These incredible pictures show the moment two expert climbers clung on by their fingertips to complete one of their most difficult ascents – on the underside of the M5.
Two expert climbers complete their most challenging climb – on the underside of the M5
Tom Randall, 42, and Pete Whittaker, 31, are up there with the best roof crack climbers in the world but unfortunately, they were unable to travel during the coronavirus pandemic and so had to put training on hold.
After they grew tired of waiting for restrictions to be lifted, they racked their brains for a way to replicate the same conditions and then it hit them – bridges.
They put out a call of action to their fans and enlisted an army on social media to help them track down the perfect bridge, and eventually, they found it – part of the M5 in Devon, over the River Exe.
Now known as The Great Rift, the climb is around 800m (2,600ft) and Tom, from Sheffield, said it was “the biggest roof crack we’ll ever do.”
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Tom said: “I don’t think it’s been done before, that’s for sure. It all happened because me and my climbing partner are the world’s most established or experienced roof crack climbers, and we’ve done most of the world’s hardest roof crack climbs.
“We had the pandemic and couldn’t travel, so we started hunting under bridges for the same thing.
“We thought they might exist between the concrete girders beneath bridges, we personally visited maybe hundreds and also had a whole Instagram and social media community looking out for them for us. We had people from all over the world looking for us.
“The one we settled on came from a friend who said they’d spotted something on Google maps, and another person from the area who said we should go check it out. It was just one of those on a whim vague suggestions that might work out, and it actually did.”
When Tom visited the site he was amazed, as he was expecting to see some sort of obstacle blocking the climb but instead he was greeted by unspoilt concrete as far as the eye could see.
He continued: “I was pretty certain it was something that was very very unique. I’ve looked at a lot of bridge roof cracks and I’ve never seen anything that – it’s continuous with no breaks in it, very clean line with no obstructing girders.
“It’s a once in a lifetime thing and I feel very lucky to have found it. Plus it was in Devon, so we could get to it.”
The Great Rift took Tom and Pete almost four whole days to complete, and during that time they never once touched the ground – sleeping on a ledge that they strung up beneath the M5.
The climb has been referred to as the ‘El Cap’ of Bridges, referring to the iconic rock formation in Yosemite National Park, which was climbed without ropes by Alex Honnold in 2013.
Tom continued: “On a bridge, the main things are that the concrete flexes and moves continually, so it’s a little bit scary because the protection you’re placing in the crack feels less reliable, and the handholds are constantly moving size.
“It’s very noisy because of the M5 traffic, and it’s very dirty because of the dust and oil residue has washed down the crack. And you’ve got the public thinking you’re some kind of protester. They tend to call the police too , they came out and we got pulled down the first time.
“It took us four days to complete the climb, we slept on a portable bed underneath the M5. I’ve done it a lot, I’ve been climbing for 25 years. For the general population, it seems bizarre and scary, but if you’re a professional climber it’s a tool of the trade so you’re used to it.
“Not under the M5 though, that’s pretty unique. It’s a touch quieter at night. In the daytime, it is very noisy but it quietens down a bit. It’s a climb with a great deal of irony, we’re supposed to be out in the wilds and enjoying nature but there we are under the M5. It feels very British, and bizarre.”
Lots of other things we’ve done are a bit odd so it fits in well – If you ask people in the climbing industry about us they’ll tell you we do things differently.”
Tom and Pete are both professional climbers and would like to thank their sponsors Raab, Wild Country, Rhino Skin, Tendon Ropes, Unparalleled Shoes, Sterling Ropes and Patagonia.
Their story features in the documentary Bridge Boys, which premieres in Reel Rock, an annual climbing film festival, on March 25. Tickets are available here.