Hard Kilnsey First Ascent by Alex Barrows

© Alex Barrows

Alex Barrows has made the first ascent of a new line bolted by Neil Gresham at Kilnsey, which he has named Preposterous Tales. Alex is unsure of the grade, but estimates it to be somewhere between 8c and 9a+. The route follows Epic Adventures 8c almost to the end, before heading rightwards and finishing at the shared chains of Freakshow, Premonition, Guns in the Sky and Mandela.

Alex on Preposterous Tales.  © Alex Barrows
Alex on Preposterous Tales.
© Alex Barrows

Alex told UKC:

'The line is a bit traversey but makes total sense when you're on it. It follows the obvious line of holds and the good quality rock. The new climbing is all natural too - no sika, and really nice holds that are friendly for both skin and injury-prone fingers.'

Kilnsey's famously steep roof has been developed in recent years by Neil Gresham, who added Freakshow 8c in 2015 and Ally Smith, who bolted and climbed a new 8c named The Pirate in 2018. Neil then bolted another new linking line higher in the roof. He spent time cleaning mud from his new roof project and working the moves, but struggled to find a way through the crux. When Alex enquired about potential projects in Kilnsey's roof, Neil passed on the beta about his latest line, calling it 'the crown jewels.'

Kilnsey roof topo.  © Alex Barrows
Kilnsey roof topo.
© Alex Barrows

Last summer, Alex invested about ten days into the route, 'cleaning, swinging around in circles… feet first or feet follow… slowly grinding down the options, drying wet holds and finally piecing sections together.'

The crux lies in the new ground between Epic Adventures and the shared chains in the middle of the roof. Alex described the climbing as follows:

'First up there's a cool drop-in move that feels a bit improbable at first, but is OK once you get it dialled. I think to here it is probably something like a hard 8c, and then you're into the main crux which is quite locky, static climbing with some physical cross-throughs on decent holds. After this, you get to a jug and your first real rest in a while. That whole top break felt pretty sustained to me, and comes straight off the back of the Epic Adventures crux.'

Here, Alex - true to his kneebar-loving nature - spun around and used an upside-down kneebar to recover. 'I got a pretty pumped head though!' he said. 'Those without a generous "shindex" will probably just have to shake out on a heel or investigate a bat-hang. Then there's a final little boulder to turn the lip - easy when fresh but could be dropable when pumped!'

Regarding the difficulty, Alex is unwilling to commit to a number just yet. He said:

'I'm confident in saying it's too hard for 8c and can't imagine it's 9a+, but beyond that level of precision I'm a bit lost, especially as it's a little while since I did something of this kind of difficulty. In some ways it suits my style really well (pumpy, thuggy, good holds) but in other ways it doesn't (high feet, quite basic moves), so who knows how hard it will feel to others!'

Having struggled with finger issues for much of the last year, the finger-friendly holds gave Alex something to dream of when his head was 'in a really crappy place.' Alex also praised the quality and unique style of the line. He added:

'It's a real pleasure to climb on, particularly for someone like me who likes long, steep, physical, pumpy routes. There's not much of that style in the UK, especially at this level of difficulty, so it feels like a treat!'

Preposterous Tales is the name of Neil Gresham and Tim Emmett's book, which was an inspiration to Alex in his early climbing years. 


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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 8 posts

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11 May

"Started climbing at 17" - is this right? I haven't managed to get my 7 year olds interested yet but sounds like there's still time (and yes, I know they could still have a lot of fun even if they *don't* climb 9a...)

11 May

Yeah, I started in 6th form. I was lucky enough that my school had a small climbing wall in its sports hall. Started as a tradder (lots of going soloing down Avon because the gorge was a shorter walk than the indoor wall) and gradually ended up getting more into sport and bouldering as I got more and more obsessed. I'm definitely not one from the "been good and on the GB team since they were a kid" camp! I reckon your 7 year olds have still got plenty of potential to be 9b (or c!) crushers if they want to be ;)

12 May

Nice to see some of Neil's visionary projects getting ticked off. Nice work Alex.

Nice one Alex! Really awesome to see you getting such a prize line on a UK crag. For a moment there I thought you were a muppet for naming it after a Pembroke cave of slime, then felt bad when I remembered the day you got that book! Tim’s lecture was legendary.

13 May

That lecture was awesome, that and the climbing club definitely helped change the course of my life - thanks!! :)

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