In this new series, Tom Ripley profiles five significant first ascensionists whose routes represent some of the finest throughout the UK and Ireland. Each of these individuals appear to have imbued something of their own character in their routes, something that makes them stand out due to their distinct style. I'll also be asking six climbers to share their experiences on their favourite route.
Round two, Pat Littlejohn...
Easy one for me....Antiworlds E5 6a,6a,6b Lundy big wall, plum line, total commitment. Wow! Never understood why it wasn't in Extreme Rock.
Ha, jinx! I'll be surprised if I ever do a better three pitch route anywhere tbh.
I went down to do this last time I was on the island, but had to settle with a soggy Quatermass. Tricky one to get in condition, but I'll be back to do it sometime I'm sure...
As for my own favourite, this is indeed a tricky one - potentially even impossible. It's not helped by the fact that as soon as I think of one (which is clearly amazing), I soon think of another (which is even more amazing).
That said, in order to pin my colours to the mast I'm going to go with Rockin' in the Free World (E5 6a) at Craig Doris, simply because it is one of the most memorable (which is potentially different to 'favourite', but hey ho...). I didn't know much about it at the time other than where it went (always helpful) and that it had a single repeat, courtesy of Nick Bullock (always concerning). I'd done a lot at Doris in/around that time, but this felt like a very definite step up, and far more 'off piste' than the likes of Cripple Creek and Byzantium, which have had enough traffic to clean them up.
As a result of this the line of RitFW was a lot more friable, with little bits of rock almost constantly falling as I was climbing. What's most alarming about the route is that it's actually quite steep/overhanging. On this rock type you tend to get around this by climbing corners and grooves, but on RitFW you really have to embrace the overhanging terrain and start genuinely pulling, which - given the state of the rock - is pretty alarming.
Once the steepness is over you get to a ledge where, if you've planned it properly, you could haul up a second, third or fourth set of camming devices. I hadn't prepared properly, because I hadn't really known what to prepare for (or anticipated getting on the route - it was all an accident!!) - hence went boldly up into the next section without anywhere near as much gear as I'd have hoped for. Thankfully the groove above isn't quite as steep and after what was probably a ludicrous amount of time I topped out via one of the biggest and more satisfying holds on the crag.
Great article and I personally find these some of the most inspiring routes in the UK.
FYI you have labelled the lucky strike picture incorrectly.
So many to choose from, but for me it's probably Ikon. After having had a hard time on Cocytus (reachy for me), we saved the day by going round to LQP. Ikon was much more my style.
Obviously Eroica was pretty special too.
> FYI you have labelled the lucky strike picture incorrectly.
Must have been late in the day when I did that one, all sorted now.
Another vote for Antiworlds
Pat and the Clean Hand Gang - that brings back memories of New Year 1979 in the Count House. Three of us from UCNW climbing club travelled down in a Mini Van with an unplanned stop in Ashburton to change the top hose ( it was to hard to keep filling it up from any water we saw off the M5, we only had a leaky carrier bag to transport it). Arrived at the Count House to find the Clean Hand Gang in residence, but they were friendly once we had plied them with whisky and recreational pharmacuticals. One day of climbing and then it snowed so much we were trapped. Had to sleep with the whisky down my sleeping bag to stop it being liberated. On New Years eve we all descended on the Gurnards Head Hotel and consumed vast quantities of alcohol. The landlord was a bit worried by us all and tried to shut the pub just after midnight which didn't go down well. "Can I have your glasses please" he shouted; and a hail of beer glasses were thrown at the optics. The walk back down icy roads was spectacular with the whole party on their backs at points allegedly looking at the starry sky. Pat was certainly there and Dick Broomhead, possibly Arni Strapcans and many others.
Anyone else remember this?
I restate my case made in another thread - where is the Pat Littlejohn Biography?
Darkinbad the Brightdayler (E5 6a) - can't believe no one mentioned it!
Darkness at Noon (E5 6a) is great as well, though may be more for the atmosphere than the climbing.
With respect these routes were not the grades they are now when first done due several aid points on most of them. Not all of them were done on sight either. Darkinbad had numerous pegs placed on abseil.
Good article and thread. Antiworlds was already on my to do list; Rockin In the Free World has been added.
Hard to pick a favourite. The Axe and Darkinbad are amongst my top 10 routes of all time. For something lesser known, I can not recommend El Draco (E5, 6a) at Bolt Tail highly enough. https://www.ukclimbing.com/logbook/crags/bolt_tail-1492/el_draco-358318
Honourable mentions go to Mercury, Pacemaker, Fay and America.
I imagine Il Duce is amazing, but I’m yet to make a successful ascent.
Rainbow Bridge and Darkinbad are the best I’ve done of his.
I remember seeing El Draco in the new guide and wondered why I’d never even heard of it, looks amazing (and no doubt is because of the first ascentionist - he doesn’t put up crap does he?!).
The Adversary in Zawn Duel was one of his I’ve always hoped to do, not least because of the Nick Hancock quote within the old guide ‘there’s never a good time to climb The Adversary, but now is as good a bad time as any’.
Sounds like a proper South West adventure...
The Adversary is good ... if you like that sort of thing ... which I do!
The climbing would probably only get E2 if it was a causal walk in to a sunny crag. However it is in fact an abseil into the narrowest, darkest of zawns and the first (crux) pitch was soaking wet when I did it despite a preceding dry spell, with some loose rock on the second pitch. All very character building.
Didn’t realise Rainbow Bridge was one of his - another brilliant outing.
Undoubtably my desert island first ascentionist.
Another lesser known one that I climbed only 10 days ago is The Serpent King at Vellan Head on The Lizard (details in the CC definitive guide). Not quite of the calibre of the others mentioned here, but well worth a look if you fancy something off the beaten track.
It could be combined with a visit to do Lazarus - another that I’ve not done but want to.
My vote goes for The Axe (E4 6a). I did not even realise it was one of his routes.
I was climbing on Lundy a couple of years ago and was trying to work out which way the start of the route went up a sea stack so I shouted up to the team above me, ‘is this your chalk?’. One guy shouted down, ‘I do not use chalk’. I realised it was Pat Littlejohn later. I know he was joking but still able to play on his history. An incredible climber.
This is true - style of the times reflecting the available gear. Still, the FA is the FA, reflecting the vision of the people involved.
> Rainbow Bridge and Darkinbad are the best I’ve done of his.
Rainbow Bridge is not the best Pat route you’ve done: It is the best Andy McFarlene and Deryk Ball route you have ever done. Littlejohn and Derbyshire reduced the aid, but it isn’t their route. The start may have been climbed before by various members of the Exeter Club including Pat.
In this series of articles the ‘author’ will write a piece of vague introduction based on information he already knew by reading guidebook historicals, Mick Fowler books and an old copy of On The Edge, followed by getting five other people to write the article and add a few pictures taken mainly by others. The subject matter is good but this could have been far better executed. I suspect that this remark will be heavily disliked but Tom, as a fellow climbing obsessive, you could have done better.
When it comes to subject matter, it sounds like there was a disparity in between what you wanted it to be vs. what it actually was.
It sounds like you were after a detailed piece on Pat's life and climbing achievements, but that's never what this was intended to be. This series was very much envisaged more of a personal piece, focussing as much on the individuals who have climbed the routes as the person who put them up.
As such, Tom's intro isn't designed to be a complete list of achievements - it's a brief overview of some of his (many) highlights. This should help to provide a degree of context for those who may not know much about him already. For those that do know a lot about him already, such as yourself, maybe you're left wanting more, but my answer to that wouldn't be to criticise the article which never had the intention of doing this - it would be to get writing Pat's biography*
Given the rest of the feedback, and the sense of community spirit and sharing that has come as a result of the article, I would say that Tom has achieved exactly what he was hoping to.
*n.b. failing that rather large ask I'd happily commission a separate and more detailed piece on Pat, if you were interested in writing one
Personally I identify the route with Pat and repeated it in the style he did it in 1986 ie only used aid where he did on that single pitch (solo I might add) before the low free version was done.
Incidentally has the old aid line ever been done free?
It wasn’t really an aid route in the traditional sense. There were 8 points on the whole 280metres. I don’t think it is ever done as a roped route anymore, just as dws. Crispin Waddy freed the crux in 1989 as dws and Nick White did the first complete solo in 1991.
I meant free in DWS style
I can sympathize with James ( and looks like others do too). When a place or a story feel so close or personal to you it can be painful to see shallower representations or interpretations of it. Ive felt the same in the past about articles on the places that matter to me. To be fair I do think these articles could give the readers more credit. I know UKC gets its numbers from quick clicks and info bites, but some subjects maybe deserve better. There is so much depth to write about with regards to Pats routes and others experiences of them and I think a lot of folks on here who are interested in the subject would love more insight.
The video has allready been linked but this was a brilliant article too: https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/features/moonraker_-_the_first_ascent_of_the_old_redoubt-9899
Anyway, Moonraker has been mentioned but I cant believe no-one (Stroppy!) has mentioned Dreadnought... Pats routes have given loads of long lasting memories but that journey up and out the cave will stay with me for a long long time.
Funnily enough, I did The Adversary (E4 6a) with Nick Hancock - we think it may have been the 4th ascent.
It's kind of alright for E4 when you are on it. But it took god knows how many trips down to the glowering stone on the lip on the N side of Dual Zawn to work up the bottle to abseil in.
It definitely get's my vote as a favourite Pat Littlejohn route. Huge levels of commitment, and great climbing.
Forgot Dreadnought (E3 5c) was Pat Littlejohn’s route - yes, that’s definitely on the list! Thought it was Frank Cannings and someone else but it was Pat at a pretty young age and he did the FFA 8 years later as well.
This has led me to get the new South Devon guide book out - so much to do there, bring on the 1st and being able to stay overnight away from home!
I do hope that Robin Smith is on your list of significant first ascentionists. You know you are in for a treat with a Smith route - a cunning line that takes you through improbable territory for the grade.
I was deliberating between Robin Smith and Tom Patey.
Both have an excellent ‘Cannon’ of routes.
I’m still undecided, perhaps I should do both!
Not necessarily my favourite Littlejohn route, but the story of the first ascent of Deep Space is that it was raining in the morning, so Littlejohn and Garner retreated to the pub. It brightened up in the afternoon, so the first ascent was performed after five pints of beer.
> Forgot Dreadnought (E3 5c) was Pat Littlejohn’s route - yes, that’s definitely on the list! Thought it was Frank Cannings and someone else but it was Pat at a pretty young age and he did the FFA 8 years later as well.
That was the route that first came to my mind, surprised it was so late in getting a mention,
Deryck Ball and Andy Mafarlane made the first ascent of the bulk of the route in 1974, Pat then dispensed with a few ponts of aid and added the last pitch into the final zawn a few years later
Great descriptions of choice routes - having never done a Littlejohn route, I'm realizing what I've missed. To my chagrin
Great article. Looking forward to the Gary Gibson one, although can I suggest a title of “what’s your favourite and least favourite route” for that one ;)
Inreply to UKC Articles: Best littlejohn route... such a hard choice.
Just as a bit of a curveball (and because most of my other choices have been mentioned) I’d choose Olive Branch (E4 6a) on the East face of Mowing Word. It only gets 2 stars, so I expected something good but not as amazing as say tangerine dream which I had done the previous day. I had noted it was a littlejohn route though so thought maybe it would have a little bit of extra class than you might expect at 2 stars.
i wasn’t disappointed! Pushy, quite steep and thin. With enough small wires to keep it well protected though I think I had to miss some bits in the interests of not falling off. Not many seem to do it, but if you are operating at E4 then it’s a 3 star classic for me.
But obviously Darkinbad, Fay, the axe, dreadnought, also are some of the best routes I’ve ever done. I just thought I’d introduce a bit of a hidden gem into the mix as they are often the ones that are most interesting to hear about
I'll get Olive Branch added to the list then
On the note of other hidden classics, Amazon (E3 5c) is absolutely amazing. There's an E5 just to the left of it which has your name written all over it, Mex-the-Flex (E5 6b) (although this was put up by Andy Sharp, not Pat). I remember looking over at it, wondering if I should get involved, but it was the end of the day and the excuses came pretty thick and fast (it looks sharp, it looks hard, I feel tired, Penny might leave me etc etc...).
Is there a graded list somewhere? I've got a bit of a soft spot for Moonraker but reading this thread there are loads more PLJ routes at my grade than I'd realised.
Massive question: every Pat route I've done has been great
Forced to choose one I'd probably also go for Antiworlds
Nice. Obvious question for me; did you ask Pat what his favourite is?
All great suggestions. The Axe is a great route but am surprised no one has Pan on the list. IMHO, it's one of the best E4s I;ve done in an amazing situation on a gently overhanging wall in a tidally affected zawn. Great line and just so improbable for the grade.
So many great memories of climbing Pat’s routes...
Darkinbad is just a sublime piece of climbing;
Driving all the way to Devon for the weekend with Il Duce and America (with the traditional tyrolean approach) in our sights, and driving home on the Sunday night with both routes in the bag;
But if I had to pick just one, I think it would have to be the most archetypal Extreme Rock route; the one which fits that book’s brief better than any other. Except, of course, that it isn’t actually in Extreme Rock!
And that route is Antiworlds.
> With respect these routes were not the grades they are now when first done due several aid points on most of them. Not all of them were done on sight either. Darkinbad had numerous pegs placed on abseil<
Fair enough, but your post does comes across as a bit mean-spirited in an otherwise celebratory thread
My vote goes to Spacewalk (E3) Lundy which climbed this amazing flake in a utterly wild irrevisable position until it collaped in a 2005 winter storm and is sadly no longer the route it was.
Dreadnought is definitely Frank's route - I seconded the big pitch on the FA and led through up the top pitch. Honoured that he let me name it!
Pleased that these routes still providing fun and adventures
I’ve not done a great many, but has to be The Adversary, just for the experience alone.
Apologies if contact is unwelcome as I see you don't accept emails... Vintage LUMC (fb group) are keen to get you on the list. Email me if you want to join and I'll make the link. Hope all good
Great Article. So many amazing routes, total hero and eye for a line. Couple of climbs here that I don't think have been mentioned. As always it's the experience that makes the climb. Sweating my way up Hunger years ago wondered how the bloody hell Pat did this without chalk. Hunger (E5 6a)Head Hunter (E5 6a)
Now that's a great question! Perhaps by not doing it in the blazing sun on a still day? I can confirm the lower crux is not great in those conditions but that's an excuse rather than a reason for being spat off repeatedly...
You're a glutton for punishment Misha ;-)
That said, you sometimes just have to get on these things don't you?! The day I did Dinosaur was a good example of this. I'd left it until late in the day, and there was a bit of a breeze, so I thought it'd be ok, but when we got underneath the route it looked like it had been coated in vaseline. Several falls and much amusement later I got to the top and do you know what, I think the level of gop added to the experience. Onsighting it would have been boring anyway...
I can confirm that onsighting Dinosaur definitely isn’t boring Rob...
...particularly when you get to grips with the seemingly innocuous 5b pitch!
Black Ice at Long Quarry Point was my first E3 so seems to stick in the memory
Glad you like the article.
What’s your favourite?
Maybe a slight exaggeration there on my part, but it certainly felt pretty memorable jettisoning from progressively higher and higher up the route!! I remember the description mentioning that 'the holds gradually improved as height is gained', but given how greasy it was I didn't really notice a great deal of difference. If anything the holds lower down felt better, because at that point there was still some chalk on my hands (as opposed to some sort of cream).
Funnily enough climbing partner backed off that 5b pitch as he was on a particualrly savage come down from a party the night before. If I recall correctly he'd been on the plant fertiliser (which was - apparently - a 'thing' at the time) and I've never seen someone sweat so much within such a short space of time. Thankfully he retreated from approximately 2m up up and handed over the ropes to me. It'd all got a bit much for him I think. Lord knows what would have happened if he had got any higher...
I don't think it's been mentioned yet but Above and Beyond at Fairhead is for sure my favourite. One of those routes you look at and think 'It goes out there!?' Superb.
I still think that's one of the best E6s I've ever done. Potentially even one of the best ever routes I've done too, as it's got a bit of everything: unlikely line, similarly unlikely moves, and a position that couldn't be too much more exposed if it tried.
Reminds me that impressive PRL routes are amongst the top climbs at so many venues across these islands
Sorry if I don’t live up to your ideal of perfection. You mention Darkinbad. Maybe climb it in 1972 style with old PA’s, nuts threaded on rope slings, no chalk, and by the original line. Then tell me it was easier in those days. Have fun!
No favourite Tom, maybe a top 20 one day
I was lucky to be on the first ascent of Spellbinder at Ogmore with Pat,a great route one of the best E4's in the UK.My personal favourite would be Hunger at Gogarth.
Please get in touch as/when you do Pat!!
Forgive my ignorance, what was the original line?
The most intimidating part of the route is the gearless darkinbad section to the ledge and that must have been then as it is now. Scarily impressive!
I do wonder why Ogmore isn't more popular. I haven't done Spellbinder but it looks superb. Despite this it only has 2 ticks in the UKC logbook.
Funnily enough I've done it, but did it prior to using the logbooks.
It certainly left an impression, as we got on it pretty hastily due to time constraints. As a result the tide had only just gone down, hence the bottom of the route was still pretty wet, so it all felt pretty psychological. After that the story just gets a bit ridiculous, as I was wearing a pair of shoes I had to review. Given that it was the first time I'd used them, and the fact they were already pretty tight, they were absolutely unbearable. I remember getting around 2/3rds of the way up and being unable to use the ledges as footholds due to the pain they caused, let alone small edges! As a result the pump got pretty severe, as everything was on my arms.
Much noise, excuses, and retrospective hilarity ensued. It's not a route (or line) I'll be forgetting anytime soon.
Fire was good too, but potentially not quite as classy as Spellbinder, which really is something else...
Pat, I remember back in 1979 after doing Rough Diamond on Haytor you mentioned that you thought a load of your routes hadn't had second ascents so I had a summer of excitement and fear, Bloodhound, Black Ice, Pantagruel, Fear of Flying and loads more. Crow at Cheddar gave me my most complete and sublime climbing experience when I did it with Cathy Woodhead the year before. Cheddar at it's best empty, silent and with only the jackdaws for company. Thanks for all the inspirational routes of yours that I've done
Crow's a terrific route, sadly unfashionable. It deserves more traffic - when I did it twenty years ago the crux didn't feel like the 5c pitch but the second 5a pitch, which was alarmingly unmaintained, and I'm sure it's worse now.
I’ve done Crow a couple of times and it’s fantastic, the first time I pulled off a wedged flake in the top crack and split and hurtled Carwards below. It neatly bracketed the car and caused the fat tourist owner to break the 100yd record to remove it from the danger zone😀whilst we discussed how fast we could completely disappear! Second time round the second pitch jcm talks about had acquired a patina of slippery lichen
Many years ago there was a post on here from a climber who encountered a bunch of Hell's Angels at the base of Coronation Street. They were friendly and interested at first, but unfortunately a rock was dislodged from the Shield pitch which landed on the fuel tank of one of the motorbikes. A shotgun was produced.
> A shotgun was produced.
... and discharged?
As I recall from the post, it was only waved around.
According to Google, the range of a shotgun varies from 45 to 50 metres. You would probably, therefore, be safe on the Shield pitch. Best to be careful descending, though.
> According to Google, the range of a shotgun varies from 45 to 50 metres. You would probably, therefore, be safe on the Shield pitch. Best to be careful descending, though.
But that could make a great addition to the "Tell me about Coronation Street" thread - e.g. "Great route, unfortunately dislodged a rock onto a Hell's Angel bike, finished the route at 4 PM, slippery descent, chased through Cheddar village and onto the M5 by a group of shotgun-wielding bikers, shots fired"
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