PHOTOS: McClure Climbs The Great Arch With 1 Fallby Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC Jun/2010
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As initially reported last week (UKC News), Steve McClure and Lucy Creamer made the (as far as we know) first repeat of To Be Continued through the Great Arch on Pabby.
The route was originally climbed by Dave Cuthbertson and Lynn Hill and graded E7 7a with 1 point of aid.
Although the route name is To Be Continued, the line is most commonly referred to simply as The Great Arch.
McClure came close to climbing the route on his first go after a brief abseil inspection, but he fell at the final hard bit. He pulled back on and climbed the rest of the route in one go - climbing the route with one fall.
Steve and Lucy didn't attempt the route again and the great arch has not yet been climbed entirely free.
In this news item, Steve gives us a full first person account of The Great Arch.
"I knew it hadn't been climbed without falls and that the roof was the crux so I abbed down to the lip figuring if Lynn Hill and Cubby couldn't do it there was no chance of me onsighting it. I was right, a complex arrangement of poor holds that you'd never see from under the roof looked to be the crux. 95 metres off the boulder field below with the waves crashing and a freezing gale blowing the ropes all over the place and tangling up slings and jumars and other bits of random kit I roughly memorised the position of these holds before I got the hell out of there and kind of hoped it went away!"
The route, a long, multipitch sea-cliff adventure culminates in the Great Arch - a huge horizontal roof and the crux. Steve and Lucy encountered a large amount of loose rock and adventurous climbing just getting to the crux roof.
Tom Briggs (UKC Profile), experienced climber and Pabbay new router, has climbed close to To Be Continued when he made the first ascent of Crash Course (E6 6b) partnered by Nic Sellers in 2007 - see photo of Nic Sellers below.
Tom described the rock and the arch itself:
"Even from the ground it is huge and intimidating. When Nic and I did a new route that climbs through the right hand side (Crash Course), I remember looking across and not considering for a moment the prospect of the middle section. Even on the right the roof is 15 feet wide and the only reason we managed to cross it was via a hanging slab and big stuck on coffin-sized block.
Unlike Prophecy of Drowning, (one of the best E2s in the British Isles), which is on perfect rock, some of the rock further right takes a lot of drainage from beneath the arch itself and can be crumbly in places. But it's one of the most impressive features in the Western Isles. It would be interesting to know who else has had 'a look' since Cubby and Lynn Hill. Pabbay's been a fairly popular venue with the odd 'strong climber' over the past few years..."
"The lip of the arch was a long way up, a safe haven, a target to aim for. Holds that I'd seen despite their size gave me comfort. Even the final unprotected wall, snappy and hard would be a breath of relief simply because I was sure I could do it. Up to there was a mystery.
I set off following my nose, as you do.
Pulling on a flake the size of a car it moved, my gear was behind it and my ropes under it. Not good! Heart beating fast; a scuttle left. This looked like the way. More gear a long way out and moving up now to the holds. But the holds are falling off, bits the size of bricks coming away. I have gear behind these bricks. I take it out.
I'm traversing a long way right now, gear in a sugary crack. Maybe there's another way but it's too late to find. If I fall off now I'll probably be OK. And I will fall off because there is no way up. Totally blank.
Stopped dead I wait for the inevitable, I want to fall off, but a hold appears, sloping and small, at the max of my reach. Somehow, stupidly, I'm pulling on it and committing to something. I'm trying as hard as I can, it could be the crux of an 8b sport route. Then I'm facing an all out slap for what looks like a hold. A complete deadpoint that has to be perfect but my chances are slim. No chance to think about my position, my gear, the slab below or anything at all in fact, with my whole world shrinking to a point resting on an edge about a metre above me. I make it, I can't describe how close I was to not making it. It was one of those real climbing moments that don't come along very often, where everything comes together and it all comes good.
This was the route for us. If I'd fallen, even if I'd been OK I doubt I'd have had the balls to try again, just getting to that move had already shattered my feeble nerves. A 70m abseil would have been in order or rescue if it was longer.
But here I was at the back of the arch, good gear greedily thrown into solid cracks. Then out over the roof, more flakes the size of tables creak under my weight, good gear maybe, but not behind them! Easy climbing at least. Then at last another solid runner and the start of the hard climbing.
I can see the lip, only a span away, a relatively easy move to the sanctuary of hard moves on bad holds, familiar though, I'll be happy there. Then I'm rushing it, feet all over the place, wanting this all to be over, and suddenly I'm in the air.
The gear holds. I'm cursing. No fear now, just utter disappointment. I pull up the rope, and back onto the big flakes and this time straight out to the lip with ease and through the hard lip moves and so to the top. Lucy follows with a combination of climbing, prusiking and fear. There is no time for another go as I'm already watching the sun set over the sea and the wind is whipping over the arch and making me glad to be wearing performance kit."
Steve didn't have chance to redpoint the pitch as it was already very late in the day and as he describes below, he had tasted the adventure he sought.
"So the Great Arch still awaits a no falls ascent. We could have gone back to 'redpoint' the last pitch but that proves nothing to me, a relative formality with gear sorted and fear removed. However, even if I did fancy it, who would sacrifice their last day in paradise to belay (as the next day was our last). And I could never have even asked. Would I go back again for this? No chance! I don't need to. I went to Pabay in search of adventure, and for sure that's what we got!"