Jack on his own route, Spinal Crack E8/9 6c, Cwm Idwal © Ray Wood
Jack is an extremely accomplished climber, and one who enjoys all aspects of the modern climbing game, be it trad, sport, bouldering, winter, alpine or big walling – you name it; Jack has been there and got the t-shirt.
Trad climbing is his central passion and to this end he has climbed over 100 routes in the E6 – E8 bracket, many of them onsight. He has also redpointed F8b+/c, climbed multi-pitch F8b+, onsighted F8a, bouldered V11/Font 8A. And that’s not all - he has climbed winter VIII and alpine ED3 too!
But where did it all begin? Jack was born in Keighley in West Yorkshire and set out upon his local gritstone crags with friends at the tender age of 12. Initially the only available gear was a washing line and an old Whillans harness.
“We then clubbed together and bought 10m of 7mm cord. It went from there. A big turning point was when I found 2 rigid friends stuck in a crack at Ilkley Quarry. Suddenly I had a rack.”
Remarkably Jack survived those early adventures and in next to no time was firing up through the grades. At the age of 17 he moved to the Lake District to work as a climbing instructor. Highlights of this period in the Lakes included headpoints of First Last and Always E7 6b on Esk Buttress, and Dawes Rides a Shovel Head E7/8 6c in Langdale,
Returning to Yorkshire at the age of 22 he really hit his stride:
“As a young climber I went from being a V5 climber (having headpointed a lot of easy E7s) to climbing several locally famous boulder problems in about two years. Jason's Roof V11/Font 8A at Crookrise was a big step up for me at that time, although by today’s standards it is not that hard. This was the first, and gave me the confidence to try other hard boulders and routes.”
Not long after Jack made quick redpoints of the Malham catwalk test pieces: Magnetic Fields F8b and Austrian Oak F8b.
But then the North Wales crags were calling - a move to Dinorwig in 2006 meant that Jack could spend more time at his favourite sea cliff: Gogarth. He was soon racking up an impressive tally of routes and in 2007 he repeated George Smith’s super steep Pre-Cambrian Wrestler E7 6b on Penlas Rock.
In the Welsh mountains he climbed routes such as Heart of Stone E7 6b on Gallt yr Ogof and Surgical Lust E7 6b (onsight) Scimitar Ridge. On the new route front he grabbed the first ascent of the much talked about Spinal Crack E8/9 in Cwm Idwal. Down on the Lleyn Peninsula he made the first ascent of Ring of Fire E7 6b in the Ty’n Tywyn Quarry, and then there was Rocky - a short but sharp E8 6c first ascent below Dinas Cromlech in the Llanberis Pass.
Jack on the Arve Valley test-piece Docteur, j’ai peur F7c at Pierre a Laya © Chris Prescott / Minerva Design
Craig Dorys on the Lleyn Peninsula had always been a favourite venue and in 2009 Jack made an impressive onsight second ascent of Stevie Haston’s super loose, Bam Bam E7/8 6b. In 2011 he returned and established another hard route: The Bigger Bang E8 6c.
Jack has travelled widely in the pursuit of climbing; to date he has made trips to Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, USA, South Africa, Libya, Morocco, Spain, Andorra, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Czech, Turkey, UAE, Oman and Yemen.
“Yemen was the most culturally interesting place I have been; in the north it's a lawless bandit area. Amazing really. Like going back in time 500 years I would imagine. The best rock I have climbed is in South Africa. Krakadow is my favourite crag there. 300m sandstone wall of trad routes. Great.”
In 2005 a particularly memorable trip to Taghia in Morocco yielded the first British ascent of Fantasia, a 700m F7c+. Then in 2008 Jack landed at Tsaranoro in Madagascar and made the first ascent of Yellow Fever, a five pitch E6 6c/F7c.
“There are many routes that I have enjoyed but the most important points in my climbing have been meeting and climbing with: Adrian Jebb, Juha Saatsi, Ed Brown, Pete Waite-shores, James McHaffie, Rob Greenwood, and many others. You learn the most from climbing with other people. And these are the guys who I think I have learned my trade from.”
A move to Chamonix in 2010 allowed Jack to concentrate more on his alpine climbing and in the process fulfil his long-held ambition of climbing the classic north faces of the Alps. Jack’s alpine tick list spans summer and winter, from the granite rock routes of the Grand Capucin to the largest north faces, including the Eiger, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses.
“Climbing the classic route on the North Face of the Eiger was a childhood dream come true. It was nice to actually sit on the Death Bivvy, and think back to when I first read about it aged 13.”
In 2012 Jack joined forces with Hazel Findlay to make the first ascent of the Findlay-Geldard on the Aiguille de Saussure on Mont Blanc. This superb 600m ED2 route featured rock climbing up to E5 and Scottish style VI 6 mixed climbing.
Jack’s climbing ambitions in life have always extended to the greater ranges – at the end of 2012 he made an unsuccessful attempt on North Face of Peak 41 in the Himalayas with Rob Greenwood. Thwarted by poor snow conditions and loose rock the attempt ended in a sensible retreat. The following winter season Jack headed out to Patagonia to climb Cerro Torre but the trip was blighted - as many Patagonian trips are - by terrible weather. Despite the Scottish style conditions and high winds, Jack summited Aguja Guillaumet by the classic Comesane-Fonrouge route.
Jack on the Profit Perroux Gully in Chamonix © Andy Houseman
In recent years Jack has pushed his sport climbing standard significantly - his current best effort is Deprime sous le soleil at Rawyl in Switzerland, a F8b+/c that Alex Megos was moved to describe as "real" F8c! He has also achieved a similarly high standard on multi pitch sport routes - an ascent of Le concile de pierre (F6a+, F7a+, F7c+, F8b+, F6c, F7c) at Balme in France being particularly notable.
Jack has done all sorts of work over the years, although invariably linked to the outdoors, be it instructing, designing climbing walls or writing and editing guidebooks. In 2007 he started work for UKClimbing.com and these days he continues to work as chief editor.
It’s a busy life but he still manages to fit in some coaching and guiding work with his old crag buddy, James McHaffie. He even finds time to make occasional visits back to North Wales. A recent trip to Main Cliff at Gogarth saw him establish Dinosnore, a massive 55m E6+ pitch rising up the Positron headwall.
“My approach to climbing has changed as I have got older. It's not a serious thing for me, it's fun. It's not important in the grand scheme. I try and balance real life, having fun, climbing and working. Sure I try hard at climbing, and it takes up a lot of my time, and I find it constantly fascinating and motivating. But it doesn't define me.”
Jack has his own blog - click here to check it out.