Unknown Stones and Nathan Lee's English gritstone obsession at Wimberry
20-year-old climber Nathan Lee has made the first ascent of Unknown Stones E9 6c at Wimberry in England.
What pushes you to risk everything for a climb? How does a tenuous line of holds transform into such an obsession that you simply cannot do without and, in doing so, you face the real risk of hurting yourself, badly? There's no easy answer to these questions, the reasons and motivations are obviously completely personal and run deep. But these questions were recently asked by 20-year-old climber Nathan Lee who at Wimberry in England climbed a route that has all the right ingredients for being another one of those crazy gritstone lines reserved to a select few, to only a handful of climbers who put themselves to the test against a series of poor holds and practically inexistant protection.
The route is called Unknown Stones and is located between two authentic jewels in the gritstone crown, Appointment with Death put up by Sam Whittaker and Appointment with Fear, Dougie Hall's masterpiece freed in 1986 during the gritstone heyday. Death and Fear - two names that clearly express what you get yourself into when the moves are carried out not on toprope but on the live end of the rope.
Lee had noticed the line a few months back and he obviously decided to give it a go on troprope first. Three days spread out over several weeks were needed to decipher the sequence even if, at times, progress was slowed considerably when some small holds - basically pebbles naturally glued to the rock's surface - snapped off forcing him to search for a different solution. The difficulty was twofold therefore: not only would Lee have to perform the moves perfectly, well aware of the potential groundfall from over 10m height, but he would also have to deal with the uncertainty of unreliable rock...
The thought of this route dominated Lee for weeks, never gave him respite, then the other day he returned to the crag and after having toproped it clean for the 5th time he failed to find other excuses, pulled the rope and climbed it from the ground.
The grade Lee puts forward for Unknown Stones is an important E9 6c, almost the maximum therefore of what has been done on gritstone, but the most interesting thing of all are the answers Lee gives to the question as to why he simply couldn't do without this route: "Firstly it always stuck out to me as an obvious gap, I appreciate it may look slightly contrived to some, but I can assure you that were the line escapable into either of its neighbouring routes I wouldn't have bothered doing it. It is only the direction and location of the holds that make it possible, yet also inescapable. Secondly the moves on it are great, its a good example of minimalist climbing, with only just enough holds to link the wall. Lose one of the crucial ones and it would be far, far harder. So, as far as the climbing and the line go, its a great addition. Of course there is also the mental aspect. Routes like this captivate my mind in a way that no boulder or sport route ever could. You really have to question your motivation and then back yourself to the hilt when climbing on the lead. Second thoughts are not welcome, and its the challenge of controlling this gathering doubt that is so interesting."