In this new series of interviews, we whisk off some of Britain's best climbers to a lonely desert island (we might give them a belayer to take along, if they're lucky...) and ask them to regale us with tales of their eight favourite routes of all time, before having to single one out to have as their "Desert Island Climb." Alongside their chosen route, our climbing castaways will be asked to select a book and a luxury item to take to the island.
We've already shipped-off Calum Muskett, but this time round we were faced with a dilemma - Pete or Tom? It seemed unfair to split the world-famous "WideBoyz" and enforce a lifetime of separation, so it was decided to get rid of the pair of them.
Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall have been climbing partners for years and together have ticked-off some of the world's most disgustingly hard and painful routes - most of which are crack climbs - and taken on some ridiculous tests of endurance, including climbing all 125 Brown and Whillans routes on both the Eastern and Western grit edges in just over 22 hours, with 23 miles of running thrown in for good measure.
From Burbage to Yosemite, here are Pete and Tom's eight most valued routes of all time.
Ray’s Roof E7 6c, Baldstones
Ray’s Roof was probably the first hard route that me and Pete tried together after starting up a climbing partnership based on silly climbing challenges i.e. 550 routes in a day! This route is one that we’ve gone back to a few times in various styles and epitomises what we both love about gritstone jamming; brutality, trickery and unfairness towards the short. My most memorable experience on Ray’s would be our day out trying to solo it. At one stage, I’d decided that it’d be good to miss out a few of the starting moves by dyno-ing to a hand jam. I quickly changed my mind mid-move when I caught the hand jam, rotated my body horizontally and then slipped out flying over Pete’s mum’s head landing face first on the ground. I don’t know who was most surprised!
Greenspit 5.13d, Orco Valley
This has got to be one of the most enjoyable hard cracks in the world. Both of us have climbed it more than once now and it never ceases to be less of a gymnastic experience. Because it climbs through almost horizontal terrain on comfortable jams, it’s so easy to relax into the movement. The other cool thing is that it’s a site of some cutting-edge crack development, with its beginnings as a Didier Berthod first ascent project to a Stevie Haston “Flash-point” and finally part of the Pura Pura link. As well as climbing Greenspit with Pete one year, I’ve belayed many people on it and no one ever seems to walk away disappointed. That fact alone makes a mega “desert island” climb.
The Sheep Font 6C, Burbage
A life-time project now and one that (by me) has gone unticked for nearly 15 years. There’s many aspects to this problem that mean it’d have to go on the desert island. One is that Pete seems to be able to climb this problem whenever he wishes and is constantly taking the piss out of me for being so weak - I’ve got to give him something on the Island he can win any argument over… Also it technically is a “crack” so for me to have not done this is a huge missing part of the CV?! When I’m left on an island with it and Pete for eternity, surely success (I hope the conditions aren’t too hot and humid??) will be round the corner.
Ugly E7 6c, Llyn Peninsula
Any trad climber out there should have at least one George Smith experience in their life and “Ugly” could be about as good a one as you can get. Like many of George’s route’s it’s very very different. In fact, it’s so different each time you attempt it (the holds keep falling off) that you’ll never grow tired of this route! When I first tried with Pete we found this curious situation where you could only weight a foothold once, because if you tried to do it a second time, the soft shale-like rock instantly polished and became like standing on a bar of wet soap covered with a thin film of diesel. Nice huh? Once you’ve learnt the trick, you’ve got an almost endless supply of bridging, offwidthing, wrestling and a small waterfall to climb through.
Master's Edge E7 6b, Millstone
Every year Tom and I go on a birthday pilgrimage to climb Master's Edge, whether rain, shine, sleet, snow, wind or hail. I think next year will be into the seventh year of climbing the route and currently it still never ceases to please. With just enough spice to make things hot and just enough safety to keep you off the ground in the event of a fall, the route is the ideal candiate for a birthday outing. The early years were all about getting up the thing, but now the focus seems to have turned to: what ridiculous outfit can we climb it in? There have been exotic fruits, top hats and suits, animals, larger people and Everest pioneers. Next year? Any ideas?
Nocturnal Nightmare E4 6a, Orco Valley
One of the ultimate climbing experiences has to be 'The Onsight'. Onsight new routing is a step beyond that, and onsight new route multi-pitching is a notch again. On a trip to Orco, Tom and I had satisfyingly epic outing on a new 5 pitch route up a completely unclimbed buttress. Our desired line, first spied from the road turned out firstly to be a water streak and not a crack system. So, I quest up a small corner system to the left and just make it with enough rope to a suitable hanging belay, committed from pitch one! Pitch two is a wandering corner and arete system which eventually lands us on the horizontal fault line running across the middle of the buttress. There is no way up, so a decision has to be made, left or right? I guess blindly and take the leftward exit round the corner to eventually land us on easier ground and a thank goodness chimney system to the top. Thankful at reaching the top a long descent in the dark takes us into phase two of the route, which firstly is the wrong gully system and a jungle nightmare (typical Randall navigation). A few hours later we bumped into our friends who had come to find us as it was now midnight. However, not knowing a rock drop from a slopey walk we found ourselves still abseiling as they casually walked up to find us. To top the day off, we nearly got mauled by a pack of dogs and shot by the local farmer...The funny story is the second ascent came from a friend of ours a few years later who seemed to come across all the same experiences! It seems the route isn't just in the climbing.
Century Crack 5.14c, Canyonlands, USA
After reading about Century Crack in a magazine, Tom and I set aside two years of our life to train purely for this route. That was the easy part. The difficult part came in actually locating the beast. With the directions of 'drive into Canyonlands, turn left and follow the white rim until the edge of the world drops away' we had little chance of actually finding it, seeing as the white rim is 200 miles long. An interesting scenario we had put ourselves in as we would now probably end up spending the next two years looking for it. After Randall's recent low level of directional skill, having just gone south bound on the M1 from Sheffield to get to Leeds, I decided to take it upon myself to locate the bugger. A contact through a contact put me in contact with a knowledgeable contact and out of nowhere we had pinpointed on Google Earth our specific location. After a 10 hour plane journey, a 6 hour car drive, 4 hour 4x4 drive, a walk into the middle of nowhere where the edge of the world does actually drop away and finally one abseil off the edge of the world, we were finally ready to do battle.
Muir Wall/El Corazon link up 5.13b, Yosemite
It seems a lot of Tom's and my aims and goals are very similar, which probably explains one of the reasons why we have had such a good climbing partnership. A huge goal for both of us was to free climb El Cap. Having never done any big walling together, it seemed like quite a big undertaking for us both and so for that reason we weren't quite sure how things were going to pan out. For some reason for our first wall on El Cap we decided to try a new link up of routes that hadn't actually been done before. Which was to link a hard part of one route (Muir Wall) into the crux of another route (El Corazon). At the campsite it seemed like a good idea, but that was before we factored in the increased amount of 5.13 climbing, the Californian sun, the lack of water, the incomplete rack, the loose rock and Randall's navigational skill (I mention Tom's navigational skills once again due to his complete incompetence to travel anywhere without getting lost, despite having a degree in Geography...maybe he just coloured in maps for 3 years).
With all these factors against us and having many a big wall epic, we topped out after 5 days of effort having both freed every pitch, and both freeing our first Big Wall. A top experience, with everything thrown into one route.
For our route to take to the desert island, we have chosen Muir Wall/El Corazon link up.
Pete’s luxury item: Tom
Pete’s book: Western Grit Rockfax
Tom’s luxury item: Molton Brown pamper kit
Tom’s book: Eastern Grit Rockfax
Previous articles this series: Desert Island Climbs #1: Calum Muskett
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