After an awesome start to the Scottish winter climbing season in November, we eagerly booked up a week long trip to the Cairngorms to crush some gnarly (Grade 4 or 5!) winter routes. However, our optimism resulted in a sudden end to the winter as the white mountains turned back to lush green just in time for Christmas. We decided that a 12hr drive to Scotland to do some damp scrambling, running or hiking didn’t seem worth the effort so reluctantly cancelled our trip. Luckily for us the UK is an amazing place and adventures can be found to suite all conditions!
Day 1 – Storm Callum
Our trip started in the peak district on boxing day with the arrival of storm Callum. Callum threatened high winds but no rain in the peak district so Andy had the fantastic idea of heading to Mason Leas. A ‘sheltered’ quarry with some great limestone sport climbing and Andy’s favourite thing in the world, dry tooling! I started off on an easy sports route to warm up, but to be warm was a bit optimistic as the wind was blowing straight into the quarry chilling the rock and my poor fingers. I gave up pretty quickly as my fingers had gone numb and dived straight into my belay jacket and mitty’s.
Unfortunately for me, dry tooling was the only option. Andy was thrilled! For those not lucky enough to know what dry tooling is, it is the poor mans version of ice climbing, using ice axes and fruit-boots (rock shoes with crampon spikes) to climb dry rock. It requires upper body strength, dynamic power moves and being fearless of your axe popping and smashing you in the face. FUN! Unfortunately it is not loved by all cimbers and dry tooling is often demoted to damp cold caves where no other climbers wish to climb, Mason Leas however is not too bad. Andy led a M7 to start, which with great beta from Andy, I managed to climb with only a few rests. We then did a pumpy M7+ with an overhanging start which to my surprise I found not too tricky and actually quite enjoyed (I had to pretend I didn’t though or else Andy would decide I loved it and we should do it every weekend!). I think what I enjoyed about it was not the style of climbing but the measureable improvement in my strength over the past 12 months. I’ve been doing a lot more weights and core training and it’s actually paying off. When I have previously dry tooled I’ve got super pumped really quickly but I found I could hold my weight and make the moves with much less effort.
All the other climbs at the crag are pretty tricky so we climbed our two routes again and were then pumped so called it quits. Despite Callum we had a really fun day and have ticked off Andy’s dry tooling allowance for another 6 months ☺
Day 2-5 – Wow, the Peak is Amazing!!
When it’s good, it’s fippin awesome! Day 2 of out #missiontofindsnow took us to Frogatt a lovely grit stone crag near Hathersage. It was still pretty chilly when we arrived so we decided to do our favourite style of climbing, easy and lots! We smashed out 11 HS, VS and a couple of HVS’s in a couple of hours topping out of our final route as the sun set over the stunning moors.
On Day 3 we were joined by our friends Kate and Joe. This was Kates first trip to the peak so we were keen to show her how great it was, Stanage was the obvious place to go! The weather could not have been better, crystal blue skies and not a breath of wind. A perfect grit day! Another perfect peak district evening. Joe topped out of the Asp (E3) as the final rays of sun disappeared over the horizon and we headed back to Hatersage to fill up on vast quantities of food at the Little John Inn.
The next day started as all days should start, with breakfast in Outside Café! Fueled and ready for action, we headed out to end our western grit tour at Burbage North. Another blue sky beauty of a day. I think its safe to say, Kate and Joe now love the peak almost as much as us!
Day 5 took us to a misty day at the roaches. After an hour pottering around touching rock to see if it was dry we headed to Scout Crack. Kate was keen to get confident with her gear placements and start leading. This was the perfect place to practice, a nice slab with lots of gear and easy to scramble to the top to shout words of encouragement. She smashed it and will be ticking off the E points in no time ☺
By lunchtime we were a bit damp and cold so swapped the climbing shoe for the trail shoes and did a lovely 11km route along the top of the roaches and down to Lud’s Church, an awesome cavern in the woods (it looks like a place from Lord of the Rings!). It was SOO muddy, it was amazing!! I love the type of running where you feel like a kid; dodging puddles, sliding in mud and jumping over fallen trees!
Our tour of the peak ended with four muddy, tired but happy adventurers.
Top tips for the Peak
-If you like your hands, get a pair of crack gloves. They allow you to hand jam without the fear of taking off your skin and make climbing on grit a lot more pleasant.
-The tops can be a bit breezy so take up a pair of mittens or gloves for belaying so your hands are warm and ready to get on the next route.
-Learn to trust friction! Your feet will stick to anything (almost). If you are new to climbing on grit try doing lots of routes to build up your confidence. You’ll be surprised what you will stick to!
Day 6 and 7 – New Years!
After 5 glorious days the weather broke in the peak so we headed across to North Wales for some new years mountain adventuring. On New Years Eve we explored the slate quarries. I’d not been to the slate for about 5 years and had forgotten how much I love it. It is so atmospheric climbing in the abandoned quarries with every chink of gear and call to you partner echoing through the empty expanse. It’s so grey but in a strange and unique way, it’s really beautiful. The climbing is such a contrast to the peak district. Slate is like climbing on glass, the foot and handholds are super positive but often small. There is no friction!! I love this style of climbing, the moves are much more delicate and you really need to think about each move instead of scrabbling and smearing your way up. We climbed some classic routes and it really wetted my appetite to come back and do some more climbing in the slate quarries.
Top tips for climbing on slate
-Forget about friction! There is none.
-Keep your hands warm so you can hold onto the little crimpy holds.
-Take lots of small gear and learn to trust it.
As it was New Years Eve, we headed to the pub for some food and beverages and some locals belting out tunes on the karaoke.
The night was a little exciting for Kate and Joe as another storm came through shaking their little tent. I was rather smug to be in our cosy van! We woke to a true Snowdonia day, pouring rain and low cloud. Looked like our last day of adventuring was a right off. The farmer at the campsite told us to stick around as a weather front was coming through at 12 and would bring clear skies with a cold wind. It didn’t look like that was possible! We headed to Pete’s Eats to start the New Year with a good breakfast. At 11 the clouds were lifting but it didn’t look promising. Kate and Joe headed back to Cardiff. We remained positive and trusted the word of the wise farmer. We headed to the base of Tryfan and geared up for a speed ascent. At 12 o’clock as predicted blue sky appeared above the mountains! We started up the mountain quickly gaining height and by midway up the ridge…we found snow!! Ok so it was hardly winter conditions but on the exposed parts of the mountain there was hard ice which definitely made us question our choice of footwear on or fast and light ascent. It felt great to be out in the mountains on such a glorious day and was the perfect way to start our New Year. Hoping for many more mountain adventures for 2017!