Climbing In The Time Of Covid-19

Posted by Jeremy Windsor on Jul 03, 2020

With lock down now easing we're starting to receive reports of adventures being had. We hope to publish these soon! To get the ball rolling we'll start with a description of our recent ascent of Chee Tor Girdle (VS 5a), an irresistible 180m+ "Hard Rock" climb tucked away in the heart of the Peak District. Here's Jon Naylor, Consultant Respiratory Physician, RAF Doctor and keen climber to share his day... 

"11 weeks have passed, 2½ long months, since we were last allowed out in the hills and mountains of the UK to walk, scramble and climb! For those of us who had made the regular pilgrimage to the city climbing walls over the winter months, desperately trying to maintain what feeble finger strength and stamina we had gained last year, the near perfect weather has made the banishment from our beloved rock all the more painful. 

The rather pleasant approach to Chee Tor Girdle

With what glee then did we hear the sweet words of our political masters in mid-May, announcing that we could again venture outside, albeit only with members of our own households? It would not be until the beginning of June that we were permitted to meet in groups of up to 6, from 2 households, effectively heralding the return to the crag for the UK’s climbers, who by now had quite literally started climbing up the walls and furniture!

Since the end of May I had already made the 2 hour drive to the Peak District on 4 occasions, to climb on grit at Birchen and Curbar, sport climb at Horseshoe Quarry and got my limestone mojo working at Wildcat Crag. My knuckles and knees bore the telltale signs of my re-acquaintance with gritstone, so it was with a sense of relief that I drove into the ‘White Peak’ on Monday morning, knowing my poor skin would be safe on the limestone cliffs. However, today’s objective was rather more daunting and I admit that the thought of a 5 pitch traverse which features in ‘Hard Rock’ had my hands clammy before I even arrived at the crag.

The Miller's Dale car park was already busy when I arrived and Jeremy’s big smile and cheery greeting put me at ease straight away. Although we have only climbed together for a couple of years, our logbook is filling up with big, multi-pitch, classic trad routes and we have quickly grown to understand and trust each other on the rock. A chat about work, a minor kit explosion, a fight with the ticket machine (cash only!!) and we are off, guidebook in hand, bound for Chee Dale and this week’s big day out!

First problem...find the crag!

Here it is!

The walk along the river Wye into Chee Dale is beautiful; the river shallow, clear and sparkling in the morning sun. After a few wrong turns we reach the intimidating overhanging cliffs of Chee Dale. Wiry, gymnastic men with brushes, gear clippers and brightly coloured ropes are working the sport climbs – the brave new world of climbing, more like indoor climbing outdoors really – Jeremy and I feel rather like two dinosaurs off to reclaim the crag for the real climbers.

A straightforward start to the traverse

Chee Tor is an impressive buttress on the opposite side of the river, part hidden by trees, reached by some delicate footwork on a tree trunk which has fallen across the river at just the right spot. A narrow path through the greenery leads off to the right – the start of the climb is at the end of this path below an obvious groove, leading up the wall to a tree about 10m up. This is the first pitch and also a climb in its own right, Doggone Groove (VS 4b), a minnow among its E-grade neighbours! Well-protected but polished and covered in soil, this feels much harder than I expected. A sling round the thin tree trunk and then up through the greenery to 3 little trees at the level of the main traverse where I make the first belay. Jeremy is soon with me and off on pitch 2: 40m of easy traversing, much of it on an overgrown ledge, then a step down to the next belay. This pitch runs out nearly all of our 50m ropes – our virtual umbilical cord, stretching along the ledge, through old runners and pegs, a link to the early pioneers of this route.

Following the final 4c pitch - hidden out of sight is a corner bound by smooth tufas and a steep shield of rock. Like many traverses it proves just as scary for the leader as the second!

The next pitch is a glorious, easy continuation of the traverse, the tree cover now clearing and the heady exposure sharpening my focus. Carried away with the situation and the amazing handholds, I overshoot the intended belay on a yew tree and have to make a rather precarious reverse with ropes dangling at my feet. We swap the lead gear and Jeremy sets off on Pitch 4: the ground now is steeper, the footholds less obvious and the fall away beneath our feet is dizzying. These last 2 pitches are the epitome of Trad climbing and traversing at its best! The step down and across the thin moves on Ceramic (E4 5c) are graded 5a and feel precarious but as ever the protection is bomber and the handholds good. A hanging belay at the change-over – this route has it all! I set off on the last pitch, graded 4c but to me this feels as hard as the last section. A step around a corner on the tiniest footholds and it is all over. This really is one of those climbs which you wish could go on for a bit longer, just a few more wonderful metres, high above the treetops, away from work, COVID-19 and all the worries of the world – 2 old dinosaurs in this prehistoric arena!

Abseiling down the line of Mortlock's Arete (E4 6a). Not really the place to get the rope stuck...

The abseil descent is straightforward, off a maillon on chains around a tree. At the bottom, on terra firma once more, we are so carried away with our delight at the route we have just climbed that we notice just too late that the rope we are pulling through the abseil has a knot in the end! A potential disaster is averted but the end of the rope is dangling about 3m above our heads and out of reach! The wall we have abseiled down is overhanging and featureless – although there is a line of bolts, it would take a climbing god to be able to get up this to retrieve our rope. A cunning plan is needed!

A knotted rope rescued with the aid of sticks, slings and a nut key!

Suffice to say that cunning is one of our strengths – within minutes we have lashed 2 long sticks together and with a nut key tied to one end have hooked the knot in the dangling rope and pulled it back to earth. We reward ourselves with a dip in the river on the walk back to the car and a milkshake sitting in the sun outside the cafe at the car park. All in all this has been a pretty perfect day out, with just the right mix of adventure, misadventure and milkshake – I can’t wait for next week!

Safely down with both ropes!

Thanks Jon for a great day!

Fancy another adventure? What about Skeleton Ridge?

What did we do during lockdown? Find out here.

1 thought on “Climbing In The Time Of Covid-19

Mike Jepson commented 1 year, 2 months ago
Proper mini-adventures can exist on our doorsteps! I’m going to have to go investigate this route. Thanks for sharing the story.

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