By Tom Newberry
The sun is low in the sky and sharp, the ground frozen and the friction perfect. Winter is the season to punish your skin and test your power on the UK’s varied and high quality rocks, boulders and mini crags. It has been a hard task but, with some deliberation, I have hand-picked five winter bouldering venues that showcase the best rock types we have across the UK.
Header image: The Prow (7C), Carrock Fell. Courtesy of Pete Wilkinson.
Place your feet on tiny quartz crystals; deadpoint fingers precisely into the deceptively slopey breaks, and lock smoothly up to the rounded top out, which is usually just high enough to be fairly exciting. This is your typical Dartmoor bloc.
Dartmoor’s rich history of legends and mythical creatures maybe the result of embellished stories passed down through the generations, but it is no secret that Dartmoor’s distinctive Tors host a plentiful supply of superb granite bouldering. Over recent years bouldering on Dartmoor has grown to become a popular pastime with traces of chalk a common sight when out on the moors. The wide variety of settings, from wooded valleys to open moorland, offers thousands of quality blocs across a number of stunning venues. The unique granite features, which were formed 280 million years ago, yield some of the best low to mid-grade (4-7A+) bouldering that the UK has to offer. Yet, it must be said the high friction bouldering here does come at a price, Granite isn’t merciful and will tear and shred skin at every opportunity, you have been warned!
The Haytor area, in the south east corner of the national park, is the most established climbing area on the moor; probably due to the easy access, reliable conditions and quantity of blocs. As you approach the boulder capped tors along the winding rural road, your hands begin to sweat and mind race at the sheer number of boulders on offer. Several hundred recorded problems ranging from 3+ to 8A make for a classy excursion. No matter the grade, beta is crucial for many of the problems and a powerful approach may not necessarily lead to success. Saddle Tor, Hound Tor and Bonehill are the 3 main venues and can all easily be visited in one day. However, small less frequented crags such as Burrator, Smallcombe Rocks, Easdon, Bell Tor and Turnhill are equally brilliant and worth seeking out, especially for those who enjoy a bit of exploration away from the crowds.
More information and free guides to all Dartmoor bouldering venues are available on Dave Henderson’s excellent grassroots website, javu.co.uk.
Kyloe in the Woods
From the deep south to the true north; just shy of the Scottish border. Kyloe, one of the all-time great bouldering crags in the UK, is the most established crag in this article. Home to a number of famed UK bouldering test pieces, appearing in the original UK bouldering flick, ‘Stick It’. Despite this it sees few visits from non-locals, maybe due to its remote location in the far north of the ‘The County’, Aka Northumberland. The hard sandstone wall set it a silent wood, makes this peaceful location a good place to do battle. The crimpy climbing style is subtle, sequencey, and very gymnastic all the way to sometimes unnervingly high finishing moves! A good wet weather option, the steepness guards the problems from all but the worst rain and snow.
Kyloe’s many classics start with the uniquely featured walls of Bad Company 6A+, Bad Finger 6A, The Pearler 6A and Red Rum 6B. Moving right, the steeper main face. Jocks and Goerdies 6C+ and Monty Python 6C+ are utterly classic burlfests, both of which have high quality sit starts at 7A. Next, are two all-time UK classics Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy 7A+. Assistance from the well placed boulder allow access to the start holds, now high levels of tension, finger strength and timing will see you through to the final jug rail. Damn, Mother Nature is a good route-setter! Those who enjoy spending their spare time hanging off a Beastmaker will appreciation the pocketed direct start at 7C. The Yorkshireman 7B, Hitchhikers partner in crime, stiff for the grade but an absolutely classic bloc which climbs a flared diagonal crack before a hard deadpoint move to a good edge and the top. The 7C+ sitter is on all Hardmen’s tick-lists and if it’s not, it should be. With the classic’s in the bag those with more in the tank should seek out Flying Scotsman 7A, Playing Rudies 7A+, Crouching Tiger 7B, The Nadser 7B+. Tick all these, then you should be trying Kyloe’s hardest; Malcom Smith’s blank wall Monk’s Life 8B+ is truly inspiring but equally intimidating. Numerous link-up potential with strong traversing lines, mean the Kyloe enthusiast can have endless sessions adding to their scorecard.
For more details see Boulder Britain or NMC’s excellent Northumberland bouldering guide.
Powerful problems lie in a quiet valley with classic Lakeland views. Carrock is home to one of only two Gabbro boulder fields in the UK. Like Porth Ysgo in North Wales, the rock here is of the highest quality and offers a range of fantastic features to summit. The unforgiving nature of the coarse friction mean that cold conditions are a must (if you want your skin to last past the warm ups) and quick drying nature of the boulders make this my top recommendation for a winter trip to Lakes.
With so much to go at, Carrock Fell is really difficult to detail every problme and even every bloc. Sometimes you just have to lose yourself in the area and discover the charms. But, to get you started, a first timer should seek out Sons of the Desert 5+, Captain Kirk 6B and Pack Up Your Troubles 6B. When sufficiently warmed up, start snaking up the hillside aiming for Kits Boulder, stopping by The Fangtastic Bloc and Punks Life. Once the maze like hillside has been negotiated your arrival at the Kits Boulder is rewarded with a number of hard classics from 7A upwards. Ghetto Style 7B is one of the best and takes the arête from a low sitter. If compression isn’t your thing then Come all Ye Faith 7B is a worthy crimpy alternative to its right. If these go down quickly then the utterly classic Nightrider 7C+ is the next obvious challenge. Starting as for Ghetto Style, six burly moves lead out to the lip and a pumpy finale; bring your A-Game. Save some beans though, as a visit to Carrock isn’t complete without a play on the Northern Group Boulders. The stand out lines are Gift of the Gabbro 6C, High Flyer 6C+, Sing a Rainbow 7A, Metronome 8A and of course everything else on the Boardman’s Boulder. Finally, a 5 minute hike uphill from the northern group, lies the two flagship problems in Carrock’s fleet, Greg Chapman’s Leopold von Buch 7C (arguably Carrock’s best) and Dan Varian’s Home 8B (Carrock’s hardest).
More information, can be found in Greg Chapman’s superb guidebook Lake District Bouldering.
A winter bouldering list wouldn’t be complete without Britain’s famed gritstone. Thorn’s fine-grained gritstone has shied away from the masses, hidden in splendid isolation on the high moors of the stunning Trough of Bowland; yet conveniently located a stone’s throw away from the M6. Superb views of Morecambe Bay and the Fylde coast all the way to Blackpool Tower reward the 20 minute uphill trek. An ideal venue for baltic winter days, the south facing crag takes all the sun going, make sure you smugly compare experiences with someone who has tried to climb at Almscliff.
The boulders and mini crags provide around 150 first-rate problems which have been excellently sculptured and beautifully weathered to cater for the breadth of prospective styles that any suitor may favour. It’s no surprise that these blocs have begun to attract the attention of those from further afield. Wondering around, it doesn’t take long to discover the jumble of rock provides the perfect playground; grooves, overhangs and immaculate gritstone arêtes are the order of the day. There is something for everyone here; from delectably delicate easy slabs to the utmost in desperate sloper-slapping burl. The grade range is vast; with high quality problems to be found between 4 up to an achy 8A. I firmly believe Thorn’s proud lines should be on every Grit fanatics tick list.
The distant boulders on the hillside make the approach to Thorn look a little intimidating, but the steadily inclining bridleway is merciful and over quicker than expected. The initial boulders are trackside and offer plenty in the 5 to 7B range making the ideal place to start your session. Neil’s Thorney Arete 5, Burnt Heather 6B and For My Next Trick 7A are personal favourites and should get the blood flowing nicely. Once you have worked through these classics its worth taking a wonder around the hillside, which is scattered with blocs including the unmissable Mothership Reconnection 7A+, Private Press 7B and Bad Moon Rising 7B (pictured above). This is also where you find Gritstone's hardest recorded problem. Situated on the Crag itself, A Moment of Clarity was put up by the mythical Gaskins in 2006 and is very hard and very high!
Full details are available in Robin Mueller's excellent Lancashire Bouldering guidebook.
The Llanberis Pass
For most, bouldering in the Llanberis Pass involves a visit to the convenient Cromlech Boulders, typically congested with topless musclemen in beanies. Instead, a jaunt up the hillside, away from the crowds, on the south side of The Pass will be rewarded with excellent rock which entertain some of the best problems in North Wales. In fact, it was the 'rediscovery' of this hillside in 1997 that kick started the modern development of bouldering in North Wales. Where, to this day new classics continue to be cleaned, projected and climbed.
A walk will reveal numerous blocs; with the classics always clean and often chalked. If you bump into a fellow boulderer they are usually keen to share their favourites, and locals may even guide you to one of the many esoteric gems. Bounteous sectors cover the mile long pass and make a concise description hard. Rock type, landings, approaches and quality of areas vary. Each group of boulders have their own distinct character, but across the hillside expect one theme to be consistent, regardless of grade, expect the problems to be brutal. Mostly steep, powerful and very fingery, an aggressive and steely approach is usually required. As a taster, some problems to target include the popular and well sort after Groove 6A, Boysens Groove 6C, Utopia 6C+, King of Drunks 7A, and Wavelength 7B. Newer test pieces include Lizard King 7C and Corridors of Power 7C+, both of which are likely to top your list of all-time favourites.
The recent edition of the North Wales Bouldering guide, by Simon Panton, features a plethora of awesome new problems.
Crag Fact File
No. of Problems
Best Grade Range
|The Pass||Bangor||300+||6A-8A||1-20||Volcanic Tuff|