Too Old for E3?
Rock Climbing Grades (for those not familiar).
Briefly: Rock climbing grades come in two forms. Overall climb grades starting from easy, moderate, difficult up to hard very severe(HVS) and then come the extreme grade E1, E2, E3 etc. The second type of grade is the technical grade for each "pitch" or section of the climb indicated by numbers with a suffix a,b or c. Typically a Very Severe (VS) route would be technically 4a or 4b, whereas an E1 would be 5a to 5b. Mac and I, on average, climbed E2 and 5c. We only climbed above this grade when lead by smart alec young Tiger showing off.
Finding Our Route in Borrowdale, Lake District.
Scene: Lake District 1989 and the romantically named National Trust Crag was our target for the day's climbing. Ray McHaffie (Mac) had spotted a possible new route on the rock face and I was keen to add another route to my list of first ascents. The discription of the crag in the guidebook included the phrase "In the main the rock in this area is less than perfect". Sounded just about right for a MacHafie - Bosher epic.
Our route was to take a line up a vertical wall between two other of Mac's routes called Naked Edge (E2, 5b) and One in Six (E1, 5b) so named from the fact that on the first ascent one in six holds fell off (or was it stayed in place), and one block actually bounced over the Borrowdale road.
Success, the Ascent is Made.
We roped up and Mac started off up to a bulge in the wall which was part of One in Six and proved it with a shower of small rocks that I managed to dodge sucessfully. I had to rearrange the coiled rope at my feet under a small overhang to shelter it from any further bombardment. Mac managed only a few runners (points of protection using nuts and slings) but I was glad they were never to be tested. Then came a delicate traverse across a bulging wall to climb the difficult wall above (more rock showers) into an awkward groove. Finally a struggle up the final overhang and onto the safety of a tree for a belay.
How Does He Do It?
The route was only about 40 metres in length and only one pitch but I really struggled all the way up. There was no place to rest. Mac had been brilliant. How does he climb such routes and still survive? When he was a youngster, he had been so bold at leading the hardest routes of the day (early 1950's) that one famous old climber of the day had said that he would have killed himself in six months. And here he was, climbing in the same bold way, over fifty years old, outliving many of his old steady climbing mates. The answer, I believe, is Genius!
Mac's gone now. He collapsed with a heart problem in 2005 and I shall miss him. And so will the rest of the climbing world.
Dicing With Death: A New Extreme Rock Climbing Route in Borrowdale.
Dicing with Death seemed an appropriate name for our new route. The next task was to give it a rock climbing grade. Sometimes this was difficult because the conditions we had encountered during the first ascent was going to be different, making it perhaps easier (or harder, if we knocked off holds on the ascent), for those who followed the route in the future. After this particularly desperate route on National Trust Crag Mac said "5c and E2".
I thought it was harder than most of the classics of that grade we had climbed recently such as Vertigo on Black Crag or The Niche. Getting my breath back after the descent I told Mac what I thought of the route. "That was desperate. More like 6a, E3?"
"I'm not allowed to do 6a, E3." he sighed sadly. "If I said a new route was E3 they'd only downgrade it." So it was agreed 5c, E2.
Sometime Later: Eagle Crag, Stonethwaite.
Post Mortem: The Hardest Route from the Fifties.
I'd never climbed more than 5c E2 graded classic routes with Mac at that time (late 80's) and one day we set off for Eagle Crag to climb Post Mortem an old Paul Ross and Peter Lockey (co-founder of Bergaus) route from 1956. I believe one of the hardest routes in the country at the time and Mac said it had been the first 5c E2 graded climb in the Lake District and Paul Ross had used a sling for assistance on the first ascent. We both found the second pitch really desperate but eventually succeeded in reaching the belay at the top. Certainly one of the hardest technical pitches I had ever done and Mac was highly impressed.
Our Combined Age is 110!
Mac had done a quick calculation in his head and on the way back to the car on meeting other people (Mac seemed to know everyone) would proudly announce "We've just done Post Mortem and our combined age is 110 years." After that he often quote our combined age when recalling our climbing activities on both new and classic hard routes. Funny thing is I couldn't argue because he didn't seem certain about his age and I never discovered Mac's real age until his date of birth was announced at his funeral. But he wasn't far off.
E3 at Last.
Mac said he would have a word with "them" about upgrading Post Mortem as it was much harder than described in the Guide Book. Remembering what he had told me about not being allowed to do E3 I didn't give him much chance of success.
Some time later Mac joined me in the Packhorse in Keswick with a broader grin than usual. " They've re-graded Post Mortem to E3" he announced. "it's in the new Borrowdale Guidebook".
THEY can't be SO bad then, I thought.
Joe Bosher (74th).