My Climbing Year: E2 to E7 – Aaron Willis

The first trip out this year was with Guy and not a great one to remember, however it will stick in my mind for a while. I think the hardest thing we climbed that weekend was an E1, but the part I will always remember is pulling Guy up off the floor during my small flying lesson on Mississippi Buttress Direct (VS4c). Thank God two out of three bits of gear held – I love number1 nuts. My confidence felt like it had had a ten-round match against a heavyweight boxer. It was smashed.

So the start of the year was not looking good.


Early on in March Gav and I travelled up to The Peaks for a weekend of hard climbing. As most people know Gav and I are always sensible when it comes to climbing, so we had a nice early night…………………….in the pub.

After half a pint each (well may be a bit more), and laughing at the drunken man dancing/wobbling on the dance floor, we decided to hit the sack. The next morning we decided to get up nice and early about 11am and shoot down to the café. After a great breakfast we jumped into the car and headed to Burbage North.

The weather was fantastic – a lovely crisp day. Perfect time for Gav to do his first E1. I took him along to Long Tall Sally. This is a great E1, however I had trouble getting the first nut in, (I think it’s a 1 or something). After a few minutes of faffing I got it to stay in the crack, and it even held the rope, so I was away. One smear after another and before I knew it I was mantling the top.

Gav and I rarely second each other’s routes. Most time we ‘ab’ down and whip the gear out so the other can still climb it ‘on-site’ or ‘red point’.

Question – what does on-site mean to you?

Lafi, a Slovak, thinks that even looking at the guidebook means you loose the ‘on-site’ which is true; you get told where the route goes, where the crux is, if it’s protected, where the gear goes and what size. Even the grade gives it away. So ask yourself how many routes have you on-sited?

Anyhow, we did a few more E1s that day, including The Irrepressible Urge and Now or Never. I think that ‘now or never’ is a great name for the route; the crux is moving off a safe, warm, comfortable ledge and you just have to make a decision. I was lucky in that just on tiptoes I could reach the ‘cam’ slot, so apart from the wind blowing around the arête I flew up the last few moves. Poor old Gav wasn’t so lucky. If Gav named the route it would be ’Up and down from now or never’.

To finish the day off we on-sited two E2s – Boney Moroney and the intimidating but easy, The Sentinel. As I managed to get up The Sentinel cleanly in my trainers, I think it should be downgraded to E1. Even Gav thought it was one of the easiest routes we had climbed all day. I think you would only have trouble on it if you hang around playing with your nuts. I put something in halfway and that was it; I think Gav managed to get a ‘cam’ in at top.

After a good day’s climbing, well three to four hours, we had to have a debrief of the day. Obviously it was too cold to sit out side, so into The Traveller’s it was.

After a few beers, the conversations started to get intense. Gav asked me a question. “What grade are you climbing?” After a few minutes of thinking I replied “HVS”. We carried on chatting then a couple of minutes later he asked, “So why do you think you’re an HVS climber?” Again he stumped me; I had to think. “Because it’s my middle grade, two grades lower than my hardest”. He then asked me how many E1 have I fallen off, and how many E2s. He was right – I had never fallen off them.

I realised I was climbing within my comfort zone.

That evening I told Gav I would keep going up the grades until I can’t possibly get any further.

And this is where my year really begun!

How many other people in the IMC are climbing within their comfort zone?

“Yet virtually all life experience shows us that we have extraordinary control over circumstances. All that stops us is taking that little leap of deciding to exert that control. Ever been persuaded to do something a little outside of your comfort zone by a friend or even been too embarrassed to chicken out and then looked back and thought ‘I’m glad I did that’. That feeling is quite refreshing isn’t it? It puts a bit of a spring in your step for a while. I think people who progress in sport, or anything for that matter, remember that good feeling and look for it. After a while, breaking out of habits, or in other words ‘personal barriers’ becomes the comforting feeling itself, rather than staying inside the safety cocoon of mediocrity.”
Dave MacLeod

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