Dartmoor: Hard Granite Routes
Dartmoor hard granite has only really been developed over the last few years. The winter of 98-99 was something of a vintage season and it was then that most of the harder routes were climbed. Sadly, in terms of new developments that will probably be the best season ever as the hard new lines remaining have mostly been exhausted. Of course there will still be bits and bobs, even a few mega routes, but we'll never see hard routes in the same quantity as in The Peak or Yorkshire...oh well, never mind. Fortunately we don't have anywhere near as many climbers down hear so when it comes to routes per person, we're still doing OK.
Right then Hard Granite - whassit all about then? Well, below you'll find a brief history (but what else could it be given that Hard Dartmoor only has a brief history??) but first of all a quick warning. Many of the more recent routes are the work of Simon Young and Dave Henderson and have not had a large number, if any, repeats. Consequently the grades are only guesses and will remain so until a consensus has arisen. We shall try to remain as objective as possible but just in case anything sounds a bit dodgy make sure you take it with a pinch of sodium chloride. If you repeat/attempt any of the routes detailed here please contact me and let me know what you thought.
Dave Henderson dans le first ascent of Obscured By Clouds E6 6b/c. Now quite dirty and probably awaiting a second ascent.
If your only knowledge of Dartmoor comes from South Devon and Dartmoor Guide you could be forgiven for thinking the area was not really a noteworthy forcing ground with only handful of E5's and one E6 Angel of Mercy (unsurprisingly a Ken Palmer route which was ascended way back in 1986). The only new route between '86 and '98 given E6 was the still unrepeated Obscured by Clouds E6 6b/c in Holwell Quarry. However, during 1998-99 thelack of hard routes was comprehensively addressed and the result was about 16 routes in the E6-E7 grades. This really started after the Hard Grit video was released, and the first route climbed in the headpoint style was Simon Young's Hobble E5 6c, a not particularly noteworthy route to the right of Toltec Twostep (Hound Tor - despite the quality of the line it proved too close to adjacent routes. The following year Dave Henderson got the ball rolling a bit faster with Rough 'N' Ready E6 6b, as did Simon Young with his Bill Clinton E6 6b at Vixen Tor.
Dave Henderson with an exceedingly long arm on Rough n Ready E6 6b
The first two E7's were claimed and come in the form of two very contrasting routes; Simon Young's Thursday's Child E7 6c/7a at Lowman (although still unrepeated, a brief top rope inspection has revealed that Funky Si missed a good undercut - using this, the route is more like E5/6 6b) and Dave Henderson's Lev E7 6b, nestling in the trees at Lustleigh Cleave. The former represented the "very powerful but protected crux" genre whereas the crux on Lev presents itself as a thin, unprotected traverse on potentially snappy crystals for the feet. Subsequently rationalised down the hard E6, Lev also hinted at potential hitherto unrealized in the Cleave. …JaVu E7 6b/c followed the next month, taking difficulty to a higher level on the Moor. "Funky Si"mon Young made a repeat ascent the following weekend but not without getting "the fear" to an almost tearful extent and suggesting the grade of E8 6c. The routes grade was then subject to further confusion when Ken Palmer made the third ascent in '99, donning a helmet and rope to bolster confidence. Despite having no gear Ken apparently finds it easier to do bold routes with something dangling between his legs! Ken thought the route to be worth low E7 and I imagined it may well settle down at E7...or at least I did until Northern Raider Mike Lea came down and did it with a cunning side belayer and mat to the side, significantly reducing the seriousness. OK, it's E7 if you do it the proper way with no rope jiggery pokery!
The winter months saw several other lines fall, most notably Funky Si's immaculate slab The Nick of Time. This has had a couple of repeats, firstly from talented Plymouth climber Simon Blagdon (following top rope practice in the summer of 1999) who firmly implanted the cat amongst the pigeons with his suggestion of E5 6a, a little easier than Simon's initial grade of E6 6c. The third ascent was made after a quick abseil inspection (summer 2000) and showed that the actual grade lay somewhere between the two extremes at low E6 6b (maybe?). It would seem that Simon (the funky one) didn't use the best sequence for his ascent and that Simon (the other one) is er, from Plymouth....
The last year of the millennium started very well with Funky's The Pork Chop Route E7 6b/c (a typical Lustleigh route - unprotected, very thin and reliant on crystals that, as demonstrated during top rope rehearsal are not 100% trustworthy), a line previously looked at by several climbers including Martin Crocker. The following couple of months, however, didn't prove especially conducive to new routing on The Moor mainly thanks to the lure of the much more productive winter pastime of bouldering
Simon Young repeating Gems in a Granite Setting E6 6b, Smallacombe Rocks.
Just when it seemed that the momentum gained in 1998 was set to fade Simon Young snatched The Camel E6 6c (using a pre-placed RP) and then took a wander over to Holwell Tor where he soloed the dangerously attractive Bobangi E7 6c (Dave Henderson had abbed the a similar line previously but, not noticing holds out to the left, shelved it as a project for the future - oh well, just goes to show that "if you snooze you lose"). A repeat ascent was made the following week which rubbed in what a tremendous line had been missed out on. Dave Henderson managed to scoop the booby prize of Tsutsi E6 6b, a nice steep line with a tasty start at the same venue. (This line was first abbed, then tried "ground up" unsuccessfully until eventually a final move had to be looked at on a rope). The following weekend the dynamic Straight No Chaser E5 6c (originally given E6 although now reckoned to be more of a boulder problem at V7...assuming one has a bouldering mat and doesn't hurt themselves too much) and the very "un-obvious to suss out the moves and with two different and very bold finishes" Gems in a Granite Setting E6 6b at Smallacombe Rocks. Funky Si unsurprisingly made the second ascent of Gems…. (giving Dave Henderson an offputting insight into photographing dodgy routes from an ab rope) and a ground up ascent of Straight No Chaser (following a slightly different line to that used on the FA).
Dave Henderson on the bold start of Tsutsi E6 6b, Holwell Tor
Ken Palmer repeated Gems... and by all accounts reckoned it was alright. He obviously works to some different gravitational laws to Simon and myself ...but we all know that anyway.
A few other routes need mentioning - the first E7 headpoint experience on the Moor may possibly have been a solo ascent of Toltec Twostep E5 6b/c at Hound Tor; Sly "Andy Grieve E5" deserves a place in a Hard Granite list, the word on the street is that it's worth E6 (especially without the first peg on Angel of Mercy clipped, as I believe ascents to date have used) but doesn't get one as most people, other than Plymouthians, are too scared to do it let alone do it and upgrade it (an act that would show no understanding of the concept of Plymouth Grading!). Also of note is that what was thought to be Ken Palmer's direct on Toltec Twostep was actually first climbed by a visiting John Gaskins. Chances are it's probably the hardest move on a Dartmoor route, although Ken's Down The Welly E5 6c at Vixen Tor still needs attention...
Docker's Dilemma E5 6a *** Vixen Tor. As with most Vixen Tor routes this is a bit scary. Superb slab climbing but be careful if you fall off as you will probably loose a lots of skin on the lower slab. FA Repeats: Loads - the most popular E5 on the Moor as it's always nice and clean.
Rough Justice E5 6a *** Haytor. An absolutely superb route and and one of the more popular hard routes on the Moor.. Those over 5"10 will probably reckon E4 5c; any shorter and you'll find it a bit worrying. Don't bother taking a big rack - some friends for the initial crack (#1.5-2.5 ish), then a walnut/rock 5/6 to back up the peg. The top section is easier but very bold - I hear one can use a big friend but I've not checked the size. FA Pete Bull There was some controversy surrounding this route! See New Routes book in Moorland Rambler, Exeter for the full story! Has been soloed
Toltec Twostep E5 6b/c *** Hound Tor. Hard for the grade especially if onsight. FA Pete Bull Repeats: Several, including a few ground up highballs above mats. In the original style (without mats etc) it may await an onsight?
Toltec Twostep Direct E5 6c * Hound Tor. A hard crux protected by large friends by your feet. Safe on this bit but the top section would still be a scary onsight (as for the original).
The Hog's Back E5 6a ** Harton Chest, Lustleigh Cleave. A very fine route which usually appears to be very lichenous - don't let this put you off as the holds are all clean. There is gear in the thin break; this should reduce the commitment required but you'll still donk yerself if you fall off... fortunately the climbing's not too hard. FA Chris Nicholson with hanging rope. Repeats: (Dave Ferguson was probably the first non hanging rope ascentionist?) A few but I don't think it's been onsighted.
Big Bad Wolf E5 6a * Harton Chest, Lustleigh Cleave. Found on a large boulder beneath the main crag, this route is said to be in keeping with the Lustleigh style - crystal stuff with no gear. FA Simon Young '99 Repeats: Dave EF Ferguson, D.Henderson, Nic Dill (?), Martin Crocker. Probably E6 6b unless you've got loads of mats?
Wild Palms E5 6a * Westcott Rocks. A smart route which only received a second ascent in 2000 - just goes to show the slow pace of activity in Devon. Unprotected until after the crux, the route is quite precarious. The consequnces of a fall are fairly unpredictable given the nature of the landing (good if you fall one way, not so good if you go the other - although the crux is unprotected a rope may be of use for some sideways yanking action to direct a fall). The first ascent was soloed with a hanging rope...the second eliminated the hanging rope business. Awaits an onsight; get to it quick as it will become overgrown rapidly (it had a good clean in 2000). FA Nick White Repeats: Dave Henderson
Of the following routes only Angel of Mercy has received an onsight ascent! (to my knowledge - let me know if you know otherwise!)
Obscured By Clouds E6 6b/c * (Holwell Quarry). Abbed to remove a couple of old aid pegs and clean, then lead "ground up" working on the lead. Several falls were taken in the process, which was entertaining given the RP gear. Often seeping, which may expain why it has not yet recieved a repeat. At the time I thought it was harder than any other routes routes of that grade I'd done.
The Nick of Time E6 6b ** (Swell Tor Quarry). This is probably the best quarried slab on the Moor (there aren't many!) and features some very fine climbing. FA Simon Young 8.98 Repeats: Simon Blagdon, Dave Henderson
Bill Clinton E6 6b * (Vixen Tor). The wall to the right of Boris Yeltsin (i.e. around to the left of Commando Crack) is said, by the first ascentionist, to be a goodun! However, due to lack of attention it now appears to be a bit dirty and a could do with a re-clean. FA Simon Young 1998 Repeats None
Unimpeachable E6 6b (Vixen Tor). The arete above Bill Clinton. Supposed to have a hard move near the top which is protected, but you still may bump yourself. FA Simon Young '99
Angel of Mercy E6 6a/b *** (Vixen Tor). The first E6 on the Moor was actually given E5 back in the old days. Has received a handful of onsights - probably the only route of it's grade to be onsighted on The Moor? This is because it is adequately protected and tends to stay cleaner than other hard routes. FA Ken Palmer Repeats: quite a few, although onsights are rare. Rumoured to have soloed by Mark Edwards.
Sly E6 6b? ** (Vixen Tor) On ascents to date the first peg of Angel has been clipped. Obviously bolder without. Originally given E5 (but so was Angel!) it is rumoured to be every bit as hard as it's more lauded neighbour Angel of Mercy. Take a double set of medium friends and large forearms so that you can hang on long enough to place them! Definitely E6 without peg on Angel! FA Andy Greive Repeats: Ken Palmer and possible some others? I don't think it's ahd any onsights??
Pig Headed E6 6a/b (Lustleigh Cleave). The wall to the left of The Hog's Back. There is a large Friend half way up - it is bold to gain this and then bold to finish. A do-able onsight proposition, as long as it's clean. FA Simon Young 1998 Repeat: None
Rough N Ready E6 6b * (Haytor). A precarious and dangerous lower half. There is no gear below the break and the rock tends to covered in a fair amount of lichen. The top half is the technical crux and much safer - failure will still result in a reasonable fall! FA Dave Henderson Repeats Simon Young
Lev E6 6b *** (Lustleigh Cleave). Quite hard for the grade given that you may well loose knee caps if you slip off/a crystal breaks on the crux (which is above a granite slab). The initial leftwards traverse from the gully is the crux, after which the climbing is technically easier but scary to the break. The top arete is bold - a big and dangerous fall from a slightly easier finish. Awaits an onsight and thus also a proper grade (rather than just a theoretical one guess at from after a top rope rehearsed lead). FA Dave Henderson Repeats Simon Young, Martin Crocker, Mike Lea, Rob Lisney Note: Martin Crocker opted to place a runner in an adjacent tree. The grade does not account for this, although Martin reckoned it was still worth E6.
Gems in a Granite Setting E6 6b ** (Smallacombe Rocks) A tricky but adequately protected (small Friends #1, 1.5) crux leads to a bold slab to finish. The line on the first ascent moved out right at the top of the runnel to a good edge - on the second ascent a more direct finish was used. Both are a similar grade but which you choose will depend on your own preference! FA Dave Henderson 14.8.99 Repeats: Simon Young, Ken Palmer
Tsutsi E6 6b * (Holwell Tor) A bold and tricky start leads to some good gear at the base of the crack. Powerful stuff leads up here until a long reach gains the final break. The first ascent envolved several falls - "I abbed the line to give it a brush and have a sneaky look at the gear, hoping to be able to flash the route. After several failed attempts at reaching the top break I resorted to a quick look at the final move on a top rope (which was fortunate as it turned out I hadn't cleaned it very well). After this, the route was more or less in the bag".
None of the following have received onsight ascents (they were all worked on a top rope to a some extent before a lead/solo ie headpointing) so the E7 is only a speculative grade. Please bear in mind that many of Dartmoor's routes are reliant on either Quartz or Feldspar crystals which are prone to breaking - take care and consider sending your mate down on an ab rope to clean them up a bit.
Bobangi E7 6c ** (Holwell Tor). A superb route and as good as they get...or it would be if it were a little longer. Short but quite dangerous...at a guess - this has yet to be proved or disproved!. The two ascents have been soloed but there is gear in the slot before the hard climbing; it may reduce the committment but if you fall from the crux you'll still hit something hard. FA Simon Young Repeats: Dave Henderson Has been looked at by a few others...
...JaVu E7 6b ** (Lustleigh Cleave). This route was subject to some controversy over the grade.Dave Henderson: "Initially I reckoned E7, then Simon Young repeated the route a week later. He compared it to similar routes he'd done in the Peak and suggested it may be worth a bit more. I didn't really know so when it was first written up it was given E7/8. After that Ken Palmer made the 3rd ascent and reckoned E7 - Ken dragged a rope up the route to bolster confidence (previous ascents were soloed) and the grade was kind of settled at E7....until Northern raider Mike Lea came along. Mike led the route and positioned a mat and belayer high on the gully to the left. In this style I hear that he reckoned E6 and basically a dodgy 6b boulder problem as he could be yanked off sideways in the event of a fluff up!" The grade stands at E7 for a "proper" ascent! FA Dave Henderson Repeats: Simon Young, Ken Palmer, Mike Lea
Pork Chop Route E7 6c ** (Lustleigh Cleave). Dodgily thin slab climbing, above a serious landing. On the first ascent mats were used...the route will be hard for the grade with no mats. Wait for a cold day and make sure you have your slab head on. FA Simon Young Repeats: None!
If you repeat, or know of anyone who has repeated, any of the routes above please send in details.
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