Pete's one of those guys that makes your heart skip a beat if you are a climber... his audacious burst onto the scene with the incredible 'Dynamics Of Change' E9 7A, and it's mindbending photo and video coverage was one of the higlights of the last few years grit seasons and for me one of the most amazing grit ascents ever. So I for one am mega-psyched to have him on the Wild Country team for 2011 and pretty keen to see what he'll get up to next...
Pete tells us more about himself:
"Some stuff about me - I got into climbing through my parents, they are really into the outdoors so I didn’t have much choice really. (Not that I would have had it any other way!) We used to have family days out walking, scrambling and multipitching in The Peak, Wales, The Lakes and places like that, we would all follow Mum up as she lead the pitches. This started when I was about 6/7. From this age I also did the usual thing of entering the local comps, I was on the British Competition Climbing Team for about 5 years as well and managed to get to compete internationally which was good. The team trips were usually pretty eventful too!
Throughout this period I gradually progressed with my trad climbing. But it wasn’t until I met Ben Cossey, when I was 16, who came over from Australia that I realised I could climb significantly harder then I was climbing at the time. I started to progress through the grades at a pretty rapid rate, cramming in absolutely piles of routes, climbing everything I could and having a right laugh.
I keep a diary of routes that I have done and looking back at that period of time is ridiculous even for me to look at, I went from climbing E3 5c to putting up a new E9 7a and climbing English 7b, in a year! At the time it didn’t feel like I had taken that big a step, as my progression was fairly even just very quick.
Since Ben went back I have found a new regular climbing partner who can often be found hanging upside down in an offwidth somewhere. Yep that’s Tom (Randall.) He is pretty much as stupid as me and is always up for a good laugh, so since meeting him the climbing trips have been some of the best ever with a lot of my best climbing achievements incorporated in there somewhere. I don’t know how because usually the trips consist of complete epics and ‘Where the hell are we?’ Sometimes I wonder how we even get any climbing done!
Anyway, since this time I have managed to climb at lots of different places and widen the variety of rock I have climbed on, mainly trading it with some sport climbing and bouldering thrown in there if my biceps can take it (they usually say ‘no’ though, but I’m working on it!)
Over the last year I have been getting into the wider variety of cracks (that’s offwidth cracks by the way), I’m pretty psyched for this climbing as it requires a different type of strength that most other climbers aren’t up for using. It makes you try really hard and you know you’ve given every bit of effort after coming ‘out’ an offwidth route, which is what it’s all about.
I have done quite a few new routes in the last couple of years and this is what I really enjoy doing. I have some routes in mind that I want to try in the future, I just need to train harder to make sure I get up them.
Overall, I just love to go climbing whatever the weather with good friends and try and climb to my potential.
Climbing achievements - A few first ascents:
- Dynamics of change E9 7a
- Loose Control E8 6c
- Inspiration dedication E8 6b/c
- Grandad’s slab E7 6c,
- Re-mastered edge E7 6c
- Gobbler’s Roof E7 6c (completely recommended………….)
- Gloves of war E6 6c (first new route abroad)
- Back Down Under E6 6c (my first, first ascent)
Few of my best or favourite repeats:
- Braille Trail E7 6c
- A little Peculiar E7 7b (2nd ascent, first repeat for 16 years, also climbed it without the bomber side runners)
- Ugly E7/8 6b or XS (2nd ascent, first repeat for 17 years)
- Quarryman E8 6c (groove pitch, although I want to go back and do the whole lot)
- Ray’s Roof E7 6c (5th ascent)
- All Elements V11 (2nd ascent)
- A lot of E6’s and E7’s ground up, a couple of E7’s flashed.
Other 'stupid' things:
- Traversed the length of Stanage (4 miles) 2nd ascent
- Record for most outdoor routes climbed in a day, 550 each (with Tom Randall)
- First pair to complete Staffordshire Brown and Whillans Challenge (with Tom Randall).
El Capitan Free - Number Three
So after two months of sleeping in the dust in Camp 4, Tom and I have got back to normality. Work in the trees starts again on Monday and I know Tom has lots of jobs in the diary. It got hard towards the end of the trip, I guess when you’re on the wall (El Capitan) for 45% of two months it’s going to be. There is only so much Top Ramen and tinned Tuna you can consume.
Anyway, after some resting days midway through the trip (which in the end, turned out to be not resting at all, just effectively not climbing on El Cap), we decided it was time for one last push, one last free attempt on The Captain. We had gone to The Valley with a goal of wanting to free 3-4 big walls and attempt to flash one of them. I guess quite a big undertaking for someone who hadn’t climbed a Wall and someone who hadn’t freed a Wall, but Tom and I always come up with seemingly ridiculous goals and just throw ourselves at them with full force.
The route that was going to be most realistic this late on in the trip was Golden Gate. We’d climbed the bottom section before on Freerider, a few of the top pitches as well on Corazon, so it only left the middle half of the route unseen.
Day 1. The Big Wall packing and preparation actually went pretty smoothly and we seemed to have learnt a lot throughout the trip about how we were going to approach different situations. The main thing that was going to be the biggest factor was fatigue. As soon as we started on the easy approach of Freeblast I could tell I was tired. We were both tired. It wasn’t ‘oh my forearms are achey’ or ‘my shoulders are tightening up’ or even a deep tired body ache. It was just general fatigue from an accumulation of climbing and living on the wall continuously for the last (nearly) two months. Just generally feeling slugglish. I knew from the beginning, (even though we’d covered a lot of the pitches before), it was going to be very challenging.
After Freeblast, Tom decided that he wasn’t going to try and free Golden Gate. I think the trip and exposure of being on the wall for so long had built up gradually and was starting to affect his climbing a little, and so he decided to pass the free climbing baton to me and do all he could to help me get up there. It was absolutely mega that he still wanted to come up the wall with me as we could have easily called it a day there and then.
After day one to El Cap Spire, I generally just felt exhausted. The climbing seemed to actually go better up to this point then it had on Freerider, but overall everything seemed like it was taking its toll. I had deep tired aches running through my legs and all I felt like doing was lying down and falling asleep, and it was only 5 o clock! It was a little worrying that I felt that wasted as day two was where the crux lay.
Day 2. Dawning on day 2, I jugged to my highpoint above the Spire and set off on a notoriously tricky 5.12c downmantle pitch. Falling again, and again, and again I just couldn’t do the pitch. The sun had come round and spoilt the holds, yet I kept trying and not surprisingly, kept falling. Massive amounts of frustration kicked in as it had gone midday and I still had another 8 pitches after this (including the crux pitch) to get to our next bivvy (no portaledge). After ringing 2 Brits and texting 1 for beta, none of which were very useful on the beta front, but all very encouraging phone calls (thanks J ), I finally realised I was doing the sequence wrong, what a massive waste of time! Having very sore skin and tired legs from down pressing over 50 times previously, I somehow managed to fall my way down the two mantles and over onto the belay ledge below. I was very relieved I didn’t have to resort to tactic two which would have been, just launch myself ‘Czech Tower Jumping’ style over onto the ledge below and right.
Day 3. started 8 pitches behind schedule, but I seemed to wake a little fresher after having a half day rest the previous day. Pitches seemed to fall effortlessly today and I even managed ‘The Move’ pitch, the crux of the route, first redpoint. I mantled out onto our bivvy ledge with 45minutes of light left and was depressingly disappointed at how it looked. Having walked across ‘Tower of the People’ on El Corazon I remembered it being a lot flatter then it currently looked. After a lot of jigging around we finally got a system sorted that stopped us rolling off the edge of the ledge and helped us get 20 minute bursts of sleep without waking up.
Day 4. The last day, only 7 pitches to flat land, I knew I could do these pitches, it was just whether my body would let me. Only 2 13a’s were what stopped me. On Corazon these pitches had left me with no trouble whatsoever, however today was completely different. After falling off the ‘Golden Desert’ pitch I felt like a goner. Mustering up some energy for my second attempt, I scraped through the crux section by the skin of my teeth and completely boxed out my mind got every inch of rubber and skin in contact with the wall to get me to the belay. I couldn’t believe how much of a difference it was from the first time. Almost a different pitch entirely. The A5 went without any problems and I proceeded to jibber my way to the top of El Cap getting very pumped on every remaining pitch.
I finally hauled my aching body over the top, and with great relief gave myself a little smile and told myself ‘I’ve got to be happy with that’.
All free routes were great and totally different experiences, The first being a technical learning curve, with big wall systems and logistics. The second being, self pressured at not wanted to fall on a pitch. And the third being massively hard work from doing the other two and having to grind it out and break it down.
Tom was an absolute hero on Golden Gate, helping me get up it, bringing out the bad jokes and supplying great big wall fancy dress. No way could I have done this one without him, so thanks very much J
One of the odd things about big wall climbing is that standards seem to lag behind other parts of climbing - whilst P Robz is out there cranking out V14s on the boulders and Ondra on the 9b’s, the big wall free climbers are still getting stuck into 8a - 8b at the cutting edge. Tommy Caldwell and K Jorg being the exception of course…. It would seem that standards should be broadly in line across all styles, but even in the access friendly mecca of Yosemite, this does’t seem to be the case.
Likewise the onsight / flash standards have lagged on the big walls. The biggest surprise to many might be that El Capitan has still never had a pure onsight of any of it’s free routes, despite the grades rarely going over 8b on the hardest pitches. So why is this? Is it the cumulative effect of tiredness? The diversity of climbing styles? The skin condition issues of 5 days of continuous climbing?
Well, this week Pete and I set off to find out the truth. Could it really be that hard to climb 32 pitches of granite first go, on the mega classic line of Freerider?
Freerider was first established by the Huber brothers in 1998 and essentially forms an “easy version” of Salathe on the left side of El Capitan. It’s characterised by a lower slab half which follows blank sections that join up major crack systems that are often quite wide - including the infamous hollow flake. Nothing in the bottom half of the route goes beyond tricky E4, although it’s well know for being hard to onsight every single pitch even for the easy part. Above the midway point the wall steepens up and heads towards the overhanging Salathe headwall via offwidths, corners and more hard face climbing up to E6 (or 7c). Pete and I planned to attempt the route from the ground over 3 days, having saved every pitch as unseen, but we’d begged every friend we knew to give us good beta for the route! Despite our previous mistakes on El Corazon, we adopted many of the same tactics in the vain hope that somehow second time round we might not have as many hiccups!
At 4 in the morning we set up the first section of the route, a ten pitch climb known as Freeblast and popular just to do by itself. The first hurdle of this section comes at around pitch 5 where the cracks thin out and you reach some delicate face climbing. I think we were both quite nervous not to blow the onsight attempt this early on, and we both hesitated a little at the crux until finally gibbering our way across the mini traverse and rocking out onto better holds.
The next crux came not from the climbing, but from a bowel problem from Randall. We decided to link some pitches up and go Irish mega pitch style, halfway through the 80m pitch Tom had serious issues trying to get into the half dollar corner whilst not pooping himself. After an emergency restroom stop things eased in the climbing (and down below) and we found ourselves having done the Freeblast, the long down climb and on heart ledges before lunch time. What a great start.
A couple of parties had snuck ahead of us up the fixed lines and it seemed one party was having trouble with the notorious hollow flake. Two hours later we still hadn’t moved from Heart Ledges and realised we weren’t going to make it to our bivvy spot in the Alcove before dark. If we wanted to give ourselves the best chance of on sighting the route, we rationalised that climbing in the dark wouldn’t be that good, because although Freerider follows big ledge systems, anyone who knows me and Tom will know we are notorious at getting lost. We decided to descend from Heart Ledges and come back extra early the following morning to get ahead of the crowds and stick to our schedule.
Day 1 Again
It seems to have become a habit not quite getting off on the right foot on these routes, but nevertheless we started “Day 1 Version 2” from where we left off at Heart Ledges. The first hurdle on this part of the route comes at the Hollow Flake where you always hear rumours of huge run outs, death potential and hideous offwidths. What they don’t tell you about though, is the horrendous 30m down climb of a 5.11d that you have to do….. down climbing….. we didn’t sign up for this! Both Pete and I suffered a bit on this pitch. We’re not the biggest fans of layback down climbing.
A few pitches above I had to tackle what was to become one of the hardest pitches on the route. The 5.7 chimney. Yes 5.7 is the UK equivalent to VS. To cut a long and painful story short, I made a total hash of this pitch and ended up stuck in the back of a squeeze chimney swearing my head off and thrashing a good part of my knee skin off for 45mins, whilst everyone on the ledge below laughed at me! It was a really good grounding experience and reminded me that despite all the crack climbing that I’ve done, I can still be brought to my knees by an innocuous pitch.
The last pitch of the day to land us at our night spot was in stark contrast to a 5.7 chimney: the Monster Offwidth! More body grinding, big cams and suffering. Fortunately, this huge wide crack has a big reputation which kind of prepares you for the misery above. It was actually very interesting for Pete and I to do this pitch as we’ve done a lot of offwidths over the years and we were keen to know how the apparent “5.11a grade” would fit in with the world offwidths. Suffice to say we topped out the pitch impressed with its difficulty and thought that compared to many others around the globe it was a good solid E6 pitch. A good friend of ours, Andy Reeve (see pic below) had wrestled the monster a week before and made a herculean effort to try and remove his own arm. Anyone who climbs this pitch without a long wide crack apprenticeship gets serious respect from me. It’s very beefy.
We had planned to only climb 6 pitches on this day as 4 pitches above us was where the crux of the route was. At this point the route has two variations, which is either ‘The Teflon Corner’ at 7c, or ‘The Huber Variation’ at 7c+. As we’d been given beta for The Huber Variation we decided to go for this one. I narrowly missed flashing the problem falling from the last move after not spotting a crucial hold. I was really annoyed as I felt as though i could have done it. I made a quick redpoint to make sure I still had a ‘safe tick’ of the route on the cards. The holds are quite thin on this pitch and as it got warmer Tom couldn’t quite claw his way up in the increasing heat.
We decided to ab back down and have ago on the Teflon Corner. The corner is a much different proposition and instead of using finger tip skin it uses palm skin, instead of edges its smears. I really wanted to make up for my mistake on The Huber Variation and make sure I did this pitch first go. We didn’t have any beta for this pitch but I knew it was my style of climbing, so I just went for it with a really positive approach and before I knew it I’d smeared and palmed my way to the top of the pitch without falling! I couldn’t believe it, maybe a Flash ascent of El Capitan was still on! Tom put his best Flash effort, unfortunately narrowly missing out and slipping out the slippery bugger. it was starting to get late, so we decided to have a rest, bivvy it out and let Tom complete pitch early the next morning.
Having fallen off the teflon corner more times that you’d think was feasibly possible, I went down the next morning with sore palms, but with a bit more confidence that the cooler morning temps would help on the insecure smearing. I think what marked this pitch out, wasn’t my multitude of falls, but the fact that Pete did this first go - I couldn’t believe his performance after I’d been on it for just 15 minutes. Such a good effort to not make a single mistake. Whilst the climbing isn’t strength dependent, the moves are so weird. It’s all body tension, insecurity and butt clenchingly desperate. Think The Quarryman groove, but shorter and made of granite! After an hour of effort that morning I somehow seemed to piece the climbing together and produced a couple of nice blisters on my palms.
Knowing that we had the hardest pitch of climbing behind us, I think the tension eased off for me, but for Pete I’m pretty sure it ramped up. He still had “the flash” in hand, but now there was 10+ pitches of up to E6 above that no silly mistakes could be made on. As I sat on the belay some time that morning, I really pondered Pete’s dilemma… it’s not that hard on paper, but how do you keep it together over so many different climbing styles and on back to back climbing days?
The question to that one, has to be answered in what was the highlight of the day for me - watching Pete lead the second “Enduro Corner”, a reasonably graded 5.12b. We’d heard rumours that it was a proper sandbag and looking up at the line you could see few big holds and even fewer footholds. Essentially, it was a 15m power layback on rounded holds…. did I mention that we both hate laybacks?! As Pete steadily made progress upwards he reached a point where I could see he’d got pretty pumped and his feet kept twitching nervously on the holds.
Fuck. This can’t be….. there’s no way he can mess this up after everything below. Come on…. just grin and bear it….
Almost as if Pete had heard my thoughts, he got “the face” out that I rarely see. It’s the one where he looks like he’s going to chew his own chin off and his face wrinkles up in shear determination. I always love this moment (I bet Pete doesn’t!) as I know some seriously grim effort is about to be shown. With everything he had, he crimped it up, got the beefcake out and gunned it to the top of the pitch looking at a huge fall if he fell before the belay.
YESSSS!!! Thank God for that. I can relax for 10 minutes now. Until the next pitch…..
As I lead off on the 5.12 traverse afterwards I kind of knew that he had the route in the bag now as no one had said anything too worrying about the pitches above. I mostly started to look forward to a night spent on a 2ft wide ledge trying to work out how to cook, sleep and not touch Pete’s toxic feet.
Top Out Day
After the previous day all the 5.12 and 5.11 pitches were done, so I was able to relax a little. However after climbing in Yosemite for a month now I’ve come to realise not to take any grade that seriously. I seem to have done 5.8s which have been harder then some 5.11c’s. I knew just to be relaxed and that the last few 5.10 pitches would be in my capability. A few hours later both Tom and i had topped out. Tom had managed to free his second big wall on El Cap and somehow I’d managed to climb the whole of Freerider without taking a fall. Firstly I actually couldn’t believe we’d both managed to free another wall in such a short period of time and secondly I couldn’t believe I’d got up this thing in a push first try.
We had had it as a goal to try and flash Freerider before coming out to the States as we knew it may not have been done before. We saved the whole route so we were able to do this, which is why we did the Pre Muir - Corazon link at the start of the trip. Another great big walling experience, maybe not quite so much a Randall/Whittker shambles this time…..hmmmmm i’m not so sure, there were definitely some moments. massive thanks to Randall for climbing it with me.
Big Wall Flashing
Pete’s effort on Freerider has to be one of my favourite climbing experiences because I got to see the culmination of 15 yrs of effort in learning a craft come to fruition. Everything he’s learnt on the gritstone edges, slate slabs, on offwidths with me and in cracks all over the world came to together in one 3000ft face. It’s not often you get to be there in the action observing a little bit of history and also not that often that when you’ve done it, you bump into Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen at the top to talk to them about it.
For me the best flash efforts on a number of different routes (as far as I know) have to be:
Cedric Lachat’s Freerider attempt (very similar style to Pete).
Ueli Steck on Golden Gate (1 fall).
Leo and Patch on El Nino (2 or 3 falls?).
Yuji on Salathe (4 falls)
For anyone who’s wondering if big wall free climbing is possible for them, then I encourage you to give it a little try - you might just surprise yourself. We now have a generation of Brits from short 20m crags who are making amazing efforts and people like Dan McManus, James McHaffie, Hazel Findlay, Calum Muskett and Andy Reeve are a constant inspiration in rewards of hard work and determination.
Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker came up with possibly the ultimate gritstone challenge recently; to do all the Joe Brown and Don Whillans gritstone routes on Eastern and Western Peak District gritstone...that's 125 routes up to E6 6C in one day....Tom takes up the story
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.” Or “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…
Peter Whittaker blitzes Sweden's hardest routes...
On my trip to Sweden last year I focused on climbing hard cracks and especially finger cracks, to help work towards Cobra Crack later in the year. However this year with different trips planned for the Autumn I was keen to do all different types of climbing, pumpy, cruxy, crack, safe, bold, a real mixture.
Pete making a flash of Aretmetik E6 6a...
I first got inspired by the area Bohuslan in Sweden from the film Crackoholic where it shows the evolution of climbing from the early days right up to the new current modern test pieces. In the film there are all styles of climbing to give a great overview of what the area is like. Seeing as though the film is what had inspired me to go to this area initially I thought it would be appropriate and challenging to try and 'tick' the DVD. This year the main challenges were a un-repeated E9, a classic de-bolted (so now trad) sport route and powerful 8a crack climbs among many other skyhook protected nightmares, bridging leg pumpers and thrutchy offwidth sandbags.
The two I was most pleased with climbing, were the de-bolted sport route and unrepeated E9.
The de-bolted sport route known as 'Electric Avenue' is probably one of the most famous routes in Sweden. It was originally done as a runout sport climb but a few years ago a visiting Norweign chopped the bolts and decided to climb it on small micro wires. The route is absolutely brilliant with a slightly bold easier lower section followed by good (but hard to place) spaced micro wires, The climbing is delicate and intricate and at first sample it feels desperate, but with time the moves become easy until you don't really get tired or pumped anymore you just smear and layback your way up. It has to be one of the best single pitches of trad climbing I've done anywhere.
The final route was the un-repeated E9 known as 'Dreadline.' First put up in 2007 by local Stefan Wulf. In the film 'Crackoholic' Stefan takes a monster fall from the final crux moves, ending up just a few meters off the floor and making any falls on gritstone climbs look like a toprope fall. Eventually Stefan came and finished the climb off, offering a very scary proposition which stayed un-repeated for 7 years. The reputation of the route grew locally as some attempts were made and also a serious deckout from the final moves. I was really motivated to have a look at the route and when I abseiled down it even more pleased to see that it looked reasonably safe, despite the massive runout and fall potential from the crux move reaching the top of the crag.
On the first lead attempt I got the rope caught the wrong side of my foot and it pulled me off backwards, from the same place Stefan had fallen from, resulting in probably the second biggest fall I've ever taken. Next day, next go up, no mistakes and the second ascent was in the bag.
After a long trip of tinkering skyhooks, crunching jams, 14m lobs onto micro cams, broken gear, stuck gear, psychological gear, bomber gear, belayers tied down to trees, a lot of repeats, hot weather and greasy conditions I'd come up one route short of completing my 'Crackoholic' ticklist. There is always next year :)
Pete on Dreadline...
With the launch of our video of Pete Whittaker making the first ascent of Baron Greenback (watch video here: https://vimeo.com/76707944) I talked to Pete and Tom about Baron Greenback and that megaday at Wimberry (with Nathan Lee) day that saw 26.5 E points fall in just three routes….!!
Pete, can you describe the Baron in terms of its difficulty and what you needed to bring to the route?
I’m not very good at sport climbing, but in sport climbing grades it must be around the solid 8b mark. You have to be good on crimps and strong with your heels, that is the most important thing.
Tom, you’ve seen Pete try hard, in fact we’ve all seen Pete try very, very hard on Century – how hard did he try on this?
Well, he didn’t cry at the top of this one. That probably means he either took tissues up in his pocket or Century was more taxing for him. Pete will have to tell you!
Pete how hard were you trying?
Offwidthing is very different to this sort of climbing, you can always squeeze an extra ounce out when climbing offwidths, which is why when climbing them you reach absolute limit on ‘try hard factor’. Other routes you might try hard on, for example BG, but its different you fall off pumped and always think you could have tried harder (even though you probably couldn’t have). Falling off an offwidth you don’t think that usually unless you’ve passed out. So in terms of how hard did I try on the route? Pretty bloody hard, but in reality probably not that hard.
Tom, you belayed Pete, how are you belaying on hard / very dangerous routes?
I think I actually find belaying on the hard or scary routes quite dependent on how confident the leader is and how dangerous the route is. I once thought my leader was falling off a bold E5 on grit and I ran backwards through the woods trying to stop a ground fall.... apparently he’d not actually fallen off though, so he started screaming at me!
And was it any different on this route and this day? And what did you think about the bolts?
I was pretty calm belaying Pete actually. I trusted those bolts quite a lot (having chopped a couple of this type in my time) so I wasn’t stressed. Perhaps that’s the way it’ll be though, as it wasn’t actually me risking my neck! I’d probably feel different if the other way round.
Pete, how do you rate the bolts after you found out more about them?
I don’t know how I rate them, because I can’t see what they are like inside!! One day they will fall out though: so I hope nobody gets hurts, be careful.
The day ended well as we see but there was a point where you’d fallen off, Tom fell off, did it feel it in the balance?
It always felt in the balance (that I’d get it done), but nothing seemed dangerous. When you have doubt that’s when things go wrong.
Reading Tom’s blog after your big day where Tom sent his E9, Nathan sent his E8 and then you dispatched your route, there seemed to be a real buzz about his writing, is that how it felt on the day?
There was a buzz on the day, everybody was climbing well, having a laugh, psyched and not taking things too seriously. I like to have these feelings everytime I go climbing though, the day was nothing special in terms of vibe at the crag, that’s normal, that’s why I like going climbing.
Was that the same for you Tom , how was the vibe that day?
The atmosphere was amazing that day. Everyone wanted to do their projects and everyone was supportive of the other people. It was actually pretty good fun considering how serious it might have actually been. As we did each route, one after the other, there was no awkwardness about one person having fallen off on their first attempt. To be fair, it was actually Pete that had the most pressure on him.
Pete, this has been a big year for you, and after having to switch focus to Cobra how was it watching yourself on the Baron five months later?
I was training for Cobra before I even tried BG. The training crossed over well as I was working on things that I wasn’t very good at and this paid off on BG. As for watching I do grunt to much, I need to tone down, can’t help it though, it just comes out.
You’ve had a pretty amazing couple of years, with Century Crack E10 / 8c, Baron Greenback E9/10 / 8b?and Cobra Crack E9 / 8c amongst the highlights, how does the Baron rate for you sandwiched between these others?
Century is definitely the biggest achievement by far, I put the most effort, dedication and training into that. It was way more then just trying hard on wooden cracks in Tom’s cellar, I don’t think people realise that. Cobra was a cool route but it was just a repeat, I’m well pleased to do such a classic though. BG was the hardest thing I’ve done on grit and an accumulation of everything I’ve learnt climbing on gritstone, along with a bit of consistant training on some weaknesses. I’m very very pleased to have done this route. First ascents are always more special to me then repeats.
How do you guys think it ranks amongst grit’s other hardest: Equilibrium, Dr Doolittle, Dynamics of Change, The Groove, Gerty Berwick, Widdop Wall…
Pete: Proud line
Tom: I think it’s up there with all of them. It’s a very special route indeed, if you’re talking about cool, asthetic, big and hard lines on grit.
Pete, you got an urge for any of those?
Well I’m not doing Dynamics again, that seems a bit silly. Currently, nope to the rest
One of the first people to watch this commented that it had a hard grit feel, was that film a big influence on you?
I love Hard Grit, its my favourite film. Grimer always says everyone skips past him in the history section, that’s my favourite bit though, love listening about the exquisite lines. The actual climbing wasn’t that influential on my climbing though, just inspiring and helps you get psyched. When I saw the film for the first time I never thought I’d do any of these kind of routes
You were dubbed the ‘grit kid’ – who’s coming through to fill your shoes?
That was when I was 16, I can’t think of anybody that age coming though. However Nathan Lee, Oli Grounsell and that crew are well keen, they are a few years younger then me. I’ve only seen Nathan headpoint a few times, but he’s really good at it, one of the best at the moment in terms of strength to length of ticklist. His new route at Wimberry looks hardcore. He’ll grow out of hardcore and want to clip rusty bolts like me soon though ;)
Where does this day rank for you two in what’s becoming a growing list of big ‘Pete and Tom’ days?
Pete: Just another Wednesday really. It was a great day in terms of climbing achievement I guess, as I climbed my hardest route I’ve climbed on Grit, but I can think of loads of other days that have been just as cool where maybe we haven’t even climbed anything.
Tom: Well, I might have to disappoint here. It actually doesn’t rank that highly! It was a very cool day out and we all had a great time. I think in particular mine and Nathan’s routes aren’t actually that hard. Both of them could come down a grade, but people on the outside don’t quite perceive it that way. Pete’s ascent was truly outstanding and I think we piggybacked on his day. Some of the days that Pete and I have had on our challenges were way bigger for us, also the big days in the US on the offwidth tour, the Millstone epic day with Nige Kershaw, the Churnet deckout day. I think those stick in my mind more. When Pete does the direct on BG, I do Nathan’s new E9 and Nathan does Madman.... well, that might be quite cool :-)