News Robbie Phillips Completes the Alpine Trilogy
Scottish climber Robbie Phillips has completed the 'Alpine Trilogy', a trio of the hardest multipitch rock climbs in Europe, by climbing Des Kaisers neue Kleider 8b+ in Austria.
/ Hardest onsighted routes in the UK
I was wondering, what's the hardest (grade wise) routes that still get regular on-sight's? Is there a grade (Trad and Sport) where nobody on-sight's.
Interesting question, can’t wait to hear some answers.
I don’t think “hardest” and “regular onsights” are words that go hand in hand.
The hardest routes are going to be climbed (let alone onsighted) by a minority of the climbing population.
> Interesting question, can’t wait to hear some answers.
> I don’t think “hardest” and “regular onsights” are words that go hand in hand.
> The hardest routes are going to be climbed (let alone onsighted) by a minority of the climbing population.
That's what I'm getting at, e.g. does F7a often get on-sights but F8a doesn't (for example)?
I don't know about the hardest routes that regularly get onsighted. Depending on what you consider to be regular, you are probably not talking much higher than E6.
However, there are a few UK trad onsights that spring to mind as particularly crazy:
Niel Dickson - The Hollow Man E7/8 6b in 2008.
Ste McClure - Nightmayer E8 6c a month back, Dawes Rides a Shovel Head E7/8 6c in 2011.
Birkett - My Piano E8 6c in 2008
there are probably a bunch more in the E7/8 range but I cannot think of them
Cant think of many E9's that have been onsighted? James Person flashed an E9 in Pembroke (Controlled Burning), so not strictly onsight. Anyone else done one?
I'd suggest anything above E7 onsight is pretty rare?
Sport climbing - Adam Ondra onsighted Bat Route 8c back in 2011. No idea if any other wads have achieved similar since?
Again, top end onsight ascents aren't common, for very good reasons!
Depends what you mean by 'regular' really.
If you pick crags in vogue with people climbing fairly hard and in the right season you'll reliably see high F7s and E5s getting flashed. Follow a handful of superstars around and you'll get a different impression, likewise from a summer Saturday spent on Stanage popular.
There's been a few E8s onsighted but no E9s as far as I know. There are probably plenty of people capable of it but the abject danger of undertaking high E numbers on-sight is somewhat off-putting.
I would say, regularly E6 gets on sighted
Hardest Trad on sight is probably E8 (there may be isolated examples of E9)
No idea regarding sport, I guess style of ascent is less of an issue, its more about getting to the top in one go regardless.
> Hardest Trad on sight is probably E8 (there may be isolated examples of E9)
I think Pearson is still the closest with the flash of that E9 in Pembroke. If I remember correctly, his Mrs abb'd the line and gave him all the beta. That's very close to being on-sight, considering he'd not looked at it himself. He was also close to onsighting E10 on the same trip. Very bold and he deserves a lot of credit for taking those on; you're going in totally blind on something that has a good chance of putting you in the hospital/morgue.
The route was called Something's Burning, not Controlled Burning.
Yeah, my mistake. Amazing effort all the same!
Well, I would argue that he is no bolder than any other climber who takes on a bold lead at their limit.
> Birkett - My Piano E8 6c in 2008
While Dave's onsight of this is undoubtedly a great effort I wouldn't say it's really up there with the best. I believe the gear has changed a bit over time (because the rock is pretty soft), but it's about f7b overall with a spicy start and a safe-ish top half.
Nightmayer is a sustained and technical f8a with gear that is arguably worse (especially if you miss the wire a la steve's ascent!) and definitely harder to find.
Birkett also on sighted Fear of Failure E8 6c up on Dove Crag, probably one of the hardest Mountain crag onsights to date.
This was after on sighting several of the E7s earlier.
I'd disagree, even if E1 is your limit and you're on a bold route there will generally be plenty more options available to back off compared to on a bold E8/9
Pearson's flash ascents are as far away from onsight as it's possible to get while still counting as a flash. There's a massive amount of difference in what folk have done within the confines of a 'flash' ascent. At one end you have some who accept the tag due to having once watched a video 10 years prior. In the middle you have those who get given the beta on key moves/gear in advance or have watched their friend on the route. At the other end you have the 'Pearson flash' which involves sending your partner up the route to siege it, learn all the intricacies of the moves, relate these in great detail and on the eventual ascent shout instructions the whole way up!
> I'd disagree, even if E1 is your limit and you're on a bold route there will generally be plenty more options available to back off compared to on a bold E8/9
Like what, get someone to throw you a top rope? This I'm sure could/has been done on the odd E9
He has onsighted End of the Affair though, surely in spirit an ascent much closer to 'top few hardest onsights' than those flash ascents.
I was thinking more the fact that most lower grade routes would tend to have more gear/gear close by so that you have more of an option to lower off and retreat. Obviously if the route is basically a solo this wouldn't be the case.
Alex Megos o/s Accidental 9a in 2015
> Pearson's flash ascents are as far away from onsight as it's possible to get while still counting as a flash. There's a massive amount of difference in what folk have done within the confines of a 'flash' ascent. At one end you have some who accept the tag due to having once watched a video 10 years prior. In the middle you have those who get given the beta on key moves/gear in advance or have watched their friend on the route. At the other end you have the 'Pearson flash' which involves sending your partner up the route to siege it, learn all the intricacies of the moves, relate these in great detail and on the eventual ascent shout instructions the whole way up!
I'm not sure sending a 5'5 (at a total guess?) female up a route would deliver the solid beta that a 6' (again, at a guess) man could use to the effect that you are implying.
I don't think either of them would say it was ineffective, quite the opposite in fact.
Oh I'm sure it was very helpful but making out like it's not an impressive feat and was more like a headpoint is a load of bollocks. There's still obviously a bit of disdain towards the chap on this forum.
Cheers for the insight. I have (obviously) tried neither so I was just thinking of E8 ish onsights really!
Nightmayer does seem to be about as impressive an onsight as british rock has ever seen, thats for sure.
I think a consideration of the (un)chalked status is essential in this discussion.
> Oh I'm sure it was very helpful but making out like it's not an impressive feat and was more like a headpoint is a load of bollocks.
I didn't say it wasn't impressive. I just said that IMO it isn't "the closest" to being the "hardest trad onsight", since the style is so far removed from that. If you want other examples I'd suggest McClure's onsight attempt on Mission Impossible which failed due to wet holds, or Nick Dixon on Quartztecoatl. Yes he abbed the line, but didn't try any of the moves as I recall?
Sorry, make that Neil Dickson!
It will be interesting when an E9 finally does get an onsight - it's only a matter of time. When you consider that Dawes didn't work the upper section of Gaia (i.e. the E8 bit) prior to the FA, in some respects we haven't gone very far in the last few decades.
I know it’s blindingly obvious but an ancient onsight of an ungardened route in nailed boots by a runnerless hungover hempdragging pipesmoking Edwardian non athlete may well have been harder in its age than today’s flash by a honed and toned rock athlete with all the gear 😀
It doesn't work as a comparison. So many variables are different, you might as well compare the hardest wave someone has surfed, or the most challenging poo.
A hard poo on site... and then can you get your gear in? Are you safe? Some poos you can't back out of, and not all those are hard ones....
So many places to go with this. Shame to drop in on a more serious posting
A top level onsight back then probably was harder relatively speaking than today's flash. Today's onsight on the other hand...
By way of apology, I will steer back off tangent with a list of E8 onsights and flashes. Some of these may be in the wrong category, and some are almost certainly E7. I'm sure there are more.
From a comfortably armchair perspective, Nightmayer does sound about the hardest.
Whether something at a particular grade is on-sightable or flashable (and so whether it's been done like that) must to some extent (or maybe very largely) depend on the style of the route as well as the strengths of the climber.
So something like Steve's on-sight of Nightmayer (very impressive, not trying to downplay it at all) may play to all of that - intricate climbing but on a steep wall that would allow someone (like Steve) who's good at that kind of thing and has stamina, etc, more time to work out the correct sequence and reverse/recover from any blind alleys.
There must be other routes where you've got to get it completely right first time, and quickly, to have any chance of an on-sight or flash, so they (at the same grade) are much less likely to have been done in those styles.
Shrug, getting very comfortable in these armchairs eh.
What you're saying is obviously true, some routes at a given grade are harder to onsight than others. I don't think any of the routes listed is E8 7a - they tend to be bold and/or rewarding of stamina, rather than especially technical for the grade. I would guess the same is true with successful onsights at E3, or E5. Given the grade is *supposed* to be for an onsight ascent, maybe that shows a flaw in the application of the grading system - I don't know.
Isn't from a distance e7?
Yes. Have I got the name mixed up with another Pembroke E8 that was onsighted? Maybe.
I think one reason for that is because amongst trad routes hard grades increase the danger exponentially and only those with a good margin are willing to attempt them. Personally I find anything above E6 on grit to be an outstanding effort as most of these are extremely bold and sequence intensive. I've not climbed E7 on grit but on the E5's and E6's I did the potential for hitting the ground was always there and the sequences were very intricate - I'd have hated to be up there without prior knowledge (although somehow ended up in that position a few times!). Comparing this to a well protected E5 on the sea cliffs is a completely different prospect.
Personally I was very impressed indeed when Mark Rankin (Mark20 in this parish) flashed The Salmon (E7 6c) because it just looks like absolute horror there. The photos are enough to make you twitch...
When it comes to routes that could/probably will see a flash or onsight in the coming years I'd put The Big Issue (E9 6c) fairly high up the list because it's supposedly safe, has obvious gear placements and comes in around 8a+/b in terms of difficulty which is certainly onsightable for someone with 9a fitness. I've not been up on it though so only offering an armchair opinion here.
> When it comes to routes that could/probably will see a flash or onsight in the coming years I'd put The Big Issue (E9 6c) fairly high up the list because it's supposedly safe, has obvious gear placements and comes in around 8a+/b in terms of difficulty which is certainly onsightable for someone with 9a fitness. I've not been up on it though so only offering an armchair opinion here.
But is the 8a+/b just to climb or placing gear as well?
> What you're saying is obviously true, some routes at a given grade are harder to onsight than others. I don't think any of the routes listed is E8 7a - they tend to be bold and/or rewarding of stamina, rather than especially technical for the grade. I would guess the same is true with successful onsights at E3, or E5. Given the grade is *supposed* to be for an onsight ascent, maybe that shows a flaw in the application of the grading system - I don't know.
As you say, this is the case at lower grades also. Something with one desperate well protected move will always be harder to onsight than something more steady. This doesn't make the grades wrong as the overall difficulty of the pitch should feel similar and the level of commitment has to be taken into account also. Steady sustained climbing, slightly runout but not death style routes will always be good ones for many climbers pushing their personal limits.
I can't find the source now unfortunately but that was for placing the gear on lead as far as I can remember. Even if placing the kit nudged it up to proper 8b this would still be within range for a 9a climber.
Who onsighted Skye Wall? (and yes, I had heard E7 was maybe the more accurate grade)
OK thanks. Could be wrong, but well protected 8a+ would seem a bit on the easy side for E9.
> Who onsighted Skye Wall?
Should have guessed that
> Yes. Have I got the name mixed up with another Pembroke E8 that was onsighted? Maybe.
Maybe you're thinking of point blank which I think Pearson onsighted.
Point Blank has had several onsights. I was thinking of one of the ones in the Leap, but I might be wrong.
Ben Bransby tied into someone's ropes on Carmen Picasso and flashed it. IIRC it was graded E9, but Ben suggested E8.
To answer your question. I climb at malham a lot. 7a+ is regularly on sighted. 7b really not very much. Malham is a hard place to on sight.
Bit off piste on the topic, but relevant all the same. Abseiling to inspect moves, check gear clean etc, seems to be regularly accepted as flashing. Is this still within the realms of flashing. Was always under impression flashing was on-sight with beta & ground up. Be interesting to know hardest flashed climbs without abseil inspection. Regards on-sighting grades, not too clued up on rest of UK scene, but I can only think of 3 climbers who have on-sighted numerous E7's, & maybe another 3 or 4 who have ever on-sighted E7. As far as I am aware no one has on-sighted E8. I can only think of 3 maybe 4 that have on-sighted Uk 8a.
Surely there must be tons of people who have onsighted 8a.
Are you being mega strict about the definition of on-sight here? I can think of at least 8 climbers who have reportedly on-sighted E8, with nothing to suggest it wasn't ground-up and without beta or inspection.
Definitely a lot more than 3 who have on-sighted numerous E7s when on form too.
> I can only think of 3 maybe 4 that have on-sighted Uk 8a.
My theory about this is
(a) UK sport climbing tends to be sequency, beta intensive and generally onsight-unfriendly
(b) ... and there isn’t that much of it, so by the time somebody is good enough to onsight 8a, they probably already redpointed most of their worthwhile local ones
He said "not too clued up on rest of UK scene", so I think after that he was maybe talking about Scotland?
Ah that makes more sense. Though I wonder if he's including Scots not living in Scotland, or non-Scots climbing Scottish routes...
Hi yeh meant Scottish folk with Scottish grand parents that have never left the country, even on holiday & have Scottish terriers for pets and fancy Nicola Sturgeon. No what I meant is people I know of. I'm sure that there folk out there I dont know. I guess what was trying to get at is surely on-sighting E7's is pretty mind blowing and cutting edge & e8 is still incredibly rare. Was also trying to put across that flashed ascents in what I thought flashing was is still incredibly impressive & nearer on-sight than headpoint. Are there actually many climbers out there that regularly on-sight E7 & are doing it now in whole of UK [i.e 5 -10 a year & at different venues]. Caff? Ian Small?? are there others?? With regards on-sighting 8a 's I meant UK 8a's. I can genuinely only think of one Scot I know that has on-sighted UK 8a. I'm sure there must be more I haven't heard about though. I guess flicking through 8+ ascents on UKC logbook at Malham Kilnsey & Raven tor would highlight how seldom anything in 8 grade gets on-sighted in uk.
I agree fully! I hate nothing more that the typical brit comment that grades are harder in uk coz everyone onsights in Europe. Its basic common sense, you take a climber to a 12 meter vert 8a in spain, its gonna be just as hard to onsight as raindogs…. I always found it easier to redpoint in uk as routes were more sequence memory & finger intensive. But easier to on-sight in Europe where routes are generally steeper & longer. For example if you're not fit enough to get up a 40m endure route in Kalymnos first or second go, working the moves out aint really gonna make you magically fit enough to climb the route. 8a at Malham & 8a at Tres Ponts are same grades but just for different reasons.
Pretty sure that was a headpoint, otherwise it would have been the hardest onsight new route on UK trad!
> Are there actually many climbers out there that regularly on-sight E7 & are doing it now in whole of UK [i.e 5 -10 a year & at different venues]. Caff? Ian Small?? are there others??
I don't think there are many who do it regularly year in, year out, but quite a few who have had runs of form where they have done quite a lot. To be honest I would have guessed you had a few under your belt in the past Mgeek?
Rumour had it for a time that Adam Mulholland had on-sighted more E7s than Caff, though not for quite a few years now. Others apart from Iain Small who I would guess have done a lot...Pasquill, Bransby, Pearson, McManus, Vickers, Dickson...but I don't know really, it doesn't make the headlines, and it's clearly not polite to ask a gentleman how many E7s he's on-sighted.
> Pasquill, Bransby, Pearson, McManus, Vickers, Dickson...but I don't know really, it doesn't make the headlines, and it's clearly not polite to ask a gentleman how many E7s he's on-sighted.
Good job there's not a gentleman among that lot! Someone get the phonebook.
Funny how on-sighting often goes un recorded in he scale over facets of sport are. The thing I think is super cool is i'm in ma 40's [which is not so cool] & I remember being in awe as a daft wee teenager when I heard Glasgow based climber Craig Parnaby on-sighted E7. Here we are 25+ years later & its still a very respectable grade to on-sight. Especially when you look at how far other areas of the sport have moved on. Would be really cool to know when first E7 was on-sighted.
Never on-sighted e7 Andy, just flashed & ground upped. I would give my right arm to tick that one off. Sadly had bad fall few years ago, resulting in an extended break from climbing. My trad heid & fitness is pretty shambolic now days.. Positive though is that Im now shit hot at Sabbuteo.
Andy Pollitt on The Bells! The Bells! (E7 6b) possibly?
As recently documented on this very site: https://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/publications/other_publications/the_bells_the_bells__an_extract_from_andy_pollitts_punk_in_the_gym-12110
> Here we are 25+ years later & [E7 is] still a very respectable grade to on-sight. Especially when you look at how far other areas of the sport have moved on.
Aye it's interesting, I've been thinking about that. I guess a lot of climbers have become more specialised and have pushed harder in specific disciplines, but trad on-sighting is by definition non-specialist - in the sense that you need a very broad and bombproof set of skills to consistently on-sight hard trad routes. Just training hard and getting coached a bit probably won't cut it, unless you're a psychological mutant - it takes a lot of commitment to hone the abilities and judgment to on-sight close to the limit.
By proportion it may be that fewer climbers are interested in pushing themselves in that way - you would think that if more 9th grade sport wads turned their attention we'd see E9s on-sighted all the time. Would we though? By the time they'd honed their trad skills they'd probably not be at their physical performance peak any more!
I also reckon there's a nuance of the grading system that doesn't really show how hard it is to on-sight harder trad. So E7 was on-sighted more than 30 years ago, and even now only a few people have on-sighted E8 - sounds like things haven't moved on much. But the difference between a bold E7 and a bold E8 could be 7b to 8a, and with that leap you're pretty drastically culling the field of people who have the physical ability, never mind the all-round skill and experience.
On top of that, even the very best climbers don't cruise every 8a - the higher the standard, the smaller the margin between doable and not doable, even allowing for all the ability in the world. One missed hold, a fluffed non-obvious sequence, a crucial nut placement missed... What I'm suggesting is that it's not a linear progression of difficulty to on-sight trad, but a steepening curve. So many factors have to come together.
It also seems like the leap in standards in the 80s skews perception a little, as there were a few visionary people really boldly pushing limits in a style that was still the default mode in the climbing world at the time. All the same, and I have no data whatsoever to support this, I'm pretty certain there are still dozens more people who have on-sighted E7 since 2000 than did before it.
There you go, quite the essay.
I think the amount of information out there on routes is so much better than it was before the internet was around, that the on-sight and flash grades should keep improving. There's so much information out there now that if you were thinking about a route you could find out a good deal about it (how safe it is, etc.) relatively easily before tackling it. Pre-internet, I dread to think how hard it would be. You'd have to track down the first ascensionist and pick their brains about it rather than reading the multiple comments on UKC or someone's in-depth blog analysis and step-by-step beta with photos.
How much does any of that affect an on-sight (however purist about the term you want to be)?
Sure, you might pick up the drift of general consensus that a route is ok/bold/hard/whatever without gaining any specific beta, and that might sometimes help, but anecdotally I'd say it's just as likely to hinder. I've done routes, looked at other people's comments only afterwards, and been glad I hadn't seen them beforehand because the impression would have spooked me or put me off.
There are also, needless to say, plenty of routes about which there is little or no internet splurge to be found, especially away from the honeypots and in the harder grades.
You don't necessarily have to go looking for it, but it's often there if you want it.
I know personally if I'm looking to push my trad grade I will always look at the comments on UKC as there will generally be something about how safe it is. I'm more concerned with not hurting myself than an ethically ambiguous ascent.
Really? I find with the majority of routes it's pretty obvious from a combination of the guidebook and standing under the thing whether it's going to be adequately safe or not. There are exceptions, of course, and I'm not saying logbooks etc aren't a useful resource.
I couldn't care less about ethical ambiguity, but by no one's standard can you call it an on-sight if you've studied step-by-step beta with photos, so that isn't relevant to this topic.
I'm also not sure how relevant it is at the top end anyway. For harder routes, you still have to pick the brains of previous ascensionists if you want more specific information. Which admittedly isn't so hard to do these days with most climbers no more than an acquaintance removed on the internet, but I don't think your 'dread' is founded on much. People rocked up at the crag and had a go. People still do.
Guidebooks don't want to give too much away. For example I onsighted a route in Pembroke the other day. No mention of boldness at all in the guide. There were about 2 pieces of worthwhile gear in 20m, and absolutely nothing for the first 10m. If I didn't have tiny offsets or tiny cams then it would have been a pretty serious undertaking. Luckily I had a grade or two in hand so it wasn't a problem. There are numerous comments about the lack of gear and boldness on the UKC logbook and it's voted high in the grade / low in the above grade.
I absolutely understand that not everyone has the same approach to climbing but I don't personally care about honing my headgame on desperates or doing everything in perfect style. I want to have a nice day out and come back alive, and a bit of research can facilitate that.
That's all fine, and I hope nothing I've said suggests otherwise, but I'm not sure it has much to do with the hardest on-sighted routes in the UK.
> I guess a lot of climbers have become more specialised and have pushed harder in specific disciplines, but trad on-sighting is by definition non-specialist - in the sense that you need a very broad and bombproof set of skills to consistently on-sight hard trad routes.
Why? It seems to me that seriously specializing in crack climbing is the way to go for a career in hard trad on-sighting.
It was more in response to your comment about how much information you can garner from a guidebook vs real people writing things on UKC.
In terms of pure hardness you're probably right, but in the strange world of the UK grading system you might claim an equally 'hard' ascent by specializing in marginal smearing with a death fall.
To consistently on-sight hard in the particular arena of the UK does require a broad and bombproof set of skills - our rock is varied and sometimes weird and rarely pure crack climbing at the hardest level.
Flash not on-sight of course!
and not in the UK either, alas.
> It seems to me that seriously specializing in crack climbing is the way to go for a career in hard trad on-sighting.
It certainly helps to have the skills, but I'm struggling to think of many routes above E6 in the UK where the crux is pure crack climbing. More often there's crack climbing on the pitch, then the hard bit is face climbing where the crack runs out.
I was just looking at an old Scottish Mountaineer article from March 2005. Dave MacLeod rounds up what was done on rock the previous year, then predicts that 2005 will see the arrival of 8c+, E10, D13 and that an E8 will get onsighted. The sport and dry tooling may have happened that year(?) and E11 came in 2006, but are we still waiting for a Scottish E8 to be onsighted? (assuming you take Skye Wall and Apophenia to be E7s)
Caff on-sighted The Great Escape (E8 6c) (though he suggested that too might only be E7).
I think The Gathering and An Inconvenient Tooth may have been onsighted (not sure), but again proposed downgrades to E7. Bit of a theme!
Maybe Iain Small's done one and not told anyone.
The Gathering would be really impressive. From the same article: "it's onsightable if you're up for 7b+ wobbling on slightly snappy crystals, with guaranteed death on the slabs below if you mess up".
I was going off topic by ignoring the "in the UK" part of the discussion....
I may be conflating Calum's breezy "it's not that bad" account in my memory with an assumption that he waltzed up and O/S'd it. He probably didn't.
Scottish climber Robbie Phillips has completed the 'Alpine Trilogy', a trio of the hardest multipitch rock climbs in Europe, by climbing Des Kaisers neue Kleider 8b+ in Austria.