INTERVIEW: Pete Whittaker Climbs Baron Greenback Direct

by Duncan Campbell - UKC Apr/2014
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Pete Whittaker at Millstone, 26 kb
Pete Whittaker at Millstone
© Five Ten

Pete Whittaker has added a hard direct start to his Wimberry super route Baron Greenback (UKC News Report)Pete climbed the FA of Baron last May (UKC News Report), climbing in from the left to gain the bolts. The new start adds a highball 7C start to get to the bolts with no option to down-climb for a rest as before.

This direct start that Pete has just climbed was the original way that Miles Gibson had been trying the project. Miles unfortunately got injured before he was able to lead the route, and didn't recover before Pete got in there for the first ascent without the direct start. When he began working the original Baron, Pete did not try Miles' start due to how hard it looked, as he explains:

"I never tried this direct start before climbing the original, even though it is the true line of the buttress. I remember abseiling down the prow for the first time and on all the top section, there are obvious holds and an obvious sequence. I abseiled lower and the positive crimps ran out on that lower arete, I looked down and thought 'that looks desperate' and saw an obvious line of flattys out on the left wall so I naturally decided to try this instead."

After his ascent, Pete chatted with Miles about the lower arete to find out sequences for what turned out to be a 7C boulder problem, then deciding to return and try to climb the full line. Pete commented further:

"After doing The Baron for the first time I remember speaking to Miles about the lower arete and he described how he was doing it and some sequences. The very first session I had on it I actually broke the crucial hold off, the only positive crimp, so I had to completely change the sequence and it became much harder. However by the time i came to lead it the start didn't feel that hard anymore, the difficult part was linking the whole route." asked Pete a few questions about Baron Greenback Direct:

After doing the start, presumably you are straight up to the bolts with no chance to down-climb for a rest like you did last time. How hard does this make the route as a whole now?

Pete: Depends how strong you are!! I certainly couldn't down climb that start. The only reason I downclimbed last time was to have a rest from clipping the gear, then you could just do the route in one blast, because there is no time to be stopping on it for long as there are no resting places. From coming direct from the bottom it definitely makes it harder. You have to do the harder start, clip your protection and then carry on, so I guess doing all this is maybe f8b+? But, I'm a chump at sport climbing so that could be wrong as with the grade for the start.

Pete Whittaker in a wild position on Baron Greenback, 94 kb
Pete Whittaker in a wild position on Baron Greenback
© Wild Country / Hotaches (Screenshot from film)

Any sneaky tactics employed?

Pete: I'm guessing you mean bamboo canes and 9ft fence posts?

9ft fence posts; no.

Bamboo canes; no for a few reasons: 

1. Bolt 3 is now spinning on its hanger, so when you try and clip it from a distance it moves and rotates, takes ages to clip and is basically a right pumpy nightmare.

2. The bamboo cane I used on the original has started to be commented as a clipstick. My intention wasn't to use the bamboo cane as a clipstick, or else why would i have used a clipstick half way up the route? I would have just clipped them all from the floor. My intentions were to make a stiff quickdraw. there is a big difference in where your lead rope will end up if you use a massive clipstick or massive stiff quickdraw (from the ground or any point on route). Anyway I decided it was getting complicated and people would end up coming to the crag with big clipsticks, which would take part of the challenge away, physically and mentally.

So, I decided to equalize bolts 2 and 3 together, before hand, with a sling that had a loop to clip a quickdraw into on lead. very similar to equalising out some old pegs with some tat for example. I thought this was the best option for a number of reasons:

Pete Whittaker on the FA of Dymanics of Change E9 7a
© Dave Brown - HotAches Productions

1. It doesn't make a difference to the difficulty of the original Baron by doing this as you still get the down climb and a massive rest so it doesn't matter how you clip the bolts.

2. Bolts 2 and 3 get the load spread between them if a fall is taken onto them, making the life span of the bolts longer and also the route safer for the climber.

3. All quickdraws can still be placed on lead on both routes. The only small negative is that your final piece of gear is slightly lower.

I thought this way was sensible to stop confusion and preserve the bolts.

How does it compare to Sleepy Hollow (an E10 first ascent Pete made recently)?

Pete: It is very, very different, hard to compare really. One is a slab where technique, standing on your toes and friction are the most important things, and the other is a massively steep prow where technique, pulling on your heels and fitness are the most important things.

Sleepy Hollow, Dynamics of Change, and Baron Greenback have all seen repeats now, do you enjoy knowing that people are psyched to repeat the routes you put up?

Pete: Yeah it's great they get repeated, plus they have all been repeated by 3 of my friends, which is cool and inspiring for me. Ben looked really solid on Baron Original, way better then I felt when I did it, Ryan repeated Sleepy Hollow quickly and Nige got his magic left heel out on Dynamics, these were all really inspiring for me to hear about or watch. This has got to be one of the best grit seasons ever, there are loads of really strong, keen people trying things.

You seem a lot more focussed on new routes, what is it that you like about first ascents?

Pete: I do new routes because I enjoy the process of finding, cleaning, working, training towards and eventually doing new routes. I also like the fact that no one has done them so sequences aren't definite and you have to work it out for yourself, I find it boring just coping what everyone else does. I find it more of a challenge doing my own thing, plus I learn more that way as well and it helps me improve my climbing.

Which is the best of the three?

Pete: The Direct to Baron Greenback is definitely the best.

Pete Whittaker is sponsored by: Climb On, Five Ten, Patagonia, Sterling Rope and Wild Country

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