James McHaffie: secrets to climbing E5 plus top 100 E5s ticklist

Posted by James McHaffie on 05/08/2015
James McHaffie on Coeur de Lion E8 7a. Photo: Ray Wood
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Some of the most iconic routes in Britain lay in this grade category, says BMC Ambassador James McHaffie. Up to a point in climbing it’s possible to avoid running it out too far; to stay within your physical and mental comfort zone. That has to be left behind to push into British E5s...

Runouts have to be embraced and ‘reasonable’ sized falls accepted as a possibility. Don’t get me wrong, there are some exceptionally protected E5s: Barbarella, Chemin De Fer, London Wall. But some E5s can be harder than E6s.

When I was climbing one of the first E5s put up in Britain the other day, Jenny Wren, it felt more serious and a bigger lead than many E6 6as I've climbed. Pete Livesey, who brought this standard into fruition, excelled at this bold style, which is often lost on the more recent generation used to climbing walls and 'boldering’.

The physical standards can be very high as well. On a weekend in Pembroke last month we climbed three E7s, an E6 and an E5: the E5 had the hardest, most insecure climbing moves.

With all this in mind I’ve made a list of ten tips, plus a list of 100 good or great E5s with a * next to the ‘softies’, although even these should be regarded as big leads. Some on the list are weird or burly but have great gear like Cobalt Dream, which is an esoteric climb giving lots of fun.

Caff's top 10 tips to climbing E5

  1. Build up a ‘platform’ of routes before climbing an E5, do a few E3s and 4s of different styles and don’t worry if some which aren’t your style feel nails.
  2. Read up on the history of the climb/s you’re after, it can build up psyche and being ‘pepped up’ can give you a good head start.
  3. Get loads of microwires and offsets and the like, they weigh nothing and can go in lots of handy places.
  4. On any pitches of 30m plus where you are very comfortable on the climbing low down extend the pro with slings or longer draws to reduce drag higher up.
  5. If you are struggling to commit and you’ve a clear fallout zone, focus on breathing slowly, warn your belayer and commit to a sequence fast. Using a 3,2,1 countdown can help.
  6. Speak to people who have done a lot at the grade to recommend a good one to start on or else risk listening to horror stories.
  7. If you don’t like sport climbing start doing a little bit, most E5s are in the lower F7s and 50 % of climbing them is knowing you’re capable of getting up them. If you can’t climb F7a+ then stick to the slabby ones.
  8. Go to Pembroke, there are so many down there, often with good or reasonable gear you’ll find one that inspires you. If you can’t do it look at another great one right next to it.
  9. Go to Pembroke.
  10. Be careful of Pete Whillance E5s.

Caff's 100 Ace E5s

(* indicates a 'softie' - in Caff's eyes!)


MEET: Our Ambassador Team

WATCH: BMC Ambassador James McHaffie on BMC TV

WATCH: BMC ambassador James McHaffie taking a fall from the Headwall Pitch of Salathé Wall on BMC TV

WATCH: Mary-Ann Ochota in Great Walks: Catbells on BMC TV

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