/ NEWS: Epic Route Freed - St. John's Head, Orkney

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Iain Miller and Ross Jones have freed Testament to the Insane (XS 5b, 470m) on St. John's Head in Orkney in a 12 hour push.

The route was first climbed by Derren Fox, Ross I. Jones, Iain Miller & Les Gorhamover in 2004. It was an epic 26 hour ascent, involving a short bivvy. An 8m leader fall was taken on pitch 8 and one point of aid used on lead, the pitch was then freed at 5b by the 2nd. On the recent free ascent, the team straightened out the first and last pitches, taking a more direct line. Pitch 8 was this time overcome without recourse to aid.

Read More: http://new.ukclimbing.com/news/older.html?month=07&year=2008#n45203
Alex Roddie - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:
Utterly monstrous. Looks like the kind of route that would benefit from frozen turf and ice gear!!
James Jackson on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

That looks seriously minging - congratulations!
mike kann - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to James Jackson: Sounds like it might be worth the trip north!
Henry Iddon - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

Bonkers.... and a 4 day Scottish E7.... that really is bonkers!
Al Evans on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to Henry Iddon: Actually climbing on St Johns Head remains the nearest comparable adventure to the big Dolomite walls, in the UK.

mike kann - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to Al Evans: They aren't THAT bad are they Al? No wonder you've not been back...
Al Evans on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to mike kann: I have been back, I had my eyes on Big John but Mick got there first, I did the Old Man in 1994 and several new routes on Rora Head
http://new.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=88555
mike kann - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to Al Evans: I meant the Dolomites :)
Sonya Mc on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to Al Evans: Was it not one of your friends/someone you know/know of etc, that filmed some of the 1st ascent of one of the routes on St John's Head, or one of the subsequent ascents. I seem to remember talking about it with you and thinking it was a shame that this wasn't available to view.

Great effort! Being a fearty when it comes to seacliffs, the cliffs of St J's Head fill me with an utter fascination/horror which makes me feel rather nauseous just thinking about it! I'm quite in awe of those who can actually climb these sorts of routes.
SC - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to mike kann:

Your lead! Can't be any worse than some of the more adventurous cheddar routes.
Carless - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to Al Evans:
> I had my eyes on Big John but Mick got there first

We had in fact gone up with the optimistic idea of freeing LongHope (well - except probably the headwall), but when we got there and saw the soaring crackline leading up to the left edge.....

Judging by the fun John & Dave had on LongHope I think we made the right decision ;-)

Interestingly, when Andy Donson & Kath Pyke freed Big John in 96 they met by hazard Mick & Crag who were there freeing Original Route, having just beaten John Dunne to it
mike kann - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to SC: Mmmm, yes it can. Cheddar doesn't have vomitting fulmars for a start.
Carless - on 15 Jul 2008
In reply to mike kann:

yeah - but if you're in the right place at the right time you can see some wonderous sights

like when Mick was carefully climbing over a fulmar which spewed and hit another fulmar on the ledge below - the ensuing fight was a joy to behold
Wee Davie - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

Fantastic. Well done Iain & co.

Davie
Al Evans on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to lasonj:
> (In reply to Al Evans) Was it not one of your friends/someone you know/know of etc, that filmed some of the 1st ascent of one of the routes on St John's Head, or one of the subsequent ascents. I seem to remember talking about it with you and thinking it was a shame that this wasn't available to view.

It was our ascent and it was Leo Dickenson
http://new.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=92338
Al Evans on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Carless:
> (In reply to mike kann)
>
> yeah - but if you're in the right place at the right time you can see some wonderous sights
>
> like when Mick was carefully climbing over a fulmar which spewed and hit another fulmar on the ledge below - the ensuing fight was a joy to behold

Lol :-) WE just got the Northern Lights on our Bivvy :-)
Sonya Mc on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Al Evans: Wonderful :o) <shudder>
Neil Foster - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

I don't mean to sound dismissive, and I am all for big adventures, especially on remote sea cliffs....

....but, am I the only one who thinks this looks (at least from the photos) like a tottering heap of vegetation (which probably smells of fish).

Feel free to correct me, if I've missed the point completely!

Neil
Niall - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster:

I think that IS the point :-)
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biped - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster:

Yep, definitely the point. It's a big adventure, not a grade-chase. The first ascent they did a couple of years ago was route of the year for my money.
tigertiger - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster: Neil, a sport climber would not understand :-)
Al Evans on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster:
> (In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC)
>
> I don't mean to sound dismissive, and I am all for big adventures, especially on remote sea cliffs....
> ....but, am I the only one who thinks this looks (at least from the photos) like a tottering heap of vegetation (which probably smells of fish).
> Feel free to correct me, if I've missed the point completely!
> Neil


Can I refer you to the names of some of the first ascencionists
Ed Ward Drummond
Mick Fowler
John Arran
Dave Turnbull
and me :-)


Neil Foster - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Al Evans:

Al - I'm afraid you've completely missed the point!

My post refers to this route, not the cliff in general.

Big John has been on my to-do list for years, and if you read my final Rock Notes column in the last ever High, you will recall that I commented that John Arran and Dave Turnbull's free version of Long Hope route was perhaps the most significant UK climb of my 18 year tenure...

But, as far as I am aware, those two are largely rock climbs...

Neil
biped - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster:
> (In reply to Al Evans)
>
>
> But, as far as I am aware, those two are largely rock climbs...
>
>

From memory, the guidebook describes several pitches of VS grass and general looseness for all the routes there.

Neil Foster - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to biped:

Yes, I think that is right. But it is a matter of the rock to grass ratio. In this case it looks more like grass to rock...

Have a look at the photos on the orkney-seastacks website (I'd post them in this thread if I could) and compare how continuous the rock on the front of St John's Head is, compared to the stuff round on the right, where this route is.

Anyway, as I said in my first post, I am not in any way trying to put these lads down. I'm sure they had a great adventure! It's just it looks a bit too grassy for my liking...

Neil
Niall - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Al Evans:

Has Mick Fowler ever climbed anything that had actual rock on it? :-)
biped - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster:
> (In reply to biped)
>
>
>
> It's just it looks a bit too grassy for my liking...
>
>

And mine!

Doug on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Niall: Linden ?
Neil Foster - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Niall:

I see the smiley, Niall, but anyway, just in case you have never done any Fowler routes, you are missing a real treat!

Neil
Al Evans on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster: Sorry Neil, yes I did read it that you meant generally on the crag. All routes on a sandstone sea cliff this big are going to have a few bits of vegetation and smelly sections from fish eating sea birds. But I will forgive any route on Hoy that, its such a magical place.
Niall - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster:
> (In reply to Niall)
>
> I see the smiley, Niall, but anyway, just in case you have never done any Fowler routes, you are missing a real treat!
>
> Neil

I know he's regarded as Britain's premier Moss-and-Rubble-Ascent Mentalist :-)
Al Evans on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Niall:
> (In reply to Al Evans)
>
> Has Mick Fowler ever climbed anything that had actual rock on it? :-)

A very silly and misinformed question, I wont even bother to list what he has done on grit!
Adam Long - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to biped:
> (In reply to Neil Foster)
>
> Yep, definitely the point. It's a big adventure, not a grade-chase. The first ascent they did a couple of years ago was route of the year for my money.

Totally agree, full respect to the lads. No matter what the quality of the route, setting off into the unknown on something like this is so impressive.
Just goes to show you can still have a really amazing pioneering experience in the UK without having to be climbing at the top grades. Really inspiring.
RossJ - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to Neil Foster:
"....but, am I the only one who thinks this looks (at least from the photos) like a tottering heap of vegetation (which probably smells of fish)."

You're quite right Neil all of the cliffs on Hoy are a tottering pile of rotten sandstone, vegetation and smells of fish with the occasional secton of good rock. This includes the Old Man (climbed by 1,000's) which is slowly disintegrating, and falling into the sea. When climbing the Old Man you are likely to met and get puked at by more Fulmars on the Ordinary Route than you are on Testament - well that's my experience having climbed both routes twice. We called our route Testament to the Insane back in 2004 because it was and remains so. I personally wouldn't recommend it to anyone, unless Hoy is your kind of thing. So Neil don't go there, you wont enjoy it ;o) :o) As Al and Carless know The Head is a very special and commiting place. It is also slowly falling down.

Iain and I had a cracking day out last Wednesday on the only day the Head was clear of cloud that week and it was great to go back and whip up the route this time, now we knew it would go and do it cleanly and in a more sensible time. We had some cracking climbing qnd I still have to go back for another trip up the main face having previously been rained off the second pitch and having to bail. I like the analogy with the Dolomites, bailing from the top of the second pitch of the Original Route involves 250m of abseil back to the beach and then reascending the cliff by the rotten vegetated descent route further up the coast.

James Jackson on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to RossJ:
> bailing from the top of the second pitch of the Original Route involves 250m of abseil back to the beach and then reascending the cliff by the rotten vegetated descent route further up the coast.

And who says you can't have an adventure in the UK? Sounds marvelous!
Tom Last - on 16 Jul 2008
In reply to RossJ:

Great, well done Ross and co'

Inspiring stuff.
Neil Foster - on 17 Jul 2008
In reply to RossJ and Adam L:

Ross - thanks for the insight, and I am glad you had such a great adventure.

Cheers

Neil


Adam - I don't think anyone's "respect to the lads" was ever in doubt!
Dave Turnbull, BMC - on 17 Jul 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

I remember meeting Les Gorhamover in 2003 when he came to the BMC office to pick my brains about St Johns Head. He was one of those slightly mad unstoppable enthusiasts - I told him it was pretty hairy place and I couldn't quite believe it when he went through with it and climbed 'Testament to the Insane' the following year. His death whilst sea stack climbing on Orkney shortly afterwards was a sad business indeed.

Anyway - many congrats to Iain and Ross. Having lived on Orkney for 6 months when doing my MSc I can confirm its a great place and that anyone who manages to get to the top of St Johns Head deserves a medal. Incidentally - John Arran and I always felt Longhope Route could be climbed in a day by a strong team with an accurate route description; its an amazing place to be do if anyone's up for up.
RossJ - on 20 Jul 2008
In reply to Dave Turnbull, BMC:

Les had apparently been looking for someone to take him up the Head for quite sometime and eventually found Iain willing enough to let him join an attempt. He was really very chuffed to have succeeded. His death a couple of days later was very tragic.
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