Never Give Up
People think rock climbers are crazy. I guess rock climbers think we’re crazy.
At the stroke of midnight, with just a head torch each to guide them, Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker launched onto the Peak District’s Eastern Edges. Ahead of them awaited 125 climbs and over 22 miles of running across the Eastern and Western Edges - 24 hours of intense physical endurance.
Climbing in the dark, fatigued, and under immense time pressure is when things can go wrong.
“It was dark, we were soloing; climbing without ropes, and suddenly I heard a massive 'thud', then it all went quiet. I knew Tom had fallen.” - PW
On one of the easiest climbs of the day Tom had a brutal near miss:
“I’d successfully completed one climb, and in trying to save time, I decided to down-climb an easy chimney crack instead of jogging back around to the bottom of the rock face. I slipped and fell really badly and, as it was dark, I had no idea when the ground was coming up to meet me, so I landed sideways - straight on my hip and arm. As I lay on the ground a wave of nausea washed over me, and I wondered if I would be able to carry on. Luckily the adrenaline kicked in and the pain subsided, but for a moment I thought I had blown it. A simple slip was enough to put the whole challenge in jeopardy” - TR
“I was genuinely a bit worried then, but just made sure Tom knew that we could stop at anytime if it got really bad. It’s alright being silly and acting the fool, but when someone actually hurts themselves you have to be realistic.” - PW
The challenge most serious rock climbers face is in finding harder and harder climbs to summit. Many search out steeper and bolder routes to test their skills and push themselves to the limit.
Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker are not most climbers. They Never Give Up.
Having trained their bodies for years, the two elite climbers have tackled some of the hardest climbs on the planet, specialising in a painful style known as crack climbing. Nicknamed the ‘WideBoyz’ for their skills in ‘off-width’ crack climbing - one of the most difficult types of cracks to master, the duo are constantly on the lookout for new challenges.
“Master’s Edge is graded E7 and was one of the hardest climbs in the UK twenty years ago. It is still a bold and scary challenge that 99% of climbers wouldn’t take on. Pete climbed it in a huge yellow banana costume.” - TR
After travelling the world to conquer some of its most difficult ascents, having a laugh in silly costumes and generally pushing their climbing skills to the limit, the pair conceived what could be their hardest challenge to date; linking 125 of the UKs most famous climbs in less than 24 hours.
The challenge centres on a series of classic climbs known as the Brown and Whillans routes. Joe Brown and Don Whillan, two post-war climbing heroes and perhaps Britain’s greatest ever climbing duo, were the first to climb the 125 routes split across the Eastern and Western gritstone edges of the Peak District. While the routes are no longer at the cutting edge of climbing difficulty, they are still desperate affairs often characterised by the thuggish, brutal crack climbing style that was popular at that time.
In the days of Whillans and Brown, the gear and shoes used made climbing on the blank rock faces of edges virtually impossible, leading climbers to make a beeline for cracks in the rock - visual lines of weakness in which you could stuff your hands and feet. It’s an unforgiving, physical climbing style that reflects the no-nonsense characters of Brown and Whillans themselves, and is a style that is shunned today by many modern rock-jocks.
Over the last few years, Tom and Pete have repeatedly set the record for the fastest completion of the 31 Brown and Whillans routes in the Western Peak, shaving their time down to just 5 hours and 53 minutes. When local competitors Andi Turner and Pete Bridgwood broke the Wideboyz’s Western Peak records for the second time in 2013, the two decided to change the game entirely.
By including the Eastern Edges Brown and Whillans routes, the challenge saw the two take on an additional 94 routes - a total of 125 routes in a single push - and almost a marathon of running between the edges.
The scale of this undertaking is not lost on competitors Turner and Bridgwood, who comment:
“For most people, just staying awake for 24 hours is tough. If you add in all those climbs, plus almost a marathon of running, what you have is a monumental effort. It’s a lifetime’s worth of climbing in a single day.”
The duo completed the first 91 routes of their challenge - the majority undertaken without ropes - before 4pm, hours ahead of schedule. Sleep deprived and physically exhausted, they conquered the remaining Western grit routes, completing the challenge in an astonishing 22 hours and 36 minutes.
By the end of the day the two had covered 1800 vertical metres of rock and run a total of 23.6 miles, starting and finishing in darkness.
“Getting to the top, knowing it was over. No more pain to go through. We’d done it. It was cool, really, really cool.” - TR
“I learnt that you can still carry on, even when you have to slide along on your bum because you can’t walk anymore!” - PW
24 Hours 125 Climbs 23 Miles 0 Sleep
Endurance Comparison: Calorie Burn
The 24-hour challenge saw Tom, weighing 69.7kg, burn almost twice the amount of calories as he would have undertaking an Ironman Triathlon. By the end of the day he had lost 3.5kg, mostly through dehydration.
1.1 Mile Climb, 23.6 Mile Run
Total Calorie Burn: 11,660 kcals (for 24 hrs)
2.4 Mile Swim, 112 Mile Ride, 26.2 Mile Run
Total Calorie Burn: 6,250 kcals
“I already knew it anyway, but this challenge showed me just how blooming motivated Tom is. All the little things that just go slightly wrong on an event like this, such as falling down the descent chimney, running out of water at one of the crags, and tumbling down a steep bush-covered hillside, they all add up. Most people would complain, tire, and probably eventually give up, but Tom just seems to get on with it, which is inspirational and motivational.
Recently when I was alone, and doing 150 extreme climbs in a day, I got sun stroke and hit a real low-point and felt like giving up, but I realised that if I had Tom with me then quitting wouldn't be an option, so I dug deep and forced myself to push on. Even though he wasn’t actually with me, Tom still gave me that little bit extra.”
Climbing has grown hugely in the last two decades, such that it is now split in to multiple disciplines. Indoor rock climbing is booming; the safe and easily accessible nature of climbing on these artificial walls across city centres means that a new generation of ‘plastic pullers’ has emerged. Although they are stronger than ever in terms of climbing movements, indoor climbers can sometimes lack the traditional skills required to succeed at a higher level on traditional outdoor rock climbs.
All climbing requires immense upper body strength, in particular the pulling muscles of the back and the gripping muscles of the forearms. The subtleties, however, of outdoor climbing techniques; jamming your hands and feet in to cracks in the rock, and learning the safety systems with the gear and ropes, means that climbing is much more than just another way to keep fit.
Tom and Pete have taken modern indoor training techniques and facilities and focussed them directly on to traditional styles of climbing. The pair have designed and built their own specialist artificial climbing walls which are a far cry from the colourful, airy and pleasant-to-climb modern structures. Rammed down inside Tom’s tiny basement at home, these homemade training walls consist of hand shredding, pain inducing wooden cracks into which the two have been desperately stuffing their hands and feet for the past five years.
“A lot of people see what we have done and think it is through talent, or natural ability. I disagree. I know that for myself, and the same goes for Pete, what we have achieved is down to sheer hard work. If you see a video of us climbing a route, that’s just a snapshot, just the finessed product. What you don’t see is the five years of training, the hours and hours of hard work that goes in to any one of our big climbs.” — TR.
It was the pair’s dedication and two years of training in the basement that led them to achieve new heights and international acclaim, undertaking the first ever ascent of what is probably the world’s hardest crack climb: Century Crack, in the US.
This huge sandstone crack is so big it can been seen from space, and, as it is completely horizontal, involved the pair jamming their legs and feet above their heads and hanging upside down for almost the entire climb. Most routes of this difficulty are protected by drilled bolts and climbed in very much an indoor climbing wall style, but climbing Century Crack is like running the 100m sprint in less than 10 seconds without shoes and on an old cinder surfaced track. It’s taking modern strength and skill in to a brutally traditional arena.
When I am climbing I focus on the process not on the outcome. So with our recent 24 hour climb, we concentrated on different sections of the challenge, not the whole thing in one go, or it would be too overwhelming. We only knew the end was in sight when we had three routes left. Mentally it was quite easy to break that down, as it isn’t a huge amount of climbing, although for many climbers those three routes would be a good afternoon out in their own right!
They’ve got a lot of tenacity, they’re very stubborn and they’re definitely quite crazy to even think of these things and to enjoy this type of climbing, which a lot of people would think of as quite painful climbing, quite masochistic climbing.
They seem to make the impossible, possible.
A Climber’s Way of Life
Pete Whittaker is from a climbing family through and through. His parents are obsessive climbers, his sister Katy is one of the best female rock climbers in the UK, and from an early age he was exposed to the climbing life, taken to crags, and literally shown the ropes. He starred in a film - Grit Kids - alongside his sister, which documented the pair of teenagers climbing some of the Peak District’s hardest climbs, despite their young age.
Tom, roughly ten years older than Pete, has a family life - his wife Kim and young daughter Hannah - to balance with his passion for climbing.
“He does occasionally fall, and he comes home bruised and a bit broken. I realise that no matter how safe he tries to make it, or how good his climbing ability is, there is an inherent risk in what he is doing. I just have to try and put it out of my mind, otherwise neither of us would ever be happy.” - Kim.
As a professional climber, Tom works across the industry to make ends meet. He works as a climbing coach, is part owner of a climbing wall and gives speeches and lectures on climbing.
“It’s hard to fit it all in, but I think that if you’re training, then it’s important to really give it everything in that training session. Maximise your use of time, and focus positive mental energy in to whatever you are doing. Be that a 1 hour session in the gym, or a 24 hour endurance climbing challenge.”
The Next Adventure
While 24-hour challenges are viewed as somewhat extreme by the British climbing public, over the pond in America climbers have been racing up the huge walls of Yosemite National Park for decades. Yosemite climbers regularly set speed challenges on the 1000m faces, the fastest of which see climbers cutting corners with safety and literally sprinting up the walls, covering distances in just a matter of hours that would take most climbing parties a couple of days. This is where Tom and Pete’s next adventure is taking them.
“The short climbs in the UK are one thing, but actually I’m not all that keen on heights! This could end up being another Randall-Whittaker shambles!”
Underneath the modest and self-deprecating exterior, these two happy-go-lucky climbers are amongst the most driven, organised and prepared athletes in the world.
Will the crack climbing skills, mental strength and proven endurance - as well as the fabled banana costume - see these two likely lads from Sheffield setting new records on the world stage?
The G-SHOCK GA-1000 is a perfect climbing partner for Pete and Tom.
Designed to handle the planet's most extreme conditions it is equipped with a compass and hi visibility, automatic LED making it easier for the climbers to navigate their way through the darkness.
A thermometer allows them to keep check on the conditions while the 1/100th second stopwatch keeps them pushing through each challenge.
A truly tough timepiece that oozes style and attitude.Buy now