Bouldering at Earl Crag: Yorkshires Finest
by Simon Panton
Photography Ray Wood
Oft touted by the cognoscenti as the ‘best bouldering crag in Yorkshire’, Earl easily lives up to such a weighty expectation. It is undoubtedly an atmospheric place; the dark north westerly aspect – coupled with the looming towers that bookend the escarpment – lend the crag a mysterious ambience, something which only relents with the benefit of successive visits and growing familiarity. The rock is perfect, solid grit, forming bold features – blank enough to perplex, yet flowered with just, (but, only just), enough surface clues to reveal the appropriate code of movement.
It is a challenging place to boulder; many of the classic problems demand the full gamut of climbing tools: deft footwork, finger strength, power, aggression, coolness and poise – often all at the same time. It has an extensive range of classic problems, seemingly designed by a climbing obsessed deity, indeed there are enough quality lines to keep your average climber coming back for years, certainly more than can be fitted into a 20 problem circuit. By necessity this is a cherry picked assortment, of worthy problems that pepper the length of the edge.
Arriving behind the monument, head down rightwards to meet the end of the edge proper as it abuts the jumbled boulder field that falls away to the left. The starting couplet of nifty problems lead quickly on to territory of a more demanding nature. Problem 3 is quite a sandbag at V2 if you go for the direct lurching finish. A more friendly solution can be made with the welcome aid of the finger pocket out left – tell yourself that you’ll come back for the direct, and indeed the desperate sit down start once you’ve warmed up. Problem 4 is classic, if a little pushy for its V1 book grade.
On either side lie a duo of hard lines; to the left, Handy Andy’s, a snatchy V7 that steps in from the right at V7, or levitates direct from the ground at V10; to the right, is Andy Brown’s Wall, a wildly optimistic dyno from a small sidepull for a distant top. Walking down around the front side of the lowest boulders beneath the monument will lead you quickly to a proud block of grit, sporting an appealing flake line. This is Lager, Lager, Lager (V9), an amazingly slopey test piece. There is also another variation (The Flakes), ironically climbed many years before that escapes left from the start at V7.
Continue around to reach the much-fancied John Dunne Slap (V4), which takes the bulging wall right of an obvious highball slabby arête. As the name suggests, a dynamic approach will pay dividends – my top tip, is to look away from the hold when you go for the slap. Bizarre, but it works. Whilst you are in the area, I would suggest that you check out the magnificent hanging ramp line of Underworld – a killer V10 first ascended by Ben Moon. This is reached by scrambling up and leftwards through the boulders. The right arête, slapping into the top of the ramp is also superb: Underpants (V9).
Back up on the edge, Problem 7 sits to the left of the approach gully on a high block. A superb V3 spiced up with a dose of typical Earl intimidation, it goes at an even harder grade if taken direct. Further left, past an intriguing looking project line, you will find the innocuous looking arête of Grape Nut (V6). A tempting ledge lies just out of reach, and the best solution appears to be a hopeful lurch from the nearby rock. Purists can affect a more conventional standing start at a harder grade, but all will be faced with the decidedly sketchy top out.
On the far side of the wall that meets the crag, in a recess, a couple of conspicuous highball V3 arêtes (The right hand one is known as Rat Au Fin) provide wonderful technical exercises, dosed with a real sense of anguish.
A quick stroll along the base of the edge will lead you to the centrefold attraction of the crag: Desert Island Arête (V6). It is easy to spot, being the striking left arête of the largest buttress, undercut at its base, and blessed with a convenient finishing break at 5 metres. First climbed in the mid ’70s, Jerry Peel’s masterpiece problem has been a rite of passage for aspiring hot-shots ever since. There are low start variations and an excellent right hand finish (courtesy of Andy Mitchell), for those who cruise the standard version.
The latter part of the circuit lies over at the far end of the crag, on the upper tier. From an orientation point of view it is best to walk to the far side where an exposed rock platform (the top of Erasor Slab – a highball V1) sits beneath an impressive, clean wall (Edge of Darkness).The right arête of the wall is given E1, but most confident climbers will find it to be a highball V1.The attractive Pebble Arête (V3) (or White Wall as it is known in the YMC guide), to the right of the chimney, has a stubborn, desperately balancey flavour that belies its benign appearance. If you get spanked on this then take solace in the pocketed wall to the right (Problem 15), which yields in a more forgiving fashion.
Moving back right 30 metres, the wonderful Hanging Groove (V5) swings into view. Often done from a standing start at V4, although the sit down really makes it special. Just right of the bald arête (a Steve Dunning V11, in case you were wondering), the rather famous Sloping Beauty (V7/8) resides. Many different sequences are possible, including one with some crafty toe hook action, on this modern classic.
Further right again, the last trio of problems provide a neat close to the day. The highball V1 is thankfully blessed with juggy finishing ledge. Trick Arête (V4) is quite exasperating if taken on its left side (even when you’ve worked out what to do), however, a considerably easier right hand method is possible. For a final burn I would suggest the entertaining traverse on the adjacent block: follow the top at first, before dropping down at the arête. Continue all the way across, rocking out left past the slabby arête. All that remains are the customary post match analysis and wound licking, fuelled by a glorious pint of Yorkshire ale.
The crag can be reached from the A6068 Colne – Keighley road.Turn up Dick Lane and drive back left beneath the edge. It is possible to park at the top here and access the crag left-to-right, however the described circuit starts from the western end.Thus continue round, turning right along Buck Stone Lane to reach a small car park. A path from here leads to the monument.
At the end of a hard day at the crag why not do your skin a favour by encouraging some repair and re-growth with vitamin E type hand creams and waxes – my favourites are the Climb On wax and Palmer’s cocoa butter cream, which has the added bonus of leaving your hands smelling of chocolate!