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.
'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 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.'
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!'
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.'