Ethan Walker sends seventh ascent of Kaabah
- Thursday 6th August 2020 at 10.47am
June 8th, 2015
In what were perfect redpointing conditions on Saturday 6th, June Ethan Walker did the seventh ascent of Kaabah (F8c+) at Raven Tor.
Ethan Walker on Kaabah. Photo Jon Clark
Ethan has been working through the Raven Tor test-pieces for the last few years and last year – having done Mecca Extension, amongst other routes - he opened his account on Kaabah. After Mecca itself and Mecca Extension, Kaabah has rapidly become the ‘must try’ - tick at The Snor, as the locals affectionately call Raven Tor.
We reported late last week that WideBoyz, Pete Whittaker, snagged the sixth ascent of Kaabah ahead of Ethan just last week; this following Ted Kingsnorth’s ascent in the depths of the autumn last year. A significant number of other climbers have been working Kaabah as well, not least Matt Donnelley, Char Williams and Neil Mawson. Perhaps one of the reasons for Kaabah’s popularity is that it is more Euro-style resistance climbing than The Bastard and Evolution, the Peak’s other two route-based F8c+’s. Both these are more bouldery propositions. As we explained in our earlier report following Pete Whittaker’s ascent last week, Kaabah starts up Mecca before breaking out right and then joining Mecca Extension for the finish. Whether starting up Mecca is a plus or a negative is down to personal taste – but certainly several climbers have now clocked-up impressive number of ascents of Mecca itself – Ethan himself admits to 77!
Ethan nailed his colours firmly to the mast last year when he got involved with Kaabah. As the autumn temps fell so too did Ethan – ultimately cold fingers stymied both his attempts and his hopes. Ethan blogged extensively about his attempts on Kaabah and vowed to return this year. True to his word he did just that. Picking up on some of the points made during an interview with CLIMBER we got in touch with Ethan for more details on his hardest route to date…
Ethan Walker on Kaabah. Photo Jon Clark
Firstly, congratulations on sending Kaabah. When CLIMBER interviewed you earlier in the year you said that Baby Chimes was your “first proper taste of projecting”. You talked about the satisfaction of clipping the belay as well; “To say I was psyched when I finally clipped the belay, would have been an understatement!” So how do you feel having done Kaabah?
Cheers! It was certainly a battle, probably the biggest mental battle of my life. And now it feels like utter bliss to sit back and relax. I have never felt my emotions run like they did as I clipped the chains on Saturday. Almost to the point I felt on the verge of tears! Which may sound silly but it meant a lot to me, not because of achieving a new grade, although that too I’m pretty pleased with, but because the whole struggle was finally over. I’ve invested a lot in this route and so have various other folk over the last few weeks, which I am super grateful for. (They know who they are). It has taken a lot out of me, to the point that I have really felt like there was something missing in my life over the last few months. It’s hard to put into words to be honest but to finally be over that finish line is an amazing feeling.
Kaabah was left-over business from last year and you said at the end of the season; “I know it’ll go eventually, you just have to try hard and suck it up!” So, just how hard did you have to suck then and was there any moment when you thought about lobbing the towel in?
I think this season I have approached the route with a much more relaxed and chilled attitude. Last year the pressure really began to eat away at me and the whole process started to get a little tedious at times. This year I’ve come out of the winter stronger, which probably helped, but also I did my best to just keep that pressure at bay and try not to stress too much. Basically just enjoy the climbing, and enjoy feeling strong.
There were a few sessions when it felt like I’d made no real progress and I’d almost take one step forward but then quickly take two backwards. I just had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t because I was climbing badly or not good enough, but because the conditions just were not quite right. I got pretty good at reading the ‘weather signs’ and knowing when was a good time to have a bash.
I knew that as soon as I could reach those crux holds with warm and supple fingers I’d be in with a chance and in the end that is what made all the difference.
There are lots of super strong climbers out there but not all of them are pushing themselves to the limit on projects and risking ‘failure’. The ability of keep coming back to a route and to dig deep and then deeper still is really hard and defines the better climbers so well done for that. Can you tell us a little about how you have been coping with this?
Watching lots of climbing videos, following other peoples progress on their projects and reading about their battles and fights. Knowing that you are not alone in the ‘redpoint struggle’ really helps to keep your spirits up and motivation fresh.
Every session last autumn the temperatures would keep dropping with nearly every session which didn’t do much for the psyche. Particularly with a route like this when you really need those digits warm to be able to feel the minuscule holds on the headwall. This season it is obviously the opposite as we have been heading towards the summer. Not that it wasn’t still utterly baltic at times! Even only a few days ago!
You have to really, really want to achieve success, be fully committed and confident in your goals. I found treating each session as just another training session extremely beneficial, even if I didn’t reach my highpoint I knew my body was getting a decent workout and constantly getting fitter.
If you really want to be the best climber you can be then you have to put the time and effort in. No one else is going to be able to do that for you.
Just clinging onto the knowledge that you know you’re strong and good enough and that in the end it will all be worth it. And it sure was!
Many climbers seem to thrive and benefit from the ‘friendly competition’ at hard crags such as the Tor. Has that worked for or against you on Kaabah?
It’s been weird down the Tor of late. The big scene that was once in abundance a couple of years ago has seemed to vanish. Now you can trek down on a weekend and maybe only see a few folk knocking about. In fact there have been times when I have literally not recognised a single person at the crag!
When Pete topped out on Kaabah earlier in the week I was super psyched for him obviously but at the same time left a little frustrated! It definitely spurred me on to stop messing about and get the job done!
It’s vital to take the positives from our climbing – even if it’s just little things on the day – such as doing as well as previously on a route albeit in worse conditions or with less rest etc.. What have you looked away in the ‘success box’ from your time on Kaabah?
The main thing would probably be just the feeling of getting stronger on every individual move on the route. Even just feeling better at placing a particular foot felt like good progress at times. Another would be my ‘Mecca Tally’ which currently stands at around the 77 mark. I don’t know if that’s good or bad!
Ethan in cruise control on Mecca. Photo Rainer Eder
Inevitably we can take ‘learning points’ from our experiences – especially ones that take us to our limits. Any thoughts on that?
While it might all sound a bit cliché and philosophical this route and process has definitely taught me a lot and I feel I’ve grown as a climber. Maybe not in how hard I can push my body, but more how hard I can push my mind. It came close to breaking my mental limits for sure but I know now more than ever before, how to deal with situations such as bad conditions and days when you just don’t feel up to it etc. etc. and I’ve learnt more about how much pressure my head is capable of holding!
There has been a number of other climbers on Kaabah whilst you’ve been trying it but only yourself, Pete Whittaker and Ted Kingsnorth have topped out yet. Do you think we’ll see more clipping the chains soon?
I’m sure we will yeah. I know that Neil Mawson was pretty darn close last year, and Matt Donnelly wasn’t too far off either. I reckon it could definitely see a couple more ascents this year.
Sometimes it’s hard to re-focus after closing out a project. You’re off to Rodellar soon – which will be awesome – but what’s on your ‘to-do’ list when you get back?
Yeah I’ll be in Rodellar for the first part of July. Never been before so again I cannot wait to check out a new area with endless amounts of fantastic looking rock, and to soak up a bit of Spanish sunshine!
Once back I think I’ll make more of an effort to get up to Kilnsey and Malham. There are plenty of things on my wish list that I’d love to have a crack at. I am definitely in need of a break from the Peak!
So there you have it – Ethan’s thoughts on completing Kaabah, his longest and hardest project to date.
Click through here to follow Ethan on his blog.
CLIMBER would like to thank both Jon Clark and Rainer Eder for the use of their images.