Second ascent of Exit Surprise

Last Friday Aiden Laffey and Philippe Delaunay made the probable second ascent of Exit Surprise on Shady Circus cliff in Wadi Ghalilah. Superficially climbing a six pitch E2 may not seem very remarkable but this route’s reputation has been rising after multiple abandoned attempts. Aiden had retreated off it four times previously: twice with Gen Boni, once with Andy LaBonte (Andy got offroute beyond the 4th pitch crux traverse and took a long fall on to old pitons), and once with Philippe (having solved the crux traverse they realised they needed larger cams for the 5th pitch).

Current thinking is that the first ascentionist Antoine Fabre probably used some aid on the traverse and so far it hasn’t been possible to climb it 100% free.

Philippe at the exposed stance before the crux traverse

The 5th pitch was found to be climbable in line with the guidebook description, though apparently the “Surprise” exit hole at the top of the pitch is quite tight and intimidating to reach.

Aiden at the steep move on pitch 5 before the chimney leading to the exit hole

With hindsight it would have been better to qualify some of the long trad routes described in full in the guidebook with a symbol to indicate that the the first ascentionists’ description had not yet been checked. Some UK guides use a dagger mark for that purpose. Something to consider if there is ever any momentum for a second edition. At least the book gives Exit Surprise E2 rather than the E1 in the previous PDF guide! And the three star quality rating seems to be correct.

Both photos © Aiden Laffey

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8 Responses to “Second ascent of Exit Surprise”

  1. Mike Nott says:

    This is a really excellent and inspiring tale. So much more inspiring than the dross I’ve recently read about climbing on other ‘social’ sites.

  2. Alan Stark says:

    There was a general disclaimer in the cd guide saying that the majority of routes had not been checked, and that many descriptions were reproduced more or less verbatim from details submitted by the original ascentionists. Antoine graded the route TD+ — which according to the Rockfax table equates to E1. His description of the traverse pitch stated 4 pegs were used – though he did not indicate whether they were used for aid. From what Bill told me of various ascents he did with Antoine, ‘alpine’ tactics were occasionally employed, and if a pull on a bit of gear was all that was needed to overcome a particularly tricky move on a big route then so be it. I hasten to add, that from my knowledge of the pair of them, they did not use excessive aid on any major route — just enough to ensure they could get up and down in one piece!

  3. admin says:

    By the way, Alan, there was no criticism intended there! I know your E grade was a guess inferred from Antoine’s stuff. I only tickled it up to E2 to be prudent. And unlike my guide, you left Antoine’s “TD+” overall grade and UIAA pitch grades in there for people to draw their own conclusions.

  4. Elvis says:

    hey i belive the smelly irsh cheated he has not got a certficate to use his head as a hammer

  5. Alan Stark says:

    No criticism perceived Toby, and none intended on my part — I was only adding a bit or historical perspective to what is a very fine effort by Aiden and Philippe.

  6. Alan Stark says:

    Re Aiden’s comments regarding the desirability of having enough large cams, it’s worth noting that between them, Bill and Antoine only had one Camalot that was bigger than a size 4 Friend, and a couple of #11 Hexes. Also the big camalot belonged to Bill so wouldn’t have been used by Antoine on the FA.

  7. Alan Stark says:

    Just had the following mail from Antoine

    “Very funny indeed. Why are people repeating routes when there is so
    much new lines to open. I am sure I used some of these pegs in the
    traverse to put the next ones. My main worry was that the night was
    coming and I never worried to pull/help on a piton or two.

    Thanks for the paper.


  8. A. Laffey says:

    True to form we forgot the big gear for the climb, It was overcome with a sling thread, better option. Alan I do have the old cam left on the first pitch as described on your CD when I first attempted the route 5 years ago, a rare looking bit of kit! As for the traverse, I swung on every peg, Philip all but climbed across and Andy fell foul to a lose hold, but we all agree the prospect of completing the traverse and placing pegs ( the only protection available) was some achievement.
    As for Mr. Elvis , show us all you Hilti qualification so, and yes I am smelly and yes I am Irish,, yardy yardy,,,,