Back in 2014 we published a series of articles in/around the five best routes of each grade; however, for reasons unknown E6 escaped - hence it seemed like high time someone saw to it*.
*Diff, VDiff, and Severe were also (quite curiously) missed, so we're going to see to those too
Despite having done 20+ E6s I still don't consider myself an E6 climber. In fact, I'd go so far as to saying it's a bit of a bogey grade, with a big gap from where E5 ends to where E6 begins. It's made more unpopular by the fact that - for many - it's not hard enough for people to headpoint either, as people tend to skip it in favour of E7/8 glory instead.
As with all these lists they're completely impossible to narrow down to just five, hence I've been a wimp and including a few other possibilities. In order to add some degree of consensus I also sought the advice of James McHaffie - the Dark Lord of Trad - who's longer list of '100 or so good E6s' should keep those that have done the following routes occupied for some time to come…
Above and Beyond, Fair Head
Pat Littlejohn's name is synonymous with quality, with more entires within various Top 5 articles than any other individual.
In Ireland Eddie Cooper's represents something very similar, insofar as classic after classic are marked with his name as first ascensionist - particularly between the E3 to E6 mark. In fact, it's impossible not to notice his name whilst climbing at Fair Head. As such, when you see these two titans of trad combine forces you know something truly special is going to happen...
The route begins up the The Wall of Prey, a classic E5 in/of itself, which gets you 3 stars before you've even started the meat of the route. What follows is a journey across one of the wildest walls at Fair Head, with technical/crimpy/airy climbing to start, followed by bold and butch pulling through the steepness on the headwall above. Whilst the final crack is a lot easier, the position is wild, the mind is blown, and the arms are wilting - hence its 5b moves feel like some of the cruxiest you've ever done.
Other possible Irish inclusions:
The Second Coming, Owey - John McCune's masterpiece on Owey's 'Holy Jaysus' Wall must rate as one of the most jaw-dropping routes in the country.
On Reflection, Burren - Ok, it might be soft but it's quality is immaculate from beginning to end. Ailladie's Mirror Wall at its absolute finest.
Ringwraith classically got E5, which isn't surprising given the Lakes' reputation for stiff grading. With that in mind it probably doesn't come as too much of a surprise that it is now widely regarding as E6 and really, really hard... It's reputation proceeds it, not least because of its grade but also because of its top groove being prone to vegetation, something that has left even the strongest and most talented unstuck.
The logbook entries speaking for themselves:
Other possible 'mountain rock' inclusions:
Bucket City, Dove Crag - Dove Crag is renowned for its steepness and severity and Bucket City is arguably the archetype of this unrelenting style.
Western Union, Iron Crag - Another steep one, following the 40m groove line that supposedly comes in at around 7b+ - pumpy!
Lord of the Flies, Dinas Cromlech - Lord needs little or no introduction, as it's essentially THE North Wales E6. In fact, it's so famous that even its catch-phrase is known throughout the land - "come on arms, do your stuff".
Conan the Librarian, Gogarth
Anyone who's done Dream of White Horses (which - let's face it - is a route that everyone should do) will have stared over at the arch opposite, wide eyed with wonder - what goes up there?!?
This audacious line was put up by Johnny Dawes and Craig Smith in 1986 and takes that line. So unlikely, not least because it crosses an arch, but also because it crosses Wen Zawn's infamous 'back wall', which - from the outward eye - consists mostly of cheese. Perhaps that's what makes the route what it is though, a blend of big line and big adventure combined to make something magnificent. It is - after all - the only route to get four stars within Ground Up's Gogarth North Guide.
Other possible 'adventure' inclusions:
Hellbound, Smoothlands - a little different to the above, insofar as the rock requires much more careful handling, as does the belay, which Caff described it as being the scariest he'd ever had!! When asked further he recommended doing it in a single pitch to avoid the terror, but did say that in turn it could be more terrifying this way, as it would be a harder proposition - top end E6.
Caveman, Berry Head - At the time of writing it's unclear as to the exact state of this Devonshire classic, as rock-fall has affected the start of P3, but maybe - in time - it will see another ascent. As such, it's status as one of the must-do E6s in the country might change, but for the time being we will recognise it as being one of the best - even if its days are numbered.
Tonight at Noon, Craig Doris - makes Hellbound look like the Diamond in terms of its stability, this loose rock classic was first climbed by the irrepressible Steve Haston. Upon reaching the top he apparently ran up to the local farmer, screaming "do you know you've got the best route in North Wales on your land?!?".
Ghost Train, Pembroke
Whilst some may think of it as a 'clip-up', it is a pretty run-out clip up (and you do need some gear). Part of Ghost Train's appeal is the lack of protection, but the quality of what it's got. A wiggy start leads to a good rest and two bombproof threads. By this point you're around a 1/3 of the way up, with the next piece of gear (another large thread) at 2/3rds and a sustained section of 7a/+ climbing in between. The rock is immaculate between the, providing you're relaxed enough to enjoy it, although there is a stopper move just after you clip the thread.
I did/didn't do this whilst on Calum Muskett's stag-do a few years back. It was a grey day, with mist in the air, but we headed down regardless only to be greeted with a distinctly goppy lower section (which is quite serious in such conditions). Climbing slowly and carefully through this I made my way up to the two threads, which I clipped into with two screwgates before braving the section above. The climbing is immaculate, all the more so because you climb it without concern or interruption for placing gear, and as soon as you know it you're clipping the thread above; however, there's still one hard move to go and devastatingly I fell off it. I was mortified, so much so that I drove all five hours back home repeating "I can't believe I just fell, I can't believe I just fell" over and over again. The next week was torture, and I still couldn't believe it, but went back the following weekend to finish it off. Life couldn't move on before this route was done and getting it done was an absolute thrill.
Other possible 'sea cliff' inclusions:
Skinhead Moonstomp, Gogarth - Arguably main event at Main Cliff, or at least it is as far as E6 is concerned. Skinhead makes Positron look as if its missing the point, taking the central and direct line up the buttress. A renowned pumper...
Watching the Ocean, Lundy - the central line on Lundy's Diamond slab is a real gem, but is one that is likely to cause severe calf burn as a result of it being 52m pitch.
Milky Way, Ilkley
The Gritstone tends to divide a lot of people, particularly those favour mountain rock, as it lacks the length of the larger cliffs/crags - hence is easy to treat with a somewhat snobbish attitude. Like it or loathe it, the Grit packs a memorable punch and its style - particularly amongst the higher grades - is one that is ultimately unforgiving.
Milky Way is a superb example of this uncompromising style, but is also a little different to most Grit routes due to its length and the presence of a couple of actual rests (something that is infrequently found on most Grit routes, which tend to favour more of a sprint approach). The first third comprises of a series of agonisingly tight pin scars, which take stacked fingers (assuming your fingers aren't too large) and thin gear. After stabbing your way up this you're out of the frying pan and into the fire, with the wide crack that lies above being notoriously awkward + difficult to onsight. If you've made it this far the final crack is the last hurdle and one that many people fail on...
Other possible 'outcrop' inclusions:
The Crypt Trip, Stanage - one of Big Ron's best, with a hard start, and even harder middle, and a thankfully easier (but still hard) finish.
Peak Technique, Back Bowden - this County classic requires every ounce of confidence you've got, with faith required in some highly tenuous friction based climbing.
Yukan II, Nesscliffe - I'm not 100% sure Nesscliffe is an outcrop, or even what an outcrop is, but what I am sure is the quality of this route. In years gone by Nesscliffe was a bit of a backwater, but it now ranks amongst the greats (where it rightly belongs).
Major Domo, Lochan Dubh Crag
Whilst there are a great many Scottish E6s, this is the one on which to test yourself against - maybe even the ultimate onsight? In the words of Highland's dark horse Murdoch Jamieson "it's the obvious benchmark: safe, well protected and accessible to everyone"…or at least everyone that has the stamina to hang on… He adds "it's got good length and immaculate rock too", which given the quality of rock in that area is hardly surprising.
Other possible Scottish inclusions:
Kelpie, Garbh Bheinn - rumour has it this route is amazing, yet it doesn't have a single registered ascent on the logbooks - something that surely needs a sorting (someone, anyone?!). Garbh Bheinn could well be the best crag you've never heard of, aside from Binnein Shuas...
The Run of the Arrow, Shelterstone - Despite coming from the Lakes, Pete Whillance put up a whole host of quality routes throughout some of the biggest and best cliffs in Scotland - this being one of them.
Trajan's Column, Ben Nevis - Climbing on the Ben in summer is a uniquely alpine experience, with snow fields up high, ice cold meltwater streams, and yet if you arrive there early enough Carn Dearg is bathed in blissful sunlight. Trajan's appears to be the pick of the bunch as far as E6s are concerned and has become something of a neo-classic.
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