A Grand Day Out - Chee Tor Girdle

16th Jul 2014


For me its either work, or pleasure. If I've got a camera in my hand its work. If i haven't I can have some fun. Having said that, the type of work I tend to specialise in, is also my passion and so tends to be when I'm having the most fun, doing the things I love, in the places I most want to be and doing them with my friends. On Monday of this week I really fancied having a "Mini" adventure. I'd been sat in Front of a computer more or less all weekend. I hadn't been climbing for about 3 weeks so really fancied that, but I was slightly bored with my local crags! Nothing obvious sprang to mind, so I picked up the guide book and it literally fell open on Chee Tor Girdle - A girdle for those of you who aren't climbers is essentially a traverse (left to right or as in this case, right to left) or "crossing" of a crag or part of a crag. In the case of Chee Tor in Derbyshire it's five pitches of relatively easy climbing crossing a huge break of the buttress at half height. Pitch one climbs up a route called Doggone Groove (VS 4b) to join the break, followed by four increasingly difficult pitches shuffling forever leftwards for 150m. Pitches two and three are very straight forward, hands on huge jugs in the break and feet on ample, sometimes grassy footholds (see photo of Lucy on Pitch 3) the protection is good, occasionally spaced but ample. Belays between pitches are on trees where you can eat your lunch! If you remembered to bring it. Pitch four, according to at least one guide book is the crux, or hardest pitch, weighing in at VS 5a, which I think is slightly over-graded and leaves you on a fabulous hanging belay with unadulterated views of not only the last (and in my humble opinion the crux) pitch but also wonderful views of the winding river a hundred feet below you (Cheedale is a River valley) once you've negotiated pitch 5 all thats left is a quick abseil (rappel for our American friends) to terra firma - simple. 

So, in a nutshell "My" Chee Tor Girdle experience went something like this :

1/ Persuade someone (better than me) to share in the adventure - Lucy Creamer said yes - Game on.

2/ Drive, walk, wade the river, to the bottom of the crag. Gear-up, drink tea and pack small sac containing water, guidebook, quiche and camera.

3/ Locate Doggone Groove VS 4b (the start of the route) send Lucy up it, make sure I've told Buis and Theo (our dogs) what the plan is, remember back pac, boots on, tie-in and let battle commence. Arrive belay after some pleasant climbing and a little almost vertical bush-wacking.

4/ Take over belay and watch Lucy disappear around the arete, watch the rope as it is payed out and prey its long enough for her to reach the next belay (it says in the guidebook the pitch is 42m, our ropes are 70m, I don't trust guidebooks) eventually I hear her shout "safe" which means she's reached the belay and has attached herself to it, the spare rope joining us like an umbilical is slowly taken in, now its my turn, "Climbing" I shout and head hands in the huge break feet, at least for now, on grass.

5/ I reach Lucy who's grinning at me and filming me on her Iphone. We swap positions, I tie in to the belay and then without further ado its time for lunch, a little Olive Quiche "don't mind if I do" very civilised.

6/ The next, 3rd pitch, goes pretty much the same way, easy climbing, spaced protection, time to really take in your situation and appreciate the surroundings before the harder climbing starts.

7/ Pitch 4, according to the guidebook we had, is the crux pitch. Lucy waltzes across it making it look no harder than any of the previous pitches - "Warning" when you climb with someone infinitely better than you, one of the best climbers in the country, don't be surprised when you get to the exact same point and unceremoniously fall off, for once I didn't (its the usual practice with virtually everyone I climb with) but I was definitely puffing and panting and the old arms were getting tired, but it wasn't as hard as I'd expected. Still big holds for the hands, just smaller holds for the feet and a grand, birds eye view of the final pitch, which looks harder than the previous 4, ah well, I think i've still got a little fuel left in the tank, I guess we'll see.

8/ I look down from the belay, Buis and Theo are sitting on the river bank looking up at us. I wave, Buis wags her tail back. I turn and smile at Lucy, climbing with a superstar deffo has its advantages, not just the obvious stuff, like letting them lead all the hard pitches, or like in this case, all the pitches! But simple little things like the feeling of being completely in control with the situation you are in, it plays a huge part in feeling good about the extreme situation you are in and its a good feeling.

9/ Lu heads off and I shout after her half jokingly "don't forget to place lots of gear" There's a tough looking section coming up and my arms are tired, there's definitely every chance I might just rack up a few "air-miles" before I make the belay! Rhythmically she works her way along the break, placing and clipping the fixed gear, mid way along the blankest section, where the footholds look as though they run out, she pauses, takes out her Iphone (see photo on left) turns round and starts taking photos of me, what a wind up! But you've got to love her, if you've got it, flaunt it! She makes the belay, now its my turn.

10/ I leave the comfort of my belay and focus on a good foothold 20ft away, if I'm going to get through this I'm going to have to mentally do it in sections! Just focus on whats coming up in each small immediate section. The first few feet aren't too hard, good hand holds and a little ledge that I'll be able to rest on about 25ft away. I make it and shake out my weary arms. I can see another ledge, just big enough for a foot another 15ft away, thats my focus. Again the hand holds are good and I reach my momentary salvation. My arms are tired, but how tired? It's pretty obvious that the next section is sustained. If I can make it into the corner there's another hold I can stand on, after that there's nothing much until I get to the belay, so I'll have to climb quickly and try and conserve my strength.

11/ The next 15ft are a struggle. Paste the feet high on nothing, the hands are on big but flat holds sapping my strength faster than I would have ideally liked, but I make it into the corner. I look down, Buis and Theo look unimpressed. I shake out again, get as much back as I can and keep telling myself "this route's not even hard, you can't fall off it" my arms seem to have a slightly different view point and aren't recovering, so the race is on, will I make the belay, or will gravity pull me from my tenuous perch.

12/ I head out on good holds, unclip the last piece of fixed gear and realise I'm about to fall off. There's nothing, my fingers start to unfold, I can't fall off! 180m of climbing gone, 5m to go, I can't fall off now! but my fingers seem to think I can. What to do? So I cram my foot in the break above my right shoulder and lock the toe and heel of my boot tight in, this means I can let go with BOTH hands. From this position I can take stock. I can see a foothold out to my left, if can shuffle along the ledge just a few feet I'll be standing on it. My arms aren't recovering though, so any thought of using them isn't really a serious option, my options are limited, what to do? Somehow I manage to cram my entire body in the break and kind of "squirm" my way along it just a few feet, but crucially just enough that I can, when I swing my leg down, stand on that hold I mentioned.

13/ I look across at Lucy, she's in the throws of laughing so hard it's lucky for both of us she's tied on. Finally I make it to the belay and snap at Lu, frustration and tiredness kicking in. Lu's already rigged the abseil rope, so I head down that into the waiting paws of my canine companions, who think its a fitting end to the adventure to push me into the biggest nettle bed you've ever seen, just to add injury to insult. Two minutes later and Lucy is down, a big smile on her face.

14/ We coil the ropes, pack the bags, wade the river and virtually run back to the car. I've got a physio appointment in half an hour and it's going to be touch and go whether I make it. I don't care if I'm covered it chalk, soil, nettle stings, mud, sweat and dog slobber, it's been worth it, these are the kind of days you remember when the scars have healed and the mud's been washed off, I got my adventure and I can't wait until the next one - Thanks Lucy, you're such a star - Its been a grand day out.

For more adventures from professional climber Lucy Creamer visit her excellent blog here