E is for E1

November 10, 2008

Have you ever wondered how hard Extreme routes would be if E for Extreme was changed to E for Easy?

Don’t you think that the jump from HVS to E1 seems like such a huge gap compared to the one between VS to HVS?

The funny thing is that once you make that jump it seems that that gap narrows once more, with the distance from El to E2, E3, E4 etc seemingly more do-able, with the next milestone being E5, then E7 and, lastly, E11.

The problem is the grade E1 and all that it represents.

I’m convinced if we did away with E1 and changed it to SHVS (Slightly Hard Very Serious) that, overnight, the UK average grade would shoot up, with climbers zooming up routes they had long thought too hard for them, no doubt shouting down to their seconds: “Feels more like HVS then SHVS actually.”

Personally, I’d like to do away with years of hard-fought tradition and get rid of the UK grading system. What I’d like to do is adopt Jim Bridwell’s big wall grading system, where routes are graded DH (Damned Hard), PDH (Pretty Damned Hard) etc.

Another alternative would be to go with the Richie Patterson double grading system of P (Path) and I (Impossible), which although limited to a guidebook writer, would no doubt create a great deal of debate amongst the general public.

When you’re climbing HVS you feel that the climbing may sometimes be hard - and yes I agree that many HVS’s actually feel like E3s - but it always feels fun, as if you couldn’t really hurt yourself.

Then you find yourself on an E1 and all of a sudden you’re acutely aware that if you mess this up then you could well be on the way to the hospital, or worse, a hole in the ground,

I think before you reach E1 you get moves where you think ‘How do I do this?’, little puzzles of push and pull, which suddenly change at E1 to ‘Do I dare do this?’ where the outcome of a failure to do is far from pleasant.

My first E1 lead was actually an E2, in that it’s an E1 in one guide but E2 in another and, of course, at the time I preferred the higher grade, but now I realize it was in fact only really an E1 - which is lucky seeing as this is about E1s.

It was Great Peter (18m) at Lawrencefield and I don’t remember much about it apart from spending a long time standing halfway up trying to get some wires to stay wedged in either side of a loose block, not being aware that the block was actually loose and what was actually needed was two opposing wires,

I hung there for ages, trying one wire then another, without success, my dad belaying below, keeping quiet during this important rite of passage, The only passage I had in my mind was a long fall if I fell off higher up, as with arms weakening I knew I’d just have to go for it which I did, without the wires, delicately piecing it together up sandy and ant-infested cracks and edges.

Pulling on to the top was great, knowing that I’d finally made that jump from hundreds of HVSs to my first Extreme, E1 s were do-able after that, not because I was really any better or stronger than I had been before, but because I’d done one, so I could do another, and another, and that’s the joy of getting. better at climbing, stacking one route on top of another to reach the next grade.

For those who have yet to climb E1, I’m sure even the mention of the grade makes you tremble, a grade that seems impossible to imagine climbing yourself, as if you’ll never get that good or that brave and that people who climb up in the Extremes have something you don’t. Well that’s not the case, it’s all down to perception and my advice is to maybe leave that guidebook at home sometimes, you might be surprised what you can climb.

And, finally, one thing to remember when you’re standing at the bottom of your first E1, hands chalked up and boots squeaky clean, contemplating what lies ahead, climbing your first E1 is like losing your virginity; although at the time it is overwhelmingly scary - but desirable - it’s forgotten the instant it’s achieved, yet it opens up a world of fantastic possibility.”

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