I have been climbing just around three years now and the journey has been very thrilling so far. It has pretty much taken over my life and everything I do on daily basis is tailored around climbing.
Whether that is trying to push my physical abilities at a climbing centre, pulling on plastic holds and developing my technique fundamentals. Or perhaps single pitch climbing on grit stone in the Peak District, testing my technical and psychological capabilities. But if the weather is good in the mountains then I tend to go for North Wales or Lake District for some long and easy multipitch climbing to enjoy the journey.
The best part is the community connection and the social lifestyle, always meeting new people who are keen and are out just for a good time. It is like another world, forget about all the problems, just go out and enjoy the nature, drink coffee and make some great memories with some great people.
Coaching a youth climbing squad is the pinnacle of my climbing career so far. Providing empowering opportunities to young talents is a feeling like no other. One of the main reasons why I get out and about is to pass on the knowledge and show the kids what is out there.
Within this blog I briefly summarise the experience of climbing my first E2 in a tradition style, lead climbing and placing my own protection as I climb to the top. In terms of difficulty, the E2 route is my highest achievement so far and I hope you enjoy reading.
Diving straight into it
The research by UKC suggests that only around 10% of regular climbers tend to climb an E2. It may be because of personal goals, but most commonly it is due to the technical, physiological, and psychological constructs.
Although it is only the halfway mark in the British trad grading system, it is far from average. Some people say it is like running 5km under 20 minutes or perhaps a marathon under 3 hours.
Although, when you hear about the Paraclimber Jesse Dufton climbing an E2 blind it makes you wonder if E2 is really that difficult (or perhaps he is just not human).
It is simply a world class achievement by Jesse, not to mention his incredible ascent of the Old Man of Hoy E1 5b. Whether you are a climber or not, the film is a must watch for everyone. The article is also intriguing and worth exploring, explaining the world of traditional climbing in more detail.
Which route did I climb?
‘Commander Energy’ at the Roaches on western grit in the Peak District National Park, graded at E2 5C. The route description is not very appealing ‘heart in mouth and layback smartly’ but the photographs on UKC will give you a quick glimpse of the action.
Why Commander Energy?
Roughly three years ago, the Roaches was one of the very first crags I have visited, and it was where my climbing career really began.
It was a climbing experience as part of my degree in Outdoor Education and I briefly remember the instructors throwing us into the deep end, getting us to bottom rope that exact route - ‘Commander Energy’. I think I sat on the rope at least five times, it took me around 20 minutes and I do not remember getting to the top. I had almost zero knowledge of traditional climbing at that point and never imagined I could lead the route placing my own protection one day.
Since then, I have ticked off many of the classics at the Roaches, such as Valkyrie VS 4c, Pebbledash HVS 5a, Saul’s Crack HVS 5a and The Sloth HVS 5a, to name a few.
I have also had the pleasure of following the legendary climber Johnny Dawes up several routes at the Roaches, such as the Mincer HVS 5b and Smear test E3 6a. A professional climber who was one of the best in the world in the 80's and 90's. His biography and film 'Stone Monkey' is a crucial part to the history of climbing in the UK.
So, I have a really positive connection with the crag, the rock and the style of climbing, not to mention all the positive memories I collected over the years.
Getting to the point, I knew Commander Energy was my style of climbing and psychologically I knew I can do it. Most importantly, I understood and accepted the consequences of a potential lead fall.
The exciting bit (not). I vividly remember two moments where I did not want to fall. If I did, I was going to take massive whippers and especially at the top.
The first moment was just before stepping up on to the blank slab below the roof, where I have very carefully wedged a brass offset. It seemed pretty bomber (safe), but the slot was not perfect and a 90kg bloke whipping off would almost certainly rip the piece out. Meaning I would be falling 4-5metres and end up 1 meter off the ground, giving that the rope was not going to stretch too much and the belayer was absolutely 100% on point.
If you have climbed this route, you know where the second moment was. Just after rocking over at the roof, where you give yourself a talk and have a moment of silence.
Then there is roughly three meters of climbing to do with no protection, meaning if you fall you are guaranteed to be falling around seven metres, providing that none of your gear placements pop out. Taking into consideration the rope stretch and the belayer being pulled off their feet, it is a fall that everyone wants to avoid. All whilst you are doing some technically committing moves on grit stone. The lichen did not help and I almost slipped and went flying.
Strangely enough, I was not overly excited about the achievement of successfully leading the climb. Probably because I was confident that I could do it and it was just a tick in the box for me. I think that is because I have done all the hard work leading up to it.
Reflecting now makes me understand that I had to go through a long process to get to this moment, knowing that makes me feel accomplished and satisfied. Until I get the typical climbers' addiction and start itching for more again.
Best bit but the worst bit
The route was certainly a test piece for me and there was so much to think about that I completely forgot to take brass offsets with me. The best bit was that my friend John, who was belaying me, is very good at multi-tasking and is also good at lobbing things.
After a couple of throws, I had a moment of relief and was able to carry on. It was crucial and it had to be done, although throwing kit around is not best practice, it is designed to be battered. God knows if I would have carried on without them.
Good ol’ conclusion
Although ‘Commander Energy’ is the hardest trad route I have ticked off, the journey does not stop there. The ultimate E2 I would like to tick off by summer 2021 is ‘Left Wall’ on Dinas Cromlech. However, in the meantime I hope to tick off ‘Bastard’ at Llanymynech, ‘German schoolgirl’ in the slate quarries up in North Wales and ‘Elegy’ at the Roaches, to name a few.
Then there is another world of E3 and so on. It is a never-ending journey that I think about almost every day. Stay tuned for more content coming soon.