Laybacking above the cruxWell finally I have some climbing to speak of. I’ve been waiting for years for a chance to head across to the Mournes of Northern Ireland and repeat John Dunne’s stunning looking Divided Years E10 7a. I’m psyched on repeating some stuff again having poured so much time into the hard work of first ascents. Divided was the first E10 in the world so that only adds to the draw to go and climb it. After Rhapsody I’m keen to tour around a bit and repeat other peoples ‘Big Es’. I spent my late teens repeating stack loads of E7s and E8s in Scotland and on Gritstone so it’s really nice to be doing it again. I forgot how much easier it is repeating stuff than putting it up! Its also nice because the very hardest ones have so much mystique attached to them, partly because of the legendary reputations and backgrounds of their creators. It’s pretty thrilling to have the form to go and experience these famous routes for yourself and find out whether they really are how you imagined.
So the Hot Aches team, Fiona Murray and Kev Shields were all psyched to sample Mournes granite and last week we finally booked our ticket and went. Divided was every bit as good as I expected it to be. We got straight to it on the first evening and I had enough time to quickly get the moves done and suss out the gear. My big ambition was to make the first ascent placing all the gear on lead. John’s ascent used a peg and a couple of pre-placed wires and Dave Birkett’s second ascent last summer appeared (judging by the photos in the mags) to have several pieces in place at the crux. This was because the climbing is really steep and physical and its difficult to stop in the middle of hard moves and fiddle in wires. The route had lots of wires in place in various states of decay. For me though, placing gear on lead is part of trad climbing, headpoint or not. The headpoint style is nothing more than a rehearsal for a ‘real’ lead. For me, if the gear is pre-placed then it might as well be bolted.
I was psyched to lead it on the second day but after linking it first go on the top rope the midges descended and it wasn’t to be. On the third day it all went smoothly and I climbed it solidly placing all the gear, first try. The crux starts at a roof about 20m up with lovely moves on undercuts with weird footwork. I found a perfect toe hook which meant I could place the crucial wire to protect some pumpy moves on crimps up to a flared slot. It’s tricky to layback the edge of the slot and get a bomber cam in, then after that it’s pretty much plain sailing with awesome exposure. The top half of the route is easy so I could just relax and enjoy the rest of the climb.
The route was originally given a toprope grade of F8c which is a ridiculously hard grade to climb in a trad situation on a moderately remote cliff. But I had been warned by Tim Emmett (who’d had a day on it but was rained off before he could lead) that F8a might be nearer the mark. I’d say Tim was bang on with his assessment. F8a but quite hard for that grade placing all the gear. As for the E grade? Well it would be easy for me to say nothing and take the tick, but if ascentionists aren’t up front and honest then accurate consensus on grades for these things will never happen. So, like Breathless from last year, I would have given it E8 6c if I’d done it as a first ascent. That could be totally wrong, but at least I’ve gone and repeated it and improved on the ascent style before commenting. Dave B commented that he thought speaking on the grade might discourage people from making the effort to come across and repeat such a fantastic route. A very good and valid point. Well take it from me this is one of the best single pitch routes I’ve ever seen or done. You will NOT be disappointed! If you are in any doubt you can see the video and photos shot of it by the Hot Aches boys (http://www.hotaches.com/).
It was a great inspiration on this trip to see the raw keenness of Kev (who has only one hand) smoothly lead a scary E2 and solo like he was going for a stroll in the park.
I’m hoping to get some more big trad stuff in now I’m in a position to go climbing again. Can’t wait.