The Five Best E2 Routes in the UK?

© Clare

Regardless of your climbing forte – bold, slabby, loose, steep – E2 is a grade you really sink your teeth into across the UK. With many venues having excellent 3 star routes, you're bound to find something to suit your tastes.

Me on Commander Energy  © Clare
Commander Energy at the Roaches © Clare, Oct 2011

Climbers on the crux pitch of Prophecy Of Drowning  © Drexciyan
Climbers on the crux pitch of Prophecy Of Drowning
© Drexciyan, Jun 2010
With so many routes to choose from, it's almost impossible to single out the top five, or even the top ten. So below is a selection that I think deserve your attention – they might not be the best, but you'd be hard-pushed to suggest many better days out.

From an early E2 lead with Mousetrap at the beginning of my climbing life, these routes present a journey for me, and hold personal touches. Commander Energy was ticked during a university term-time grit trip, whilst Prophecy of Drowning replaced my graduation ceremony in favour of a Pabbay & Mingulay adventure. A trip to Pembroke wouldn't be complete without Chimes of Freedom along with many other 3 star routes, whilst Saxon has so far eluded me.

This list might be rather more special to me, but they're still classics for anyone to try. If you tick them all, be proud in the knowledge you're well on your way to being a well-rounded E2 climber. And if not, enjoy the crags for their history and quality, and leave them for another day.

​Also in this series:

Mousetrap (E2 5a) - South Stack - Gogarth

For the cheese enthusiast, there is no cheesier rock than in Mousetrap Zawn - and what a zawn it is! A bizarre mess of chimneys filled with sandy rock and chunks of quartzite twisting up from the sea. Either make an unpleasant and wet abseil down to the start of Mousetrap, or if the sea is calm, walk and scramble down from the path to the lighthouse and make a short sea-level traverse.

Jack Geldard leading Mousetrap - E2 - Gogarth  © James McHaffie
Jack Geldard leading Mousetrap - E2 - Gogarth
Jack Geldard
© James McHaffie

Originally given HVS, now E2 5a/b, Mousetrap is certainly not physically or technically difficult; it is however a serious outing on less than perfect rock with often little in the way of gear. The first pitch holds the technical crux; a tricky section messing about in some chimneys before heading right to a belay. The second pitch is easy, but also has very little meaningful gear. Fortunately the top pitch has just one tricky move before you can climb to safety and vow never to return.

The Mousetrap page in The Rockfax North Wales Climbs guidebook  © Rockfax
The Mousetrap page in The Rockfax North Wales Climbs guidebook
© Rockfax

Commander Energy (E2 5c) - Lower Tier - Roaches

JG on Commander Energy (E2 5c), Roaches Lower Tier  © Alex Messenger
JG on Commander Energy (E2 5c), Roaches Lower Tier
© Alex Messenger
When you look up at the jagged arete of Commander Energy, it is unclear as to whether it is actually climbable at E2, but it does look like you can get a few runners in and soon you are off smearing and groping up towards what you hope will be sanctuary at the base of the roof. After plugging in a couple of units (as the Americans say), you can begin the fun part - apeing along the flake that forms the lip of the overhang. Once you reach the lip, place that sling that you remembered to bring (I forgot and had to hang around while a passer-by threw me one), make sure it is seated well as it is the last bit of protection on the route!

A tricky mantel gains a rest standing on top of the flake, but this just allows you to consider what comes next. The final arete is fortunately not as tricky as it looks so just keep calm and keep on trucking until the angle eases and you reach the top triumphant.

The Roaches is a great crag with a lot of good lines, and arguably Commander Energy is as good as the best of them climbing up a very gritstone feature - get it done!

The Commander Energy page in The Rockfax Western Grit guidebook  © Rockfax
The Commander Energy page in The Rockfax Western Grit guidebook
© Rockfax

Prophecy of Drowning (E2 5c) - Pabbay - Outer Hebrides

If rock architecture is your thing, then look no further than Pabbay's Great Arch; at around 100m high and nearly as wide, it is a spectacular piece of rock. The wow-factor as you make a 100 metre free-hanging abseil and then get your first look at the Arch is not something that occurs every day.

Katy Whittaker & Jo Stadden dwarfed by the Great Arch, Pabbay  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Katy Whittaker & Jo Stadden dwarfed by the Great Arch, Pabbay
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Fortunately for the E2 leader, Prophecy does not take in the multiple massive roofs of the Great Arch, instead taking a line of soaring corners up the left edge of the Arch. Once your mind has been blown by the exposed abseil and the grand architecture you are surrounded by, you are fortunately rewarded with fun, well protected climbing on some of the best quality rock to be found - surely this is one of the best E2s in the world?

Once you have topped out, pinch yourself to make sure you haven't died and gone to heaven as there are many more brilliant routes to climb and a really amazing island to explore!

You can find out more about Pabbay and Mingulay in this destination article - Ultimate UK Trad: Pabbay & Mingulay

Chimes of Freedom - Mowing Word - Pembroke

Chris Craggs and Colin Binks on Chimes of Freedom at Mowing Word  © Craggs Collection
Chris Craggs and Colin Binks on Chimes of Freedom at Mowing Word
© Craggs Collection

For the lover of steep rock above the sea, Chimes of Freedom has to be up there with the very best in the country of this genre. Sublime climbing from start to finish on perfect Pembrokeshire limestone, and now that the restrictions have been lifted on the fantastic crag of Mowing Word, you can climb the route all year round!

A rope bucket is useful for this route as when hanging above the sea it is a bit of a faff to try and keep the ropes dry, but once this is sorted you are free to enjoy the perfect climbing above. A groove filled with positive holds soon leads you straight up to a fairly large roof which is most easily passed on the right. A bunched traverse leads to the groove, and if like me, you have already placed your biggest cam then you must make a tricky move into it a long way above your last runner - don't fall! Luckily the groove takes runners and you can climb this and then the final easy crack basking in the glory of having climbed one of the best single pitches of E2 in the country.

The Chimes of Freedom page in The Rockfax Pembroke guidebook  © Rockfax
The Chimes of Freedom page in The Rockfax Pembroke guidebook
© Rockfax

Saxon - Scafell - The Lake District

Unknown climber on Saxon  © Carmen Elphick
Unknown climber on Saxon
© Carmen Elphick, Jul 2013

Whilst sea cliffs may be the ultimate aspect of British trad climbing, you cannot deny that the mountains are also special. I wasn't sure any of the mountain E2s that I had done were up to the mark so I asked a few mates for suggestions. Time and time again Saxon came up, so because of the brilliant picture of Jerry Peel climbing the crux in 'Extreme Rock' and to give myself a kick up the arse to get it done I have included it in my list.

From what I have heard Saxon is pure quality - an easy but bold first pitch leads to the main event; tricky climbing on small but positive holds until a traverse right leads to a steep, flared jamming crack which is battled up to the belay. The last pitch can then be truly enjoyed with a corner leading to a great exposed arete. The best thing about Scafell though is the quality of the rock - unlike the hollow flakes on Cloggy (Clogwyn D'ur Arddu), Scafell's rock is solid and clean, giving great climbing.

Some more great E2's...

Left Wall - Might have made it into the top five had it not spat me off right at the top many years ago. Great climbing, on one of the best crags in the country and you can fall off all day - what was I thinking?

Delicatessen - A great route pick-pocketing a diagonal line across what has to be one of the best crags in the Peak District (would be the best if it was in a nice quiet valley). Although the difficulties are short-lived it is a lonely lead with your belayer well out of sight!

Sula - Mingulay's classic E2 is a brilliant juggy romp - it doesn't quite have the same architecture as Prophecy but for all out fun you can't beat hauling up a steep juggy wall!

The Weaver - Forget Vector, which although classic is nowhere near as good as its more direct neighbour. Route finding can be tricky but follow your nose and you should be fine. Plus you get to climb the top groove of Vector after a lot of already excellent climbing - just make sure you are prepared!

Machete Wall - A bit of a curveball but South Devon's answer to Stoney Middleton (except the rock is better and routes above HVS aren't polished), Chudleigh delivers the goods! Excellent technical climbing that is well protected in a lovely setting. Worth considering to break up a long journey to Cornwall.

Resolution Direct - A great sustained trip up the right-hand side of the Main Cliff. Easily accessible at most tide states and the climbing is excellent to the top without any loose rock to contend with!

Thanks go to Tiffany Stoneman for her editing on this article.

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2 Jul, 2014
Never mind that. This is far more worrying:
2 Jul, 2014
I know, the punctuation. Why don't writers consider the number of kittens that will die?
2 Jul, 2014
What about Shrike, Jelly Roll or Troach Dunc?
2 Jul, 2014
What about the E2s on the Eastern Ramparts on Beinn Eighe? Angel Face and the like? Just remembered - where's Shibboleth? EEEEEK!!!!
2 Jul, 2014
Hurricane, Mizen Star, Equinox, blah blah blah. I'd also have to go for: The Strand, Central Pillar on Esk, Astra on Pavey. Plus, Fiver Finger Exercise and Fernhill if you must have some gritstone. Good fun this!
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