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INTERVIEW: Lexicon E11 7a - First Ascent on Pavey Ark by Neil Gresham

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 UKC News 08 Sep 2021

On Spetember 4, Neil Gresham made the first ascent of an E11 7a at Pavey Ark. Lexicon crosses briefly through the easier climbing on Impact Day E8 6c, but includes an independent start and finish, making it a new, distinct line.

Read our interview with Neil about the process of finding, preparing for and climbing the line.

Read more

 C Witter 08 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

Good effort! Interesting to read the extended notes on the very involved preparation/training. And quite humble to see Neil naming all the other people who helped bring about this achievement. Would be great to see a pic of the line. Going to go stretch now, after seeing that pic of Neil with his foot above his head...

In reply to UKC News:

Awesome effort Neil, congratulations. Always a team effort even though you end up on the sharp end. Looks a tremendous line and a future classic. 

In reply to UKC News:

A great ascent and a really interesting interview/article. Thank you.

In reply to UKC News:

I flipping love Neil’s enthusiasm, that man just loves climbing stuff! Bravo once again

In reply to UKC News:

Inspiring stuff. Great to read about the rich and varied prep that went in to the ascent. Nice one Neil.

 Michael Gordon 08 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

Brilliant stuff from Neil once again!

 Ernie 08 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

Congratulations 👏 and a great interview! 

I would love to see some footage of those practice falls 😎

 Misha 09 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

Greta stuff but for me the most impressive bit was about standing up on footholds level with his chest. The mind boggles. 

 DaveHK 09 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

I'm unsure whether to be totally psyched by this level of commitment or to just give up and go drink beer instead!

It speaks volumes about my approach that the bit I latched onto in Neil's prep was the days off in the nutritional plan.

Joking aside, what an incredible effort.

Post edited at 07:02
In reply to UKC News:

Fascinating. I would have loved to see a film of the process 

 julesmckim 09 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

Great article. Inspiring to read the level of specific training going into this. I'm not trying hard enough to push my grade. This jumped out at me:

"...used this to my advantage and sensed the opportunity to play one of the oldest confidence tricks in the book."

I need that book! I like the idea of tricking yourself in this way, though I guess you can't do it too many times.

 JimR 09 Sep 2021
In reply to julesmckim:

Makes you wonder what  grade he'll be climbing in 20 years time when he's 70. Probably about E20

 Brendan 09 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

It's really inspiring to see someone with so much training and experience behind them still improving in middle age. Well done Neil.

 David Cannon 09 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

Interesting article about the process both mentally and physically required to climb something very hard.  I understand the line, climbing, position etc must have been a huge contributing element for NG to invest so much into it but I didn't get any sense that he actually enjoyed climbing the route, maybe it's just me but there seemed to be a lack of emotion. As a comparison, Alex Honnold's extremely well documented solo of El Cap equally required an extreme level of psychological and physical training but there was also an overwhelming emotional element as to why Alex wanted to do what he did and what it meant to him whilst doing it and afterwards. I didn't get that sense at all from the NG article or maybe he just prefers to keep that aspect personal and to himself?

 jezb1 09 Sep 2021
In reply to David Cannon:

Have you ever heard Neil speak? He's excited about everything climbing! 

 Michael Gordon 09 Sep 2021
In reply to David Cannon:

I can see where you're coming from. I think as a total training geek, Neil was keen to get into the nitty gritty of how he was able to get to the point of leading the route; that and of course deal with the obvious question of grade.

Sounds like a great find. As something very hard, runout but (in theory) potentially safe, it sounds right up Steve McClure's street...

 Jamie B 09 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

Is that just the 2nd E11 (after Rhapsody) or have I missed any?

In reply to Jamie B:

> Is that just the 2nd E11 (after Rhapsody) or have I missed any?

...which rightfully restores E0 as the rarest of grades.

 John2 09 Sep 2021
In reply to Jamie B:

Echo Wall was never given a grade, was it?

 PaulJepson 09 Sep 2021
In reply to Jamie B:

Dave Mac refused to grade echo wall but said it was harder and more dangerous than rhapsody. He's also implied not too long ago that if he had to grade rhapsody now, he wouldn't necessarily give it e11.

It's a funny old game, isn't it. I don't think there was the same hoo-har about the first 9c or 9a boulder. British grading is so weird that we can't just let the numbers go up. We will end up with climbs SO hard and dangerous and people will still be giving them E10 7a through fear of getting Pearson'd. Well done Neil for sticking his neck out and well done for climbing the route. 

Doesn't sound at all like a chop route so hopefully it will get some repeats. 

 Michael Gordon 09 Sep 2021
In reply to PaulJepson:

I think one has to assume that without evidence to the contrary, Echo Wall is by default E11. Rhapsody too, since so far no-one has been inclined to suggest a downgrade. So that makes 3 routes of the grade. 

 Andrew Wells 09 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Isn't the suggestion that Echo Wall is so ludicrously dangerous (8c climbing, you go into the crux boulder pumped, if you fall off the crux you will undoubtedly die) that Dave would have had to give it so many E grades it would have shot off the end of the scale? I'm sure he said that in his blog.

 PaulJepson 09 Sep 2021
In reply to Andrew Wells:

Yes I think the assumption was more that it was >e11, rather than e11. I can understand his reluctance to put a number on it after his part in The Walk of Life saga (though no blame lies with Dave M for that). 

 Michael Gordon 09 Sep 2021
In reply to Andrew Wells:

> Isn't the suggestion that Echo Wall is so ludicrously dangerous (8c climbing, you go into the crux boulder pumped, if you fall off the crux you will undoubtedly die) that Dave would have had to give it so many E grades it would have shot off the end of the scale? I'm sure he said that in his blog.

I don't think he put it quite like that. I think he was simply unsure whether it merited a full new grade's worth of difficulty or not (so either E11 or E12). But without him actually sticking his neck out and suggesting the higher grade I would've thought a guidebook writer would be default have to settle for E11. Of course, no-one is going to be attempting it onsight so it isn't hugely important.

 Michael Gordon 09 Sep 2021
In reply to PaulJepson:

> I can understand his reluctance to put a number on it after his part in The Walk of Life saga (though no blame lies with Dave M for that). 

Sure, though Echo Wall was climbed a couple of months before TWOL

 JLS 09 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

>”I think he was simply unsure whether it merited a full new grade's worth of difficulty or not (so either E11 or E12).”

My recollection was that it was clear from what Dave said that we were to infer that the grade was >E11.

Post edited at 22:10
 Michael Gordon 09 Sep 2021
In reply to JLS:

> My recollection was that it was clear from what Dave said that we were to infer that the grade was >E11.

Perhaps. Maybe a guidebook writer would go with E11+?

I just had a look back at the blog post in question, and can see how Andrew Wells above has read it, though I didn't at the time. MacLeod does say in the comments bit at the bottom that although an argument could be made for it being a silly number of E grades above other routes, he doesn't necessarily agree that it should be. His main point I think in that post is that he would want more personal experience of E10, E11 etc to be able to suggest a grade that might actually mean something. 

 PaulJepson 09 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Wasn't it something like an 8b boulder that you'd almost certainly die if you fell off from? At the higher grades I imagine descriptions like that are far more useful to would-be ascentionists than e11 7a.  

In reply to JLS:

> >”I think he was simply unsure whether it merited a full new grade's worth of difficulty or not (so either E11 or E12).”

> My recollection was that it was clear from what Dave said that we were to infer that the grade was >E11.

Is it important whether it's E11 or more?

There's not exactly a queue waiting below it and anyone who's good enough to even think about trying it will know all about it and that it is a rather difficult and bold prospect.

However, one hopes any suitors will pick a better year for it than DM who unluckily picked a year when there was a huge snowfield above it (certainly wasn't there in 2012) to trickle down lots of meltwater. Or maybe the repeated slogs up there was somehow the necessary training for success 😁

 Michael Gordon 09 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Hood:

> Is it important whether it's E11 or more?>

Not really. For routes which are only going to be headpointed, accurate grading is far less important. But most would like an inkling of where the current leading edge of the game is, and for that you need to rank the hardest routes, and grades help with that.

In reply to PaulJepson:

> British grading is so weird that we can't just let the numbers go up. We will end up with climbs SO hard and dangerous and people will still be giving them E10 7a through fear of getting Pearson'd.

I never really saw what the fuss was about with Pearson's early grading of his first ascents. He overgraded some routes, they were repeated and then the grade settled. Isn't that exactly how it's supposed to work?

I can't help but feel that because the grades were all modified in a downward direction, there was definitely some schadenfreude at work.

Looking forward to seeing a repeat of Neil's route before long.

 Michael Gordon 10 Sep 2021
In reply to planetmarshall:

I think he got hung up a bit too much on the 'no mats' thing with regards to grit, which explains the difference in grade for The Promise. To his credit, The Groove is still to be properly repeated, and everyone knows that's top quality so it surely can't be due to lack of folk trying? The Walk of Life grading seems to be a result of trying a very different style route to that which he was accustomed and therefore being hugely wrongfooted on difficulty. 

I agree that grades work with consensus and one shouldn't be criticised for getting it wrong, but to be out by 3 grades is a bit of a howler...

 Andrew Wells 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

It's just his wording of

"Do you see my problem? I am uncomfortable with the feeling of grades advancing too quickly due to overgrading, but on the other hand feel that Echo Wall might well earn a laughable quanta of E points over anything else I’ve done, based on the way the E scale has been used traditionally over the past couple of decades. I just don’t know."

Which to me suggested that he worked it out in his head as E14 or something, realised that was ridiculous, and ungraded it rather than just give it E11. Which is not unreasonable; it's not likely to get repeated for a long time anyway, but grade conservatism can cause weirdness (look at the top end bouldering grades when Shadowplay was considered 8C and therefore anything anyone did, if they couldn't do Shadowplay, couldn't get 8C...except Shadowplay is like 9A/+ if it was ever possible, or done).

 Michael Gordon 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Andrew Wells:

> It's just his wording of

> "Do you see my problem? I am uncomfortable with the feeling of grades advancing too quickly due to overgrading, but on the other hand feel that Echo Wall might well earn a laughable quanta of E points over anything else I’ve done, based on the way the E scale has been used traditionally over the past couple of decades. I just don’t know."

> Which to me suggested that he worked it out in his head as E14 or something, realised that was ridiculous, and ungraded it rather than just give it E11. 

Yes, I see what you mean. If Scotland ever gets a 9b climbing trad genius we can point him/her at all this stuff and try and accurately pinpoint the grade. What could be more important?  

 Andrew Wells 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Hahaha yes I do agree, the grade is actually relatively unimportant. I'm glad Dave Mac ungraded it. As for E11... if Gresham says it is, I'm certainly not one who could debate it!

 JLS 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Hood:

>"Is it important whether it's E11 or more?"

Not to me, but it seems to have been useful to give the E8s and E9s grades when they were cutting edge. Why stop now?

 mcquain2 10 Sep 2021

Such a great write-up, feels like a report you’d see for one of the fell running Rounds (how preparation occurred, who supported, etc).

An aside, anyone want to channel Hazel F’s thoughts (she posted about this topic of high-end E grades being confusing) and tell us what this is in human-readable grades, unlike the abstract E-system?
 

E.g. 8b/8b+ R/X?

In reply to UKC News:

"fuelling mainly with carbs during training periods and fats during performance periods"

Anyone know if this is a TKD or a CKD?

 JLS 10 Sep 2021
In reply to mcquain2:

I take the route grade to equate to 8b+/c R.

Rhapsody seems to get 8c/+ R

See

https://www.ukclimbing.com/news/2008/06/steve_mcclure_climbs_rhapsody_trotter_does_it_again-44777

It's not 100% clear if Neil is just describing from the break as an "epic 8b+ power-endurance burn" and considers complete pitch from the ground harder still, but "Steve also described the route as 'a French grade easier than Rhapsody but with a more worrying fall" so this suggests 8b+/c.

After the fall practice etc. it sounds like Neil concluded that he wasn't likely to die but risked serious injury hence R rather than X.

 john arran 10 Sep 2021
In reply to JLS:

... which also neatly shows the failings of the split grade. Despite clearly looking to be an 'easier' grade, it may well turn out to be a harder proposition overall.

 C Witter 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> I think one has to assume that without evidence to the contrary, Echo Wall is by default E11. Rhapsody too, since so far no-one has been inclined to suggest a downgrade. So that makes 3 routes of the grade. 

What about other hard trad routes around the world? How do they compare? E.g.

- Tribe (9a trad route?)
- Meltdown (the crack Beth Rodden climbed... 5.14c, 8c+?)
- Recovery Drink (8c+ trad route)
- Century Crack (5.14b - 8c? - and... run out if you don't pre-place the gear!)
- Magic Line (8c+)

Then, of course, there's The Dawn Wall - 5.14d (8c+/9a?)

Obviously, translating across grades and styles (e.g. some fixed gear or none) is somewhat fraught, and I definitely don't feel able to adjudicate, but I feel like the idea that there are only 3 routes at E11 is not quite accurate. What do others think, out of interest?

Post edited at 11:34
 Spanish Jack 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Would be really cool to see a repeat on Echo Wall, but it might take a decade or two, or never happen. First of all it would take a world class climber to move to Fort William for a while...

In reply to C Witter:

Don't forget Privatvägen 8c+, Finland has one of the world's hardest trad routes along with (still?) the hardest boulder problem in the world. https://stories.27crags.com/index/one-of-the-worlds-hardest-trad-routes-opened-in-finland

 C Witter 10 Sep 2021
In reply to TobyA:

Interesting! I don't forget it, because I've never heard of it! I'll look it up

 Toccata 11 Sep 2021
In reply to UKC News:

All we need is the sound of a car engine to start in Roybridge and we’ll know the true grade soo.

 Michael Gordon 13 Sep 2021
In reply to C Witter:

I think I read Hazel Findlay guessed around E10 for Magic Line since it felt so much harder than the E9s she'd done. But with cracks it's very much E for effort. Even though for the style it's very much top end, cracks are always going to get a bit lower on the E scale since they're very well protected.

It's interesting when you start bringing in multi-pitch or big wall stuff. AFAIK the crux pitches of Dawn Wall are climbed pretty much entirely on bolts, so I wouldn't include that. Longhope Direct seems to vary from E8/9 to E10/11 depending on how important you think it is to climb it free in a one-er; will be interesting to see what future ascentionists think. The Usual Suspects got given E8/9 but possibly harsh as you've got to wonder how many climbers would really be capable of it? 

 PaulJepson 13 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> It's interesting when you start bringing in multi-pitch or big wall stuff. AFAIK the crux pitches of Dawn Wall are climbed pretty much entirely on bolts, so I wouldn't include that. 

There's an interview somewhere with Ondra where he says he was surprised by some of the climbing lower down where he was taking massive falls off hard moves onto stuff like copperheads. I don't think DW should be dismissible as a sport climb. I think it was in the video of him chatting to Caldwell.

Also wasn't there something dangerous about Magic Line? It's been a while since I saw the film but I'm sure it wasn't as safe as cracks generally are. Isn't that why the original ascent was top-roped? 

 Wil Treasure 13 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Hazel did suggest E10 as the British grade for Magic Line. I'm sure there is an E for effort in there too, and it sounds safer than Neil's route, but it certainly wasn't a clip up. The gear was small and the potential for big and scary falls was very real (and Hazel took a few) and this was one of the things she prepared for.

 Michael Gordon 13 Sep 2021
In reply to PaulJepson:

> I don't think DW should be dismissible as a sport climb. > 

But neither is it a trad route. It is what it is, a big wall masterpiece.

 Michael Gordon 13 Sep 2021
In reply to Wil Treasure:

OK fair point

In reply to TobyA:

Am I right in understanding this was done on pre placed gear? From the article it seems that he meant to repeat it later.

Not willing to enter an ethics debate, just curious if it ever got done in the more usual style.


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