I finally fell asleep way too late and was woke by my alarm way too early. After waking up a little and cleaning the sleep from my eyes, I opened up my computer to catch up with life back home. After browsing all my usual sites, I saw the news about The Promise finally getting a repeat on UKB and excitedly clicked the link. E8! Was this some kind of joke? I read down expecting to find a punch-line lurking somewhere but none came and I realised it was for real. The route, that until this year was the culmination of all of my climbing, was now being compared to the likes of Gaia, and End of the Affair! Jumping to conclusions before knowing all the facts is the habit of fools, so I read all of the information I could find on the ascent before going any further.
A team of young American trad stars, including Kevin Jorgeson (solo of The Fly and FA of The Duel) and Alex Honnold (solo ascents of Moonlight Buttress and Regular North West Face, Half Dome) were practically destroying Gritstone, and The Promise was their latest in a long line of top class trophies. After reading the various reports of the ascent, and letting all of the information digest, everything started to make a little more sense.
The Promise in an hour, regardless of anything else, is an amazing bit of work. My hat is well and truly off. It seems like there is a bit of a storm raging on our beloved little island and I am sad that I am not there to witness it in person, but you gotta be where you gotta be. Maybe I will get chance to climb with Kevin when I return from the land of the rising sun, that is if he has not already done everything and gone home.
So The Promise...
When I first climbed this route almost 2 years ago you all knew my thoughts and feelings as my comments were recorded in many mediums for all to read and hear. Surprisingly or not, I still feel exactly the same, and if I was to climb this route again today, using the same style etc, I would grade it exactly the same as my experience and comparisons would be the same. To save both your time and mine, I am not going to go into detail over my reasoning because I have already written lots on the subject (comparing it to Equilibrium etc) that will be easy to find for anyone interested with a little help from their good friend Google.
To quote something I wrote a few weeks ago “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”
Simply put, the “rules” for climbing are very subjective and the overall difficulty will change dramatically depending on the tactics used. There are very few “rights” or “wrongs”, but lots of differences, so I feel it is important to declare exactly how a particular ascent is made.
The difference between mine and Kevin’s view on the route comes down to our experience so I guess we should look at if, how and why they differed? Below is a copy of Kevin’s report of his ascent that was posted in the news section of UKClimbing. As you will notice, I have added in a little superscript and I will make footnotes about these points below. Thanks to Kevin for making it so clear as to exactly what he did.
Today I managed to climb The Promise at Burbage North for its second ascent. On my initial inspection two days ago on rappel, I didn't even try the moves. The original beta just seemed completely out of the question 1.
Returning today, looking at the chalk on the holds, I visualized a new possibility for the beta and gave it a try. This involved turning a right hand pocket to an undercling, which as a result shortened the reach to a bad sloper. I quickly did the moves with the new beta on top rope, rested, and climbed it clean on top rope 1. After figuring out how to place the slider nut, which was surprisingly bomber 2, I was ready to go. I climbed up, placed the piece and returned to the ground. On the lead, there always seems to be some unplanned decision to be made. For me, it was the position of my right foot on a key hold relative to the rope. This unplanned decision resulted in me placing my right foot a little wrong, requiring a readjustment. Once in place, the crux move felt quite a bit harder than I was anticipating. Luckily, there was enough tolerance in the move that I was still able to stick it. The whole process took about an hour.
The obvious question that arose was regarding the grade. After climbing Parthian Shot, The New Statesman, and The Promise and having spent two days on Equilibrium and one on The Groove, my opinion is that the grade falls at E8, 5.13c/d R 4. The reason for this is that a fall from the crux would not result in a ground fall, assuming the gear holds. Regarding the gear, the only way that it would fail is if the cables broke 3. After bounce testing the piece while clipped directly into my harness, I was confident that it would hold 2. It should also be stated that I placed two crashpads at the base of the climb 5. All in all, the route climbs wonderfully and would highly recommend it to anyone 6!
1. The first obvious difference seems to be in the sequence. It is completely possible that I missed an easier method, and if this is the case, then it would affect the overall difficulty. Time, and more repeats will tell if this is the case.
2. It also seems that Kevin found the protection to be much more trustworthy than I did. The slider ripped out during testing, and when I set off on my ascent, it was with a belief that the gear would fail in a fall, but possibly slow me down. Why the protection now seems better than before, I cannot say as I have not seen the placement since making the first ascent.
3. Regarding the only way the gear could fail – I think it is highly more likely the placement would give way before the piece breaks. People that are familiar with sliders know how small and expansion range there is on a No.1, and people that are familiar with gritstone know how easily rock is damaged/worn away in gear placements (just take a peek inside any popular friend placement). It really wouldn’t need that much to crumble under load (even just a crystal) for the slider to expand too far and pop right out.
4. Kevin offers a proposed grade of E8, 13c/d, R based on his experience and comparisons with other routes he has climbed including Parthian Shot which I believe the team regarded as E9, 13b/c, R/X (I hope this is still the current feeling because China won’t let me onto peoples blogs to check if minds have been changed with hindsight). Am I alone in noticing the obvious discrepancy - before we even go into more detail?
If we do compare specifics of each route, Parthian Shot is 8a/+ with a fall (off a 6c crux move) into air onto wires in a flake that has been described as “bomber”. “Bomber” or not, the flake has held well over 50 falls which would suggest to me that it is trustworthy.
The Promise was given 8b+ but may be easier due to a new sequence being discovered? A fall from the 7a crux would be onto a single No.1 Ballnut in a tiny slot that has both held, and failed during body weight tests and has never taken a fall.
There are the facts and figures, make of them what you will.
5. Around 4 years ago I decided to make an ethical stand and not use bouldering pads to protect trad routes. This decision was based on many reasons that I am not going into now as would only dilute the current discussion. There have been times however, where I had wished I had not gone down this road as it has made certain things a lot less attainable and much more dangerous. The Promise was one of these times. On a route so short, with such a bad landing, a few pads would have change things dramatically, turning a dangerous route into something very different. Maybe my approach was foolish, but I chose to take this path, and I will stick with it through good and bad. Please don’t take this as a dig at anyone, because it is most definitely not. Climb what you want, when you want and how you want, just make sure that when it matters, the facts are clear. You should never feel forced to sit in a certain box and conform to people’s expectations. Be a renegade...
6. It sure does, The moves are ace and it is one of my favourite routes :)
Now that The Promise is finished, I guess the question on everybody’s lips is what’s next?
On a bit of a tangent, but very related, I was reading about Kevin’s ascent of The Duel, a 25ft wall at Hueco that he graded V10/E10 and was protected by 17 pads. Using many, many pads to protect short (less than 45ft) solos seems to be the way that things are heading in the US, effectively making great big highballs, with big soft landings (just to confirm, this is not in direct reference to The Duel which from what I can gather has a particularly nasty landing, but US highballing in general). In many ways this makes perfect sense. The technology to make these problems safe(r) is there, so surely it is foolish not to use it.
So what about the Grit? If 2 pads can make such a difference to a short route like The Promise, then imagine what 17 would do. If 17, why not 18, if 18 why not 20, if 20 why not... I know I am exaggerating a little, but you get the point. For a rock type where the level is often defined by the danger (I know that’s not the whole truth but I’m trying to simplify) how would using a protection device that’s protectional ability is almost unquantifiable work? It would never be black and white, but many shades of grey!
It was for reasons like this that I decided to stop using pads until the murky waters clear. I do not know the answer; in fact I barely understand all the questions. But what I do know is things are getting more and more confusing and blurred for each day that passes.