I gave a speech at the Royal Geographical Society in London last month and I started by saying how the foundation of my climbing began on gritstone.
I always feel lucky that I learnt to climb on the gritstone edges of Derbyshire and Yorkshire. There is no better place to test yourself as a leader. People can be disparaging about the modest height of Stanage or Froggat Edge (20 metres or so, max) , but ironically that is what makes them so serious. On relatively small cliffs the ground is always close by, meaning even a short fall could end by smashing into the ground. And the ground beneath gritstone cliffs is not kind and often littered with sharp boulders.
This seriousness gives ‘the grit’ an aura and foreboding well beyond its modest metres. You often need a calm, measured approach and good nerves. The tremendous variety of rock architecture means you have to master cracks, arêtes, overhangs and slabs which gives a good technical grounding. It can be very physical climbing here too, the rounded holds regularly leading to swollen forearms.
I quickly progressed to mountaineering in the Alps and the Himalayas and became a guide – a mountain leader. But I owe a lot to ‘the grit’ in the early days.
Here are 5 valuable things these cliffs taught me.
1 Don’t fall off
Obvious I know, but the ground always seems nearby. Many easier routes have convenient ledges or protuberance, handy for taking a rest, but during a fall you could hit one of these.
2 Footwork first
When starting to climb its easy to neglect foot placements, but gritstone demands precision. It is amazing what you can stand on, once you believe.
3 Respect conditions
Adherence to the rock is vital on any rock type but on grit cooler temperatures and low humidity really help. Spring and autumn are the classic times for climbing here.
4 Learn to love cracks
Fingers, hands, fists and more can be placed into the many gritstone ‘fissures’. Love it or hate it, learning to jam properly here is a great platform. Remember technique and body position are as important as strength when crack climbing.
5 Develop good judgement
Knowing when to continue or to retreat is a key skill for any climber. Many classic gritstone routes require genuine commitment and knowing when to ‘go for it’ or to ‘back off’ can only be honed by hours on the rock. You can always come back another day.
For guidebooks check out
The brand new Yorkshire Grit guide and
The BMC shop for other grit guidebooks