Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Walk Of Life, E12 7a, 48m

Description (very brief and boring, just the facts, little info on anything else)

Tidal – The base will become wet a few hours either side of high tide.

Starting from the centre of the wall, climb the initial overlaps to gain the base of the smooth hanging slab. Move up this via a series of very thin, powerful and precarious moves (passing a possible micro wire placement – psychological only) to good holds and the first reasonable protection (no.1 Ballnut) at 15m.

Continue on spaced thin breaks (micro friend protection) for 10m until the first and only bomber gear (Friend 2 in a rogue, wide slot), climb past this to join the original line of Dyer Straits (all 13 of the original pegs now removed).

Follow the hairline crack to the top off the wall passing several difficult sections. The protection is all marginal and difficult to place on lead with many pieces placed blind. The wall becomes steeper the higher you climb and is almost vertical at the top.

Take care with the rock on the entire route, holds have a tendency to snap, protection has a tendency to fail.

Belay from a stake at the top (back-up with other stakes)

The line of the route almost perfectly follows the rope I am hanging from. At that point, I am just about to join the orignal line of Dyer Straits. Copyright David Simmonite


80’s - Looked at by Johnny Dawes

94 - Attempted and equipped by Andy Donson. “Its been 13 years since I was on it, and the best I managed was with a few rests on the pegs. I recall seeing a poster of Johnny Dawes trying on tr back in the late 80s, but apart from that don’t know who else had played with it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Nick White had been on it while he was new routing in the area. The route had definitely been brushed before I got on it in 94/95. I am the fool who hammered all the pegs in – which was shortsighted but I was a bit blinded by all the excitement when I realized it was climbable”

98 - First ascent of Dyer Straits by Ian Vickers. Climb the arête of Earth Rim Roamer to just over half height before traversing in and climbing to the top of the wall past 13 pegs. The route was climbed in a redpoint style with preplaced quickdraws in the pegs, and small amounts of pre-placed gear. Felt to be 8a+ as a sport route (Considerably harder now since loss of crucial holds and placing protection on lead)

Late 90’s - Simon Jones, and possibly others try the direct start. As far as I am aware, Simon intends to place pegs in the start and feels the start alone (with pegs) will be E10

04 - I look at the original line and decide to try to repeat it. It feels 8a+ on a top rope but the pegs look un-trustworthy. At first I plan to replace the pegs with either Stainless Steel or Titanium

05 - I struggle to find any suitable pegs and in asking for advice, get chatting to Ben Bransby who attempted Dyer Straits with Ian. He tells me his view on the use of pegs and how they have a massive negative impact on our climbs. I realise I agree with him and decide to either forget about the route, or to remove the pegs and try it on leader placed gear.

06 - I realise the line is protectable on trad gear (just) and begin to remove the first of the pegs during regular trips to visit my girlfriend’s family in Devon. During working the route, various holds on the upper wall fall off making the climbing much harder.

07 - I decide that if I am going to put in the effort to climb Dyer Straits on trad gear then I should at least look to see if the direct 20m is possible with the idea of linking it into 1 mega pitch. I find it is hard and unprotected, but possible. My girlfriend and I ab down the wall on Boxing Day and remove the last of the remaining pegs from the upper wall.

08 - I begin to invest some serious time after completing The Groove. I break off a crucial hold on the upper wall making it much, much harder than originally thought. At first it seems impossible, but I work out another sequence and realise that it is still climbable. After a few days of effort I link the upper wall on a toprope which feels way, way harder than the original 8a+. Eventually, by June, I feel almost ready to attempt a lead and I return with David Simmonite and Hotaches Productions. 13 days and 4 trips and one huge fall later, I finally top out.

Copyright David Simmonite

Compared to other routes

As I have said before, The Walk Of Life is harder than anything I have done or tried before. It is easy to compare it to my own repeats and first ascents including Equilibrium, The Promise, and The Groove (which in hindsight and compared to other routes, I feel is worth E11). Earlier this year I spent 1 day on Rhapsody, which I am sure you all know. What you probably don’t know is how I fared, and my feelings about the route. At the time, I kept quiet about my experience, seeing no reason to publicly state my (possibly controversial) opinion, but now it feels like I need to explain my thoughts and feelings about Rhapsody, to enable me to justify my proposed grade for The Walk of Life.

Please do not take the following section to be any sort of a personal attack on a certain gnarly Scotsman. I have massive, massive respect for Dave Macleod. I think he is an absolutely fantastic climber and also a really great guy, who has always been more than happy to help me. He has achieved things that I can only dream about and has climbed things that would make me wet my pants just to look at them. Dave is certainly one of the most knowledgeable climbers I know, when it comes to everything from technical stuff to specifics for training. I have learnt a lot from him and I am sure I will continue to do so. It seems that certain individuals believe there is some great anglo-scottish rift in climbing with us pesky Englishmen prepared to sink to any levels to get one over on our tougher northern brothers. Well I am going to have to disappoint, and say that I consider Dave Macleod a friend. It even says so on Facebook!

It just so happens that the only routes I have to compare The Walk Of Life to are either Dave’s or my own. And as always honesty is the best policy so I will tell you exactly what my thoughts are.

On my first attempt at Rhapsody (on a toprope), I flashed the first half of the headwall, falling due to an incorrect foot placement. I then flashed each individual move to the top. Happy with my performance so far, I investigated Sonnie Trotter’s claim that you could escape onto the left arête which turned out to be true and it was at this point I lost motivation for the route and became content to spend the next day playing on the boulders below.

It is a real shame there is not a little more space between the features, as from the floor, the headwall screams out to be climbed. However, once you are on the wall, you realise that each proposed way up just does not quite work. It also appears that the choice of belay position is very important and turns a nasty slam into a pleasant fall into air.

Before continuing any further, I feel there is something I need to mention briefly (don’t worry, there will be more to come about this later), and that is the word “experience”. When you offer a grade to a first ascent, what you are effectively doing is defining your experience as a point on a scale. Since your experience is deeply personal, this grade is only really relevant to you and may change, up or down, depending on future ascentionists experiences. Dave obviously put in a massive effort to climb Rhapsody and took what looked like a lot of nasty falls. When he weighed up his experience, he felt it fitted in at a certain place on the scale and gave it a corresponding number

The grade of a route should be an ever evolving and ultimately relate to the most efficient and effective way to climb a certain piece of rock. Soloing a well protected HVS does not make the route E3, nor would climbing the same HVS using only one hand. Sure your experience may have felt E3, but climbing what the rock has offered us, in the best way possible, is what everything should be measured on. Otherwise we will be in an even more confusing place than we are now.

Obviously, you can’t officially suggest a different grade unless you have actually made a successful ascent, but I can compare my experience on Rhapsody to other routes I have done/tried and have a general idea of which is harder.

Coincidentally, shortly after trying Rhapsody, I bumped into Dave and chatted to him about Echo wall. It was very interesting to talk with another person about hard trad climbing in general and to share our thoughts and feelings on various routes. I have since talked further with Dave about Echo wall and it really does sound like a terrific and terrifying route and one that I would like to try in future. Dave managed to quantify specific sections of Echo Wall with equivalent french grades which is something I currently feel unable to do for The Walk Of Life. There are many reasons for this, but mainly, having never climbed a hard, bolted slab, I have nothing to compare it to. Echo Wall breaks down into the following; Steep fr8a+ (E9) climbing protected by a single micro cam leads to the lip, a knee-bar rest and a mixture of protection. The rest of the route is fr8b to the top (V10 boulder problem into a fr7b+ for an even further break down). The crux is protected (as long as the gear holds!), after which you place a good rp3 (placed blind) and then run it out to the top (probable death from easier upper wall).

And quite simply, that is that. I compared my experience on The Walk Of Life with the information above and came to a conclusion.

E12 7a is the point on the scale that I feel best reflects my experience, and what a crazy thing that is to say. Using two very inflexible numbers to try to sum up my thoughts and feelings at the final point of a 4 year journey seems ridiculous, and really takes something magical away from the route. There are so many things about The Walk Of Life that are special to me without even thinking about the grade, and any of these special parts explain the experience infinitely better than those 2 numbers ever could. Like how I learnt to get knocked down time and time again but keep getting up fighting even though the odds seemed stacked against me. Or how my ideas and ethics, about the use of pegs on trad routes were completely flipped upside down and in doing so made for a vastly harder, but infinitely purer challenge. Or even that the constant support of great people can make anything seem possible.

When all is said and done, and our journey has come to an end, it is not just about where we finish, but how we get there and what we learn along the way.

Do the walk...

Copyright David Simmonite

1 comment:

lore said...