Tom Pearce makes second ascent of The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c

© tomlastphotography

Tom Pearce has made the second ascent of The Human Skewer Direct Start (E10 6c), at Chair Ladder, in Cornwall.

First climbed by Mark Edwards in 2007, the E10 version adds a direct start (and a little extra danger) to The Human Skewer (E9 6c), which Edwards established almost a decade earlier, in 1998.

Tom Pearce on The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c  © tomlastphotography
Tom Pearce on The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c
© tomlastphotography

We got in touch with Tom to find out more.

Congratulations on climbing The Human Skewer E10 6c! You mentioned on instagram that this is a 'proper backwater route', tell us a bit about the route, how you came across it, and what the climbing is like?

I've always been interested in routes that are a bit unknown. Ones that you can't find any photos of, maybe only have a short description in the guide, or are only known to have one ascent. I find it adds another layer of adventure. Mainly it's just that you have no idea what you might find - it could be one of the best routes you've ever seen, or it could be a pile of choss.

I spotted the E9 non-direct route in the guide which had three stars, with the direct route jotted below, suggested at E10. It's very bouldery, although it's thirty metres or so, most of the hard climbing is packed into two sections, one on the direct and another on the upper headwall.

Tom Pearce on The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c  © tomlastphotography
Tom Pearce on The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c
© tomlastphotography

The atmosphere in the zawn is really cool too, you've got this amazing mud and rock cornice that overhangs the back of the zawn. The route does get the sun around midday, but when the sun isn't out it feels so gloomy and dark. The waves crash into the entrance which creates this incredible echo. It feels like a different world.

For those of us that haven't been there, what's the climbing like at Chair Ladder?

The route feels very separate from the rest of Chair Ladder, it's tucked away in the back of a zawn whereas Chair Ladder is a crag full of many classic, sun trapped routes.

I've not done too much climbing at the rest of Chair Ladder, but the stuff I have done was brilliant. I remember doing this quality HVS/E1 a couple of years ago called Kittiwake (E1 5a), with my dad. Essentially a crux headwall of good gear and jugs, such an amazing position, and something I'll never forget doing.

There's a lot of other routes that are equally as good and many even better. 100% recommend having a trip down, even with a long drive.

Talk us through how the direct start changes the route, and where the added danger comes from!

The direct has a lot of loose rock, the crux 6c moves on it are only just above the gear, but I had no hope that the flake they are in would hold. Above the crux there's more loose flakes and crumbly feet to the point that Paul, my poor belayer was just being showered with rocks, E10 for the belayer I reckon.

There's plenty of good looking gear behind the other flakes, but whether they would stay attached after a fall is another matter. There are also a couple of pegs on the lower wall too, but after being there for probably twenty years they don't look particularly solid.

Not particularly solid  © Tom Pearce
Not particularly solid
© Tom Pearce

The climbing after the lower crux isn't that hard though, so as long as nothing major breaks you should be fine. The upper headwall gear is fairly good, however - as the name suggests - there's a perfectly placed spike and ledge directly below the crux where the gear has no chance of keeping you from hitting it.

It should keep you off the floor, but it's definitely not a clean fall.

How did you go about working the route, and how long did you spend on it in total?

I tried the non-direct first after realising I didn't have the rope in the right place to try the direct. I came back a couple days later with the right gear to redirect the rope for the lower wall.

I spent six days in total on it, five practicing and one for the lead. I did all the moves on the first day of trying it, and had linked it fully by the second. It took just over two weeks from start to finish, after being very lucky with the conditions.

Talk us through the ascent! Did it all go to plan or were there surprises along the way?

Pretty much everything went to plan. I had a little readjust of body positioning on the upper crux, but realistically it didn't affect me too much and was only a minor mistake.

Other than that it went smoothly, we'd had a full rehearsal with belaying and lead ropes immediately before so we knew what to expect. I found the lower wall to be less scary than the upper bit, maybe due to exposure, and I classified the crux to be above the spike.

Tom Pearce on The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c  © tomlastphotography
Tom Pearce on The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c
© tomlastphotography

I spent a while standing on the ledge after the direct start. I had decided that pulling the ropes through the lower gear to reduce the drag was a good idea, as even the highest piece wouldn't have kept you off the ground.

I tend to find the scariest part of any climb like this is the moment just before you set off from the safety from the last gear, as soon as you're climbing the fear goes away. This wasn't any different, as soon as I started the moves above the ledge I was into that flow state that you get. Gotta be one of the best parts of climbing.

You mentioned on instagram that you couldn't quite work out how hard the route was - what was it about the route/your experience on it that made it hard to work out? Have you had any further thoughts about the route and its difficulty since then?

I've not thought about it that much, and definitely not come to any descision. I found it pretty bold, and vaguely have an idea of where it would fit in terms of other routes I've tried/done.

It's similar to a Moors route in the sense that it's a short section of bold climbing that you really don't want to fall off. So I do have some familiarity with the style. I'm in holiday and beach mode now, so I'll have to have a proper think on the grade in a couple weeks when I'm back home.

Finally - you shared a great photo on instagram of you having just finished the route - what was going through your mind there? What did that feel like?

Overwhelmed I think, hence the laying down.

From dank zawns to lush ledges, Tom tops out The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c  © Clare Bond
From dank zawns to lush ledges, Tom tops out The Human Skewer Direct, E10 6c
© Clare Bond

Other than that I don't remember too much of how I was feeling, mainly just a mix of all sorts. I'd spent most of the holiday thinking about it, so to have it out my mind was a relief. The last thing I wanted was to leave it unfinished, knowing that I could have done it... I hate leaving a project unclimbed.

During the actual climbing you build up all these emotions and stuff, and I find it all releases when you reach the top.

Also, as you pull over the top of this line you're basically out of the zawn and into the sun, so it feels like being on a beach. It's a really weird juxtaposition. From a dark, dank feeling zawn to this lush ledge in the sun. 

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Tom was born and raised in the North York Moors and has spent most of his teens climbing on the local sandstone. He has made repeats and first ascents of some of the hardest and boldest lines in the area. Tom tends to...

Tom's Athlete Page 2 post 1 video

2 Aug, 2023

Be interesting to know how he thought it compared to the Moors routes quality-wise? It doesn't sound great from his description!

2 Aug, 2023

Well, that should ensure there isn't a third ascent!

2 Aug, 2023

Bit disappointed there wasn't any chipped hold, engineered gear slot, cheeky bolt controversy.

2 Aug, 2023

Sounds like any of those would have fallen off by now!

2 Aug, 2023

Don’t worry, I’m sure some UKCer will soon come along and mention them………..

It’s been a while.

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