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16 October 2014

The Great Climb

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The Climb
Mountain People: Living on the edge

Ben HeasonBen Heason , England (31)

Sheffield-based Ben Heason has continually chosen the hard option during his meteoric climbing career. His exploits to date include on-sighting over 100 E5s, over 50 E6s and a dozen E7s, soloing numerous routes in the E5-E8 range, and putting up a slew of Traditional first ascents up to E9 7a. Add to this many dozens of hard ‘head-points’, and one can begin to see why even his elite peers in the Derbyshire Peak District - the most competitive rock climbing scene in the world - are impressed.

But it’s not just the hard routes he has ascended that have startled observers – it’s also the style with which he has tackled them. Where others have used large ‘crash pads’ to cushion boulders beneath the deadly serious outcrop routes of the Peak District (where a slip usually means a ground fall), Heason has eschewed them. “Personally I feel I’d be cheating the route if I stacked up a bouncy castle underneath”, he says.

The Heason adventure reached a crescendo in 2002-3 when he made dozens of bold, headline-grabbing climbs in England and around the world. These included: soloing the 5.13d Thai sport route Cara Cangreso; the first on-sight of the Australian Traditional test-piece Contra Arms Pump (5.13c); a solo and first on-sight ascent of the scary gritstone route Paralogism (E7 6c). When he later followed this up with the first solo ascent of the even more serious grit route, Curbar Edge’s End of the Affair, E8 6c, Heason’s reputation as one of the challengers for the title ‘King of Bold’ seemed irrefutable.

Incidents like falling off the gritstone E6 arete Narcissus – resulting in two broken
ankles – show that Heason isn’t simply a lucky climber, he’s served his time in The
House of Pain and is all too aware of the consequences of failure. “It was one of the
few hard grit routes I’ve attempted with crash pads – and I missed them,” he says.

Although Heason’s reputation has been built on his Peak District gritstone performances he’s far from being a one rock-type specialist, having done the business on Welsh mountain rocks and sea cliffs, Cornish granite, Czech and Australian sandstone, and European and Thai bolted limestone. He’s even put up a new route in the American Tetons. But it’s on grit that arguably he has made his greatest impact. His ascent of the desperate E7 6c route Paralogism at the Roaches in 2002 for example, was marked by a typical Heason trademark – an absence of bouldering mats. Other recent highlights include a new E9 7a, Ozbound, on Froggatt Edge and an ascent of the E7/8 6c test-piece Moon Madness on Curbar Edge. This was a route put up by 1980s rock climbing legend Ron Fawcett and which had seen very few repeats in the decade and a half of its existence - no one else had dared attempt the route ‘ground-up’ before either.

2003 brought another Froggatt E9 (Lonely Heart E9 6c) but also saw Heason turn in a new direction when he led an expedition to the big walls of south Greenland as part of a British A-Team of E6+ on-sight climbers. He soloed a 1,800 foot E3 and made the first ascent of the 24-pitch Turning Point, all onsight, and with four pitches up to 5.12, (the last two climbed in the dark after 15 hours on the go). ‘On-sighting new 5.12 pitches in the middle of the night makes most of my grit ascents pale by comparison,’ said Heason. ‘I was close to tears almost the entire time.’ Even so, it hasn’t put him off. He returned to mult-pitch climbing in 2005, forming part of an all-star international team which made the first ascent of Venezuela’s Angel Falls. This featured 31 extreme pitches, nine of which were E7 or over.

But despite this big mountain experience The Great Climb will be Ben’s first taste of Scottish climbing. So it’s just as well he’s hungry for more:

“Big routes on big mountains are actually what I’ve always really been interested in”, he says. “I’m quite keen on the idea of ice climbing and dry-tooling as well. I don’t feel I’ve reached my limits yet.”

Find out more at: Click here to view Ben's web page

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