Pete Whittaker Solves “Crown Royale” (5.14d) Possibly World’s Hardest Crack

This article originally appeared on Climbing

Well-known trad climber and "Wide Boy" crack expert Pete Whittaker has completed Crown Royale, a monster pitch of 330 feet. After some deliberation, Whittaker publicly suggested 9a (5.14d) for the line--making it possibly one of the world's hardest crack routes--though he remarked, "whatever it settles at is all good, because if you like crack climbing, a few crimps, and a 100-meter pump fest, then you're bound to have a jolly good time on this one."

Royale lies on the Profilveggen (Profile) Wall in Jossingfjord, Norway, a stone's throw from Nico Favresse's The Recovery Drink (8c+/5.14c), another of the world's hardest cracks. Whittaker made this route's third ascent in 2019, after significant projecting.

Crown Royale was worked free in two sections by Whittaker, who now lives in Norway. He redpointed the upper half, which he coined Eigerdosis (8c/5.14b), just a month before his full ascent, and the lower portion, Crown Duel (8b+/5.14a), in 2019. Neither segment has been repeated.

It took Whittaker a mere three redpoint attempts to finish the full linkup, though he told Climbing that the real process was much longer, and by no means a "quick send." "In reality, it took 30-plus sessions over four years," he said. "I'd done the bottom half four years ago in six sessions, then I'd worked the top this year, and also had a mess about in the bottom half again before linking it all together. So the project went down about as quickly as I'd expected, and I'd put in a considerable amount of training through last winter, spring, and summer and in preparation for this project."

More than anything else, the weather proved a formidable foe. For most of the month of September, when he'd planned to tackle the route, storms battered the Profile Wall. "Normally at the Profile Wall, because it's quite steep you can get stuff done in bad weather," Whittaker said. "But the forecast was so shitty. It was awful. We went there one day and I'd never seen the wall so wet in my life. Some bottom pitches that I'd thought were permadry, even those were soaking wet. So weather was the biggest battle, but we managed to get some tiny windows, and that's when I fit in the climbing."

Though he graded Eigerdosis, the upper half of the line, slightly harder than Crown Duel (5.14b to 5.14a, respectively), Whittaker said that the boulder problem on the lower portion is actually the hardest sequence on the whole route. "It's probably what you'd call a hard, long V10 boulder right at the bottom."

Whittaker came close to sending the full line on his first redpoint attempt, falling on the very last move of the Eigerdosis's redpoint crux. "There's this one move after that which you could blow, but the move I fell off was basically the last hard one," he said. "It's a tricky move when you're tired, this stab into a thumbs down, thin hands. And on my first attempt conditions really weren’t good, so it was a proper battle. A real fight to get up there."

On his second attempt, conditions were significantly better, and Whittaker was optimistic, but he ended up falling off even lower on the crux. "Again, it was a move I'd fallen off several times while working [Eigerdosis] by itself."

Beyond the weather, it wasn't the sheer difficulty of the climbing that proved frustrating, but the logistics of tackling 330 feet in a single trad pitch. As one can imagine, Whittaker's rack and rope were extremely heavy. "I placed something like 18 pieces on the whole route," he said. Luckily he knew there was a good rest point halfway up the line, so he used a tagline, tagging up the gear for the top half of the route to avoid climbing the lower section with his full 18-piece rack."

Whittaker used a 9mm rope for the ascent because the rock on the wall is so sharp that he didn't feel comfortable going with anything thinner. To mitigate drag as much as possible, he extended all his pieces, using rolling carabiners for some placements.

"Actually the weight of the rope and drag wasn't a major problem until after I'd done the redpoint crux," he said. "On the top section, which is maybe 7c (5.12) I started really feeling the weight. Because I was pumped it was really noticeable." The terrain here wasn't comparatively difficult, but it was significantly less overhung than the lower portion of the wall. "Some slabby off-width and some cracks followed by slabby ledge climbing," Whittaker said. "So when you get there the rope drag is major, and you've climbed 80 meters (260 ft) at that point."

Whittaker’s solution was to untie from the rope and solo the remaining 20 meters (65 ft) to the top. This free solo finish kickstarted a small frenzy online but was generally misunderstood, according to Whittaker. "There seems to be a lot of wrong information flying around about this solo to the top," he said, laughing. "Some people on Reddit were saying that I soloed a 5.12 or something when I was really pumped... that is absolutely not the case. Where I untied to the top is probably about 5.6. It's really easy. Not a problem."

Regarding his 9a/5.14d estimate, Whittaker appears fairly confident, though he's not particularly worried about the grade, either. "It's always tricky to grade climbs towards the upper end of your level," he noted on Instagram. "As every increase in perceived difficulty feels like a huge step, when in reality you're not actually progressing in grade that much." It's important to him to at least suggest something, however, "as it helps with a consensus over time."

"The obvious thing to compare Crown Royale to is Recovery Drink (8c+/5.14c)," he told Climbing. "I put the same amount of training and effort into that route, and Crown Royale was a little bit harder. That's my main comparison because it's directly to the left of that route, same wall, similar features, and similar holds."

One interesting thing about Recovery, however, is that "nobody's really ever said the grade." Though he was the third ascensionist, Whittaker was the first to propose a difficulty for the line. "Nico [Favrese] never said the grade, Daniel Jung never did either. It was only me who said 8c+ (5.14c), but even I only said that because that's what the public was saying."

"Still, the number of people that have tried [Recovery] compared to those that have done it, and also the number of good climbers who have tried it and are still trying to do it... that shows it's a tricky route. It's not simple, and I thought Crown Royale was slightly harder. It took more effort, and the boulder problems on it are slightly harder."

Of course, Whittaker has made plenty of hard ascents outside of the Profile Wall, but he said it's almost impossible to compare his past climbs with this one. There are very few cracks in the world in the lofty 5.14c/d range. Crown Royale may well be the hardest.

"Even Cobra Crack (5.14b), that's hard, but I did that when I was 23, and now I'm 32," Whittaker said. "I feel like I've improved massively since then. And really you can't compare this to climbing 8b and 8b+ trad... It's just a different level. I guess I could compare the climbing here to sport 8c (5.14b) and 8c+ (5.14c) that I've done, but none of that has taken nearly as long or as much effort."

Whittaker doesn't have anything looming on his agenda for the rest of the year. "Crown Royale was the main thing I wanted to get done for 2023," he said. "But hey, we've still got a few months left in the year, don't we?" When we spoke he was in Yosemite, preparing to head to the desert with longtime partner Tom Randall.

"We're hoping to climb some nice cracks out there," he said. "So we'll see what happens..."

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