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).
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 :-)
The Cobra Bites Back - Week 2: close but not close enough...
After a a period of reflection brought on by excessive rainfall and British style weather, we've come to the conclusion that Cobra Crack is not a 'if' but 'when.' Unfortunately the 'when' part could be very interesting as we only have 9 days left and right now we're staring at weather reports that predict 5-7 days of rain. Is this the Curse of the Cobra striking into the heart of a European crack obsessive yet again?
Everyone seems to be leaving Squamish at the moment and offering us chances to climb in warmer and drier climates at incredible destinations. We have to sit it out though, denying ourselves any chance of enjoyment or satisfaction. Our monastic dedication is reflected in our waiting for that Brit style window of perfect conditions to capitalise on. It's all or nothing. Cobra or no bra.
In the UK we are used to our miserable conditions; dank dark winters and scoping out that couple of hours of prime friction when the temperatures drop and the wind comes in. Just before that next lethal downpour, everything is perfect and topping out just as the first few 'spit spots' hit the rock is paradise. It all seems very optimistic to take this approach on the other side of the Atlantic, as we could easily go and tick some classics in another area. Instead, we keep our fingers crossed having both now come tantalisingly close to success.
So how is it leading the route? It's probably easier then trying to top rope it and way more fun. The rope above you doesn't get in the way whilst trying to get your feet above your head, the gear is quick to place and you get to take big whippers!
|Pete using the Faveresse Heal|
Most of the gear is in comfortable positions to place, with just one piece placed on the headwall. Being British we ditched the usual tactic of placing friends on the headwall, got the wires out and have gone for one bomber nut, which takes about 5 seconds to place. This is useful, because we're weak and we can't be hanging around up there! We've gone 'fast and light' Ueli style (again) only using 3 pieces for the top 25m of climbing.
|Tom placing the solitary nut on the headwall|
Each are having there own dilemmas on the the lead. Tom has an issue with one move no one else has ever had an issue with, which is strange. In the last session though, it started to get better and he was able to start execute the move - once this is done, the route will surely be in the bag! Pete has been gradually getting higher higher on each redpoint with the last go getting right up there falling just past the famous Faveresse foot above the head beta. So things are getting very close, but currently 'no cigar'.
If you'd said two days ago that in the last 9 days we would get two days of good conditions, I think we would have both written the route off. Now with the rain set in, two days would be a luxury. Please bring us two good days of conditions Squamish Weather Gods, we are very close now.
A 'crackaholic' hits Sweden and gets 1st repeat of Karlek 8b.....
A place I’ve always wanted to visit has been Bohuslan. After watching the Crackoholic film it got me so inspired I had to go. I guess overall the trip built up around 5 highlights.
1. So, after not doing any offwidthing since coming back from America in late November 2011 I thought it was only fair to have a little dabble in the wide again, it would be rude not to. Tom had already had his fix in Italy a few weeks prior and managed an impressive onsight of Turkey Crack. My offwidth ‘Gift’ came in the form of a mini ‘Bellies’ followed by a ‘Squat’ type exit but without the knee lock. After remembering how to hang by my feet and ride a Wide Pony I managed to get three quarters of my body round the final lip but with complete exhaustion peeled out of the crack only to get the route on my second attempt.
Having not climbed a single wide crack for a year and a half I was pleased to get the third ascent of ‘Presenten’ and tick possibly the biggest sandbag world wide…….it got a grade of F6a+.
Pete on his hardest repeat ever Karlek 8b, Ph Petter Restorp
2. In the film Crackoholic a large proporation of the climbing is focussed (much like in Hard Grit) on the mental game out in Bohuslan. Minaret at Haller is a line that describes this well. The battle I had with this route was getting the correct temperatures to try and actually do it. Most days it was 25/30 degrees at lunch time and Haller gets the full sun all day. It seemed like trying to do a hard End of the Affair in the middle of summer. I think I’ve learnt a lot from bold routes on the grit over the past few years and it seemed easy to pinpoint the correct time to actually go for it. I haven’t headpointed an established route for years now, but I thought it was great to get this route done on a short holiday trip as it has to be one of the most iconic routes in Sweden.
3. The route Ratt Latt that takes the overhanging groove to the right of Minaret was the first 8a to be done on trad gear in Sweden.
I don’t think the ethic of ground up climbing is so popular in Sweden currently, they seem to either onsight within there comfort zone or toprope and then lead. When I started up Ratt Latt ground up and then quickly proceeded to falling off the crux and clattering into the ledge, a couple of the locals looked quite surprised. Anyway falling off low down on the crux wasn’t too spicy just a bit of a slam, it was on the top headwall where things started to become a bit more interesting. I knew the climbing was going to be runout because of the ‘R’ symbol next to the grade in the guide, but I hadn’t quite accounted how far this was going to be, so it became a massive surprise when I looked up and saw the end of the runout fridge hugging section to be a country mile away. I got so scared I got passed the point of ‘being able to pull harder due to adrenline’. It started working in completely the opposite way and I felt my hands sliding from every single hold.
The last move reaching the ledge I felt physically sick and Marie belaying told me after she was also nearly sick just watching. When I looked down after getting to the ledge I could see I would have taken a huge fall, an absolute monster infact and it looked worse because I couldn’t see my gear which was tucked around the arête. All good though, I think I just hadn’t been run out for a long time so it took me by surprise.
4. After experience on Ratt Latt decided to stick to the safer options for both mine and Marie’s health… 'Hajen pa Haller' was a route that fitted the objective. It was like a short granite Quarryman Groove. Seeing as though the groove pitch on the quarryman is one of my favourite pitches of climbing ever, I thought it was only fair to get shuffling and throw in a few knee bars, chicken wings and get some back and footing done. Oh and if anyone goes up there my quickdraw is still on the belay it would be cool to get it back, thanks.
5. Finally the route I was happiest with was ‘Karlek’ 8b (hard!!). This was an unrepeated crack/hybrid route put up by local strong fireman Petter Restorp. I’d been working on the route throughout the whole of the trip but it wasn’t until the last two days when things started to get close. My last session, the day before leaving saw me falling from the very final move of the route at the end of the third crux. I thought I’d blown it as you can only try the route in the evening once the sun comes off the face. I didn’t think I had another chance as we had to leave to the ferry the next evening. However Marie seemed to think it was possible and so I found my myself struggling through the second crux and just about scrapping to the mid height rest ledge the following evening. When I should have now been driving back disappointed at yesterdays efforts, I instead stood with one last chance below the finishing 7c+ headwall. I was more tired then my last attempt, but new why I had fallen last time, I fumbled the finishing the hold due nerves. All I had to do was stay calm and hold on. Still whacking the wall with my left hand as I reached up for the finishing hold I managed to keep it together, made the second ascent and did what has to be one of the most satisfying ascents I’ve ever done.
The route was one of the hardest repeats I’ve done, the climbing and location were amazing and the timing couldn’t have been better; I walked back down to the car, drove 900miles over night and the next day with no sleep, got on the ferry and came home.
Pete on 'the biggest sandbag in the world' Presenten 6a+, Ph Havard Sandaker