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Pete Robins making the first ground-up ascent (4th overall ascent) of The Promise (E7) at Burbage North
© Alan James, Dec 2008
Jack Geldard in the full glare of the media circus on The Promise (E7) at Burbage North
© Alan James, Dec 2008 Ground-up means climbing a route without top-rope or abseil inspection (you climb from the ground up). It usually means the route was attempted onsight/flash and then a fall (or a few falls) were taken. Climbers pushing this boundary enjoy ground-up 'team ascents', taking turns to try the routes, as they help each other to work things out and build each other's confidence. This 'group psyche' is more 'fun' than a lonely onsight. The style lies somewhere between the true onsight and a fully rehearsed headpoint. Ground-up ascents of E7's often don't make the news. They are a relatively common occurrence among the top trad climbers of the UK. This time we're running a full story as the route in question is very topical and has been part of a larger grade debate.
The Promise E7 7a - Burbage - Peak District
Edit: We thought E7 7a. It has been brought to my attention that the grade may be E8 7a. After chatting at the crag I felt happy reporting E7, as that was the experience we had.
It's been raining in Wales, a lot. I've spent my days staring at a computer screen and dreaming of perfect gritstone slopers. So, last week, inspired by the recent UKC Video, I braved the weather and went down to V12 Outdoor in Llanberis to buy a #1 CAMP ball-nut. With a £45 investment like that, I knew I'd be guaranteed to get off my arse and try The Promise.
Pete Robins, Ben Bransby and I arrived at the crag, not really sure what to expect. We had the ball-nut, and a whole stack of bouldering mats, in-case the route turned out to be an unprotected 'high-ball'. We arranged our 6 mats in various places around the base. The ball-nut placement was easy to see as the whole route had been chalked up by a previous team (possibly John Roberts - see below). After a bit of up and down, the nut was placed. We also all soloed up and down the adjacent chimney, from where it is possible to get a look at the gear and holds. The route is very short and the nearby rocks also provide a superb vantage point for scoping out both gear and moves.
The ball nut is fairly easy to place - around a V5 boulder problem, and is at a safe bouldering height - meaning climbing up and down to it is not scary or particularly difficult in relation to the route. It is also worth noting that you climb a slightly different sequence to get the gear in, meaning a reverse to the floor (3 moves) is the easiest option to set yourself up for the lead sequence.
With the ball nut securely in place, we gingerly swung around on it near the ground and then bounced around on it. It was then time to climb.
I had been sent up first earlier in the year on Gravediggers, Pete had done his duty a few weeks ago on Parthian Shot, so that left Ben. Luckily he was unfazed and set off up the perfect grit arete. A short, painless fall later and we trusted the gear about 80%. We all had a few goes, gaining confidence in the runner (now up to 92%!), with Pete hitting the final hold on his second try. Unfortunately it warmed right up, giving sweaty conditions, so we vowed to return early the following morning - for maximum friction.
Later that day both Pete and I got spat off the grovel-mantle finish of Skinless Wonder, an E6 at Stanage. So much for saving ourselves!
Ben Bransby making the second ground-up ascent (5th overall ascent) of The Promise (E7) at Burbage North
© Alan James, Dec 2008
Pete and I arrived early after having had a few pints of training ale the night before. It was freezing, so Pete did a boulder problem whilst I sorted the rope. He then climbed The Promise easily and fluidly on his first try, without a real warm-up. Inspirational stuff. We hadn't bothered with as many bouldering mats this time (4), as they were too difficult to carry from the van and we felt confident in the ball-nut.
Ben arrived just minutes later and was obviously gutted at having missed the action. Not to worry - Pete said he'd happily just do it again. So he did.
Myself and Ben weren't having it quite so easy, with a few falls each from various places on the route (admittedly Ben was looking quite a bit stronger than me). Ben then made a sterling effort and stuck the final move, a long stretch with the left hand from the three finger dish. I had a few more goes, hitting the final hold, and being 'oh so close' to holding it. But then fatigue and a split-tip took over and it was time to call it a day.
Gutted - it was my flamin' ball nut too! Hopefully I'll be back within a week.
Waiting in the wings for me to get a bloody move on was John Roberts, who went on to headpoint the route after we left. He had tried the route the week previously on top-rope and then had a few more goes on the Sunday. On his successful lead ascent, he kicked out the ball nut runner - making for an exciting top out! Well done John!
Watch Ben Bransby and Pete Robins on The Promise
For many people this may be too much information, but some have been following the story of recent ascents of The Promise with interest. There has been a lot of speculation over the grade of this route recently, so I would like to offer a couple of paragraphs of insight after coming extremely close to a ground-up repeat and also after having belayed/witnessed two impressive ascents.
Sequences: As far as we can tell, all ascentionists have used a very similar sequence. James Pearson, Alex Honnold and Pete Robins (plus myself - but I fell off of course) used a lower foot smear to do the final move. Kevin Jorgeson and Ben Bransby used a slightly higher foothold for this because they are shorter. Everything else was essentially the same.
Gear: We took around 20 falls in total on to the ball-nut runner. It held fine every time. It isn't a bomber Rock 9, but as routes get harder and more specific, gear gets smaller and slightly more, erm, disconcerting. We felt that even if the runner popped, it would take most of the sting out of the short fall and a ground-fall wouldn't be terminal, but would possibly be broken ankle territory in the worst case scenario.
Grade: Whilst Ben and I threw ourselves at The Promise, Pete had a very brief top-rope inspection of Superstition, an unrepeated E8 7a next door. He felt this route was a solid E grade harder than The Promise and bang on at a stiff E8 7a. We thought that a short, bouldery Font 7b+ with reasonable (if slightly unusual) gear would warrant E7 7a. Short routes are traditionally tough from a technical point of view. I have also done routes of this standard that have been graded 6c, but there is a bit of overlap in that area.
Other grade musings: It is easy to get grades slightly out, especially on tough, technical routes like The Promise. Climbing the route thinking that the ball-nut had no chance of holding a fall would feel much more scary than climbing it like we did - with 92% faith in the runner. For this route, the use of a few bouldering mats doesn't really affect the grade, as there is rope protection, however climbing with no mats and (psychologically) with no ball-nut would feel harder. Gauging how many 'E points' you get for a broken leg is a strange business. If the ball-nut was a bomber Rock 9, the route would warrant E6 7a. With loads of bouldering mats (around 10?) this route could be climbed in the 'highball' style, but all falls would have to be in control as flying off backwards wouldn't be recommended. To climb it in this way you would have to be 'better than the route'.
Quality: The route is a top quality grit arÍte. Hard and technical, but short and friendly. Personally I'd give it 2 stars and I can't wait to get back on it.
Thanks: Go to James Pearson for opening this cracking line, working out how to climb it and finding the ball-nut runner. If this hadn't have been done, we certainly wouldn't have tried the route ground-up and I wouldn't have got yet another slapping from Pete Robins and Ben Bransby... hmm...
Additional note (added after an email question): We also used a small step ladder, laid flat on the floor to fill a hole. This could have been done in the same way with a bouldering mat or multiple rucksacks. Pete often carries a small step ladder for bouldering. On the day of the two ascents, we had an extra bouldering mat at the crag that we didn't bother using, as we didn't need it. Hope that clarifies.
Quote of the day:
"You don't climb the Indian Face again because your mate missed it the first time round!"
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor: