The Zone, E9, for Jim Pope and Joe Mullett

© Mike Hutton

On Wednesday afternoon, Jim Pope and Joe Mullet both led The Zone (E9 6c), at Curbar Edge, in the Peak District.

The route, which was first climbed by John Arran in 1998, follows a series of fingery holds past a cluster of skyhooks and out to a delicate and balancey arete.

According to Arran, the name of the route is in reference to the 'rarely-achieved heightened state of awareness experienced by some athletes during major events. This sensation is often accompanied by an extraordinary level of personal performance', a 'level of concentration and focus' that Arran felt was 'impossible to describe'.

Arran climbed the route after seven days of work, you can read his write up of the first ascent here.

'I've wanted to try The Zone for ages but have never got round to it', Jim told us shortly after the ascent, 'A few weeks ago me and Joe went out to try something else, but got sidetracked and ended up on The Zone'.

Jim Pope high up on The Zone, E9  © Mike Hutton
Jim Pope high up on The Zone, E9
© Mike Hutton

'The climbing is really fun, and pretty atypical for grit, with lots of edges, all of which face the same way making the climbing pretty out of balance. I managed it clean that day on a top rope but didn't quite have the minerals to go for it'. 

'We came back a few weeks later during a break in the bad weather, but the route was wet from the ice-melt. After a few hours milling about not really knowing what to do, the route had dried up in the sun and was actually a bit too hot!'

'We figured out a nice tension system to weigh down the sky hooks, had a few goes on toprope, then both went for it! The ascents were pretty smooth, Zoe really saved the day by bringing out a harness after Joe forgot his!'

Whilst both ascents may have been smooth in the end, Joe's was not without moments of concern.

'It had been in the back of my mind as a route I'd like to try ever since watching a video of Nathan Lee do it in a Curbar headpoints video. Me and Owen Diba had headpointed Slab and Crack (E8 6c) the previous year which was a process I enjoyed massively, and I was kind of fishing around for something similar for this year. Then, one deceivingly warm Saturday in November, me, Jim, and my mate Ricky Briggs found ourselves at Curbar with a vague plan to headpoint The End of the Affair (E8 6c)'.

'However none of us were that psyched on it, and Jim suggested we try The Zone (E9 6c) instead. That session was good fun, the climbing seemed quite desperate in the direct sun but I sussed all the moves and was keen to see how it would feel in good conditions'.

'In terms of the protection on the route, the gear consists of three tensioned down skyhooks at about a third of the height, and before the crux. Two of these actually seem pretty good, however the flake they're in is slightly hollow sounding'.

'The following weekend Jim was off on some sort of trendy sponsored european trip (far too cool for me) so I went with my girlfriend Isabel to try it a bit more on a top rope. The conditions were much better and I linked it in two halves with a refined sequence. After that session I was fairly confident I could lead it next session if the conditions were good so I kept an eye on the forecast, and me and Jim made a plan to get on it on the Wednesday'.

'We arrived at the crag with four pads and a lot of ropes only to find the route dripping wet with ice melt. We went and faffed around on some other stuff in the vague hope it might dry, and - somehow - later that afternoon it was drying up nicely. This was when I realised I'd forgotten my harness, yet another setback! All was not lost though as Zoe Wood came out to save the day, bringing us the much needed harness, chalk, and crème eggs, it was on'. 

'We had a couple more goes each on top rope, where I linked it in a oner for the first time which was the push I needed to get on the sharp end. Jim went first, tensioning the skyhooks went well and he proceeded to climb smoothly to the top. Then it was my turn'.

'I climbed smoothly up to the sky hooks and hung around trying to decide if my fingers were warm enough, I'd numbed out quite a lot on a top rope previously and it hadn't lent itself to climbing well. I decided it would be alright and pressed on'.

Joe Mullett takes a moment before heading out across the cold sharp crimps  © Mike Hutton
Joe Mullett takes a moment before heading out across the cold sharp crimps
© Mike Hutton

'The crux felt better than it ever had, but upon arriving at the slopey crimp which you do a couple of right hand bumps off, I realised my left hand was really numb and I couldn't really feel what was going on on the friction dependent hold. By this point I was a fair distance out from the skyhooks, and beginning to ask maybe a bit too much of them in the event of a fall. I kept going though, and luckily my hand stayed on the crimp and I was able to do the last few teetering moves to easy ground'.

'On arriving at the easy ground I realised I'd split a tip on the slopey crimp which was now dripping blood, maybe I was closer to coming off than I thought, either way I'm glad I was numb enough not to feel the split happen!'

'Overall I'm just grateful that Sheffield is host to so many friendly people with which I can share the act of climbing with'.

You can watch the video which first inspired Joe to climb The Zone below:

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8 Dec, 2023

Good work lads!

9 Dec, 2023

Well done guys. And good to see that what was pretty challenging a quarter of a century ago hasn't yet become a walk in the park!

9 Dec, 2023

You must have done good John! Has anyone else done dr doolittle recently/ ever?

9 Dec, 2023

I've not heard of anyone doing it. It's a bit of a step up from The Zone, so I'd be surprised if an ascent has gone under the radar, but it's possible.

9 Dec, 2023

Well done Joe and Jim.

I'm not sure if I had watched the video before, possibly but before I lived quite close to Curbar. That's a young Rob "Mr UKC" Greenwood on belay! :-)

I don't think I had realised that the Zone uses the arete of the Peapod for a number of moves (although its about 9 grades above my best so I haven't ever really considered it in depth!). I've done the Peapod some years back but can't remember - how far are you on the arete from the crack at the back of the pod? I was trying to work out if not putting a side runner in there is just an aesthetic/style decision or whether actually it would be very hard and tenuous to pull yourself further enough to the right to place a runner?

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