Many of the limestone cliffs in the Yorkshire Dales are south or west facing which means that they dry quickly after rain – an advantage to climbers who want to climb all year round. There are over 600 bolted routes of which 200 are easier grades.
The steep compact limestone at Malham Cove offers some of the best sport climbing in the Pennines and the sport and trad climbing in the region attracts climbers from around the world. Some of England’s most difficult climbs are here… ‘Overshadow’ at Malham Cove which is a 9a+ and ‘Rainshadow’, also at Malham – a 9a.
Please note, however, that between the 1st March to the 30th June, climbing is expressly forbidden on the left wing of these cliffs due to the bird nesting season.
One of Britain’s best climbers, in fact one of the best climbers in the world, Steve McClure, was the first person to climb Overshadow – Britain’s most difficult sport route and probably a route that is up there in the world’s top 10 mega-hard routes. Steve perfected something called the ‘bat hang angle’ to perfect this route, without which it might well not have been conquered. Rainshadow is also a McClure climb – and is, as far as I can discover, unrepeated. It is an extension of ‘Raindogs’ which is considered ‘benchmark’ F8a and is a short power-endurance route. One of the world’s best climbers, Chris Sharma, has had a go at it, but despite a couple of impressive attempts, he was unsuccessful. He commented on how good the route was and “how he was psyched to come back and try it again.”
It seems that to be a world-class climber you need to start young. Sharma was 12 when he started. Steve McClure was even younger as his parents were both climbers so he was, you might say, born to it. He climbed his first extreme at the age of 11, his first E3 at 13 and first E5 onsight at 16. He qualified from university as an engineer, but quit his job to pursue the life of a professional climber.
Malham is not only an area of extreme routes. With over 200 routes from VS all the way up to E9 and higher and with some multi-pitch routes over 300 feet high, there is something for everyone although it is probably more suited to experienced climbers. The centre and left walls are the most difficult.
Elsewhere in Yorkshire, the area abounds with tempting climbing routes.
Easier mid-grade sport climbing areas can be found at Robin Proctor’s Scar near Clapham, Foredale Quarry near Stainworth, Castlebergh Crag above the North Yorkshire town of Settle and the crag of Giggleswick South, also near Settle are all well worth a climb. Castlebergh Crag alone has 24 newly created and fully bolted routes.
Besides Malham, serious climbers will find plenty to challenge them at places like Gordale Scar which is one of the most impressive crags in Britain. The overhanging walls are on a massive scale, but there are many easier routes outside the gorge. Then there’s the very steep crag at Kilnsey. There are about 60 routes, E4 and up here with a couple of E1 climbs to warm up on. The wooded limestone crag of Trow Gill is another must-scale face.
The main gritstone edges in Yorkshire have mostly short traditional routes following powerful natural lines on a wide variety of buttresses such as Almscliff – probably the main gritstone crag in the county with about 100 routes in all grades, 30-50 ft. high and very well protected plus some good boulders; Brimham Rocks – lots of buttresses with paths running between them, over 200 routes and boulder problems everywhere; Caley Crag – one of the best bouldering areas in the country. There are 50 or so routes and most of these are highball boulder problems plus smaller boulders scattered around the fern fields; Rylstone – good outcrop of clean, solid rock, with about 60 routes in the lower grades, DIFF to VS, plus a couple of nice Extremes.
Ilkley is also famous for its gritstone crags. It has some of the best and most popular gritstone climbs north of Leeds, with 200 climbs in all grades. The crag on the moor is called the Cow and Calf. It is a sandstone quarry with some good crack climbs. Half a mile to the west of that are the Rocky Valley Crags which have 6 buttresses about 50 feet high.
Twistleton Scars is on private land and you must have permission from the farmer at Twistleton House before heading over there. It is a long 30-60 foot crag with around 100 routes ranging between the Diff to HS category, with a few decent VS and harder climbs.
Feizor Gap also offers bouldering as well as a handful of climbs in the lower grades ranging from DIFF to VS.
Simon’s Seat is northeast of Skipton and has some really nice routes in all grades, 30 to 70 ft tall. There’s also some great bouldering there and at Lord’s Seat, witness the following video.
I could go on forever. The best thing to do would be to buy a climbing guide for the region… there are a couple of good one’s, Yorkshire Limestone and Yorkshire Gritstone have been recommended to us.