Pete Bridgwood of Leek, Staffordshire recently managed 600 solos in a day, undertaking a staggering ten and a half hours of climbing. Having broken the record for the Staffordshire Nose challenge - completing all 31 of the Western Grit Joe Brown and Don Whillans routes in a day - with Andi Turner in 2013 (UKC News Report), Pete was keen to take on another challenge..
Starting at 5:15am and finishing up at 19:59pm, he climbed the majority of routes on his own with little support (and still managed to beat Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall's previous record of 550 solos in a day!).
Commenting on Mr Bridgwood's achievement, Tom Randall told UKC: 'That was a freaking impressive performance, most impressive for the fact that it was on his own with no one to share psyche with!'
Pete works as an outdoor instructor and teacher. He is a trainee mountaineering instructor and also owns the “Fingerbuzz” healing balm brand. With a busy lifestyle, how did he go about taking on such a challenge? He tells us more in this interview...
'The plan was to eat my own body weight in sugar and scotch eggs and more importantly drink lots and lots of fluids. Basically I ate and drank junk all day.'
How did the challenge come about?
Well it was about 6 weeks ago (April ish), during one of the hot dry spells, that I was on the Roaches Skyline, doing my normal pottering thing, when I randomly decided that that particular session, I would do 50 solos and see how long it took. In the end it took something like an hour and half, which at the time I thought was quite good. It was then I planted the seed in my head that maybe I could do more, a lot more. I already knew that Tom and Pete had done 550 each on one of their stints a few years ago and if I was to be serious about having an actual go, I would obviously try to beat the current record. So first I reckoned that I would need a 15-16 hour day. 16 hours = 2 minutes per climb!! Depressingly if I got up an hour earlier, it would only give me 10 extra seconds per climb. Having a particularly hectic lifestyle, getting up even earlier than I already do would probably be the first crux of the day; as it goes I managed to successfully wake up at 4am.
What preparation did you do beforehand, both physical and logistical?
Well that’s more complicated than you think. So climbing several times a week, I concluded that I was already in a physically good condition, but the challenge would be more a test of endurance, so I reckoned it would pay dividends if I tried to put on a little weight, which I would loose on the actual day, but this would be my reserve fuel tank, I would tell myself. Actually, it was more of an excuse to eat lots. Apart from eating more, I would just make sure that I used every opportunity to go climbing and do lots of soloing. The beauty of soloing is that all you really need is a pair of boots and a chalk bag and you can rack up quite a lot of mileage in a relatively short space of time (handy for someone with a hectic lifestyle). Also having short sessions soloing meant I could start doing lap times and see what averages I was pulling at, climbing at as many venues as I could. That way I could build up a list of venues that would suit the challenge day, plus a couple of bonus crags in case I failed at others. The other technical parts (if you can call it that), were choosing crags that are relatively low in height, plus well within my comfort zone along with having a high concentration of easy climbs at one place, with short walk ins, all with the aim of keeping times low. The final part was choosing the day to do it and I chose the day I did it, purely because it felt all the stars had lined up for that day, weather, conditions and it was one of the longest days of daylight.
Which crags did you visit, and how did you travel between them?
Well I chose wisely and had a particular order with my choice of crags, they were:
Birchen edge (the longest walk in, but at the very start of the day, when I would be most psyched)
Brassington (Rainster Rocks)
As the big day got closer, it became more apparent I would likely be doing the challenge mostly on my own, so I drove myself between crags.
How did you manage food and drink throughout the day?
This was the simplest part of the challenge. The plan was to eat my own body weight in sugar and scotch eggs and more importantly drink lots and lots of fluids. Basically I ate and drank junk all day, which is normally my anti-Christ.
You had some people supporting you at times. Who were they?
I originally asked my usual partner in crime Andi Turner to come and join the fun, but sadly he couldn’t make it. However my brother and very strong climber Dom was keen, but he could only join me for the first leg of the journey, but being another Bridgwood early riser, he was keen as mustard, and wanted to beat his own personal best. He also set my psyche off in the right direction, particularly as at the first stop at Birchen Edge, It felt like the entire population of the world's midges had come to greet us. Along the way I bumped into other climbers, especially at the very busy Windgather. It seemed just as psyche was getting low I would bump into a familiar face that would spur me on. At The Newstones I bumped into Mike Hutton and Dave Hudson, both people I travel and climb with lots. Dave also saved my camera after I accidentally left it at the Newstones (probably the first sign of my mind giving in??). Luckily I caught up with him again at The Roaches to get it back.
Were there any scary moments or times when you thought it would all go wrong?
Well the scariest bits were at the start of the day at Birchens Edge. It was the only crag I had not visited on a previous week to do my “homework” on the best down climbs and where some of the obscure ones began and finished. Plus it must have rained the night previously as a lot of the holds were damp and the green parts were particularly slippy. As my bro Dom was with me on this part of the magical journey, we both said how our biceps were aching and shoulders sore, a sure sign we were pulling too hard, so fancier footwork was required, so as not to burn out too quickly. Yeah I did have a couple of moments, but one of the general rules was, if I spent more than several seconds contemplating, then it wasn’t worth it, luckily for a crag like Birchens, nearly all of the climbs are well within my onsight comfort zone, so I knew I could blag them if I had too, even in trainers. After Birchens, I knew most of the climbs at the other crags, and by time I got to my backyard (The Roaches) I was in auto pilot.
How long did it take you to do all 600 in total?
So I kept track of my times at each crag, as follows:
Birchen Edge – 3 hours – 181 routes completed
Harborough Rocks – 40 minutes – 51 routes completed
Brassington – 1 hour 3 minutes – 73 routes completed
Castle Naze - 45 minutes – 43 routes completed
Windgather – 1hr 15 minutes – 67 routes completed
Gib tor – 5 minutes – 2 routes completed
Newstones – 20 minutes – 20 routes completed
The Back forest – 25 minutes – 38 routes completed
Ramshaw – 50 minutes – 41 routes completed
The Roaches and Roaches Skyline - 1 hour 57 minutes – 84 routes completed
So roughly about 10 and half hours of actual climbing!
I started my watch when I started climbing at Birchen at 5:15am and I finished at 19:59pm, so I averaged my time at 1 minute 47 seconds per climb but if I were to include the time I set off in the morning, it would take my average to 1 minute 55 seconds (almost a 16 hour day). That’s if my poor maths is right. The whole day also included travel between crags. FULL ON!!!
I doubt you can list all 600 here - what were the hardest/most famous routes included?
A lot of the climbs I did were onsight solos, so I very quickly found some absolute beauties, such as 'Snail Buttress' and 'Nelsons Nemesis' both at Birchen and the odd one that never really gets done like 'The Overhang' at Brassington and 'The Snake' at The Newstones. I suppose without realising it, I was climbing continuous classics throughout.
How did you feel at the end of it?! Will you do it again to beat your time or do more climbs? (maybe have a rest first!)
I was totally exhausted, physically and mentally in equal proportions, I remember walking back to my car at the end of it, my legs and arms were becoming jellified, then I had an almighty sugar crash, all I wanted to do was to go home, eat lots of food and go bed. Originally I thought I’d finish in time to get to the pub for some grub, but now all I wanted to do was get home.
I’d probably do it again, but it would be nice to have someone to join the fun with me all day, or at least a driver. But climbing quickly and continuously for hours on end is a massive ask from anyone, after all, it’s a good few years’ worth of climbing packed into one day.
You did the Brown-Whillans Day Out with Andi. How did that compare?
It's strange because the Nose day is also physically and mentally exhausting, but the main difference was that we were placing gear. Yes it might have been spread out, but we still placed it and held each other's ropes. All this equals vital minutes gone, whereas soloing means you can just continue without stopping at all.
Have you got any more climbing challenges planned?
Well for now, I'm gonna go back to climbing in the mountains, boulder loads and clip some bolts over the summer, particularly at Beeston Tor, where I have a few projects I need to get done. Then as I always do, I'll be looking forward to the next grit season...
What's your advice for someone keen to do a similar challenge to this?
I'd definitely recommend this challenge to anyone who thinks they can take it on, and I hope someone does soon. Some tips I'd give are:
- Do your homework first, find out which crags suit the day and order them. Check out the start and finish of routes, climb them and find where the secret holds are, cruxes etc
- Plan your next moves as you're climbing, don’t stop to look up, just keep moving
- Eat loads of calories, and keep hydrated
- Give yourself a reality minute back at the car to gather your thoughts for your next move
This challenge could also be adapted, maybe 1000 solos in a weekend, it has been mentioned. Anyone up for it?
Watch a film featuring Pete climbing in Staffordshire below, Against the Grain: