Saturday, 14 April 2012

Meeting Heroes

     I have heard Black Rocks described as ‘rough, round, big, ugly, hard and unforgiving, everything gritstone should be!’ and by the looks of it this is an apt description of the main rocks which are in an imposing setting high above the little village of Cromford, looking like a turreted fortress and visible from afar.  After a rainy journey and only a few hours daylight left I ventured here to see if any of the bouldering was ‘in’.  Surprisingly the wind had dried most of the main buttresses and the clouds cleared to leave a lovely fresh evening with the added benefit of having the place to myself.
     Most people will be familiar with the film Hard Grit.  I was shown it when I first started climbing and for me it epitomised what hard outcrop climbing was all about, boldness, skill and the ever present possibility of a ground-fall.   The beginning sequence is of a climber attempting and falling from Gaia, a Dawes climb from the 80’s up a strikingly beautiful piece of rock.  The film closes with Seb Grieve’s first ascent, in 1997, of Meshuga, a huge rounded prow.  Hard Grit manages to capture the atmosphere around these climbs and the characters trying them.  It’s an unforgettable bit of cinema, pure climbing porn!  The reason I mention these routes is because they are both at Black Rocks.  Now, I have no intention of climbing these dangerous routes but just to go stand underneath them today felt like something of a pilgrimage.

     The bouldering here isn’t very extensive and many of the best looking problems were a little too highball but it was great to have an explore of the main areas and see the incredible rock architecture.  Classic gritstone arêtes, cracks and walls, all beautifully sculpted rounded features.  However, I intended on climbing something a little smaller.

     The Upper Rocks are described as ‘a fun collection of boulders’ in the guidebook.  Set slightly away from the main crag a fair amount of moss shows these aren’t climbed on often but at least a couple of the problems looked fairly well trodden.  After a few weeks without touching rock I was surprised to flash the first things I attempted, though not with ease.  Not trusting my feet I spent a fair amount of nervous energy feeling around on slopey top-outs for any semblance of a good hold with none forthcoming.  As so often happens, when I actually committed to the moves things went easily.

    Taking a wander down to the High Peak Trail I came across the railway slabs, two large, slabby trackside boulders.  Although the lines looked great, with lots of little holes to stick the feet into, the main slab is about 7 metres high and would require multiple mats to make safe.  The climbing was enjoyable until nearing the top I took a glance down at my badly placed pad and wished I hadn’t gone so far.  A tactical retreat was difficult, down-climbing slabs always is, but after reversing a few fluttery moves I managed to jump off safely.
     With the sun down the temperature dropped and a few attempts at a hard arête proved I wasn’t going to get anything of any worth done.  Still, I’ve met some climbing greats today and although I may never attempt to climb them they will always inspire and show me what is, ultimately, possible if you are willing to put in the effort and commitment.

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