Crag Van

Gods I was so excited about this weekend. First weekend as a crag van, first multiple day trip for two and tons of climbing planned – is it possible to have too many expectations?!

We decided some weeks ago, when we worked out that my ‘entirely flexible’ diary was getting more and more locked in, that the Easter weekend would be a freebe. ‘Go anywhere and Do something’ was written on the calendar. This was essentially weather reliant but soon became ‘but probably Lawrencefield’… Kane has best buddy trip memories of Lawrencefield and I have wanted to go since I started climbing – it’s up there with Frogatt. The ‘do something’ was obviously going to be climbing.

These places are half real, half memory, half myth in my mind. If you trad climb in Britain then you have probably climbed on Peak District Grit. It’s like climbers bedrock on a cellular level; a climber will have heard of Stanage, of Gritstone, whether they have been listening or not. To some the friction of the rock makes it a fairytale of sticky shoes and spiderman like abilities to cling to neverbeforeheld slopers; to others it is hard starts, sketchy moves on barely visible feet to contorted ‘not-a-rest’ positions. I love it, and am terrified by it. It has a forgiving nature that allows me to layback and stick my feet to an apparently smooth wall. But it also kicks you out if you don’t take it seriously; climb onto a traverse with poor body position and your feet are gone and the grit tears layers off your hands.

There is for me another dimension to the legend, not just the old tales from climbers magazines and names of the Sheffield elite. My parents learnt to climb there. Sheffield based in their teens ‘Climbing’ was given as an option instead of doing PE. So whilst other children were doing the laps of the school field, my folks were learning Grit. They did most of their climbing in the Eastern side of the Peaks, closest to home, and the names of Froggatt and Lawrencefield are two that have stuck with me. These were loved places, places with tales of crazy exploits and magical landscapes. Visiting is somewhere between coming home and stepping into the books of mythical landscapes I read as a child.

So the weather forecast was going to have to be pretty bad for a change of location. In addition I’m working towards achieving my Single Pitch Award; this will enable me to take out groups to climb, on top rope at single pitch crags – of which peak grit is a prime example. I’m still a long way off as I need more experience helping out with groups and I’ve still got a number of climbs I need to do until I’m happy that I’ve met the requirements and feel ready to sit the assessment. I knew that, under good conditions, we could get a lot of mileage in climbing on the Peaks – play a bit of a numbers game.

Of course it never quite works out like that.

On top of everything else this was going to be the vans first ‘crag’ trip, it would also be the first trip where two of us had stayed for more than a night. Finding sites to stopover, daily parking, public loos (still avoiding using the portaloo); we’d be cooking, washing, storing clothes and gear, relocating bouldering mats… Would we manage, would it be comfortable or would we fall over each other and get cramped up?! How well had I made the van and would it even stay in one piece for the trip?!

Talk about setting up too many expectations in one go.

Of course it was a difficult start. We had to drive out of London the Thursday evening of the bank holiday – when is that not difficult.. Then we had to find somewhere to sleep. Despite much research narrowing down our first night location to three options, all close together, we still had to check them out on arrival; which is hard work after a five hour drive. Then, when we finally stopped, one of the shelves had worked loose throwing its contents liberally around including smashed glass all over a bouldering mat (who has glass in a van anyway?!). As you can imagine I was gutted and approaching the issue in a calm considered manner was not likely, I did my best but neither of us was particularly pleasant company – first night in the van, oh well. Then, when I woke up, I realised that in my rush to get everything organised I had carefully checked all the gear bags, checked for Kanes harness and shoes (mine were already packed up), got all the food sorted, double checked ropes, headtorches, first aid kit, and left the helmets sitting neatly on a shelf in London. And it was raining.

Rain meant coffee; and a decent breakfast; and no time lost due to having to shop for helmets because it was raining anyway; and new gear; and buying new helmets that actually fitted even more comfortably than the ones at home; and that afternoon climbing at a dry, beautifully quiet Froggatt; and  pub drinks with Alan, Pauline and Rachel (very long standing wonderful family friends); and a new much better stopover (near enough to the pub!); and a very good nights sleep; And being in a better frame of mind the next day to stop, pause, sort everything out, ditch the expectations and just enjoy what was a fabulous weekend.


We stayed for four nights, climbed at Froggat, Lawrencefield and Stanage (and the Climbing Works in Sheffield on the day that rain properly stopped play.) The van did a stirling job and the four hours waiting, watching Stanage Edge move in and out of clouds, went quickly and comfortably. We moved to the Climbing Works because we could rather than because we needed to. On one morning Kane made a fantastic cooked breakfast at Surprise view carpark, overlooking the Longshaw estate; where I also saw, to my surprise, a huge stag with two does meandering through the birch woods. We did the long walk in from the Longshaw carpark to Lawrencefield (I’m a National Trust member and have made my investment back in parking fees already), going slightly off piste and discovering a deep river ravine and hidden bouldering problems and chairs carved into rocks (I’m going to get told off here because I’m certain I’ve visited before).

Lawrencefield itself is like entering Rivendell (an inherited opinion), the idyll of the Tolkein epic. A safe and protected dell where the tall silver trees rustle and whisper, the vibrant spring colours flow in and out with the changing light and the sparkling pools are beautiful but dangerous. As well as being beautiful we did some of our best climbing here – not the numbers game that was planned. I only managed one route as it took me an age to find something I actually wanted to climb. I’d stupidly gone thinking I would do all the ‘Severe grade’ routes, the plan being to make it easier and enjoy it. Except that there were only three routes; one was tiny and the other two were grotty grassy and grimy affairs that I just didn’t want to climb. Finally I got on and thoroughly enjoying (although getting a bit freaked by) a slightly harder crack route called Nova. Kane had already led three outstanding climbs. One tall route called Excaliber required you to do a scramble traverse before belaying from the ledge directly above the pool. He then led a fantastic E1 5b called Great Peter (very technical climbing, little gear) which I really enjoyed seconding and followed up with no problems. By then I was cold and tired and happy enough to call it a day without leading anything else myself. This was the second day in a row proving again that the plan not working out makes for a great day.

Saturday bouldering at the Climbing Works was great fun and I will do a ‘wall write up’ later on. The day also involved more gear shopping, more coffee and a lot of reading time. The weather looked up on Monday and we hoped to get at least a few climbs in before heading back. By now Kane had a bad head cold and I’d been fighting sinusitis all week so it was a bit of a longshot. I romped up a lovely severe with a rancid move at the crux of the climb, onvolving a handjam (a large amount of handjamming this weekend) – push your hand into the crack then twist it so it fits, then weight your hand and work your feet up until your high enough to go for the next move – rancid but totally satisfying once you’ve made it work. The final route tore shreds off us; Kane led but had no energy and it was hard work; then following I made a right pigs ear of the traverse, over confident and not planning what I was doing slipped on a handjam, got a cam stuck and had to take off more chunks of skin trying to get the cam out. It was time to go home.

The drive was surprisingly pleasant. After a last cream tea in Hathersage (thank you I cannot fail to enter for coffee without leaving with gear and you have most of my spending money now but it was definitely worth it), we set off. We made a brief detour around Rutland water and had a shandy in the outstandingly odd village of Hambleton which is in the middle of the lake. The route down the A1 and remarkably around the M25 was pleasantly clear and easy. We have left everything in the van in a complete mess and that’s todays job – sorting and tidying.

I had set my sights high this weekend. This is a good idea if you’re doing it for the right reasons, but I wasn’t. I wanted to ‘achieve’ things, to make sure the fact that we weren’t in the Gower with friends wouldn’t be ‘wasted’. That’s not how things work though. Yes be excited, set goals; set aspirational goals, set achievable goals, then laugh all over them and enjoy life as it comes, every moment of it; damp moments, sharp edged rock moments, smiling moments, chalky moments, stupid moments, bright moments. Fabulous.

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