Completing Almscliff’s Big Three

Back in Blighty after two months on some of Europe’s finest limestone sport crags, there’s little enthusiasm for local bolt-clipping. The appeal of the convenience and comfort of the “metal men” will no doubt return, once memories fade, but for now it’s time to rejoice in coming home to what makes British climbing so special. In due course, once the weather perks up, that will mean seacliffs and mountains, but in the meantime it means GRIT.

A first-day-back foray to Millstone with Jim B and a quick Hobby-hit serve as a reminder of the beauty and brutality of gritstone, but at least the quarrymen have left behind some edges which are of use to sport-honed crimp-strength. When Jake suggests meeting at Almscliff on a cold and unpromising Sunday I know I’m in for a real Yorkshire “Welcome Home”.

Almscliff attracts many superlatives, including “God’s Own Rock” and “The Best Gritstone in Yorkshire”, and any description will inevitably feature the word “Steep” – they don’t call it ARMScliff for nothing! Other adjectives will likely include “windy” and “fast-drying” – two sides of the same coin. It was certainly looking surprisingly sunny as I pulled up after the roof-down drive over the leaden-skied Pennines in my little toy car (it’s first outing in six months, and something of an adventure in itself, but it wears its 50 years well).

Looks can be deceptive, as the crag was living up to its “windy” reputation, but for the most part also looked pretty dry. The sun hadn’t quite crawled around onto the West Face so we headed round to Black Wall, which was basking and fairly sheltered. Jake has done most of the worthwhile routes at the crag, being more or less in his backyard, so picked out Blackpool Promenade, E1 5b, as a warm-up and suggested I might like to lead it. He pointed out the obvious right-to-left traverse line across this impressive wall, managing to pack 20m of climbing into a 10m crag, and I racked up and set off without checking the guide. Great handholds along a featured rail make up for steepness and a dearth of footholds, and I was certainly warmed up as I neared the end of the traverse. Unsure quite where the route finished I asked Jake to read out the description: “…pull up left and squirm across the rounded breaks until an escape is possible…” Hrmm… That will teach me not to read the guidebook. Certainly full value for E1!

Almscliff is home to a trilogy of renowned E3s, each of which features in Extreme Rock. We’d done part 1 – Big Greeny on a much less promising day during Lockdown 2:

Lockdown 2.0

and Jake’s mission for the day was to complete the set. Back round on The West Face, the sun was just arriving and Jake was eyeing up Western Front which starts up the corner of Great Western before traversing the low roof to gain the obvious hanging crack at the left hand end of the buttress.

The moves to gain the roof traverse require a bit of commitment, but you are rewarded by a real jug-fest:

A bit of oomph is then needed to gain a standing position above the lip, where a L-OOO-NG reach gains a disappointingly flared jam, which you need to fully believe in to make progress into the improving crack above and a steep romp to the top. Two down – one to go!

A howling wing and 8C wasn’t perfect climbing conditions (let alone belaying) but at least the friction was good!

Wall of Horrors lies just to the left, and offers a complete contrast. The initial moves off the ground represent the crux, and are a Font 6b boulder problem in their own right (surely equivalent to English technical 6b so how it is given an overall grade of E3 6a is beyond me – as were the moves!) Pulling onto the rock via a good undercling layaway…

…you then launch up and leftwards onto a poor hold on the arete before somehow yarding up onto the obvious ‘horn’ below the welcoming jamming crack. Jake simply flew upwards as if jet propelled (no photo as I was on spotting duty by then – should have brought a pad!)

The route isn’t over then, with a tough move to reach the next break and gear…

…followed by tenuous crimps to get established on the green wall above, and finally the top.

Any pretense at warmth from the sun had long vanished, and we called time on a pretty successful day. Here’s Jake looking chilled but pleased beneath The Trilogy. From L to R:

  • The Big Greeny E3 5c – leftmost wall to curving flake crack and terrifying top wall via obvious pocket
  • Wall of Horrors E3 6a – boulder start immediately behind Jake to reach obvious short crack then break, before tenuous progress up green wall
  • Western Front E3 5c – righthand corner to traverse left beneath lower roof to reach right leg of inverted ‘Y’ crack, poor jam and then jug glory to the top

…and you can also make out The North West Girdle, which we ticked on my birthday last year…

Birthday Climb – North West Girdle, Almscliff

…I reckon that’ll do me for Almscliff for a bit – give those arms a rest!

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