INTERVIEW: Ben Bransby Climbs Parthian Shotby Duncan Campbell & Jack Geldard Nov/2013
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Last week Ben Bransby wrote the next chapter in the history of the famous gritstone route Parthian Shot at Burbage South, becoming the first person to climb the route after the key 'shipwreck flake' was broken in 2011.
Parthian Shot is the stunning prow of gritstone just right of Dawes' slab masterpiece Braille Trail. The route got wide recognition as a project when in the classic Stone Monkey video Johnny Dawes climbed it on top-rope. Then in 1989 John Dunne made the first ascent of the prow, naming it Parthian Shot and grading it E9 6c. Seb Grieve then made the second ascent in 1997, and in doing so took the first falls onto the 'shipwreck flake'. Once the fall had been deemed 'safe', the floodgates opened and many others repeated the route, all falling onto the flake in the process. As standards rose the route became a candidate for a ground-up ascent.
In 2008, Pete Robins and Ben Bransby both tried to climb it ground-up, placing gear on lead, but did not make a successful ascent. A few weeks later visiting American Kevin Jorgeson made the first ground-up ascent using pre-placed, pre-clipped runners. Then in 2011, visiting Canadian, Will Stanhope broke the flake off in a fall whilst trying to headpoint the route.
In 2012, top British trad climbers, Ben Bransby and James McHaffie went to have a look at the route, and after deciding that there was still some gear in the flake, they set about re-working the moves. Ben finally made the re-ascent of Parthian last week, whilst Caff came painfully close, falling twice at the top crux.
A few years ago (before the flake broke) you tried to climb Parthian Shot ground up, what gave you the idea to try the route this way? How far did you get?
Ben: Me and Pete (Robins) tried the route ground-up back in 2008. I have always preferred onsight/GU climbing and especially with the limited amount of rock in the UK I think trying to improve/climb in good style is important although it is more governed by the fact I enjoy climbing like this more than headpointing. On our first day on the route we both got pretty high - up to the slap to the pocket just below the slab. It was quite harrowing - the first time out to the flake and hunting through the rack of wires trying to get good stuff in felt pretty full on. Then having to commit to going for it above that gear was scary. I came back a few more times and came within a centimetre of holding the pocket. After 10+ falls I felt I had had enough. Kevin had tried it a couple of days with me and shortly after he did it - good effort.
The Parthian archers mounted on light horse, while retreating at a full gallop, would turn their bodies back to shoot at the pursuing enemy. The maneuver required superb equestrian skills, since the rider's hands were occupied by his bow. As the stirrup had not been invented at the time of the Parthians, the rider relied solely on pressure from his legs to guide his horse. The tactic could also be used during feigned retreat, with devastating effect.
More Info: Wikipedia
When Will Stanhope broke the flake off in 2011, did you think the route was still possible?
Ben: I thought it might be but it looked pretty hard and gnarly. I abbed down it to see what was left of the flake and gear - partly as I felt a little responsible as I had helped people feel more secure in the quality of the flake with all the falls I took. I saw most of the gear had gone and also the big hand hold. I wasn't keen to get back on it!
There was talk of bolting/glueing the broken bit of flake back on, what were your thoughts on this?
Ben: I didn't really think it was a great idea but I guess if the general consensus had been for it I wouldn't have minded too much. It would have changed the whole nature of the route though - if you knew the flake was solid then the fall is not bad - it was the iffy, expanding nature of the flake which made (and still makes) the route feel so big - you have to treat it with care.
What made you go back to try Parthian? How long did it take you to go from working it to leading it?
Ben: Caff. He came over one day and we went out to look at Dynamics of Change, E9 7a, but it was wet. To pass the time Caff abbed down Parthian and after ferreting around a little he declared the move would be ok (he still had his trainers on at this point and hadn't tried the move, he is the eternal climbing optimist though!) After it dried a bit we set up a top rope and Caff was almost right - we could do the move past the broken flake but it was hard. Neither of us could do the top slap though.
I abbed down 2 weeks ago and played on the top move and found a way to miss out the big slap - tenuous finger drags and heel hooks... Caff came over again last week and last go I top roped it in one and Caff very nearly did. Caff had laser eye surgery the day after and wanted one last good days climbing before he went blind (only kidding Caff, sure you are doing great - get Sophie to read this to you...) so we decided to give it a look.
We both had a quick play on top rope and looked at where the gear would go and then set about trying it. Placing the gear was hard and first go I fell off quite high - with my hands on the little edges on the top slab. Caff wasn't on his usual form and was really struggling with numb fingers so got to the shelf on his go and then next go (with the gear left in this time) I did it... Spicy!
How has the difficulty changed? Is it now E10?
Ben: Maybe! It is harder, pumpier and with worse gear. The old rest on the flake has gone and is replaced with a hard move - this obviously makes the route harder but it was also from (and behind) this flake that you placed the gear. It is much harder placing the gear from the slopers below and the gear you do place is worse - the top RP is the best with the lower pieces poor, and with the flake still sounding a little hollow and expanding and as it is an RP 2/3 it is definitely not bomber...
Ben's ascent was captured on film by Outcrop Films, so keep an eye out for the release of the footage sometime soon on UKClimbing.com!
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