On Monday 4th March I climbed my most significant boulder problem to date. Superman at Crag X in the Peak District is a non-descript eliminate up a gently overhanging buttress of limestone. It could well be the hardest thing I have climbed but for me that is not the reason that it means so much….
Let’s rewind nearly seven years to the summer of 2006 and my first visit to Crag X. This small limestone buttress is hidden away in mossy woodland where the smell of wild garlic and the sound of cascading water transport you into a chapter from Tolkien. It really is the type of place that fairies could live!
My first day climbing here was not especially successful; I think I managed a 7a. However, British summer time forces us to climb on bits of manky limestone and if I was to spend my summer falling off calcium carbonate I was at least going to do it somewhere that is a nice place to be. That first day I was shown the problems and told the rules and style in which to climb them (I will come back to this) and I remember thinking “I like this place, I like it a lot!” This probably sounds quite perverse to a lot of you, especially those that have been to Crag X but it really is one of my favourite places to climb. It has everything; a quiet setting away from prying eyes, hard moves to get stronger on, interesting movement and, most importantly, a lot of history!
People climb for differing reasons and motivations; some like tall, proud lines, others just revel in good movement and some of us just like a bit of history with our rock. Well I climb for all the above and Crag X meets two of these criteria; proud line people need not apply!
The history comes in the form of Jerry Moffatt and Ben Moon, Sean Myles and John Welford, Stuart Cameron and Malcolm Smith; all big names in British climbing and all regularly frequented this crag for something to do in the summer months. It was a place where they could train outside; rules could be implemented and those that didn’t abide could be ridiculed. Some may argue that it is silly but you have to make the most of what you have and boy did they do that.
Anyway, I digress. During that summer I ticked my way through the ‘classics’ of the crag, gradually working my way up the grades and always abiding by the rules! This culminated in me climbing my first 8A boulder problem. The Thing, put up by Ben Moon way back when, famously had what was dubbed to be an English 7b move on it; I personally think I by-passed this by moving so quickly I barely touched the sloper!
I knew by just putting in effort I would be able to climb all the problems at the crag, all bar one that is. Put up by Jerry Moffatt in 1986, Superman has changed over the years and after a crucial hold broke it was left to Tim Clifford to re-climb the line in 2004 using a minute left hand crimp. It was for this reason I thought I would never climb the problem, I could not conceive holding it, let alone moving off it.
Moving on a few years and I am still drawn back to Crag X every summer. I like the solitude down there, seeing others is rare and you can just go and have a really good workout in a beautiful place. I have completed all the problems and even added a few new ones but still one eluded me: Superman. In the summer of 2010 I decided to start having a go. This didn’t last long; I just couldn’t touch it. Then in spring 2011 I tried it at night by lantern in order to get cool enough conditions to hold the tiny left hand hold, but all to no avail. 2012 saw me only have two goes on the problem and leave with a bloody left index finger and still no luck on the crux.
That brings us to the present day and, after having a wet week in Fontainebleau, I just wanted to get out on some dry rock. Monday morning was a fresh spring day; the sun was shining but there was still a chill in the air. I went to the wall to warm up before heading out on the grit. After a dreadful warm up, and deciding it was too hot to climb on grit stone, I decided to see if Crag X had dried out after the winter and, amazingly, it had. I had no plans to try Superman. I felt as sluggish as a slug and as heavy as a very weighty object so I started to tick my way through the circuit of problems, cleaning off the winter muck and reacquainting myself with their idiosyncrasies. After an hour or so I was surprised to have done them all and decided to give Superman a go.
For those of you that don’t know the problem, the first move is hard, the second harder and the third not quite as hard as the previous two but still tricky and then you still have 3 very droppable moves till you reach your finishing hold and drop off feeling very smug and exceedingly good about yourself. I had done the first move before but never the next two and after 20 minutes I didn’t feel anywhere near to any of them!
I decided to pack it in and leave it for another day or at least I thought I had. However ten minutes later I was back on the pads and, quite surprisingly, proceeded to have my two closest goes, just coming up short on the second move. A rest was in order and so Mina, Em and I went for a short walk. I didn’t really have any expectations, I was pleased with the previous goes I had had and yet at the back of my mind there was this flicker of hope. Mina decided to set up the camera and I am glad she did. I don’t normally describe climbs but here I am going to, so skip through by all means. I pulled on and stuck the first move perfectly; my right foot stayed and up I went. Sticking the crux, a brief thought went through my mind: “this could be it…” Having never done the next move I expected to be back on the foam shortly and I nearly was. I just managed to hold the out swing and now I was thinking: “don’t mess up!” I had climbed the top on countless occasions but this time was different; I was nervous but very focussed and this seemed to get me through. Matching the top hold was incredible. A surge of pride and elation went through me; not only had I achieved a life-time goal but it was completely unexpected. I was utterly speechless.
Sitting here now, two days on and I am still surprised that I have climbed Superman, it actually doesn’t feel real. Climbing Karma in Fontainebleau was my previous high point in climbing but this small piece of snotty limestone has completely surpassed that feeling and it feels bloody brilliant!!