01/01/2013 16:39:00

Words by bena

Cycling Classic Rock

 

Back to Hard Rock

Cycling Classic Rock

      "We are concerned with the Classics in a
collection that has already been humorously dubbed
'Soft Rock' or 'Geriatric Rock'. The implication is that these
climbs will only be of interest to the inexperienced,
the inactive and the infirm"

Ken Wilson, from the Preface to Classic Rock

by Jamie Fisher

Jamie Fisher in the Karakorum, 1998
© Roraidh Pringle

I am standing on the wave-cut platform beneath the steep, bold quartz crack that is the start of Terrier’s Tooth on Chair Ladder. A pristine evening sun warms my bare back and Martin smiles encouragement.

My fingers cram into a greasy pocket and my boots scrabble on good holds. I make an appalling exit from the ground. Butterflies soar through my guts and the 20 foot of delicate V.Diff leave me shattered and despondent, dripping sweat and chalk paste.

On the cliff top my bicycle rests against a granite boulder, its new tyres threaded with May flowers, bopping in the breeze. The frame, amateurishly painted, informs passing eyes of my intentions; to complete all the routes in Classic Rock using only a bicycle as transport, 80 routes and 1500 miles of cycling, sponsorship to the John Muir Trust.

If I were Menlove or Tilman, I would row the two ferry crossings, to Lundy and Arran, but I’m not and I couldn’t. The whole mad venture hangs by too frail a thread as it is.

Four days later and I pick up the Tarka Cycle Trail north of Tavistock, brutal hills and narrow brambled lanes, possible death by tractor, rabbits belting into their burrows. My only vehicular support left me after the Dewerstone and now my bicycle groans under full load, two crammed panniers and a tent... I am buffeted and strain against a bickering north west wind, dark hail laden skies thrash the bleak heights of Dart-moor. My thoughts crackle and flare with self doubt.

Successfully meeting my second support party, Ella and Stu, is a great boost to my psyche and I realise that the trip is as much about meeting the random scatter of climbing friends I cajoled into supporting the trip than the en-route activities. In fact the squalls hammering Lundy mean I end up soloing the Slide at 6am, while Ella and Stu sleep easily through a Marisco Tavern hangover.

Pint mugs of tea, hunks of flapjack, a Welsh cafe trade mark. To dehydrate and wait for the Tremadog support. A phone call, an oath, and we are begging Mrs Jones for a rope, a rack. Suspicion, amusement then at last she agrees. The charity card works again. Creagh Dhu Wall with a rope that we imagine has done time on the Eiger and Bonatti; trying to fiddle a rusty, cuboid wire into a slot carved for its modern successors.

More tea, free this time, and we slog up past Beddgelert and the Gwryd to arrive with windswept hair at the Cromlech boulders, unsure of which ubiquitous Pass Classic to snatch from the fading day. The Wastad is closest and I try and be tactful in passing parties on Wrinkle and Crackstone Rib, the latter worrying in the humid evening fug, Gwen poised with a camera to catch the fall.

The close proximity of the Welsh routes allow a momentum to be gained and, partnered with Carlo, a quick, efficient Brenin prodigy and Liz, a mischievous Blue Pens Instructor even Lliwedd falls with a resigned shrug. I cope badly with a heady concoction of success and an invitation to the CUMC annual dinner.

My self-imposed alcohol abstention is deftly unimposed and from The Heights the night tumbles into a quagmire of drunken exploration and feeble, hilarious pranks. Who ever said there is nothing to do in Llanberis?

And so the momentum starts to judder and slow. My partner for Ogwen, Mark, is unconvinced when I propose the schedule for the day, rain wetting our cags and me obviously exhausted, hungover. We start Hope and it is a polished watercourse, higher up Lazarus is plain desperate and the Arete barely easier. Thankfully the rain has thinned for Menlove’s immaculate Grey Slab and by the time we reach Tryfan’s Heather Terrace it is a fine breezy evening.

Mark accompanies me on Grooved Arete and Gashed Crag before nodding towards the setting sun and mumbling something about chips and Bethesda. I finish First Pinnacle Rib buoyed by a racing dusk and stumble exhausted down the North Ridge to meet my chips on the road, they are delicious then and even better re-fried the following morning.

I had hoped the grit routes would offer me a smooth passage, sadly, on reaching Hen Cloud after a long day from the Welsh border, I am gutted to discover the crag sitting naked with a bird ban. I momentarily curse ring ouzels and their insensitive habitat choice and fleetingly consider climbing quietly, carefully, maybe as a wallaby... then Gwen reminds me of my ethics, of the John Muir Trust. The Roaches routes pass in a sulky daze and it takes a heady night in Wirksworth’s Blacks Head and perfect Tresidder hospitality to make me forgive the poor ouzeLs.

Chasing darkness, Leeds approaching, wiped out after a bagful of routes and 90 miles. Following road signs, catatonic, and my ‘A’ road is suddenly the Ml, freight lorries buffeting past, flashing lights. Big city, threatening after days village-hopping. Will’s seedy ground floor flat on Woodsley Road is a convivial hive of Friday night activity. Old friends of both sorts greet me as I slump through the door.

Bulging bacon butties and a mug of grainy coffee, thrust at me as I try and sift my pannier contents from the squalor of a party just finished. Wading through a depth of empty Stella bottles and pizza boxes, victims sprawled dramatically among them, I slip out into a dazed city with Mike, a rig worker on leave from Angola, and we haul ourselves past Hyde Park’s tempting cafes, the Headingly cat-walks, and on to that lone blob of grit they call Almscliffe.

It sits deserted on a dancing Saturday morning, waiting patiently for the mob of evening boulderers. We except our route on a plate and make the Otley cafe for elevenses, Mike resigned to another heavy Leeds night, I to a different horizon, Pen-y-Ghent then the Lakes. We wish each other luck.

Jamie Andrew is a waif of a person. He has thin blonde hair, a gibbon like physique and a blue eyed grin that jumps out at you, especially when he is drunk. He can tolerate hardship, his enviable list of Scottish Extremes, in summer and winter, testify to that, but he hates cold water.

I slip blissfully into the spooky void of Styhead Tarn with protesting sunburn but grateful limbs. Today we’ve climbed on Gillercombe, Pillar and Gable and it’s been ferociously hot, the water is an idyllic respite. I want to call Jamie a wimp, a pansy, for not swimming, but an hour before he had busied himself rescuing me from our solo of Tophet Wall so I keep quiet.

A mid-June heatwave has allowed us to solo a lot of the routes and with Jamie ahead, rope on his back and with the attributes of a gecko, the Classics have tumbled. I am sad and a bit envious to see him trundle off in his little red Fiesta, out of the Seathwaithe campsite and back to his girlfriend. The Lakes have passed so smoothly, its polished Classics so empty and accommodating that I can convince myself that it’s nearly done; only Scotland to go. I desperately hope Scotland will be friendly too.

My cheap, digital mileometer skips onto 999 miles just as I pass a garish "Welcome to Scotland" sign. A few hundred yards later and I almost buckle against a tractor so glued am I to the imminent four figures. I wonder what it will tell me if I ever reach Glen Brittle.

Galloway presents itself as an empty, spacious enchanted place after the busy roads of England. I follow signposts for Ayr along ‘A’ roads that would barely pass for country lanes back home. In Moniaive I eat a stale bridie and meet a boy with two savage looking ferrets, a few people read the writing on my bike and look at me funnily, I wonder which interpretation of "Classic Rock Challenge" they arrive at?

Arran granite possesses all the eccentricities of Scottish mountain rock, from amenable, secure flakes and pockets of clean compact rock to horrific flared off-widths of crumbling hand-shredding Weetabix. In many ways our two climbs, Sou’wester Slabs and Labyrinth, are characters from both extremes and a wonderfully antagonistic choice of routes.

As a beach ball sized chockstone grates out of the starting chimney of Labyrinth and explodes in the gully below I wonder if this is Classic Rock’s dark horse, the one to miss out. Darren and I disagree on its qualities and as he pendulums impressively off the final layback I imagine Sou’wester will be a solitary business.

We meet later at the crystal pools lower down Glen Rosa and give them marks out of ten. A ten must be diveable, gravelled, have a waterfall and sunbathing slabs and wide enough to accommodate five full strokes. We settle on a 9.5 and, as ever, Arran proves very difficult to leave.

The crux passage looms. Arrochar has been a delight but I am told the rain is on its way. Glen Coe and Ben Nevis are both timetabled for the next four days and I have been unable to find partners for two of them. I set off for Glen Coe and hope for the best.

Sixty miles and there is the Buachaille, austerely framed against a leaden sky, rain imminent. I rush into the Chasm and find, after a two week drought, a mere trickle of water. The rock is mercifully dry and the solo is the most intense and enjoyable yet. On the way down I notice a man starting up the lower section of the deep gully, "Is this Curved Ridge?" he yells, and I am forced to doubt his knowledge of basic physical geography.

I just get away with Clachaig Gully before the Scottish summer arrives. Midges drive me from the woods and onto more exposed slopes where my wisp of a tent is deftly flattened by a ripping westerly, in the morning I am overwhelmed to find Caroline and Al’s lone car in the Stob car park, buffeted by a day that is as bad as any we can remember. There is no discussion as to whether to climb or of what routes to do. I have three left in the Coe and their support is unfaltering. Aonach Dubh and Bidean make sure the day is a long one.

I had looked forward to meeting up with Findlay. We had tried to share a flat at University but it had been pretty disastrous. We just couldn’t manage to stay out of trouble. Now we meet infrequently his mischieviousness is more manageable. He arrives late, a disconnected, chaotic heap, blaming a heavy night in the Crofters. On reaching the foot of The Long Climb he confesses that he has his ice screws but has forgotten his rock boots. He manages just as well in a pair of old Czech army boots.

Topping out on Mitre Ridge, soaked and shivering in our summer dress. The wind has shifted perceptibly and now the rain is bitter, verging on sleet, we crouch on the hostile plateau and wonder where the hell Squareface is. After three miserable days on wet, cold rock we want to quit, call it a day. We find the rain lashed buttress just in time and scurry to its foot.

I remember the photos I had seen, pink granite washed with sun. Within ten feet my fingers are frozen sausages and the gusts pin me to every other move. Findlay is a hunched, shivering form below. Thank god the climbing is straightforward.

Four hours later and we are nearing The Dee, the lights of Braemar seductive beyond - we had hoped to reach Gelder Sheil tonight. Finlay mentions casually that the pub and the chippy might be open and soon we are charging through the Dee’s rippling, icy waters, chattering happily.

A breeze shakes the canopy of trees above us and our sleeping bags are sprinkled with yet another volley of water droplets. We have slept in a churchyard. I ask Findlay if he remembers being surrounded by deer, he says no but asks how are we going to get to Lochnagar? For a moment I want to hitch, to break the rules I imposed five weeks ago. The distances have become too great. Then Findlay suggests hiring mountain bikes and I slump at this brilliant idea.

Three hours later and we are trying, as politely as possible, to pass a party on Eagle Ridge. "We have to get the bikes back by 5pm," we plead. They work for the local mountain rescue and kindly step aside, eyebrows raised at our chaotic efforts to move together. A pitch later and we are sweeping new snow off the winter crux, a dry easterly biting through our fleeces.

The top crack of Naismith’s Route is quite damp. I linger for a moment feeling confident and composed, there is no need to rush. Mist drifts delicately around the Bhastier Tooth. Halfway through the final pull glance at my watch and feel a surge of excitement, I may still be able to finish in under five hours. Beyond the summit of Am Bhastier and I am rushing, Sgurr nan Gillean the obsessive focus of seven weeks of effort.

I arrive at the top a gasping mess, it is deserted. I wait for the tears to come but they don’t, I just feel chuffed. I look towards Blaven and try to picture the Great Prow perched on its hidden, easterly slops. Maybe that will be the next challenge, Hard Rock by skateboard. I start down, hopeful that Robbie will be at the Slig.

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my support climbers:

South-West: Martin, Dad, Ella

Wales: Gwen, Carlo, Uz, Mark

Peak District: Sid, Mike

Lake District: Rich, Jamie

Arran & Arrochar: Darren, Dan

Glen Coe: Al, Caroline

Ben Nevis & Cairngorms: Findlay

Skye: Robbie

Thanks also to Blue Pens and Glenmore Lodge for accommodating me and to all my sponsors who contributed towards the £832 raised. Finally thanks to the John Muir Trust for working hard to keep wild areas wild.

 

Timetable

May 4th: Terriers Tooth, Pendulum Chimney, Demo Route

May 5th: Doorpost

May 6th: Climbers’ Club Ordinary

May 9th: Devil’s Slide (Solo)

May 11th: Piton Route

May 14th: Will-o'-the-Wisp (Solo)

May 15th: Creagh Dhu Wall, The Wrinkle(Solo), May Crackstone Rib (Solo)

May 16th: Main Wall, The Cracks, Nea, Flying Butress (Solo), Spiral Stairs (Solo)

May 17th: Avalanche, Red Wail, Longlands May 18th Hope, Lazarus, The Arete, Grey Slab,Grooved Arete, Gashed Crag, First Pinnacle Rib (Solo)

May 19th: Milestone Direct Route (Solo), Great Gully (Solo)

May 20th: Direct Route

May 21st: Via Dolorosa, Black and Tans(Solo), Technical Slab (Solo)

May 23rd: Sail Butress, Topsail, Po~Monkey Parade (Solo) Black Slab, April Crack (Solo), Flying Buttress (Solo)

May 24th: Parson’s Chimney

May 25th: Red Pencil Direct (Solo)

May 27th: Ash Tree Slab (Solo), C Route, Bowfell Buttress (Solo), Bracket and Slab, Murray’s Route (Solo)

May 28th: Little Chamonix (Solo), Troutdale Pinnacle (Solo)

May 29th: Gillercombe Buttress (Solo), New West Climb (Solo), Rib and Slab Climb, Napes Needle (Solo), Needle Ridge(Solo), Tophet Wall

May 30th: Jones’s Route, Moss Ghyll Grooves

June 2nd: Sou’wester Slab (Solo), Labyrinth

June 4th: Recess Route (Solo), Punster’s Crack, Ardgarten Arete (Solo)

June 5th: The Chasm (Solo), Clachaig Gully (Solo)

June 6th: Agag’s Groove(Solo), North Face Route (Solo)

June 7th: Long Crack, Archer Ridge, Crypt Route

June 8th: The Long Climb, Tower Ridge (Solo)

June 9th: Ardverike Wall (Solo)

June 11th: Savage Slit, Clean Sweep

June 12th: The Talisman

June 13th: Cumining-Crotton, Squaretace

June 14th: Eagle Ridge

June 17th: Cioch Nose (Solo)

June 19th: Cioch Direct, Integrity

June 24th: Cuillin Ridge (Solo)

Postcard sent by Jamie to his father on completion of his Classic Rock Challenge.

 

Facts

Time taken: 52 days

Number of routes climbed: 79 out of 80

Fastest: 75 sec, Powder Monkey Parade

Slowest: 4 hrs 50 mins, Cuillin Ridge

Number of crags visited: 55

Number of miles cycled: 1536

Top speed: 54 mph, Mid Wales

Other forms of transport: 2 ferries, lots of walking

Number of solos: 36

Number of partners: 17

Number of falls: 0

Number of punctures: 0

 

 

First published in Climber, December 1997
Shortly after this article was published, Jamie died in an storm in the Alps
having made an ascent of the North Face of the Droites.
This article is reproduced here by kind permission of his father.

© Stewart Fisher 2000

Oli Warlow’s Cycle Round – 2018

In 2018 Jamie Fisher’s friend Oli Warlow achieved the same feat with a total of 27 partners, though like Jamie, he had to miss out one route due to a nesting bird.

You can read all about Oli’s round on his blog at: https://classicrockbybike.com

Photo right: Oli Warlow at Robinson’s Cairn on his way to Pillar Rock to do New West and Rib and Slab (Stephen Reid).

Here is his timetable:

  OliWarlow

May 19th: The Devil’s Slide
May 22nd: Terrier’s Tooth, Pendulum Chimney, Demo Route
May 23rd: Doorpost
May 25th: Central Grooves (alternative to Climbers Club Ordinary which had a bird nesting on it)
May 28th: Piton Route
June 2nd: Will o’ the Wisp
June 3rd: Creagh Dhu Wall
June 4th: Avalanche/Red Wall/Longland’s, Nea
June 5th: Flying Buttress, Spiral Stairs, Wrinkle, Crackstone Rib, The Cracks
June 6th: Main Wall, Milestone Direct Route
June 7th: Hope, Lazarus, The Arete, Grey Slab,  Glyder Fach Direct Route
June 8th: Grooved Arete, Gashed Crag, First Pinnacle Rib
June 9th: Great Gully
June 13th: Central Climb, K2, Modern, Black and Tans, Technical Slab, Via Dolorosa
June 15th: Topsail, Powder Monkey Parade, Sail Buttress, Hargreaves Original Route, April Crack, Flying Buttress
June 17th: Parson’s Chimney
June 18th: Red Pencil Direct
June 20th: Murray’s Route
June 21st: Ash Tree Slabs, C Route, Bracket and Slab, Bowfell Buttress
June 22nd: Gillercombe Buttress
June 23rd: Tophet Wall, Napes Needle, Needle Ridge
June 24th: Jone’s Route, Moss Ghyll Grooves
June 25th: New West Climb, Rib and Slab Climb
June 26th: Troutdale Pinnacle, Little Chamonix
July 4th: Sou’wester Slabs, Labrynth
July 6th: Recess Route, Punster’s Crack , Ardgartan Arete
July 8th: The Chasm
July 9th: North Face Route, Agag’s Groove
July 10th: The Long Crack, Archer Ridge, Crypt Route
July 11th: Clachaig Gully
July 13th: The Long Climb, Tower Ridge
July 16th: Ardverikie Wall
July 18th: Savage Slit, The Clean Sweep, The Talisman
July 19th: The Cumming-Crofton Route, Squareface
July 21st: Eagle Ridge
July 26th: Cioch Nose
July 28th: Cioch Direct, Arrow Route, Integrity
July 29th: The Cuillin Ridge

 

 

 

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