The Cromlech, it’s a special place that oozes history. From tales of Joe Brown dropping a peg hammer on his unfortunate belayer whilst climbing Cenotaph Corner in 1952 to James McHaffie putting up a new E9 called House of Talons in 2016 which uses 12 sky hooks for protection.
It’s not just about the hard stuff though! Spiral Stairs at Diff takes in some amazing positions traversing across the cliff with some great exposure, Sabre Cut at VS has a brilliant pitch on it, Noahs Warning, another VS provides a tough challenge for the grade and Flying Buttress on the far side of the cliff gives an almost mountaineering experience at V Diff. I haven’t even mentioned Right Wall E5, Resurrection E4, Lord of the Flies E6….
I’ve climbed quite a bit on the Cromlech over the years, but the other day I had an especially great day there taking in a few of the classics.
Cenotaph Corner, E1 5c
This is possibly the most famous route in the UK, it has it all – it’s a stunning line taking the obvious open book corner that draws your eye every time you drive down the Pass, quality climbing moves and the history. It’s understandably a much coveted route, on most climbers wish list, but I’d only recently lead it as I always assumed it was going to be a polished horror show of slippery jams and shiny footholds. I was wrong! Stu bullied me into it and I loved it, steady climbing up to a cheeky crux, safe as houses as there’s tons of gear if you want it, just lovely.
Today wasn’t my turn though. My mate Fay was visiting from Chamonix and had promised her other half, Fred, she wouldn’t do the Corner without him, but our first target Cemetery Gates was busy, so the Corner it was! Fay still thinks she can only really climb VS, but off she went anyway, slow and steady the whole way, hardly noticing the cheeky crux near the top so off I go seconding it. There’s not really any need to jam on it to be honest, there are loads of good footholds to bridge on and more handholds than you’ll ever need. The crux at the top is polished, very polished, but it doesn’t really effect the climbing, back up the peg with a wire as it’s looking a bit manky, pull into the niche, get another wire in and blast up to the top with it’s tree belay.
My only disappointment is that I didn’t lead this route earlier, when it would have been at my limit, it sort of feels like one of those routes that you want to do battle with rather than cruise up and enjoy!
After the route it’s a quick abseil down to the bags for water and some amazing flapjack Laura had made (gooey flapjack, topped with caramel, topped with chocolate, topped with chocolate balls – epic!)
Left Wall, E2 5c
I’d lead this route a couple of times before and taken the fall – my first go was going so well before the pump set in on the final crack, only a little fall though unlike when I belayed Mike on it last year!
Mike: Think I’m coming off Jez!
Me: No you’re not! Pull harder!
Mike seems to take heed of the advice, makes a few more moves so I pay out some more slack.
Mike: *Wimpering noises*
Mike: I’m oooooooffffffffff
He took the big one, added too because the last bit of gear he placed was a slightly panicked placed purple Dragon cam, that proceeded to pop and unclip itself from the rope before hitting me on the foot from about 35m up.
Mike was fine, his biggest fall though! He got back on it and finished it off though, he still owes it a rematch for a clean ascent!
It was my turn to lead, so up I went, feeling pretty steady to the first crux, which was more technical than I remembered! I felt fine pump wise, but my trad head isn’t in the right place at the moment – too much sport climbing.. Up to place a good nut, down to a better rest, breathe, get psyched and keep moving through the moves (not much for your feet) and a mega jug is your reward – phew! Place some more good gear (there’s so much gear on Left Wall, you need to manage how much you place) and then a few more easy moves take you to a really good resting ledge below the higher crux crack. I milked this big time and waited for Nick Bullock to come past me on Resurrection E4 (on my to do list for this year), which joins Left Wall for a move or two.
Once he was out the way I had no excuses left so it was time to crack on. Thankfully I’m loads fitter than last time I was on it, so I had plenty of gas to place a good small nut and a Totem cam partway up the crack, then using the crack and holds out to the side blast up it until the big finishing flakes lead you more easily out left. Done! One day I’ll get round to the direct E3 finish! Left Wall is one of my favourite routes ever, another great line with superb climbing which is really safe, but only if you have the arm power to hang on and place the gear…
Another abseil down, more water, more flapjack, plus a sandwich this time and it’s Fay’s turn to lead.
Cemetery Gates, E1 5b
An easier route, but no push over even though it used to get HVS. Steep buggy climbing is the order of the day, like the other two it has good gear throughout. Fay cruised it again and I was soon following the pitch climbing up out of my cold, shady belay in to the sun, I was feeling pretty tired from a busy period of work and lots of recent climbing so I was happy to reach the little belay ledge at the top of the pitch. You have two choices here (well three really, you can run it as one pitch if you have 60m ropes), you can move right along the original line
of the route at 4c, or go direct which seems more in keeping with the line, but without quite as much exposure as the original line. I hadn’t done the direct finish before – the Grim Jim, E2 finish so despite being knackered I chose this way and had to work quite hard! The climbing has a couple of loose bits but is over soon enough, and isn’t very techy.
Another abseil down, and that was me done! A great day out climbing some super classic routes, in some great weather.
All that was left to do was lend Angus my blue Totem and watch him bag the fourth ascent of Nightmayer – E8 6c.
The Cromlech is an amazing crag, if you’ve been up there you’ll know that, if you haven’t been, get yourself up there!