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Wheel of Life 8C for Alex Barrows

© Ella Russell

Alex Barrows has climbed his first 8C, ticking The Wheel of Life at  Hollow Mountain Area bouldering in the Grampians, Australia. The problem is world-famous for its length of ~70 moves and was first climbed by Dai Koyamada in 2004 and originally graded 8C+.

Alex Barrows on The Wheel of Life 8C  © Ella Russell
Alex Barrows on The Wheel of Life 8C
© Ella Russell

The Wheel links Extreme Cool (7B+) into Sleepy Hollow (8A) into Cave Man (7C) into Dead Can't Dance (8A). 

Describing the problem, Alex told UKC:

"It's ~70 moves all told, so a long way removed from normal bouldering, but not quite route climbing either. It's long enough to make Pilgrimage at Parisella's look almost like a boulder problem though!"

Last April, Alex climbed his first 9a - Era Vella - at Margalef in Spain. As a climber with preferences for long, endurance-heavy routes with knee-bars, how did he think Era Vella compared to Wheel of Life?

"In terms of grade I think the concensus nowadays is 9a as a route grade, or 8B+ as a boulder grade; a bit harder if you don't use kneepads, but I sure as hell did! I thought it was probably lower end 9a, not that I'm particularly qualified to give an opinion compared to some of the previous ascentionists. The climbing is probably harder than that on Era Vella, but then it's a million times easier to work so it should be physically harder to earn a similar grade for the overall challenge. Anyway, it's not really about the grade with this thing, it's about it being The Wheel of Life and about it being awesome fun!"

Alex Barrows climbs his first 8C - Wheel of Life  © Ella Russell
Alex Barrows climbs his first 8C - Wheel of Life
© Ella Russell

Writing in his blog, Alex summed up his achievement as follows:

"The deep down contentment of doing a problem which I'd heard of for a decade but never dreamed I could ever climb until the last few years, and never expected to climb until the last few days, seems likely to stay around a little while... at least until I find the next project anyway!"

Having finished his PhD, Alex is now away on a long trip with girlfriend Ella until November - visiting Australia, South Africa and America. 

Read more about The Wheel on Alex's blog.


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Alex Barrows started climbing at 17 and has become famous for his hard sport climbing and bouldering ascents, including Era Vella 9a and The Wheel of Life 8C. He is also well known for his dedication to training and knee...

Alex's Athlete Page 7 posts


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6 Jun, 2016
Massive climber, massive news
6 Jun, 2016
No diss to Barrows as this is undoubtedly a great tick, but why has it been reported as being his first 8C when Alex states that the consensus grade is now 8B+ with knee bars?
6 Jun, 2016
Good Effs Barrows!
6 Jun, 2016
Everyone knows wheel of life, and honestly I don't think anyone cares about the grade of the thing anymore. I has become one of those ungradeable pieces of rock that gets anything from 8B+ - 8C+ or 8c - 9a+ depending on who you are talking to and whether they have had a pleasing bowel movement that day. When it comes to the grading of it, the '8C' quote could be overlooked in favour of the grade breakdown of the route/problem/kneebar-fest, which is orders of magnitude more informative imo! Climbing 7B+ > 8A > 7C > 8A is f*cking bananas, and I dont think Alex is going to claim the 8C grade (not that it would be wrong of him to). My opinion as a comparative weakling.
6 Jun, 2016
I agree, I'm sure its a difficult thing to slap a number on, and the breakdown is useful and perhaps more impressive than simply saying 8B+ or whatever. However despite how difficult it might be to grade, Alex has offered a grade which he describes as the consensus - and that grade is 8B+. I'm not a great follower of Wheelbarrows' activity or of elite bouldering in general, but I do know that Alex has a pedigree of using knee bars and pads on hard stuff (something that I fully support) and proffering sensible alternative grades for ascents made in such a way. To report these ascents with the original higher grade is disingenuous and will only add fuel to the fire of the anti-kneepadders, which can only serve to hold back the future of hard climbing. 8B+ or 8C, it's still a fantastic achievement for Alex and he's clearly very satisfied with the climb, regardless of what grade others choose to cite. As such this is not having a dig at him, moreover a plea to UKC to make their reporting a little more honest.
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