6/26/14 – English climber James McHaffie has soloed 100 extremes—climbs graded E1 or harder—in the Lake District in a single day. McHaffie started at 3:40 a.m. on June 23, one of the longest days of the year, and finished at 10:30 p.m. that night.
The E grades are given to traditionally protected climbs in the United Kingdom, and the grade takes into account both technical difficulty and protection. E1, the lowest “extreme” grade, may represent poorly protected 5.9 or reasonably protected low-end 5.10.
For McHaffie, the protection was irrelevant because he was soloing, but the climbs ranged in difficulty up to E4 6a, or solid 5.11. Moreover, some of them were multi-pitch routes, including the very first, a six-pitch E1.
Unlike similar endurance feats that climbers have undertaken at Joshua Tree, California, or at the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell in Arkansas, racking up routes at Lakeland crags requires traversing miles of mountainous terrain. McHaffie estimates he ran or speed-hiked 15 to 20 miles, in addition to the 2,976 meters (9,764′) of rock climbing he soloed. He even took a compass in case the mountains got socked in with clouds.
“I visited 18 cliffs, but some are very small between the bigger ones,” McHaffie said. Still, “It’s the biggest solo mission I’ve done by more than double. I’ve soloed 30 routes before of 5.10 and some 5.11 but not since 2003.”
McHaffie said his onsight level in the U.K. is E7 or E8 (mid to upper 5.13, sometimes poorly protected), and on sport climbs he has onsighted up to 5.13c/d.
British climber Ron Fawcett famously soloed 100 extremes on the gritstone of the Peak District in the mid-1980s, and Fawcett’s feat inspired the younger climber. Asked why he chose to attempt 100 solos in the Lake District, in northwest England, despite living and working mostly in North Wales, McHaffie said, “I did it in the Lake District because that’s where I’m from originally and 80 percent of my climbing for the first few years was soloing.”
Best known as a traditional climber, McHaffie has put up or repeated some of the U.K.’s testiest climbs, including The Meltdown (5.14d), Britain’s hardest slab route. In May, he and Dan McManus free-climbed two El Cap routes back to back: the Salathé Wall and El Niño.
Before the big day in the Lakes, McHaffie thought long and hard about the order of climbs and did some reconnaissance of the running routes between crags. He estimated he’d previously soloed about 80 percent of the climbs.
“The crux of the day was the whole last third,” he said. “I didn’t think I would manage it, as [the routes in the 70s] were the routes I knew best and [still] felt knackered on. Soon after I did a short 11c called Rogue Herries, which I should have just missed out. I was too pumped for it really and had a moment which was the only unenjoyable bit of the day.
“I don’t think this is that impressive, to be honest,” he added. “It’s just a load of crags I’ve had great memories on over the years in a really beautiful part of the world. It’s just novel for Britain in that it’s in the mountains rather than the outcrops.”
Date of ascents: June 23, 2014
Sources: James McHaffie, Dmmclimbing.com