Neil Gresham
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Hardest Rock Routes
Equilibrium E10 7a, Burbage, UK
(2nd ascent) 2002
As seen in the film of the same name, Equilibrium was first climbed by Neil Bentley and is currently regarded as the hardest route on gritstone. It took me a year of specific training and mental preparation to do this climb, along with some exceptionally close-shave, ground-sweeping falls! The belayer needs to run back to save a fall from the first half of the route and a fall from the top section would almost certainly be unsalvageable.
Equilibrium, E10 7a
Equilibrium, E10 7a
Photo: Mike Robertson
Meshuga E9 6c, Black Rocks, UK
(2nd ascent) 2000
Immortalised by the video, Hard Grit, Seb Grieve's ascent of Meshuga horrified viewers all over the World and was regarded as the benchmark in gritstone boldness. My first attempt to repeat the climb resulted in a horrendous ground fall from which I sustained a head injury. My decision to return and repeat Meshuga was one of the toughest of my life, but its routes like this that you always remember.
Meshuga, E9 6c
Meshuga, E9 6c
Photo: Mike Robertson
Indian Face, E9 6c, Cloggy, UK
(3rd ascent) 1996
Few ascents of rock climbs ever make national news headlines, but when Johnny Dawes climbed the line on Cloggy in 1985, it completely re-shaped the face of British climbing. This 150ft high and virtually un-protected slab route remained unrepeated for over a decade and gained a reputation as being completely un-justifiable. It took someone like Nick Dixon to tempt me to try the route with him and we both fell under the route's spell and ended up making ascents within a week of each other. This is still without doubt, the most scared I've ever been!
Indian Face, E9 6c
Indian Face, E9 6c
Photo: Mike Goldwater
Gravediggers E8 6c, N.Wales
(1st ascent)
My ascent of Gravediggers was an unusual tale of friendship and rivalry. In the summer of 97, I spotted a superb line on the Gravestones which involved a steep crack and then a run-out up an imposing headwall. However I made the mistake of telling a young lad called Leo Houlding who was starting to make a name for himself on the Welsh climbing scene. Leo immediately decided to try the route himself and I ended up doing it only a matter of hours before him. He was surprised and a touch miffed to find that it had been written up in the new routes book in Pete´s Eats café when he went to record his ascent that evening. We shook hands over the affair and became friends from there on and I realized that this would probably be the only time I´d have the upper hand over such a talented climber.
Gravediggers E8 6c
Gravediggers E8 6c
Photo: Ray Wood
Airdrawndagger E8 6c Pembroke (1st ascent)
I couldn't believe my luck when I spotted an unclimbed line up the middle of the back wall of Box Zawn and through the capping roof. However, greasy conditions thwarted my initial attempts throughout the summer of 2004 and I became convinced that someone else was going to see my chalk and bag the line in my absence. When the good day came I was so eager that I leapt on it without a proper warm-up and took a 50 foot fall from the last move, with the finishing jug in my hand! I only just managed to get it second try, just as the tide came in to submerge Tim Emmett's belay platform.
Airdrawndagger E8 6c
Airdrawndagger E8 6c
Photo: Paul Twomey
The Wizard F8a Pembroke (ground-up 1st ascent)
It was Crispin Waddy who tipped me off that the unclimbed back wall of Kato Zawn was like a modern French sport crag, but situated above perfect deep water at high tide. Mike Robertson and I couldn't get over there fast enough, and we started on the right side of the wall and then swept leftwards as it got progressively steeper. The first line was a bouldery 7a+, the next was a pumpy 7b+ and it was obvious that the soaring flake line to the left was going to be even trickier. After three days of effort and ten splashdowns, I found myself pulling over the top. The Wizard is like a more powerful and sustained version of Mark of the Beast at Lulworth and it was the first 8a Deep Water Solo in Britain to be climbed onsight and ground-up.
The Wizard, F8a
The Wizard F8a
Photo: Mike Robertson
Cutlass F8a+ Berry Head (ground-up 1st ascent)
My new route, Cutlass lies above the Rainbow Bridge traverse at Berry Head in Devon. The line had originally been top-roped by Ken Palmer and it can be reached via the start of the Rainbow Bridge traverse. The route is short, but very steep and bouldery, and on perfect salmon-streaked orange rock. The moves become increasingly difficult with the crux being the last move. After being tipped off by Mike Robertson, I attempted it ground-up over 4 days and managed it on my 13th attempt. Plenty of goes were wasted trying the crux move the wrong way, as there seemed to be three possible options. The pressure was on as a few strong climbers were also trying the line, and in the end I resorted to asking Rich Heap (who was filming) to provide some crucial beta from the ab rope! This enabled me to unlock the sequence without having to resort to making an abseil inspection myself! The route is tricky to grade as it’s so short, but if V8/9 bouldering equates roughly to 8a+ then I guess that’s how hard it felt to me. The main thing is that it’s safe and accessible and I hope it becomes an established test for the new school of Deep Water Soloists.
Cutlass, F8a+
Cutlass, F8a+
Photo: Mike Robertson