TEAM AMERICA: Jorgeson, Segal and Honnold tackle Britain's famed gritstone routes
In late October/early November 2008 a trio of Black Diamond athletes, Kevin Jorgeson, Matt Segal and Alex Honnold, traveled to sample "God's own rock", the famed British gritstone where runouts, groundfalls and surgical technique are all part of the game. Between rain showers and squalls, the trio managed a host of quick repeats of some of the country's hardest rated testpieces, sparking amazement and grading debates throughout the UK.
All said, the trio had one of the most impressive visits the gritstone has ever seen. Their ticklist included:
- The New Statesman (E8 7a, Jorgeson)
- The Parthian Shot (E9 6c, Jorgeson, first ground-up E9 ascent)
- The Promise (E10 7a, Jorgeson and Honnold, second and third ascents)
- Gaia (E8 6c, Honnold flash, Jorgeson and Mat Segal headpoints)
- Meshuga (E9 6c, solos by Honnold and Jorgeson)
- The Groove (E10 7b, Jorgeson, second ascent, with variation)
Honnold wrote us a trip report about their time in the UK, Cory Richards provided the photos and Segal and Jorgeson put together the excellent video that follows. Be sure to check out the video where Jorgeson takes the big fall off of Gaia (made famous in the film Hard Grit when Jean-minh Trin-Thieu takes the same nasty fall), Segal takes a grounder on Kaluza Klein and Honnold pulls off a crazy WTF no-hands move on End of the Affair in a howling gale.
The idea to come climb on the grit was originally schemed up by Matt Segal and Kevin Jorgeson. They were both keen to check out the heady, sparsely protected trad scene in the UK. Matt invited me along and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try a new style of climbing. Our group was rounded out by Cory Richards, our friend and photographer, who would tag along for a while and take pictures.
We met up at Heathrow in the UK. Kevin and I flew over from California, Cory and Matt from Europe. We barely managed to fit all of us and our bags into the rental car, but eventually we were underway towards Manchester. None of us knew anything about England. We didn't know where anything was, we didn't have any friends here, we didn't even know where the climbing was. But thankfully Matt had emailed with Jason Pickles [who had recently beeen deemed the manliest man in Britain: http://www.salfordadvertiser.co.uk/news/s/1027339_lucy_pinder_calls_me_the_manliest_man_in_britain_ ] and he'd invited us into his house to begin our trip.
On our way to Pickles’ house we started a pattern that lasted the entire trip: we got lost, we got confused, we drove in circles for a little bit. We drove far too close to other cars and sometimes wandered back onto the right side of the road. But eventually we found Pickles' house, our home for the first two weeks of the trip.
Pickles has dirtbagged extensively in the U.S. and was returning the favor to vagrant Americans. He went out of his way to take us to a new crag every day, showing us the classics and recommending which routes would be dry or clean. His local knowledge was invaluable; we seemed to always have somewhere relatively dry and interesting to climb.
One of the beauties of England, which took us a little while to get used to, is the fact that the near constant rain is extremely localized. Rain at one crag doesn't mean that nearby crags will be raining too. Moving from crag to crag was fairly common. Coupled with the fact that weather forecasts are only reliable about 12 hours in advance, it meant that we were never really sure where we'd be going. Which meant lots of open projects and unfinished routes all over the countryside. But at least we were getting out and climbing every day, even if it was a little windy and rainy.
After two weeks at Pickles' house, enjoying surprisingly good English weather (which is the same as terrible California weather), it was time to move on. Pickles' girlfriend, though she was too nice to ever say anything, was obviously over having a bunch of dirty climber packed into her extra room. Plus the long commutes to and from the different crags were starting to wear us down. We were keen to move to Sheffield, the heart of gritstone climbing. Again, Pickles took care of us, introducing us to some local climbers in town and making sure we got sorted out.
We wound up in an amazing mansion shared by local climbers George, Adam, and Alastair. They were very welcoming and their living room floor became our headquarters for the rest of the trip. But then the weather crapped out for good. Two weeks of near constant rain. We watched a lot of movies in our mansion. Generally all three of us would be wrapped up in our sleeping bags, strewn across various sofas, watching shitty movies for a whole day. The only breaks were for Kevin and Matt to make brews in between films. Whenever I couldn't take the monotony any more I would try to go for a run.
For me at least, these middle weeks were my gray period. The rain crushed our psyche and the constant movies dulled my mind. I didn't even want to climb anymore, I just wanted to sit around and eat cookies. I fantasized about being in California and considered the idea of changing my ticket. Thankfully, this phase only lasted a few days, though I think we all had our different funks.
At some point in here we began our relationship with the Burbages: Burbage North and South. The North is a mild, sunny wall with loads of easy warm ups and a few hard routes. The South has loads of hard routes and no warm ups at all. And it's always windy, cold and wet. Needless to say we spent most of our time there, since it wouldn't be England if you weren't physically miserable at the crag.
At Burbage North, Kevin easily crushed The Promise, originally rated E10 and supposedly one of the hardest routes in the country. He then downgraded it, partially because we don't understand how the grades work over here and partially because it is a little soft. The resulting firestorm on the UK climbing websites provided entertainment for the whole rest of the trip. From here on out any time one of us would do anything it would be on the web immediately, which was mildly creepy but imminently entertaining. The forums over here seem to attract far more people than in the U.S., so there was constant debate, name calling, and armchair criticism (mostly between the users, almost never aimed towards us. People were universally kind and supportive to us).
We all worked our own projects at Burbage South. Kevin climbed Parthian Shot (E9), ground up early in the trip and then turned his attention to Equilibrium, an E10. Matt worked on Parthian. I sort of ran around and climbed random routes. But for whatever reason, we spent a lot of time at Burbage South. It felt like training for alpinism. The wind was always howling and the wall is in permanent shade. I would try to warm up by soloing shitty, green offwidth gullies in my gloves and down jacket. Anything to try to get the blood moving before hopping on some poorly protected 5.12 or 5.13 project.
Cory Richards had left us shortly after we moved to Sheffield and with him went the rental car that was in his name. For the next four weeks we were constantly scrounging for rides to the crag. George, our housemate and provider, went out of his way to get us rides. Sam and Brian, other local climbers, also went out of their way to help us out. Sam is a part owner of the Climbing Works, an amazing local climbing gym that helped take the edge off of all the rain days. But our most frequent chauffeur was Dave Simmonite, a local photographer. We had a perfectly symbiotic relationship: he had to drive us around to random crags but could always count on getting some good pictures. Since we were on a short-term trip we were all a bit hungrier than the local climbers.
Gritstone climbing is more personal than most other areas. The inherent danger and the constantly changing conditions (physical and mental, rain and psyche) make some of the routes more of a quest than a redpoint. Kevin and I independently chose to solo Meshuga (E9) when there was no one around. For our own reasons, we both felt more comfortable alone. Poor Dave was besides himself at missing the shots but he respected our decisions. (And to make it up to him, I wound up repeating it later.)
As the trip was winding down Brett and Cooper from Big Up arrived, seemingly out of the blue, to shoot some video with us for their upcoming film Progression. It was a much needed shot of motivation—and they had a car. Kevin seized the opportunity to make the semi-second ascent of The Groove, a coveted E10. "Semi" because he strayed off the line taken by the first ascentionist, doing the low crux but taking an easier (and less contrived) line to the top. Regardless, Kevin was happy with his climb and Big Up shot good footage. But like always, the ascent caused quite a debate on the UK climbing websites, with people debating whether or not it was really a "second ascent".
As our trip wound down we were all psyched to get home. Friends wrote telling me of an unseasonably warm California fall. Even on the climbing days here it rained at least a little bit. It was getting colder and the sun set at 4pm. We were glad to have checked out gritstone climbing. It pushed us out of our comfort zone and helped redefine "trad" climbing, for me at least. I'll never view American runouts quite the same.
–– Alex Honnold