In order to test my readiness for the 50@50 Challenge, today's mission was to head up to Birchen Edge in Derbyshire, and have a little trial run.
Perhaps I should explain what the 50@50 challenge is, exactly. The aim is to climb 50 routes on rock, in a day, at age 50...50 routes at 50 years old...50@50!
A route is a known, named and graded rock climb. In the Peak District, routes tend to be short (6-25m), and usually start at the bottom of the rock face, and finish at the top.
Simply, each route is graded in terms of how "hard" it is...this grading includes such factors as how scary the climb is, and how dangerous it is, alongside the more obvious "how hard the moves are" characteristic.
Grades range from Easy, through Moderate, Difficult, Severe and Extreme, with each grade being subdivided further.
For my challenge, I must climb named routes, and I can either climb up them or climb down them. However, in order to do 50 of these in a day, there will be no time to set up any ropes, nor any other kind of safety system.
I have to climb everything solo, which means to free climb, without any aid (assistance) or protection (safety measures).
Soloing is a very personal thing, and a bit of a can of worms, so let's not go there just now.
But it's fair to say that it brings my mind to focus, and makes me climb in a much more controlled manner, which is another way of saying it makes me climb better.
I'm comfortable soloing up to Severe, but the climbing is starting to get serious at this grade, so most of my challenge will be on (variations of) Diff climbs, with a handful of Mod and Severe routes thrown in to shake it up a bit.
I have a list of 60 or 70 routes at Birchen Edge that are in this grade range, so today I wanted to climb a few and see how they feel. I needed to assess how doable the challenge seems, how risky, how dangerous, how tiring, how scary, and so on.
Birchen was heaving today - I've never seen so many people at the crag - and I can't say I liked it!
Here's a photo I took whilst soloing a route in the busy area of the crag:
This meant that many of my planned routes were occupied (as most people climb mostly in the Diff to Severe range), and if nothing else, this supports my decision to do the 50@50 on a weekday.
My current target date is the 2nd of May, by the way, if anyone fancies a day out in the Peak?
I also learned that down climbing can be much slower than up climbing, and it's probably not a good idea to down climb anything harder than a Mod.
Just before I get to the facts and figures of the day, and apropos of absolutely nothing, here's a cute little common lizard, who posed politely for me on my rucksack:
Number of named routes climbed: 26
Number of named routes soloed: 24
Number of named routes down climbed: 4
Number of routes in the Mod range: 3
Number of routes in the Diff range: 11
Number of routes in the Severe range: 12
Number of falls: 2
The first was when I was leading one of the two roped routes we did, a climb called Nelson's Nemesis (VS 4b***) one corner crack was very smooth and slippery, and as I pulled up my hand just popped off and I fell a couple of feet...but my gear held (a cam I had in the crack), and Anna caught me! I think that's the first time I've fallen on my own gear, and the first time Anna has had to catch me in anger (not literally!). Thanks babe! So, no harm done, I hopped back on and led the route successfully from the ground up.
Then on my last solo of the day, I was off route - not following a published line, but just following my nose. Up on a little ledge near the top of the Kismet Buttress, I decided to head up a side wall. I reached over the top for a helpful hold, found one, weighted it, and immediately popped off because of all the dried soil in it. I fell a couple of feet again, but this time there were no ropes, so I thumped down quite heavily on one heel. Might be a bit sore tomorrow!
Because it was a side wall off a ledge, there was no real danger of a tumble down the face, but it was a bit of a wake up call about climbing off-piste...you don't know what you might run into, and it's significantly riskier than climbing known routes.
Number of routes climbed in the first 30 minutes: 10
This is a useful figure, and I think I could sustain this pace. So 10 climbs in 30 minutes, then a 10 minute rest...the 50@50 should take me about 3 hours and 10 minutes.
Number of scary moments: 0
Very promising for the 50@50.
Number of slightly sketchy moments: maybe 3 or 4
Must keep an eye on this.
Number of injuries: 2
My heel from the fall, and a muscle in my rib that I popped whilst climbing a tough arete, early in the day. Neither injury are serious, and will be fine in a day or two.
Number of other people there: far too many!
I think I'm ready for the 50@50, and I think it's doable.
I'm tired tonight, having done only half of the required routes...but they were mostly in the harder, more challenging Severe range, and there are steps I can take to conserve energy. I'm pleased with both the number of routes I did, and the average difficulty. There are some lessons to learn, and it's been a timely reminder to stay focussed on risk, stay within my boundaries, and keep at least three points of contact with the rock!
We finished the day on ropes, on a couple of tough classics, and Anna did a gutsy lead of Horatio's Horror (HS 4a**), which as a second, I found to be disconcertingly challenging!
And go me for my 50@50!