Inspired by UKC I thought I would have a crack at writing my own Desert Island Climbs; after all who doesn’t want to be whisked away to a desert island with eight of their favourite climbs?! Although I don’t have a vast breadth of ascents (obviously why I haven’t heard from them), I think describing my experiences on the climbs that are most significant to me would make for an interesting read. If you disagree then I would advise you stop reading right about…now!

So why do these stand out from others? And what makes them special enough to make the process or moment important to me?

I think the clichéd answer is to say that it is about more than just the climb. It’s about the people one shares the experience with, the history that envelops a certain piece of rock and the trials and tribulations the climber goes through to make an ascent possible. The fact of the matter is that the cliché is true. It’s about all that and more. Each climb has it’s own unique story and what contributes to that story can be a hundred tiny moments or just one moment of inspiration, luck or fight.

Over the next few months I am going to try and put down in words what each ‘desert island climb’ means to me and how it got to be on my list.

  1. Gaia E8 6C; Flash.

Thanks to the Slackjaw film Hard Grit, I think this must be the most infamous grit route in the world. The film starts with Frenchman Jean-Minh Trin-Thieu attempting to climb Gaia. Gasps of exertion and the sound of a beating heart interspersed with instrumental music build the tension to a nail biting crescendo. His twinkle toe movement, ballerina-like, is a pleasure to watch and can surely only result in success. One movement away from triumph and it all goes wrong resulting in an almighty whipper leaving him, luckily, with just a nasty gash on his leg thanks to some top notch belaying.

I would imagine most gritstone aficionados have seen this and recall the scene and the feeling it leaves in the pit of the stomach as he plummets towards the ground. The capturing of this footage almost makes Gaia more infamous, more scary and more of an undertaking to those intrepid few. There is a slight thought of impending doom before you even get on the route.

Luckily it didn’t seem to be like that for me. I have been to Black Rocks twice: on the first visit Katy (Whittaker) made mincemeat of Gaia and realised her childhood dream of climbing this beauty and the second time to belay a friend, Nige, on the route. The day was a warm one, t-shirts and sweat are my most vivid memories, and watching Nige practise the route on a top rope lulled me into a false sense of security. He just made it look so goddamn easy! I had been having a good gritstone season and I was feeling confident. Probably, looking back, a little too confident but that’s how it works. Success breeds success and before you know it you feel like an untouchable entity, riding the send train, non-stop to Sendsville. Ever since seeing Gaia in the flesh and watching Katy cruise her way to the top I had entertained this tiny idea of having a flash attempt. This idea was so tiny that I hadn’t told anyone and this meant that it wasn’t really entering into my conscious thought too much either. Nige’s silky skills, a French blow on every move, compounded the feeling that was welling up inside. I think Nige could see what was occurring as if my thought process, the ticking cogs, were audible to him too.

To cut an already long story short I decided to take the plunge, I climbed up, placed the gear and down climbed. Was this a good idea? It was hot and humid, I was sweating before I even left the ground, but once the gear was in place my ego wouldn’t let me back down. The next minute or two was a complete blur coupled with a few really vivid moments; getting into the groove, rocking over and realising my left hand was too high, reverse the move, carry on. Bridged in the groove, I can hear Niges voice telling me to chalk up, no French nonchalance here, I hadn’t even chalked up! Quick chalk. I am tall so reaching the sloper is easy (thanks Mr Dawes), no ladybirds to be seen. Sketchy foot swap and after that the arms are in complete control. Sitting a top of Gaia was not what I would call a euphoric feeling; more a realisation of what a plonker I had been, how poorly I had climbed this wonderful route and how happy I was to be okay.

I am not known for my fine footwork, so flashing Gaia felt pretty rewarding. All the other grit routes I had done that year had involved pulling with my arms, not exactly what grit is known for. This ascent proved to me that I could be technical in an exposed position when required. It also proved to me that my ego could sometimes override my brain!!

Thanks Nige and Katy for making it look so easy and giving me the inspiration to drag my boulderer’s torso up that lovely piece of rock. Flashing Gaia is an achievement that I am immensely proud of but having this climb on my desert island would allow me to hone my skills of French nonchalance!

Katy Whittaker on her successful lead of the infamous Gaia at Black Rocks.

Katy Whittaker on her successful lead of the infamous Gaia at Black Rocks.

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