Pete Whitaker talks about Crown Royale, his hardest route yet
- Thursday 5th October 2023
Pete Whittaker recently made the first ascent of Crown Royale on the Profile Wall at Jøssingfjord, Norway; in this Q&A Pete shares his thoughts on what he believes is his hardest route yet.
Having climbed all the routes on the Project Wall – including Recovery Drink, Pete’s project for 2023 was the long-standing, multi-pitch project just left. This mighty line – c.100m long – climbs the full height of the Profile Wall. Pete had already climbed the starting pitch back in 2019 as part of another route but the second/middle pitch of the line was still unclimbed. His first ‘job’ therefore was to climb that pitch which he did a month or so ago to give Eigerdosis F8c. So having succeeded on Eigerdosis, Pete started working/redpointing the whole route.
Sharing news of his first ascent of the full project on Instagram Pete summarised his thoughts by saying:
'I must admit, I wasn't expecting to do the full line this season. But there we go, it happened!'
'Fun (and pumpy) to finally make the first ascent of Crown Royale, which is up there with the hardest bit of trad climbing I've done'.
'It was definitely the full 100m "Irish Mega Pitch" experience I was hoping for, with the weight of the rope pulling me back at the end of the steep section. Followed by another 20 metres of mandatory rope drag on the easier top-out climbing. Then finally, untying at the end of the 80-metre rope and soloing the remaining 20 metres to the summit of Profilveggen'.
So here are Pete’s thoughts on Crown Royale, the climbing, the difficulties involved and Pete’s process working on the first ascent of what is now one of Norway and the world’s hardest trad routes.
Congrats on your first ascent of Crown Royale; chuffed would be an understatement – right?
Of course great to get it finished. Usually, I have 1 or 2 main projects I’d like to complete each year, and this was my one for this year. I focussed my training on being in shape for the September season, so I’m glad it paid off.
The Norwegian weather seems to have been even more challenging than usual this season so getting this finished off must be equally satisfying and relieving.
The weather was difficult for our September trip, with rain every day and rain on the forecast. If we hadn’t already planned a trip and you saw the forecast, you’d immediately sack it off and not bother going. However, it’s always the way, that if you turn up session after session, you’ll get rewarded eventually, and that’s what happened.
So, the route details then; a three-pitch route in a oner! At 100m that really is a monster pitch and un-tieing and soloing the last 20m is a bit extreme maybe? Time for longer ropes or shorter projects maybe?
Absolutely not, it’s all about the pump fests and mega pitches. It makes sense to do it in one pitch as although there is a no hands rest in the middle, there are no obvious belay ledges.
I feel like everyone seems to have picked up on this untying business and soloing to the top, it’s not a big deal. The hard climbing is long since gone and it’s incredibly easy up there. It would feel more extreme to stay tied in with a 100m rope and have to deal with the rope drag! Haha
The middle – and crucial pitch – you climbed earlier this summer; Eigerdosis F8c. Talk us through the difficulties on that pitch for starters please; what’s the climbing and the shakeouts like? And how does that compare to the other routes you’ve done on the wall?
I’ve done all the routes on the wall, and at the time of doing Eigerdosis, I thought it seemed like the second hardest on the wall behind Recovery Drink.
The climbing is a mixture of crack and face climbing, with the cruxes having a blend of each. There is one good bat hang rest in the middle of the pitch, and other shakeouts from jamming positions. it’s important to be able to recover in jams.
Let’s add the first and the third pitch into the mix then next; can you describe how hard they are next and the climbing on them? In particular, how good is the rest in-between the first and the second pitches then; i.e. how much accumulated fatigue are you carrying into Eigerdosis having done the first pitch?
The first section of Crown Royale has the hardest boulder problem of the route but overall isn’t as sustained as the top section. Again this boulder contains both normal face holds and jams, so having strength in both is really useful. There is a good rest before starting the sustained section of Eigerdosis, but it’s important to not carry too much fatigue into this rest.
And the final pitch which you had to free-solo? How hard is that and what did it feel like soloing that?
The final section of the route is easy; E1 or E2, then gradually getting easier and easier. By the time I untied, I was on Severe grade terrain, so soloing is really easy. It felt way nicer to solo than to carry all the rope drag to the top (I basically wouldn’t have been able to move). The reason for carrying on into the easier terrain is because again there isn’t actually a proper stance at the end of the harder climbing.
Breaking Crown Royale down into sections as you did – i.e. doing Eigerdosis first – and then adding the first pitch afterwards is obviously a smart move. How did you feel climbing that section on the redpoint of Crown Royale?
It was really useful to climb Eigerdosis as a section of climbing by itself first. I learnt a lot by doing that, and I had more failed redpoint attempts on that as a single piece of climbing than the full line of Crown Royale. I think if I had just started trying from the bottom, I would have wasted a lot of goes and had to the beginning multiple more times, which I wasn’t massively keen on.
Zooming out then and to summarise, now you’ve had time to reflect what is your assessment of Crown Royale relative say, to other pitches on that wall and elsewhere that you’ve climbed?
To me, it felt like the most involved pitch on the wall. Compared to other hard trad or sport routes I’ve done at my upper end, it felt a little harder.
You’re off to the US soon; you got some big projects planned?
I’m heading to the USA with Mari and Tom, I have both projects and more chilled days out climbing in mind.
So there you have it, Pete’s thoughts on Crown Royale. Well, maybe not all his thoughts; keen-eyed readers will notice that other than a few tell-tail comments – “hardest bit of trad route I’ve done” and “a bit harder than Recovery Drink” – Pete refused to be drawn on the grade and we did ask him honestly suggesting it must be in the region of F8c+/F9a.
Just this morning, however, he’s finally come clean and given Crown Royale a tentative “very low-end F9a”.
Hanshallaren Cave further north in Norway has many of the world's hardest sport climbs; the Profile Wall in the south is nudging ever closer to the trad equivalent.
So to finish with, here are Pete’s thoughts on the grade:
‘It’s always tricky to grade climbs towards the upper end of your level, as every increase in perceived difficulty feels like a huge step when in reality you’re not actually progressing in grade that much. However, I do think it’s good to try and suggest something for new climbs as it helps with a consensus over time.
I took in two considerations when grading Crown Royale. 1 being a subjective feeling in comparison to other hard-established trad lines, and 2 being a more objective perspective using the Darth Grader app.
1. The obvious route that I have to compare Crown Royale to is Recovery Drink (suggested as F8c+); Same wall, similar features, and a route I climbed back in 2019. To me CR felt harder overall than RD, but not by much, which is why my initial feeling about the route has been 8c+/9a.
2. I’ve seen a few other climbers using the Darth Grader app to help as a guide when grading new routes, so gave it ago and it algorithmed (is that a word?) ‘soft 9a’. Of course, using the app is still quite subjective, and the boulder/route grades I gave to individual sections of the climb could in fact be incorrect. However, again I used the ‘general consensus’ boulder grades of RD, plus other crack/boulders to help grade the sections of CR (i.e. this is easier than that… that is harder than this, etc.).
All things considered, I’ll suggest F9a (very low-end), and look forward to see what future repeats think. To me, it would seem harsh to suggest F8c, and incredibly over-generous to suggest F9a+. So I know it sits somewhere between those.
Either way whatever it settles at is all good because if you like crack climbing, a few crimps and 100m pump fests, then you’re bound to have a jolly good time on this one :)’