How to climb E1: 10 tips from a rock-god

Posted by James McHaffie on 07/07/2016
Jim Tanner works his way up the uber classic Cenotaph Corner. Photo: Alex Messenger

Don't just dream. If you've been thinking of taking the plunge and getting extreme with your first E1, then now is the time. To help you on your way, we've got the BMC's very own trad warrior, James McHaffie, to give his 10 tips on how to break the E barrier.

E1, the first step into the extremes, can be a big psychological step – simply for the name and having to leave behind the Victorian grading system. If the grading system went 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 then I'd put money on it that more people would be climbing at E1 level.

Nowadays, it’s also possible to protect many E1s incredibly well, but it’s worth thinking back to when routes like Javelin Blade were ascended in the 1930s where falling off was a truly bad option and sticky rubber shoes were still decades away.

Central Buttress on Scafell Crag, the first E1 in Britain, was first climbed in April 1914 and the likes of Cenotaph Corner and Cemetery Gates weren’t ascended until the start of the 1950s; for some time, it was only the top climbers of the day who would attempt them.

Today these routes are on the radar of 100s, if not 1,000s, of climbers and for good reason. They were some of the first at the grade and were ascended by some of the all-time greats of British climbing, taking two of the proudest lines on Dinas Cromlech in perhaps the most famous climbing valley in Britain.

WATCH: Charlie Woodburn climb Central Buttress, the first E1 in Britain on BMC TV

To climb these routes is still a great achievement and one most people will remember for a long time. The amount of people who have had some form of epic on them – from running out of gas high up to rope fankles low down – would require ‘to the power of’ signs.

10 tips for climbing E1 this year:

1. Inspiration

Stand at the bottom of a few and have a good look at them, just to get inspired.

2. Get fit

Almost any general fitness stuff will help your trad climbing: running, gym work, pull ups. Trad is nearly always endurance based and you’re carrying extra weight, walking in for miles, moving slowly and hanging in strenuous positions until you feel recovered enough to crack on. It’s not for the lazy boulderers.

3. Try on second

Second a few E1s before getting on the sharp end. If you’re dripping sweat and have disco legs whilst seconding, wait till you’ve got fitter and more relaxed. Obviously.

4. Choose wisely

Some E1s are actually E2. Some I’ve done have even been E3. Watch out for the more esoteric ones; don’t be put off if you take the odd kicking.

5. It's all in the mind

Probably half of trad climbing is psychological. Make sure to have your mental state ready before setting off; confidence in your ability is worth more than one-arm pull ups. People who think themselves lucky usually are.

6. Learn doubles

Get used to using double ropes well. For the bigger routes, they’re good for abseiling but for any routes which traverse then go up via strenuous climbing (like the top pitch of Gogarth) they can make it much safer.

WATCH: How to belay with double ropes on BMC TV

7. The art of jamming

It will benefit you greatly to get good at jamming. There are many routes around the E1 level that are steep and much easier if you can confidently jam. Not only does it save energy, but it also means you can see the protection you’re placing, which may not be possible in a more strenuous layback.

8. Good friends (including belayers)

So you’ve managed to not to fall off climbing HVS? You’ll be doing well to continue that at this level. Many have 5c moves that are pretty weird, strenuous and dirty. You need to trust your gear enough to know you could take a fall onto it if you needed to, and a belayer who knows enough to be close in to the cliff (but not underneath you) and who will keep the rope locked off. #simple

9. Come to Cumbria

The best E1s on earth lie in the Lake District. Go there.

10. It gets easier

If you’ve broken into E1, the next level is an easier mental step.

READ: More climb skills articles

Caff's Cool E1 List

View this ticklist on UKClimbing.com

These are 50 E1s I’d recommend. Many are ones I’ve done many times or with good friends.

  1. The Old Man of Hoy
  2. The Needle, Shelterstone
  3. Central Buttress, Scafell
  4. The Red Edge, Esk Buttress
  5. Nimrod, Dow Crag
  6. Gethsemane, High Crag, Buttermere
  7. Quicksilver, Sergeant Crag Slabs, Langstrath
  8. Praying Mantis, Goat Crag, Borrowdale
  9. Banzai Pipeline, Greatend Crag, Borrowdale
  10. Jubilee Grooves, Black Crag, Borrowdale
  11. Raindrop, Black Crag, Borrowdale
  12. Aaros, Shepherds, Borrowdale
  13. Dedication, Lower Falcon, Borrowdale
  14. Totalitarian, Raven Crag, Thirlmere
  15. Thirlmere Eliminate, Castle Rock, Thirlmere
  16. Man of Straw, White Ghyll, Langdale
  17. Gimmer String, Gimmer, Langdale
  18. Whits End Direct, Gimmer
  19. Razor Crack, Neckband
  20. The Link, Stanage
  21. Strapiombante, Froggat
  22. Millsom’s Minion, Stanage
  23. Left Unconquerable, Stanage
  24. Embankment 3, Millstone
  25. Flying Buttress Direct, Stanage
  26. Encouragement, Hen Cloud
  27. Cabaret, Gordale Scar
  28. Carnage left hand, Malham
  29. Bela Lugosi is Dead, Rainbow area, slate
  30. Seams the Same, slate
  31. California Arete, slate
  32. Gogarth, Main cliff
  33. Breaking the Barrier, Holyhead
  34. The Grooves, Llech Ddu, Carneddau
  35. Barbarian, Pant Ifan, Tremadog
  36. Falcon, Pant Ifan
  37. The Plum, Tremadog (all time)
  38. Leg Slip, Tremadog
  39. Hardd, Hyll Drem, possibly E2
  40. Super Direct, Dinas Mot (all time)
  41. Plexus, Dinas Mot
  42. Nexus, Dinas Mot
  43. The Grooves, Cyrn Las
  44. Cemetery Gates, Dinas Cromlech
  45. Cenotaph Corner, Dinas Cromlech
  46. Vember, Clogwyn Du'r Arddu
  47. Octo, Cloggy
  48. The Arrow, Pembroke
  49. Rock Idol, Mother Carey's Kitchen
  50. Suicide Wall, Bosigran

Done them all? Let us know @team_BMC


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