Richard Waterton Climbs The Kepwick Groove - E8

First reported briefly in the UKC forums, we now have more details on a new hard route in the North York Moors. Here Franco Cookson reports:

Richard Waterton Climbs The Kepwick Groove - E8, 118 kb
Richard Waterton Climbs The Kepwick Groove - E8
© Jo Banner
After on and off attempts over the past 15 years, Richard Waterton has lead 'The Groove' at Kepwick, finally climbing the North York Moors' most well-known last great problem. He named his new route Gold and gave it the grade of E8 7a.

Richard, these days more often seen smoothly flowing up the limestone sport routes of Yorkshire as opposed to the deathy micro-terrors of the Moors, has been active in the region for over two decades. His masterpiece Esmerelda at Highcliffe Nab was until recently the most difficult route in the area and, despite being nearly 20 years old, is yet to see a repeat.

The new line at Kepwick Crag is surprising in its brilliance, hidden away in a small quarry close to the A19. It starts on a small ledge, from which you can look up at the groove. The sequence above follows small sloping pockets and crimps, with complex body positioning. At the top of the groove, after a little bit of cunning, you have a choice of finishes: span a long way left on good holds, or go right with a lot of small, insecure and hard moves on scrittly sloping crimps. Both lines are well independent from one another and each offers a distinct style all of its own.

Over the years, Moors activists have had a good go at trying to work out both of these finishes. In the 1990s Francis 'Monty' Montague, Chris Shorter and Steve Findlay investigated, mainly focusing on the left-hand finish without side-runners. They got tantalizingly close to what would have been a cutting-edge ascent at the time, as Chris Shorter commented a few years back:

"I had a 'look' at the Kepwick groove with Steve Findlay. Francis Montague had top-roped it, but his girlfriend refused to belay him on it because she didn’t want him to kill himself on it. Could be another very hard one."

Richard started off his day by climbing this left-hand finish, but instead of coming from directly below, chose to approach it from the corner on the left. This start offers high runners that protect the central section of the groove and the wild left-hand finish, which involves a shouldery 'reflex' rockover. He named this route True and thought it warranted E6 6b/c, explaining that it was probably E7 for a ground-up ascent.

Other more recent Moors aficionados, such as the Hull-raider Steve Ramsden had 'had a look' at the right-hand, which is less flamboyant in style, but requires a little more sport fitness and deadly precision. Richard comments on the upper section of this variation:

 "The rock on the crux is inherently a bit sandy so that sometimes, even if you climb it perfectly, then your hands can just slip/ roll off the holds!"

This is perhaps the main line of the wall, but due to these concerns Richard chose to leave the protection in that he had placed on 'True' and pre-clipped it as a low side-runner. Combined with a skyhook en route, this offers some comfort on the lower section, but becomes alarmingly distant on the upper sequence, which Richard felt worthy of the grade English 7a. This was the line that he named Gold, giving it the grade of E8 7a.

With pretty much everyone who has climbed in the Moors in the last 30 years failing on the line and Richard's penchant for modest grading, this one's likely to be a pretty fierce outing.

Richard added:

"it was fantastic to lead this route after so many years, albeit with side-runners (sorry, [but] I do have a 5 year old son!!)."

 Discussing the potential for a side-runnerless ascent, he went on to say that:

"Whilst it would be possible to lead the route using just the sky-hook I don't believe this would hold many falls from the crux section as the rock is too soft and sandy to be trustworthy. An ascent in this style would warrant E9 I suppose, but I think you'd have to be crazy to try it!"

The Kepwick chapter draws to a close. For now at least...

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