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The Promise, is it finally the End of the Affair?

Failing on the promise
Failing on the promise © Alex Messenger

Fresh from another astounding flash ascent of the End of the Affair on Friday I went with a very on form Jordan Buys to Burbage North for him to try and flash The Promise. It’s been 3 years nearly since I climbed the route and putting a top rope on I’d forgotten how technically difficult it really is (and shocked myself that I’d managed to punter my way up the thing).

The grade and danger factor of The Promise has been a hotly debated since James Pearson’s ascent in 2007. Originally given the title of “The hardest route on Gritstone” and graded E10 7a (Font 8a) it laid down a challenge to the UK’s finest trad climbers. Perfectly justifiably, James claimed that he found The Promise technically harder than Equilibrium, which was at the time the other contender for the accolade. After all he had done both in the same style. On The Promise James was sure the solitary number 1 Camp ball nut wouldn’t hold and with no bouldering mats padding the awful landing his style of ascent was a very bold proposition and still unmatched.

A year later Kevin Jorgeson came along ticking the route in a session suggesting E8 then Alex Honnold. Only a few weeks later on a beautifully crisp December morning Pete Robins, Ben Bransby and Jack Geldard threw themselves on the route ground-up. With a number of mats (and a ladder) padding the landing and some blind faith they set off up. Failing to flash it, incredibly, the ballnut held allowing Ben and Pete the confidence to latch the sequence and make their ground-up ascents. After repeatedly strong efforts Jack couldn’t finish the sequence but the ballnut had now held around 20 falls (UKC Article) and was assumed relatively bomber.

The same afternoon I managed to head-point the route. The ballnut placement looked very scarred and possibly damaged in comparison to the week before when I had previously top-roped the route but on the assumption that it was now “bomber” I jumped on and then kicked the gear out as I moved past the crux. Rather inflammatory as far as I was concerned The Promise was then reported as E7 7a (font 7b+) by Jack, although it was later edited to say E8 7a where it now appears to have settled.

I was impressed by the style but slightly concerned about how much possible damage had been done to the placement. At the time I also commented (UKC Forums) that I thought it had been damaged and that had the gear ripped on any of the previous attempts then we’d be discussing an injured climber and a grade of at least E9.

For James I imagine everything to do with The Promise has become a long and distant memory. An ascent which counts for a little and lot but now sat at the back of a long list of subsequent world class ascents.

After showing Jordan the moves he got warmed up, placed the gear and got ready while I tried Living in Oxford, E7 6c.

Jordan was concerned about the gear. I’d managed to wiggle it out by shaking the placement lightly but he was happy enough to have a go. Placing three mats on the broken blocks at the bottom he set off.

Jordan Buys trying to flash The Promise © Alex Messenger
Jordan Buys trying to flash The Promise
© Alex Messenger

Cruising into the crux he struggled to latch the final sloper and fell off.  The gear ripped landing him backside first into the boulders below, just missing the mats.

Having witnessed Jordan deck out a few times (once from the top of Widdop Wall!) I had total faith that he’d be ok, but he was very lucky indeed. Some small bruises and a rip right down the bum seam in his pants! Naturally he wasn’t keen to get back on the route!

So the gear doesn’t hold, or at least didn’t this time. I think both myself and Jordan would say that the number of falls this placement has held in the past has contributed to its current state, there’s an obvious area inside the pocket which has been worn away by the ball. It’s an interesting dilemma on routes such as this as continued traffic in this style is only going to make it harder! Parthian Shot has gone down a similar path. There is a possibility that glueing some lead to the bottom of the ballnut may make it fit more securely but it remains to be tested. Jordan commented that he thought it was more dangerous (and possibly harder than equilibrium.)

So what grade is it now?!

A big thank you to Alex Messenger for the photos and Simon Ashmore for the spotting.

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