Adventures of a Mediocre Mountaineer

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Adventures of a Mediocre Mountaineer by Greebo T Cat

Curbar Capers

The Peak District is an obvious climbers playground - limestone and gritstone together, quarried faces, weathered boulders high upon the moor. Something for everyone,basically. It was the number one destination from Liverpool, as it would always rain when we went to Snowdonia or the Lake District. It rained in the Peak District as well of course, but at least we could retreat to the Foundry in Sheffield, at that time the biggest and best climbing wall in the country.

It was end of term at university, so with a couple of mates from the climbing club and a friend from home we took Rich's battered Ford Escort (later to be used for thieving practice by Toxteth scallies - to the extent that, once all the doors had been screwdrivered, you had to get in through the hatchback) and drove over for a camping trip.

Out past Manchester, Ladybower reservoir, even allowing for the obligatory confusion on the B roads around the edges, we were still in time for a good days climbing. We'd decided on Curbar Edge - strictly
speaking it was out of our league, a hard man's cliff, but we figured that mid week nobody would mind us putting a top rope up a few classics, and we'd got bored with Froggatt Edge, our usual venue.

A few years later, we would get to know Curbar quite well, have memorable trips there in the snow and in the boiling sun. I would fall off Baron's wall on two separate occasions, despite getting my head over the top both times, but also climb quite well on occasions, strange climbs like the Brain, grim and committing climbs in damp and strenuous cracks.

The thing about Peak District gritstone climbing is that it's not very high but it's very fierce. I can imagine to the walkers strolling across the top of the edges, it must seem disproportionate, all that effort for such a few metres, but it's hard enough all right, an unforgiving place both physically and mentally.

Curbar is a classic example - Not more than eight metres in places, but all recalcitrant cracks that you can't get your fingers in, mean angled boulders lying in wait for your ankles if you get it wrong and, more often than not, a glacial wind that blows across and whips your rope around. Here more than anywhere, rock climbing is a game played in the head - if you are confident, and can bring yourself to trust the
friction between the rubber on your boots and the compact grains of the grit, then you can defy gravity. If you are not than you can soon get cold, half way up the cliff, looking at the difficult moves and then at
your last piece of equipment, and wondering if there is any face-saving way of avoiding the moment of commitment.

That day we knew we weren't up for taking a risk - our head wasn't in it. So we took the soft option, placed a rope above us and played on climbs above our level - The Toy, without much success and Plaything, in
reasonable style, even allowing Si to take some glamour photos, with fingers artistically out of focus as I stretched for the top. They came out so well in fact, that when they were on a wall in my student room
in Bordeaux a year later, a friend from RĂ©union flatly refused to believe it was me, stating that I must have cut the photo out of a magazine!

We didn't have the cliff to ourselves - some proper climbers were there, methodically attacking something quite a bit harder - they climbed up and down to the crux, placing their feet properly and aligning their bodies so as to make the best use of the holds. We
couldn't see them on the hard bit but it must have been hard enough as a couple of them fell off onto their ropes.

Getting towards the end of the day, our eye was drawn to a traditional climb, with all that that entailed. It was called Peapod, and that was the shape of it, a scoop of rock, the two sides facing slightly outwards. It had been climbed first by Don Whillans, 60s
northern hardman extraordinaire, and that should have been enough to warn us off it, really. Nevertheless, we had a top rope on it and were feeling frisky, so why not? Muggins here was volunteered to go first.

The only way to climb this kind of thing is to climb as the little Victorian chimmney sweeps would have climbed out of the fireplace. You put your feet against one side of the fissure, your back against the
other. If its an amenable sort of size relative to the size of the climber, then you can make quite good progress, shifting your feet, then your back, whilst staying in balance. If it's too small or too wide then it rapidly gets very strenuous. This one was particularly precarious, the natural angle tilts you out towards the void, and I was having to really push to move upwards.

I could feel my T-shirt rapidly tightening round my neck, but wasn't minded to pay it much attention until there was a sudden ripping sound, and I found myself dressed like Captain Caveman, T-shirt over one
shoulder only. Needless to say, my friends found this hysterical and took many photos of my discomfiture. My naked back was now against the gritstone, and any further progress was going to involve cheese gratering the exposed flesh. I asked to be lowered off, a somewhat disconsolate figure, and let the others have a go.

The day had a sad end, as thieves broke into the car and took all the camping equipment, in fact everyone's stuff apart from mine, which looked too tatty. So the trip ended there, but I won't forget Peapod in a hurry, especially as I've got the photos to remind me!

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