Back to Chudleigh Main Guide
(Revised January 2013)
Introduction: Black Crag (NGR SX 886 785) is within the trees on the other side of the valley from the South Face; it can be viewed from the kissing gate above Palace Quarry and from the top of the Gagool Buttress. This isolated crag was developed by local climbers in the 1980s; nine climbs are recorded in the definitive Nick White guide. The main face of the buttress has a north-westerly aspect and it is a pleasant venue on a sunny summer evening. The recommended routes are described below.
It is a natural limestone cliff with a set of fine, steep traditional climbs, which has an ‘off the beaten track’ and adventurous atmosphere in comparison with the well-frequented South Face. The main attraction is a set of four very worthwhile one and two star E3s. The right to left rising traverse is also recommended. After a period of neglect, the pre-existing routes were brought back into climbable condition in 2007/08 and have been maintained in good condition since.
Approach: Previous guide books describe the access route as follows: “Start as for Chudleigh South Face, but where the path splits, take the lower alternative and follow it steeply down to the brook. Cross the brook and climb up a steep slope to the foot of the buttress.” However, this approach can feel a bit of an ‘Indiana Jones’-type experience…
An alternative and more pleasant approach exists from upslope on the east side of the valley, via. a path visible on the OS Landranger map. Right of way is a little uncertain, although access status is believed to be the same as for the woodland adjacent to the South Face. Coming southwards down the minor road from Biddlecombe Cross, park considerately next to a gateway in the wall on the left (room for two cars), and head off down a little path into the woods on the right hand side (the path enters undergrowth about 15m to the south of a ‘public footpath’ sign). After around 350m the path bears left, below a higher tree canopy. Black Crag is within the trees on the right.
From the top of the crag, an abseil to the base can most safely be made down the line of Golden Dive. Alternatively, the base can be reached by a steep path around the south-western flank of the crag.
Ethics and Gear: This is a natural limestone crag, with the same trad. ethic. as Chudleigh South Face (no drilled gear, fixed gear in line with original descriptions). Adequate natural protection opportunities exist, supplemented by the odd thread and peg. Placements can be a bit fiddly and/or creative, which enhances the on-sight challenge. On most routes, two sets of wires and a standard set of friends (up to #3) will suffice. Exceptions are Out on a Limb, where a large (#4 ish) friend proves useful, and The Same Deep Water as You, which requires three sets of small wires.
The Routes: The recommended routes are described below from left to left (looking in). Use UKC to provide feedback on the grading below (particularly from any on-sight efforts), which differs slightly from that in the Nick White guide.
Poetic Justice E3 5c
A slightly poor relation to the other E3s, mainly as some of the pitch attracts seepage in winter and is dusty when dry. However, the climbing is excellent and the route is certainly worthwhile (potentially worth a star) when in good condition. Low in the grade, but requiring some creative gear placements. From the lowest point of the crag, scramble leftwards up an ivy-covered slope to a higher terrace. Start just to the right of the rock steps at the base of the wall, below conspicuous double pockets at 15ft.
1) 45ft Climb the lower wall slightly rightwards to a break (ignoring the rock steps to the left), then head back slightly leftwards to reach the double pockets (two placements possible). Move up and right to reach good holds on a narrow ledge (weak thread runner), and then climb onwards and upwards to gain a crack system in the wall above. Follow the crack system with continued interest to the top. FA Robbie Warke, Rick Meek 1987.
Gorillability E3 5c/6a**
This route is touted as the best route at the crag in earlier guides, but it isn’t necessarily the first one to go for; it is high in the grade and challenging to protect for a strenuous section above the crux. The route starts on the higher terrace, about 10ft from the rock steps at the left hand end of the base of the wall.
1) 45ft Use small holds to gain a sharp flake on the lower wall. Move up past this to gain a semi-rest above a break. A sequency and sustained crux sequence on the wall above (peg runner, tenuous rock 6) allows larger holds and a fiddly wire placement to be gained up to the right, on the lip of a small bulge. Negotiate the ensuing ‘gorilla-ish’ section of the route with some urgency, to reach easier terrain above. Follow a crack in the upper wall slightly leftwards, to finish at a tree. FA Kit Wilkinson, Pete Bull 1986.
Note: the peg which protects the crux sequence was replaced in 2008 after the original ‘Cassin’ ring rotted away. The replacement sideways placement is not guaranteed to restrain a ‘plummeting primate’; so good judgement is required.
Golden Dive E3 5c*
A two star route in the Nick White guide. A dusty start and an unbalanced nature means that it probably only warrants 1*. Adequate protection throughout from wires and small/medium friends. A conspicuous crack splits the upper part of the main face, just right of centre. Start immediately below this, at the lowest point of the crag.
1) 60ft Climb the featured lower wall to reach a comfortable niche at the base of the crack. Arrange adequate protection, then stretch up and over the bulge above (potential 6a move for the short?) to reach good finger-holds and a placement in the crack above. Another long reach gains positive pockets, which enable the slight respite of a cave mouth to be reached (beware the resident jackdaws…). Bear slightly leftwards up cracks in the final wall above to a cleaned top-out, or lower-off the tree to the right. FA Nick White, Pete Bull 1986.
Darling Nikki E3 6a**
Although a little unbalanced overall, steadily rising difficulty and a lovely crux sequence elevates this climb to 2** status in this guide. High in the grade. Start below a short bulging rib, just to the left of the start of Out on a Limb (below).
1) 60ft Climb the bulging rib to a ledge at about 15’. Climb slightly rightwards up the featured and steepening rock above, making the most of the available wire placements, to reach a small niche and a conspicuous pocket. Pull up slightly leftwards onto the steep wall using small, positive holds (ring peg). Get suitably positioned (crux), then launch upwards and rightwards to reach positive holds at the base of a ragged crack. Pull strenuously up and over the bulge (good friend #2). Chill out a bit, then enjoy the final steep wall up to the tree on the left. Dodgy blocks exist directly above, so either lower-off on the tree (if you trust it…) or top-out further left as for Golden Dive. FA Nick White, Dick Thorns 1986.
Note: The old “Cassin” ring peg is in a dry location and seems to still be in good condition (2012). However, be aware that the strength of the ring on these old pegs is questionable.
Out on a Limb E3 5b/c*
A steep and very exciting pitch. A potential 2** climb, for the steep route enthusiast at least! Start at the left hand end of the overhanging western face, just to the left of a huge fallen block.
1) 60ft Ignoring the huge block, climb slightly rightwards up the overhanging rib on good holds, a little boldly at first. Good placements eventually appear in a break on the right. Continuing vertically up the rib, encouragingly good holds allow the positive edge of a jutting block to be gained. An old peg runner at this point can be backed up with friend placements to the right. Hand traverse the jutting block slightly rightwards (over the void!) and then make another long and strenuous reach upwards (crux) to gain a positive hold at the top of a leftwards rising crack. Move back leftwards to gain a dramatic posture atop the bulge (friend and wire placements), and then escape over the lip of the small overhang above. The best finish is vertically up the wall above. FA Nick White, Pete Bull 1986.
19th Nervous Breakdown E1 5b/c
A steep route, worthwhile on account of a gymnastic crux and some esoteric interest. Start at the right hand end of the overhanging western face of the crag.
1) 45ft Climb ledges and reach over a bulge (thread runner). Execute a strenuous, grappling, leftwards rockover onto the constricted ledge above. Escape upwards past the next overhang through a triangular niche and bear either leftwards or rightwards up the easier wall above using incut holds and blocks, taking care with the rock. Tree belay. FA Robbie Warke 1982.
The Same Deep Water As You E2 5b/c*#
A high quality, rising, right to left traverse of the crag. Completion in one push requires good stamina and competent ropework. Good protection throughout from wires and small/med. friends. High in the grade.
1) 75ft Start as for 19th Nervous Breakdown. Make the initial rockover of that route, then shuffle leftwards along the constricted and uncomfortable ledge. Using a high hold on the lip of the overhanging roof, swing strenuously leftwards to reach a fine position on the exposed prow of Out on a Limb. Pull over the roof above (as for that route) to a resting ledge. Curbing any upwards impulses, traverse horizontally leftwards across the main face, following an obvious sequence of footholds which run just on or above the lip of the main bulge. Technical moves initially reach the cave on Golden Dive, after which increasingly strenuous traversing leads to a juggy hold on a protruding block on Poetic Justice. From that position, pull diagonally upwards and leftwards on well-spaced but positive holds. Rock up onto the finely positioned pulpit ledge and belay. FA Simon Wooster, Ben Devenish 2012.
Other Routes: Working along the crag from left to right…
Wind Bandits (E2/3 5b) at the left hand end of the crag is an interesting experience; for most a top-rope route only, as it has a very bold start.
A largely independent top-rope line follows a sequence of good holds to the right of Gorillability, passing the persistent thorn bush. It trends slightly rightwards up the wall, via a hard 6a (Eng.) crux, to ultimately join the finishing section of Golden Dive.
Daddy’s Home (E3 5b/c #) is an alternative and harder start to 19th Nervous Breakdown. It starts from the left hand end of the huge fallen block, with the initial upward moves sharing some holds and placements with Out on a Limb. It then breaks out boldly upwards and rightwards to reach the constricted ledge. A move to the right joins 19th Nervous Breakdown.
Get Over You (E3 6a #) pilots a daunting line over the double overhangs just left of 19th Nervous Breakdown. The crux is a very tenuous and poorly protected initial sequence to reach a jug above the initial overhang. Positive holds in a brittle crack line are used to pass the second roof and gain easier ground.
Two other recorded routes to the right of 19th Nervous Breakdown currently remain lost under ivy.
Thanks to Simon Wooster for providing this guide.
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