The following is a blog post I wrote a couple years back about getting outside on gritstone. Not quite a 'how to' but some more general thoughts, things to keep in mind and some piss taking.
It's Grit Season!
You’re sitting on the nice comfy sofa after an indoor bouldering session being talked at about how “the connies were great over the weekend, grit season is now here.” You look out the window to see it’s already dark at 5 o’clock and pissing with rain, what the hell is this obsession with gritstone?! Everything you’ve heard about it doesn’t exactly appeal…
The boulders are all highball slabs with never ending rounded topouts! They're not talking about a place for you and your indoor strength, surely you’ll get shutdown and hate it.
And then there’s the trad climbing…
It’s all about 10 metre run outs on 12 metre cliffs, tied into 3 ropes with a single pebble (hopefully) keeping you from the jumble of sharp blocks, a morphine induced crawl to the road and a free ride to Sheffield General to see if they can piece together your lower limbs.
Maintaining this aura is great for your ego if you’ve climbed medium-hard-ish on grit; you’re obviously a technical maestro and all these strong kids who spend too long inside campussing and doing jumpy bollocks can’t compete with you (just hope this notion keeps them from trying your project). No, grit is just another rock type, forget the fear mongering - the trad climbs in easier grades are generally well protected with easy to place gear - and the movement on boulders varies massively.
Some things to keep in mind for Gritstone season:
Winter really is the best time of year
In autumn and winter, I’ve regularly heard predominantly indoor climbers say something along the lines of “yeah I’d love to get outside but I’ll wait till it’s warmer” - for gritstone, cold is better. Anyway, this is Northern England, it’s not like it’s balmy and dry the rest of the year. As a rough form of sandstone, grit is a very friction dependent rock type. It’s incredible the non holds you can stick to in the right conditions, almost as impressive as the holds you can slide off when it’s sweaty. There’s problems on circuits I have dialled where when it’s over 20°c I’m forced into using totally different beta involving much bigger, harder moves between the best holds as the normal beta involves sticking to holds that become teflon in the heat. Not only is it easier in the cold, it’s more pleasant. Greasing off slopers in the sun till all your fingers are bleeding isn’t what you want (usually still better than no climbing though) so get out when it’s cold, wrap up warm and bring a flask if you want some of the luxuries of the in wall café at the crag.
It’s techy – but it’s not all sandbagged
The friction dependent nature of gritstone leads to more sloping holds where body position becomes the most important way to make use of holds and move between positions. Grit is also less likely to form walls of overhanging of crimps. There are many steep problems, but these more often follow features like aretes and flakes, or by climbing along lips or out of roofs. Steep doesn’t mean less technical but may suit indoor climbers more used to cranking on a decent hold then standing on poor smears on friction slabs. A font 5 and a font 6C might feel the same level of challenge for you but those numbers only really matter to your ego. Once you become used to a larger range of styles and become a more well-rounded climber the grades of varying styles will start to feel like they relate more. Stories of you hear from other people who mainly climb inside then have got on grit once or twice and found it nails may seem negative, but “it’s so hard” and “it’s so fun” aren’t mutually exclusive.
Top outs – They’re all hard till you know how, then the hard ones are hard
Gritstone’s slopey nature can lead to some very interesting finishes to problems. If you’ve never topped out a boulder before then even a relatively simple top can feel like the crux, especially when you’ve got to commit to getting your feet up at the highest point. Most walls don’t have top out problems and they’re a specific technique to learn. Like all moves they vary in difficulty from a simple finish you can run up to problems that are almost entirely slopey mantle topouts. Do some lowball problems and get used to running your feet up and pressing into a mantle as well as throwing a heel up to your hands and mantling from there. Even if they feel easy it’ll set you up well for a simple but scary feeling topout on higher problems – not a position you want to fall off because you couldn’t commit after having done all the hardest climbing.