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HARD ROCK Great British rock climbs from VS to E4

Compiled by Ian Parnell

HARD ROCK Great British rock climbs from VS to E4

Compiled by Ian Parnell

Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield www.v-publishing.co.uk


Compiled by Ian Parnell

First published in 1974 by Hart-Davis, MacGibbon Ltd. Second edition published by Granada in 1981. Third edition published in 1992 by Diadem Books. This edition first published in 2020 by Vertebrate Publishing. Vertebrate Publishing Omega Court, 352 Cemetery Road, Sheffield S11 8FT, United Kingdom. www.v-publishing.co.uk Copyright © 2020 Ian Parnell and the individual contributors. FRONT COVER  Mary Birkett on the Central Buttress of Scafell, Lake District. ©  Ian Parnell BACK COVER  Sam Brown on the traverse of Heart of Darkness at Mowing Word, Pembroke. ©  Emma Alsford Individual photography as credited. ENDPAPERS  original illustrations of Ben Nevis and Clogwyn Du’r Arddu. ©  Malc Baxter Ian Parnell has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as editor of this work. This book is a work of non-fiction. The editor has stated to the publishers that, except in such minor respects not affecting the substantial accuracy of the work, the contents of the book are true. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: 978-1-912560-29-5 (Hardback) 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyright herein may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic, or mechanised, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without the written permission of the publisher. Every effort has been made to obtain the necessary permissions with reference to copyright material, both illustrative and quoted. We apologise for any omissions in this respect and will be pleased to make the appropriate acknowledgements in any future edition. Design and production by Jane Beagley. www.v-publishing.co.uk Vertebrate Publishing is committed to printing on paper from sustainable sources.


The list of writers and photographers who helped with this new fourth edition is too big to list here. You’ll find credits throughout the text but a big personal thanks for your superb work. The other group of people without whom this project would have been impossible is all the climbers who volunteered their time to climb for my camera – thanks for your patience and great climbing: Jon Barton, Dave, Mary and Will Birkett, Paul Boggis, Kenton Cool, Stephen Coughlan, Rich Cross, Tom Daly, Gaz Davies, Matt Foot, Eleanor Fuller, Rob Greenwood, Susan Hatchell, Will Harris, Naomi Havercroft, Ben and Matt Heason, Matt Helliker, Graham Hoey, Luke Jones, Gilly McArthur, Andy Moles, Alan Mullin, Jamie and Sandy Ogilvie, Penny Orr, David Pickford, Stephen Reid, John Roberts, Rick Scott, Mia Stacey, Trevor Suddaby, Kevin Thaw, Kel Vargas, Odd-Roar Wilk, Ben Wilkinson, Paul Winder, Jonathon Winter and Sophie Whyte. Thanks also to Jane Beagley, Cameron Bonser, John Coefield and David Price.

FSC logo here Printed and bound in Europe by Latitude Press. Every effort has been made to achieve accuracy of information in this book. The authors, publishers and copyright owners can take no responsibility for: loss or injury (including fatal) to persons; loss or damage to property or equipment; trespass, irresponsible behaviour or any other mishap that may be suffered as a result of following descriptions or advice offered in this book. The inclusion of a climb or crag does not guarantee a right to climb there or a right of way to reach it – if conflict with landowners arises, we advise that you act politely and leave by the shortest route available. If the matter needs to be taken further, please take it up with the relevant authority. For up to date information on access please visit www.thebmc.co.uk/rad Climbing is an activity that carries a risk of personal injury or death. Participants must be aware of and accept that these risks are present and they should be responsible for their own actions and involvement. Nobody involved in the writing and production of this book accepts any responsibility for any errors that it contains, nor are they liable for any injuries or damage that may arise from its use. All climbing is inherently dangerous and the fact that individual descriptions in this volume do not point out such dangers does not mean that they do not exist. Take care.

PREVIOUS PAGES  The sea cliffs of Pembroke didn’t feature in the early editions of Hard Rock but routes such as Magic Flute (E1) at Becks Bay, pictured here, have led the area to become one of the most significant in British climbing.  CLIMBER  Laura Jones ©  Ian Parnell

Contents The Development of Hard Rock Climbing in Britain by Ken Wilson  ix

35 Cenotaph Corner, Dinas y Gromlech by Peter Crew  131

2020 Postscript by Ian Parnell  xvii

36 Great Slab/Bow-Shaped Slab, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu by Peter Crew  135

Publisher’s Note  xix

37 Great Wall, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu by Ed Drummond  139

Preface to the 2020 Edition  xxi SCOTLAND: HIGHLANDS 1 Dragon & Gob, Carnmore Crag by Paddy Buckley  1 2 The Needle, Shelter Stone Crag by Ian Rowe  5 3 King Rat & Goliath, Creag an Dubh-loch by Greg Strange  9 4 Angel Face, Beinn Eighe by Martin Moran  13 5 Swastika, Trilleachan Slabs by Robin Campbell  17

38 White Slab, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu by Peter Crew  143 39 Slanting Slab, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu by Dave Cook  147 40 Vember, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu by Tony Smythe  149 41 Dwm, Castell Cidwm by Richard Isherwood  153 42 Vector, Tremadog Rocks by Jim Perrin  155 43 The Groove, Llech Ddu by Les Holliwell  159

6 Shibboleth, Buachaille Etive Mòr by Martin Boysen  21


7 Raven’s Gully, Buachaille Etive Mòr by Hamish MacInnes  25

44 Plane Sailing, Stackpole Head by Paul Donnithorne  161

8 Carnivore, Creag a’ Bhancair by Jimmy Marshall  29

45 Heart of Darkness/New Morning, Mowing Word by Paul Donnithorne  163

9 Yo-Yo, Aonach Dubh by John Porteous  33 10 Trapeze, Aonach Dubh by Allen Fyffe  35 11 Centurion, Ben Nevis by Robin Campbell  37

46 Rock Idol & Zeppelin, Mother Carey’s Kitchen by Emma Alsford  165

12 The Bat, Ben Nevis by Paul Nunn  41 PENNINE & PEAK DISTRICT SCOTLAND: ISLANDS

47 North-West Girdle, Almscliff by Dave Cook  169

13 The Old Man of Hoy, Orkney Islands by Chris Bonington  45

48 Carnage, Malham Cove by John Porter  173

14 The Great Prow, Isle of Skye by Phil Gribbon  49 15 Vulcan Wall, Isle of Skye by Kevin Howett  53 16 Prophecy of Drowning, Pabbay by Eleanor Fuller  57 17 South Ridge Direct, Isle of Arran by Ian Rowe  61 LAKE DISTRICT 18 Central Buttress, Scafell by Geoff Oliver  65 19 Ichabod, Scafell by Allan Austin  69 20 Central Pillar, Esk Buttress by Paul Nunn  73

49 The Right Unconquerable, Stanage Edge by Jim Perrin  177 50 Valkyrie, Froggatt Edge by Nat Allen  181 51 Elder Crack, Curbar Edge by Geoff Birtles  182 52 Suicide Wall, Cratcliffe Tor by Paul Nunn  185 53 Alcasan, Stoney Middleton by Paul Nunn  187 54 Chee Tor Girdle, Chee Dale by Nat Allen  191 55 Sirplum, Chee Dale by Paul Nunn  195 56 Debauchery, High Tor by Nat Allen  199

21 Gormenghast, Heron Crag by Colin Taylor  77 22 Engineer’s Slabs, Gable Crag by Paul Nunn  81


23 Praying Mantis, Goat Crag by Ian Roper  83

57 Malbogies, Avon Gorge by Mike Thompson  203

24 Totalitarian, Raven Crag by Stephen Reid  87

58 Coronation Street, Cheddar Gorge by Jim Perrin  207

25 Extol, Dove Crag by Chris Bonington  91

59 Double Diamond & Quatermass, Lundy by Paul Harrison  211

26 Nimrod, Dow Crag by John Lawrence Holden  95 27 The Crack, Gimmer Crag by Ken Wilson  99 28 Kipling Groove, Gimmer Crag by Mick Burke  103 NORTH WALES 29 Mousetrap, South Stack by Nick Escourt  107 30 Gogarth, Craig Gogarth by Ian McNaught-Davis  111 31 Big Groove, Craig Gogarth by Richard Isherwood  115 32 A Dream of White Horses, Craig Gogarth by Royal Robbins  119

60 Mars & Soul Sacrifice, Swanage by David Pickford  215 61 Moonraker, Berry Head by Al Alvarez  219 62 Bishop’s Rib, Chair Ladder by Pat Littlejohn  223 63 Suicide Wall & Bow Wall, Bosigran by Frank Cannings  225 APPENDICES I

Hard Rock: The Complete Tick  228


The Scoop, Strone Ulladale, and Main Overhang, Kilnsey  230

33 The Grooves, Cyrn Las by Jim Perrin  123 34 Diagonal, Dinas Mot by Brian Wyvill  127

Overview Map  234


Preface to the 2020 Edition First published in 1974, Hard Rock quickly established itself as the definitive representation of British rock climbing. The book’s format – part guidebook, part literary celebration and part coffee table visual showcase – is one that has been much copied. Its success led to two further volumes; Classic Rock, covering routes up to VS, and Extreme Rock, featuring climbs graded from E1 to E9. Hard Rock was updated with second and third editions in 1981 and 1992, and following a full-colour update of Classic Rock in 2007, publisher and editor Ken Wilson began work on a further edition of Hard Rock. Unfortunately, declining health meant that Ken never finished that project. In bringing this fourth edition to completion we’ve tried to honour the original concept, in particular keeping the route, not the climber, centre stage. Thankfully, in an example of his typical thoroughness, Ken left notes on his ideas for the new edition, including grade amendments and replacement routes. The latter may at first hand seem contentious, particularly as the original roll call of routes has established itself as a coveted ticklist. But Ken, despite the impression some might have had due to his staunch line on climbing ethics, was a progressive publisher. For him books weren’t dusty collector’s items, but dynamic calls to action. His thinking on this series can be seen in the numerous innovations he made to the second edition of Classic Rock. Some of the thirteen new routes in this fourth edition arose through necessity. The cliffs of Deer Bield Buttress and the North Crag Eliminate on Castle Rock of Triermain, for example, collapsed. Other additions have been chosen to present a more rounded selection of Britain’s mid-grade climbs, with representative routes from Pembroke, Lundy and Swanage. Finally, we’ve made the decision to remove Kilnsey Main Overhang and The Scoop on Strone Ulladale from the main route list (although their fine accompanying essays can be found in the appendix on pages 230–233). While described as aid ascents in the original edition of Hard Rock, both routes have gone on to become superb free climbs. As well as dissuading the potentially damaging process of aiding free climbs, both routes are now at a level of difficulty so far out of the grasp of the typical Hard Rock reader that they are best reserved for some future edition of the series, called perhaps ‘Preposterous Rock’. At the time of Hard Rock’s first edition some of the selected routes, such as Great Wall on Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, were challenges close to the cutting edge, and the majority of the climbs were, as Ken described them, among the ‘upper spectrum of difficulty’ of the day. Forty-six years later standards of elite rock climbing have reached heights that few of those original essayists from the first edition could have imagined. Today, for the committed amateur climber all of Hard Rock’s sixty-nine routes are within reach, while some are reasonable goals for ambitious climbers in their first year or two of climbing. The activity of climbing as a whole has undergone huge changes – the development of ‘sticky rubber’ footwear and camming devices and the rise of bolt-protected sport climbing. The latter was just beginning to gain momentum when the last edition of Hard Rock was published in 1992 and was something Ken himself was extremely concerned about as a threat to the traditions of British trad climbing. It’s interesting to note that despite the worry that the use of bolts on sport climbs could spread to traditionally protected cliffs, none of the routes in this book have been remotely threatened. It is a testament to the strength of the British climbing community that local consensus has been developed, area by area, and largely kept the two approaches distinct.


Perhaps an even more profound change in climbing is the rise of indoor climbing walls. With a facility in almost every major town, many novice climbers are now introduced to climbing not on a gritstone or rhyolite crag, but on plywood and resin. For some of this new generation, the indoor climbing experience is enough in its own right, representing a racier alternative to the gym. Others, however, are inevitably drawn to the drama and challenge of outdoor cliffs. And this is where a fourth edition of Hard Rock is as important today as the first edition was in 1974. While any generation of climbers will need to cut their teeth on modest introductory routes, once the vital skills of judgement and traditional protection placement are learnt, this latest wave of climbers, with their indoor-trained fitness, will find their ambitions rising. And where better to look than Hard Rock’s collection of proven classics. From the highmountain challenges of Ben Nevis to the urban adventures of the Avon Gorge, and from the perfect stone of Cornish sea cliffs to the Old Man of Hoy’s iconic rock architecture, each of the routes chosen for this book offers a unique climbing experience. Hard Rock’s selection is a timeless one that will continue to motivate and inspire. Ian Parnell Sheffield, January 2020

LEFT  First climbed by Joe Brown in 1948, Sunset Slab (HVS 4b) at Froggatt displays many of gritstone’s subtler ingredients: immaculate rock, significant commitment and holds that reward finesse. CLIMBER  Rick Scott  ©  Ian Parnell


Dragon culminates in an intimidating traverse beneath the capping roofs of Carnmore’s Upper Wall. A fall from this position while seconding may require a prusik to regain contact with the rock. CLIMBER  Rafe Osbourne  ©  Samuel Wainwright




1 Dragon & Gob BY PADDY BUCKLEY ‘Carnmore is the most wonderful place in all Britain; remote, vast and beautiful in a fashion not found elsewhere in the Highlands.’ This challenging statement was made by Mike O’Hara in 1958. He went on to say that two of the routes compared ‘favourably with the best climbs elsewhere’. Dragon was ‘steeper and more exposed than Mur y Niwl, with a finer outlook. The difficulties are rather greater … ’ Fionn Buttress, ‘the best climb in the region’, was judged to be ‘slightly harder, slightly more exposed, and … more enjoyable than Sheaf’. Eleven years later, Ian Rowe gave it the distinction of being ‘one of the finest climbs in Scotland’. As a sustained mountaineering expedition at VS standard, Fionn Buttress has few equals. Its twelve enjoyable pitches offer continuous interest and sensational exposure on perfect rock. But the line is somewhat artificial and most of the difficulties are, regrettably, avoidable. Carnmore is also one of the remotest crags on the mainland of Britain, and it is certainly the most inaccessible of all those featured in this book. It lies seven weary miles from the nearest road; the nearest pub is even farther. The six-inch map gives the name in Gaelic, Càrnmór; the English spelling, hallowed now by use, derives from the building at the foot of the crag, a shooting lodge owned by the Whitbread family. From any distance, the size and scale of the cliff are lost in the sprawling mass of Beinn a’ Chàisgein Mòr (2,808ft/856m). Even from the barn, its appearance can still prove deceptive. It is 800 feet high and faces south-west; the rock, Lewisian gneiss, is superb: rough, tough, clean and reliable. There is little vegetation except in the Central Bay, an oasis of very steep grass and heather, which is grazed by wild goats. In contrast to the forbidding aspect of Cloggy or Càrn Dearg, Carnmore has a pleasant, friendly appearance, basking in sunshine: a crag for shirt-sleeves. Its steepness, however, is very impressive and most of the routes have considerable exposure. Although the Fisherfield area has been visited sporadically since 1909 by Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) members, the development of climbing at Carnmore is relatively modern. The first climb, Diagonal, was put up in 1952 by Ted Wrangham and Arthur Clegg. Twelve more climbs were added in 1956 and 1957, mostly by Mike O’Hara and other members of the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club, but over the next ten years only a dozen or so new routes were written up, although several parties climbed here without leaving any record of their explorations. The most prominent feature of the cliff is the great red corner, first climbed by Carrington and Jackson during a heatwave in June 1968. Left of the corner, the almost vertical Upper Wall is bisected by a slanting line of overhangs. This is the line followed boldly by Gob, while Dragon finds its way, unbelievably, through the roof at its highest and most intimidating end. The Upper Wall is no place for compromise. So far it has produced six magnificent routes at HVS, three by English parties – Dragon, St George and Sword – and three by Scots – Gob, Abomination and Carnmore Corner.1 The earliest, climbed in 1957, was Dragon, now a classic, the touchstone of a leader’s mettle. Gob came next, put up in 1960 by Dougal Haston and Robin Smith: so far it has not had its due share of glory, being overshadowed by the reputation of its neighbours. Dragon is awesome, rather introspective; Gob is a mindblower, packed with gusto and excitement: a star of the future. All the climbs on the Upper Wall suffer a little from the disadvantage of starting from the Central Bay, already two thirds of the way up the crag. An entry by one of the routes on the Lower Wall should therefore give the right perspective and sense of achievement.

CLIFF Carnmore Crag, Beinn a’ Chàisgein Mòr, Wester Ross. ROUTES Dragon (HVS 5a, 310ft/95m); Gob (HVS 4c, 360ft/110m). FIRST ASCENTS Dragon: G.J. Fraser and M.J. O’Hara, April 1957; Gob: D. Haston and R. Smith, April 1960. MAP/APPROACH OS Landranger 19 Gairloch & Ullapool; GR: NG 980773; approach from Poolewe: 7 miles, allow 4 hours (3 hours with some cycling). GOOD CONDITIONS The crag dries quickly and the climbs are not unduly affected by damp conditions; avoid midsummer (midges) and the stalking season (15 September – 15 November, except weekends). CAMPSITES/BUNKHOUSES Good campsites and the barn of Carnmore Lodge immediately below the cliff. GUIDEBOOK/BIBLIOGRAPHY Northern Highlands Central (Scottish Mountaineering Club, 2006); Climbers’ Club Journal 1958: ‘Highland Dragon’ by M.J. O’Hara and G. Fraser (a first ascent account); Mountain 22: ‘The Last Great Wilderness’ by P. Buckley (an overall appraisal of climbing in this area). OTHER CLIMBS Carnmore has an excellent collection of HVS routes including Abomination, Balaton and Penny Lane; a touch easier is the 240m-long mountaineering classic Fionn Buttress (VS), while the steep crack of St George gives a harder start to the final pitch of Gob at E1.

The Pulpit 5a The Drooping Flake 5a

4c 4c


Red: Dragon; Yellow: Gob.  ©  Guy Robertson

1 Ed: St George, The Sword and Carnmore Corner are now graded E1, E3 and E2 respectively.



RIGHT  The key traverse on pitch 2 of Gob. CLIMBER  Ron Dempster  ©  Thom Simmons FAR RIGHT  Weaving through the overhangs on pitch 3 of Gob.  CLIMBER  Martin Haworth  ©  Andrew Sloan

The pedestal on Dragon, like the dentist’s waiting room, is a place for anxious thoughts … It was comfortable enough and quite secure, but the knowledge of what was to come made me sharply aware of the immediate surroundings. Below, the crag had quietly unreeled over 700 feet of exposure; above, in every direction, loomed enormous overhangs; to my left, the plummeting groove of Abomination appeared extremely hostile; to my right, St George tiptoed delicately past, as though to avoid this fierce Dragon; the breaks in the roof taken by Gob and Sword were emergency exits only – for desperate emergencies. That pale slab of the first pitch, weirdly decorated with long strands of greygreen lichen, its 100-foot runout casually protected by one hopeful runner, that pale slab which seemed so steep for an overture, now appeared quite flat as I waited for the finale. A boulder from the top would fall free for 200 feet, bounce once, and never touch rock again until it reached the bottom. I was loth to leave my pedestal. I felt quite chuffed with the groove and wall pitch I had just led. Technically, this is the most difficult pitch: steep, thin, fierce and delicate, with enough alternative possibilities to keep a leader on his toes. On its merits I tried to convince myself of my chances for the next pitch. No sale. I knew, how well I knew, that all the technical skill in the world, all the balance, would be useless should I run out of steam on that crucial traverse. The technique was to relax, I told myself, not to get gripped when unable to stand in balance. But it was a technique I had failed to master in almost thirty years of climbing. The knowledge that I’d done the route before should have helped, but it didn’t. Like a visit to the dentist.

I couldn’t even remember the most economical route to the drooping flake. A deadvertical crack led to the smooth yellow peapod. Was this the way, or was it better on the right wall, or on the left, or perhaps via the groove in the corner? Droopy is overhanging and is ascended by jamming arms, knees, feet and anything else into the deep crack on its right. It is not a problem which allows an elegant solution. Having jammed yourself into a position of comparative security, you can crouch down for a rest, clutching Droopy to your stomach, backside in the air, feet a-dangle, contemplating the Dragon’s innards. Or, if this is infra dig, you can ride Droopy à cheval, but possibly not for as long. Stand up, bridge and move left to the rib and the tiny ledge below the pegs. It was here, during the first ascent, that O’Hara made his sensational cat’s cradle stance, suspended in slings from two leaf-pegs (the originals were still being used in 1973!). Modern dragon slayers, armed with Moacs and Clogs, prefer to take their belay on a sloping ledge in the corner just beyond the finger traverse, where they can give advice and comfort to their seconds. The situation is undoubtedly impressive. The traverse is short, a mere ten feet, but it lies across a rigorously vertical wall that is undercut and overhung; anyone coming unstuck here and unable to help himself would present serious problems. Technically the crux is not hard; as a boulder problem at ground level it would give no difficulty. In situ, however, the build-up of pressure caused by exposure, seriousness and the demands made on tiring fingers, gives it a very high grip rating. It is also quite inescapable. You will remember it all the days of your life. Gob, on the other hand, has a lower grip factor. It is just as exposed, just as serious and more evenly sustained (though less difficult), but there is one important difference: the climbing is all in balance. Since much of it is beneath an overhanging roof above a steep wall, Gob has consequently become one of the most exhilarating climbs at Carnmore. The line, though seemingly circuitous, has a classic simplicity: the line of least resistance. The laconic description in the guidebook is a gem of brevity, Scottish style. It only fails to mention the fact that you will need 150 feet of rope. Protection throughout is excellent; indeed, one has to miss out possible runners now and then to reduce the drag on the rope. The first pitch, after negotiating the initial overhangs by a sidestep, leads to a superb wall, with cracks and a corner groove giving sheer delight. Then a fantastic traverse is made along the fault under the vast roof, with the crux at a sort of giant swallow’s nest halfway along the eaves. A jammed wire sling was installed there during Easter 1973 and it has removed much of the anxiety previously encountered. The route continues along the fault all the way to a very reassuring pulpit stance where the exit through the overhang becomes obvious at last. Pete Rowat’s direct finish is a better variation than the original; it goes straight up from the breakout to an overhanging crack in a corner, and finishes magnificently at the very top of the cliff. 


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Hard Rock - Sample Pages  

Sample pages from our 2020 fourth edition of the classic rock climbing book Hard Rock. More info here: https://www.v-publishing.co.uk/books/...

Hard Rock - Sample Pages  

Sample pages from our 2020 fourth edition of the classic rock climbing book Hard Rock. More info here: https://www.v-publishing.co.uk/books/...


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