Monday, 13 July 2009

The big ride

Gaz Marshall getting ready for a rollercoaster ride on Firestone E7 6b, Cairngorm. Click on the pics for a bigger view.

Last week I had an excellent day out with Gaz over on Hells Lum. Gaz was after his first E7 and had been working on the unrepeated (?) E7 Firestone by Julian Lines. Firestone is a perfect piece of granite. Worn perfectly smooth by ice and water, it’s quite beautiful to look at. It’s also quite weird, if you stand on a particular part of the hillside, it looks easy angled enough to almost run up. I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like that when you are on it.

Gaz was clearly juggling the sense of being within striking distance of leading his project that day with the questions about when is the right moment to go for it. How much des excitement cloud the judgement. Only experience tells you. And experience is got the hard way and no other.

So, he went to find out, and started padding up the slab. I hung on a rope and shot pictures for some time as he got higher and higher, but suddenly became aware that he’d stopped one move before the end of the difficult section, and everything had seemed to go nauseatingly silent. Still looking through the lens, I felt my mouth go dry as I watched him try several times to replace a sliding foot before suddenly launching both hands into the air, windmilling wildly and shouting “NAHHH I”M OFF”.

I wondered what to do. As he turned and fell, I realised I was most likely about to watch a mate break his legs. So quick thinking allowed me to put off bracing myself for it by simply carrying on shooting pictures as he went for the big ride down the slab.

I can tell you he was going pretty damn fast by now!

Impressive body pasting to maximise sliding friction, together with a fine land-and-roll down the boulders technque. Allowed Gaz to take the 12 metre fall, then get up and start laughing his head off. Thank god for that. 

Claire reckons it’s witnessing scary climbing antics from behind a lens than from belaying. But this did me little good when it was my turn to solo Firestone next. I made it, but I must say I prefer having holds to squeeze harder when I get scared. Full points for steeliness went to Gaz though for limping back over to the route, walking wounded, and going back up it to finish the job! A fine example of grit you don’t see very often now. 

Going for it second time round

This doesn't really need a caption, does it? Gaz’s blog about the adventure is here.


  1. "Full points for steeliness went to Gaz though for limping back over to the route, walking wounded, and going back up it to finish the job! A fine example of grit you don’t see very often now."

    Aren't there lots of sports though, Dave, where people risk broken bones all the time, and it's no big deal, really? Where the participants crash, get back up and keep going? Virtually all bike, motorbike, skiing, skateboarding, etc...I live down the street from a skate park, and I can imagine the laughter that would ensue if somebody showed up with a crash pad strapped to their back and tried to pad the landings, they'd get laughed out of the park...calling sliding down a 35 foot slab "a fine example of grit you don't see very often" might be laying on a little thick perhaps?

  2. Try it yerself sometime!
    Doesn't look from the pictures that there's any pads at the base...just lots of sharp boulders. 12m is 40feet. I did that once and ended up in hospital for two weeks. I reckon if the guys down the skate park saw this they would say the same as me - "_king hardcore"

  3. Anonymous13 July, 2009

    In reply to 'Chance and real':
    Have you ever tried soloing an E7, let alone falling off one? The fact that there are only a few people in the UK prepared to solo at this level tells its own story - its dangerous and requires great mind control. We're not just talking about falling off a skateboard.

  4. No Chance and Real, it's really not laying it on thick now you mention it. You don't get 12 metre groundfalls onto boulders in skateparks. And breaking your legs down the skatepark and in the Loch Aa'n basin are two very different things.

    In Loch Aa'n your going to be sitting getting hypothermic or bleeding for a very long time before your mate can run over the plateau just to get the mountain rescue team called. Thats why people die there from injuries that wouldn't get life threatening down the skatepark with an ambulance not so far away. Just calling out a team is a pretty damn serious thing for a climber to have to do and not to be taken lightly.

    My father raced motorbikes for thirty odd years and he'd be the first to agree that in any sport there are many who aren't really bold but revel in the romantic idea of it, and a very few who actually are bold. It's rare and it always will be.

  5. But guys - nothing happened. He fell off, stood up and got back on. How much danger are we *really* talking about here?

    "You don't get 12 metre groundfalls onto boulders in skateparks."


  6. Anonymous13 July, 2009

    No boulders. 5 second medic response. Keep on watching MTV.

  7. I wanted to just clarify something: You talk about "body pasting technique", which I presume you mean flattening as much of the body as possible against the slab for maximum friction. Is that a term, or did you just make it up, Dave? heh.

  8. Note to Brits who think 35' groundfalls from 45 degree slabs are lethal: scratch Tuolumne Meadows off road trip destination list

  9. Chance and real, I can see the point that you're trying to make, but I don't agree with it. The level of "actual" danger isn't a fixed quantity (though ratings suggest a level); isn't that what Mr. Macleod talks about often in regards to his harder/more dangerous ascents, that "safe" pretty much a matter of the mind? Isn't this why new climbers quake at a 8 foot-topout or a "runout" on a sport route?

    This man was pushing his limits; I think we can all respect that.

  10. Anonymous18 July, 2009

    Why is it that when something gets posted about a climbing feat in Britain theres always somebody who says 'oh its bigger and better in America' etc. It was the same with the hard grit routes when people were saying 'we boulder those kind of liner in America' well maybe thats true but these posts about our climbing arnt trying to blow our trumpets theyre just accounts of nice days ot climbing

  11. Effort Dave and Gaz. Looks like an ace route, was it onsight?


  12. Anonymous19 July, 2009

    "Chance and Real", I can assure you that Cairngorm slabs are a lot more than 45 degrees!


  13. And this discussion about who's the boldest is pathetic. Falling 40 foot and then getting back on the same route is impressive. End of.

  14. Anonymous23 July, 2009

    never thought i'd agree with Franco, but there's a first time for everything...

  15. Anonymous,
    That's exactly what I was thinking! Even a dog has it's day..:)

  16. Hi Dave,
    just to let you know that Paul Thorburn soloed Firestone in around '97 so yours was the third ascent.
    Alastair Robertson