Limestone: A rock composed mostly of calcium carbonate, which is formed by biological processes (the remains of fossilised seashells and plankton which where alive many millions of years ago).
Something I rarely do is write up a days climbing on the same day as the climbing took place. It's getting closer and closer to winter and as such the days are getting shorter. The temperature is also dropping and as such I value the sunshine that little bit more. Maybe I just notice the warmth it provides as it is so infrequent on some days but today I've basked in it's lukewarm glow today, whilst sat on a ledge on ravens buttress overlooking a quiet dry limestone valley. Either way I'm home earlier than normal with more time on my hands.
My day has been spent enjoying the pleasures of peak district limestone, a somewhat neglected rock type in my opinion. I some ways though I'm glad it gets such little traffic in comparison to the gritstone. I went to stanage a couple of times last month and had a great time but there was still loads of people. Even on a quiet day I still see the worn footpaths leading to sandy eroded bays beneath each cliff. What is nice to note is that I don't see that much litter at Stanage, even at popular area. It isn't that I don't like people but I just prefer the relative solitude you can have at a quiet crag. Crags of the limestone variety don't seem to benefit from neglect but too much traffic has an equally, if not polar effect. Neglect equals overgrowth of vegetation and a reduction in the clearance of loose rock. Each winter more is generated in small amounts, it add to the problem of vegetation overgrowth. Too much traffic and we get the reverse. Over climbed and polished routes. There needs to be a sweet spot.
The solitude was part of the reason that we headed to Ravendale, the other being that I was reading up on the geology of the peak district (again) and just got inspired. In the 10ish years I've been climbing I have given precious little time to the lime. I don't know why this is. I also joke that limestones are for caving. If I'm heading to the peak district it'll be to climb gritstone. The reason is simple; I love gritstone. Each route, each line, can be an intimate experience. Feeling the change in grain size and sorting through your feet (even if you don't realise it) looking for that perfect smear. Crimping on the tiny sharp ripples in the rock, a remnant from the distance past linked to the formation of this feature. Remembering the jam that is causing the pain in your grazed and swollen hand; was it the cold dark crack of high moorland crag, sharp and untouched where you could feel each crystal biting in the skin of your hand or the straight sided crack, young and fresh in it's life after being rudely exposed before it's natural time, which is comfortable and inviting. The peak district itself tells one story, but each crag tells its own. This goes down to each climb and even a single problem. Man, I love grit.
So we went to limestone. I text Finney describing the crag and he confirmed. I drove up to his in awful weather. Huge bands of rain kept sweeping across the motorway. This wasn't forecast and I paniced (minor) but picked Finney up all the same. The plan was to try and film as much of the day as possible and as such our journey to the crag is well documented from van to parking and then to the base of the cliff, crossing a dry river (bedded with limestone) on a set of stepping stones. I didn't take a picture of the crag, despite all the cameras so I'll describe it instead. It stands out from the valley side as a series of cliffs, the middle of which is two tiered in the shape of a prow of rock heavily grooved in it's upper section This was Ravens Buttress. North, up valley the cliffs shorten and are separated by bands or broken rock and vegetation. Ravens Buttress right flank had blanker walls in the upper section and a series of shallow discontinuous grooves with small overhangs above a shallow break, and a small yew tree on the terrace, somewhat broken and thin this side. The left was more grooved, deeply in it's upper section with overhands and corners. The actual middle had a large v groove and a vegetated slab on it's one side, with steeper grooves to the left. You could say the crag was pretty groovy.
We plumbed for Mealystopheles, not because of the name (which I'm sure I pronounce wrong) but because of the line and the grade. We both liked the like and it looked like it's grade, if that in any way makes sense. I lead the first pitch. It was hard. The rock was a little suspect and I have a reasonable and understandable fear of loose rock. Still it was not a tottering jenga tower but something that meant I had to check: every. Single. Hold. As such the climbing was a really involved process as I was looking everywhere. My feet were a real issue. I just didn't know what I could get away with on this rock type. What would stick and where it was. I felt pushed out away from the rock but it's steepness while at the same time drawn in and surrounded in the groove. About half way up after a series of small grimps but quite gymnastic climbing with good holds spaced far apart. As I said, it was engaging which probably lead me to drop my medium wires half way up. This was no problem. I had a tonne of gear on me so carried on but my attidtude subtly changed and I was move careful and placed what ever gear I could fit.
The ledge was a fantastic belay. My first was an alcove preached slightly above the terrace and gave one quite a commanding position from which to view the valley (it's got and excellent echo as well). It was cold and gloomy in the morning shade but comfy. My second was in the sun, on the right wall. As such the terrace was short and my belay was compact. The real pleasure was when Andy shouted safe and I could lie out of the grass ledge just next to me, lacking my confinement to stay within the sensible distance of the anchor. I lay in the sun and shivered from the occasional cold breeze. Every experience is worth remembering.
Finney's lead took up up the slab and then into a short vegetated groove before traversing diagonally upwards to finish up the final deep groove. He couldn't get his head round the rope from some reason. Not that he clipped everything wrong but that he didn't accept he'd clipped them fine. It seemed to worry him on route. We also had a laugh when he topped out yelling down “Chink, where's the belay?”. He did find something in the end. When I seconded the route I was impressed not only by the climbing, which was much more exposed and on smaller hold than the first pitch but also by his route finding. He took the wrong line in the guide book. The vegetated groove was his own addition. It avoided 4 metre of very loose rock. The dangerous kind that stands up to a few blows but not a weighted tug. I didn't come off when I follow Finney. I should have gone route but at the time it just seemed part of the route. I did pull off a large rock which I had to throw off. I hit the first pitch in the process, something I felt bad about. I cleaned up the mess and then with a tight rope and some sturdy ivy I was out of danger. And into the exposed finish. Wow. What a pitch. It was Mealystopheles VS 5a, 4c.
Purple Haze was our next route. This looked more intimidating. Round on the right wall taking a line through an overhanging groove above the shallow break. My first lead took me into the right corner, not where I wanted to be and I scuttled back retrieving and replacing gear. My false start might have cost me some time but it was much harder than I was expecting so I now approached the groove with caution. The climbing was gymnastic with layaways in tiny cracks converting to stemming on then edge of the groove. Heels, jamming and eventually a great rock over to bridge the groove and get over the over hang. It wasn't over and I stripped dead ivy from slabbier grooves.
Finney loved it and waxed lyrical from ages at the belay. His lead took him up an wide crack, amusingly climbed as he stepped his scrawny leg inside it to climb up on jammed rocks. A short battle with a yew tree cost Finney some serious rope drag, despite his victory and then the headwall above. This pitch earned its abjective grade. The climbing was sustained on steep rock acrossing a broad headwall to... a short groove. He took his time and rightly so. It must have been great to have been on that pitch on the lead. My experience was similar. After my laze in sun I climbed the groove (without putting my leg in) acted as reinforcement battle with the tree and freed the ropes before stopping and looking up at Finney peaking over this flat steep wall. It was impressive. Little clusters of gear long sections of climbing. It was steep face climbing with the occasional rest. After I'd seconded enjoying the tether of safety guiding me Finney told me how he'd just climbed really slowly, in short moves with pauses while he decided on the next move and just psyched himself up that he could do it. It worked, clearly. It was Purple Haze E1 5b, 5a.
And that was it. The sun had gone in and we were cold. Sometimes you don't need to push it and get another climb in, coming down in darkness. We left happy. We'd taken so much away from the days climbing. It had been different, unusual and challenging. The rock itself was an unknown. I kept moving for holds only to find the crimp, that I knew would be there, was no where to be found. I lacked that intimate knowledge that'd driven my love of gritstone. I climbed carefully tortoise like but slowly I began to read the rock. Things started to make sense. Each groove and each line was presenting a story. And that is where it ended, because I don't know enough limestone to compare it too. I've not climbed on it. I've neglected it, Ignored and pushed it aside in pursuit of pot noodle climbing and alpine starts.
But it won't any more. I have climbed on limestone in the past and this day has brought back so many memories. Great days out with old friends, Esoteric experiences and avoiding the rain and climbing the tower of babel one sunday afternoon. I love gritstone but the peak is more than just one rock type.