E is for Experience

I know “E” is supposed to stand for “Extreme” when it comes to grading, but recently I’ve tried to have a very different take on it. In just the last couple of days I completed a first ascent project at Millstone that many people would think is for all the wrong reasons. It’s not a king line, it’s not the best quality rock and it’s certainly not likely to get a repeat.

Why’s that I hear you ask?

Well let me start by talking about the last two “dangerous style” routes I did on grit; The Zone and Appointment with Death. Both left me feeling a little unsatisfied. The Curbar E9 wasn’t quite as dangerous as I imagined (especially not after Oli Grounsell unwisely took the tester fall and was ok!) and the Wimberry E9 wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. Yeah I know I should just take the tick and be happy with it, but in reality I wanted to really push myself in both dimensions. Hard climbing. Hard consequences.

This lead me to scouting around the gritstone edges looking for something that I thought would be of 8a or more to top rope but one where a fall during the hard climbing would lead to hospital. I needed it to be so uncompromising that there was no shirking away from the reality of the situation. If I wanted it, it had to be for the experience. 

When I abbed down the wall right of Master’s Edge at Millstone I had a good feeling that I’d found the right thing. You could get to the shot holes and then break out on the wall right and climb up on small edges and blunt undercuts running it out 45ft from the shot holes before meeting safety again. The best thing was that the crux was on slightly snappy edges and at a height where you’d gone beyond the zone of the jug height on Master’s Edge. Nice huh? 


Photo by Guy Van Greuning – do not use photo without permission.

Well not really. Each session I had on the route working it, I felt pretty sick thinking about the seriousness of the route. I think it’s either the mark of a truly psychological route or me getting old. I continually brushed and flexed the holds working out which ones were the most reliable and in the end found a good sequence. Sure the odd one broke, but that was just a reminder that I couldn’t f*&k up. I liked that. 

When I eventually decided on Sunday to go for the route I was really lucky that the weather was terrible. It was blowing an mini-gale and it was like Patagonia standing on top of Millstone. This meant that psychologically I had no pressure from the route. It had already given me a “get out” and so I only needed to do it if things felt absolutely perfect. The guys at the crag knew it was unlikely as well, so what harm was there in throwing one optimistic top rope on it, just to see how much I’d get blown about. As I warmed up, it became evident that conditions were actually rather good despite the strong gusts. I smiled to myself and thought about how the route had lured me in and now I was ready. I felt calm and accepting of the factors involved. 

Setting off on the lead I climbed calmly up to the shot holes and explored my head. Everything felt good. I noticed that I’d placed the cam in the hole slightly wrong, but rather than taking this as a portent I simply noted it and stood up into the next sequence. Just before breaking out right into the hard climbing I had a quick shake of the arms and was amazed to feel good. It was just too good. I felt like I was on a VS. Slap out to side pull…. adjust feet….. slap again…. adjust feet again. GOOD. Bone that foothold. Reel that f*&ker in…. slow…. crimp. Bite the tips….pull it hard and slap to undercut…. YES. Ok…. go big now. No thoughts….

OOooop. Yikes. Just for a second or two I fumbled a hold and broke out of the mist. No mistakes though Tom, this is proper. Back in. 

Shake the wrist. Flick, flick. Ok…. in control. High step on the snappy hold. Be accurate. Rock up…. crimp….. crimp…. crumbly hold…. just take it EASY. Hold it light. It’s bomber. Roll out and hit the match…

And then it all came flooding in. The sequence was done and it felt flipping amazing. What a rush. I now just had 20ft of soloing on mellow edges to enjoy on an ocean of millstone wall. What a complete pleasure. It was insane how good I felt in those few moments. Everything I wanted in an experience was right there in just a few Sunday morning minutes. I knew instantly that I didn’t need a hit like that for a very long time indeed. If ever. 



A Start to the End of the Gritstone Season?

As many of us are aware it’s been a strange collection of weather conditions over the last couple of months and it’s basically been a choice of venues based on which indoor wall is quietest. Local boy Ethan Walker commented on this recently on his blog and pointed out that whilst we can all moan about the wetness, at least we’re indoors getting a little bit stronger….

Finally last week I felt like things took a turn for the better and I immediately reminded myself of the routes that I’d abandoned 2 months ago due to damp. First was a boulder-route link up at Higgar and the other being Captain Invincible at Burbage. The Higgar Tor line has been in the back of my mind for absolutely ages since I saw a thread on UKB about the direct start being done by Ed Brown (Block and Tackle Direct 7B+) and someone saying in the forum that it’d be good to climb that straight into Block and Tackle E6 6c.

When a windy day arrived in amongst the showers last week I packed everything up and got a belay off a mate. When we arrived at the crag it was blowing an absolute hooley which was good for dry rock but not exactly that easy to warm up. After working out an easier method of doing the direct boulder problem (just jump!) at maybe Font 6C it was promising that it’d all link up. Half an hour later and having flailed around even more on the boulder problem I scraped my way up the whole thing for a really rewarding first proper route of the gritstone season. Guy Van Greuning the Sheffywood Film Magnate has made a short video about the ascent, so I’ll post that up very soon.


Setting up for crux on Block and Tackle E6 6c (c) Guy Van Greuning

Having got that route under my belt I then got really hopeful that my main winter’s project of Captain Invincible might be possible. I’d got really frustrated since Christmas with the holds always being damp or wet but over 5 days of windy conditions had to be good. Surely, surely?!

This route has been a big motivating factor for me in my climbing this winter mainly because it’s one that I’d always written off as being too hard. It was done by Sean Myles at the peak of his abilities and repeated by another Peak master – Robin “The Pocket” Barker. When I’m climbing harder routes I’ve always tended to match myself up in terms of ability with the ascentionists to know if I’m ready for something and I have to confess that those guys always seemed a bit out of my league. Their ascents of this route on the front face of the Cioch block at Burbage have been shrouded in mystery and confusion, mainly due to a lack of information. Not much in the BMC guidebook, nor in the new Peak Rock book and even a google of it brings up not much more than “8b on dubious pegs.”

When I first started working this route before Christmas, it was a bit of a wake up call. I couldn’t even do some of the moves after a few sessions of working, which is never promising. After a while I also tried going on it with a few people who I’d consider being really strong to see if they could show me the way and that I’d just mis-read it all. Nope. I was just not pulling hard enough! Maybe that was what I needed though, as it meant I put my mind into a new gear and decided to get a bit more gnarly. That means for me, going down The Climbing Works, doing some campussing and back-3 finger boarding. I know that’s probably pretty normal for many of the Sheffield boys, but that’s big changes for me! No more cracks. No more hiding behind endurance.

A Christmas of training, a New Year of training and finally Jan & Feb training, finally got me to the base of Captain Invincible last week ready for a lead attempt. Andy Reeve (more E9 belay ticks than Pete’s mum probably?) had come out for moral support after nailing his heel on another one of his weekly grit forays and seemed psyched that I’d chosen to go for the lead just a few hours before needing to go and catch a plane to Spain. Nothing like a bit of pressure.


Last break before crux of Offspring E5 6b. Photo (c) Andy Reeve

In the end the lead went brilliant and unusually for me, I felt pretty solid on it. There was a bit of waver in the middle where it gets a little interesting if you were to fall there, but I could hear Reeve’s voice below pushing me on. Once you get to the last break (see photo) then you’re into the crux of Offspring and I made sure I shook out fully knowing at least one of the previous ascentionist had fallen here. What an absolute heartbreaker. I’d already pulled on a “back 3” like it wanted to break my fingers and twisted a pinky mono until I winced, so I had no desire to do that again. I still hurts a bit thinking about it now.

Overall I thought the route was absolutely amazing, mainly because it’s so unlike many of our hardest grit routes in the UK. It’s actually physically hard, you need to be sport fit, there’s toe hooks, heel hooks, mono’s and slopers. Everything you’d want to take to a desert island I suppose. It’d need to be a cold desert island mind….