Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team
By Hati Whiteley
02, Jun, 2017
Recapturing the adventure element of climbing
Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten why we climb.
When non-climbers enquire we’ve always said that we climb for the adventure. Climbing makes you explore beautiful places; it takes you off the beaten track, scrambling up scree and through thickets to discover somewhere new.
It’s always been about getting away from the pressures of reality, escaping the rat race, and finding some space to breathe; but it feels like something’s changed.
Gone are the days when we sought the most isolated and esoteric crag going. ‘Roadside’ has become a venue selling point, and we tend to deem anything more strenuous that a 10-minute stroll to the crag to be not worth the effort. Could it really be that we’re becoming lazy? It seems implausible, we do spend a lot of time plotting swashbuckling adventures…
Unfortunately, we usually have to fit these adventures around other commitments. As a result, we’ve slipped into the habit of looking for that convenient ‘quick-fix’ instead. This is where the local roadside crag come in.
Roadside crags are convenient, they often yield some spectacular climbing, and they’re ideal when you’re at a loose end with an hour or two to fill. Why would you go anywhere else? The problem is that roadside crags sacrifice the exploration, diversity, and peace and quiet of more remote locations. Every now and it’s necessary to venture a little further afield.
We quite like a challenge, especially when it’s a challenge as enjoyable as recapturing the essence of why we climb. So, one grey day in the Peak District, we found ourselves trading in our usual haunts for something a little off the beaten track. We parked up Robin the van and made the one hour, challenging, and steep approach to The Woolpacks, across the peat and heather to explore the boulder field on top of Kinder. It’s an hour to walk up Crowden Brook, scrambling around the waterfalls you'll find a much more fun approach than the eroded main path.
Any approach longer than 30 minutes feels like a bit of a gamble, but it’s a gamble that pays off. Not only did we rediscover the buzz of arriving somewhere new after an epic walk-in, but were rewarded with fun and unpolished climbing in a remote and remarkable area.
It’s impossible not to be intrigued and awed by the boulders of Kinder Scout. Once described as ‘the ramparts of paradise’ by Robert Roberts in his book from 1997. These so organic shapes manage to be weird and ethereal at the same time as solid and timeless. If Mother Nature was at the height of her classical phase when she created the postcard prettiness of Grasmere she was going through a much darker more experimental phase when she created the Woolpacks. These rocks were key in the area becoming a Site of Scientific Interest and giving it extra protection.
Today we were hoping for a playground with great views down to Edale. Instead we arrive to ghostly sentinels in the mist – Kinder is a moody place. As the low clouds clear we start to pick out our targets. Many of the problems are named after children’s TV characters, and quite right too; the Woolpacks is a fun place to play.
The obvious chat about ticks, grades and even sillier names for the boulders began to fade and we were having such a good time that we forgot to worry about ticks and grades, relaxing into simply moving on the rock and enjoying a day out with friends. W even startred to put together our patchy memory of geography lectures and try and work out how this little patch of crazy shapes came to be. We know that long before ‘all this were fields’, all this was a great sea. And as the silt built up and the sea subsided, the new high grounds were exposed to the brutal ice age storms. It’s our guess that these fierce winds were enough to start the shaping of the boulders we were playing on. Even now you can be in the middle of summer in Edale or Hayfield and step back into fierce winter winds on the plateau. It turns out that no one is sure why we are treated to such shapes but the theory that vegetation locked into the layers of compacted rock have been weathered away leaving only the tough stuff behind seems plausible.
Putting together an old-school hike with new-school bouldering really works. Our trip to The Woolpacks gave us a craving for more crags where the walk-in is as memorable as the climbing itself and there’s not a trace of human life for miles around.
So we came up with a new kind of tick-list: not a list of projects, but a bucket list of remote crags. This list would make sure we kept discovering Nice Places and we never let a long walk deter our inner-explorers.
As soon as we got back we asked around the office, did lots of googling, and compiled a bucket list of crags where head space, spectacular views, and even more spectacular climbing are guaranteed.
Alpkit’s remote crags bucket list
- Dovestone Tor, Peak District
A rising pathway from Cutthroat Bridge sweeps up to outstanding views at Whinstone Lee Tor, before snaking through the rocks to find an excellent selection of trad and bouldering on unpolished gritstone. If daylight’s on your side you can explore as far as Back Tor on your way home, continuing up the path and looping back at Lost Lad, and Factory Manager Ben reckons that carrying on to Howshaw Tor is well worth the detour. 50 minute walk-in
- Callerhues, Yorkshire
A reputation for being a bit of a sandbag combined with a jolly good approach makes this crag the perfect refuge from the crowds. Expect to pull on to some technical and demanding climbing in a wild and remote setting, and try to put grades out of your mind (trust us on this one). 40 minute walk-in
- Simons Seat, Yorkshire
Miles from the road, north-facing, and remote – hmmm, remind us why we want to go there again? Rumour has it there’s a south facing aspect for those chilly days, making Simon’s Seat looks like the ideals spot to find your own little space for some highball bouldering and trad on good old Yorkshire grit. 40 minute walk-in
- Ravensheugh, Northumberland
According to RockFax this is Northumberland’s most enigmatic venue. We don’t know much about it, so we can only agree – but with exploring in mind, Ravensheugh went straight on our crag list. Magnificent setting, outstanding sandstone rock, and quiet during summer – what’s not to love? 50 minute walk-in
- Sandy Crag (Key Heugh), Northumberland
A 50-minute uphill approach before you flop at the top to recuperate. A high sandstone crag, adorned with a handful of absolute trad and bouldering gems awaits those willing to invest the effort. If bold aretes and strenuous cracks are your thing, Sandy Crag is what you’ve been looking for, if not it’s the place to get schooled in the art. 50 minute walk-in
- Sampson’s Stones, Lake District
We’ve heard that this is some of the best bouldering in the Lakes. Combine remarkable blocks, grassy knolls, excellent lines in every grade, and a dazzling suntrap location (perfect for recovering from the 70-minute walk in) and you’ve got yourself a day out. 70 minute walk-in
- Cold Pike, Lake District
We always intend to head up to Cold Pike to make the most of the afternoon sun after spending the morning down at Long Scar, but we’ve never quite made it. The varied dolomite walls and bouldering fields are worth venturing up into the fells for, and the views are outstanding to boot. 40 minute walk-in
- Clogwyn Du’r Ard (Cloggy), Snowdonia
We read that that this is the best crag in the world - well, according to Leo Houlding anyway. With classics at just about every grade, it’s on most of our bucket lists anyway. The only thing holding us back is that you effectively ascend Snowdon for 90 minutes to get there, so we figured we’d better put it on a second bucket-list just to make sure we made it next time the weather’s favourable. 90 minute walk-in
- Craig Arthur, Clwyd
The tallest limestone crag in the area, with world-class trad and sport climbing. Occasional bands of overhangs in the upper reaches will leave your forearms screaming, whilst near-perfect crack and flake lines make good technique crucial. The steep scree below the face gives a strenuous approach and makes climbers feel even more exposed. 35 minute walk-in
- Carnmore Crag, Scottish Highlands
We’ve seen this crag in photos, otherwise we’d think it were myth. The landscape is the stuff of all the climbing films we watch, as is the climbing. Quick drying, south facing, and with exceptional views: why don’t more people come here?
Granted, the walk-in is not for the faint hearted… At 4 hours on foot, or 3 hours on bicycle, this may well be one of the longest approaches in the UK. Truly remote, and best approached as part of a multi-day adventure, this venue presents a challenge, but also a great opportunity for putting those Hunkas to good use. 4 hour walk-in
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