A Gritstone Thesaurus

Article by Ian Parnell
Monday 16th November 2009

What is all this fuss about the small rocks that scatter the moorlands of northern England? Why are they talked about so incessantly by British climbers? Photographer and grit devotee Ian Parnell has compiled a unique thesaurus of the secret gritstone lexicon in this stunning photographic essay.

The Big...

Striking features such as splitter cracks and bold aretes create the shape of the grit edges. Few gritstone climbs define this characteristic as well as Peapod, HVS, at Curbar Edge in the Peak District.

...And The Small

The feasibility of a climb can often hinge on the subtlest of possibilities. Here, Kevin Thaw homes in a crucial pebble on his own route 'Order of the Phoenix' (E9 6c) at Wimberry in the Chew Valley.


Ben Bransby adheres, gecko-style, to Johnny Dawes’ legendary testpiece Warmlove (E6 7a) at The Cowperstone, on Stanage Edge in the Peak District. The next move involves heelhooking the tick marked pebble. I’m not joking!


Sometimes the difference between success and failure on grit can be a sudden drop in temperature. Here, Debbie Birch makes the most of winter’s grip on John Allen's arch-classic 'Profit of Doom' (E4 6b), Curbar.


Is there a more tactile rock than this anywhere in the world? Adrian Baxter caressing the crucial holds on the celebrated boulder problem 'West Side Story' (Font 7B+/V8), Burbage.


Those who dare… Ben Heason hangs ropeless from the lip of 'Paralogism' (E7 6c), at the Roaches in the Staffordshire Peak District. The short nature of gritstone climbs and generally solid rock creates a natural tendency towards soloing.



Gritstone opens up not for those with the biggest biceps or the best campus stats but the few with true climbing talent.  For most of us Gritstone can puzzle and confuse for those with an innate understanding of moving over stone it’s a playground of possibilities.


For the rest of us grit is more often than not defined by moments of maximum effort.  Here, Matt Dickinson puts his all into the flared jams on the lip of the Nectar Roof (E4 6b) at Stanage.


Choose your route wisely and grit can guarantee perfect rock and perfect gear.  No wonder it’s often the rock of choice for that grade-breaking route,  whether a first at the extreme grade or as here your first lead.  Gritstone ace Ben Bransby revisits his climbing log and his first lead; Ilkley’s Illegitimate Crack (VS): “quite scary”.


The good and the bad! Probably a bit of both here with Simon “Slim” McCalla topping out on 'Nothing To Do With Dover' (HVS), Stanage


John Arran pushing the limits of protection with a cluster of hand placed, filed down pegs and an RP on his first ascent of 'Doctor Doolittle' (E9/10) at Curbar.


Think of grit, and most conjure up Stanage with its crowds queuing for routes at the popular end. But there are endless possibilities for climbing far from the madding crowds. Here, Kevin Thaw enjoys the fine 'Waterfall Climb' (VDiff) at Dovestones Quarry. 


Pack your lunch box and a good pair of walking boots and there’s even wilder grit to found.  Andy Kirkpatrick finds solitude and perfect rock high above the moors on 'Upper Tor Wall', (HS), at Kinder.

Extraordinary Madness

There’s something about this rock that can bring out the nutter in all of us.  Mike Weekes chooses midsummer for his “only just” ascent of 'Born Slippy', a terrifying E8 6c at Curbar.

Ordinary Madness

Grit easily brings the nutter out in Jon Winter. Here, Jon reveals his jamming scars after an ascent of Alderman Crack (VS).


Even if you're out soloing along the edges on your own, the grit climbing experience is one of partnerships; with the rock, with conditions, or with the ghosts of all those hundreds of climbers before you.

The Real Deal

Many gritstone climbs may only be 30 or 40 feet high, but they are very definitely still the real deal.  Here, Jon Winter tests the gear on Joe Brown's ultra classic 'Left Unconquerable' (E1 5b), Stanage.


At its best, gritstone creates an atmosphere that is as close to perfection as rock climbing gets. Here, John Dunne revels in splendid isolation on Robin Barker's hard classic 'Reservoir Dogs' (E8 7a), at Widdop in Yorkshire.


The old millstone underneath Burbage South tells us that it's how much fun you have on the crag that really counts. Gritstone, above all else, is about the unreconstructed enjoyment of free climbing.



You can find out more about Ian Parnell's stunning photography at www.ianparnell.com

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My youth - 07/02/2012
God I miss it !! I LOVED gritstone ! Makes me wish I was still climbing !

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