On Dirty 30 Varian Collection
This is one of a series of guides that update the current Bouldering Guide to Northumberland.
The information contained herein was provided by the principle developers of these blocks, Dan Varian , Mickey Stainthorpe, Rich Lanham and Andy Cowley.
Northumbrian Mountaineering Club
Photographs have been supplied by them and by Mark Savage.
Andy Cowley On The Scorpion Sleeps Sector A Adam Young Photo
A series of downloadable PDF guides to new bouldering venues , problems, highballs and routes in Northumberland. Including: The Stell
Caller Crag , Corby’s and Edlingham
The Maiden Chambers Area
St Cuthbert’s Cave
The Bowden Area
The Wanneys Group
Beanly Moor and Hunterheugh
The Ravensheugh Area
Titlington and the Turban
The Lost World
NMC Northumbrian Mountaineering Club
The Simonside Escarpment: A Bouldering Guide
Introduction... TECHNICAL NOTES
The location of each crag is indicated by its Grid Reference.
It is true to say that there are only two grades, the problems and routes you can do, and those you can’t. To the keen boulderer however it soon becomes apparent that this can be sub divided into the problems you can do and your mates can’t, and vice versa! Grading boulder problems (and some routes) is an almost impossible task. The table below is a rough comparison of the common systems in use. Visitors to the County will probably find that, until they get used to the style of the problems and the intricacies of climbing on the County’s various Sandstones, the accuracy of the table will be questionable. Grades are an art rather than a science, and while FONT UK TECH V GRADE difficulty is central to bouldering , it is easily confused with qualiGRADE GRADE ty. The pursuit of which is an equally rewarding endeavour. 3 4c VB The various grading systems are well understood, and like grades are an ongoing source of debate regarding their respective merits. 4 5a In these PDF guides we have retained the Font grades introduced V0 in the last guidebook and their use is now established and un4+ 5b derstood.
Maps The County is covered by seven Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25,000) maps. Sheets 339 (Kelso), 340 (Holy Island), OL16 (The Cheviot Hills), 332 (Alnwick and Amble), OL42 (Kielder Water), 325 (Morpeth) and OL43 (Hadrian’s Wall). The majority of the crags lie on sheets 340 and 332.
General On occasions the problems are referenced to routes that are not described in the climbing guide, or in the second edition bouldering guide. You may need these guides or to ask a local climber help you locate the problems.
Sit Starts Most problems are written up as standing starts off one mat only! Generally sit starts are added at the end of a description where they add either to the difficulty, or quality. Only rarely will a sit start be separately named.
Rules It has long been understood in Northumberland that if a twig is found on a ‘good’ foothold, then the foothold is out of bounds. The same applies to bedding planes , ledges and footholds in contact with the ground. Usually these are out of bounds. The previous guide wisely suggested that if you are wondering if the foothold is in, then it probably is not!
Further Information The NMC website has a variety of resources relating to climbing in the County. If you have this PDF you’ve probably found it already. Otherwise go to: www.thenmc.org.uk
The height of many crags in the County demands a highball approach. Mats can reduce the consequences when highballing goes wrong, but there comes a point when they look very small. Many of these ‘problems’ would have been considered small routes not long back, (though some in this new series are not so small) and occasionally are compounded with bad landings. Falling off them should not be treated casually. While highballs are self-evident, many shorter problems have bad landings and need careful padding and spotting. Be careful!
New Problems Descriptions of new problems and routes should be sent to newroutes @thenmc.org.uk. A description, grade, date and name of first ascentionist should be included. A photo with a line marking the route would also help.
6b 6b+ 6c
Greensheen Slopers Traverse
Photo: Alec Burns
...Northumberland Bouldering 3.3. Be gentle with brushwork, and minimal with your chalk. Climbing indoors, we can brush the holds to our hearts content; outdoors, the effect can be catastrophic.
SUSTAINABILITY The quality and durability of Sandstone in Northumberland varies significantly both on and between crags. Iron hard rock with a case hardened patina can coexist with a super soft cheesy substance soft enough to be shaped by hand. Sadly there is much evidence that the tough patina when worn away reveals a soft inner that rapidly erodes. There are many examples, but Vienna at Bowden Doors is probably the most famous example, which in its current deplorable state is a much easier and sad shadow of the original .
4.4. Poor footwork also impacts, so clean your shoes before you begin an attempt. Modern shoes allow a huge amount of force to be exerted through the feet, eg twisting on smears has a grinding effect that speeds up erosion. Be aware, use good footwork and tread lightly. 5.5. Don’t use the problems for training. Running laps may look cool, but do it indoors on plastic, not on the rock. 6.6. Take your junk home, don’t light fires, don’t leave gates open. If you must, learn how to shit in the woods. Do not be generally antisocial.
Over the last thirty years the popularity of Rock Climbing and Bouldering has accelerated and there is much similar evidence of our impact on the crags. Routes and problems on Sandstone, especially on fragile and well-used Sandstone, are a finite resource and need careful and sensitive protection if they are to survive. It is worth repeating that you should not climb on sandstone when there is any evidence of dampness. The rock becomes significantly weaker losing its bonding when damp, and is susceptible to accelerated erosion and breakage. Once a break occurs, or the outer patina is penetrated, then the effects of erosion are exponential.
David Murray On Barnaby Rudge The Good Book Section, The Stell. Alec Burns collection
Vienna Bowden Doors
Many magnificent routes in Northumberland have escaped significant damage, principally because the habit of top roping hard routes has not been adopted as readily as elsewhere. Bouldering however, is a particularly intensive game which can see a team cycling through repeated attempts on a problem, brushing and ragging between each effort. The impact of this can be seen on relatively recent problems on which holds are already bleaching out., and this is on rock thought of as hard. We are the stewards of these places. There are many things we can do to minimise our direct impact on them: 1. Everyone should acknowledge and understand the fragility of the medium and learn to walk away if there is any suggestion of dampness and the rock is not in condition. 2. Set yourself a realistic number of attempts at a problem, if you can’t do it, leave it until you can do it without beating it into submission. We need to have enough humility to understand that the rock’s needs are more important than our egos. Learn to walk away and come back when you’re capable.
Introduction... Simonside Escarpment Some of these crags are on CRoW land, some are not. However access is permitted to all of the crags shown
Centre of Mass GR: NZ 023990 Altitude: Various @ 350m
The Simonside Escarpment To Rothbury
Aspect: North and West Facing
Approach: @35 Minutes
Parking Area GR: NU029005
Aspect and Approach
Approach from Rothbury to the East, or Elsdon in the West turning right off the B6341 Before the bridge at Hepple.
The rocks face either North or West. The rock quality varies, as does the level of vegetation. The main wall of the Bigger Berry area is clean and hard and dries quickly, while the rocks to the left around Bigger Berry are softer and best left until fully dry. Sector A is North facing , retains some vegetation and needs time to dry after rain.
There are some excellent problems amongst these blocks, and doubtless further exploration of the bedding plane in the trees will reveal more.
Forest Parking Area
Parking Area GR: NZ036997
Bigger Berry Area
There are several possible approaches, the best however, is from the Simonside forest carpark. Follow the main track that leaves the West end of the car park. Follow this to a junction close to the telecoms mast. Turn right here and follow the track West. Stay on the main track, it curves around to the left and runs South into an area of cleared woodland. Continue slightly downhill to where a footpath cuts across The track (This is a junction with the Great Tosson approach path)
Old Stell Sandbag
At this point the rocks are visible. The Bigger Berry area pokes out of the tree line above, while the Shrubbery overlooks the crossing footpath that cuts up to Simonside.
Forestry clearance the revealed the Disarm Block area. Micky Stainthorpe and Rich Lanham were quick to work their way through the brash and cleaned and climbed several of the lines on these three blocks on the slope. Over the last two years, fighting through the brash has become, increasingly easy, but there is still no well defined path, so pick your way carefully. There are some leg eating holes!
Several boulders will be seen in the brash on the slope below Bigger Berry.
The felling also exposed some other rocks just adjacent to the lower track, the trackside area
At the moment there isn’t a defined path to get to Bigger Berry and …… Carefully negotiate the brash to reach them.
More recently, slightly further West along the escarpment Andy Cowley cleaned and developed Sector A. Several teams were aware of these rocks but were put off by the cleaning involved in making them climbable. Andy stepped up to the plate and produced several really good (If a bit dangerous!) problems. The Grim Tormentor is particularly worthy of note and takes a line up an interestingly featured piece of rock at a modest (if believed) grade of 7A……
To reach Sector A, continue up to the plateau passing underneath The Shrubbery. Turn right on the Plateau and follow the track towards Ravensheugh, (Passing a track that leads down and right to ‘Kate and Geordy’ two notable pinnacles). After approximately 600m a ‘viewpoint’ will be visible on the right. Stump through the heather to this. This is the top of the sector. Descend to its base on the left (facing out). The map opposite shows the location of the block that are covered in this supplement. Those not covered are shown bordered in red and are either in the existing route or bouldering guide. There have however, been some routing developments at Coquet View. These fall outside the scope of these notes. History These blocks and craglets had been known about for a long time, but were either too vegetated or two difficult for the developers of the day. The first of these to see significant ascents was The Shrubbery. In 2008 Dan Varian climbed the left side of the prow, establishing one of his early 8’s in the County —’The Shrubbery’. The other lines on these prows fell soon after, and Dan began to explore the woods that covered the slope.
There remains more rock hidden in these woods. Sadly the majority of it is North facing and prone to vegetation, but if like Andy you have the energy and enthusiasm there is potential for further development. Some of the softer original problems are already showing signs of wear, typical of sandstone in the County the hardness of the rock varies from bit to bit. The Impressionist is bullet hard, A Bigger Berry is not and its footholds are already eroding. Such soft rock remains damp inside when the surface appears dry and the shearing forces applied to footholds are significant. Some erosion is inevitable, but it can be minimised by good practise; keep off damp/drying rock, clean your feet, use good footwork and don’t bang away at something that is too hard for you. Coming back when you’re stronger and doing it quickly is better style than screwing it. And you get Karma points.
This exploration revealed the fine, hard wall taken by the impressionist another ‘easy’ 8, just further left the peculiar three legged bloc was found and the hard compression problem climbed and given a peculiar name—Awooga.
The Disarm Boulder
Disarm Sector A
Opposite the Disarm Boulder are two boulders. The lefthand one has a prow. Which is; 7. Unclaimed but not Unloved. 5+.
8. Combat Donkey. 7B+. DV. Sit start and continue up the prow.
The first rocks seen from the path are the Disarm group , consisting of two boulders. The largest of is the west facing Disarm Boulder, developed by Mickey Stainthorpe and Rich Lanham. 1. Lord Farquaat. 7A. MS. & RL. 2. Building Steam. 6A+. MS & RL. 3. The Ugly Ogre. 6C+ RL.
Standing start. The blunt left hand rib of the boulder.
The Right Boulder
Sit start. The wall just to the right of the rib.
The slabby rib.
4. Stumpy. 6B. MS. Crimps and a relatively easy top out compared to the previous problems mean this is a nice warm up for many. 5. Disarm. 7B. MS & RL. The tough wall trending right of the shallow groove. 6. Trailer Smash. 7A. DV. Sit start in the break and make some brilliant, delicate slab moves. A thinking persons line. Before the recent felling took place, these blocks were surrounded by some beautiful mature pines. As is usually the case, the felling left something of a mess and scared the elves. The Shrubberyâ€™s overhang used to be used as a bivi site, with a low protective wall and candles and matches buried in waterproof bags at the base. However, the felling has allowed more light onto the rocks, and in particular the Impressionist has turned from a brown grimy wall into a fine, pale, impending wall that airs and dries quick.
Chris McMorris Photo
1. The Impressionist. 7C+/8A. DV. The canvas for a work of art, or just something that came to mind? Standing start. Make a hard rockover off a bad seam up to a poor pocket on the wall. Highball.
Prior to the felling The Impressionist was hidden in the trees, it’s existence indicated by the exposed blocks in the heather outside the woodline. These were explored by other developers who just didn’t go quite far enough into the wood to find these walls. Such is development!
2. Floating Booty. 7C. DV. Climbs the right side of the arête, starting with left hand on the arête via off balance moves. 3. A Close Shave. 6C+. DV. The striking arête is a fine line. the sit start increases the grade to 7A. Just left of the arête is a bulging rib that gives a good warm up for the main compression exam around the corner! Sadly showing signs of erosion. 4. A Bigger Berry. 7A+/B . DV. Standing start . Climb the blunt rib using the slots and some compression. The Sit start increases the grade to 8A. The eroding foothold has been stabilised. 5. The Right Hand Finish. 7B. DV. Start standing as for BB. The sit start is 7C+/8A.
20 metres or so left is the unusual three legged boulder where Awooga lives.
On ‘A Close Shave’ Mark Savage Photography
6. Awooga. F7C. DV. Take the striking prow from a standing start. A compression test piece. The sit start increases the grade to 8A+.
Below and left of Awooga (looking out) is the Warmup Boulder. There are three problems:
on Awooga Dan on the Impressionist before the adjacent trees were felled. Compare the colour of the wall then and now.
Mark Savage Photography
1. A 6B that takes the left edge. 2. Another 6B that from the centre goes up and slightly left. 3. A 6A+ that starts as for 2, then trends right.
1. The Removal Men. 6B+. DV. The arête on it’s left side. The sit start is 7A.
2. Happy Landings. 7C+/8A. DV. Sit Start on the right side. The stand is 6C+.
3. The Ripple with a Nipple. 7A+ DV. Standing start. The sit start is a project. 4. Good God it’s a Gout! 7 A+. DV. Stand Start using head height ripples. A kneeling start off tiny crimpy rails is 7C+. 1. Shrubless. 7C+. DV. Start crouched on low holds either side of the arête. Head along the lip until slopers come to hand, left of the arête. Top out direct. 2. The Shrubbery. 7C+/8A. DV. Follow Shrubless to it’s sidepull and make a few more difficult moves out onto the nose. pull directly into the shallow groove and finish up this. The Shrubless slopers are ‘out’.
5. The Arête. 5+. DV. Standing Start. 1
2 3 4 5
3 . The Mysticeti. 7B. DV. Standing Start. Follow the lip leftwards to the prow. One of the best at it’s grade in the UK.
4. The Running Man. 7B. DV. A running jump may bring a good edge into reach. Campus up to top out direct. 6B if traversed into from the corner.
5. The Lyon’s Share . 6A+. DV. The slab is excellent when clean.
6. The Dirty 30s. 7B+. DV. Sit start. Sit start just left of the crack and climb the arête to the top. Eliminates any holds in or right of the crack.
6. Unnamed but not Unwanted. 7A+. DV. From a sit start in the hole. The plinth is out. 7. Goldilocks after 3 Beers. 7B+. DV. Standing start. The slopers on the right arête. Top out on the right side of the arête.
The crack itself was climbed in antiquity. With the top cleaned this block will offer more problems.
8. Melancholy Trees. 6A+. DV. A standing start to the right side of the wall has some lovely holds.
7. Half Smiling. 7B+. DV. Standing start on the slab. Make superb , tentative steps rightward into the scoop groove. Exit via a rounded top.
On Half Smiling Mark Savage Photography
Brilliant unusual climbing.
Below the path beneath the prows is another block, this has a difficult blunt arête and a wall to the right which is an open project.
1. Mickey’s Arete. 7A. MS. A slab, a bulge and a rounded finish. 1
This is a bigger block than this foreshortened photo suggests…………….
The Sector A Blocks face North and lie on a steep slope. Best approached from above by a direct line through the heather from the Ravensheugh path. Or, by continuing to the Ravensheugh stile/gate and doubling back to the Top Tier Boulder on a feint track that contours to the top of the block. A climbers path leads down around the base of the blocks
The Grim Tormentor White Rabbit
Danâ€™s Block is 50m further down the slope.
Red Wall The Hollow Block Top Tier Boulder
The Scorpion Kate & Geordy
To leave, either retrace your steps or scramble up the slope left of the White Rabbit (Tough with pads!) which will bring you to the countour track that leads to the Kate and Geordy blocks. From here a better path returns to up to the Simonside trail. Or, descend the path and then break out across the brash to the lower forest track that leads back to the Trackside Boulders
No Path 100m across heather
The Top Tier
Below and left of the Red Wall is the Dr Rock Block.
The first problems are on the wall directly below the viewpoint.
7. Dr Rock. 6a. AC. Start on the small flake/edges. Move up the face and onto the slab above.
1. Shake Hands with Beef. 6B. AC. Start on a sloping ledge for both hands. Reach out right to another. Rock over and move straight up on further slopers. 2. The Monster with 21 Faces. 6A. AC.
These blocks had been known about by Andy Cowley since the late 90s. Discouraged by the vegetation He along with other developers, who had bumped into them put them on the ‘back burner’.
Start at the base of the flake and follow it to the top. 3. Stone Dead Forever. 6C. AC Sit start with feet on the block under the roof, left hand on a good edge and right pinching the arête. Reach the pocket and move up the face on sloping ledges.
Andy eventually returned some 10 years later and started the cleaning of several buttresses, which revealed the good rock hiding beneath the moss. The problems followed in short order. It is noteworthy that spectators watching Andy doing the Grim Tormentor thought it may be undergraded….
The Grim Tormentor and Gravity Chasm are fine lines. The latter in particular will need traffic to keep the moss at bay, so make the effort to visit and let’s keep these problems clean!
The next wall is found below the Top Tier, this is The Red Wall.
The Red Wall
Andy Cowley pulling onto the slab of Real Solution.. Adam Young Photo
4. 502. 6B. AC. Climb the arête using both sides. 5. Red War. 6B. AC. Start just to the right of a shallow circular 3 finger pocket. Move straight up the wall. The holds get better the higher you go. 6. Paper Cuts. 6C. AC. Traverse L to R starting on the large ledge at head height between 17P & 16P. Drop down to the chest height break and use this to move rightwards to finish at the arête. Two open projects will be found left of Paper Cuts; a flake and crack and another which is just right of a curving flake .
The Big Buttress
..Simonside Escarpment To the left of the Grim Tormentor is a prominent hanging arête. The ground below this is a little slopey so be careful with the pads, you could roll further that you think!
Gravity Chasm. 7B. AC. Climb the arête on the left side.
Who knows what lies under the moss to the right… Regardless of that, if this fine highball doesn’t see repeats it will be overgrown by vegetation. Get to it!
11 8 9
This fine and oddly featured buttress is home to the Grim Tormentor. Tread carefully here. 8. Dirge for November. 6B. AC. Use both arêtes (but no blocks to the left) to climb the face. 9. The Scorpion Sleeps. 6C. AC. Sit start. Follow the featured vain and rock left to reach the flake in the water washed channel and the top. 10. Grim Tormentor. 7A. AC. Pad this carefully! Climb the short slab directly beneath the overhang. Gain the overhang and pull onto the slab above. The crux being pulling onto the upper slab.
Andy Cowley The Gravity Chasm Shaun Parkin Photo Andy Cowley The Scorpion Sleeps
Adam Young Photo
The White Rabbit Boulder
The Hollow Block
12. Real Solution #9. 6C. AC. Sit start on the short flake to a mantle.
13. Over the Top. 6B. AC. Sit start in the 2 square cut pockets, move over the short roof on edges and use features on the slab to rock over. 14. Foehammer. 6B. AC. Sit start in the two square cut pockets. Follow the ramp left until you reach a huge hold. Use this to rock over.
15. Beneath the Remains. 5. AC. Follow the breaks and flakes rightwards. 16. Loco. 6A. AC. Rock onto the right corner of the block and move over the overlap sticking to the front face. 17. New Seeds. 7B+. DV. Sit start up through the stepped overhangs.
The White Rabbit Boulder
The White Rabbit Boulder Uphill Slab
Approximately 50m below the White Rabbit, hidden in the trees Dan Varian has completed a 7C, ‘Tomorrows Harvest’ and an easier arête. 20.
The Righteous Arête. 6B. DV. A standing start to the right hand side of the arête.
Tomorrows Harvest. 7C. DV. A sit start leads to some tricky moves up and over the unusual feature.
Dan Varian on New Seeds Mark Savage Photography
18. Werewolf Woman of the SS. 7A. AC. Sit start on the East wall of the block, on the right arête. Use sidepulls and the left arête to gain the large hold on the lip and pull straight over 19. Follow the White Rabbit. 6B. AC. Start left of WWWSS, on the right side of the arête. Pull left around the arête onto the slabby face and follow the Rabbit…..
Dan Varian on Tomorrow’s Harvest Mark Savage Photography
A bouldring guide to recent developments on the Simonside Escarpment in Northumberland