UKC

2020 - A Year of Climbing News

2020 will be a year that most will hastily forget, with COVID-19 overshadowing the majority of the year. With much of the UK locked down throughout 2020, it's a wonder that we have much to reflect upon at all in our annual roundup.

Or was there a new sense of appreciation in the times when we were climbing, a rush to make the most of the time we did have? There was certainly a newfound respect for areas on our doorstep, ones that we had taken for granted over the years.

Climbers dusted off the fingerboards, built training areas and maintained their strength, refusing to lie dormant until we were once again set free. We struggled as a collective to rationalise whether or not we should even continue to climb outdoors, and to an extent, we're still asking those questions.

We approach next year with cautious optimism; things can only get better, right? Perhaps memories made at the crag or in the mountains will feel more special next year and those that made sacrifices last year will return to climbing reinvigorated.

February - Will Bosi ticked his first 9b

The start of the year was an impressive time for Brits climbing abroad. Will Bosi kickstarted his year with a swift ascent of his first 9b - La Capella in Siurana, Spain. The route was bolted in the '90s but it wasn't until 2011 until Adam Ondra made the 1st ascent.

Will's previous hardest was 9a with ascents of Rainshadow at Malham, Hubble at Raven Tor and Hunger at the Anvil. His ascent made him the 2nd Brit to climb 9b and the first to climb the grade abroad.

February - Hampi homes and businesses were demolished

The fate of Hampi Island was finally decided after a decade of court cases and uncertainty. The Indian Supreme Court ruled that all accommodation and restaurants were to be demolished; a massive blow to the community and families who had lived in the area for generations.

Whilst the boulders in Karnataka are seemingly endless, it will take many years for another Hampi equivalent to develop. Climbers had been visiting the area for decades and are the local business owners who rely on them now face a dismal task of creating new guesthouses, infrastructure and hoping people still want to visit.

February - Eliot Stephens climbs From Dirt Grows the Flowers (Font 8C)

Eliot Stephens continued his 2019 run of form into the new year and ticked the Dave Graham classic From Dirt Grows the Flowers in Ticino, Switzerland. He described the problem as 'world-class' with a reputation for being hard. A combination of this and the fact that it was part of the original wave of iconic Dave Graham problems are what inspired Eliot.

March - Supercrackinette (9a+) for Julia Chanourdie

French climber Julia Chanourdie became the fourth woman to climb 9a+ or harder when she redpointed Supercrackinette at  Saint Léger, France. The route was an old project bolted by Quentin Chastagnier. Alex Megos made the first ascent in 2016 and the route became the first 9a+ to be flashed with Adam Ondra's historic ascent in 2018.

Margo Hayes was the first woman to redpoint the grade in 2017 with her ascent of La Rambla Extension and then Anak Verhoeven the second when she made the first ascent of Sweet Neuf in the same year. Angy Eiter skipped a grade and made the first female ascent of a 9b when she climbed La Planta de Shiva, again in 2017.

New Font 8B+ in South Wales for Eliot Stephens

Once back from his trip to Switzerland, Eliot made the first ascent of a new Font 8B+ at  Neath Abbey Quarry in South Wales. The problem, which he named Húsafell, links together an 8A+ and a 7B+ making the crux linking the two together. It took Eliot around four sessions to complete, not including the time spent on the two individual problems.

March - The Boss (Font 8B+) for Ned Feehally

Ned Feehally made the first ascent of what is likely to be one of the hardest climbs on grit, The Boss (Font 8B+), named after the late John Allen. Ned spent two seasons working the 'squeezy' and sustained problem, which boasts ten moves and includes a mixture of heel and toe hooks, core intensive foot movements, fridge hugging and crimping.

The problem is ten moves long and gives very little time to readjust on holds  © Nick Brown - UKC
The problem is ten moves long and gives very little time to readjust on holds
© Nick Brown - UKC

Later in the year, Geordie dark horse Micky Page nipped in for a swift second ascent, taking just a couple of sessions to repeat the problem.

Covid-19 sweeps across the world

Throughout March, it became increasingly clear that the pace of COVID-19 was increasing and drastic changes to our lifestyles as climbers were needed.

At the beginning of March, Tibet and Nepal closed their respective sides of Everest on the same day the World Health Organisation upgraded the disease to pandemic status. The decision was obviously a major cause for concern for Sherpas who depend on the expedition season.

The IFSC postponed upcoming competitions including the European Championships in Moscow, where some of the final Olympic places were up for grabs.

On March 16th, we published an opinion piece by Levi Yant (M.Sc. (Virology), PhD (Genetics)) who argued that we needed to immediately stop using climbing walls to halt the spread of the Coronavirus. At the time, public awareness was still catching up with the spread of the virus, but epidemiologists had been ringing alarm bells for weeks. The spread of COVID in the UK was progressing exponentially.

On March 23rd, UKClimbing and UKHillwalking made a decision to ask climbers and hillwalkers to stop climbing outdoors. At this point, we believed it was socially irresponsible to avoid taking a stance and wanted to take a lead in the outdoor industry when climbers and outdoor users desperately needed guidance.

We wrote: 'Our position at UKClimbing is now clear, we no longer think it is socially responsible to go climbing on outdoor crags. The activity is certain to bring people into contact with others away from their own domestic group, which is precisely what we are being advised not to do. There is a risk of passing the virus from hand to hold to hand. There is also the risk of accident at a time where we really need to reduce the burden on the NHS. Even if you think you can isolate and climb safely, recent events have shown us that the cumulative effect of lots of people doing that results in places being swamped.'

We also took the decision to suspend the ability to log climbs, stopped the list of Top Ascents, conditions reports and halted reported news.

April - Joe Brown passed away aged 89

Climbing and Mountaineering legend Joe Brown sadly passed away at his home in Llanberis, aged 89. Joe was a true pioneer of rock climbing and was most active in the 1950s and 1960s. His ascents were as varied in style as they were in location and ranged from the gritstone outcrops of the Peak District, to 8000m peaks in the Himalaya.

Joe Brown  © Geoff Birtles
Joe Brown
© Geoff Birtles

May - Mélissa le Nevé climbed Action Directe

French climber Mélissa le Nevé ticked Wolfgang Güllich's Action Directe (9a) in Frankenjura, Germany. It was the first female ascent of the famous route and had been a long-term goal for le Nevé, taking her six years in total. The first hard move on the route, a jump to a pocket, often stumps shorter climbers but this certainly didn't deter le Nevé.

May - Multiple hard problems for Brooke Raboutou and Alex Puccio

American climbers Brooke Raboutou and Alex Puccio emerged from lockdown with steely fingers and unrivalled motivation and both quickly got to work ticking some of the hardest problems in Rocky Mountain National Park. At Coal Creek Canyon, near Boulder, Raboutou ticked her first Font 8B+ with an ascent of Daniel Woods' Muscle Car, whilst Puccio climbed a 'super low' start to Chimichanga (8B+), along with three other Font 8Bs.

Later in the year in Upper Chaos Canyon, Raboutou added to her burgeoning by ticking the classic crimpfest Jade (Font 8B+) and the problem Two Ton Skeleton (Font 8B+).

May - Oriane Bertone ticks Font 8C

15-year-old French climber Oriane Bertone climbed her first Font 8C with an ascent of Satan I Helvete Low in Fontainebleau. It was the first ascent of the problem after a hold broke in 2013 which substantially increased the difficulty. Bertone climbed her first 8B+ when she was just twelve and has been consolidating the high 8s ever since. She has climbed several 8B's in Rocklands and Fontainebleau.

May - John Allen Tragically Killed

Gritstone legend John Allen sadly died after a climbing accident at Stoney West. His influence on gritstone climbing went on to define the bold gritstone era of the '70s & '80s. He was truly one of the greats of British climbing and his legacy on gritstone is peerless.

June - Laura Rogora Repeats Pure Dreaming (9a+)

19-year-old Laura Rogora ticked her first 9a+ in what was to become an incredible year for the Italian climber. She redpointed Adam Ondra's Pure Dreaming Plus which was the route's 2nd ascent. She was only the 5th woman to climb the grade.

In August, Rogora won the Lead World Cup in Briançon and just a day later ticked a 9a on her 3rd attempt. We can expect big things from her in the future; she is already one of the most accomplished female sport climber in the world and we'll see her compete on the world stage in next year's Tokyo Olympics.

June - French Rising Star Luce Douady dies in Crag Fall

16-year-old World Youth Champion and European Boulder Cup winner Luce Douady tragically died after slipping on a path between two sectors at her local crag, St Pancrasse, near Grenoble. Luce made finals in her first ever IFSC Boulder World Cup in Vail in 2019 and placed 3rd in the European Lead Championships.

Sadly Luce didn't get the opportunity to build on her senior IFSC career in 2020 due to COVID-19 cancellations and postponements, but she turned her attention to hard sport climbing as a result. She climbed her first 8b+ at St Pancrasse this spring and was coming close to making the first female ascent of Mister Hyde 8c+ at Céüse in the weeks before her death. Luce's trajectory seemed to be putting her in good stead for Paris 2024, and her death was a major loss to the climbing community. Tributes remarked on the energy and positivity that she brought to IFSC events, and the Briançon World Cup provided the first opportunity for a collective remembrance.

June - Adam Ondra returned to local bouldering

Adam Ondra returned to some neglected local areas in the Czech Republic and added some of the hardest problems in the world, in terms of grade. First, he added a Font 8C+ named Brutal Rider which linked an 8B into an existing 8C. Then later in the month, he added Ledoborec, another 8C+ and another limestone linkup. It was a pleasure to see that his tenacious thirst for new, hard climbs led him to a damp and dismal limestone cave like the rest of us...

June - Limestone Problems for Will Bosi

Over the summer months, Will Bosi went on a limestone rampage and ticked most of the hardest problems on the rock type in the Peak District. He started with a rapid (four attempts) ascent of Dan Varian's Bewilderness (Font 8B+) at Badger Cove, before ticking Tomahawk (Font 8B+) at Impossible Roof in 25 degree heat and the followed this up with a rare ascent of Ben Moon's Superman Sit Start (Font 8B+) at Cressbrook.

Watching as many videos as possible gave him a mental advantage  © Band of Birds
Watching as many videos as possible gave him a mental advantage
© Band of Birds

Further north at Trowbarrow, he flashed the stern Isla de Encanta (Font 8B), joining the ranks of a small number of Brits to have flashed the grade.

June - James Squire climbs a new Font 8C

James Squire added a new Font 8C to Biblins Cave in Gloucestershire. He named the problem Ambition and it was the second 8C he has added to the Cave, the first being The World is Yours in 2018.

June & September - Hazel Findlay climbed the Quarryman (E8 7a) & Mission Impossible (E9 7a)

Hazel Findlay had a couple of big months in North Wales ticking both The Quarryman (E8 7a) and Mission Impossible (E9 7a). Due to the heavy restrictions in Wales, Hazel and her partner Angus Kille were looking for projects closer to home. Hazel made short work of Johnny Dawes' slate masterpiece, pulling moves out of the bag that a taller person wouldn't dream of.

Hazel had attempted Mission Impossible the previous year and linked most of the hard climbing after two sessions. She described the route to UKC: 'It's super steep, with technical climbing. You need a good level of power endurance as there are no good places to rest once you get stuck into the crux.'

Despite battling with an injured shoulder, Hazel ticked the route off, power screaming through the crux. Angus described her ascent as 'some of the best climbing' he's seen.

July & August - Font 8C+s for Drew Ruana

American climber Drew Ruana ticked two Rocky Mountain National Park 8C+s over the summer. He started with the second ascent of Daniel Woods' Box Therapy at Box Lake. This equalled the 21-year-old's previous best, who had previously made an ascent of Sleepwalker in Red Rocks, Nevada.

In August, Ruana climbed another of Woods' 8C+s with an ascent of Creature from the Black Lagoon. Ruana's impressive sweep of hard problems came after he turned his attention from Olympic qualification to outdoor climbing.

August - The Women's Cuillin Ridge Record was broken

On a horrendously hot day in August, Kelli Roberts broke the women's fastest known time on the Cuillin Ridge Traverse. The Ambleside-based British Fell Running Champion combined her climbing skills to complete the ridge in a time of 5:56:46.

The Cuillin Ridge seen from Sgurr na Stri  © Nick Brown - UKC
The Cuillin Ridge seen from Sgurr na Stri
© Nick Brown - UKC

Despite her incredible time, Kelli saw it as a learning process and wants to have another bash - next time setting off earlier and taking more water!

August - Megos climbed his 9c mega project

News spread in August that Alex Megos had ticked his long-term project at Ceuse. The time he spent on it and the grade was widely speculated upon until the man himself confirmed that the project took him 60 days, a great deal of specific training and that he believed it to be the world's second 9c. He named the route Bibliographie.

Comparisons were made between Bibliographie and Adam Ondra's Silence which the man himself was quick to downplay, saying: 'First of all I want to say that you can't really compare Silence to Bibliographie in my eyes since they are two absolutely different styles of climbing - it's like comparing competition bouldering and outside. I think most people would probably favour the style of Bibliographie just because it is more straightforward and more what we climbers are used to, so I hope that'll make a few people try it.'

Either way, it's one of the hardest routes in the world and has since been contextualised by Ondra's recent attempts to tick Megos' Perfecto Mundo (9b+) at Margalef.

Alex's efforts were documented for the film below:

September - James Squire ticked Power of Now (Font 8C) in a session

Southern crusher James Squire climbed Giuliano Cameroni's Power of Now (Font 8C) in Magic Wood. His ascent was outrageously fast and he completed the 60-degree roof in just a single session. Knowing that the problem was likely to suit him, he prepared for the problem by memorising Cameroni's beta and managed to surprise himself when stood on top of the boulder after just over an hour.

Aidan Roberts reached top form

Perhaps one of the best ongoing stories from this year was Aidan Roberts finding his true form. The 22-year-old kicked off his post-lockdown rampage by making a rare ascent of Trowbarrow's Shallow Groove and shortly after adding a new Font 8C which he named Outliers.

The following month, he ticked Dan Varian's Peak Limestone testpieces at Badger Cove in a session, including Dandelion Mind (Font 8B), Bewilderness (Font 8B+) and Badger Badger Badger (Font 8A). A day later he ticked Ben Moon's Superman Sit Start (Font 8B+) at Cressbrook in a session - a problem that's seen very ascents in its long history.

Perhaps his crowning achievement for the year was his ascent of Superpower, a long term project that he graded Font 8C/+. It's certainly the hardest problem in the country of its style - basic crimp pulling requiring a great deal of body tension.

May - September - The Lakes Classic Rock Round Saga

Will Birkett and Tom Randall spent most of the summer trading the Lakes Classic Rock Record; a round which involves 34 miles of running between the 15 multipitch Classic Rock routes. The pair entered into a friendly rivalry after Tom beat Will and Callum Coldwell-Storry's record of 12 hours and 54 minutes. Three weeks later, Lake District local Will returned and bettered Tom's record of 12 hours 2 minutes and 36 seconds taking 12.5 minutes off the time.

Finally, in an outrageous weekend, Tom returned and clocked a time of 11 hours and 10 minutes, saying things went much smoother for him and his relative fitness levels were now much higher. The twist in the tale came when Will unexpectedly returned and once again took the record for himself, taking a staggering 10 hours and 41 minutes.

Will Birkett & Callum Coldwell-Storry (May 2020) 12 hours 54 mins
Tom Randall (Aug 2020) 12 hours 2 mins
Will Birkett (Aug 2020) 11 hours 50 mins
Tom Randall (Sept 2020) 11 hours 10 mins
Will Birkett (Sept 2020) 10 hours 41 mins

September - Second ascent of Change (9b+) for Stefano Ghisolfi

In September, Italian climber Stefano Ghisolfi made the second ascent of Adam Ondra's Change (9b+) in the Hanshelleren Cave at Flatanger, Norway. It took Ghisolfi over an hour to climb the 55m route that Ondra climbed in 2012. Change was Ghisolfi's 2nd 9b+ after his ascent of Perfecto Mundo in 2018.

September - New Lake District E10 for Neil Gresham

Kendal-based Neil Gresham completed his three-year project on Iron Crag which takes on the headwall above Dave Birkett's If 6 was 9. A delighted Neil named the route Final Score and graded it E10 7a, his first climb of the grade since his ascent of Equilibrium in 2002.

October - James Pearson climbs Tribe

James Pearson made the second ascent of Jacopo Larcher's Tribe at Cadarese, Italy. The route is widely considered to be the hardest trad route in the world and whilst Larcher declined to grade the route, it's thought to be somewhere in the 9a region.

James spent days working the moves and honing his sequence before eventually climbing the route on his seventh attempt, believing it to be the hardest route he had climbed.

James Pearson high on Tribe.  © Caroline Ciavaldini
James Pearson high on Tribe.
© Caroline Ciavaldini

James adds Tribe to a long list of hard trad ascents including Rhapsody E11 7a at Dumbarton Rock (2014), Equilibrium E10 7a (2005) at Burbage South and a ground-up ascent of Muy Caliente E10 6c in Pembroke (2011).

First ascent of K6 Central (7,155m) and third ascent of K6 West (7,140m) by Jeff and Priti Wright

US husband-and-wife team Jeff and Priti Wright returned from Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan with an alpine-style first ascent of K6 Central (7,155m) and the third ascent of K6 West (7,140m) in hand, as the media scrambled to find out more about these dark horses who had managed to bag a double ascent on their first trip to the Greater Ranges.

Colin Haley - who had shared Base Camp logistics with the pair during his own solo expedition - praised their ascents and their meticulous approach to preparation and logistics. On their partnership, they told UKC:

'Basic climbing partner skills play a much more important role than our relationship dynamic, which perhaps is only a benefit when we're in a bivvy sac together!'

October and November - Mat Wright ticks Hubble (9a) and Serenata (Font 8C)

22-year-old Mat Wright came on leaps and bounds with two impressive ascents. In October, he repeated Ben Moon's 1990 testpiece Hubble (9a) at Raven Tor. He invested a substantial amount of time into the route which took him around 25 sessions.

In November, he switched to bouldering and ticked Mike Adams' Serenata (Font 8C) at Impossible Roof which was his first of the grade.

November - Julia Chanourdie climbs 9b

In early November, French climber Julia Chanourdie climbed her first 9b, becoming only the 3rd woman to reach the grade. She climbed Eagle 4 at Saint Léger.

In 2017, Angela Eiter became the first woman to climb the grade with an ascent of La Planta de Shiva and then earlier in 2020, Laura Rogora redpointed Ali Hulk Sit Start Extension Total.

November - Molly Thompson-Smith takes bronze at European Lead Championships

At the end of November, all eyes were on Moscow and the European Lead Championships. Brits Molly Thompson-Smith and Will Bosi were in attendance, hoping to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

In Lead, Molly was able to clinch a bronze medal - her second senior podium after her 3rd place in the IFSC World Cup Kranj in 2017. Unfortunately, the pair weren't able to qualify for the Olympics, but let's hope both of them are eying up Paris in 2024.

November - Hamish MacInnes died aged 90

Scottish climber, inventor and mountain safety pioneer Hamish MacInnes died aged 90 at his Highland home in Glencoe.

MacInnes climbed the Matterhorn as a teenager, and later joined Chris Bonington's Everest expedition in 1975.

Alongside his climbing endeavours, MacInnes was a keen inventor and played a pivotal role in organising and optimising mountain rescue. He is credited with inventing the first all-metal ice axe and a lightweight stretcher that is widely used around the world today.

December - Doug Scott died aged 79

Mountaineering and climbing legend Doug Scott died at the age of 79 after a battle with cancer. His climbing career spanned six decades and included the first British ascent of the South-West face of Everest alongside Dougal Haston, where they spent a night bivvying 100m below the summit.

Doug Scott at the Climbers' Club dinner in 2009  © Mick Ryan
Doug Scott at the Climbers' Club dinner in 2009
© Mick Ryan

In 1977, Scott and Chris Bonington made an ascent of Baintha Brakk (7285m), better known as The Ogre, in the Pakistan Karakorum. On the descent, Scott broke both his legs and one of the great mountaineering tales of survival ensued where it took the pair 8 days to get to safety. Scott wrote about the epic in his book The Ogre, widely considered to be one of the greatest adventure stories.

December - Rainshadow Ascents

Both 15-year-old Toby Roberts and 16-year-old Josh Ibbertson made ascents of Rainshadow (9a) in December, the youngest British climbers to have climbed the grade.

At the start of the year, Toby was preparing for a competition season that never materialised and switched his attention to rock. He climbed Make It Funky 8c) at Raven Tor before starting to work on Rainshadow in October.

A week after Toby's ascent, Josh Ibbertson ticked the route after training hard on his board with his parents and brother. Rainshadow had inspired Josh ever since he watched Ben Moon climb it in 2015: 'It was the first 9a I'd ever seen done and was incredible to watch! I really hoped to do it one day but Raindogs was a big enough challenge for me at the time.'

December - Angela Eiter makes the first ascent of a 9b

Angela Eiter climbed her second 9b when she made the first ascent of Madame Ching near her home in Tyrol, Austria. Eiter was the first woman to climb the grade of 9b in 2017 with her ascent of La Planta de Shiva at Villaneuva del Roasario, southern Spain. Since then, only Laura Rogora and Julia Chanourdie have matched her effort.

December - Harder Faster E9 7a Third Repeat by James Pearson

James Pearson repeated Harder faster E9 7a at Black Rocks, becoming only the third person to tick the bold line after Charlie Woodburn and the late Toby Benham.


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Adam started climbing at about the same time he learned to walk. He hasn't stopped ever since.

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28 Dec, 2020

A bit premature.

28 Dec, 2020

I like the bit where it suggests there is a 98c at raven tor. Pretty certain the 9 is a typo?

31 Dec, 2020

Something isn't correct in that run down.

You have ned naming his problem in March after the late great John Allen but don't have his passing down until May.

Something needs sorting out me thinks or he named it later? If so may be worth mentioning that as it just felt a bit off?

Ned ended up naming the problem months later.

Nick

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