Published: February 14th 2013

Falcons, stripping skin and signage – a sunny day climbing at the Roaches

We had been waiting for this moment for quite some time. A combination of good weather on days we both were not available and poor weather on the other days was, at best, starting to niggle. I had been working outdoors for the past week and every day was the same – perfect weather with plenty of sunshine. I nervously checked the weather every day in the lead-up to the weekend, praying that it would hold.

As I finished work on the Friday afternoon, I checked and the news was good – glorious sunshine for two full days. The Roaches was undoubtedly the best option. I grabbed the guidebook and started planning the routes.

We arrived at the foot of Hen Cloud at lunchtime on Saturday. Having never camped at the Roaches before, I was unsure of where to pay for our proposed nights’ stay. We pulled into the layby and popped into The Roaches Tea Room to enquire.

Climbing at the Roaches

“We’ve had this all day – climbers wanting to know whether to book into the campsite here”, proclaimed the waitress.

A simple sign would do the job. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for campers new to the area to associate a cafe named “The Roaches Tea Rooms” with a campsite adjacent to the aforementioned establishment. This can’t have been a new problem and had we not had a full five hours of sunlight to climb ahead of us, I would have offered some friendly business advice.

After strolling down to the farmhouse and paying for our night’s stay (£3 – bargain!), we parked the car in the deeply fissured field and made our way up to Hen Cloud. A sign to the left of the track stopped us in our tracks. As we read about the nesting peregrines, a man hastily approached from behind.

“A bloke is coming up and he looks like he’s got sand in his bum”, quipped Dave as we read the sign.

We both expected an anti-climber rant about the value of the falcons, extolling the virtues of these fantastic birds and their importance in the Staffordshire Moorlands. What we got however was very different. The man asked where we were hoping to climb and pointed out the areas that were restricted. He followed this with some fascinating information about the peregrines and we walked away feeling wholly enlightened and embarrassed at our preconceptions of twitchers.

We stood at the foot of The Great Chimney (S 4a), a classic climb in the Great Chimney area of Hen Cloud. As we flaked out the rope in the sun, Dave grabbed some gear and took an age to put his harness on. A passing female climber asked which route we were doing,

“This one?”, I replied, pointing up the chimney. I wasn’t sure and neither was Dave. She seemed to know what we were talking about.

The climb was fantastic with a selection of jamming, mantelshelfing, grunting and squirming. Halfway up we were treated to a putrid smell of bird crap and the squawking of some nearby chicks. Looking through the dark, dank hole, the open beaks of the chicks were visible. They had confused our presence with that of their mother. We too were fighting for our lives.

Climbing Roaches Traverse

I decided to tackle Rainbow Crack (VS 5a) to the right of the Great Chimney. My climbing over recent months had been sporadic at best but I was feeling lucky. The steep crack start was strenuous but well protected. Twice I nearly came off! I decided then to bring Dave up to the corner before the final crack to avoid drag. I found the second pitch even harder and although it is probably easier to layback the whole thing, I decided upon the whole-body jamming approach. I swore my way to the top, leaving chunks of skin in the abrasive slit. Lifting myself onto the top, I felt elated and amazed that it hadn’t ended in tears. As Dave followed he left an equal amount of DNA in the crack. What a climb!

We wandered back to the campsite, set up our tent, and savoured our first beer of the evening in the last of the days’ sunshine, hoping that the peregrines were as content as we were.