It's the question that all of us dread: 'so have you been getting out much?'
In fact, not all climbers dread this question, just the ones who feel like that haven't been getting out to the crag quite as much as they should have.
Luckily for those of us who fall into this category, there's a means tested, internationally accepted, three-part response. You begin by making an excuse - preferably something to do with shoulder, arm, or elbow pain from a climbing related injury (you were probably doing something super impressive); next you hedge the question a bit by mentioning the last time you got out, where it was, what the weather was like; finally you conclude by making some vague assertions about your future climbing plans, you're hoping to get out this weekend to somewhere really wild and gnarly, or something along those lines…
Not all crag days are a roaring success... Customer Service Hero Rowan on a rainy crag Wednesday back in June
The truth is that none of us get out climbing as much as we think we should: life has a habit of getting in the way. But every blue moon a miracle occurs: you get some free time, the weather is good, and a cragweek is born.
'What's a cragweek?!' you cry. A cragweek is, quite simply, a week where you go to the crag every day. It doesn't have to be organised, nor does it have to be a challenge conceived over a beer at the pub (as these things often are); in fact, it's possible that the most glorious of cragweeks creep up on you without your noticing.
The first rule of cragweek is you don't talk about cragweek. Only joking, there are no rules: you don't have to be top athlete, you don't even need any friends (although it's way more enjoyable with company), and you don't have to take time off work - that's what evenings are for right?
Gabe and George had their sights set on Moonwalk (E4 6a) at Curbar. An early start accorded them a few hours of headpointing, and after a scary whipper (even for those of us watching) Gabe had led his second ever E4. In the late afternoon sun, we made our way over to Burbage North to meet Rowan. I managed my first HVS (as a very recent trad recruit, I was pretty made up), and many peanut butter and banana pancakes were consumed: overall, a successful day at the crag.
An important decision: Garment Technologist Gabe selecting some gear before reaching the crux on Moonwalk (E4 6a), Curbar
Another early start and we took an extremely scenic walk into High Neb via Cleft Buttress where I was given a crash course in hand jamming (it was fairly traumatic, which I'm told is the norm). Once again, Gabe and George had a route in mind - this time Quietus (E2 5c). I was just along for the ride, but my ride involved leading a few more routes, getting a bit too big for my boots, then getting scared. It turns out there's more at stake when you pitch yourself above your trad grade than in bouldering…
George throwing some interesting shapes on Quietus (E2 5c) at High Neb
A majestic celebratory victory lunge at the top of Quietus, with a smashing view to boot!
Getting to grips with gear: maybe I only like slopers and slabs when they're on a boulder... Where Did My Tan Go (HVS 5a) | Photo: Gabe
The idea of cragging every evening had initially come from Rowan and I having a few evenings free. After sending feelers round AKHQ to gauge interest in a Monday evening outing, Factory Manager Ben (known as 'Strong Ben' to some) suggested The Forest Rock, Woodhouse Eaves. Unfamiliar with the concept of climbing in Leicestershire, we joined Ben at the slate quarry where we pottered about some boulder problems for a couple of hours. Ben is known for his appreciation of the short walk-in (1 minute is generally too long), and the 30 second stroll up to the slate cave made Forest Rock the ideal spot for fitting in a midweek crag trip.
By Tuesday we had what you might call a climbing hangover. Nonetheless undeterred, Rowan and I were out of the showroom door just after half 5 and on our way to Cratcliffe, where Seb and Gabe had arrived half an hour before. After finishing up on Suicide Wall, Gabe led a bold and intimidating E2 5c called Five Finger Exercise, with the rest of us seconding. To be honest, I was pretty impressed by his lead, as even following up this route was a little scary (I had them waiting around for a fair old while). We dropped by Robin Hood's Stride on our way back and bouldered until nightfall; Seb and I were more in our element, but Gabe was reminded of why he preferred to be attached to a rope (even on the bolder routes).
Gabe stopping for a chat with Rowan on his way up Five Finger Exercise (E2 5c), Cratcliffe Tor
Taking a gander at what's in store
Rowan getting a Five Finger Exercise for all ten of his fingers
Realising that there was a limit to how much climbing we could get done after work, we headed to Masson Lees quarry near Matlock for our cragging quick-fix: sport climbing. After the wild and mysterious Cratcliffe Tor, Masson Lees felt a little like an indoor gym and, having recently been a littlespoiled in Squamish, Gabe was a little underwhelmed by some of the shorter routes. However, Masson Lees proved to be the ideal spot for Jamie to brush up on his rope work and get some leading experience. It also made up for the only climbing one route the day before (but what a route!).
Rowan and Gabe, positively strutting back from Masson Lees Quarry | Photo: Jamie
On Thursday, something struck me: I was in the midst of a cragweek, two more days and I'd have succeeded. At this point there was no going back, but a rain warning for Thursday night had put the rest of the team off. With my cragweek goal in sight, I took a (very generous) detour on my way to Sainsburys and found myself at Chasecliffe - an esoteric bouldering spot just round the corner from my house. Esoteric may not be strong enough a word to describe Chasecliffe: a woodland boulder yielding 9 or so problems, accessible via a pathway shrouded in stinging nettles and heavily guarded by an army of insect life. I'm still not entirely sure if the nettle stings and insect bites were worth it, but I did enjoy exploring a little of the local area. I never did make it to Sainsburys though…
Bouldering felt a little bit little after all that big stuff, struggling to leave the platform on Hgih Speed Train, Chasecliffe
I was due to drive to Liverpool after work on Friday, but my avidity to complete the cragweek took me on yet another detour to Harpur Hill quarry. Not a hugely popular crag by any means, but the sentimentalist in me quite likes that it overlooks my hometown and Solomon's Temple, a hilltop monument where I spent much of my youth. A catch up and a climb with an old friend broke up the journey West, and a few hours later I was back on the road with cragweek in the bag.
Cragweek enabler Hannah snatching a view of home from the top of Harpur Hill Quarry
What did we learn from cragweek? What did it change about our understanding of our sport?
Nothing really (maybe something about not leaving your midge spray in the car...), but therein lies the joy of cragweek. We tradded, sport climbed, and bouldered on grit, limestone, and slate. We visited wild places, roadside crags, and high traffic spots, and we did it every day of the week.
Are we any more deserving of the name 'climber' than we were the week before? Are we any stronger? Absolutely not! It was almost completely pointless: we spent a week eating petrol station pasties for dinner; neglecting our laundry, relatives, (anything that wasn't climbing), and generally feeling pretty knackered, all in the name of sheer enjoyment, getting outside, and cragging. Adventure for adventure's sake, and I can't think of any reason better than that.