With a few days to fill while Dave is on a mountain-biking holiday in France, and with a climbing trip to Wales having fallen through, I was left with a dilemma. Should I head to the hills for some hiking? Get out on my bike? With weather undecided, I made an early dash up to see family, with a plot to check out climbing opportunities in the vicinity. I've already eyed up Helsby Hill (a bit of a serious prospect at the time, as I didn't own a rope, although it did have an unexpected delight of an Iron Age hill fort atop it). Surely the time was right to check out the bouldering located on the next crag along the valley? So, without further ado, I give you:
How to have an entirely unsuccessful bouldering trip
(You'll have to do without photos. I was so unsuccessful, I didn't take any)
1. Dither about whether to set off early or late, or indeed whether to set off at all
The morning started optimistically, with the grey skies and cloud cover of late being replaced by bright sunshine and blue skies. I'd checked the weather forecast though, and it said the whole day would consist of sunny spells, so instead of running to my car, I decided to do a bit of work first. I'd check out the crag later, after lunch – after all, it's west facing. Afternoon sunshine will be lovely. What could go wrong? I watched with horror as heavy cloud piled in during lunchtime, ate my sandwich to the accompaniment of torrential rain and eventually decided that I should bite the bullet and go – remembering my rain jacket.
2. Go somewhere new
I'd never been to the crag, even on a recce. I'd never walked in the woods which surround the crag. I didn't speak to anyone who'd been there, post a question asking for advice on a forum or read the details in the guidebook (at least I had a guidebook). I just followed the directions and turned up without the slightest idea of what to expect. If I'd read the guidebook more closely, I would have noticed a few vital pieces of information; here's a sample. Firstly, two of the walls described in the guidebook are tall enough to require a rope and rack, with the writer suggesting that regular climbing grades were more appropriate than bouldering grades, and even that such walls were always tackled by the 'terminally confident'. I was planning to boulder – that is, to climb low problems unroped. I wasn't confident, and certainly had no wish to be terminally so. Secondly, I'd have noticed a comment to the effect that some of the landings are a bit dicey – though they failed to mention quite how steep the slope is below the cliffs. A bouldering mat, or at the very least, a companion, were recommended, though scaffolding would do. And finally, I'd have noticed that the crags actually face north west, and the guidebook marks them with a little 'Kermit the frog' symbol. This became important later.
3. Get entirely lost
As well as not knowing what I was looking for, I didn't really know where to look. The map in the guidebook essentially looks like an insect has been squashed onto a green page. The directions seemed clear enough until the cryptic line 'cross the plantation diagonally'. Which diagonal? A path ran in each direction. Soon I was standing on the top of a peak, admiring the remains of another Iron Age roundhouse, and wondering at the (enormous) size of the rabbits living on the hill. No sign of any cliffs though, and it would be an hour of wandering, guided by my phone's compass, before I accidentally stumbled on (and nearly off) the cliffs. Not before I'd descended a couple of hundred metres, though. Before realising I needed to be at the top.
4. Choose inappropriate approach shoes
I hadn't considered what the approach would be like under foot. Not for me the consideration that, after a week of on and off rain, and after a morning's heavy shower, it might be a tad slippy. No, I trudged off across the fields, up the hills and down the slippery paths towards the crag in a pair of Converse trainers. As I carefully traversed a narrow, sloping path towards the crag, I wondered whether I had subconsciously sabotaged my own plans. Surely, I can't simply be that stupid? No. I am.
5. Become concerned for your own safety
I finally stood in front of the crag. Holds were chalked up. I sipped from my water bottle, took in the view, and suddenly found myself wondering how I would drive myself home if I were to break my wrist. This is not what the climbing gurus call a 'positive frame of mind'. I checked the guidebook. Eyed up a couple of routes. Laid a hand on the rock, only to grasp the extent to which the 'Kermit the frog' icon truly applied to this green, greasy, moss and mould-covered rock. A tentative toe slipped off. I watched a squirrel, happily perched high in a beech tree, ripping open and eating the beech nuts. I took another sip of water. I walked back to the car, drove home and had a cup of tea and a cake.