Gary Gibson climbs his 5000th First Ascent

© Gary Gibson

Prolific new-router Gary Gibson recently climbed his 5,000th new route — an impressive achievement following a period of ill health. A keen route-logger with his own database of climbs and first ascents, Gary reckons he has climbed around 17,600 routes in total so far in his career. 

Gary Gibson delighted after his 5000th new route.
© Nick Taylor

'Reaching the magic number of 5,000 was something I never thought I'd achieve, especially with my current health complications,' Gary told UKC. 'I had to have an operation on a trapped ulnar and median nerve in my right arm, which hasn't been successful. Then it was compounded by having a blood clot in the right side of my brain, a stroke in other words, which means I have no sensation in either hand!'

Number 5000 came at Harpur Hill - a regular haunt for Gary - with an ascent of On the Stroke of 5000 (6a+) 6a. 'A good friend of mine, John Perry, who was there at the time said: "That was probably the hardest '6a' you have ever climbed," Gary commented. 

Gary leading 'On the Stroke of 5000'.
© Nick Taylor

Gary began new-routing in October 1977, and counts many trad routes among the bolted lines that he is arguably more known for of late, notably Always the Sun E7 6c and Boat to Naxos E7 6b in Pembroke, and A Widespread Ocean of Fear (E5 6a) E5 6a and Watching the Ocean (E6 6a) E6 6a on Lundy.

'The first route I placed a bolt in was Multiplex at Chee Dale in December 1980,' he said. 'But the first true sport route I bolted was Clarion Call in Chee Dale in August 1983, as my attitude was - with people like Ron (Fawcett) and others putting in minimalist bolt routes - why not go the full hog? A friend of mine says I 'democratised climbing'.'

Numbers - in terms of volume, rather than difficulty - didn't enter Gary's mind until new-routing grew into an obsession. 'With 500 new routes in Pembroke, and shed-loads in the Peak, Lundy and abroad, over 250 in Kalymnos etc., the number focus become of more importance in recent years to put the 'icing on the cake' of my climbing life,' he said. '5,000 new routes feels rather appropriate.'

Gary and his wife Hazel celebrate with champagne.
© Nick Taylor

Following his illness and his milestone achievement, Gary is shifting his focus. 'As for now, I can't stop the obsession but in my current condition I will probably re-gear venues and probably have a long overdue rest before retiring from the sport,' he explained. 

Gary expressed his delight at finally doing his 5000th new route, but is equally keen to explore other passions. 'It's been like the sword of Damocles hanging over me,' he said, 'but it has also brought a massive sigh of relief and I can move onto enjoying my social life: football, fishing, the Stranglers...I have six gigs booked in the new year!'

Gary, Hazel and Ken Hughes following Gary's milestone ascent.  © David Price
Gary, Hazel and Ken Hughes following Gary's milestone ascent.
© David Price

In 2019, Gary published his autobiography Blood, Sweat and Smears.

Outside of climbing, Gary lists his interests in his UKC profile as 'Reading, Port Vale FC, fishing, quizzing, pissing everybody off.'

Donate to Gary's bolt fund

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1 Sep, 2021

Great effort Gary, a determined and tenacious ascent!

1 Sep, 2021
thank you to you and everyone that has supported me through some very tough times of late and I am flattered by the article and as always my love to Hazel who has always been alongside me on this turbulent journey 💝
1 Sep, 2021

But the jersey.... where's the stripey jersey?

1 Sep, 2021

Congrats on getting there. An interesting read, Gary, particularly where you talk about your future. I've not climbed for almost a decade now. Some aspects I miss, particularly the sheer pleasure of moving over rock (when it worked!). Other aspects I don't. I think climbing accentuated some of my less desirable personality traits and brought out an obsessive and selfish side in me. Giving up did feel a little bit sad but also freeing in a way. It's good to hear you have other things to fill the future with. Is this last route your swan song? Also, do you know how many Hazel accompanied you on? She often seemed to figure in the Pembroke articles in the old mags.

1 Sep, 2021
Hazel is the absolute love of my life, my friend added to which, she helped save my life when a block fractured my skull, severed the rope and put me into a coma and into life support in Frenchay hospital in 1988

this may be my swan song as climbing is very difficult at the moment with no feeling in either hand, as you can imagine but it’s not a badge of honour either

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