Charlie Woodburn recently headpointed Rare Lichen E9 6c at Clogwyn y Tarw (The Gribin Facet), Ogwen, North Wales. The bold arete was first climbed by Leo Houlding and includes technical, insecure climbing with micro wires for protection.
This is Charlie's first E9 for a while, adding this latest ascent to Harder Faster and Meshuga E9 6c at Black Rocks, The Walk of Life E9 6c and Once Upon a Time in the Southwest E9 6c at Dyer's Lookout and his first ascent of Something's Burning E9 7a at Stennis Ford in 2012. In 2014, Charlie grabbed the second ascent of Dave Birkett's Skye Wall E7/8 6b on Coir' Uisg Buttress, Isle of Skye (UKC News Report).
I caught up with Charlie to find out more about his ascent and to see what he's been up to in the past while...
What made you choose to try Rare Lichen?
It's been on my radar since Leo did the first ascent and I used to successfully annoy him by mispronouncing it "Rare Litchen." Generally if I'm gonna stick my neck out and do something bold I prefer it to be a first ascent or early repeat & Rare Lichen has had a bunch of ascents now so I wasn't really thinking about it, however I was in Wales working and over the bank holiday was looking for a climbing partner. Adam Lincoln was going up there with some others so I tagged along but it started pissing down before I even got my rock shoes on. Seeing the others on it got me psyched though and I went back a few days later on my own, shunted it, looked at the gear and felt it was doable. The next day my wife Gilly did Left Wall and we were all buzzing from that, so riding the crest of the wave I went back to send Rare Lichen after work the day after.
You mention it didn't feel especially hard for you - was this physically, mentally, or both? Can you compare it to other E9s you've done?
That makes it sound like I'm being blasé, but these things always feel easy when they go well. Often the experience is calmer and easier on the sharp end than you imagine it to be beforehand, and that was the case with this. The climbing on it isn't especially hard physically. The gear is all small RPs but they're all very good placements apart from one and the top piece is tricky to place on lead. I discovered an extra placement on the day I did it which suddenly made it feel way less bold than I had prepared for, so maybe that made it feel easier than I was expecting.
The other E9s I've done in recent years have all been more physical. The slab E9s at Dyer's Lookout are completely different with tonnes of gear placements over 50m of techy climbing - a real journey! But after the bold starts you can fall off them.
Rare Lichen reminds me more of the bolder routes from years ago Meshuga & Harder Faster, i.e. easier climbing but with very bad fall consequences. It's just that this one has better gear and easier moves that are more secure.
I heard a famous American guy helped you with a split tip before the climb. What was his advice?!
I completely slashed my tip and palm on my right hand whilst doing the jump on the 3rd pitch of Wonderful World of Walt Disney on the slate. It was really hosing blood everywhere and I had written off any kind of climbing putting pressure on my tips. I was hanging out in the evenings with Adam Wainwright and Sophie in Llanberis and Alex Honnold was dossing there at the time. In between epic Lego playing sessions he told me that taping your tips using super glue is very effective. I've tried taping my tips and I've tried super gluing in the past and neither are effective. But it turns out super gluing the tape around your tip in a thin strip is amazingly good. I completely forgot I had it taped and was crimping away no problem. Apparently lots of Americans do it because they don't have enforced rest days due to bad weather when their skin can grow back. So it's common to tape up and push on!
You mention it's your first E9 in a while. What have you been up to in the meantime?
Trying to sport climb harder. Onsighting more. Dealing with chronic health issues and generally being too scared to climb bold routes.
You recently repeated Scallop E7 at Armathwaite - a bold slab solo/highball. Tell us a bit about that!
It's a route I tried last year initially. I had hoped to do it for Dom Bush's film Eden but my arthritis had a bit of a flare up and I chickened out due to the deck out potential. Pete Gunn the 1st ascentionist stepped in and did the honours instead. He cruised it and got me psyched. So this year I wanted to finish it off. I'd been clipping a lot of bolts over the previous few months and it was getting a bit repetitive so a friction slab with fancy footwork seemed just the ticket. (watch a video about Scallop here.)
Have you got your sights set on something harder in the near future?
There's always stuff on the list. And we all want to climb harder don't we? Let's hope this great weather continues!