Christmas is a time for getting together. And so a few long journeys thrown in. Plenty of time to ponder over the last year, and all the amazing climbs. Someone had asked me what was the best route I'd done this year and off the cuff I struggled to come up with an answer...

To be fair, 2017 has been a lean year for me in terms of routes, having spent rather a long while on Rainman at Malham, and then rather a long while relaxing having climbed it! Though Rainman is actually the best route, it wins my ‘best route ever’ award, trumping  the 2017 candidates, but for now we’ll stay away from Malham.

Sweden had been on my radar for a visit for years, and finally, having completed Rainman, it became the perfect venue, with my eyes set on a fun trip in a beautiful place with absolutely no need for performance or numbers. Basically I could climb E2 all week and that would be just fine! Fine maybe, though it was never going to happen, and when the awesome wall of Electric Avenue reared up in front of me I kind of knew I had to try it. A soaring thin crack blasting vertically upwards, the only feature and only way up this huge face; from a climbers perspective where ‘the line’ means so much, this route instantly grabbed.

And I already knew the history, boosting interest. Like the famous ‘Big Issue’ in Pembroke, this route was originally bolted and climbed, but then the bolts were chopped to bring it back to fully traditionally protected. Word was, hard 8a, very run out, specific and difficult to place protection. I’d pondered an on-sight attempt, but instantly ditched that plan!

Good move, my toprope ascent spat me off at the very last move, and that was placing no gear, or even looking for it, or carrying any for that matter. Gut instinct after that: No chance of a lead. However, it seemed worth a look at the gear, since I was heading down anyway. As tipped off, it was hardly a clip up, and the meagre potential micro wires reinforced my view that I’d be moving on to my E2’s.

electric avenue

Photo - Kieth Sharples

Still, with a rope in place the idea of a clean toprope was appealing, and so I was off again, this time placing wires like on a pretend lead. I made it, by the skin of my teeth, which was awesome, but looking down, the gear didn’t look great, and that old formulae of ‘route height divided by number of placements’ equaled a number that was too big for my fear tolerance level. And factor in the gear size and it was basically a non starter.

So I lowered off, well and truly talked out of it, only to find myself somehow listening to the voice that seemed to be talking myself into it. I wouldn’t die, probably, though each piece of gear had to hold. It should, it looked OK, but single rock 2’s between me and the ground for a lot of hard moves seemed poor odds.

No, this was stupid. I’m on holiday, I’m supposed to be relaxing. I’ve just climbed the hardest route of my life. There are classics here for me to do and enjoy. But somehow I’m practicing the crux again, and checking how that wire goes in, curved surface to the left. But no, it’s not enough. I go down, it’s beyond me…. STOP…

Will a wire go in there? Its tiny, RP3, but it’s a bomber. I can get 2 on top of each other. Small, but surely they would hold. Its in the middle of the crux section, but I could probably just about hang on to fiddle them ikn.. I felt the balance tip ever so slightly the other way. Game changer.

Now back on the ground my mood had changed. Sucked in somehow: Why was I doing this? Time was against me as the sun raced round, maybe a good thing, no chance to ponder, it was now or never. And really never, good chance I’d not be back, if not now, why another time? And so I was away, leaving belayer and friends feeling like they’d not signed up for this. The first 10m is a solo  to a wire, then 6m of moves with no more gear, tricky, but now solid. Then a cluster; OK wire, small cam, another small wire. Enough to enter a long stretch of hard moves. Then just as it gets a little out of control; my gamechanger RP’s. Hard to place but for me, well, I wasn’t going on without them. More hard moves; vertical awkward finger crack style, but kind of without a crack. Then at last the good wire below the crux, which has to go in or you’re really asking for it, and it does, just, it seemingly having grown by ½ mm. The crux is still hard, but more solid. I’m still ever surprised at the speed of learning. And on this kind of ground the subtleties of body position make such a difference. Final wire and a pause in the only horizontal break, before final crazy moves into the finishing scoop and a lunge for a bucket, almost incredibly placed, like a route setter fixing a massive blue jug at the top of a desperate indoor route.

Amazing. Best route of the year. But also for the process. The trad nature added hugely. With Sport the process is simply from not capable to capable with learning and strength gains along the way. With this it was a mental battle, desire verses sense, with some gear placing cunningness thrown in. Better as a trad route?? Overall, just different. Unlike The Big Issue in Pembroke, the initial reasoning for bolting cannot be questioned. This crag is a mixture, there are full sport routes, full trad, and mixtures of both. For most people the line will be much more attractive as a sport route, the gear really is far from ideal. And to be fair I think it only ever had 4 bolts anyway which barely makes it anything close to a sport route. If it had been sport I’d have gone for it on-sight, and I’d have got close, maybe even done it by the skin of my teeth. It would have been awesome. But it wouldn’t quite have made it to the top of my list.