Climbing video makes Peaks look too easy

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The Independent Online
IT LOOKS easy enough in the film. Forty feet up a rockface, seemingly standing on nothing, teenager Leo Houlding gingerly reaches for a huge, reassuring hold on the top of the crag, grabs it and skips lightly onto the grass above.

A few weeks ago, 17-year-old David Pickford tried that same careful reach upwards; he fell off and landed on the ground below. He was helicoptered away; hospital staff diagnosed concussion and bruising.

David was just one of the people who have been pushing the limits - sometimes too far - after being inspired by a film about climbing in the Peak District, featured in the Independent on Sunday in March. As Neil Pearsons, assistant editor of On The Edge magazine in Buxton, puts it: "Everyone's gone mental up here."

The reason is Hard Grit, an hour-long video showing ascents - and failures - on some of the most dangerous routes on the Peaks' rough, rounded gritstone. The video has been a success, selling 3,500 copies (rather than the 2,000 that most climbing videos manage) and winning awards at international film festivals.

Now, the cold weather of autumn (which improves friction, and so adhesion, on routes where a pea-sized pebble counts as a major feature) has seen eager aspirants lining up to emulate the video stars. Some, like David Pickford, have failed; others have succeeded, though perhaps "survived" would be a better phrase.

In the film most (though not all) of the climbers survive unhurt. One sequence shows David "Seb" Grieve, a materials researcher at Sheffield University, on an overhanging prow of rock, lunging for a crucial hold he can't see - and latching onto it. But when Neil Gresham, one of the country's best climbers, tried the same last month, he missed and fell to the boulder-strewn ground below, suffering concussion.

Grieve has seen people he thinks are clearly underprepared trying the routes. "Most people I have spoken to agree that the recent spate of ascents have been a bit rash to say the least.

"I can't help but think that this may be due to Hard Grit, which gives the impression that if you fall off you will be okay."

He worries that "somebody's going to end up dead".

Richard Heap, who co-produced the film with Mark Turnbull, said: "I guess maybe people are underestimating the routes." Turnbull adds: "Maybe I feel responsible for inspiring people. But ultimately it's their own motives that matter."