Around the Bloc: Smallacombe Rocks
- Wednesday 21st December 2022
Words and Photographs by David Simmonite
Seen from Haytor, the hillside looks little more than a jumbled and chaotic spread of boulders that give the impression of a modest amount in the way of bouldering but viewed up close it is far from disappointing. Indeed Smallacombe Rocks offers excellent bouldering on superb moorland granite and is a fantastic place to while away time away from the tourist crowds at Haytor.
This southwest gem in the beautiful Dartmoor National Park, Devon is situated almost due north of Haytor and is reached in around a half-hour walk from the Haytor National Park Visitor Centre. Set in a stunningly scenic area with panoramic views into the far distance there are plenty of problems with over 120 and counting to go at. The area is particularly ideal if you climb in the lower to mid-grade spectrum with a large number of problems in the Font 4 to 6b range. The problems cover every facet of bouldering from slabs to walls and roofs to mantels and diversity is plentiful.
The rock, although excellent, is pretty rough so don’t rush at it like a headless chicken and consider some skin care product to prolong a session. It takes a little bit of working out the area given the chaotic layout so either print off the layout photograph with the topo off the Javu site or study the layout diagram in the new Dartmoor guide and things will be easier to find.
In terms of the best time to visit, it really is an all-year-round venue but bear in mind that Smallacombe Rocks sits high on the moor and as such catches any weather that's going, especially the wind. This is no bad thing though helping things dry quickly and keeping the midges at bay in summer. For those interested in the history of the area they climb in, there is a collection of Bronze Age hut circles close to Smallacombe which was home to a sizeable population living on the moor when the climate was much warmer.
Due to the large volume of problems at Smallacombe and its intricacies, to give you an idea of what to try on your first visit or two here is a list of problems recommended by various Dartmoor activists and a little about what each problem is about:
Cave Wall Eliminate (Font 6B) climbs via the jug rail on Cave Wall (itself a terrific Font 6A that heads right before heading up by the use of a rock over) and goes straight up to slopers on the lip and continuing direct. A great eliminate.
Death Jug Mantel (Font 5+) is a very amusing problem in the Summit Sector and involves grasping a flake to reach up to the monster of all jugs and a mantel – or some painful shin shredding if you don’t make it. It's pretty ungradeable if you can't mantel but give it a go anyway, you've nothing to lose – except maybe some skin!
Yorkshire Tea (Font 7B) is a neat problem and starts from a sitter to a side-pull and a crystal on the arête and then a tricky foot swap to easier moves. This a great find from Craig Williams.
Binocuous Traverse (Font 6A) is between the Summit Sector and the Middle Slope Sector and offers up a fun traverse of a rounded lip with a hard drop down to flakes and more traversing. It is possible to traverse the lip all the way around the block but is much more sustained, the original only goes halfway – your arms will probably dictate which you do.
Middle Slope Sector
Javu topo Problem 28 (Font 5+) gives a superb and rewarding problem with interesting moves up the hanging arête and crack.
Javu topo Problem 41 (Font 5) – An excellent wall problem using a vague crack right of a wide crack.
Sweetness (Font 5+) is a superb problem with a powerful start to get stood up on the sharp balancey arête. Hard for the grade.
Smiler (Font 6A) reaches from a break to gain the ‘smiley’ hold on the lip then back to the slopers and a trick finish. Keep away from the flake on the left to get the best out of it plus using it also reduces the grade.
Hidden Arête (Font 6A) is just up and left of Smiler and is a lovely little problem up an arête without recourse to the flakes/cracks on either side. Using these lowers the grade to Font 4.
Lower Slope Right
Slopey Traverse 2 (Font 6B) on the right side of the Lower Slope area is a right-to-left traverse and has the joy of a sloping top-out just at the point your arms start to feel the pump. Nice.
Korma (Font 6A) is a quality little problem that’s well worth seeking out, climbing via a flake to a great rock over to finish.
Protection (Font 6A) takes the leaning wall round to the right of Korma. Starting with a big move it finishes with a sloping top-out that is a tad worrying so a good spotter or two is crucial. Feels high in the grade too but the climbing is excellent.
Lower Slope Left
Javu topo Problem 76 (Font 5) is a quality layback problem up a sloping arête on its right-hand side. The moves are accomplished with the help of the odd feldspar crystal foothold and can feel a little out there.
Small Acorn (Font 6A) – A sneaky sequence that can either be powerful or not, the fun is working it out.
GW Twat (Font 6C) is a memorable (i.e. scary due to the awkward landing) and technical outing up a fine wall.
Upper Slope Sector
Oh Dude (Font 6C) is an entertaining and quality slab problem where good technique is the key. If you finish at the first break it is bouldering height, if you continue it is E4.
Orphan (Font 6B) – a superb problem and one of the best hereabouts. Starting on a low flake under the roof, make a hard powerful move up to a flake crack and an exciting finish.
Day Tripper (Font 6A) provides a good, pumpy traverse from the start of Summer Haze and finishing up Orphan.
So if you take pleasure in stepping away from the crowds and venturing a little further to have a good time then head to Smallacombe and enjoy the experience.
Guidebook and Topo
Dartmoor is a definitive guide to the area from The Climbers’ Club including coverage of most of Smallacombe Rocks. For a comprehensive and easy-to-follow topo with a crag overview and layout of each area to aid navigation visit www.javu.co.uk