Last week Stevie Haston and Laurence Gouault Haston made the 1,000km, 10 hour drive from their home in Ariege in the French Pyrenees to the northern Italian Valle dell'Orco near the town of Ceresole Reale. Their objective; to repeat the roof crack of Greenspit, first climbed by the Swiss climber Didier Berthod and given a French grade of F8b+.
Greenspit was repeated last year by the Belgium climber Nicolas Favresse and this year by the British climber Tom Randall.
"I'd say it's like a 5.12 crack to a V8 move, a bit on the powerful side, but nothing really that tricky."
The long drive was worth it, after Laurence had attempted the crack, Stevie tied on and made an impressive flash of the route.
Stevie Haston, 52 and a granddad, has had an impressive year. Last year he did his first F8c+ sport route Descent en Enfer at the Grotte de Sabart in Ariege (UKC News). This year, again in the Grotte de Sabart , he succeeded on his first 9a, Descente Lolitta (UKC News). This year he also completed unfinished business at Craig Doris when with Leigh McGinley he established Bam, Bam E8 6b (UKC News), Dream Canyon Handshake E7 6b, 6a, Nightstalker E9 and Requiem for a Vampire E8 6b (UKC News).
Stevie is no stranger to hard crack climbing, especially offwidths, repeating such American classics as Belly Full of Bad Berries a 5.13a in Utah that he despatched in 20 minutes and the late Craig Luebben's Thai Boxing in Chamonix. Craig thought Thai Boxing 5.12 a or b (Vedauwoo grades), and later Stevie climbed it and called it 12d. Then some French guides bolted it and graded 8b+ (13d). It seems modern sport climbing grades don't really apply to crack routes, despite much press, hype and people's need to attach a universally understood number to a climb.
Greenspit is a 12m horizontal roof crack of hand, fist and finger jams. It was first bolted in the Eighties but not climbed. In 2003 Swissman Didier Berthod took the five bolts out and climbed the crack on pre-placed gear giving the route a sport grade of 8b+. He returned in October 2005 to place all the gear on the lead. The name reflects the bolt free nature of the climb.
Last year (2008) Nicolas Favresse from Belgium made the second ascent taking just two days
Favresse said of Greenspit "This route is truly fantastic and very unique for European climbing. I can't believe I'm the first person to repeat this. It's so classic!"
Then in August this year Tom Randall of Sheffield made the third ascent over six days. See the UKC report:VIDEOS: Wide Fetish Golden Boys Do Italy. Yes, Greenspit! for a full run down of Tom's ascent.
Stevie Haston's ascent is the fourth and he got it first try.
All three repeaters thought 8b+ a little generous.
Stevie: Well I like cracks and I like roofs, so I always thought I might be able to do this crack in a good time. Now was the time as I was on the ball after Wales and I was now losing it mentally for the sport climbing but still fairly fit. It was a long way to go for a few minutes climbing especially at this time of year with the chance of snow.
Mick: How did the route go? Did it look like the hardest crack in Europe?
Stevie: To be honest it looked just like a nice roof crack. Laurence thought it looked chouette (cute in French).
Mick: Who went first?
Stevie: I put the first cams in for Laurence (Editor's note: Stevie then reversed to the ground, the first part of the route is relatively easy) then she had a go, placing two more cams. She took a swinging fall before she got to the chain. Then it was my turn. I climbed it without any wild swings but I nearly blew it at the end where it becomes gritstone VS. It was kind of anticlimactic.
It was, if you like, a bit of a flash as I have seen a video and belayed Laurence but to be honest neither of those things helped me. I had to move one of Laurence's cams and ignored everything else except my instinct.
Mick: Do you normally onsight at this level, supposedly F8b+?
Stevie: Hell no Mick. If I climb well, make no mistakes, I sometimes onsight F8a. I have done the odd F8a+ and maybe F8b, but last year I began to think I had a better level and might achieve more if I got my act together, and was really lucky and really wanted it. Wanting or being hungry is key and has a lot to do with onsighting. Nowadays I'm a bit too mellow or simply I don't need it, maybe too much risk of hurting a finger is always at the back of my mind. The thing about Greenspit was that because I have lots of experience doing cracks, I thought I could do a good job and I did.
Mick: How hard was it?
Stevie: In my opinion, although it is hard to tell when you do some thing first time, it was probably F8b max. It fit me pretty well although my hands were a bit too big, you know cracks are very morpho, size is important to critical. There's no danger, although Laurence took a bit of a fall when she pulled a cam trying to lead it. I'd say it's like a 5.12 crack to a V8 move, a bit on the powerful side, but nothing really that tricky. In English if you like, bottom end E6 crack to a 6c sequence.
"There's a lot of overgrading around you know."Mick: Sounds straightforward. But it has a big reputation!
Stevie: I climb roofs bigger than this every time I go out climbing. Laurence's warm up is bigger than this roof. Strangely or coincidently they are right to left lines. And, well lots of routes are simple if you know what I mean, you just have to be up to doing them, and for an onsight, be lucky, to very lucky.
Mick: Will Laurence have another go?
Stevie: Well if she wants, I think she can, but it is hard to tell, she has the strength, but this route needs 'will power' also. Girls/women do surprisingly well on butch cracks, I am long passed stereotyping. Laurence once did a route called Ruby's Café 5.13a at Indian Creek, with two falls, and I embarrassingly took two days. Beth Roden has done many big grade cracks, perhaps her hardest is F8c+?
Mick: Do you know any harder cracks than Greenspit?
Stevie: Yep every one I've failed on. Seriously a ton of cam two size cracks are desperate for me, tight fingers are desperate to impossible and although I like 5 to 8 inch cracks, these can be the toughest - but probably the most enjoyable. The hardest crack I have personally done is Sans Liberty F8b+ maybe that's overgraded. There's a lot of overgrading around you know.
Mick:: Who in your opinion are the best crack climbers?
Stevie: Peter Croft, Yuji Hirayama, Alex Honnold and a few unknown warriors.
Mick: What is the best effort on a crack that you have heard of?
Stevie: Alex Honnold soloing the Moonlight Buttress in Zion. Not enough tea in China to even tempt me to do that.
Mick: Best crack in Britain ?
Stevie: A Lost Castle of My Desires which is a 2 to 9 inch, 40 degree overhanging crack in the Llanberis slate quarries. It was 80 foot long and weighed in about F8a+. It never got a second ascent as it fell down. Shame as the route and name were brilliant.
Mick: When the news broke on the UKC forums people were shouting that your ascent of Greenspit was the hardest trad onsight? What do you say to that?
Stevie: How can I put this? It's not got any element of seriousness. There are hundreds of bolt routes I have wet myself on, and this felt like, in France we say une couenne, a short route. Don't get me wrong, it's not easy, but it's not onsighting Indian Face. The routes I did with Leigh McGinley on Craig Doris were easier in a physical way but were much more serious, on some of those routes you stand a very good chance of dying. Actually Nightstalker was maybe the same level physically and also a bit necky, proper hard!
Mick: Do you have any other crack plans ?
Stevie: Yes. I'd like to do Salathe Wall on El Cap or maybe the easier version Free Rider. I'd also like to do a bit more in the desert. I just love desert towers and cracks. I have 144 Friends and none of them are human. Be good to put them to good use.
Stevie Haston is sponsored by:
Stevie Haston is without doubt one of the world's most accomplished climbers and he is still going strong.
From early repeats and first ascents of cutting-edge ice and mixed routes such as Mission Impossible (M12), soloing the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses in winter in just 8 hours, putting up Welsh classic like Comes The Dervish (allegedly cleaned with a knife and fork from Pete's Eats cafe!), hard and bold first ascents on Gogarth, recent extreme choss climbing on the Lleyn Peninsula and climbing F9a at age 52, Stevie Haston has done it all.
To operate well on home turf is one thing, but Haston has travelled the globe, repeating and putting up some of the hardest routes, in all disciplines and for over twenty years. Congratulations to Stevie!
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