The Peak District is renowned for it's millstone grit climbing at crags like Stannage and Froggate Edge, but tucked away in the south west corner lies a compact little series of crags called the Roaches. These Roaches have some wonderful names like Hen Cloud, The Five Clouds and Maud's Garden. The crags look out over the town of Matlock and the surrounding countryside.
I was joining the Sundbury heights climbing Club for a week end's vertical endeavour. Now I'm no great climber but I was interested in attempting some of what we scramblers call, dangling (ie climbing with
ropes). Don't get alarmed dear reader, your correspondent has a very highly developed sense of self preservation. I had arrived earlier than the others, around Friday lunch time to blazing sun, perfect weather. I set off to explore the Roaches alone armed with my rock boots (very tight shoes made of sticky rubber), and a camera. As I said I'm no climber but I resolved to conquer all the (misleadingly named) Difficult grade climbs I could find, on my own. This may sound reckless but most "diff's" are not much worse than the harder scrambles and on the Roaches they are rarely higher than 30ft. Mind you 30ft when you suddenly have a moment of self doubt, is I assure you, more than enough to focus the attention. Any way I climbed a number of delightful little routes with increasing confidence, enjoying the warm sun on my back and the peace and quiet of the crag on a weekday. I took a number of shots, none of which I am over pleased with as the light was rather unexciting but I include some of the shots here to give you an idea of the setting.
Later I met up with the climbing club members and we settled into an amazing climbing hut disguised as a castle and partly hewn into the rock. It's called the Don Willan memorial hut and is adorned with pictures of the great man performing harrowing feats of braveness at the Roaches. Climbers in the pictures wore hob nail boots and plus fours, the whole secured to the rocks with a hemp rope and some good luck, those were the days when men were men and climbers were bloody mad
This was my first trip with the club and so I had brought with me a bottle of whisky in order help break any ice with my new friends. Unfortunately only one other person drank whisky and so he and I set about drinking the bottle. This had an unexpectedly beneficial effect on my climbing ability the next day. I discovered that when you feel so bad that you don't care if you live or die, the prospect of falling from a mere cliff holds no fear what so ever. The day passed in a haze.
That night I abstained from alcohol and availed myself of the peculiar sleeping arrangements early. This proved to be a good idea as the single bedroom at the hut contained a single bunk bed of gigantic proportions. The idea is that you pitch your sleeping bag on the bank of mattresses and if you're lucky you don't wind up too near a snorer! I've never been in bed with 12 people before. I pitched at one end next to the wall so I only had to repel boarders from one direction.
The weekend's epic came on Sunday, latish in the afternoon. I elected to finish the trip on a high note by climbing the classic Pulpit Route. This entails a sort of dog leg up a face to a shelf (the Pulpit) beneath a huge overhang. Then there's a traverse to the left across a face and finally an assent of a crack bypassing the overhanging block to it's left. The route is normally climbed in two sections, first up to the Pulpit whereupon the seconder catches up with the leader, who then sets out again to conquer the traverse and then the final crack.
The people who had so enjoyed my difficulties on the previous days climbing, advised me to climb the thing in one hit as time was getting short (and they fancied a good laugh).
So I set off and after the most hideous problem getting onto the Pulpit and a few wobbles on the traverse, I got to the top and set up a belay for my very attractive seconder, Ann-Marie. The last part of the route had been a bit tricky as the rope was turning so many corners there was a lot of drag building up necessitating some manful hauling in order to progress. Ann-Marie started climbing and at first all appeared to be going well, but she found like me, that she to had difficulties getting on to the pulpit. It took nearly ½ an hour for her to perform this maneuver. I tried to talk her through but the wind had got up and I was masked from her by the huge overhang.
I couldn't hear her........ and she couldn't hear me. After a while some climbers appeared on the route running parallel with ours. The belayer could see Ann-Marie and report to me on her progress, or lack of it. Eventually we got a sort of message relaying system going whereby I could pass simple messages of encouragement to her - "Tell her she can do it"............ "She says tell him to f**k off!". Well tell her she's done much harder things than this, now come on and get this thing done"... "She says tell him to f**k off and die".... and so the exchange continued.
Eventually After the other climbers had gone, I tried calling to her again during a brief respite from the wind and the reply was a sort of Banshee wail. All anger frustration and loathing woven together in to a tapestry of earsplitting sound. I Had no Idea what she had said but at last there was some movement on the rope, slowly but surely the rope began inching in. I had been sat up on the crest of the crag for nearly three quarters of an hour now and the July weather had turned from dull overcast gloom to a ragging hail storm. I was dressed only in a tee shirt and thin waterproof (as well as trousers of course) and could not control the convulsions that ran up and down my body and my fingers were hardly able to grasp the rope.
Ann-Marie finally crested the climb as I had turned a delicate shade of indigo. She was of course rosy cheeked and sweating warmly with the effort of her labors in the shelter of the overhang. I resisted the urge to pour insults upon the poor girl's head but instead opted for patronising congratulations on winning through despite all the odds. Luckily none of this would have been intelligible through my clenched and uncontrollably oscillating teeth.
As the car hummed lazily along the M40 heading home, I plucked up the courage to ask precisely what it was that she had screamed just before the rope started to move again. She replied "Oh it was something like...... for f*** sake take in slack or pay out slack or f***ing well do some thing you bastard so I can get my arse off this f***ing rock and punch your b****ing lights out........ I think".