Thursday, 7 March 2013

Pilgrimage 2nd Ascent

Pilgrimage. Wow. Ben Moon fell off the end when it was a project. Rumour has it that Malc Smith spent a grand in petrol money to make the first ascent back in 2004. Unrepeated since then. Now some punk came along and ruined it with kneebars and kneepads. Oops!

Pilgrimage, a.k.a The Big Link, is the full back-left to front-right line in Parisella's cave. It starts at the back left of the cave and does the start of Left Wall Traverse before looping over a small arch, doing the classic 7C Rock Atrocity and then heading off to the front right of the cave to finish up Beaver Cleaver, a really cool 7B, after around 45 moves of almost horizontal 3D shenanigans. About a month ago I did it in overlapping sections and was really psyched to try the whole thing. Then the weather crapped out. First condensation. Then rain. Then seepage. Then it was too cold for trying long stuff. Finally last weekend the stars came back into alignment and I headed back over to Wales to try it again. My petrol money tally was racking up quickly.

Warming up on the end section Photo: Chris Lockyer

Saturday: Perfect weather. Perfect conditions. Cold enough for good friction but not so cold that your hands numbed out too easily. I failed. That's OK, I'd not been on it for a month, I knew I needed to relearn everything and get it dialled.
Sunday: Perfect weather. Perfect conditions. I still failed. This time I fell off the exit boulder problem, 2 moves from glory. SHIT! Still, when you're getting that close to something you know it'll go, it's just a question of when. So when? Not midweek, I needed to work. But the forecast for the next weekend was poor; the recent spell of glorious dry weather set to end. Was it going to be another month before I could get back to it? Another month for my memory of the moves to dull, my understanding of the body positions to dwindle, my belly to grow fat off flapjack?
Screw that.
Screw work.
Midweek it is.
Texts were sent out and willing accomplices found for a day raid before the weather was set to turn. Up goes the petrol tally. Who cares. Do it and it's all worth it.

Monday: Nerves. Worries. All those redpoint feelings you learn to keep at bay, but at the start of routes season I've not remembered to subdue them yet, not become accustomed to ignoring them. I shouldn't eat much, I need to be light. But I should eat lots, I need the energy. My knee hurts, cut and bruised from overuse in the kneebars at the weekend. My calf hurts too, what if it's too tired for the rests?

Tuesday: Who cares about nerves. It's a work day and I'm going climbing. Sheffield is enveloped in dense fog as we head out but I've checked the webcams, I know it's clear out there. Tash leaves her purse in a service station toilet. Nice work. (We got it back later) Cheesy trance on the ipod for my warm up jog, that stuff never fails to get my head in the mood for stamina. In the cave it feels a bit slippy. Secretly I quite like that, it helps me take the pressure off. Warming up is the usual pre-redpoint affair, over analysing every move as I re-familiarize myself with the sections. "Ooh, that bit felt good, I think I'm strong today." "Yeah, definitely, feeling good." "Shit, why does that bit feel hard? That bit felt easy last time, maybe I'm tired." Eventually I'm ready for a go. Try not to care too much. Try just to think about the climbing. Try to remember to try really hard. It works. Yes! Pilgrimage. Bloody hell. I can't stop grinning. I spend the rest of the afternoon doing some nice 7Cs, content but always wanting to do more, always wanting to climb more. Begrudgingly I make myself stop, saving my arms for the two days of training that lie in store before it's time to rest again.

Now I'm sat up writing this, despite the fact I should have gone to bed hours ago. I've got to get up and work in the morning. This time I actually have to go in. I don't want to. I want to go climbing. I'm content, but I want to climb again already. Always more...

The ascent (all actually stitched from the send go too!) Photo: Chris Lockyer

Big thanks to Chris Lockyer for the photos, especially the really cool sequence one above. There are more shots of me on Pilgrimage at his blog:

When Malc Smith did the first ascent he gave it F9a or Font 8B+. As a ~45 move marathon without a rope Pilgrimage lies in that awkward region of not quite a route but not quite a boulder problem. Personally I feel more comfortable using a route grade for it. This is partly because I'm more of a route climber so I have more experience with these grades, but also because I feel it better characterises the difficulty and the process involved in climbing this bit of rock. That's what a grade's supposed to be for right? My method was significantly easier than Malc's, both due to finding alternative beta on a couple of hard moves and due to 2 kneebar rests. Some of the knees are a bit leg length specific so shorties may well struggle to get them all to work. Anyway, it must be WAY easier than the original method, but it's probably the hardest bit of climbing I've done - I think it's harder than the 8c+ I did in Loup last summer and it’s in another league to any of the 8cs I've done so I figure 8c+ or maybe 8c/+ is probably about right for what I did. Who knows? Anyway, whilst I bloody love grades, for once that's not so much why I'm happy. Like a friend said in a text I got after doing it, "not coz of the difficulty, coz it's cool".

My ascent will probably annoy a few people because I used kneebars and kneepads. I'm not planning on getting drawn into a big debate on this. It's been done already and it got pretty boring. Suffice to say, for me pads are a part of modern climbing. If you want to message me a rant on facebook feel free, just don't forget to copy in Dave Graham, Daniel Woods, James Pearson, Ethan Pringle, Gerome Pouvreau, Matty Hong, Dave Macleod, Dan Varian, Joe Kinder, Daila Ojeda, Jimmy Webb, Ian Dory, Alex Raczynski, Enzo Oddo, Jon Cardwell, Neil Mawson, Steph Davis... you get the point. Initially I didn't really understand why people wouldn't want to use knees and pads nowadays- the moves are really cool with them and it seemed dumb not to use them. Now I think I 'get it' more, I even feel a bit of guilt over what I've 'done' to such a classic testpiece. Still, now it can be done 'new school' or 'old skool', so everyone can be happy. Except maybe the guidebook writers, V14/F9a/V12/13/F8c/+ anyone?!
Actually, one more thing on the pads – ‘mad props’ to 'Little Dan' for the American style kneepad beta and Neely for posting over some of the Rock and Resole pads all the way from Colorado!

Mobile phone footage of the successful attempt coming soon...


  1. Nice oneAlex, for the critics there is always the original method. Love the pic, was it photoshop'd up of is there some posh software to make those images now?

  2. Not sure on the logistics of making the photo I'm afraid, you'd have to ask Chris over on his blog.


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