Climb every route at Stanage

11 July, 2017
Ben Bransby, Scorpion Slab (HS), Stanage.
Ben Bransby near the top of Scorpion Slab (HS 4b) and another route to cross off in the Stanage guidebook.

Each generation of climbers conjure up fresh challenges, whether it is new levels of difficulty, enchainments, soloing or ticking all the routes in Extreme Rock. Ben Bransby has set himself the task of being the first person to climb every route on arguably the UK’s most popular crag - Stanage - the 'queen of gritstone'.

Ticking a crag may not sound that impressive but when you consider this crenellated edge stretches across the Peak moorland for some five kilometres and by Ben's reckoning is home to about 1417 routes, including a couple of E8s, several E7s and 35 E6s, then you start to get a feel for the effort and commitment involved.

His mission is defined by leading or soloing every route with a name and grade in the definitive 2007 BMC Stanage guidebook, including boulder problems that get both a route grade as well as a boulder grade. So far his guidebook shows 1078 routes marked as done.

We spent a day with Ben at Stanage as he went about adding to his tally of climbs and asked him a few questions:

When did you get the idea to try and 'tick Stanage'?

I had an enjoyable day in early April this year when I climbed all the routes on a small section of the crag and the thought crossed my mind of trying to climb every single route in the guidebook. I didn't start making a concerted effort until the 4th May when I soloed 39 routes at High Neb. The other day I dug out my old climbing diaries and discovered that as a 12-year-old in 1992 my first Stanage route was Rugosity Wall (HVS 5c). Prior to 2017, I'd done about 228 routes at Stanage. So in the past two-and-a-half months, I've underlined and dated another 850 climbs in the guide.

How have you managed to find the time to do all these routes?

I live only five minutes from the crag and have been doing a lot of work on the house recently. So while I’ve been waiting for coats of paint to dry I can pop up there and get a fair bit done. Walking the dogs is also a good excuse to go up to Stanage. To my wife Cath, I think it’s become a bit of a euphemism for going climbing.

When I’ve needed a belayer I’ve been able to rope my mum in, as she only lives across the road, so it’s very easy to organise. It also saves a lot of time because she is happy to just belay rather than climb. Most of the time I solo, including E3 and E4s, that I’ve had to abseil to clean because they haven’t been climbed for so long. When it gets to E2 and above I’m 50/50 about soloing it. It depends on the route.

Ben Bransby, Nordes with Attitude (E4 6c), Stanage.
Ben Bransby approaching the crux of Nordes with Attitude (E4 6c), Stanage. © Ray Wood

Which routes have caught you unawares and been more of a tussle than you bargained for?

Several. John Allen’s Scuppered (E4 6b) nearly lived up to its name. I fell off it twice before being able to tick it off. The first time I hit the deck on rope stretch, as my mum who was belaying and weighing less than 8 stone is a lot lighter than me, was pulled twenty feet up into the air. She was tied down for my next attempt.

I remember Little Things HVS (6a) being a really hard roof crack that I had to climb feet first and feeling like 6c - it does say in the guidebook “much harder, if at all possible, for the short" and I’m not known for being tall. I was glad I’d abseiled down and brushed New York, New York/Sir Chilled (E4 6b) at the left-hand end since the top arete was surprisingly hard and committing.

Any pleasant surprises as in routes that proved not be as problematic as expected?

I was really pleased with doing Dreadnought quickly (E7 7a). It felt ok to me but that’s how it goes sometimes. I soloed Concept of Kinky (E6 6c) and to start with it felt impossible but after a look on a rope, it went quickly. Turtle Power (E6 6c) I rope soloed and it felt o.k. The two I did today I was really happy with as Look Before you Leap (E1 5c/6c) has a height dependent dyno move and Nordes with Attitude (E4 6c) has a full-on but well-protected move.

Out of the routes that you've left do you think any will prove to be total stoppers?

The two E8’s that I’m saving for cooler temps - Robin Barker’s Marbellous Wall and Mother of Pearl - are obviously going to be tricky as they’re both a bit reachy as well as being hard. I could come across an E4/5 that I wasn’t expecting to be horrendous and not be able to do it.

Has it surprised you how many you’ve got done this summer?

Having a focus has meant I’ve definitely climbed more than I would normally and it certainly helps get you fit. On a big day if I do 40-60 routes including some tricky ones you definitely know about it afterwards. My biggest day so far was the 3rd June when I did 75 routes including three E4s and three E3s. I’ve got approximately 339 left to do with 223 below E1, 81 in the E1-E3 range, 20 E4-E5s, 13 E6s and the two E8s. Wish me luck.

Bransby's first route book
Bransby's record of his first route at Stanage, Rugosity Wall (HVS), climbed in 1992, aged 12.