I’ve had some strange experiences at slightly obscure crags over the years but I can’t recall anything quite like our day at Callerhues. We knew that there was something a bit odd going on at this crag; even the locals had admitted that the grades were, “a bit on the stiff side”, and anyone who has climbed in Northumberland will probably realise the full significance of that comment.
It all started reasonably with a quick ascent of the classic Callerhues Crack – nowt wrong with that lad, a good HVS, possibly with a slight Curbar feel to it, but nothing that a seasoned grtistoner couldn’t cope with.
That was about it though as the next four hours really began to take its toll. Callerhues Crack is the soft-touch of the crag and everything else weighs in at one, two or even three grades harder than you are expecting. We got battered initially by E2s masquerading as E1s, then by E2s masquerading as HVSs, then finally by an E3 masquerading as a MVS. Mild VS! My ego found the ‘mild’ particularly difficult to take. Subsequent investigation revealed that the MVS called Paving probably followed a line about 1m left of where we were trying it, however I had already climbed that line and thought it was about E1!
Being a guidebook writer I know that grades are tricky; you are never going to get them right yet most of your readers expect that you have got them right. Not only that but they tend to be a bit upset when they think the book is wrong, especially if it went and ruined their day. All we can do is try and get them as accurate as we can, and if there are mistakes then we can try to correct them in the next edition, inevitably introducing a new set of grades that people can dispute.
That is what is so strange about Callerhues. Those grades have not really changed in the last 30 years despite being in a few guidebooks. Actually that’s not strictly true, the initial grades for some routes were even harder than they are now, but they were first climbed when E-grades weren’t widely used and any route less than 10m was regarded as a virtual boulder problem. So after one revision to take account of E-grades, Callerhues has sat there, lurking, ready to take on all-comers, especially southern softies.
The only reason I can think of for this is ‘historical significance’. The routes were put up by the revered Smith brothers and maybe no-one wants to annoy them by re-grading the routes. Whatever the reason, it is not a practice we intend to continue in the Northern England Rockfax
All the routes have been given new grades which we think are more in line with what you would find elsewhere in the country, particularly on the similar-style gritstone crags. We will have got some of these grades wrong, but at least it is a start.