Jamfest 2020 – Operation Screaming Fist

For the last few years the Climbers Club have run an annual ‘Jamfest’ weekend – a celebration of the finest crack climbing in the eastern peak district. I’ve been gutted that each year this has clashed with my competitions and consequently I’ve not been able to take part. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19, all the competitions were cancelled, but so was the Jamming meet. Until…it was decided to hold the jamming meet virtually, this was my chance! So, the list of Jamming routes and their associated points (for quality/quantity of jamming) was released with slightly altered ‘rules’. Finally…something we could get excited for!

So what’s the deal? Well, the aim is to accumulate as many points as possible from one day’s worth of climbing with your team. Points are awarded for the routes climbed and additional points are awarded for different crags visited too. My team consisted of Molly and I.

Picture of Molly and Jesse walking to the first crag at first light.
Molly and I in the early hours of Sunday Morning – Jamfest 2020

Now…I do realise that I’m not known for my speedy approaches or fast climbing, which makes speed-based challenges like this a bit tricky! If you can imagine blindfolding yourself or your climbing partner for a day, it adds an extra dimension to proceedings for both parties. Obviously don’t do this, we’ve had lots of practice! Molly and I are well known for our teamwork, planning and just not giving up. So we set about coming up with an optimised plan of attack for the order of crags to hit and which routes to try, we codenamed our plan  “Operation Screaming Fist”, respect to you if you get the reference!

As well as a solid plan, copious supplies of pork pies and home-made cookies, we also had a secret weapon in our armoury which could be deployed if required, my blue badge! Parking in the Peak District can be difficult at times and the well distributed network of disabled bays are often empty, waiting for me.

With our decidedly optimistic plan made and a severely sub-optimal weather forecast, the alarm was set for a totally ridiculous hour in the morning, which meant we could make a dawn start.

We left the car at 4.30am on Sunday morning and set off hand-in-hand for our first route at Burbage North. It was extremely windy with light flurries of rain…we were questioning our sanity one route in! Molly was struggling with numb hands, so I led the first couple of routes. This must be the first time I’ve finished a climbing route before 5am! The highlight of Burbage was Mutiny Crack, what a great little climb. We decided to carry on despite the worsening weather, we didn’t want that early start to be in vain!

A picture of Jesse climbing Mutiny crack at Burbage North
Me tackling the bulges on Mutiny Crack, Burbage North

We hot footed over to Stanage Apparent North next to tick off the single route on the list there, before heading on to Stanage Popular. It was definitely not popular, there was no one else there! We climbed some of the classics including the ‘classic rock’ route April Crack, what a joy to climb. A couple of our friends had walked up from Hathersage to see how we were getting on…I think they too were questioning our sanity! It started to rain quite heavily, but I still finished Ellis’s Eliminate, unperturbed, with Molly seconding in very damp conditions. 7 routes later we carried on to Plantation.

A picture of Jesse climbing Central Trinity at Stanage in his warm blue jacket
Leading my way up Central Trinity, Stanage Popular

Molly led Wall End Flake Crack and was nearly blown off the top…the 43mph gusting winds were really starting to cause havoc, but we continued, not letting it impede our quest. Next up was Fern Crack, my lead. The sun made a brief appearance which was very pleasant. I got to the top no problems but had inadvertently smeared a crucial hold with sheep poo (that I’d stood in before starting the route…oops). Molly went for the layback option on the initial crack and covered her left hand in the poo that I’d left behind, to the amusement of our friends! Serves her right for laybacking, it’s the Jamfest don’t you know! Hopefully the rain washed if off later in the day.

A picture of Molly sat at the top of the crag and Jesse climbing the route  on second.
Wall End Flake Crack, Molly flew to the top of this, nearly literally!

We returned to the car, before heading on to Higgar Tor, which contrary to Molly’s belief definitely is not sheltered! But we had to do the File, probably one of the most well-known jamming routes in Eastern grit and it didn’t disappoint. I led the File and the Rats Tail, the latter being a tricky little number!

A picture of Jesse, in his windproof red jacket climbing The File at Higgar Tor
An ultra classic, The File, Higgar Tor

Next up were the quarried grit gems of Millstone and Lawrencefield. We were starting to flag a little now, 15 routes ticked at this point, just battling the wind was quite exhausting. A welcome scotch egg and brownie provided a bit of a boost and the fact that Bond Street is one of my favourite routes of all time and this was up next! We had to deploy the secret weapon to get the last spot in the Surprise view car park before I led Bond Street.

Our pre-planning worked a treat here, we knew the descents from the top of the crag were awkward (if you’re blind) and also that the belay at the top of Bond Street was a stake, which I find next to impossible to locate! So, we walked in around from the bottom and stashed our bags at the base of Chiming Cracks (which was the next route after Bond Street). I led up to the ledge near the top of Bond Street and set an intermediate belay. Molly followed and then led on through to the top stake, to which I scampered up after her. I held onto Molly’s rope rucksack and followed closely behind her, we descended down the right descent path and dropped out back at the base of Chiming Cracks. Molly led this, I followed and then Molly lowered me back down before dropping the ropes, so I could coil and pack up while she walked round. Smooth teamwork.

A picture of Jesse high up on the rock face at Millstone
Making good progress up Bond Street, Millstone

To this point we’d not seen anyone else climbing, it had been a very quiet day on the crags…and then we hit Lawrencefield, clearly the sheltered crag of choice! There were quite a few parties of other climbers here, including a pair on Great Harry, which forced the only rest of the day, it was very welcome. We were also spotted by a couple of friends, a well-timed socially distanced catch up! Great Harry was Molly’s favourite route of the day so was worth the wait.

Baslow, Curbar and Froggatt rounded the day off nicely. We didn’t quite manage to climb all the routes we’d hoped to at Froggatt, but heavier rain had set in and it was starting to get dark. We completed our day climbing Heather Wall with our rucksacks on and made the weary walk back to Curbar Gap in our waterproofs. We got back to the car about 10.30pm.

A picture of Molly and Jesse with their waterproof jackets on with hoods up, looking very tired, as it starts to get dark.
A rainy Sunday evening, a celebratory brownie after completing 25 jamming routes in a day!

What a day! Sometimes the worst days are the best days. Not sure I’ll be doing that again anytime soon…but it was a fantastic challenge! We’d managed to do all the routes clean with no dogging and no soloing either! We tallied up our score the following day:

  • 25 routes (94 jamming points)
  • 10 crags (50 crag points)
  • 144 total points

Results just in, seems like the adverse weather put quite a few people off and we managed to claim victory with a new record score!!

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