We arrived at Flock Hill lodge knowing nothing more than we had to sign in to climb. We didn’t know the location of the boulders, how to access them, or any of the problems. The chap at Flock Hill lodge helped us with the first two but knew nothing of the third. A quick toilet stop on the way to the rocks led to a serendipitous encounter. We’d happened to stop at the “climbers campsite” which had a grand total of 2 climbers staying there. Not exactly camp 4, but that’s only a good thing!
It turns out that there isn’t a topo for flock hill, because “we don’t want many people to come here” – according to the guy we met and which I don’t really believe. Far more likely is the fact that it’s on private land. However, it turns out there is a picture book. This wasn’t a concept I was familiar with but it’s essentially a book full of photos of boulder problems at flock hill. Each photo is annotated with a name, grade, and a short description. Sounds like a guidebook… except there were no maps! And it’s very selective. The 2 climber we met were kind enough to lend us their
guidebook picture book and off we went.
The first shock was the walk in. It’s about 47.5min ±12.5min and largely uphill. The second shock was the wind. I was getting blown all over the place with the pad on my back. At times I had to get down to avoid getting knocked over and tumbling down the hill.
Flock Hill on the hill up and left – those aren’t small boulders, they are very far away
The boulder field sits on a gently sloping hillside and from a distance it doesn’t look like a large area. But once you arrive at the rocks everything changes. There are a lot of boulders. All sense of perspective is lost as you are surrounded by giant Dali esque boulders. The clearly laid our boulder field descends into a maze of rock.
Being limestone, the rock has been weathered into some unbelievable shapes. Water runnels, holes, and mushroom shaped boulder offer a variety of climbing styles. But being limestone the polish is never far away. The limestone here seems particularly susceptible to polish, and I came across some holds which were beyond even Raven Tor levels of shine. I suspect it’s not simply due to traffic. The rock seems to have a thin coat of grippy stuff which quickly relents to a more glossy and slippery surface. Kind of like brand new climbing holds. You have to do your project quickly or it’s only going to get harder.
One of the less crazy shapes in the limestone boulders
The first hour was spent looking around, trying to find some of the problems we’d seen in the picture book. Eventually we found some of the incredible looking lines but the wind was making it very hard work. Emily had to stand on the pad to stop it blowing away so trying to climb above her and not fall off unexpectedly was a tough proposition. I began to get frustrated at feeling so lost amongst the boulders. The picture book wasn’t exactly helpful and for some reason I just felt like I needed to get my bearings. I felt like I wanted to just walk around the whole day, getting the hill mapped out in my mind. Unfortunately we only had 1 day in Flock Hill so that wasn’t an option. So after doing some more wandering around we switched strategy. Instead of trying to figure out where we were and what hard problems were around we just started climbing.
Another incredible unknown line up this pocketed water runnel
We’d look at a boulder with some interesting feature and then climb it. First we started in our trainers, pushing the limits of what a pair of 5.10 trainers could do on this slick rock, before switching to our climbing shoes. We climbed some fun slabs with crazy vertical fin features, some great aretes, and then we came across a weird bowl feature above a strange honeycomb cave that looked like the inside of a beehive.
Armchair grading is hard to do in Flock Hill, or it certainly seemed to the case on my first day! This scoop looked relatively easy although it didn’t have any hand holds. It just had to be climbed. I told Emily to get on with it but after she got slightly shut down she tagged out and I stepped in to have a go. With an inkling of a sequence I had a blast and came within a few inches of the top, but making those last few inches took severall more goes, a change of foot beta, and a discovery of some flock hill magic. I was pretty psyched to get up it so psyched I think I did a fist pump and shouted “YES”. Emily commented that she rarely saw me so psyched for getting up something. I have no idea of a name or grade but it was a very fun boulder problem (I have footage to post once we are back in the UK). Very, very different to the juggy roof’s in the Grampians.
Magical climbing on this unknown problem
Once I’d let myself feel ok with feeling a bit lost and quite overwhelmed by the place everything became a lot more fun. Only the wind was making it difficult to climb as it did it’s very best to blow the pad away. It was so windy that it blew my tripod over, which was very surprising given it’s lack of surface area. From getting frustrated at our lack of a guidebook in the morning, it became quite liberating in the afternoon. I let go of wanting to find the classic test pieces and just played around. It was a nice change to the usual routine and in a way I think it suited a place like Flock Hill. I remember one of the most fun days climbing I ever had was doing the purple circuit at Dame Jouanne in Font with Adam Long. We just ran around in our trainers with no chalk, no stress, just moving on rock. Some areas can sustain that sort of session and I think Flock Hill is one of them. That’s not to say I don’t want to crush some of the incredible looking hard problems because I most certainly do. However, if you only have a few (or one) days in Flock Hill then I’d almost certainly suggest just getting lost and climbing one of the many interesting features you’ll inevitably come across.