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Dry-tooling: Mixed climbing without the IRN-BRU

Posted on December 09 2014

So the fickle british winter season is upon us at last! From now until March, any weekend may consist of driving cars, sleeping in cars, eating in cars, sitting in cars, being scared to get out of cars, lots of IRN-BRU and the odd takeaway. The unpredictable nature of it all can lead to frustration when you wake up to the sound of rain beating on your windscreen after a six/seven/eight+ hour drive. Usually our first route of the season will be a terrifying mixture of unfrozen turf, untrustworthy Cairngorm hooks and feet which will slide off even the biggest of edges. One increasing popular way of minimising the terror and maximising the short winter season is to get some practice in before you blink and miss the good conditions.

Whilst very much on the fringes of the U.K. climbing scene, dry-tooling is now a realistic possibility for those willing to brave loose rock in dark dank sporadic caves. If bouldering is a hard concept to explain to your mum don’t even bother trying with dry-tooling. Despite being a sub-sport in its own right (with all the associated specialist gear) it is probably best to think of it as training for mixed climbing. Unfortunately if you do find yourself ‘hooked’ (sorry) you’ll exhaust Britain’s limited venues quickly, but for the odd pre-season preparation its the perfect training.


At the time of writing there are four established dry-tooling venues in England and Wales (plus one in Scotland). In England you can choose from Masson Lees ( in Derbyshire or the ‘Works’ in Cumbria ( The Works is by far the most developed with 20 routes from M3-M12 but has also potentially become a victim of its own success ( Masson Lees only boasts 6 routes at present but has a good range of grades (M6-M11


Wales plays host to the U.K’s premier dry-tooling venue, White Goods, boasting 31 routes from M4-M11+. Its a dedicated dry-tooling venue so you can relax in the knowledge that if there’s a bolt you can climb to it with your axes! The rock here (like most dry-tooling venues) is to be regarded with some suspicion, helmets are advised. There is an excellent free topo for the area by Ramon Marin so you have no excuses! If you fancy something a little different you can also head over to Clogwyn Mannod and test your abilities on the slate. The rock here is reputed to be sound(er) and it plays host to 10 routes, from slabs to “35 meter endurance-fests”


Newtyle Quarry just North of Perth offers another slate dry-tooling venue. Rather uniquely the crag has been developed as a trad, sport, aid and dry-tooling area! This does mean care should be taken to make sure you avoid any lines not specifically designated for tooling (especially the tempting E2 finger crack of Spandau Ballet)


The other option to help you blunt your axes before it snows is to head south to the chalk cliffs around Saltdean ( and Dover ( The chalk varies from reasonably solid to ‘terrifyingly shit’, mono-points are de-rigueur, screamers can be helpful, and Warthogs useful depending on your choice of route. At Saltdean there are some so-called ‘chalk sport’ routes which are very much in keeping with ‘traditional’ dry-tooling. They feature glued in bolts and lower-offs which although offering better protection than some nearby routes, still need to be treated with caution and not like bolts in rock. Your other option is to try something to test the mind as well as the body and head up some of the terrifying looking multi-pitch trad offerings in the Dover area. This is where chalks most famous/infamous route, ’Great White Fright’ stands guard over the channel.


Dry-tooling is a relatively new development on the British climbing scene. There is a lot of debate about whether it is an activity which should be encouraged or dismissed. There is no doubt about the damage it causes to the rock, not just from being bolted but also from the action of the      crampons and picks on the rock. The issue is wether it encourages people to go out and climb on established rock routes with ice gear or not. Some believe that if you allow dry-tooling in one place it will encourage people to go elsewhere and try it. The counter argument is that if you establish a venue for people to go dry-tooling then they have somewhere they can go to engage in the activity and are less likely to go elsewhere. It seems very unlikely this will be resolved any time soon but the one thing that is for certain is that dry-tooling should not be engaged upon anywhere where there is an established rock route. The venues in this article are established areas where dry-tooling is currently accepted. Be considerate when out and about, this is a contentious issue and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES attempt an established rock route using ice axe and crampons (unless winter climbing which is different from dry-tooling!). For some clarification on this          (contentious) topic check this out


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