Now we have more information from the man himself, and a great video from Wild Country.
On the way back from Turkey, we stopped off in England for a few days and were blessed with perfect conditions for the Gritstone. I wanted to try an old project from my youth, a route called Elder Statesman, first climbed by Steve Mcclure in 2004! Elderstatesman is one of the rare new routes from Steve, not on Limestone, and it is even rarer due to its crazy crux sequence and style. Very A-typical for Gritstone, the crux of the route climbs more like a "World Cup" Boulder problem, requiring several dynamic moves in a row, carrying ones momentum from one move to the next. At one point during the sequence, you maintain only one point of contact, with the rest of your body swinging wildly out in space.
The route was given the relatively unknown grade of HXS, which literally means "Hard Extreme" and is the natural continuation of our peculiar grading scale above HVS (Hard Very Severe). Usually, HXS is simply referred to as "E" and split up into separate levels, E1, E2, E3... E10 etc, which is the format you are used to seeing, but HXS is still used from time to time when it is difficult to accurately assess the danger (i.e. routes with very loose rock).
In this instance, HXS is used because of the strange situation of the crux. Protected by giant Friends in a crack on the right, the fall should not be too dangerous, but due to the wild nature of the movements and the near horizontal position of the gear, the fall may turn out to be far from comfortable. In addition, Steve was very concerned at the possibility of cutting his ropes on the sharp arÍte below, so much so that he climbed the route with 3 very fat single ropes.
I climbed the route on my first lead try, after a few attempts on a toprope. I was very surprised at first to find the sequence much harder than I remembered. There had been a few occasions in the past where I felt the "magic" of a Hard Grit Lead; the moves feel easier, the sequence flows, you are really in the zone. I decided to give the theory a try, tied on for the lead, and went for it. I don't know if it's the adrenalin or just the extra focus of being on the lead, but the magic happened and everything felt easy. Such a brilliant set of moves in a very exposed position, and despite all its oddities, it is one of the better routes I have climbed on the Grit!
Just after topping out I discovered the reason for finding the moves so much more difficult than I remembered. I was informed by friends that a "crucial" pebble foot hold had broken from the arete, and since then, no one had been able to climb it. They had known all along but waited until I had finished the route to tell me, in fear of messing up my motivation or psyche.
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