End of Year: Trad 2008

© Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC

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The E Grade battles on through stormy seas  © Various Photographers
The E Grade battles on through stormy seas
It has been yet another amazing year for world trad climbing. From the highlands of Scotland to the sea cliffs of Devon, new routes have been forged on Britain's most unforgiving rock faces. Visiting climbers have sampled the delights of British trad, and we have seen snap-shots of what has been achieved over seas.

Trad climbing in Britain has seen a few shakes and wobbles in 2008, as our legendary E grade system has trembled under pressure from foreign grading scales, but the good ship Extremely Severe sails ever forward and perhaps even to a new latitude of difficulty with this year's crop of super-routes. Style has also featured heavily in the media this year, with climbers discussing the different approaches to climbing and the various ethical stances. This article doesn't say 'hardest this' or 'best that', because all the efforts in this round-up are impressive, amazing and inspirational.

This is my over view of what's hot for 2008. I will have missed out many great ascents, but in my mind, these are some of the inspirational activities of the year. There is a definite UK bias, but I've squeezed in a few routes from further afield too. I hope you enjoy...

Over seas action


Beth Rodden on The Meltdown  © Big Up Productions
Beth Rodden on The Meltdown
© Big Up Productions
I'd like to kick the year off with an absolutely mind-blowing effort from the US. Beth Rodden climbing Meltdown, Yosemite, California.

  • You can read an interview with Beth after her ascent on UKC HERE

Josh Lowell of BigUp Productions described the route:

The crux is about 20 feet up where the crack is thin and the feet are nothing. Barn-door effect is major. Her sequence involves an ultra-thin two finger lock and some crazy high-steps that are probably impossible for a tall dude with fat fingers, but there are plenty of other options for those with more reach. However none of those are easy either. After about 10 sessions of working it on top-rope Tommy was never able to figure out the moves. I would say that means it's nasty.”

It's impossible to quantify ascents as 'the hardest this', but what is absolutely clear is that Meltdown is nails and that Beth Rodden is an inspirational climber who is pushing her own limits as hard as she can. Go Beth.

Ethan Pringle also deserves a mention, taking his sport fitness on to some exceptionally hard trad routes this year, redpointing China Doll amongst other desperates. UKC News Item

Visiting teams in the UK

Nico (climbing) and Sean on The Mad Brown, Gogarth  © Adam Wainwright
Nico (climbing) and Sean on The Mad Brown, Gogarth
Nico and Sean at Plas y Brenin  © Jack Geldard
Trad Tag-Team – The Beasts from Belgium

We've had a few visiting climbers to Britain this year, and as we usually aren't renowned as a world climbing destination, it is always exciting and inspirational to see how these foreign 'wads' get on with our cliffs and grades.

Early in the summer, Nico Favresse and Seán Villanueva turned up in Wales, ready to try their best on some of our finest routes. On Nico's first day on British rock, he onsighted Resurrection, Right Wall and Lord of the Flies, and followed that with an onsight attempt of Nightmayer; Steve Mayers' creation on the Cromlech, a route that is generally considered to be the biggest tick in the Llanberis Pass. Needless to say, Nico fell off the upper head wall, ripping the crucial runner out (which Steve Mayers went back and checked, reporting that the placement is still in fine fettle, and is of course 'bomber'). Nico's fall was almost the full height of the wall – what a guy.

After an already extremely impressive trip, the duo topped it off with an onsight of The Mad Brown, in Wen Zawn, Gogarth, an unrepeated horror courtesy of George Smith and Adam Wainwright. With a tick-list the size of a double decker bus, and balls to match, it's fair to say that these two sampled the finest Britain has to offer.

  • You can check out just some of the routes that Seán ticked at the base of this UKC Article

Kevin Jorgeson Ground-Up on Parthian Shot  © Various Photographers
Kevin Jorgeson Ground-Up on Parthian Shot
Gritstone raiders – Team America

The motley crew of Kevin Jorgeson, Matt Segal and Alex Honnold have rampaged their way across Peak gritstone, barely pausing for breath between ascents of some of the most testing routes. All three are sensational climbers, of that there is no doubt, but it was Alex Honnold who made me step back and reassess what is possible on gritstone.

His flash of End of the Affair, his onsight solo of London Wall and his swift onsights of Master's Edge and Gaia* left me impressed. These things have been on the cards for a long time (perhaps not the solo of London Wall!) as Gaia and EotA are well known as being low in the grade and 'onsight-able'. In fact, End of the Affair has had a flash ascent before from the super talented Ryan Pasquill.

But even so, what impressed me the most was the fact that Alex Honnold came over and he just did these things. No putting them off, no waiting forever. He tied on, and he climbed these routes, in between the periods of bad weather, no messing. You go guys!

*Alex had seen a copy of Hard Grit a few years before his ascent of Gaia (haven't we all!). He hasn't claimed the 'onsight'. However, given that the route wasn't chalked up and he worked out the moves as he climbed, in my opinion (I'm sure many will disagree) this is as 'onsight' as many other ascents. We need to stop focussing on the minutiae, and let climbers like Alex open our eyes to what is possible.

Watch Team America on End of the Affair – and see the sheer cheek of Alex, as he grabs a tenuous no-hands rest. He's flashing the route!

Click to visit the Beal Website


Committed Two DVD cover
© Hot Aches
Yes that's right, it gets its own section! Mainly because there has been so much action on the grit this year that it could almost fill a new guide book. Here are some of the amazing first ascents achieved on what must be the most worked-out rock climbing area in the world, and it just keeps on giving.

February: James Pearson climbs The Groove at Cratcliffe.

A stunning effort on an equally stunning last great problem. James worked out the excruciatingly technical moves and fired off the route on a day of perfect conditions.

James described the route in detail on his blog:

The bottom Groove went very well and I stuck the dyno to the mid height breaks with whoops of joy from my friends. I was made up and wanted to shout as well but couldn't help thinking “don't celebrate too soon, its not over yet” After spending a few min composing myself and placing gear, I chalked my hands a final time and headed up the final arête. I was very worried about messing it up but forcefully told myself all was going to be cool, to stop being stupid and cruise to the top. The arête felt fantastic. Each move was slow and controlled and as I wrapped my fingers around the finishing jug I felt great. I let out a cry of happiness and everyone cheered, it was in the bag. As I climbed the last 20ft to the top of the crag I had chance to think quietly to myself about what I had just achieved.”

Pete Whittaker on his new route - Dynamics of Change
© Hotaches Productions
March: Pete Whittaker climbs Dynamics of Change at Burbage.

Three words to describe Pete Whittaker's ascent of this bulging, satanic prow of rock: Oh - My - God.

"A move so improbable I could hardly believe my eyes. Had this young lad applied snake oil to his joints or drunk an elixir to make him so flexible?"

Mick Ryan - UKC Film Review

There is full info on the Hot Aches Blog

The climber we went to film was the youngest from the Whittaker clan. So young in fact, that he had to get permission to leave school early that day in order to have enough time for the climb before it got dark.”

Pete Whittaker has gone from strength to strength, climbing exceptionally well both outside on the gritstone and indoors in the competition circuit. We wish him the best of luck for the future, and would like to award him the very unofficial 2008 UKC 'Man of the Match'. Be careful out there!

Jordan Buys on French Duke, Earl Crag  © Al Lee - Posing Productions
Jordan Buys on French Duke, Earl Crag
© Al Lee - Posing Productions
November: Jordan Buys climbs French Duke at Earl Crag, Yorkshire.

The oft tried arête next to Mind Bomb finally fell to Burnley strongman Jordan Buys. I'm not sure who was most relieved, Jordan or Aide Jebb, who had been trying the line on and off for around 5 years. A stunning piece of climbing from Jordan on a very hard and scary route.

Watch a video of Jordan climbing French Duke, by Alastair Lee of Posing Productions

Two big routes on two big cliffs

Dave MacLeod  © Jack Geldard
Dave MacLeod on the first ascent of Echo Wall  © Claire MacLeod -
Dave MacLeod on the first ascent of Echo Wall
© Claire MacLeod -
Dave MacLeod: Echo Wall

A Trad round-up would seem incomplete without a serious offering from super Scotsman Dave MacLeod.

He's climbed a route of the utmost physical difficulty; steep, powerful, strenuous, and technical. At a level only occasionally seen in the UK on bolts. He's done that on trad gear and he's done that on Ben Nevis.

If Echo Wall had been climbed on bolts, on an easy access valley crag, it would still have been big news. The level of commitment that Dave has shown, shovelling snow from the top of the route, training for months in the hope of dry weather, and then finally pulling off what perhaps will be one of the biggest leads of his life – it is gargantuan in proportion.

I can only say this: Support Dave MacLeod, lets see how far British climbing can go. Visit his site, buy Echo Wall, it might just mean he gets up his next project that little bit quicker.

Climb magazine: December 2008  © Climb magazine
Climb magazine: December 2008
© Climb magazine
James Pearson: The Walk of Life

At the other end of the country, James Pearson has re-climbed Ian Vickers' route Dyer Straits in Devon without the original protection pegs. He has also added a direct start – renaming his creation The Walk of Life.

From James' Blog:

As you all know by now, on Monday the 29th of September, I finally climbed from the bottom, to the top, of Dyers Lookout without any use of aid, or fixed gear. The Walk Of Life is the culmination of 4 years of effort and comes at what I feel is my current highpoint in terms of strength, fitness, technique, mental control etc. This route has honestly pushed me further than any other rock climb I have been on before and there were many times I questioned whether I would ever complete it. Every day I returned, hoping to make an attempt, the wall seemed to put up new barriers or throw something new at me.”

Eschewing pegs on sea cliffs is a strong ethical statement, and James Pearson has put his money right where his mouth is with this audacious ascent. A super hard slab/wall climb on friable rock with dubious protection, The Walk of Life won't rust away with the sea air, but will stand proud and await a repeat ascent.

Katy Whittaker flashing Nosferatu at Burbage South
© Hot Aches

Ground Up round-up.

Well, where to start? There have been so many exciting ground-up ascents in 2008, I could fill several articles.

Here's a quick run down, vaguely categorised by area (and of course missing out absolutely loads of fine ascents, no doubt).

Scottish Islands:

Lake District big man Dave Birkett nipped up north, bagging what must be the most coveted climbing experience in the UK. Every Cormorant is a Potential Shag was climbed as an on sight first ascent. Inspirational stuff from one of Britain's most inspirational climbers.

Karin Magog has been racking up more hard ascents in the Scottish Islands (and Lundy), with on sights and flashes of several hard routes, details of which are on her blog.

These islands, alongside Gogarth and the Lleyn Peninsular are holding out as the last areas of the UK adhering to a ground-up approach for all new routes.


Well protected cracks are obvious contenders for the ground-up approach. Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall showed what a bit of grunt can do on Ray's Roof, the famous roof crack first climbed by Ray Jardine. It has to be said that this route is as easy to climb ground-up as it is to top-rope, given the well protected upside-down nature of the climbing, so we're not talking about a change of 'style', we're just talking about two awesome climbers ticking one of gritstone's best crack climbs. Nice one fellas.

As already covered earlier in the article 'Team America' did some pretty good ground-up efforts. Parthian Shot from Kevin Jorgeson and Gaia, End of the Affair and Master's Edge from Alex Honnold being a few of the highlights.

Katy Whittaker has also got stuck in again on several famous classics, including a flash of Nosferatu at Burbage South.

Another view of Dan Varian on his ground-up repeat of Superbloc  © George Taylor
Another view of Dan Varian on his ground-up repeat of Superbloc
© George Taylor
The Peak District toy boys have been out with their bouldering mats too.

To me, these guys are the most important thing to happen to gritstone climbing this year.

A new philosophy, a new set of rules and the skill set to back it all up. Bring on the highball revolution! Dan Varian, Ned Feehally, Ryan Pasquill, plus lots of other super-strong highballers, have been ticking the shorter gritstone routes, in a highball bouldering style.

“E grades under 9m are a bit of a joke when pads are involved.” Dan Varian

We can't categorise these small routes/high boulders. They are what they are – not death routes, but still pretty damn scary. Broken legs are a possibility, with or without bouldering mats. Climbing these routes above large stacks of pads, without pre-inspection, is hard, bold, scary and very rewarding. I'm impressed.

Read more about these guys: Dan & Ned - Peak District Toy Boys

Wales – Pembroke & North Wales:

James McHaffie about to snap one of the rotten pegs on The Treacherous Underfoot - Anglesey  © Neil Dickson 2008
James McHaffie about to snap one of the rotten pegs on The Treacherous Underfoot - Anglesey
Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC, May 2008
© Neil Dickson 2008

James McHaffie onsighting Isis is Angry (E7), on Yellow Walls, Gogarth  © Jack Geldard -  Editor - UKC
James McHaffie onsighting Isis is Angry (E7), on Yellow Walls, Gogarth
© Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC, Jul 2008

A fantastic looking new route came to fruition in Range West from the team of Pete Robins and Ben Bransby. Monkey Journey to the West was climbed without pre-inspection, and after a failed attempt ten years earlier:

“At one point on the second pitch, we both managed to get stranded on a ledge 120ft above the sea with no protection, where I accidentally smacked Ben in the face and knocked his glasses into the sea, making him virtually blind. I then had to solo down 6a ground to a runner and we retreated into the sea, before finally swimming to safety." Pete Robins

Also in Pembroke, Jordan Buys made an impressive onsight of The Great White, a well known 'toughie' on the White Tower at Mother Carey's. James McHaffie had a couple of very impressive trips to Pembroke, firing off lots of hard routes, again including The Great White and an impressive onsight of Terminal Twilight, which could be the second complete ascent (Dave Pickford made an ascent with an extra belay some years ago).

North Wales has seen lots of hard ground-up action, the usual suspects getting stuck in; James McHaffie, Neil Dickson, Pete Robins and occasionally myself. You can read some of the details in this UKC news item, but some of the routes that have been climbed in the ground-up style have included: Mountain Rock - Gravediggers, Margins of the Mind, Gram-ve, Beginner's Mind and Over the Beach. Sea Cliffs - Hollowman, Demons of Bosh, The Treacherous Underfoot, Isis is Angry.

  • You can read an exclusive interview with Neil Dickson in this UKC article: Margins of the Mind

Also very impressive this year was the young North Wales climber Ioan Doyle, who headpointed several hard routes locally and also made a fine onsight of Wreath of Deadly Nightshade at Gogarth – check out his UKC Logbook.

Well that's it; 2008 in a nutshell. Some fantastic achievements by some fantastic climbers. Our tiny island continues to yield amazing new routes, but only to those who are willing to sacrifice a lot for the privilege. What will 2009 bring? Who knows, but with people like Pete Whittaker, out there enjoying himself on our amazing routes, one thing is for sure; British trad climbing has a great future.

Good luck to everyone for 2009. Stay safe, have an adventure, have fun and get pumped.

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22 Dec, 2008
excellent stuff. What a year!
22 Dec, 2008
22 Dec, 2008
Great round-up, an interesting read. Any reason you didn't include any grades? I know it shouldn't all be about grades but I think I would have found it more informative with them included. We're talking about people who are pushing boundaries so it would be nice to know where the boundaries are.
22 Dec, 2008
Problem with grades at the top end Luke is that often they are a bunch of bullshit, especially where the E grade is involved. Best to be taken as ball park, not set it stone, despite some headlines (some in print) that persuade some otherwise. As regards the boundaries, numbers don't do that justice. An E7/8 on sight to an E11/12 headpoint are probably similar despite the difference in number. Trust Jack's picks, ignore the numbers (they are quasi meaningless)...there are a handful of climbers who have pushed the boat out this year, not one or two; anything less is disrespectful. Mick
22 Dec, 2008
I'd agree with everything you said there and I certainly wouldn't quibble with any of Jack's choices. Having said that, almost everyone who reads UKC would understand that any grades have to taken with a pinch of salt and at the end of the day there's a reason you put grades in all your normal news reports, despite any problems with them they're still informative and interesting.
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