500 Routes in a Day

20th Jun 2003

John Arran and I like adventures… we especially like big, silly adventures! We had been climbing together regularly since 2000 and with our shared passion for soloing we often spent the evening in the Peak District cruising freely up and down routes. There were very few crags that we hadn’t blazed through at one time or another. Naturally, we pushed each other to climb more routes, harder routes and to do it all quicker.

 

In these early days we thought that climbing 100 routes in an evening was a good achievement and we chuckled at the UKC banter concerning how many routes could be climbed in a day. There were legends of climbers attempting 100 in a day and even a select few who had managed it.

At the same time, we were already climbing 100 routes in a long evening and we started talking about how many we could achieve in one day? Obviously, we could definitely do 200, probably 300 but we really wanted to blow peoples minds and set ourselves a seriously bonkers target. 500 routes in a day it was then!

Each summer we traditionally set ourselves a mid-summers challenge to be completed on the longest day and in 2002 we made our first attempt at 500 routes. Poor planning, bad logistics and insufficient fitness found us exhausted by 300 but we learnt a lot.

Over the next 12 months we embarked on countless soloing missions to improve our route familiarity and comfort when tired and ropeless. Certainly for me this was the most intensive period of soloing I have ever done in terms of the volume of routes if not the difficulty.  

Running out of steam during our 2003 attempt, John Arran climbs X at Burbage North, while Shane Ohly looks on. Photo: Anne Arran.


By May 2003, in the run up to our attempt, we would regularly solo 100 routes in one hour! Albeit in a seriously tiring effort and on routes that we were very familiar with.  Come June, I had a perfect soloing mentality where I felt totally free and liberated when soloing (even when very close to my physical limits) and we were both ready for the big attempt.

As with any challenge, the 'rules' that we set ourselves were arbitrary. We defined a route as any given a full numbered entry in a climbing guidebook. For a route to count, we could either climb up or down it, with its height or grade being irrelevant. And for any routes sharing common ground we would have to climb the common ground once for each route. Gritstone is the ideal medium for such a challenge, with its mass of relatively short easy routes.

In 2003 we started climbing in the darkness of dawn at Wharncliff. Photo: Ian Parnell


Arriving at Wharncliffe a little later than expected (still 4am mind) we raced through the routes in the half-light of dawn. Quickly it was 7am and we were heading back to the car having ticked almost every route at the crag. During the journey south to Birchen Edge John added up the routes as I drove.

Being familiar with Birchen Edge, we were again able to race through the routes, albeit with three ground falls myself...I laughed them off and suggested that I must be a more exciting climber to watch, because I could always fall off at anytime! The tally after Wharncliffe and Birchen stood at John on 245 and myself on 211. It wasn’t yet midday.

When you average one route every two minutes you really are moving fast! John Arran climbing and Shane Ohly running to the next route. Photo: Ian Parnell


Next on the list was Baslow Edge, which although broken and discontinuous still has about 70 short routes to go at, within 10 minutes walk of the car. By now a strong, gusting wind was blowing and if it hadn’t been for the tally of routes already completed we both would have stopped.

Fortunately, Burbage North proved more sheltered but by this stage both of us were feeling very tired and the pace had slowed down considerably. Four hours of climbing at Burbage took us to 7.30 pm with John having climbed 480+ routes and myself on 434.
 

Shane Ohly topping out at Burbage North. Photo: Ian Parnell

 

We moved on to Stanage. By this stage we were both certain that John would complete the challenge but I was feeling daunted by the thought of having to climb a further 70 ish routes. I was so knackered that I could barely walk let alone climb at this point. John and I continued, our respective max grades tumbling lower and lower. Ian Parnell, who had been along for the day filming and taking photographs, now fulfilled an essential role of directing our efforts, "up the crack in the corner and down the wall 5m to the left" was about all the information I could hold in my head.

Exhausted smiles as the sun sets at Stanage. Boy does it feel good to get those trainers on! Photo: Ian Parnell


Suddenly I only had 25 routes to go and barring injury knew that I would get it done. All I could manage for my final route, down climbing a moderate slab, was to sit on my bum and slide. I was totally and utterly exhausted. Final tallies: Shane 502; John 536 (of which 46 were extreme). We were both exhausted having climbed over 4800m (that’s 4 El Caps!) and averaged a minimum of one route every two minutes for over eighteen hours!