The Longest Day

When Pete and I come up with an idea to do some climbing together, there are usually two reactions.

“Nah, too easy. You’d just need to put some effort in to do that.”


“Ooooh. Holy smokes that’ll be spicy. Isn’t that a bit unrealistic?”

Now of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. I mean, it’s not like every time I ring up Pete and ask if he fancies a day out climbing in the Peak that it’ll go those two directions, but when it comes down to “Challenge Territory” then it really does seem to apply.

Make the challenge hard enough and organisation is paramount (and my wife plays a bit part in this!)

Make the challenge hard enough and organisation is paramount.

The story started quite a few years ago when we succeeded in one particular challenge: to climb the Western Grit Brown and Whillans routes in a a day. I think we originally went for it as we knew a few teams had failed to do it, so we were goaded by our competitive nature. After completing a very long day out (10hrs of climbing over 1500ft of rock) we sat down at the end and Pete said to me,

“Can you imagine doing all those from today and linking it into the ones from the Eastern Grit?”

I immediately replied with something like,

“Yeah, but who’s going to actually do that? That’s an absolute monster day out… A nice idea for someone though!”

Fast forward 5 years and there I was last night at 10pm preparing myself for the unthinkable. During the previous couple of weeks, Pete and I had been out on the edges slowly improving our soloing skills, learning 130+ pitches of climbing, practising the approaches and devising our strategy. Most importantly though, we’d worked hard on driving an unstoppable motivation – there was no chance we would get through it without some serious knuckling down and suffering.

80 routes in the suffering started to take hold...

80 routes in the suffering started to take hold…

The climbing on the surface appears relatively straight forward with only approximately 6000ft of ascent, but it’s the style of the route that really kills you. Brown and Whillans routes seem to seek out the burliest, steepest and most awkward routes on the gritstone edges. Goliath, Sentinel Crack, The Unprintable, Cave Crack, Deadbay Bay Groove & Crack of Gloom all make me feel like I’ve got jelly arms and remind me that skin isn’t that tough! Added onto this is the 23.6 miles of running between crags and routes and trying to not get lost in the 7 hours of mostly solo climbing done in darkness with a head torch. With all this combined, you have something quite worrying.

Finding relief from cracks on some slabs!

Finding relief from cracks on some slabs!

At the moment, it feels like something that’s really hard to write about in depth as a blow by blow account as we both went through so many different emotions in the whole process, but for the minute I’ll leave you with a few key facts and figures and the odd funny fact.

Crags: 17

Ground covered: 23.6 miles

Routes & Pitches climbed: 125 & 132

Best route: Bachelor’s Left Hand

Worst route: Swastika II

Biggest sandbag: Deadbay Groove & Central Crack

Biggest soft touch: Big Crack

Solo vs Lead: 66% solo, 34% lead

Rack: No nuts, no draws, just Friend 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5.  (Couple of exceptions)

Challenge duration: 22hrs 36mins

Support team to help with driving and bad jokes: Martin Kocsis & Mike Hutton

By the time we arrived at the finishing post of The Sloth, it felt like a huge journey. Along the way I kept on thinking of James Mchaffie’s words describing how doing these kind of multi-route challenges is a look into a our rich climbing history and the huge contribution that some individuals made. Climbing all of the Brown and Whillans routes on the East and Western edges reminded me constantly of the huge diversity of their additions. They were incredibly privileged to have made those routes their own as well.

I’ll leave you with one funny moment that I’ve not actually told Pete about yet….

One of our tactics on some routes was for the seconder to be immediately lowered back to the ground to start soloing up the next route before the other person could get down to the base and follow. Well on one long route, I was being lowered down, but swung out too far and was about to hit a tree so I grabbed a hold on the face and shouted at Pete to hold me one second to redirection myself. What did he do? He thought I’d said “off belay”, so untied, chucked the rope off the top and left me abandoned on this hold! It all worked out with a little down soloing though…


Fully Committed: Speed Grit

Over the years Pete and I have tried many different forms of climbing, but one that we keep coming back to time and time again, is the traditional “climbing challenge.” A day of rock that has set boundaries, rules and a very specific goal. There is of course, rather a lot of stupidity thrown in, but that’s up to the individual!

The Master's Edge birthday challenge

The Master’s Edge birthday challenge

We started our climbing partnership by trying to break the record for the most number of climbs soloed in a day – we exhausted ourselves doing 550 in over 17hrs – and have done many other challenges that involve speed climbing or silly fancy dress outfits since then. It’s been extremely entertaining finding someone else who’s up for these kind of days out and is prepared to push the boundaries of what’s possible. It’s that pushing of boundaries that I think has led us to our next challenge: one where both of us are very, very close to our personal limit.

Nothing compares to when Pete took command of that Boeing 747.

Nothing compares to when Pete took command of that Boeing 747.

Pete and I are off to Yosemite in a couple of weeks for some big walling and we wanted to create a challenge that would sort of mimic what we’d be trying to do out there. So we came up with attempting all the Brown and Whillans routes on the Eastern and Western edges in a day. That’s just under 130 routes and up to E6 6c.

It seemed a little (very?) unrealistic when we came up with the concept, but now as I sit here the day before setting off to try it, I feel truly doubtful. That’s what we want though, right? Where’s the fun in trying something where the outcome is guaranteed and you won’t be pushed right to your limit…. yeah…..? I think I feel ok about the amount of climbing (which is around 6000ft of rock) but it’s the roughly 22 miles of running on top, spread across 17 different crags and keeping going for a whole 24hrs at a fair whack that I know could push it. 90% of it has to be soloed and there’s no space for food breaks, mistakes or getting lost. Oh God…. what have we let ourselves in for?!

Pete trying on my wardrobe - outfit by @indigoatcrafts

Pete trying on my wardrobe – outfit by @indigoatcrafts

Here’s a photo to cheer you (or me) up whilst I’m thinking about our midnight start and the first route to warm us up being MAy35 at Bamford.