Wednesday 8 August 2007

The Great Climb – climbing live on the BBC!

Some time ago the BBC asked me if I’d be keen to climb something hard on Cairngorm for a live outside broadcast this summer. I couldn’t quite believe it. 40 years ago the BBC did a live OB over three days with Bonington, Patey, Haston and others climbing the Old Man of Hoy. It happened again a generation later in 85 in Glen Coe, and now once again in 2007. Broadcasting is very different now, so it was quite a surprise to hear that climbing was going to be on primetime Saturday television for 7 hours in a single day!

Better climb something good then…Hmmmm

The venue is going to be the Loch A’an basin and its impressive cliffs; Shelterstone Crag and Hell’s Lum. This is somewhere I’ve climbed rarely, being a west coaster. So it’s cool to be exploring somewhere new so close to home. My brief is simple – to climb something very hard, and preferably a new route. I’m more into steep climbing so I opted for Hell’s Lum and went for a look at it. I knew there were new lines to climb in there, but I’d never seen them up close.

Wow. The lower part of the wall is quite amazing. Perfect granite with four pristine straight up new lines to do, and that is just the first pitch. If the conditions are good on the day, I’m going to try to climb a beautiful smooth wall, about E8 or E9. The protection is poor so falling off hopefully won’t be in the screenplay. If I do you’ll see me getting carried off in the helicopter to hospital. Amusingly, the hardest move is a wild dyno as well. Most TV friendly for the viewers, most terrifying for the climber.

Cleaning new lines on Hell’s Lum crag on Saturday

Pitch 2 looks like an E7, a bold traverse across a smooth wall, only protected at the start. So the further across you go, the bigger the pendulum you face if you fall. We’ll go for the flash and see how we get on. Perhaps I’ll allow three falls before I succumb to a plan B. I’m not sure what plan B would be right now? The final pitch isn’t quite so physically demanding, even though it’s the steepest. The holds are quite big, but they are also detachable! This means the chances of protection holding a fall are… erm… somewhat reduced. E6 6a/b and sudden death if I fall. I might not be smiling on this pitch too much. At least the topout is quite stunning if we succeed.

My partner for the climb will be Cubby. After a few years of injury troubles, I’ve been getting txts from him with tales of mileage done and fitness coming back. Thing is, I’ve seen how strong he is in his ‘unfit and injured’ state and lets just say it’s something rather different from what you or I would call unfit or weak…

Hell’s Lum Crag, Cairngorm. Coming to a screen near you!

Folk have been asking me if I’m nervous about doing a top end dangerous route on live TV. A TV camera is not a scary as an E9 that’s for sure, but it’ll be hard if I can’t climb it on the day. The producers asked for a hard climb. Hard climbing means uncertainty. I might fall off and hurt myself, or I might pull off a three pitch E9? I guess we’ll find out…

When is it on? Saturday 18th of August 1pm-7pm (yes you did read that correctly!) BBC2 Scotland or streamed live on the BBC site.

More info and a trailer for the programme here


  1. Bloody awesome!

    The craig/route looks like something else .. good luck on the day.

  2. Granite is the only thing i climb...i don't if your familiar with the chief in squamish, bc but thats where ive spent most of my time. im not the best climber but i hope to be some day.....and this stuff looks wicked awesome....making me jealous

  3. "So the further across you go, the bigger the pendulum you face if you fall."

    Eeek! Will you promise us all to wear you lucky Rhapsody helmet? Good luck, fingers crossed for cool, dry, sunny weather!