15th July 2018

My first DPC meet in quite a few years began on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning in the middle of July. It was an excellent sign that my life was finally being returned to me after a decade of it being hijacked by the clinging, whinging and whining of needy little clones of the worse half of my wife’s genes. OK, so half of their genes might have had something to do with me too. Now my half of my children’s genes have begun to express themselves, the children have become little darlings: able to engage in polite conversation over a coffee and fully trained to say “yes Daddy, that is very funny” when they recognise my little witticisms. There is just the chance, I have to admit, that there might be some sarcasm gene expressing itself – something I may need to keep an eye on, for a spot of eugenics. Better than them becoming interesting company, family are now happy to have them foisted upon them, allowing me to enter back into the rocky wilds.
We met in the layby just to the Sheffield side of the Snake Inn. “Did you know that the Snake Pass was actually named after the pub and the pub was named after the Cavendish symbol?” Mike said; alas that was to be his first and final interesting Derbyshire fact for the day. He, Rob, Syd and I strode off into the wood and hiked up towards the intimidating range of rocks in the far distance. For each of the past twenty years, Geoff has told me, admiringly, “Syd – isn’t he doing well, seventy-four he is!” So Syd, the man to remain seventy-four for over twenty years; Rob, with his impressively Northern flat cap (currently no whippet); Mike, with his cool skiing instructor persona and matching T-Shirt so florescent it looked like something pulled from the wreckage of Chernobyl; and me, a not particularly fit person that is fairly scared of heights, set off like some bizarre remake of “Last of the Summer Wine” sponsored by Decathlon’s clothing range, to scale some rocks.

Up we walked, baked in the late morning sun; up and up and then up still further. The hills were parched brown-green after the nicest summer I have experienced in these green and pleasant lands op-north. The parched summer deadness gave me the warm familiarity of the South Downs, from when I was a child. Subsequent to my previous DPC weekend ordeals I am now much fitter, after riding to work, and probably better at climbing, after a winter of indoor bouldering. Traping up the hill was, therefore, an interesting study in personal pain and torment analysis. Every muscle in my legs were screaming at me to stop, yet, they were screaming so much more quietly than the last time I tried to keep up with the Peppits whilst walking up hill. My first mistake of the day was quickly upon me. Syd said “I’m going to take my T-Shirt off so it’s dry when we get to the top”. I was foolish enough to ignore this wisdom, hard won across all of Syd’s 74 years on this Earth. I was dry at this point but just as I had decided to keep my T-Shirt on, my body erupted in a cascade of sweat, gushing from my back and eyebrows as though there had been a deep sea earth quake somewhere off the coast of Japan and I was the human manifestation of the resulting tidal wave. Yet further we went, up and up until we came to rocks! Our salvation! But it was a false dawn – a fake horizon that only led to more up.

Finally, we came to a halt and Mike pulled out of his bag the complete range of Decathlon T-Shirts; all nice and dry. An intimidatingly steep, if not intimidatingly high, lump of rock stood in front of us, with a long grassy bank below. The crag looked out upon a gorgeous horseshoe of brown-green panorama. It was, indeed, a fine position from which to engage in my favourite hobby of vertigo masochism. It was hot, the air was hot, the rock was hot, we were all hot. Not phased, Mike started to head up the three starred VS 4b of “Misty Wall”. My muscles have been finely tuned over the winter to climb to this grade, or slightly higher, for precisely the height of the Works indoor bounding wall. Sure enough, after a virtuoso set of climbing moves up to a height of four meters, my forearms blew up like a kid’s party balloon and my fingers took on the strength and consistency of cocktail sausages. It was an interesting climb, with three moves seeming very difficult, though once attacked with the right approach and technique, became readily climbable. It was a good start to the climbing adventures for the day.

We put our gear away and set off around to the east, where we found the more shaded set of climbs of “Big Brother Buttress”, and a view over toward Manchester, with the crag this time facing Snake Pass and Bleaklow. A protracted period ensued, of striding back and forth at the base of the crag and pontificating about which scary looking climb to climb. I lay in the sun, on a rock, and pretended to be asleep until I was happy that a climbable climb has started to be climbed. Rob set off up the one star severe “Razor Crack”. It was another climb to look more difficult than it turned out to be, Rob liberally laced it gear. He must have been learning from one of my rare leads and my approach to lay at least two runners for each and every move. It was a short climb up a wide crack and an enjoyable one. Then followed the even more straightforward and pleasant layback up the VDiff of “Barbara” before more pretending to be asleep was required as Mike, then Rob and, finally, Syd tackled the HVS of Legacy without me.

As it turned out, the next climb was to be the last of the day and it was a great way to end. The VS 4b of “Dunisnane” was just at my limit of climbing. Mike led, followed by Syd (who took out all the protection across the slightly snaking climb), then Rob and finally I had my chance. Up I went semi-confidently to a good hold and then the usual nagging voice in the back of my mind started whispering “you’re going to fall off. Be careful, your feet might slip. How well are you really holing on? Wouldn’t it be better if you hold on a bit tighter?” and so on. During each move, the damn voice shuts up momentarily, leading to an ephemeral Navana. I carefully watched Rob climb before me and as so often happens, I found that he must be about a foot taller than me. I moved right, to a broken flake that he reached the top of easily. I worked my way up it with my right hand but couldn’t get far enough, then the voice said “you will never reach that! Look down. You could just be lowered off. Just give up”. Ignoring the voice, I reached up with my left hand and got the start of the useful bit of the hold. Fully stretched, the voice started: “Oh my God. We’re dead. That’s it, you are never going to get out of this one”. I lifted my right hand, crossed above my left, quite out of balance but suddenly it felt good and the voice said “see, I told you it would be OK. What were you worried about?” Followed by “Oh my God, look how far you have to traverse to the right. When you fall off, look how far you are going to swing. We are going to be dashed on the rocks!” Cautiously, I traversed right and then up, before finally slipping off just below Mike’s belay position when the climb should have been all over and the voice had stopped nagging me – perhaps the voice is useful after all.