The Dark Side by Alex Moore and Tim Blake

Alex Moore and Tim Blake recently climbed Andy Earl's The Dark Side on the North Wall of Back Bowden Doors, with pads. The pair have taken a highball grade of 7C+ rather than the E9 7b trad grade.

Alex Moore on The Dark Side.
© Mark Savage Photography

Alex told UKC:

'I've no doubt that these ascents will spark a discussion about grades, so here's my interpretation. Tim and I climbed The Dark Side using pads, ground up. We approached this as a highball, for which I have always used the Font grading system, and we believe the climbing was on par with other 7C+s we have climbed.'

The pair felt that the number of pads nullified much of the danger involved in the climb and therefore the previous given grade of E9 7b did not feel appropriate for this ascent. Alex commented:

'We're not looking for high E grades, we're looking for longer climbs of outstanding quality and difficult moves in relative safety; The Dark Side delivered. Why have two good moves when you could have ten? Highball problems are the perfect answer.'

Alex Moore cuts loose on The Dark Side.
© Mark Savage Photography

He explained:

'Highballing has the potential to be more dangerous than bouldering and therefore requires a certain set of skills to control that danger - that said, this danger is considered and controlled before any climbing takes place, rather than while climbing, as on a trad route. Lots of routes are now considered highballs such as The Promise, Samson and County Ethics, and now we have seen problems of similar height being put up in this style including Panic Attack, Empty The Bones Of You 8A+ and Sign of the Devil 7C+.'

Alex on Sign of The Devil.
© Mark Savage Photography

He added:

'People highballing old routes isn't new, this is the age of the bouldering pad, and like the Manic Street Peaches said, resistance is futile.'

Tim told UKC:

'It definitely made sense to do it as a highball ground up. Obviously, Dan Varian did it ground up as a route a while back. Then, Robbie Phillips headpointed it a load then highballed it. The next natural step was to do it as a highball ground up. The problem is only a couple of metres higher than County Ethics really, but it feels a lot bigger when you're on it. The top-out is at around 11 metres, but the climbing eases off by then.

Tim Blake highballing The Dark Side.
© Mark Savage Photography

'This was part of the reason that we gave it a boulder grade. I think County Ethics is generally considered 7C nowadays, and The Dark Side is a tad harder and higher so 7C+ seemed like the right grade to give it. I absolutely love the climbing in Northumberland and some of the trad is amazing but surely you can't get a 12m E9 7b even if the climbing is nails?'

Alex and Tim have been prolific highballers of late. Tim told UKC: 'Alex completed the Howlerhirst project Sign of the Devil which Dan and I had also been trying. We were in right state of mind for the climb and were all pretty psyched for something hard and high.'

Tim Blake high above the mats on The Dark Side.
© Mark Savage Photography

Commenting on The Dark Side, Tim added:

'I think it's important that Alex and I haven't taken E9 for this. We climbed a highball and I think it would be pretty unfair to take E9 compared to some mountain trad routes of the same grade. We thought 7C+ was the appropriate grade.'

On the same evening, the pair ticked:

The Dark Side 7C+ ground up - Tim and Alex

County Ethics 7C ground up - Alex

Peak Technique E6 6b - onsighted by Dan Varian and headpointed by Alex (also above pads)

Dan also on-sighted Merlin E5 6a

Read Franco Cookson's UKC Guide to Highballing.

Forums 35 comments

If you look at the first picture in the article, there is a gap in the pad set-up big enough to cradle a baby!  I guess their approach to safety is 'throw pads down and get to work'. :)  I suspect that is more a...
 Keep up! The E8 was Font 6b+, it was the E10 that was Font 7a. The E9 was always font 7C+. There was also another font 7C+ which was as high but with a worse landing but that was never worthy of an E grade! Hope...
Interesting fuel to the grade debate. I'd be interested to know more about how they approach making a highball 'safe'   I assume that there's an element of getting hold of as many pads as you can. How many did they...
I remember positioning a rucksack with a coat stuffed in it over a rock under Transformer or similar at Bowden in 1982/3 and wondering of people would consider it cheating.    Times have changed...thankfully!
Andy had pre inspected Dark Side and took one cam of the appropriate size however on the actual ascent he changed his sequence and found that he could'nt place it where he expected so he just rammed the poor cam into...
What's really impressive about this is not that they highballed it, but that they did it ground up. It is way, way more difficult in this style and way more scary (even with a lot of pads). Even if the top is OK, if...

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