Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Its amazing at just how much crap can appear in such a short space of time.  After returning from Kendal and then Italy, I started to sift through the reams of(mostly) rubbish on the various forums and got kind of frustrated.  I decided to devote a good amount of my time to sitting at my computer,  trying to make some sort of sense out of this confusion and then turning this sense into words that didnt confuse matters any further, if that makes any sense?  Im a bit confused...

Anyway, then I had an epifany...

“Why dont I just forget about all this and go climbing?”

So I did!


Saturday, 22 November 2008

Oops, I just had to edit this post so dont worry if you think something is missing, your not going crazy.  

It turns out Kevin only climbed the lower part of the The Groove at Cratcliffe so sorry for any confusion from my initial report.  My congratulations still stand, it is a fine pice of hard climbing in its own right, so well done Kevin.

To help out anyone who is unfamiliar with the wall, here is a topo.  The line marked in red pen is The Groove (it follows the groove all the way until it runs out halfway up the upper arete and then climbs the arete).  The line in black is the section of Fernhill Indirect that Kevin took to avoid the upper arete.

Here is a quote from Neil Foster who attempted The Groove whilst it was still a project.

"At the top of the groove section on The Groove is a horizontal break, traversed by Fernhill Indirect and Trick or Treat, John Allen's super reverse girdle.

Above this break, twin cracks lead straight up into a disappearing groove just right of the arete. I always felt this was the natural line as one feature is effectively a continuation of the other, and I was pleased that James apparently agreed (though I hadn't talked to him before he put up the route).

Avoiding this continuation involves hand traversing all the way across to the Ferhill crux, then all the way back left again on Ferhill (as Fernhill direct). That is great fun, but hardly "The True Line"."

Nice one again Kevin, and the rest of "Team America" and sorry to hear about your split from Equilibrium.  That pebble can be cruel, I remember my finger feeling numb for quite some time after my ascent.  I hope to catch up before you leave. If not, I guess I'll see you in San Fran next week :)

P.S ( for the anonymous commentor) I will be in San Fran with The North Face for a few days but unfortunately wont be giving any talks, well, not public ones anyway.  There are however plans for the future, so keep your eyes open.  I'll post on here when one is confirmed.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Since returning from China, which by the way was pretty cool, I have had an intresting and eventful week.  I should probably write about the awesome rock in China or the crazy festival in Yangshou, but time is a commodity I don’t have much of, and the following few paragraphs seemed more important at the current moment.  There are however some pics of the Yangshou Climbing festival online at

Right, down to business

There seems to have been a bit of a storm over repeats of some of my first ascents and I have had some pretty hurtful things written about me by people I have never met.  I understand that by choosing to live my life in the climbing public’s eye, I open myself up to abuse that would not normally be there, and in the past I have done my best to take this on the chin.  This time however, it was different.  The words I read stung, especially the ones questioning and doubting my honesty and integrity.  It upset me how spontaneously cruel people could be but I guess is should come as no surprise in what is often a spontaneously cruel world.

The Promise has been repeated twice by the incredibly talented visiting Americans and as you are all well aware, they proposed a downgrade from E10 to E8.  Whilst at first this came as a bit of a shock, I know that grading trad routes is far from an exact science and that things can change.  I wanted to meet the guys for various reasons, but mainly because I was impressed by the way they had not only climbed, but reported these repeats – honestly, politely and courteously, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of facts.  They seemed like really sound guys; refreshingly different from the “jump on the band wagon”, “burn the witch” mentality which unfortunately seems prevalent in the UK.

I met up with them at a very windy Curbar, shortly after Alex had made a flash ascent of The End Of The Affair.  In line with what I have said above, he was incredibly modest, and un-phased by this very news worthy ascent and told me, without a hint of snobbery or cockiness, that he felt the route was E6!

We moved to a different part of the crag, and chatted about this and that between ascents of this and that.  Inevitably, like all climbers, we got on to the subject of grades and did our best to put the world to rite. 

I thought of something Leo Houlding had said about how routes with a high historical value have been, and should continue to be, used as benchmarks for grading other routes by.  I asked Alex to assume, from a historical perspective, that TEOTA is E8 (the grade it has been for the last 22 years) and then asked him what grade The Promise would be in relation to this?  His answer was without hesitation – E10

 Quote from Andy Popp on

 just wanted to inject a little historical perspective before everyone runs away with the idea the older routes are dead easy and were (either wilfully or delusionally) overgraded. This is just an example I can draw on from personal experience, and not an attempt at bigging myself up. When I did the third ascent of TEOTA in 92 it had lain unrepeated for 6 years. The floodgates didn't suddenly open afterwards - I don't think it got another repeat for several more years. So, it hasn' always been a trade route. At the time I had a solid track record in onsighting grit E6 (going back to Fistful - mooted by some as E7 - in 1985), had onsighted one route now graded E7 (The Salmon), and headpointed, ususally with v. light practice a bunch of E7s. Basically I think I knew the score and the TEOTA simply felt harder than everything else, E8 in fact. If it goes down to E7 so be it but I think if it does we will require MASS downgrading across grit.

Alex then said that the reason he and Kevin had thought The Promise not E10, is that they were under the impression that E10 and 7a were the limit of our grading scale – simply put, the hardest a traditional route could ever be.  They are not alone in this view; the more I read on the forums or talk to people when out climbing, the more I hear this misconception that E10 and 7a are the absolute limit. 

I don’t know where this idea has come from, the way I have always understood the “E” system is, like any other grading scale, it is open ended.  As standards improve, and people climb harder routes than before, the grade of these routes will increase.  When you take away all the glitz and glam, the magic and the bullshit, and look at routes in very simple terms it becomes very obvious.  If the holds are smaller, or further apart, or the protection is worse, then the route is harder, and so the grade increases.

New grades should be nothing to be scared about, nor should they be scorned, but this appears to be the mentality in the UK, which in my opinion has done incredible damage to the UK trad system, resulting in cries of “the E Grade is broken”.  I don’t think it is broken, but I do think it is being misused and if it is to regain any usefulness there need to be some fundamental refines, starting with the insanity that is the ever widening English tech grade! (more about this in my next post)

It also seems to me that over time, as a route receives more ascents from more people, the perception of how difficult it is goes down.  This seems mainly based on the number of people who are now able to climb at that level and, to me, this seems madness.  Standards move on, people get better, but the routes do not (rarely) change.  Just because a route is further away from the cutting edge, does not make it any easier than the day it was first climbed.

If we can come to terms with moving things forward, I feel this issue of “backwards condensing” would no longer be a problem.  We should be proud of where we have come from, but prouder of where we are going.