I did the first proper free ascent of this route on 21st May 1971 with the late Roger Baxter-Jones. It was well-known in Yorkshire climbing circles at that time that this route had not had a proper free ascent, and in the two years up to the time of our ascent in was loaded with pegs and even a wooden wedge (probably as left by Barraclough and Barker who made an ascent in about 1969 or 1970 with 8 points of aid). None of these pegs or wedges had been removed or moved in anyway in the two years prior to our ascent. It is inconceivable that this route could have been climbed free with these in place, and equally inconceivable that they would have been left in place if the route had been free-climbed properly. We were hell-bent on removing pegs and freeing old aid routes at that time, and the pegs in Ivy Groove taunted us every time we went to the crag! Incidentally, we freed and removed most of the pegs from several other notable climbs around that period, such as the Left Wall Girdle and Rebel. However, those routes had already been reduced to only a few artificial points of aid or protection, and in those cases it was unclear to us that we had made the first proper ascents, so we certainly never claimed those. However, in the case of Ivy Groove there was no such ambiguity.
Roger and I made our ascent of Ivy Groove without any prior inspection on a rope. We tossed a coin at the foot of the route. He got the lead of the first pitch and removed the pegs on that pitch on the lead. Although that pitch was only about 5a, it was pretty poorly protected - I think Roger got two runners on - and passed a horrendous loose block about 10 feet below the cave (which almost cost John Harwood his life in January 1972, when he ended up sitting in slings on this block which came away and his second dropped him! He was only saved just off the deck by a kink in the rope running up and jamming in a runner). We went past this block very gently on its right-hand side.
I led from the cave to the top of the crag in one pitch. I got an excellent thread in the lip of the cave and got bridged in the groove. I tried for ages to remove a wooden wedge that was in the groove, but this proved impossible in my precarious bridged position. Trouble was the wedge and several subsequent pegs were in the way of the ensuing climbing, and I could not see how I could avoid touching them without removing them first. (In those days, merely touching a point of aid counted as aid and a failure!). So I changed tactics and moved onto the left wall of the groove (protected by the mentioned thread runner). Several very thin moves (5C/6A, the crux of the route) got me up this left wall until I was able to bridge back across the groove above the offending pegs. In other words, I avoided this section of the groove altogether. (Roger removed those pegs seconding the pitch.) I was able to remove the remaining pegs between this point and the top of the crag rather easily on the lead, there being plenty of good resting places from there on.
We felt very pleased with our ascent since it was done in very pure style from the ground up. Our ascent was widely regarded as the first free ascent of this route, and was written up as such in Livesey's Lime Crime (or whatever he called his 70's guide). At no stage in the seventies was our ascent challenged as the first. Your quoted first ascent by Heys and Bullock in 1970 must been claimed later than this. As I have said, there is no way they can have made a valid free ascent on that date with all those pegs in place, unless they used them for protection - and then it would have been virtually impossible to have avoided touching those pegs and wedges. In any case, they certainly could not have been very proud of their ascent to have left all those pegs and wedges in place!
I would be curious to know whether climbers nowadays climb the left wall of the groove at the crux - or whether this was an unrepeated oddity of our first ascent!
We graded the route HVS 5C because the E grade had not yet been properly established on Yorkshire Limestone - at least that was the view of the Yorkshire MC editor (Frank Wilkinson I think was his name). I actually wanted to Grade this Extreme, but was forbidden to do so by that editor (for whom I wrote the Gordale chapter in the ?71 edition of Yorkshire Limestone with Brian Hall). I noticed in a subsequent edition that we were accused of sandbagging, but that was not the case. This is not the only Yorkshire climb to have suffered from Grade inflation since. (Crossbones at Malham was then ordinary VS, and the first pitch of Rebel - without a stitch of protection - I upgraded to HVS!
John Stainforth - 24/Jul/01
I think Pete Heys in 1970 was before 1971! Pete is not a man of no truth!
paul - 14/Jul/03
This claim appeared several years later. There was absolutely no sign in the period late 1969 to May 1971 that this route had been touched in any way - we viewed in regularly from the ground in that time period, and all the very many pegs and wedges remained in the same positions. When we made our ascent we removed the pegs on lead - it would have been virtually impossible to climb this free, and avoid touching any of these pegs, and protect the climb in its pegged up state. Inconceivable that any climbers would have left 12 pegs in place in a route they claimed to have done as a proper free route. No, when we first heard this claim, we were all incredulous and took it to be an outright lie or an extreme exaggeration (e.g. semi-free ascent, touching and standing on pegs and using some or many for protection at the very least).
John Stainforth - 22/Aug/03
I have known and climbed with Pete Heys and Dennis Bullcock for over forty years and i remember them doing this route free at the time stated, they just used the insitu gear as runners.
These mates were just two of a very talented team of Burnley based 'working class' climbers who at the time were doing first ascents and early repeats of most of the hardest routes around the country.Most of the time not bothering to report them, but i know Pete did on this occasion.
To insunuate they are liars my 'friend' is to step into dangerous territory.
Alan Firth - 08/Jan/05
This is a message to Mr John 'Stainpants' from Pete Heys himself who does not own a PC.I quote:-
'In 45 years of climbing i have been called many things but never a liar.
In the summer of 1970 Dennis Bullcock and I knowing of John Barraclough and John Barkers ascent using pegs for handholds decided to have a go at doing a complete free ascent.
The route was bone dry at the time and went without using any of the pegs for handholds or footholds, in other words in my experience completely free.The following day I wrote up the description and submitted it to the Y.M.C. End of story.
Alan Firth - 24/Jan/05
Wow! It's a long time ago, and I most certainly did not mean to cause offence with my observations!
The tradition at that time (in the Leeds University Climbing Club and amongst those in the YMC with whom we mixed - such as Ken Wood and Alan Austin) was that old peg routes that were free-climbed were essentially freed of their pegs, except for those one or two that were deemed absolutely necessary to make a very poorly protected route non-lethal. As fas as I was aware that tradition still applies. The lack of any sign of movement of the many pegs (and wedges) in Ivy Groove through 1970 until our ascent in 1971 was what prompted our ascent. We were doing a revision of the Gordale section of the Yorkshire Limestone Climb at the time, and the YMC gave us the descriptions of claimed ascents that were not in the previous guide. It is unfortunate that the description of Peter Heys and Dennis Bullcock was not amongst those, nor was their ascent ever mentioned by the YMC climbers that we met on a weekly basis. Nor was their ascent ever mentioned to us in the years immediately following the publication of the 1971 guide, nor in Livesey's "Lime Crime" which I believe appeared in about 1976 - that credited us with the ascent.
John Stainforth - 02/Mar/05