After all if he was to make the perfect climbing conglomerate why would he put great big pebbles and small lines of crystals that supposedly make holds in the mix?! Torn skin anyone?! OOO yes please! Me first, me first! This year I have discovered the bouldering in Northumberland and I have to say I much prefer it to the grit. Its as close to Fontainebleau as I can imagine and for me that makes it pretty damn good. Last weekend I managed to climb 4 days in a row, my tips was onion skin thin each night but with a generous application of Elizabeth Arden I was ready to go the following day. The other thing I love about Northumberland is the solitude, it appears to be much quieter at the crag, and life seems to slow down upon reaching the undulating farm land around Belford.
My climbing recently hasnt been quite up to scratch but there were a few climbs I really wanted to get done or at least try. My psyche was high as we left a sunny Sheffield, it was a beautiful spring day and my optimism of it cooling down as the sun fell kept me buoyant. Our first destination was Hepburn. I hadnt been here before but I had heard a lot about one bloc in particular, Preparation H. People had said it wouldnt be out of place nestled in between the Big 4 at Cuvier Rempart! A big accolade indeed!
David Mason on the Duergar, photo by Mark Savag
Arriving at Hepburn it wasstill hotter than hell and time for a bit of sunbathing whilst we waited for Andy. It is a beautiful spot looking out over Chillington Castle and the small villages nestled between rolling green pastures. For me we can cut the climbing day short and so reduce the blog length dramatically at this point-Preparation H is outstanding and so is Northern Soul to its left, this bloc would be 5 stars anywhere in Fontainebleau. The rock is of the highest quality, the lines are of good height and the climbing is varied and technical. However the day never materialised pour moi; it was too hot, I lost skin and bitched and moaned. Mina did everything! Her first 8a in Britain and in a session (rumours of it being soft, rhubarb, rhubarb), its definitely not a stereotypical girl climb- beef, burl and a pair of big shoulders are required here.
I slunk back to the van with my tail between my legs like a scolded puppy dog, Mina obviously in a very jubilant mood! The next morning we woke up to rain! Brilliant, this wasnt forecast. However astout breeze was blowing which meant that after cereal and bagels, tea and coffee the rock was dry and luckily for me it was quite a bit cooler.
Mina dumped me with Andy, Rob and Lee and headed for Team training at Teesside University. Objective of the day-Preparation H, followed by a trip to Back Bowden to try County Ethics. Arriving at Hepburn conditions felt good but the sun was slowly edging its way onto the sloping sandstone of Preparation H. A few windmills of the arms and I jumped on, after a few flails yesterday I knew what to do and first time up I was past my previous high point, the next few goes I got a little higher each time until my fourth go where before I knew it I was standing on top of the bloc! This really is high up there with the best things I have climbed not just in the UK but worldwide.
I then managed to tick a great little bloc of Varians called Trivial Pursuit followed by a team tick of the fantastic Northern Soul. Off to Back Bowden to try County Ethics. I had never laid eyes on this stretch of crag before but the photos and video footage I had seen made it look awesome, I wasnt disappointed! The rock is of a board type angle with lots of small slopey crimp rails and pockets, sounding good?! It also is of a good height ranging from 7-10 metres (guesstimation there). County Ethics is at the smaller end of the buttress but is still pretty high, basic board climbing leads to a big throw at a slightly scary height.
Upon arrival I thought a good flash attempt could bring sweet success and a need to not test the mats and my knees. First go up I got to the big throw but after not climbing for a while flash pump coursed through my veins and I dropped off. However they werent delusions of grandeur, I should have flashed it. Now it was a battle of the mind, I should do it on my next attempt but would I?! Plus skin preservation was important. After a rest I jumped on, arrived at the throw and stuck the sloping edge, dont mess it up now. Heel to hand and up to more sloping but big ledges and I quested on up to the top. I was happy, really happy! My weekend ticks were complete with 2 days still to go.
I conserved skin for the rest of day and spotted, brushed and gave beta at Bowden. As the sun sank low in the sky and a chill filled the air my mind was filled with content, a fun and successful day in truly stunning surroundings. The next day we had decided to brave the long arduous walk up to Ravenshugh, a north facing crag in the Simonside Hills near Rothbury. An hours slog later and one very sweaty t-shirt we reached our destination. The walk up had been warm but a gale was blowing at the crag making for pretty good conditions.
I was awe struck by the size of the rocks here; large grey hunks of windswept sandstone nestled into the side of the remote moorlands gave Ravenshugh a dark, eerie feeling; a place that time had forgotten. There were two reasons for our hike; Reiver voiced to be one of the finest 7b+s in the country and the Magician, a tall prow climbed by Andy Earl back in 2007. A brief look around and I wasnt disappointed-the lines were tall on impeccable looking sandstone.
We set to work on Octopus, a 7a next to Reiver-a fairly easy plod up a groove lead to a scary throw to the top, one that was definitely easier for the tall, hence the name! It was time to move rightwards and start working out Reiver. No chalk and the rock was dirty after a winter of little attention (Ravenshugh is a spring/summer crag, winter must be miserable up here). After numerous attempts I finally worked out how to get to a good slopey ramp about ¾ of the way up the wall. A few goes later with a little less scrittle beneath my sweaty palms I managed to hoist my leg onto a bad smear and reach up to a good but small and dirty break, not wanting to fall I went into crimp over drive and lunged for the sloping top, thank god it was a good sloper! This definitely is a classic boulder problem and putting the lichenous scrittle aside must be up there with West Side Story; it requires delicate and subtle movement with a bit of gunnage to reach the top. When its clean it must be bliss!
As the sun was dipping low in the sky we headed over to the Magician, on our way, a brief stop to run up the Duergar; a stunning arête that protrudes out of the hillside, watch out for the sloping top! So to the Magician-well its pretty big, although by todays standards I am not sure what big is anymore. However I knew that the difficult climbing was quite low down and the landing was a flat grassy meadow amongst the heather and boulders, what more could one want?! I had made the decision to put a rope down it to clean the holds near the top, I didnt know the last time it had seen attention and I didnt know when I would be back. I wasnt keen on doing all the hard part and then coming unstuck because I didnt know where a hold was. A brief chalk and inspection later I was back on the floor and ready to go.
The rock still felt really warm on the first two goes but the short forays had allowed me to work out what to do, I knew I could do it but my skin was thin and we were losing light, would the rock cool before darkness engulfed us?! I rested and decided to take my tape off, next go and I found a key bit of beta for me, turning the right heel into a toe before throwing out to the left side of the prow. Time for another short rest to cool my weeping, bleeding tips. As the darkness crept in, I chalked my hands and pulled on. Through the first few moves I turned my heel to a toe and unexpectedly managed to reach out nice and slow to left arête, I had found the balance point. One right hand movement and I was in, I hesitated almost to the point of falling off, heaven knows why and then lurched for the right hand slopey rail. Tagging it a small grunt of exertion escaped my lips; I matched up and started cautiously up the rest of the problem. I was filled with a mixture of fear and adrenaline, and this brought on the pump, the end of the 3rd day and my body was tired. However I managed to drag myself up and over the top, needless to say I was very, very happy!
A long but worthwhile walk down in the dark, we retreated to the bunkhouse to fill our empty stomachs with curry and beer! The next day was a wash out; mist and rain filled the air and snow was coming, we headed south to North Yorkshire to meet my Mum and Sister in Wensleydale; that evening a hot tub and a glass of wine brought much needed relief to our aching, weary bodies. I hadnt known how this weekend would pan out, my confidence has been really low recently but I was extremely psyched to be heading to the county and to visit some new crags. After the first sweltering day my psyche was lost along with a lot of my skin but the change in the weather brought me good fortunes and I not only managed to achieve my goals but I surpassed them by climbing the Magician. It wasnt the difficulty of any of these problems but more the circumstances that made me feel good inside and served to raise my motivation for climbing again. A great weekend with good people in a beautiful place, the only down side was Mina not finishing off County Ethics but she will be back!