Top Ten Climbs - Yorkshire

Article by Toby Dunn
Thursday 15th September 2011

As an inspiration and incentive to experience the wonder, magic, variety and massive range of interesting adventures that the climbing in the United Kingdom can offer, we offer you an easily digestible serial of picks from the four corners of our mostly green and pleasant isle.

We start with a selection of ten from North Yorkshire, home of the finest sport climbing the UK has to offer, and a fantastic selection of traditional climbing and bouldering. Yorkshire has amazing climbing at all levels; here are just a few favourites to occupy you until your fingers and arms fatigue, and it's time to retire to some of the county's less demanding delights: Yorkshire Tea, or real ale! This doesn't pretend to be a best of... but just a good selection to inspire you for going climbing in one of the world's great areas for it.



1) Fluted Columns HVD, Almscliff



What I love about Fluted Columns is that it has everything that is great about gritstone climbing. In its accessible sweep of brown sugary rock, it manages to be rounded, technical, and yet oddly strenuous. Despite its modest grade, the movement required to negotiate the sloping breaks and runnels is totally absorbing. It has an amazing rock feature of some proper grit ‘tufas', which draw you upwards: grasping its amazing organ pipes is a pleasure, regardless of climbing level. This route really lets you revel in the glorious spontaneity of scrambling up bits of this wonderful rock. 

Almscliff features heavily in this selection - in many ways this is because it typifies Yorkshire grit climbing, short, brutal with a relatively small selection of outstanding, memorable routes. It is also simply a brilliant crag, with a brilliant view and a truly stunning place to watch a sunset.


Lee Rodgers giggling his way up the tufas on Fluted Columns HVD.JPG 

Lee Rodgers giggling his way up the tufas on 'Fluted Columns' HVD.

Fluted Columns - RockFax Link



2) Dental Slab S, Rylstone


A gentle yet fascinating introduction to the world of friction slabs. Slab climbing epitomises much of the magic of gritstone: trust in the considerable friction available. Slab moves can be disarmingly strenuous, requiring body tension, finger strength and flexibility. Subtlety is perhaps what characterises the gritstone slab best. Dental slab encapsulates this magical blend in as beautiful location as you could wish for, its crystalline brown face looking down over upper Wharfedale, over its shoulder, an expanse of barren grouse and heather-strewn moorland. While you are up there, perhaps roam a short distance further onto the moor, and do the amazing Poetry in Motion; a ‘Crescent Arete' without the crowds of Stanage.


John Helme thoroughly enjoying dental slab Rhylstone 

John Helme thoroughly enjoying 'Dental Slab' S, Rhylstone.

Dental Slab - RockFax Link


3) Great Western HVS, Almscliff

Perhaps Great Western is an obvious or clichéd choice? I'd argue that popularity does not diminish the marvel of a rock climb as good as this one. Perhaps it doesn't have the straightest line and other such things that people complain about, but for me it fulfils the criteria for being one of the best routes in Yorkshire (and therefore the world!) by being really, really good fun. The ground is steep, exposed and intimidating, but the rock is solid, the protection is perfect and the holds and jams are all excellent. The leftwards traverse is a fantastic piece of climbing, the lack of definite footholds enhances the exposure, and the huge handholds are just hidden enough to really ratchet up the excitement level, whilst keeping the difficulty level very reasonable.


stu littlefair great western HVS Alsmcliff

 Stu Littlefair on  'Great Western' HVS, Almscliff. 

Great Western - RockFax Link



4) Raindogs 8a, Malham



In some ways, Raindogs is the antithesis of things that I like in climbing. It is short, has no discernable line and a totally arbitrary finish. Famously, grabbing a large in-situ carabiner on the belay finishes the route. It is a testament to the quality of the climbing on the route that I still have considerable affection for it. It is the perfect stream of punchy moves, which flow together in a beautiful sequence. Few things can match the satisfaction of being out on a rainy, grim day (it is virtually permanently dry) and locking down the last holds to shove a couple of fingers through that beckoning crab at the top of the route.


 Toby Dunn showing some interesting footwork on raindogs 8a Malham

Toby Dunn showing some interesting footwork on 'Raindogs' 8a.

Raindogs - RockFax Link


Raindogs from Neil Preston on Vimeo.



5) Wellington Crack E4, Ilkley



Wellington crack is a thin, pumpy crack. Wellington Crack is a product of the great Pete Livesey's radical approach to climbing. He dedicated thought and time to training, applied structure, and got results. Nowadays this approach is usual, magazines and websites are stuffed full with training articles and coaching is common. In the early 1970s, Livesey was a maverick and innovator. Wellington crack goes to show that a bit of wall trained fitness and muscle will assist (though not guarantee) an ascent of some stunning rock features.


Wellington Crack - RockFax Link 



6) The Directissima, 6c Kilnsey



 Truly memorable easier sport routes are few and far between in Yorkshire, and while this certainly isn't ‘easy' it is a stunning line on which crisp footwork and some creative movement will make your life an awful lot easier. Although Kilnsey is often seen as crag of steepness and muscular moves, with routes like Comedy 7c; I have long thought that what truly epitomises the cliff is really awkward groove climbing. The Bulge, The Thumb, Zero Option, Man with a Gun, Dreamtime, Ground Effect... they all have these pig-awkward grooves which try to push you out backwards like an irritated bouncer. Come to think of it, even Comedy has a bit of a shallow groove...

The most important thing on Directissima, is not to stop at the first belay, as most people do. The full route rewards your dedication to the shiny awkwardness below with a fantastic steep stream of jugs, which carry up the soaring groove above all the way to a small ledge underneath the vast capping roof, and the start of the Mandela...

The Directissima - RockFax Link



7) The Jim Grin, 7a Trollers Gill



... and grin you certainly will. A 7a to beat the pants off most UK sport climbing at this level. The start is tricky, but leads quickly to a series of increasingly chunky jugs, and even the possibility of a hands off knee bar just where the ground is steepest, handily situated just below a tricky finish which requires a bit of faith in you feet all of a sudden. Extra special points if you can produce a beer / banana / cake according to preference from a pocket, and consume it whilst in the knee bar. A well-rounded route, which is well bolted, and great fun.

The Jim Grin - RockFax Link




8) The Yorkshire Triple Crown 8a+ (Supercool, Gordale; Urgent Action, Kilnsey; The Groove, Malham)

The Triple Crown is the benchmark for harder sport climbing in Yorkshire. Ticking it requires dedication of a number of different types. Not only do you need to be strong and it enough to do the routes, they need to be dry (all three are wet for at least some portion of the year). This rather British obstacle only increases the crown's appeal however. It is a mark of a dedication to Yorkshire rock climbing, and an ascent of its three greatest chunks of limestone via three of the best lines, with some of the best climbing, on any crag in the UK. All three are fairly long, exposed and intimidating
These three routes are an aspiration, or a work of months and years for most; perhaps a good weekend out for the ‘more able'?

Supercool - RockFax Link

Urgent Action - RockFax Link

The Groove - RockFax Link






Malham Video with Steve McClure from Mountain Network 



Niall Grimes interviews Steve McClure for planetFear at the Kendal Mountain Festival 2010 - More on the planetFear Facebook Channel 




9) Zoolook, 8a, Malham 

Zoolook, first climbed by ‘big' Ron Fawcett in 1985, was a stunning effort for its time. It is still regarded as a hard 8a today. Zoolook stands as an exemplar of the style of its era: fingery, punchy, technical climbing demands precision, neat footwork and a cool head to trust in the relatively meagre holds that its sustained headwall presents. As you crimp so hard your fingernails turn white, and contort your legs around to flow through this arduous sequence, it's as well to remember that in the mid eighties Ron would have had much poorer rock boots, and much bigger run outs to contend with! (although perhaps a touch less polish as well). In his biography, Ron says that Zoolook was perhaps the best of all of the more ‘modern' style of routes that he did in the mid-eighties. Adam Ondra (who onsighted it) echoed this; he called Zoolook ‘one of the best and hardest 8as'. Coming from either of these people, this is praise indeed. Zoolook is, in case you ever wondered, an album by French electro-pioneer Jean Michelle Jarre.


Al Wilson Zoolook, 8a Malham



Zoolook - RockFax Link



10) The Big Three E3s, Almscliff (Western Front, Big Greeny, Wall of Horrors)

Yorkshire seems to lend itself to these mini-list apprenticeship lists of routes. The ‘big three' as the three classic E3s of Almscliff are known give a stunning, varied trad climbing day's worth of climbing, encompassing technicality, boldness and brutality in a compact and elegant triptych of grit classics. Western Front is perhaps the easiest proposition, and a good starting point; although a good warm up is advised: it will still punish timidity or an inability to hand-jam! Though at least the perfect protection will ensure that the results of falling will be damaging only to the ego. Big Greeny is a bolder outing, taking a deceptively tricky initial wall, to a wide break where largish cams can be satisyingly buried. An exciting crux lies ahead on the bulging wall and fantastically memorable sloping top out. Wall of Horrors is a stern test of a wide range of gritstone skills- a hard start takes you an intimidating distance off the ground before rewarding you with some gear possibilities. A few burly moves follow before the technical and fingery crux on some of the sharp rugosities, which typify Almscliff climbing, and make it distinct from the endless sloping breaks that often charcterise other grit crags. After this trio, a pint of real Yorkshire Ale in the Hunters Inn just down the road will be well earned and round off your top quality day.


Western Front E3, Alsmcliff


Western Front E3, Alsmcliff.




Western Front - RockFax Link

Big Greeny - RockFax Link

Wall of Horrors - RockFax Link 




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What routes - 06/10/2011
A distinct lack of images
Kids nowadays - 11/12/2011
"it's as well to remember that in the mid eighties Ron would have had much poorer rock boots, and much bigger run outs to contend with!" - but you try telling the kids nowadays and they won't believe you! (In honour of the Monty Python Yorkshiremen.)

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