Dave Parry's Top Five Summer Gritstone Bouldering Venues
July 06, 20225 min read
Dave Parry is a photographer, climber, and author. He began his climbing career on the gritstone crags of the Peak District, and after a quarter of a century of dedication and hard work is convinced he will get the hang of it any day now. Dave finds breezy spring evenings climbing on Sheffield’s local gritstone crags hard to beat.
Prior to being a professional photographer, Dave made a living pushing numbers around a spreadsheet, is a recovered teacher, has worked in a steelworks, and once won a t-shirt for writing a pun. Dave has written extensively for The Project Magazine, along with the BMC’s Peak Area Newsletter. Grit Blocs is his first book.
Gritstone is often considered a purely winter rock type, and although that’s true if you’re looking for maximum friction on your hardest problems, summer is not necessarily a complete disaster, with a bit of careful choice of venue. Here are some of my favourites, a top five of summer grit crags:
(1) Derwent Edge / Howshaw Tor
Derwent Edge has long been a solid summer choice for Sheffield climbers: it has relatively straightforward access, fun problems, and plenty of exploration to be had. In recent years this has been further cemented with the development of Howshaw Tor as a bouldering venue. Just to the north of Derwent Edge, Howshaw offers genuinely outstanding harder problems, meaning it’s possible to find 8a or 7c+ problems in fine conditions all summer, given a breeze.
In the North Pennines, Goldsborough’s combination of excellent high/solo walls along with steep low roofs with positive holds on a handful of harder lines make it potentially a great summer option, particularly in the evenings. Being a hilltop/tor-type crag there’s actually climbing facing in all directions, so you do have options for shade and to catch whatever the wind is doing. The walk-in is short so you’re not committed to a full day. Enjoy the sense of big open spaces here, and a good fish & chip shop in Barnard Castle for the way home. And, of course, the drive up here serves as a great eye test.
Staffordshire has a number of east-facing crags all with the same basic aspect due to the shape of the layers of gritstone locally. Newstones, Baldstones and Gibb Tor all face the same direction, so a lot of the climbing comes into the shade during the afternoon. But Ramshaw is the most exposed to any easterly or southerly breeze, so it’s possible to find some shade and cool here with the right wind direction. Meanwhile, on such days you could fry an egg on the fine grey-white rock of the Roaches Far Skyline. It’s a crag that can still dish out an ego-bruising experience any time of the year, but there’s a good circuit of problems to be found, and with a short approach it’s a useful option for a warm evening.
The long, remote and rambling line of crags and scattered pinnacles of Rylstone snakes along the edge of the moor north of Skipton, providing seemingly limitless opportunities for exploration. It’s a great summer location as there’s bouldering that faces a range of directions, different aspects, and some steep base-of-the-crag type problems thrown in too. Even in midsummer you’re more likely to run out of daylight, or more likely energy, before you’ll run out of things to climb. Just be prepared to put the legwork in, as you won’t make it to even the most roadside sections in less than thirty minutes. This is a big day out crag. Even if you’re not an 8b legend it’s worth the walk to look at Lanny Bassham in wonder. It’s also home to Mark Katz’s Hispaniola 8a+, and one of the few at that grade which is a genuine summer prospect if the wind is in your favour. Last time I was up there the main crag was boiling hot but it was still too cold and windy to pull on Hispaniola! Nearby Rolling Gate, further north, is another crag with good potential for summer.
A unique venue, Grinah Stones is both remote and yet accessible, being relatively close to Sheffield and clearly visible from a lot of the eastern edges. Approach options vary – none are short – but thankfully the rock quality is unusually good for the high moors, with very little serious scrittle. It also has a tradition of being formally undocumented; there are no names, no grades, and no first ascentionist lists up here. This isn’t really to pretend that nothing has been done before, or that you’re some sort of trailblazing pioneer by going up here, as it’s fairly obvious where things are likely to have already been climbed for the most part. And if you speak to someone who’s already been, you’ll get a fair idea of the main lines. But these days it functions more to give a day out you can’t really get elsewhere, which is a fairly pure climbing experience without the baggage of grades or expectation hanging over you. You’ll either climb something or you won’t. Follow your nose, bring a brush and a team of friends with a pad each and an open mind, and enjoy.
Of course, these five are not your only choices, and decent – or at least survivable – grit days can be had on many more crags, if you’re careful. Some general principles to follow:
Make the most of the wind. Know what the wind direction is, and choose your crag to be catching that wind – look on a map and check the Met Office forecast. If there’s no wind at all then that means midges, especially if there’s been some rain recently.
The sun is high in the sky in summer, so steep problems, especially those at the base of a taller crag, can create their own shade to some extent. So look for steeper climbs with positive holds. And take some liquid chalk to give you a good base of chalk on your hands to maximise grit without having to cake the rock with tons of loose chalk. Evenings are a good bet bet for cool temps.
Take plenty of water. It’s not like winter where a small flask of coffee will see you through the day. You’ll sweat loads, especially on any lengthy approach walks, and summer grit days can be long.
Take a spare T-shirt or top, so you can get changed when you arrive at the crag drenched in sweat that wouldn’t be nice to climb in. Also take something light and long sleeved too, like a windproof, in case the temps drop at dusk and the wind picks up so you don’t freeze – or if the wind drops and you need midge protection.
If you’re out on the high moors you still need to be aware you’re in an upland area, the weather can turn quickly. Kinder and Bleaklow in the Peak are technically mountains, so be appropriately equipped. If you’re up high at a remote crag for the evenings, pack a small LED headtorch for the walk back.
Moderate your expectations and focus on exploration and fun rather than trying to push your grade. And take some photos! July will never be February, but a summer grit day out with a few friends can still be a brilliant experience.
For Dave's compilation of the 100 finest problems on Pennine gritstone, you need to get your (chalky) hands on his new book Grit Blocs. You can follow his photography over on @thedaveparry