James McHaffie has become the first person to complete Ken Wilson and Bernard Newman's 'Extreme Rock' after many years spent ticking off the ~180 routes (UKC ticklist), redpointing his final climb on the list - Revelations 8b - at Raven Tor today (26 May).
Published in 1986, Extreme Rock was the last of the trilogy after Hard Rock and Classic Rock. It was also the least successful commercially, something which led to half of its print run being pulped and, to compound issues even further, the original printing plates being lost in a fire (or so it is said...). As a result, Extreme Rock never received a reprint or a second edition, meaning that the few copies that are available today - supposedly in/around the figure of 4000 - have become a collectors' item, with copies frequently fetching £250 or more.
Unlike Classic Rock and Hard Rock, which contain a relatively modest sum of routes (83 and 69 respectively) Extreme Rock has a whopping 180. As if this didn't make the challenge hard enough, it has a similarly huge spread of grades, which range from E1 - E9, plus a handful of sport routes ranging from 7b+ - 8b. The book features routes from across England, Scotland and Wales, with a vast range of rock types, styles and climbing environments: rhyolite, dolerite, quartzite, limestone, schist, slate, gneiss and gabbro; cracks, aretes, corners, walls, and overhangs; mountain crags, sea cliffs, and outcrops. To tick even a modest number of routes in the book, a climber has to have a wide range of skills. To tick them all is something that has never really seemed possible, not least because of the inclusion of one particular route…
Extreme Rock's infamous 'bogey route' is without doubt Indian Face. At E9 6c it requires absolute commitment, as the concequences of a fall are likely to be dire due to the route's distinct lack of protection.
Up until 2012 it had received barely a handful of ascents: the FA from Johnny Dawes in 1986, its second and third ascents by Nick Dixon and Neil Gresham in 1995, and its fourth by Dave MacLeod in 2010. In light of its lack of repeats there was an understandably limited gene pool of people who were capable of completing Extreme Rock.
Clearly each of its four ascentionists had the ability, but ability alone isn't going to get Extreme Rock ticked, as it requires a whole lot more - commitment, consistency, desire and dedication. While it is one thing to climb Indian Face, it is another altogether to have the motivation to continue on to complete the rest of the routes in the book, particularly as it contains a number of other hard and dangerous E7s including The Bells, The Bells…, Romantic Reality, Master's Edge and Beau Geste.
In 2013 this was all to change, when the Indian Face received three repeats in three days, first from Caff, then from Calum Muskett, and finally from George Ullrich. All of a sudden the number of people capable of climbing all the routes within the book had increased, but it was Caff that set to the task of actually doing them.
Ironically it was Indian Face's neighbouring - and supposedly easier cousin - Master's Wall, which caused him the most trouble. The blog he wrote - Masters Wall: Extreme Rock - is well worth reading, as it outlines his experiences from an attempt made during his youth, and goes on to question his more immediate motivations in the present day.
'What climbing Master's Wall meant in 2018 to me apart from changing UK climbing history was that I knew I could finish Extreme Rock, on paper at least.' - James McHaffie, UKC interview
What makes James' achievement all the more impressive was his attempt to tick everything, irrespective of whether or not it was reputed to have (or had actually) fallen down. Megaton and Thor on Skye are good instances of this, insofar as they were widely considered to have been subject to rockfall, but it now seems like they were just massively undergraded.
It was clear that Cafff wasn't going to be put off doing it properly, even if it required a whole lot of extra effort to get it done this way. Other routes such as Cougar on Creag an Dubh Loch and Controlled Burning on Lundy were less mysterious, insofar as it was well known that they had both had severe rockfall, but this didn't stop both being repeated, albeit at vastly different grades (Cougar - E3 to E5, Controlled Burning E3 to E6).
As if this weren't enough, ticking Extreme Rock hasn't been Caff's only project within recent years, as he's been all across the country climbing other routes along the way. Here is a very short list of some of those achievements:
- 100 Lakeland Extremes in a Day - Solo
- First Ascents: Moonrise Kingdom (E9), Skye; Dark Religion (E9), Dinas Mot
- Repeats: Divided Years (E8/9 - Ground Up), Ireland; The Walk of Life (E9) + Onceupon a Time in the South West (E9), Dyers Lookout; The Big Issue (E9)
- Sport: Meltdown (9a), North Wales Slate; Big Bang (9a), LPT
Congratulations to James for this incredible achievement.
James' sponsor DMM summed up today's ascent on Instagram:
'It all came down to a Font 7C crux stopping @caffinspain becoming the first person to complete the ultimate tick-list in British climbing—all 180 routes in the book Extreme Rock. A huge odyssey stretching from Land's End to the Outer Hebrides, and including routes of E9 and 8b.'
Read an interview with James about the challenge on the DMM website.