The 1989 Guidebook Stanage VS Challenge

© Jim Walton

A recent post in the forums reported on an attempt of the "1989 Guidebook Stanage VS Challenge," which involves climbing all 36 starred VS routes from the definitive 1989 Stanage Guide. Jim Walton and Chris Guilka bravely took on the challenge and had a gutsy day's climbing, despite not completing the task in hand. Their enthusiasm impressed us and we sensed an interesting and potentially amusing story behind their valiant efforts, so we asked Jim and Chris to write an account of their day...

Jim and Chris at the end of their very long day...  © Jim Walton
Jim and Chris at the end of their very long day...
© Jim Walton

“I’m in trouble Chris."

I hadn’t been “in trouble” on a VS since the late 90’s. However in the late 90’s I didn’t have a wife, two kids, a mortgage and I definitely did not drive a Volvo (even if it is a 4 wheel drive estate, it’s still a Volvo). I was currently on my 16th VS pitch of the day, it was 14:00 and we were late as we still had 20 left to do. I could really do with not being stuck on a route called Wall Buttress, both hands were only just jammed in the upper offwidth crack and my right foot was jammed solid in the lower crack. The big cam was in the top of my rucksack on the ground. It might as well have been in the boot of the car. I finally felt secure enough to move up to the crap looking holds above, but the right foot wasn’t so sure so had decided to stay behind and was making a good attempt at pulling me off.

“Definitely in trouble Chris."

I’m not sure whose idea it was for this challenge. The 36 starred VS routes from the definitive 1989 Stanage Guide was a ticklist on the UKC logbook page made by John Roberts. The only 'rules’ we’d stipulated was that the routes all had to be led and seconded by the same roped team in the same day. No soloing, no roped solos and no moving together. It seemed like a good challenge for us weekend warriors. Chris and I both had full time jobs, mortgages, families and Chris is in the process of planning his imminent marriage in August.  I don’t get to climb every week, I enjoy being a dad and life just gets in the way. I lead HVS on a normal day, Chris climbs E1 on a good day and has even been to “The Valley” once, but all things considered we’re just middle of the road climbers who climb for fun.

Chris on Titanic
© Jim Walton

Of the 36 climbs in the list, between us we had climbed 28 of them before, however it had been so long since I’d done many of them that they would class as un-official on-sights. Some of the buttresses I’d not even been to and some of the climbs I’d never even heard of (See-saw and The Punk).  We had decided to start at Stanage End and work back towards the Popular End. We knew most of the climbs at the Popular End so felt like it would be easier to climb routes like Inverted V and Heather Wall towards the end of the day as opposed to trying to on-sight First Sister after 34 routes. Made sense to us.

We left Chris’ car at the Popular End Car Park and drove round to Stanage End and abandoned my car on the verge and began the walk in. I’d never walked in this way before which amazed Chris. A wet walk in past a dead sheep found us at the base of Crab Crawl Arête at 08:10. Our planning up to this point had been somewhat lacking but what did it really need? Ropes, rack, water and food.  On the walk in we had decided that block leading would be more efficient, lead 2 second 2; applying big wall tactics to the Grit!

Chris had the first two, First Sister was cheeky at 8:30 in the morning. Cosmic Crack felt very soft for VS but Inaccessible Crack was more like it.  09:54 brought Chris to the top of High Neb Buttress. The next few routes were new to us. The section of Stanage between High Neb and the Causeway just doesn’t seem to get traffic. Titanic felt contrived if truth be known and probably fell into the “done it but probably won’t be done again” pot.  Amazing for a three star route.

Chris and I have two different climbing styles that seem to complement each other. Steep/overhanging/powerful but with gear were Chris’s territory, I was better at the bold or run-out routes. Both of us had reasonable skills when it came to jamming.

Jim contemplating Counts Crack
© Chris Guilka

Central Buttress was a new one to me but was my type of climbing with a technical pull over a bulge followed by a bold slab, 11:00 top out.  The next route was on my “routes to intimidate” list; Counts Crack. Put up by Eric Byne in the early 30’s, it is Stanage’s answer to The File and it looked brutal; my lead. A quick tip toe traverse in from the right revealed many things; mainly that I was going to need the spare big cams from the pack and a deep breath. Suitably reloaded I set off up the crack. Chris had been in Yosemite a few months previously, surely this would be better suited to him. What followed was one of my best leads on Stanage ever, solid jams interspersed with lay back moves leading to big holds when you need them. An absolute bobby dazzler of a route. Best of the day so far, 11:30 top out.

A quick romp over to the Plantation to Fern Crack. Sadly both Fern Crack and Wall End Slab were bird banned. Gutted. We decided to climb two other starred VS’s in their place and carry on.

The wind was really picking up by this point and my traverse on Fairy Steps felt more exposed than normal with ropes flying wildly off behind me. 

See-saw was next and brought about the first cock-up of the day. Though our planning had been limited, it had been decided that we would need rope, rack, food and water. Whilst routing around in my pack it became embarrassingly obvious that I had left my food box on the back seat of my car, FAIL. The full length of all the routes together is 492m, The Nose of El Capitan is 880m in length and people take 5 days to do that. I was trying to do it on 2ltrs of water and a chocolate croissant. Gallantly Chris shared out his food and we kept on going, nothing else we could do.

Jim looking suitably embarrassed to have left the food box behind
© Chris Guilka

Valhalla, Pegasus Wall and Paradise Wall passed with relative ease. 13:45 put me at the bottom of Wall Buttress. This route has never been VS, not ever. It’s absolutely brutal. It took me 20 minutes to climb it and it was a fight for every foot of the way.  How I didn’t fall is quite beyond me, I think gravity must have been turned off for those 20 minutes.

After that I needed 10 minutes to recharge my batteries. We quested over to the Cleft Wing and had 20 minutes for lunch. Neither of us had done either of the Cleft wing routes before and they looked quite intimidating. I opted for the Superdirect whilst Chris took on the 5b ‘fall across the gap’ variant. Wedged into the back of the ‘V’ Groove, the guidebook says to ‘take a breath’ before heading out on the hand traverse. I needed more than one.

Chris made short work of the ‘fall across the gap’. A fine lead.

Jim on the Multi-Pitch belay on Cleft Wing Superdirect
© Chris Guilka

Chris was up again on The Punk, a Steve Bancroft route from the 70’s. I’d never even heard of it, probably only gets a handful of ascents a year. The wind was howling by this point, Chris pulled off a superb lead on this one and I was thankful for the rope from above as I traversed round the nose above Shine On.

We had passed halfway and were heading into home territory. It was 17:00 by the time I was belaying on top of The Nose. Time was getting away from us fast, we still had 16 routes to go! We shared the last of the Pork Pies.

Chris topping out on the Punk in high wind
© Jim Walton

Step ladder Crack fell to a bit of a fight, I could tell I was getting tired. Hell Crack had a waterfall coming down it, it was just not climbable.  We looked at each other, was the challenge falling apart.  Was I a broken man? Chris took hold of the rope and gave me the look, THE GAME WAS STILL ON. He raced up Louisiana Rib and Mississippi Buttress Direct. He even placed 3 wires on MBD, Chris never places wires on a route, they are only for belays!

The next route on the list was the route we had feared all day, Via Roof Route. How was this ever VS, upgraded to HVS 5b. If you said it was E1 5c I would not have complained, not when it was route 24 of the day anyway. Chris set off up the bold opening crack, not his normal forte, and then launched through the roof. Best lead of the day, not sure if I could have managed it.

Twin Chimneys Buttress was dispatched by me but time was now really against us – 19:01 at the top. I was beginning to flag, my body was just not moving as fast as I wanted it to. Next up was the last on-sight for me, Robin Hood’s Cave Innominate. The direct up to the crack looked desperate and not possible in my current condition, the tip toe traverse in from the right didn’t look much better. A fall at any point would have been painful. I’d broken my leg last winter due mainly to tiredness, my family would not be impressed if I returned again from a climbing trip with an injury. I’d been climbing for nearly 25 yrs without injury, 1 broken leg caused by complete stupidity and now it plays on my mind. Be off with you memory, you are not the boss of me. I’ve soloed Point Five Gully and Traversed the Matterhorn in winter, this route is not getting the better of me – it’s only VS.

Chris struggling to work out how this is VS 4c
© Jim Walton

As I sit up in the cave bringing Chris up, I know the challenge is over for me now. The further bird bans had taken the wind out of my sails. We finish up Hargreaves Original Route at 20:05. 12 hrs of solid climbing, 27 routes climbed and 396m of ground covered.

The challenge was uncompleted, defeated by bird bans and lack of a suitable lunch. We will be back later in the summer. We have a few methodology changes in mind, but we’ll leave you to work out your own tactics…

The Table...

Route Name Grade Lead By Top-out Time
Crab Crawl Arete VS 4c ** Chris Guilka 08:16
First Sister VS 4c** Chris Guilka 08:59
Cosmic Crack VS 4c ** Jim Walton 09:13
Inaccessible Crack VS 4c** Jim Walton 09:36
High Neb Buttress VS 4c *** Chris Guilka 09:54
Titanic VS 4b** Chris Guilka 10:32
Central Buttress VS 5a* Jim Walton 11:00
Count's Crack VS 4c** Jim Walton 11:30
Wall End Flake Crack VS 4c** Chris Guilka 12:05*
Fairy Steps VS 4a** Jim Walton 12:22
Seesaw VS 4c* Chris Guilka 13:00
Valhalla VS 5a** Chris Guilka 13:22
Pegasus Wall VS 4c* Jim Walton 13:34
Wall Buttress VS 5a* Jim Walton 14:06
Paradise Wall VS 4c*** Chris Guilka 14:34
Paradise Arête VS 4c** Chris Guilka 14:53**
Cleft Wing Superdirect VS 4c* Jim Walton 15:40
Cleft Wing VS 5b* Chris Guilka 16:15
The Punk VS 4b* Chris Guilka 16:37
The Nose VS 4b** Jim Walton 17:00
Step-ladder Crack VS 5a** Jim Walton 17:22
Hell Crack VS 4b*** TOO WET  
Mississippi Buttress Direct VS 4c*** Chris Guilka 18:04
Via Roof Route VS 5a* Chris Guilka 18:33
Twin Chimneys Buttress VS 4c** Jim Walton 19:01
Robin Hood's Cave Innominate VS 4c** Jim Walton 19:27
Hargreaves' Original VS 4c*** Chris Guilka 20:12

*Climbed instead of Fern Crack, Bird Banned

**Climbed instead of Wall End Slab, Bird Banned

Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC Supporter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

18 May, 2015
Inspiring write-up. Cheers and well done.
18 May, 2015
Good effort, pack your lunch next time and you'll make it ;).
18 May, 2015
Well done lads. Think I might have to give this a go. Sounds like a really, really great day (once its finished and you are in the pub). Well done. M.
18 May, 2015
When I did my 100 solos I estimated my water needs and took more and still ran out. My pal turned up at around #80 and it was the first thing I asked if he had, he said yes but had experimented with home-made isotonic and got it wrong... I finished dehydrated but very greatful for the company. I think I was hallucinating at the end... I'd swear I was watching French Climbers trad climb around the Unconquerables area.
OMG, VS Chris on the homepage! Nice one dude!
More Comments
Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest