

Chris Hope onsighting Bucket Dynasty E7 6b   © Steve Crowe 2003
Chris Hope onsighting Bucket Dynasty E7 6b © Steve Crowe 2003

Dove Crag has tested the very best climbers down the years from Dolphin and Whillans, to Cleasby, Botterill, Whillance, Berzins and Foster. The long hot summer of 2003 drew the latest generation of bright young things into the shadow of the steepest crag in the Lake District. Steve Crowe was there…

It was reported in the local newspaper at the time that a doctor and ambulance were on stand-by during the first ascent of Westmorlands Route (MS) by H. Westmorland, J. Mounsey and W.A. North in 1910. While the route is still a popular outing 90 years later, nowadays a mobile phone gets a good signal on the route so even today help need not necessarily be too far away! The next major line to be climbed was Hangover (HVS 5a) in May 1939 which sought out a weakness up the very centre of the crag ‘the only possible line of ascent and must rank as one of the purest lines in the country.” Arthur Dolphin. Don Whillans and Joe Brown with Don Cowan climbed Dovedale Groove in May 1954 with one point of aid. It was 9 years before Pete Crew and Bas Ingle made the second ascent of this now popular E1 5b. Don returned with Colin Mortlock in 1960 to climb the timeless classic Extol (E2 5b), again with one point of aid, which is still a much sought after Hard Rock tick. It has been said that on the first ascent, on account of their short ropes and the long run out, that both the leader and second were climbing extreme rock simultaneously!

Don Whillans climbing Dovedale Groove with Chris Bonington

It was a team of raiders from the North East, Chris Woodall and Ritchie Clarke, that took up the challenge of the North Buttress of Dove Crag during a cold Easter day in 1969. It was generally rumoured that Pete Crew had tackled the wall sometime in the early 60’s and never got round to completing the project. Chris Woodall recalls the day “We simply climbed up to and then followed the existing gear until it ran out at about half height. We treated the route as any steep pegging line; wholeheartedly using the rusting pegs, and still found it quite strenuous, above the stance we trended left to climb a steep fingery wall and I recall resting on a small sharp spike. The right facing groove below the top was green so I came down and stepped right to struggle up a smaller steep but protectable, slimy groove. We used no aid pegs above the belay but placed two for protection. (Nuts, apart from the odd MOAC, were hardly used in those days).” Many of those pegs placed during the 1960’s still form the crucial protection for the many free climbs that followed! One of the ascents that is not well documented was that by Pete Livesey who climbed the original North Buttress route as far as the ledges with a couple of points of aid. He probably followed the line that Martin Berzins and Chris Hamper took a couple of years later (in 1977) with about the same amount of aid. Martin recalls “We carried on to the top of the cliff probably the first time the top pitch was free climbed, a scary lead by Chris Hamper. It was hard to find out from Livesey exactly what he had done. I think that he stopped at the ledges but I don’t know.” It wasn’t until 1991 that Steve Mayers unlocked the final (6c) sequence and was able to free climb the original aided line in its entirety and protected only by the ageing fixed equipment. In 1976 Pete Botterill climbed Explosion (E4 5c) with Pete Whillance; this bold line tackles the right edge of North Buttress and although it is not so steep it is run-out and it does not pay to contemplate the protection (or lack of it). Martin Berzins and Ed Cleasby climbed the first and part of the second pitch of Problem Child (E4 6a) in May 1976 thus commencing Martin’s long association with the new route development at Dove Crag. Martin remembers the day well: “Ed Cleasby had climbed the first pitch with an aid point previously. I led this pitch free and Ed continued up on the next pitch. We were climbing ground up. Ed wanted to finish up Mordor but our ground-up attempt petered out and we finished up Extol. Jeff lamb and Pete Botterill returned to complete Problem Child in June 1979. The top pitches they added were much harder and better than the bottom ones and have been unjustifiably neglected.”

Chris Hope onsighting Pail Face E6 6b © Steve Crowe
Chris Hope onsighting Pail Face E6 6b © Steve Crowe

Bill Birkett visited the crag in May 1980 with Rick Graham to explore the possibility of a free line up the centre of the buttress. Some direct aid from a nut and a precarious move off a hand placed peg was needed to climb Broken Arrow (E5 5c A1) ”Absolutely at the limit and beyond.” Bill Birkett. Rick Graham swapped leads with Bill in June 1980 to produce the first free route to tackle the centre of North Buttress, the well named Fear and Fascination (E5 6a) a bold and pumpy route that still commands respect today ‘Fear and Fascination was the first all free route up that wall, and it still takes scalps to this day – a quite visionary effort by Rick in my opinion.” Neil Foster. They revisited the crag with Dave Lyle in 1981 to climb Asolo (E3 6a) which tackles a difficult line up the left side of the North Buttress (Asolo attracted a lot of controversy at the time as it was a blatant sponsorship route name). Rick and Bill returned again in 1982 to produce the popular Fast and Furious (E5 6a), a steep and pumpy line to the right. It is amazing that their pair of E5’s were not included in Ken Wilson’s Extreme Rock and they would certainly make the cut for any future edition.

Steve Crowe on Bucket City E6 6b   © Steve Crowe collection  2003
Steve Crowe on Bucket City E6 6b © Steve Crowe collection 2003

Martin Berzins and Neil Foster had not climbed Bucket City (E6 6b) until after Extreme Rock was published in 1987 but it would also be a contender for Extreme Rock – The Return of Trad. Martin coerced Al Manson to join him in 1989 and went on to continue the bucket theme producing Beyond the Pail (E6 6b) with a hard crux on the first pitch and a complimentary serious (6a) run out section on the second ‘A very worried looking Alan Manson was belaying while I climbed quite a long run-out on crap gear from what wasn’t a great belay on the first ascent late in the evening. The route was cleaned and climbed in a day. “Martin Berzins. 1990 was a productive year for Berzins and Foster. Martins powerful and technical Pail Face (E6 6b), along with Neil’s two very steep and spectacular variation finishes, The Flying Fissure Finish (E5 6b) and the photogenic Outside Edge (E5 6b), were all popular routes during 2003. The Outside Edge should not be underestimated as it continues to shake off would be leaders; E9 was proposed after two spectacular falls in 2003 – the second, from the top of the route ended 60ft down and only 4ft from the ground with five pieces of gear sliding down the rope to thwack the unfortunate flying machine, Chris Hope as he swung silently to a rest!

Karin Magog on the fourth ascent of Vlad the Impailer E7 6b © Steve Crowe collection 2003
Karin Magog on the fourth ascent of Vlad the Impailer E7 6b © Steve Crowe collection 2003

The fact that Martin Berzins ascent of Vald the Impailer (E7 6b) was unrepeated for 13 years says it all, hard, pumpy and committing. “Although the route was extensively cleaned on abseil it was climbed ground up getting more gear in on each try. On the different attempts that took place over a number of days I took several falls (they seemed pretty safe though as the gear is good but spaced) before eventually leading it red-point style. Typically no sooner had I done it than Neil seconded it flawlessly! The day that we successfully climbed the route it poured with rain.” remembers Martin. I asked Martin if he was confident before venturing out on such a bold lead? “I was far from sure that I could do the route and had to resort to lots of midweek hand traversing on the Henry Price buildering wall at Leeds University to get fit enough.” Martin and Neil added one more fantastic and underrated route in 1991. Bucket Dynasty (E6 6b) was repeated soon after by Dougie Hall, as Ian Carr recalls: “lt was a funny day, Dougie turned up at the crag short of some gear, Charlotte volunteered to go back for it. By the time she got back to the crag, we’d done three routes, one of them being Bucket City. I had my eyes closed for most of the time, as he was in one of his “go for it” moods. He only got 3 or 4 pieces in the whole Bucket Dynasty pitch, and on a tatty single 9mm rope. We definitely ended up at the Asolo belay as we did it afterwards (as a warm down!) so we could get some gear back.”

Craig Smith enjoying  Fast and Furious with the Flying Fissure Finish E5 6b   © Steve Crowe collection  2003
Craig Smith enjoying Fast and Furious with the Flying Fissure Finish E5 6b © Steve Crowe collection 2003

During the poor summer of 2002 AI Wilson cleaned off Pail Face and The Flying Fissure Finish while the rest of his team took shelter from the rain in the Priest Hole, the bivvy cave above the North Buttress. They were all ready to go home when ‘Awesome AI’ enthusiastically geared up and set off up FastandFurious only to find himself too pumped to tackle the FlyingFissure and elected to continue directly up the easier (but dirtier) original finish! James McHaffie subsequently onsighted Pail Face declaring himself pumped after the crux – a scary thought James then decided to have a look at freeing the aid pitch on Broken Arrow. A very hard (6c) sequence was needed to pass the poor in situ peg, then Caff continued with an extremely daunting runout above which eventually joined Bucket City part way up the headwall to produce Fear of Failure (E8 6c). The first new line to fall in 2003 was the bold Fetish for Fear (E7 6b), which is effectively a direct start to the Flying Fissure Finish, being led by both Chris Hope and Duncan Booth, seconded by Alan Wilson and Jimmy Beveridge. This saw a quick repeat by myself then subsequent on-sights by James (Caff) McHaffie and Dave Birkett. 

Dave Birkett onsighting Fettish for Fear E7 6b © Steve Crowe
Dave Birkett onsighting Fettish for Fear E7 6b © Steve Crowe

Initially abseiling in to clean off Vlad the Impailer, Alan Wilson was distracted by a line of holds that led up the leaning headwall above Vlad. AI left Chris and Duncan to sort out Fetish and started to clean off a line that was soon to become his stunning Dusk ’til Dawn (E7 6b). His belayer Chris Hope was straight in for the flashed second ascent of the incredibly pumpy (F7c+) line, confirming the grade and quality. Neil conceded that was one amazing line that the Berzins/Foster team had missed out on!

Awesome Al Wilson on the first ascent of  Dusk til Dawn E7 6b   © Steve Crowe collection  2003
Awesome Al Wilson on the first ascent of Dusk til Dawn E7 6b © Steve Crowe collection 2003

Karin Magog and I climbed several links between existing routes, with Inside Out (E5 6b) (Fast and Furious into the hard Outside Edge) providing a very pumpy but possibly a safer way of tackling the soaring arête of Outside Edge. This was followed quickly by a sweeping girdle traverse. The Brasov Incident (E6 6b) starts as for Bucket Dynasty before breaking out right below the roof to then take in the crux’s of both Fear and Fascination and Fast and Furious before finishing either up the Outside Edge or the Flying Fissure Finish, the choice is yours.

Al Wilson onsighting Inside Out E5 6b © Steve Crowe
Al Wilson onsighting Inside Out E5 6b © Steve Crowe

The hardest route on the crag, Caff’s route from 2002, Fear of Failure (E8 6c) was quickly repeated by Chris ‘The Flying Machine’ Hope. After powering through the technical crux, on his second attempt, Chris went very quiet on the “harrowing” traverse above! Meanwhile, while AI was looking for holds to brush in the exit niche on Vlad the Impailer (E7 6b), he became frustrated when it wasn’t obvious how to climb it or even what needed cleaning! No beta could be gleaned from Berzins or Foster despite numerous emails the following week. Was it that they couldn’t remember or just that they didn’t want to make it too easy for us? On his first attempt on Vlad the Impailer, AI just jumped off, frustrated, unable to unlock the crux sequence. Next up was Karin who soon made it to Al’s high point where she shook out below the crux for nearly an hour, unable to either climb up any further, or reverse to the ground but reluctant just to give up! She eventually spotted the crucial hold, which was in need of the brush treatment, just as she fell off from exhaustion. This hidden hold proved to be the key. Promptly returning mid week Alan Wilson clinched the second ascent of Vlad the Impailer and I flashed the third. Karin claimed the 4th ascent the following weekend. Chris Hope also led Vlad the Impailer but not without falling frustrated out of the demanding and problematic niche on his first attempt. Chris made up for his disappointment by flashing the 3rd ascent of Bucket Dynasty (E6 6b) thinking it to be top end E6. Personally, I’m sure that Bucket Dynasty deserves E7, it’s in the same league as Vlad the Impailer and Dusk till Dawn for sure!

Steve Crowe onsighting Vlad 'til Dawn E7 6b © Karin Magog
Steve Crowe onsighting Vlad ’til Dawn E7 6b © Karin Magog

‘Awesome’ AI had one last link-up in mind by climbing the headwall of Dusk ’til Dawn starting up Vlad to give the biggest, pumpiest E7 on the North Buttress. Two routes not repeated during 2003 due to the poor condition of the in situ protection were Beyond the Pail (E6 6b) and North Buttress (E6 6b) and they would probably both merit E7 in their current state as well. The world of the internet meant that news of our activities travelled fast and soon queues formed on Fast and Furious but curiously not for Fear and Fascination, whereas Bucket City must have been the most climbed E6 in the Lake District in 2003.

Chris Hope on the second ascent of  Fear of Failure E8 6c   © Steve Crowe collection   2003
Chris Hope on the second ascent of Fear of Failure E8 6c © Steve Crowe collection 2003

Bizarrely many of the team commented that the walk-in felt further and harder as time went by (53 minutes was the record for the walk in, an hour and a quarter the norm) however the climbing was a different matter as we would take turns leading the Flying Fissure so that everyone else could warm up on it. Towards the end of the summer our knowledge of the cliff grew and our aims became more defined, so we would meet at the Beetham Hut to sort out a specific and lightweight rack for the team for the day. The North Buttress comprises of a unique matrix of routes which share only three common starts and the team shared their increasing insight and knowledge along with a combined trad experience of over 100 years, and as our fitness grew so did our confidence. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and some spectacular falls were taken off the Outside Edge (E5 6b). Expectant father Duncan Booth took a 40ft swoop from the crux luckily suffering no more than a bad headache. Not to be out done Chris (The Flying Machine) Hope took the previously mentioned 60ft fall, the maximum possible. Everyone else on the crag decided that was it for the day and were discussing abseiling Fast and Furious to retrieve some gear when Chris just dusted himself down and offered to climb up and strip the route for them.

Ian Cummins on The Brasov Incident E6 6b © Steve Crowe collection 2003
Ian Cummins on The Brasov Incident E6 6b © Steve Crowe collection 2003

Where was Dave we asked, could this be the end of the Birkett Dynasty? Well, Dave Birkett arrived on Dove Crag late in the summer but soon worked his way through the routes flashing everything he tried, including Fetish for Fear a very serious E7; also Vlad the Impailer and the Vlad into Dusk link, two very hard and pumpy E7’s. After abseiling off the incredibly steep Vlad the Impailer Dave’s body language expressed the effort that the ascent had taken as he quietly shrugged his shoulders, sighed and rolling himself a tab he acknowledged “Aye, that was hard. “Dave topped all that with a stunning onsight ascent of James McHaffie’s route from 2002, the hard and serious Fear of Failure (E8 6c) after finding a painful knee-bar rest that enabled him to recover below the crux after sorting out the crucial gear. The ferocity of the steep and strenuous lines, the extreme sustained and technical difficulties, the long run-outs and the overpowering atmosphere of the place all combine to make climbing on Dove Crag an unforgettable experience. But what I will always remember most from the summer of 2003 up on Dove will be Awesome AI’s insatiable enthusiasm (especially with a brush), the tremendous team spirit and the shared trad experience. Oh and the bottle of Jack Daniels that we found in the Priest Hole. Cheers!

Steve Crowe onsighting Bucket Dynasty E7 6b © Karin Magog 2003
Steve Crowe onsighting Bucket Dynasty E7 6b © Karin Magog 2003

Gordale Adventure Routes

Gordale Scar © Steve Crowe 2005
Gordale Scar © Steve Crowe 2005

Gordale by Karin Magog

For me Gordale is a very special place to climb, both intimidating and awe inspiring at the same time.  Entering the gorge early on a sunny summer’s morning is always memorable.  One minute you’re strolling along the path, enjoying the sun then you step round the corner into the shade, the temperature plummets and the overhanging rock faces glower down on you.  It also seems to act as a wind funnel so it’s rarely too hot – I always take my down jacket and a hat! Fortunately the sun does a good job and picks out virtually all the walls in the gorge at some point of the day so if you time it right you can always enjoy its warmth.  As it moves across the Left Wall the shades it creates are amazing as various gargoylian faces materialise in the rock and glare down at you. I first climbed in Gordale in 1995 but was a bit overwhelmed by the place and it wasn’t till the following summer that I felt confident enough to take on some of the classic trad routes. The rock in Gordale is an interesting mix of top quality, Malhamesque limestone and a looser more flaky variety that demands a bit more respect. My first big route was the classic E3 Face Route and a good example of the adventurous climbing Gordale offers. As you start up the route you quickly learn not to pull out on the holds too much, instead palming down and careful footwork is the key, whilst trying to convince yourself the gear you placed in the usually damp crack is good. Interesting moves on wobbly undercuts through the roof, past some ancient pegs, lead to easier climbing and a sigh of relief as the rock quality also improves. The second pitch is a real contrast, hard moves on more compact rock, but with a choice of sequences success can seem like a gamble. This style of climbing can be seriously addictive and a few weeks later I found myself setting off up Solstice a Mark Radkte classic and one of my earliest E5’s. The route is mainly peg protected, with the guide mischievously informing you that the peg by the crux is the worst but gives no clues as to where the crux may be. This added nicely to the intimidation I felt as I slowly inched my way upwards, taking great care not to pull too hard and testing footholds before I stood on them. I eventually started to relax and enjoy myself when suddenly the crux arrived. The peg looked just like all the others below me, best not to think about  that really and just concentrate on sorting out the moves. After much shuffling up and down a perplexing and awkward sequence led to better holds, a sigh of relief and more relaxed climbing to the belay. Cave Route RH was my next challenge and at E6 it was certainly a step-up. This is truly an amazing route up the searing crack-line, endurance climbing at its best. Unfortunately for me my endurance wasn’t quite up to the on-sight and with my feet skittering on dirty smears and my elbows up by my ears my forearms failed me just a couple of moves from the sanctuary of the final crack. But even though it took me 3 red-points before I finally reached that sanctuary it was perhaps the moment that my love of Gordale was truly born. The best years have been the dry summers of 1997 and 2003 when the place was a hive of activity and routes were getting climbed left, right and centre. These are the years that really stand out in terms of achievements.

Karin Magog leading The Cause E5 6b, Gordale © Steve Crowe 2002
Karin Magog leading The Cause E5 6b, Gordale © Steve Crowe 2002

However, my most memorable lead was The Cause (E5 5b,6b,6a) back in 2002. Gordale was looking a bit neglected, the routes hadn’t had much traffic what with a damp summer following on from the Foot and Mouth year, but I was busy reading Lynne Hill’s autobiography and felt inspired to take on a challenge. The first pitch is shared with Jenny Wren and at 5b sounds like a breeze. However, it is a good exercise in self-preservation with decaying pegs and tottering rock – Gordale at it’s best! The main pitch above is superb. After finally committing to the tricky moves over the overhang I gingerly stepped right into the bottomless groove, quickly placing a couple of small wires before briefly glancing down to admire the drop to the stream below. The fight then began. Dirty holds, quite a bit of dampness and marginal gear all added to the experience. Any negative thought was banished by thinking about how Lynne would have relished such a challenge and it was by sheer determination I got up that pitch. I still rate it as one of my best on-sights. The route wasn’t over yet though and the fierce 6a finger crack above could have put a dampener on things. However, I wasn’t going to be so easily defeated and after a short battle the difficulties eased, good holds arrived and I lead the last few metres to the top with a huge smile on my face.

Karin Magog climbing Huecool 8b © Steve Crowe
Karin Magog climbing Huecool 8b © Steve Crowe

Gordale by Steve Crowe

The short stroll through the idyllic campsite does not prepare you for what you are about to encounter further up the gorge. The atmosphere changes dramatically as you turn the corner the pleasant sunny slabs contrast sharply with the dark and threatening overhangs, the foreboding walls of Gordale are certainly not a playground for the faint hearted. Some of the very best sport routes in Yorkshire are found here juxtaposed with some harrowing Gordale Adventure routes.

My relationship with Gordale began in the summer of 1986 with an ascent of Court Jester a popular E2 on the lower left wing. Well protected powerful climbing followed by big run outs on rattling rock and already I am beginning to understand the meaning of the term “Gordale Adventure Route”! Face Route is a superb and popular E3 6a that thoroughly deserves is classic status, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve climbed it more than once.

Face Route E3 6a Gordale © Steve Crowe
Face Route E3 6a Gordale © Steve Crowe

Things got more interesting in 1992 when I decided to try Solstice given E5 and protected mostly by pegs it sounded straight forward however this was when I began to understand the term Gordale Adventure Route. My log book simply states “11 peg runners, some are good.” Ten years and many routes later I could no longer avoid the challenge of Cave Route Right Hand (E6). I set off with a huge rack and great confidence fiddling in many wires to back up the dozens of rotting pegs. After 25m and 25 runners later my forearms gave out and my scream echoed around the gorge! All told I had placed 35 runners before I reached the sanctuary of the cave. My next ambition was to attempt both pitches of Pierrepoint (F7c+) in one huge runout. My first attempts with a single rope were thwarted by horrendous rope drag. Success on this powerful pump fest came when I decided to use two 9mm ropes. This time with less resistance, I was able to latch the long slap to that hidden hold and I was filled with a great sense of achievement as I reached the top of one of Yorkshire’s classic sport routes. By the time I had reached the ground however I was already pondering with some trepidation at what would be next?

The long hot summer of 1997 was one of great confidence and many successes that I am still very proud. Masochism Tango at E6 6c was a massive challenge up the line of depressions to the right of Revival and the stunning white wall above. I remember the crux was a powerful and a perplexing sequence between the first and second depression. The second pitch was more straightforward, simply enduring a screaming forearm pump to snatch my hardest trad onsight ever! 

The following weekend remains one of my most memorable. It began with a successful redpoint of the crimpy stamina route Supercool my first grade 8 sports route and was followed by my first E7 onsight the next day. I had been looking at Bliss all summer from every possible angle but mostly lying in the sun beside the stream in between attempts on other routes. The time had come to try it. No more excuses. The first pitch is shared with Bite it and Believe It which I had done before but it still felt hard the second time! The thin overhanging crack leads to a long runout up very steep grass and the belay. The guide states that the main pitch requires cool, cunning and considerable confidence. I set off hesitantly and shaking but with growing confidence I reach the huge roof. I remember looking at the row of three pegs below the roof and wishing I had three ropes. I knew that I needed to extend the runners to reduce the rope drag if all went well but as I struggled to reach out to the lip of the roof I was wishing that I hadn’t. My fingers were playing along the lip like a piano player searching for “The Lost Chord”, then suddenly I found something, I cut loose and swung my feet up and pulled on to the headwall above. My heart was pumping hard as I struggled to place a micro wire desperate for any possible hint of protection. However by the time I got my second runner in I began to relax and realised that I could actually take my hands off. The situation eased, fear subsided and relief turned to pleasure. The ultimate Gordale Adventure Route safely in the bag – Sheer Bliss! 

Rob Fielding on Solstice E5 6a,  Gordale © Steve Crowe
Rob Fielding on Solstice E5 6a, Gordale © Steve Crowe

Gordale Adventure Routes

Cabaret E1

A light hearted introduction with spectacular views of adventures to come!.

Light E2

It’s worth doing a warm up first because the hardest moves are encountered immediately with powerful moves up the steep crack. Take your time over the superbly positioned second pitch and savour the exposure as you stride across the bottomless chimney.

Face Route E3

A classic “Gordale Adventure Route” where a good head and a confident approach is required to push on past the remnants of rotting pegs. The second pitch has a perplexing but well protected crux.

Thriving E4

A commiting start up the delicate wall leads to a fine groove. Saunter nonchalantly up this before attacking the well protected roof and headwall above. The best E4 in the gorge!

The Cause E5

Perhaps less well known that it’s famous neighbour Rebel but certainly well worth seeking out for the superb middle pitch up the groove

Comedy of Errors E5

A great introductory E5 with a bold and committing lower wall which then leads to a superb crack in the steep headwall. Top tip: take lots of mirco wires!

Jenny Wren E5

Low in the grade but not to be under estimated. The highlight is some delicate traversing with sparce gear in extremely airy positions. Top tip: Take a competent second!  

Solstice E5

Protected by many pegs but are they any good?

Cave Route Right Hand E6

Probably the most sought after route in Gordale follow the prominent sweeping crackline. A superb endurance route.

Cement Garden E6 6c/7c

Classic hybrid mostly bolted but some wires/cams needed for the final section which leads powerfully to a good bolted lower off.

Mossdale Trip E6 

I decided to try the classic rattler Mossdale Trip (E6) in 1999. I pondered over the wisdom of this decision many times on that long lonely lead while seeking out the most solid holds with my ropes swirling worthlessly in the breeze! Top Tip: Write your Will.

Bliss E7

The ultimate “Gordale Adventure Route” with a little bit of everything. Rarely repeated!