The Rising Son E8 6c for Ferdia Earle

© Andy Moles

Ferdia Earle has made the fourth ascent, and first female ascent, of The Rising Son (E8 6c), at Clogwyn y Grochan in Wales.

The route, first climbed by Alex Mason in 2018, follows an arete between the three star Cockblock (E5 6b) and Brant Direct (HVS 5a). The route, which has potential for big falls, received its second ascent from James McHaffie, before Andy Moles made the third ascent just a few days before Ferdia.

We spoke to Ferdia about her approach to projecting the route, her successful attempt, and how The Rising Son compares to her own hard route, The Certainty of Tides (E7 6c).

Congratulations on The Rising Son! How long had it been a project for you?

I first had a go on the route after belaying Caff on the second ascent in 2019. I had previously dismissed it as being a bit squeezed in between Brant Direct and Cockblock, and probably way too hard being a Grochan route. Once up there though, I was blown away by the quality of the climbing, and the upper arete feels surprisingly out there. I realised it made just as much sense to go left onto The Rising Son as it does to go right to finish up Cockblock. Once you commit to the arete it's inescapable, and it didn't feel contrived at all. I loved it and always had it in mind to come back to, though it wasn't until Spring last year that I did. It's another great find by Alex Mason.

Ferdia Earle on The Rising Son, E8 6c  © Andy Moles
Ferdia Earle on The Rising Son, E8 6c
© Andy Moles

How many sessions did you have on it in total?

About 16! Unusually, I was looking at first for a physical challenge to help stimulate my system after several years of struggling with fatigue and related issues. After hurting myself on a fall similar to that on The Rising Son in 2019, the unpredictability and discomfort of things like trad onsighting or trying hard had started to make symptoms worse. Projecting usually involves top roping at first, which is fairly predictable and low stress in comparison. So being close to my house, roadside, and really good, The Rising Son seemed a nice way of challenging myself outside. I thought the fall practice would help too.

Having got on well with the route in 2019, it was in the back of my mind that I might be able to do it one day if I was brave enough. After re-familiarising last year, I was surprised to soon find myself getting on lead to clock up some bravery. The goal shifted to seeing if I could do the route.

From a projecting perspective, I got on lead too quickly, leading to a more protracted process. And I became overfamiliar with the easier climbing. I didn't appreciate that the route might require more preparation than other tricky routes I'd done, being a different style and harder. But hard projecting is quite new to me. So, lots learned. And the route and the training I did for it definitely helped resolve my remaining fatigue issues, which feels huge.

Any big falls?

Yes, so many. Once you leave the Cockblock gear, the difficulty gradually escalates until a crux throw to a crimp off high smears, with no real opportunities to stop or chalk up. Then you get a glory jug. This whole crux section is probably a long f7a/+ boulder, and would be one of the best boulders in Wales if it was on the ground. 

The nature of the moves – long, decisive compression moves on poor feet and wide pinches – carry you quickly away from your gear. You can treat the gear like a bolt though, and so I was soon falling two hand moves from the top. That's pretty much what kept happening until the day I got up it.

Coming back to it this Spring, I felt I needed something new if I was going to keep trying the route. The falls Andy and I were taking were rattling enough, requiring a decent break between attempts to allow the adrenaline to subside, and there were still a couple of long moves to go. 

Although you shouldn't hit the floor from the jug, falling repeatedly in the same place was becoming wearing. I felt I'd reached a respectful limit for my system in terms of fall practice for now and the lack of upward progress was getting into my head. I decided to try and make the top moves a tad easier and more secure.

Going back on the route with Caff I noticed he set himself up for the crux differently. He also suggested I place an RP higher up Cockblock, as he had done, 'as good a micro-wire placement as you'll get'. These beta changes made all the difference. I finally felt I'd answered all the questions I had about the route and didn't really have any more reasons not to climb it. 

Did you place all the gear on lead?

At the start of each session I would lead up and place all the gear up to where the difficulty kicks in, downclimb to the ground, then have one to three good lead attempts. If I fell, I didn't remove the gear and replace it. The day I got to the top of the route, it was my second lead attempt of the day. After getting through the crux section, you get a couple more bits of gear.
By the time I finally climbed the route it had begun to feel like placing the gear in Cockblock was a bit of a formality – it's bombproof, I'd fallen on it loads, and when you know the route, it's quite easy to place. Not weighting the gear on the day I got to the top (succeeding on my first go after downclimbing) would have been a cleaner style. 

But for me, it had stopped making a difference to the challenge presented by the route, which became all about the psychological challenge of the upper arete. Stripping and re-placing each time made for longer sessions and more tedious demands of my belayer, and I like climbing days to be mutually agreeable for everyone there. If I did something like this again, I would basically work the route better before getting on lead so that the whole leading experience stayed fresh.

How was the successful attempt, did it all go to plan?

On the day I got up the route conditions were the best I'd experienced and I felt stronger and better rested than usual. The arete is almost grit-like, and that day it felt super grippy. There was a strange pressure that came with knowing the odds were completely stacked in my favour. I'd spent so many days on the route already I was fairly convinced I would sabotage the opportunity and keep coming back day after day. Andy had climbed it a couple of days prior but that didn't make me feel any better about my chances.

Ferdia Earle on The Rising Son, E8 6c  © Andy Moles
Ferdia Earle on The Rising Son, E8 6c
© Andy Moles

I got the gear into Cockblock and down climbed, knowing it like the back of my hand. Back on the ground, I couldn't seem to calm my mind or heart rate but didn't battle it, just accepting this was what my body was like today and remembering the Dave Macleod quote that routes have been climbed in 'all conceivable states of mind'. I focused on doing everything else I could – resting properly, eating, cleaning my shoes. My first go up though was a complete self-sabotage mission, just as I'd feared. As I was setting myself up for the penultimate move, I stared at the crimp and told myself I was going to miss it. And I did. It's the only time I've been frustrated when I fell.

Assuming that my head just really wasn't going to get out of the way that day, I told myself to use the session as power endurance training instead. My aim became to just try hard and get as high as possible for another two or three laps. I didn't feel much better tying in for my second go, but climbed perfectly, moving quickly through Cockblock and then more slowly and methodically up the arete, one move at a time, making sure I hit the holds just right. I don't have a particular memory of that go, other than a brief moment as I set up for the crux; summoning a bit of intention maybe. Then my hands were on the jug.

It all seemed a bit unreal. Obviously when I realised where I was I started massively over-gripping, getting pumped and sketching up the easy finish! At the top I was surprised to not feel much except relief. It was strange. I guess I'd satisfied my curiosity about what it was like to take on a longer term project.

To celebrate, I decided to finally climb Cockblock itself!

How did climbing The Rising Son compare to climbing your own E7/8 FA, The Certainty of Tides?

I thought The Certainty of Tides might be E7, possibly low E8. I don't have a lot of experience at either grade. I just knew it was the hardest thing I'd ever climbed at the time, despite being the perfect style for me. It remains the most dangerous route I've climbed.

Both routes are a similar height finishing with a techy and hard to read boulder crux. But whereas Certainty is a slab and corner climb requiring good flexibility (maybe F7c in a really contortion-y, hard to grade style), The Rising Son is totally opposite, being a F7c+/8a compression arete and power endurance route. 

Both are bold but in different ways. I would throw my friends off The Rising Son with a relatively clear conscience, whereas I wouldn't be able to watch my worst enemy climb The Certainty of Tides without my hands over my face.

The gear on the lower part of Certainty is dire. Every piece would qualify as the worst I've ever placed. Some people would probably have chosen to go without. It took me several passes to find various places to balance brass nuts, sideways offsets and sky hooks, only some of which held bodyweight. Before the crux you get the best couple of pieces on the route, which isn't saying much. The rock is also a little suspect with a foothold crumbling on my lead attempt. So the outcome of a fall seemed pretty unknown to me. I decided my best protection would be to stop and wait for a rope to be dropped if I needed it.

That said, it's a stunning route and if you like that kind of thing, please go climb it and tell me all about it! It's a route that will always mean a lot to me as it was such a perfect challenge in a part of the world I love. In the process of doing it I was surprised to realise it's one of the harder female first ascents in the UK. Few women seem to have put up harder trad routes here, or trad routes full stop. If I can inspire others to go out and look for their own queen lines then that would make me very happy!

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Great interview, and an interesting comparison between routes which seem almost polar opposites!

2 May

I had a play on it at the weekend. We found that it climbs nicely, but you have to be pretty strict to climb it straight on without straying too far left.

2 May

What happens if you stray too far left?

2 May

I thought the fall off Rising Son looked terrifying enough but The Certainty of Tides looks the stuff of nightmares!

3 May

Hi Alex, I was messaging someone who might have been with you when you were trying it. If so, it sounds like you were climbing the top arete on its left, when the route was originally climbed direct from the Cockblock gear up the steeper right hand side of the arete. Climbed this way, the crux of the route is inescapable until you have almost finished the easier climbing at the top. Excellent moves with pinches for your right hand and the arete for your left hand and heel.

Caff, Andy and I all just started up Cockblock rather than the independent start Alex climbed. Maybe this would help set you up better for the top. The independent start does feel squeezed in.

There is a photo of Alex on the top of the route on the UKC route listing.

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