The Other County:
I’ve put a few problems up at Bowden recently, and done a bit of stabilising too but as i go into later on it can be a very sad place to climb. As a result of that I’ve also been taking a break from a project there and stretching my legs with Katie at some of the quieter venues in the county, which to be fair could be anywhere except bowden, backers or the kyloes. Last Saturday we’d planned to visit Ravensheugh but after watching 25kgs of pad and rucksack get blown UP a gully upon arrival we thought it best to head out the wind, into the woods, to some boulders i’d seen years ago. I had a lovely day as there was lots to be had in the mid to high 7’s and some friendly chap had already cleaned one boulder. Katie had a less fun/ scarier day but managed to take the piss out of me with the others enough to make it worth while. Mark, Danke and Andy had come out for the Craic and it was Mark’s birthday so he had shunned the studio lights for some tinnies and a mossy hillside.
Tomorrow's Harvest: Tricky 7Cish maybe, really good climbing up ripples and slopers.
no name yet 7B+ ish from sitting, i didn't clean it so it may have been quietly done before. Some of the best quality rock in Northumberland is on this boulder. Sequence wise its really great with loads of hidden holds and beta. One of the best of its grade of the county non highballs i reckon.
Mark testing out his new view finders.
The boulders are just below the track round to ravensheugh and there is a craggy promontory visible as a landmark of where to drop down, alternatively you can follow the walking trail down from the ravensheugh fence and it’ll loop you down past them, they aren’t marked on OS maps, but the path is i think. there has been a bit of work done on the trail recently and it seems to be semi in vogue with walkers again now. They are easily combinable with other venues nearby at this time of year.
On the Sunday we popped over to Hepburn and bumped into a cresh of strong youth climbers. Good to see them all out and crushing (& brushing). Katie got really close to IF but it was a bit warm so i headed into the woods for a walk. I got a bit carried away and ended up walking up one of the coolest solo’s i’ve done in a long time, Its a fantastic forgotten route of Andy Cowleys called Jesus Christ pose. Its a sandstone ramp on the crag which is a boulder for the really easy start then the ground drops just as it gets hard. i say hard but there is only one hand hold on all the hard bit and its by your feet. Thanks to the ramp jutting out you pretty much just walk up the whole way and trust a variety of subtle smears. I had to clean it all on a rope as it was super mossy so ended up trying the moves to make sure the right bits were clean. I think to ground up it’d be around E6 6a but you’d want to onsight it, obviously. its a bit like doing Jasmine or Committed or one of the classic peak landing drop frighteners but with no handholds for comfort and you cant reverse it, but you could try and jump off right to safety if you got really wigged out. Another comparison would be a much longer harder version of the no hands section on great slab (E2 Froggatt). The rest is literally a walk in the park. Can i just say i bloody love slabs, they have so much more finesse than other boulders, i can one arm 10mm edges as much as i like but it’ll never beat the feeling of gliding up a hard slab. I think having that bit more time to soak up the situation is one of the things that does it, its harder to soak things in when your clawing up one minging crimp to the next.
On a sadder note and rather than beat around the bush i’m just going to speak my mind about some of the things i’ve seen in the last few months whilst visiting Bowden. Bowden is definitely a crag on its way out. And as far as crags go that’s quite impressive! its erosion is set in stone, it cant be undone ever...A point not to forget lightly, it's plain to see for all who visit. yet despite all the traffic there still seems to be a massive idiot to hard problem correlation going on which is adding insult to injury to the poor crag. You never visit and see russet groove looking like this:
Spot the holds!
or even low 7's like dog eat dog looking like this:
Honey comb wall:
Plenty of wrong holds covered in chalk. starting undercut has eroded loads from someone trying to use it when wet (covered in chalk bottom left. its no crime covering a boulder in chalk, but leaving it there after you go expecting people to appreciate finding problems in this state is thoughtless at best.
It seems that once people get stronger they are apparently allowed to treat the rock like its their own, to do with as they please. All this in order to hope to get up something "hard". I remember a few years ago when working class would rarely have chalk on, its black crimps look so cool when they actually are black. It seems that some problems can become in vogue and attract loads of attention over night thanks to so and so doing it. Working class is far from the best of its grade in the county, but it has a cool history. Luckily working class hand holds have some of the hardest rock at Bowden so its holding up better than some other problems. The thing that is most annoying to me is that its completely retarded. All sandstone is grippiest when it is almost totally clean. Andy Earl used to use ethanol occasionally to pull the chalk off the rock on really chalked holds at kyloe in. sometimes if its quite glassy sandstone a thin layer of chalk can help but on the grainy Bowden rock its a case of the less chalk the better as it means the rocks pores can bite the skin and even absorb a bit of sweat. It seems that more of our climbers are being strongified indoors and haven’t got much knowledge of what outdoor climbing entails and just see a problem a grade and an objective to nip out to once in a while to check on how good they are, once its done or they leave then its gone from their mind. This urgency to tick problems fast doesn't help any sort of empathy toward who might come along next and find their debris.
Obviously this isn’t everyone but seeing problems plastered in chalk is becoming a lot more common nowadays. Fair enough it has been a long dry spell but that is all the more reason to stop for 2 seconds and brush the chalk off before you leave a problem. Although when you put as much chalk on as above you need to wet brush it off softly with water as dry brushing wont be very effective, this needs to be done carefully though as wet rock will erode fast under the wrong hands. I am also aware that i’m not without blame as being a climber i put chalk on stuff all the time, but i try pretty hard to be considerate to who might be coming along next. Considering Bowden is pretty much the only crag in Northumberland which is really suffering from traffic it is maybe the best place in the county to try and not act like a selfish twat and clean up after yourself. The rock didn’t stabilize itself in recent years and its only thanks to the efforts of the NMC members and on a few harder lines, myself, that it isn’t twice as eroded by now, nearly every problem at Bowden is stabilised on at least one hold, some have every hold stabilised and many have to be re-stabilised yearly as people wear through it with dirty feet. The starting jug snapped on cave RH recently which comes as no surprise after seeing a group of young lads on it last year saying: “this jugs wet and flexing like f***” response: “quick lets get it done before it snaps” they then tried it for about 45minutes to no avail. I’d quite like a BMC sandstone ethics for selfish dummies leaflet to quietly give out upon seeing things like this as telling someone off is hard to do in casual conversation, i need a few more years behind me before i can get away with it i think. (perhaps Grimer can do an instructional video? good excuse to go to Bowden Grimer...) Removing Bowden from all guidebooks and scorecard sites would be the next logical step if the erosion and abuse isn't held in check. but certainly a contentious one to some people especially when many do treat it with a lot of care, then again why shouldn't everyone about now have fun and wreck it in one lifetime and treat it how we like rather than slowly over several? we are doing the same with fossil fuels so we may as well have somewhere to go in our cars. A point to mull on anyway, the rest of the county is unaffected pretty much and there are dozens and dozens of crags on much better rock to pick from, many of which need traffic to keep them clean, or do it to give Bowden a bit of breathing space.
attempting to brush the chalk off Working Class: the amount of chalk i used on the holds on a new 8A+ Bourgeoisie can be seen at the far left of the image. The chalk on working class was still badly visible the following week.