Tips on how to climb E1

By Stuart McAlese

E1 is a grade to treat with respect and for most folk it is a grade that will not happen overnight; to climb the grade gracefully it is something that should be approached with care and plenty of time. Scratching and shuffling up an E1 is not what climbing is about.  But E1 is an amazing goal and a very rewarding grade to reach as a climber. Once you are climbing at this level competently the options of routes and venues become more exciting and endless. In the right frame of mind and with genuine ambition E1 is totally ‘do-able’ but it is difficult and depends on how much time you’re willing to spend.

This is a huge subject but here are some top tips and information that may help you if you are aiming for E1.

E1 route selection

Before embarking on the magical grade it is worth preparing for and finding the time to get as much info about your chosen route. Something to be aware of is the grade E1 has a range, just like any other grade so you will find that there are soft and hard E1’s - choose you’re route carefully. Build up through the grades to E1 slowly and talk to other climbers at the crag or in the wall, as their E1 experiences may prove to be useful and important.

Start with classic well established routes (coffee table books and starred routes); these will be good for the grade and well travelled. I’d recommend well protected routes to start with, expect these to be a little pumpy and strenuous but safer.

Single pitch or Multi pitch? – Both have advantages and disadvantages, with a single pitch route it is not necessarily easier as there will be a lot more climbing in a short distance. Multi pitch may be less sustained but will require further technical ability of route finding and managing multi pitch belays.

Rock type - Be aware each rock type has its own characteristic and may require a different style of climbing. You have to respect this and I would recommend probing the limits gently on different rock types. This can be done by climbing at a lower grade at the start of the day to test the water. This will act as a good warm up but also get your head in gear for what you might encounter on an E1 on that particular crag

The right route on the right day in the right conditions. Don’t rush, the best things to those who wait.

As a warm up or at the start of the season you may climb routes at an easier grade or that you have climbed before. Try to climb these routes really well! Looking good, relaxed, good gear and ropes well organised. This will increase your confidence and get your head back in gear.

Martin Chester on Cemetery Gates (E1 5b, 5a), Dinas Cromlech, North Wales. Photo: David Simmonite

Climbing fitness

We all remember our first E1, the effort it took, the people you were with, the uncertainty and the ambition. Combined with this most folk would agree the time well spent prior to this occasion both physically and mentally are all worthwhile. Climbing walls are great and you will always find me training in my local, however nothing can replace lots and lots of trad climbing mileage.

Regular use of a climbing wall will prepare you to get the most out of the weekend ahead or on the back end of a winter season. It is time well spent especially if you can’t get onto the crags because of where you live or the weather is just not playing fair.

Bouldering - this will improve technique and your confidence. Bouldering tends to focus on the harder moves and sequences and doing tons of this low maintenance activity will equip you for the technical sections of an E1.

Once you gain more technical ability and experience it opens up a whole new world including sea-cliff climbs like Wishful Thinking (E1 5b) in Pembroke. Photo: Mike Hutton.

Technical ability

E1 has potential to take you to some wild, exposed places where your technical ability to not only protect yourself but other people will be important. E1 may also demand a greater level of efficiency such as managing small stances or dealing with longer pitches. This is easily done with the consolidation and familiarity of the basic skills required to climb at a lower grade.

Getting gear in and having the confidence that it will hold, may be the key to your success in leading the pitch of E1. Therefore your runner selection has to be smooth and confident. This can only be done by placing lots of gear and being organised with your racking system and knowing your gear inside out.

Climbing E1’s may start to require the use of new equipment such as RP’s and micro cams, try and expose yourself to these prior to their use in anger on easier routes.

On multi pitch E1’s route finding may be difficult because it may be steeper and the pitches longer.

It is likely that on multi pitch routes the belay stances may be smaller. Be prepared and organised as much as possible for this.

Gaining mileage with a strong leader allows you to focus on your technique while having a rope from above

Be selective with your climbing partner. Mentally it helps if the person you are climbing with either has a similar ambition or at least is a competent second and are confident with an E1 situation.

E1 has always been a benchmark grade at a crag and with the right preparation, a positive approach and lots of time well spent on routes, at the wall and training, hopefully this no longer has to be a boundary but the start of great things to come. Good luck!

The Tippler (E1 5b) at Stanage Edge in the Peak District. Whilst no pushover at the grade, this classic grit E1 shows you the kind of route to aspire to once you crack the grade. Photo: David Simmonite


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