History of Lakes Bouldering 2003 - 2005
Written by Neil Kershaw
Before we begin we feel it fitting to pay tribute to the fine efforts of Jim Arnold and co. for their excellent development and documentation of the bouldering at both Thirlmere and Gillercombe buttress, and also the Eskdale lads for there fine representation of the bouldering on the numerous granite blocks situated in the valley. All these venues are well worth a visit but were developed in the years preceding our story.
Right: Dark Matter V8+ - Sampson's Stones
Well here we all are, a good two years older, and (if we're being generous) a good two minutes wiser since the last South Lakes history graced these pages. "Wha's ben ga'in on oop thar marra?" I presume you are all crying. Well beat yourselves stupid no longer; prepare yourselves for dazzling tales of derring do, desperation, and discovery. First, a little refreshment to clean our palates for the feast to come…
So, back to the end of the last history; take a shot of summer 2003, add a Greg Chapman mixer. The combination becomes something like a very peculiar Harvey Wallbanger, so true to form Greg banged out some peculiar walls at his new central Lakes venue, the Sampson (not Harvey!) Stones . These were hinted at in the last history, here is the full story. First to mention is that its not a new venue, in fact its so well travelled that the biblical Sampson himself may well have climbed there! As the traditionally camping spot for climbers heading up to Esk Buttress and beyond, many of the easier problems up to V3 must certainly have done before; in fact the classic V0 arete was already well polished on Greg's first visit by the passage of many such "Cumbrians". However, modern bouldering methods yielded a brace of undoubtably new problems of the utmost quality, of which Event Horizon V5 and Axions V7 were the three star classics. Although not the most extensive Lakes area, the immense beauty and tranquillity of the remote setting combined with the superior rock quality makes this a true mountain boulderers paradise.
Once this cocktail lost its fizz, (and after a tip off from Lakes legend Andy Hyslop) Greg was to be found popping his cork over the Lad Stones, Tilberthwaite. Two enormous house sized boulders, every facet bubbling over with problems of all grades, many of them being more highball than the glass! A circuit of twenty problems of all grades to satisfy the more adventurous boulderer was established, with a couple of frothy projects lined up for the coming winter……(yes, watch this space!).
And back where it all started, in the South Lakes? Well, Greg was sieging his socks off at Woodwell in an attempt on Cloning Technology Extended Start. Basically this is the desperate V11/12 Cloning Technology with the V4 start cunningly swapped for a start up Beauty Of Being Numb RH, a two move V8. Thus the new link becomes more disturbing even than that freakish product of cloning technology, Dolly the Sheep. Frustrating greasy conditions delayed the inevitable for a while, but regular practice linking sections and the weird genetically engineered beast (the problem, not Greg) went down. Having just returned from his holidays only to find his sparring partner upping the ante in a big way, Neil Kershaw also made a quick repeat of the problem, having done the standard version a few months previously. The two agreed on a grade of V12 rather than the original V13 from Gaskins. HOWEVER, it must be noted that this is due to Woodwells increased popularity – as a result the ground level around the Screaming Slave footblock has dropped a few inches, revealing a couple of good new footholds. These make the crux on King of Skin much easier than previously; these are the hardest moves even still on CT and come after about 20ft of sustained V10 – the moves Gaskins did here were much harder than they are now.
Back To The Future
Speaking of which, Gaskins still had a few moves up his sleeve, some of which were surely harder than anyone had done before! Remember this:
Check out the wall right of Atrocity Exhibition on the Trowbarrow Boulder, or the roof left of Lilypond Walk at Woodwell, or the sitter right of Yatsufusa at Thorn Crag, or…"
Well, so did Gaskins – the Thorn Crag problem fell to an almighty pull and slap off the most shocking of gritstone slopers, a demonstration that he ain't just no limestone monkey, but some other kind of Endangered Species V11 (pictured left)! Although a limestone monkey he most certainly is, and solid proof was just under that aforementioned roof at Woodwell.
Whilst embroiled in his mighty Brandenburg Gates project at Raven Tor, Gaskins spotted this blank roof on one of his regular Woodwell hits. It is a testament to his futuristic vision that he even thought it was climbable, even going to the trouble of moving an obstructing block, whereas most people would have seen sheer impossibility. I initially mentioned this as "The Future" after seeing chalk on it one day, presuming it was either Greg having a joke or Gaskins having a dabble on a potential V19! Imagine my surprise when I contacted Greg post-history to find that Gaskins had just done it, taking only a few sessions – a testimony to his blistering form. To put this in perspective, this problem crosses a full body length roof by linking a tiny crimp at the back with a two fingertip crozzle on the lip via one lone slopey, pinchy none-hold which as far as I can see is only good for one fingertip! The grade was initially V13/14, which was plainly ridiculous and hence upped to straight V14. However just after, whilst on a relaxing sport climbing holiday with his wife, Gaskins made a three session repeat of Markus Bock's similar Frankenjura roof horror Gossip V15, using a sequence so simplistically brutal in execution that Bock couldn't believe it. Gaskins repost bears out his superiority on this style of problem;
"very good body tension is a prerequiste. The distance [on Gossip] is certainly less, and on better holds, than between the holds on my own problem, At the Heart of it All (Woodwell) which also crosses a roof."
Despite this fact, Gaskins kept the V14 tag for his new line, obviously concentraing more on continuing his Nine Inch Nails naming obsession!
At the Heart of it All V14 - Woodwell O'ert Road
Now, even Gaskins admitted that the remaining line of the future Trowbarrow wall would be "most tricky", but he still had a trump card. While up at Thorn Crag he happened upon a line of such jaw-dropping beauty that every previous suitor had kept its very existence a deadly secret, for fear that someone else would nab it first. A clean, twenty foot high parabola of top-notch grit whose perfect architecture is broken only by a thin seam reaching to half height, terminating in a blankness punctuated by two slopey pockets. In the words of grit guru John Allen "It was made to be climbed, but only by the best". Gaskins whipped up this to leave Return of the Fly V9/10 and indisputably one of the finest quality highballs countrywide.
Return of the Fly V9/10 - Thorn Crag
Pirates of Silverdale
The new year passed without much of a fuss, no new venues, and only a steady trickle of minor filler-in lines from Gaskins which would amuse only those who had ticked the rest of the area. Have we really come to this? New eliminate lines at Warton Pinnacle? Looks like, that's it for now…
…Or is it? For in between these "rest days" the Gaskins training board was taking a right good hammering, and the sound of wailing wooden micro-crimps could be heard for miles around. If all this occurred in Lord of the Rings and not Lancashire there would have been a palpable feeling of great upheaval hanging heavy in the air. And lo did it occur as Gaskins heaved himself up the living end of roof problems. As with most hideous beasts its lair is a dank hole in the ground (beneath the huge anvil of the Trowbarrow Boulder), and as such this problem has received its fair share of derision from those who have seen it. Ugly quarried rock and a bit of a bumscraping non-line; it sure ain't no Mona Lisa to look at. But "the Buddha is in all things", so where is He here? Only in the purest distillation of ultimate desperation ever concocted, that's where! Literally involving using a flat matchstick sized edge (yes literally, not a joke!) to fully span a foothold-less roof to a small slopey crimp, the meat of this problem boils down to 4 moves, with that one in particular being the meatiest – Gaskins could only do this move one in every hundred attempts. The result is Il Pirata V15. Proper V15! Named in admiration of the inspirational Italian cyclist Marco Pantani.
Back to planet Earth, or planet Chapman and his continuing mission to climb every boulder in the Lakes. The numerous projects spuming forth from the Tilberthwaite boulders were foaming in his mind, and one in particular. There lies a tilted wall of fused mountain rock with just out of reach that most tantalising of features for any climber – a big jug! Thankfully for Greg it presented little else in the way of progress and so he wined and dined it over a few sessions and finally ripped the knickers off Traci Lords V10, the new testpiece Lakes mountain power problem. This one named in admiration of the inspirational schoolgirl pornstar of the same name, and just as feisty! In no time at all, the rampaging Gaskins had flashed it and added the sitter the same session. V12, and apparently only one "hard" move, but the lower half seems to be completely bare! (Appropriately I suppose).
Right: Traci Lords V10
Spurred by success here Chapman hunted down the well known Honister boulders, finding them pleasant but lacking the next testing line…but just up the hillside he did find the High Rock, and a few new funky lines including Occam's Razor V9. He left with the feeling of a job well done and the primo hard line of the lip traverse link into Occam's to come back to, only to find that this had been done years before by Keswick locals Duncan Booth and Iain Turnbull. That the Lakes might actually hold some previously unrecorded desperates from the pen of local wads was heartening news, so they were duly pressed for more beta…
Bee Here Now
They told tall tales of wild adventures by the high seas, of splendid isolation accessed only by a secret staircase carved from the rock itself, and otherworldly ochre rocks. So led the trail to St Bees and the rediscovery of its already well-travelled and delightful bouldering circuit. Much has now been said of this area in various magazines so I won't travel old roads, it suffices to remind the reader that it represents one of the finest situations in Britain and is an essential venue. Supreme old problems such as The Arete V0, Hueco Crack V7, Headbanger V8, and Tim's Crack V10 were now in the mainstream and amply demonstrated the understated talent of the many local climbers. There's always a new line though…or is there?
Time was when you just rocked up, spotted a gap, and tried it. The projects were obvious, and perhaps even oft-tried. Here was something different – it really did seem that in that ocean of ochre, all the waves had already been surfed. Gaps remained because they were unfurnished with holds, smashed silky smooth by the raging Irish Sea. Nowhere is this starkness more evident than the seaward face of the Hueco Crack boulder, a clean sixteen feet scarlet curtain. But hang on, from a certain angle, is that…? Yes! A jug. Hope rekindled, but the reality was that it was conventionally unreachable. Chapman promptly ran from convention and leapt towards a Lateral Mindset V8+; an amazing solution to an awesome natural feature, and a slam-dunkers dream! Kershaw also got in on the act with the highball knife edge classic that screamed out to be climbed - Yellow Desert Scream V8+, and another outstanding problem which prompted a 4 hour pilgrimage from Sheffield.
Left: Yellow Desert Scream V8+ - St Bees Head
Further collaboration between Chapman and the Keswick locals saw North Lakes legend, Trevor Suddaby, giving the tour of his new venue below the traditional Gowther Crag. Up to now the brilliant Matts Roof V5 from Matt de Vaal was the main event, but Trev had tried the line of the crag and was keen to bag it. Spurred on by the vultures he whipped up the jutting highball prow of J Mascis V7. Like climbing the spine of some huge book wedged in the hillside, this is a truly terrific line with fantastic climbing and a future classic. The rest of the day saw attempts to mop up every other line there, with friendly competition ensuring repeated successes and the rapid establishment of a great circuit – a V7 climbers paradise!
However, one line escaped the tired limbs of the crew. The overhung tilt of the Peregrine boulder was breached in several places, but the true tick was the rising lip traverse slashing the air with outstanding aesthetics. Quick as a flash, in steps Carlise youth Dan Varian to cut his teeth with a rapid first ascent of the awesome Carlisle Slappers V8, a true stand out problem. Dan also put in great earthmoving effort to develop the boulder above here to give further quality additions including Carpe Diem V9. Clearly a huge talent and a name to watch in future!
Repeat After Me
The summer of 2004 was notable principally for hard repeats throughout the region. Pride of place has to go to that man again, John Gaskins, who took the second ascent of Si O'Conor's monumentally hard yet almost completely unknown Little Women Right Hand in Kentmere. Originally V14, it links a seven move crux roof traverse into the nails power V11 Little Women. Originally widely doubted as a line by locals because of it ludicrous appearance, Gaskins showed everyone the reality by nabbing it quicksmart and even downgrading it to V13! This confirmation of O'Conor's futuristic vision and tremendous ability marks him out as one of Britain's true unsung masters.
Further South the "easy" Gaskins problems were getting a hammering by locals and visitors alike; Chapman made the third ascent of Transgenic V11 after Ian Vickers who did it turned out made the second a year before, Atomic Garden V11 saw Welsh springboks Dave Noden and Chris Davies launch to victory, closely followed a bit more statically by Chapman. Other notable second ascents from this Welsh duo were Nice One Dave SS V10 by Noden (nice one Dave!) and Crucifix Kiss Footless V11 by (nice one!) Davies. Davies also ticked Backhand Roof V11/12, but not before fellow Welshy Mark Katz made a single session second ascent. So enraptured was Katz by the areas potential for hard ticks that he concentrated his pin-sharp focus on Gaskins' monumentally hard Isla de Encanta V13, coming away with a very very impressive ascent. This is the so far the only "hard" Gaskins problem to see a repeat, the amazing O'Conor having rapidly ticked it a few years previous. Oh, and we mustn't forget Chris Doyle's stamina junky extension to Hybrid Moments at solid V11!
Other news from the area was more tragic. Access to two of the regions finest bouldering crags; Craig y Longridge and Woodwell O'ert Road, was lost. The first was threatened by a new caravan park, but valiant efforts by the BMC have now recovered the previously very bleak situation and as we go to press access is now restored. However the loss of O'ert Road, the jewel in Woodwell's crown, is permanent. This was due to despicable actions by ‘climbers' closely connected to the BMC, who given their role in preserving access should certainly know better than to tramp beyond the nicely secluded bouldering sector into local residents back gardens, only to destroy protected plant life in the hope of uncovering awful new routes. Unfortunately it is now too late for anything to be done, either about the access or the complete lack of even the most basic common sense of the part of the perpetrators.
Above: Carlisle Slappers V8 - Gouther Crag Boulders
The Song Remains The Same (Re-mix)
As if in response to the repeats of his South Lakes problems, Gaskins coolly demonstrated how far ahead of the chasing pack he is be knocking out another monumentally hard piece of climbing. The huge roof of the Giant Stone at Little Font hangs heavy like the distended belly of a stuffed whale, with about as many grips. The sessions spent crabbing along O'Conors Little Women RH had been interspersed with attempts on the obvious ‘real' challenge; a direct line straight up through the blankest part of the roof. Well its all been said before and no doubt you're tiring of it (!), so to sum up – a roof, no holds, surely impossible, blah blah…but its out there and it exists. Just go and look at it. I dare ya! Hilariously, due to a keenness to avoid a repeat of the distasteful controversy over his Frankenjura ascents, Gaskins graded his un-named new line a "conservative" V14. Like I say, just go and look at it!
Well doesn't it seem a long time since we had a new crag? How boring must it be to constantly boulder at the same worked out honeypots? I wonder where I should develop this weekend? Such were the cogs that whirred and clicked in Chapman's mechanically (maniacally?) driven mind. So, with only the faded memory of a Dave Birkett tip-off for company he went for a walk, found some rocks, and climbed them to produce the surreal Long Crag (Wrynose) with its brace of "much harder than they look" tilted wall problems – Beast of Burden V7 representing real quality, and the crag as a whole presents a pleasant day out for any jaded lady. Yet the wheels remained in motion and so the boulders beneath Raven Crag (Threshthwaite) were given the treatment. A plethora of convivial low grade problems entertained but are no great shakes; however the discovery of the Rolling Rock Boulder saw the quality quota skyrocket, featuring as it does mountain rock of a fantastic nature. Worth the visit if only to have the pleasure of climbing on the Picasso-perfect geometrical holds (at V1 to V7) that stand proud from the rock's surface – proof that God was a cubist! Both crags were investigated on tip-offs from old skool Lakes devotees Jim Arnold and Al Hewison, both of whom (along with several other old time gents) where now attacking the Lakes boulder fields with inspirational vigour – a pleasure to see the fires still burning.
Gift Of The Gabbro
Despite these developments, the cup is never full. But after an initial visit to that old Keswick locals haunt Carrock Fell, it seemed that the cup might runneth over! A whole hillside literally covered in boulders promised almost unlimited scope for the adventurous, Chapman and Kershaw just couldn't believe their eyes. The steeped history of this superior crag could fill a book. Used for bouldering since at the very least the 1950's, the popular Northern Group saw persistent use from visitors and locals alike and yielded the class-in-every-way Boardman-Tasker-Rouse Problem V5 as early as the 1970's! Even so, repeated regular visits over a period of months saw a goldrush of amazing new problems and a singular development on a scale never before seen in the Lakes. Despite ‘done before' protests from bemused locals (on occasion true, but more importantly resulting in a useful historical dialogue), the Renaissance had a momentum of its own and pretty much every contemporary Lakes boulderer made their own mark; Chapman, Kershaw, Gaskins, Varian, Arnold, Carruthers, Hocking…standout newbies such as The Man They Couldn't Hang V4, Nova Scotia Arete V4, Hockstack and Two Smoking Toothbrushes V6, Punk's Life V7, Buck Rogers V7, Capatain Kirk V3, Sing a Rainbow V6, Nightrider V10, Generation X V9 and Losing My Feathers V8, are the equal of any of the existing older problems.
With this in mind, along with the release of a guide and the exposure in Climber magazine, the crag is perhaps finally approaching maturity. Previously a jealously guarded local secret it is now fulfilling its potential as probably the Lakes' premier bouldering venue – that a venue of such obvious importance can remain hitherto largely unknown is astounding! Its rare rough gabbro is a joy to climb on, which allied with the convenience of its roadside situation, and the fact that a few moments stroll will still provide glorious solitude on the busiest of days, makes this a magical spot.
Another Keswick locals crag which was seeing a bit of a renaissance (again mainly from visitors) was the Bowderstone. Another awesome venue which easily compares in scope and quality with the far better known ‘rock stars' crag Parisella's cave, yet itself remained largely ignored by the new breed of dedicated boulderers emerging countrywide. Already with a reputation as one of the country's strongest men, Yorkshire lad Steve Dunning popped over, ticked the crag, and went on to add a brutal line cutting straight through the steepest steepness as Special Cases V12, the "Cobble's" hardest line. Astonishingly it has already seen three repeats, from those visiting high-grade Lakes devotees; Mark Katz, Ian Vickers, and Gareth Parry. Dunning also tried his hand at the renowned "16ft roof problem" – three holds is all you get, and raw power is all you need. Coming close, as was Chris Davies, just didn't cut the mustard and it wasn't long before young lad Ryan Pasquill rocked up, ticked the crag, then as an afterthought ambled up this powered by a few cans of XXXX, V10/11/12/impossible depending on lankiness!
Below: Four X V11 - The Bowderstone
Reeling from this onslaught of outsiders trouncing their crag Team Keswick drafted their star player, Adam Hocking, back from exile in Wales so that the local end could be kept up. Born and bred at the Bowderstone, he duly set about linking up the already hard problems there to produce two monster V11s, both phenomenal achievements. However it wasn't long before Parry equalised for the tourists with a quick repeat of the Picnic Sarcastic-Impropa Opera link! The only way to score the winner is to link the links and traverse the whole Cobble – could this be the (new) future of Lakes bouldering?
Time Will Tell
As we approach the present day, what is the present state of play? Well its consolidation all round, with old favourites still providing the odd good new line, such as Mike Adams' excellent Fire Wall V8 (Thorn Crag) and Chapman's Light of Other Days V7 (Sampson Stones). The repeats are still coming too, with our Welsh friends still putting in a fine display on the limestone, the ubiquitous Ian Vickers ticking a fourth ascent of Cloning Technology, and Chapman pulling out all the stops to grab a coveted second ascent of Endangered Species. The venues covered in the first South Lakes history are now becoming better travelled by the general bouldering public, and it is encouraging to revisit these crags to see fellow climbers enjoying the crack, working the problems, and experiencing the fun to be had at the area's many and varied venues. Hopefully this trend will continue and others will follow in the footsteps of those before and find out in the best way possible what recent developments have to offer – by getting out to the crags. And who knows, perhaps even add their own lines to a future history?
Left: Turbulence V9 - Woodwell O'ert Road
So, the future. Bearing in mind what happened the last time, we might well be talking about next week! Well to be sure further crag development will occur. After all, there's a lot of rock in the Lakes. No doubt areas like the Duddon Valley hold unsampled delights for the keen and brave. Repeats will keep coming, although it may be a bit hopeful to presume that a Gaskins V14 or 15 will get the treatment. As for the desperation, what about the full traverse of the Bowderstone (F9a?), and there's still the Trowbarrow wall project (V16?). I even saw chalk on it the other day…