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Between a rock and a Hard Severe place

Well I guess it all started on July 24th 1999 with the splendidly named Mr Bender and I swear to God that is his surname. Anyway I was a member of Another Outdoor Activities Club on a trip to Snowdonia when I got paired up with this fine gentleman. He suggested a 3* Hard Severe classic multi-pitch route on Cyrn Las in the Llanberis Pass, enticingly called Main Wall, which sounded most excellent. Now Mr Bender was of South African origin and on the walk-in it transpired that, as a child, his favourite hobby was collecting cobras with his trusty cloth bag and stick. I thought we’ve got a right fruit and nut†here and the restraint shown in not laughing like a hyena when he told me his surname was considerably harder than many routes I’ve done over the years. As it turned out, we had a most splendid day dangling around and Mr Bender was very agreeable company. Unbeknown to me I had done my very first Classic Rock Route!

For the uninitiated amongst you, Classic Rock is a fine tome written by the venerable Ken Wilson featuring 81 classic rock climbs, in the UK, graded from Difficult to Very Severe. These routes, with accompanying essays and photos, have been selected by various authors with intimate knowledge of a particular crag. They are as far south as Terriers Tooth at Chair Ladder in Cornwall to Cioch Nose at Applecross in the North of Scotland.

What about Mr Bender I hear you cry? Well we got on so admirably that we did many routes together over the next couple of years (before he got married and became a lightweight), unwittingly including the odd Classic Rock route or 2 as well. I remember getting stitched up like a kipper by him on Pendulum Chimney at Chair Ladder on the infamous chimney pitch. In the West Cornwall CC guide this pitch is described as being a touch noxious and noisy during the nesting seasonâ€. From the base of the cliff I gazed up with trepidation to this 4th pitch, guarded by armies of sea-gulls and other assorted winged horrors waiting to do battle with hapless climbers. I knowingly suggested that I should lead this first pitch thinking we would swop leads, leaving Mr Bender the pleasure of leading the aforementioned chimney pitch. Happily agreeing (I would have done the same) he proceeded to string both the 2nd and 3rd pitches together claiming, with a glint in his eye, that he could not find the 2nd belay. I can still hear him roaring like a drain, as I entered a scene from a rather famous Alfred Hitchcock movie, whirling my Big Bertha size XXL hex around my head like a dervish trying to keep the puking, pecking, flippin’ feckin’ things at bay. Thankfully I somehow made it to the top a tattered bloody mess, set up a belay, peered over the cliff and said Right. Your turn next’…

I first became aware of the book Classic Rock, in rather sad circumstances, at a wake for an Another Outdoor Activities Club member which took place in the Lake District in 2001. It was attended by numerous members of our club and a Scottish group, the dearly departed was also part of called the Braes O’ Fife. Now these Scots really knew how to party. They would drink their own body weight in whisky and still be the first up to go climbing, whereas I seem to remember an alarmingly high proportion of our lot going Ra, ra, ra and a cup of tea, ra ra rambly walk and time for bed said Zebedee. I switched allegiance quicker than Carl Lewis on speed and became an honorary Scot for the weekend.

Anyway there was a big pile of books, bought by the parents of our recently deceased friend, which we were told we could share amongst ourselves. I flicked through this Aladdin’s cave of treasures and was drawn like a moth to the light, like a fly to Sheffield to <cue Land of Hope and Glory> Classic Rock by Ken Wilson!

Ooo I’ve done that. And that! I exclaimed with breathless delight and was hopelessly hooked as I thumbed through the pages like a kid in a candy store. Dreaming of far-away, exotic, amorphous lumps of rock. Great feats of derring-do by tweed-attired, pipe-smoking pioneers such as Lord Longland Fotherington Farquar-Smyth with his petticoated missus and attendant butler (to carry the champers, canapés, snuff and other such climbing essentials) scaling the cliffs of Lliwedd on Avalanche & Red Wall in the early 1900’s. After a quick count I realised that there were 81 routes in this book and I had already done 13 of them. Eureka. A mission! But wait. Some chinless club member asks me to come to the kitchen to help with bloody various pots of Earl Grey, Camomile and Avocado/Mint infused tea. Before you can say “Artful Dodger” some thieving toe-rag has claimed the sacred bible I had left on my chair. However all was not lost as I resolved to buy this masterpiece of English literature as soon as I got back home and I also managed to do Little Chamonix with Krusty at Shepherds Crag taking my tally to 14.

Clutching my newly acquired copy in my sweaty palms some might say that this was the beginning of the end. Nearly every future trip to North Wales, Peak District, Lake District or Scotland would involve a frantic flicking of the pages, dreaming wistfully of Lord Longland and petticoats (well mainly petticoats actually), to see if there was a cherry ripe for the picking. Once I even managed to persuade my regular climbing buddies what a great idea it would be to drive a round trip of 6 hours to this incredible crag called Hen Cloud†in the Peak District. As we approached this incredible crag called Hen Cloud, it started to drizzle and it would be fair to say the guys were rather under-whelmed, but the sun eventually came out to play and I mopped up Central Climb with Philippa!

There were the gorgeous Knight moves of Grooved Arete on Tryfan with Jude and a tantalising tango on Terriers Tooth with Steve. Oh the list is endless! I even remember an Easter club trip to Fort William in 2003 when recovering from a bad prolapsed disc in my back. For the first time in a month I had just started to walk again, albeit with the grace of an arthritic chimp, thinking I may be lucky to get up a Munro by the end of the week. Remarkably Scotland was gripped in a heat wave with temperatures in the mid 70’s so could I be tempted to bag a Classic Rock route or two? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?

Agag’s Groove on The Buckle with Dicky was duly despatched with military precision and the allure of Tower Ridge with Krusty on The Ben was way too much to resist. I’m sure my obsessive drive carried me up the route like a certain owl gliding on the thermals, but once sat on the top of the highest mountain in the UK, reality kicked in along with a scorching dose of dehydration, uber-pain and chafing. The descent back down the tourist path was pure purgatory and it was commented that I was waddling along like a goose with piles. I was so cream-crackered that I was incapable of attending the traditional last night Club meal, so my better half deposited me, in disgust, into my bed to dream about the days events and petticoats.

Most of my Classic Rock bagging exploits have gone smoother than the top of my head but there have been the odd occasions when things have not gone quite to plan.

Just a couple of months ago, I remember climbing a waterfall, masquerading as Great Gully, at Craig yr Isfa in the Carneddau with Chairman Will. My rucksack still feels a little greasy and has a distinct bouquet of rotting sheep to this very day. However nothing will ever, EVER remotely compare with The Troutdale Pinnacle experience.

It was the summer of 2004 and a trip to Keswick in the Lake District was the first stop for Emma and I on our Summer Hols. I had gone around the campsite looking for any sign, sight or sound of climbing hardwear from my fellow campers. I cajoled and pleaded for anyone to join me on a local classic called Troutdale Pinnacle but to no avail. I was in the depths of despair until this strange looking man of mature years walked up waving a copy of the Borrowdale guide and he said. Ere I’ve heard you’re looking for a climbing partner young man? Oh the joy. Rapture. Music to my ears! Well Tony regularly drank with Doug Scott and Bonners and had just been to Shepherd’s Crag that day so he was indisputably the man for the job as I explained to him the master plan. A local classic. Troutdale Pinnacle. Severe. No problem. Now this is where he started to prevaricate and whimper a bit and perhaps it started to dawn on me that maybe he was not indisputably the man for the job? Eventually he reluctantly agreed to come up to Black Crag the next evening to have a look.

Em and I arrived at the base of the crag around 20 minutes before our hero arrived accompanied by Mrs Tony. Having already flaked out the ropes at the start of the aforementioned route, because we were doing it and none of this having a look malarkey, I could hear Super-Tony’s wheezing from the other side of the valley. The poor guy arrived with a face redder than a sunburnt baboon’s @rse and collapsed in a wheezing, Woodbine-hawking, phlegm-spluttering mess. I was on the point of asking Mrs Tony if she fancied tying on instead, when my man stepped up to the plate, for fear of being shown up by his non-climbing matronly better half I suspect.

For anyone who has done this superb route, they will know the 1st pitch is a doddle with a bit of a scramble, then a barely V Diff crack in the middle of a blank wall, leading to a commodious ledge. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Right Tony. Climb when ready! Our hero cruised the scrambly walk, then up to the barely V Diff crack and Boing and he’s off. Another go. Boing. And a third for luck.  Boing. Erm Dave I’m going to find another way around. There is no other way around, I replied in exasperation, but I’ll keep you ultra-tight and give you a little pull to help you over the difficult bit! OK Tight aaannnddd pull and up Tony popped like a champagne cork out of a bottle, albeit in a wheezing, Woodbine-hawking, phlegm-spluttering mess. Basically this set the tone for the remaining 5 pitches. Tight aaannnddd pull. Tight aaannnddd pull. Ad infinitum. I might as well of set up a crevasse-rescue pulley system there was so much bloody Tight aaannnddd pull going on. Emma and Mrs Tony could see and hear this palaver going on. Apparently Mrs Tony just held her head in her hands in embarrassment, unable to look Em in the eye, and walked off in shame. About half way up the climb, just to add to the excitement, black clouds rolled in with the rumble of thunder in the distance. The air was thick with tension, charged with electricity and copious amounts of tight pulling. Was I going to be deprived of this precious Classic Rock tick after all I had been through? In desperation, I pulled and I pulled like I’ve never pulled before and finally Tony belly-flopped onto the top, albeit in a wheezing, well you know the rest. A glorious victory was ours! Finally our hero got his breath back, looked me in the eye and said I tell you Dave, it were hard at times but it’s the best climb I’ve ever done!

Now I’m well aware that the words anorak wearing train spotter†can be left in precisely that order to describe me – the Classic Rock Bagger. Also a few of the routes in the book are not really that great. Piton Route in the Avon Gorge, Will o’ the Wisp at Craig Cywarch, or any of the three routes at Birchen Edge spring readily to mind. However most of rest are classic routes, which have taken my various partners and I to some incredible places and crags I would never have dreamt going to. Special mention must go to Christian (a.k.a. The Ox), who has been my faithful partner on 19 of these routes, stoically carrying my rucksack and I on his back without complaint. However I did finally break him on the Cuillin Ridge in May 2007 but that’s another story. As for my current total of Classic Rock ticks? Well its currently 60 out of 81 with just 21 little gems to go.  Now where did I put my yellow highlighter pen?

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