Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Glen Nevis

Time perhaps for a brief teaser of what we have in store for Committed 2.

We recently visited Glen Nevis in Scotland to catch up with Dave MacLeod. We went up the glen to a superb new bouldering venue first discovered by John Watson. One bloc alone promises at least three major hard new lines; the best probably at font 8b+ (V14).

On our second day of filming, Dave had become more excited than I recall ever seen him before. He had just unlocked a sequence of moves on the hardest line, using an Egyptian to stabilise him as he threw for a non existant hold.

I was impressed, but only just.

Let's face it. There isn't a single hard route or boulder problem that Dave has ever climbed without using at least one Egyptian. In fact, if I had been paying more attention, I might well have suggested, 'why don't you try an Egyptian?' But no, Dave was excited. Very excited. Totally animated, in fact. On the threshold (or at least at the solution) to a world class bouldering ascent.

What happened next...

Music by Chris Hall - AKA DJ b-burg

Terminal? Way too early to say. But if it wasn't Font 8b+ before then it certainly is now. Such setbacks are part of the deal when making first ascents. At least Dave has the consolation of pursuing his climbing dreams at one of the most beautiful locations on the planet.

Grit Kids

'Grit Kids'

The Cowperstone. Pete Whittaker attempting Warm Love, E6 7a. Hot Aches Images

Filming for the new movie is progressing at a pace with some major ascents already captured. The Hot Aches team had been throwing some ideas around and decided that now would be a good time is to take our cameras to look at the new generation of strong climbers emerging in Britain. James Pearson might have been a ‘Keen Youth’ not so long ago, but now, at 22 ,he is virtually the elder statesman. (sorry James). So the film crew headed to one of our regular filming venues, England’s Peak District, for what turned out to be one of our most exhausting filming trips ever.

The Cowperstone. Pete Whittaker high kicking on the crux of Warm Love, E6 7a. Hot Aches Images

The Whittakers are already quite well known in British climbing circles. Katy Whittaker has been climbing since she was 6 and now, still very youthful, is the British bouldering (senior) champion. Rumour has it that she is quite handy on the grit too.

Younger brother Pete has also been establishing his credentials with some very significant ascents. Last year, at 16 years of age, he climbed several E7s and last month he made the significant first ascent of an unfinished Johhny Dawes project known as Grandad Slab - which is the direct finish to Brail Trail, at Burbage South. Other more esoteric achievements include the second ascent of the complete traverse of Stanage Edge (3 miles?) Ron Fawcett set the mark for this in 1990, with a time of 6 hours. Pete was a little slower, blaming his speed on having forgotten to take with him any sandwiches or drink for the day.

Our weekend started at The Cowperstone. Pete’s objective was to climb Warm Love, a Johhny Dawes route from 1995. The guidebook describes the crux section thus:

involves a dynamic throw for a heel smear to reach the pebble. Brilliant! Unrepeated?”

In fact, Ben Bransby sneaked in the second ascent quite recently. The route was originally graded E7 7b. The current guidebook says E6 7a. Either way, that translates to ‘safe - but virtually impossible’. Seriously, the elusive grade of ‘British 7b’ has hardly ever been touted for a route in Britain before.

The Cowperstone. a flexible Pete Whittaker on the crux of Warm Love, E6 7a. Hot Aches Images

I won’t give too much away. The film of this is certainly worth waiting for. However, I will say that all of the attempts and then the subsequent ascent bore witness to some of the most fantastic footage that we have ever filmed; extreme contortions of both body and face in a gut wrenching orgy of sheer damn effort. It was fantastic climbing, and especially so from a man this young.

Sister Katy didn’t fancy a go at this one herself... She had other projects in her sights, and so we headed swiftly on to Burbage South where she and Pete warmed up by soloing a rapid succession of routes between E2s and an E5. Mum Jill watched on quite nonchalantly as her kids ticked off route upon route, several of which would have represented a lifetime ambition for most of us.

Then swiftly on to the Katy’s objective, Nosferatu E6 6b. Apparently Pete had blown the ‘onsight’ of this a while ago, by jumping off low down when things went wrong, and then rolling down the hill. When we arrived I looked at the clutter of boulders beneath the route and wondered just how good your aim would have to be to successfully dismount from above that.

Katy Whittaker contemplating Nosferatu E6 6b. Hot Aches Images.

Katy has onsighted E5 and ‘headpointed’ E6 before. But to ‘flash’ E6 – (to have information about the moves, but to climb first go without pre-practice), this would be her hardest climb to date. Furthermore, the route involves a dyno at the top, which the British bouldering champion declared is the one type of move that she is ‘rubbish at’.

Katy Whittaker at the top of Nosferatu E6 6b. Hot Aches Images

Katy was on good form and moved swiftly through the unprotected first half. The dyno move at the top took more consideration. She tried static several times, climbing up and down before launching for the finishing jug. A first female E6 ‘flash’ on grit? Possibly, but hard female ascents are often missed in climbing news. So quite possibly not. Maybe Lisa Rands or Lucy Creamer has managed the same? Regardless, it was a fantastic ascent on a very classic line.

The climbing for the day still wasn’t over. Pete ticked of Pebble Mill, E5 6b before the light disappeared, and the camera crew hobbled home exhausted.

Next day the plan was an early start back to Cowperstone before the sun wreaked its havoc on the precious gritstone friction. We were back here because Pete had kept flying off the day before. When we left the car park this morning the temperature was -2c. How cold does it need to be for these Grit Kids? Oddly enough, Pete had failed to climb the route the week before because his fingers were too cold. However, now the sun was now on the dark rock, and it was warming up fast. So for Pete, after a quick top rope practice there was probably time for just one attempt before the friction disappeared completely. It was all a great rush, but he grimaced every single ounce of effort, and topped out with a beaming smile.

The Cowperstone. Pete Whittaker succeding on the crux of Warm Love, E6 7a. Hot Aches Images

9.30am and the route was already in the bag. One of the film crew voted for a pub lunch, but it was way too early for English pubs to be open, and it was also Katy’s turn once more. The other major climb on her list was West Side Story, a classic V9 at Burbage North.

The film crew were in luck at last. We were at the crag so early that the line was still in the sun. Nothing to be done, but doze for a couple of hours.

Katy Whittaker on West Side Story, V9. Burbage North. Hot Aches Images.

West Side Story has been climbed by a few women in the past, but apparently none of them finished directly up the highball continuation. Once the sun moved off, Pete and Katy were both trying the problem,

Pete Whittaker on West Side Story, V9. Burbage North. Hot Aches Images.

but this time it was Katy that latched the dyno, and with no hesitation she continued on upwards. ‘I would have got so much flack [from some particular Lancashire climber] if I hadn’t done the direct finish’.

Katy Whittaker on West Side Story, V9. Burbage North. Hot Aches Images.

Monday, 4 February 2008

The Groove, E10 7b

One of grit stone's Last Great Problems has finally been climbed by James Pearson.

James Pearson. Final top-rope practice before going for the lead on The Groove, E10 7b. Photo: Hot Aches Images

The Groove at Cratcliffe in the Peak District was one of the truly great Last Unclimbed Lines on Grit. Much eyed and lusted after, this line has shunned all suitors for over 20 years. Johnny Dawes is reported to have declared that it will only be climbed eventually by someone with very long arms and very short legs.

I'm not sure about James having short legs? but it did require absolutely perfect conditions for the ascent. Snow on the ground and a temperature barely creeping above freezing was perfect. There didn't seem to be a moment of doubt from James that today would be the day that he would finally go for the lead.

Cratcliffe (before the snow arrived). Photo: Hot Aches Images

The Hot Aches team have been there during the last 2 weeks along with photographer David Simmonite to capture this special ascent.

James Pearson. Top-rope practice on the upper crux of The Groove, E10 7b. Photo: Hot Aches Images


Footage from last year's attempts on the route by James featured in Committed Volume 1.

See the clip on Climb Magazine's website along with a report about the eventual ascent.

Also see the next edition of Climb Magazine for photos and an in depth feature on James.

James Pearson. Working the lower crux on The Groove, E10 7b. Photo: Hot Aches Images

This is James' third E10 ascent. He repeated Equilibrium E10 7a and made the first ascent of The Promise E10 7a. Both routes featured in Committed. The Groove, at E10 7b may well now be amongst the hardest trad climbs in the world.

The climbing is highly technical, hence the 7b (British, not French) tech grade, and it is also bold. A fall from the last move of the crux would test the reaction time of the belayer; only an instant sprint might save the climber from hitting the ground - possibly. James has a strict 'no mat' policy for trad routes, so the nasty landing was not protected by bouldering mats. James also employed this strict ethic on the first ascent of his previous E10, 'The Promise'.

Camera Crew. Diff and Lynwen head to Cratcliffe

Dave / Diff