MASTER'S EDGE - Up-Climbing


By Peter Herold for UP2009
Having been born in 1964 in Sheffield and started climbing aged about 12 before really getting into it seriously in the period 1982-1985 when at university, I was climbing at a time when rock climbing in the UK underwent one of its periodic periods of development, with a dramatic rise in standards from 1975 onwards that has continued until this day. With systematic training and improved levels of fitness, from the mid-seventies onwards many previously aided routes were freed and, for the first time, the E6 grade was climbed.
By the early 1980’s, most of the development in the Peak District, the traditional forcing ground of UK climbing, was focussed on free-climbing previously-aided routes on limestone. These routes were very strenuous as well as technically-difficult, but were well-protected with in-situ pegs and the odd old bolt. To put the period into context, at the time the systematic bolting of sports routes hadn’t yet been accepted in the UK, and if someone placed a new bolt there was always a big fuss. These previously-aided routes were going free, and so it was no longer considered correct to climb them with aid, as people had previously done as practice for climbing in the Alps. The first time I ever placed a peg was on the Cecchinel Nominé on the Grand Pillier d’Angle (Eckpfeiler) on Mont Blanc! Ron Fawcett’s free ascent of The Prow (E6 6b) at Raven Tor in 1981 was a first big milestone. In those days, there was no Internet or youTube to bring developments as they happen to your desk at work, and we relied on the magazines of the time such as High to keep up with new developments. Ron’s ascent of The Prow, though, was the subject of one of the first rockclimbing TV documentaries, and those of us who were climbing then remember the film of his ascent with him wearing his distinctive red and yellow Hanwag boots. Limestone, training, Lycra and weight loss were “in”, and the route to improvement, for many, was to get fitter. You could even still at that time, until Mrs Thatcher stopped it a few years after her election in 1979, go on the dole and climb full-time as we did in the summers.On gritstone as well the difficult crack climbs – including cracks such as London Wall on the quarried gritstone of Millstone Edge, like their limestone counterparts once climbed with aid as practise for the Alps – had been freed. These too were technical, strenuous and steep, but like their limestone counterparts well-protected.
The era of very technical and poorly-protected lines gritsone lines, as subsequently popularised, particularly outside the UK, by the 1997 DVD Hard Grit, hadn’t yet started. The first such “Hard Grit” routes were climbed at the start of the 1980’s: Beau Geste at Froggatt climbed in 1982 by Johnny Woodward and graded E6 6b at the time, and Ulysses’s Bow, also E6 6b, at Stanage climbed in 1983 by Jerry Moffatt. Master’s Edge, though, the E7 6b/c arete right of the groove of Green Death at Millstone, though, stands out as “The” route of the period, and represented a new standard in boldness coupled with extreme technicality, as well as symbolising the rivalry between Ron Fawcett, who’d been the UK’s top climber for several years, and the relative newcomer Jerry Moffatt.
Master’s Edge is the right-hand arete of an open-book corner. The left-hand unprotected arete had been climbed in 1974 by Richard McHardy at E5 5c. The groove itself at E5 5c was a futuristic ascent in the 1970s by Tom Proctor, who also climbed the upper section of Master’s Edge arete, calling it Great Arete, in 1975. I remember that as a teenager climbing in the Peak, we and many others would happily go to try the hard but well-protected crack climbs at Millstone, but we never saw anyone trying these routes whose starts we would boulder out before jumping off low-down (in those days, there were no bouldering mats). These were chop routes!
The first ascent of Master’s Edge was made by Ron Fawcett in December 1983, after Jerry Moffatt had top-roped it in the autumn. The name is said to have been proposed by Jerry Moffatt, though at the time I remember thinking that I’d imagined that Fawcett as the first ascentionist had chosen the name to underline he’d got there first. It’s 18m high and has a couple of shot-holes at mid-height. The edge of the arete is quite sharp, but decent holds on the right-hand side are depressingly absent.
Ron Fawcett takes up the story…