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.
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.
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.
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.
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…