UK Trad 2007

© Dave Pickford Photography
James McHaffie onsighting Masters Edge E7  © Jack Geldard
James McHaffie onsighting Masters Edge E7
© Jack Geldard

UK Trad 2007

The wet summer seems to have done little to dampen the spirits of Britain's traditional climbers. Hard and bold ascents have been coming in steadily throughout the year, on a wide range of rock types.

Kicking off in January, James Pearson made an impressive head-point ascent of his new route The Promise. The Promise tackles the blunt arête to the right of Miles Gibson's E8 Superstition at Burbage North and features extremely difficult and technical climbing. At only 8 meters in length it may be the smallest route in this round-up, but if James' E10 7a grade stands, it is certainly one of the hardest.

Still in the Peak district, it was down to that man MacLeod to make the second ascent of Adrian Berry's difficult route Blind Vision, downgrading it from E10 to E8 in the process. MacLeod climbed the route after top-rope inspection but the lead wasn't a foregone conclusion, with MacLeod taking several tries to latch the Font 8a/V11crux on the boulder problem start and climbing the upper wall virtually in the dark.

February brought more cold weather, but they make them tough North of the border and again Dave MacLeod was out at the crag. Whilst most hacked their way up the gullies on the Ben, Dave nipped over to the sea cliffs of Aberdeen and made a quick onsight of Gies a Squid (E7 6b).

The Peak saw a bit of crash pad action when Andy Earl came down from Newcastle and sent Careless Torque ground up at Stanage. First climbed in 1987 by big Ron Fawcett, this highball boulder problem is every bit as hard as it was back then, weighing in at a hefty Font 8a/V11, with a worryingly high finish. Ron 'trained' for the problem by jumping from ever increasing heights off the neighbouring climb Not To Be Taken Away until he was satisfied he wasn't going to die!

On to March and things began hotting up. Nic Sellers showed exceptional style with a virtually onsight (no pre practice, just a little sequence info) ascent of Balance It Is (E7 6c) at Burbage.

Jordan Buys rocked up at Gorple, the small and windswept moorland venue near Widdop, above Hebden Bridge. After his wife pre-placed a small wire on abseil, Jordan flashed Carmen Picasso, John Dunne's route which was originally given E9. The grade is settling at somewhere around the E7/8 mark, with Jordan commenting that he thought the route was E8 for him, and with his CV of impressive trad and sport routes – I guess that means it's no push over.

The bouldering mats were out in force down at Black Rocks near Matlock, where Adam 'onsight' Long climbed Angels Share ground-up and survived several long falls from the top of the boulder, deftly running down the slab to reduce impact force. Originally graded E8 7a by gritstone guru Johnny Dawes, Adam felt the route warranted highball Font 7c/V9 with modern bouldering mats.

April brought better weather and tempted James Pearson down to Wales to head-point the long awaited second ascent of Trauma (E9 7a), Leo Houlding's testpiece in the Llanberis Pass. Leo took a nasty groundfall from low down on the route during an early attempt, when a stainless steel peg unexpectedly snapped. James utilised this peg stub by placing a 'pecker' hook behind it to provide some protection. He then fell on it – nutter!

Still in Wales, but over in the quieter Ogwen valley, I picked the line of Spinal Crack, the well known '8c Crack' project and promptly over graded it at E8/9 6c. A month later it was seamlessly repeated by Pete 'steady hands' Robins and downgraded to E8. I was on belay duty that day and when questioned about Pete's ascent I gave an intelligent and informative reply that was quoted in the News column: Jack said: "I thought he was totally off but the boy held on. Awesome." ...Ahem, moving swiftly on...

Australian climber Ben Cossey made a ground up repeat of Careless Torque at Stanage (Highball Font 8a/V11) and round at Burbage, Katherine Schirrmacher head-pointed Balance It Is (E7 6c), but not before taking a whipper on to a solitary RP – it held - whew! Katherine joins an elite group of very few women to climb at that level on gritstone.

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May brought warmer weather and inspired Dave Pickford to launch an attack on his home from home; Pembroke, where he succeeded on a line that has haunted him for several years. The Brothers Karamazov (E8 6c) tackles the run out and blank wall right of War and Peace at St Govans Head. After a couple of head-point repeats later in the summer, much was said about the grade of the route yet little about the route itself.

To quote Pickford: “A lot of nonsense gets thrown around the climbing community about grades these days, in which the grade seems to take on more importance than the climb itself”.

Sadly, gone now are the days of routes going by reputation alone and we rely solely on numbers to measure our achievements. Grading top-end trad routes is a difficult science, especially when the grade is for the 'theoretical onsight' (I feel an article coming on!).

Perhaps the best looking new trad route of 2007 (if he does say so himself) is Dave Birkett's Skye Wall (E7/8 6b). Tackling a huge pristine buttress in a remote and beautiful setting somewhere on the Isle of Skye, this route (now immortalised in Posing Productions film Psyche) has technical and sequential climbing in a down right dangerous position. It's at the top of my list for next year!

June came, along with some rain and frustrating weather. Dave MacLeod was first up with a flying visit to Snowdonia. Dave was lucky with the weather, right at the start of the month – having seven dry days for his visit. He head-pointed Trauma (E9 7a) on Dinas Mot. James McHaffie was next in line, also climbing Trauma, commenting that he thought the route may 'only' be E8 with this new pecker placement.

Jude Spanken ticked two classic routes in Llanberis Pass with an onsight of Lord of the Flies (E6 6a) and a ground up ascent of the difficult and burly crack-line; Pretty Girls Make Graves (E6 6b). These being possibly some of the hardest female ground up ascents of the year, Jude is really flying the flag for onsight trad climbing.

July was also a wash out, but Dave Birkett managed a tough looking new E9 at Cam Crag, despite several weather set backs (are we spotting a theme here?). Hasta Sin Owt Ert Hoonds takes a bold line up the centre of the crag and kept Dave out of mischief for a while.

Dave MacLeod on To Hell and Back E10 6c
© Claire Macleod
A quick trip across the pond and August saw Canadian climber Sonnie Trotter head to Alberta to climb a new route after top rope practice, removing some existing bolts to give The Path (5.14 R) I think that means it's F8b+ on trad gear with a spicy run-out. Sounds like E9/10 to me! Dave MacLeod had a pretty good month too – finishing off his much hyped project on Hells Lum; To Hell and Back which weighs in at a hefty E10 6c and according to Dave “really scared him silly”.

September was a big month with big numbers, both on Lundy and up in the Lake District. Perhaps 'Man of the Match' for 2007 should be awarded to Neil Dickson for his commitment to onsight climbing, ticking several E7's including; Professor Whittaker on the Lleyn Peninsula, Mayan Skies, Lundy and Kaya, Ogwen. Showing just how bold he can get, Neil abseiled down an old Gary Gibson E7 on Lundy and had a look at the crux moves. He then whipped the bolts out and led the line, renaming it Quetzalcoatl (E9 6b).

Dave Birkett's routes in the Lake District were dealt the MacLeod treatment. Dave Macleod repeated both Caution (E8 6c) and If 6 was 9 (E9 6c) after top-rope practice. Having tried Caution myself briefly (on top-rope of course!) I know that this is a very impressive ascent indeed. Various climbers have looked at this line and have never been back to finish it off. The crux, if I remember correctly, is using a poor, flared finger jam and a fall from this position would almost certainly be terminal. The crucial wire is good, but felt difficult to place on lead and clogged up the hand-hold. I left the route thinking that it would feel solid E9 for an onsight. I'm looking forward to watching the video from the safety of my front room!

October saw a lot of action on the gritstone, with impressive ascents from both Lucinda Hughes (climbing Deathwatch E7 6b) and Lucy Creamer (climbing Toploader E7 6c).

Pete Robins and James McHaffie had a good day at Millstone, both attempting Masters Edge (E7 6b/c) ground-up. James managed the first onsight, no falls ascent of this historic route. Pete took the fall from high up, then jumped back on and sent it next go.

At the start of November, Lucy Creamer broke another barrier by possibly becoming the first British woman to climb E8 with an amazing head-point ascent of Slab and Crack at Curbar. Another truly inspirational ascent from someone quite clearly at the very top of her game. The jury is still out as to the actual grade of the route - some say E7, some say E8. I asked Pete Robins, who has also head-pointed the route and has been helping write the Curbar script for the forth coming BMC guidebook:

"The route is about F7c in total with a scary start, then you get in a small wire followed by another in the crack (placed blind - trusting this would be the hairy bit on-sight) and do an awesome hard sequence. It was graded E7 when I did it, but I head-pointed it. We need Ryan [Pasquill] to psyche-up and on-sight it for a proper grade but not much change from E8 I'm sure."

I spoke briefly to Lucy about her ascent:

“All I can say is that this route has got some of the most technically baffling climbing on it that I've ever done. It's obvious once you know it, but pretty tricky until you've worked it out and added to that it was incredibly scary. The route didn't come easily and was never a forgone conclusion, it felt very hard to me and was a lot harder than anything else I've done on grit. I really had to dig very deep for this route (disproportionate to the size of it!) and felt an incredible amount of emotion when I reached the top”

A great effort from Lucy. Whatever the grade settles at, this is certainly one of the hardest female ascents Britain has ever seen.

Man of the Match 2007 - Neil 'youth' Dickson
© Dave Pickford Photography

Onsight Round-up

'Grading for the onsight' is a strange and difficult concept to quantify. I thought it was interesting that around the time Johnny Dawes climbed Gaia, he also established several E7's onsight. He climbed Gaia (grading it E8 6c) after practising the moves a few at a time on abseil, he didn't top-rope it. Repeat ascentionists (after considerable top-roping) mooted a downgrade to E7. I asked Dave Pickford what he thought of the 'science' of grading:

"Some people still maintain such a bloody reductive view of things that anyone putting forward the angle that 'grades are an inexact science, they don't really mean much, and fundamentally are not that important' will always come up against a wall of quantitative froth from the numbers brigade..."


As onsight climbing generally involves smaller numbers, many fine ascents slip through the media net. Comments such as “There's hundreds upon hundreds of E7 flashes every day” on the UKC forums add to the already strong feeling that numbers come before style and everyone and their dog is onsighting E7's.

I suspect that E7 onsight (and E6 onsight for women) is a rare achievement. The climbers out there, pushing standards in this field, deserve as much recognition as those with top-ropes. So a quick round-up outlining some (but probably not all) of the amazing ground up ascents missed from the month by month listing:

Ryan Pasquill again showed unbelievable ability with an amazing day out on Peak grit; onsighting Kaluza Klien (E7), climbing ground-up on Crack and Slab (E7) and onsighting Genocide (E6). James McHaffie, always at the cutting edge, partnered up with Neil Dickson to repeat The Super Calabrese (E7 ish!) a bold route on Gogarth, originally graded E8, McHaffie and Dickson added a slightly different start avoiding the wet first moves. James also ticked other E7's such as Le Fin (Ogwen Valley) and Boss Hogg (E6/7) at Pembroke.

Karin Magog has been out on the E5's with ascents of Pacemaker (Sharpnose), John Wayne (Pembroke) and several others. Lucy Ellis onsighted Darkinbad (Pentir) and Tess Fryer ticked some E5's including Warpath (Rhoscolyn). Bouldering ace Katy Whittaker showed that she loves routes too and onsighted Snivelling Shit (E5) at Millstone.

Both Niall McNair and myself grabbed a solitary E7 onsight, me with Surgical Lust (E7 6b) in the Llanberis Pass and Niall with an ascent of The Clown (E7 6b) at Gogarth. Niall partnered Dan McManus in an epic onsight first ascent on Pabbay, giving Redemption Ark (E6) and Dan McManus showed total commitment with an onsight of a new line on the Lleyn Peninsula; The Apprentice (E6).

All these ascents show to me that British traditional climbing is still going strong. With the likes of Dave MacLeod and Lucy Creamer as role models, our younger climbers continue to have amazing performances to inspire and enthuse them. Bring on 2008 and maybe an E12 or an E8 onsight!

A quick thank you to all who helped with the research for this article, including the forum users who contributed to this thread: Hardest Trad onsights 2007

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22 Jan, 2008
- Coming very soon are the Sport, Bouldering, Alpine articles. And in a couple on months, UK Winter. Jack
22 Jan, 2008
Good article - I expect a lot of work went into that to confirm details.
22 Jan, 2008
Nice work - thank you. jcm
22 Jan, 2008
Really good stuff. One picky issue I think male onsights really need to be E7 upwards to make these sorts of articles. To get round the 'hundreds onsight E7's ever day' point (complete bull) invite people to submit stuff for an update or for next year.
22 Jan, 2008
I agree, good review. Can I be pedentic though, and point out that Dawes couldn't have used a gri-gri to check out Gaia: they hadn't been invented in 1985/6. I thought he had just abbed the top (thinking it was going to be easy), but toproped the entry into the groove (didn't Woodward tell him this was the hard bit?).
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