Dave MacLeod, The Modern Traditionalist ? E11

© Paul Diffley


The Scottish climber Dave MacLeod, 27, has established what is perhaps the world's hardest traditional rock climb.

Rhapsody, given the grade of E11 7a, is the direct finish to Dave Cuthbertson's 1983 route Requiem (E8 6b) at Dumbarton Rock, a 70 metre volcanic plug northwest of Glasgow (Dumbarton Rock profile). At the time Requiem was the hardest rock climb in the world. MacLeod is at the forefront of modern climbing, a true all rounder, he boulders Font 8c, sport climbs 8c (Devastation Fr8c at Dumbuck was Scotland's first 8c), is a leading Scottish winter climber and is the author and repeat ascensionist of some of the hardest traditional routes in the UK both onsight and headpoint style. Highlights in the last year include a winter ascent of The Hurting XI,11 on Coire an t-Sneachda, Anubis E8 6c on Ben Nevis's Comb Buttress, repeating Markus Bock's boulder problem Armstrong (F8c) in Frankenjura and the third ascent of John Dunne's test-piece Breathless E10 7a on Tophet Wall. But his driving passion has been to climb the headwall above the Requiem crack at Dumbarton Rock. I'm sure we can all congratulate Dave on this superb climbing achievement and all the best for the future.

© Hot Aches Productions

Dave told about his ascent of Rhapsody,

“I am well psyched and very relieved. I've hardly done anything else except try this route for nearly 2 years.

Rhapsody is the true finish to Requiem at Dumbarton Rock. It follows the crack of Requiem before continuing up the seam on the headwall all the way to the top. There is no more protection after the crack and this section is about French 8c-ish climbing. I fell from the last few moves 8 times last autumn before pulling off a crucial hold and having to start from scratch with a new crux sequence.

This year, with stronger fingers I still took one bad fall from the last move, spraining my ankles, cutting up my feet and generally making a mess of myself. The swing in was really bad, I was worried that if I could sprain my ankles going feet first, what would happen if I flipped and went head first, even with a helmet on? I nearly tested it once in October when the rope wrapped around my leg as I fell, crushing my calf. I just managed to pull my head out of the way and messed up my back instead. The other major thing on my mind was that the top RP snapped on one fall and I glanced the belay ledge as I went passed (70 footer). If it had snapped a split second later there is potential to die on the belay ledge? Well, it doesn't matter now I did it on Sunday.

Because of the very high technical difficulty and the danger, I thought a tentative E11 7a was warranted."

To give you some insight of the actual day of the ascent Paul Diffley of Hot Aches Productions (website) reports, “

Some of you may know that Hot Aches have been filming Dave on what is now named Rhapsody for over a year. I wrote a mail to a friend of mine about the send on Sunday and I thought I might share it:-

My day went something like this:

  • 14:00 Arrive at Dumbarton
  • 14:05 Put harness on ready to rig route
  • 14:07 Slight snow shower
  • 14:12 Blizzard!
  • 14:15 crag, boulders, cameras and climbers covered in snow. There's also a stream of water running down the route.

    So we interview Dave hiding under a boulder as the snow pours down. We then abandon the idea of an attempt of Requiem direct and Dave works a new boulder problem on a steep roof, we hang about and shoot some vid, take some stills etc.

    By about 17:00 the sun has come out and the crag is starting to dry. Dave and I head up to the top of the crag (quite a mission actually and not one I'm going to miss much).

    The top hold is wet, this is the hold Dave has now touched 4 times, but never held! So the fact that it's a bit damp is not good. Also the jug over the lip has a big puddle in it, not what you want to experience after leading an E11!. So I use a fleece to mop the top of the crag and then a whole pack of tissues to really sup up the moister.

    Dave abs to the bottom and decides to lead the route, he phones his wife Claire to walk round to the crag to belay. Claire hasn't belayed him on this route before. Interesting she belayed him when he was trying his E9 to the left when Dave took 11 big falls. However the day Dave sent his E9 it was Jo George belaying not Claire.

    He lead the route at about 18:50, it was reported on ScottishClimbs 15 mins later!

    It was a lovely moment seeing Dave get to the top, the normally quiet Macleod let out some great screams of joy and relief.

    After a quick interview as the sun set on the crag I followed Dave as He ran to the top of Dumbarton Rock and stood on the trig point.

    Great day.

    © Hot Aches Productions

    The Route Description

    Dave posted a description of the route on (

    8c climbing and looking at a 70ft fall onto RP's
    © Hot Aches Productions

    Rhapsody E11 7a (35m) 2 stars 09-04-2006

    An exceptionally arduous experience in every way. This climb takes the true line of the Requiem crack, following it to the top of the wall. Start up Persistence of Vision to gain the ledge. Climb the main Requiem crack to where it fades and Requiem goes right. Step left (good shake out). Launch directly up the wall, climbing a thin flange to gain better edges in a thin horizontal (avoiding escape left). Traverse desperately right along the horizontal to regain the crack, get established in this (crux) and continue up the crack without respite to the top. F8c/8c+ climbing with the prospect of falling the length of the pitch from the final moves. FA headpointed placing gear on lead. Notes on the grade: E11 7a. Obviously this is a remarkable grade. It arises mainly from the physical and technical difficulty of the climb. It's the hardest link I've ever done, so harder than the F8cs and Font 8bs. 8c+? maybe, I haven't done one so I don't know. So we'll say 8c. But it's also very technical climbing, a very devious sequence. The other aspect is the danger; a 60/70 foot fall from the top moves, sometimes glancing off the belay ledge. The swing in is extremely violent, sprained ankles, badly cut and bruised feet, legs and back and a crushed calf muscle were experienced. If you flipped and hit head first? I think the new grade might be justified as this route will only go if you are a high standard sport climber as well as bold. That sets it apart from previous routes. It's definitely 2 E grades harder than my E9s and 3 E's harder than Breathless. Grading hard routes is really just speculating about something where you have very little to go on. If not E11 then E10, repeaters will find out...

    © Hot Aches Productions

    Dave MacLeod had a phenomenal year, and although he says that , “I've hardly done anything else except try this route for nearly 2 years,” a glance at the News section of says something quite different.

    Thank you to Paul Diffley and Dave Brown of Hot Aches productions (website) for the video stills of Rhapsody. The full video of Dave's ascent will be available in the Autumn.

    Dave MacLeod

    Highlights of Dave MacLeod's climbing over the last year from the news archive of

    FEB 2005

    Dave MacLeod has made a winter ascent of The Hurting, a summer E4 6a in Coire an t Sneachda (left) on Cairngorm. After abseiling down the climb with a view to headpointing it, Dave decided it might be possible to climb without toproping. On his first attempt Dave came within three moves of flashing it but fell when a hook ripped. Three days later, on Feb 19th, he completed the climb on his second attempt, in very poor weather conditions (classic Scottish blizzard and gales and verglassed cracks). Dave has given the route XI,11 and given that it featured very tenuous M9+ or M10 wall climbing with groundfall potential, has tentatively suggested that it could be the hardest single pitch traditional mixed climb in the world.

    APRIL 2005

    Dave MacLeod has climbed a new Font 8b at his home crag, Dumbarton Rock. Perfect Crime is a 30-move roof problem adding a Font 8a+ cave traverse into Dave's existing problem, Sabotage, Font 8a+. The 2 sections are separated by a painful kneebar shake out. Dave had been trying the line throught the winter season and completed it the day before leaving for a trip to the Frankenjura. During his stay in Frankenjura Dave repeated Markus Bock's Armstrong (F8c).

    AUGUST 2005

    Dave MacLeod has opened the first route to breach the overhanging front face of The Comb on Ben Nevis. Anubis, E8 6c, takes a 40 metre cracked prow in the centre of the face. After cleaning the line on abseil, Dave led the route without taking any falls but downclimbed from the crux several times while working up courage to commit to the crux move on the lip of a roof. The route represents a major hike in standards of climbing on Nevis after its first and only E5, Pete Whillance and Rab Anderson's Agrippa from 1983 and Gary Latter and Rick Campbell's The Wicked E6 from 2001.

    SEPTEMBER 2005

    Dave MacLeod has made the third ascent of John Dunne's test-piece Breathless on Tophet Wall (left) on the Napes, Wasdale in the Lakes. John gave the route E10 7a when he first did it in 2000 and Dave Birkett didn't argue with the grade when he repeated it. However after his ascent Dave now comments that the route felt easier than several of his E9 routes in Scotland!

    DECEMBER 2005

    Earier this year Dave MacLeod climbed Anubis E8 6c on Ben Nevis's Comb Buttress. From the big to the very small he has now completed a long standing boulder project at Dumbarton Rock. He has proposed Font 8b (around V13) for Pressure a long roof problem on the Eagle boulder. You can find a full report with photos at Scottish Climbs. Thanks to John Watson of Stone Country for the photo in this report.

    MARCH 2006

    Last Thursday Dave MacLeod and Fiona Murray (see photo), taking advantage of exceptional conditions, climbed a new mixed line on Creag an Socach (see photo) in the Southern Highlands. The overhanging wall left of Messiah was climbed onsight by MacLeod in a tenacious ascent with sparse protection. The route starts left of Messiah up a turfy ramp to gain some thin overhanging corners to a rest below a roof then a crux headwall. A second easier pitch gains the top of the crag.

    Dave MacLeod reports to, "I did have to battle a bit, it was pumpy climbing and a long pitch. The hooks and gear didn't show themselves till the last minute so I wasn't sure it was going to go until I got to easy ground. The last week has been great, I've never seen the southern highlands looking so white for so long in March before." The aptly named Defenders of the Faith is 85m long and weighs in at IX,9, about

    MARCH 2006

    In February, Dave MacLeod and Tim Emmett climbed the hardest winter route on Ben Nevis when they continued up steep mixed ground above the exit to the Italian Route (grade III) to give a VIII/9 (M7+). If you remember Dave also climbed the hardest summer route on the Ben last August with his Anubis E8 6c on Comb Buttress. (Last year Dave also made the third ascent of John Dunne's test-piece Breathless on Tophet Wall which he down-graded to E9). This weekend MacLeod switched to dry rock and did the second ascent of Super Size Me, Font 8b at Dumbarton Rock. Dave reports to, "It was put up by Malcolm Smith last June (I was getting close then too but he beat me to it!!). It takes a big diagonal line across a 40 degree face on the boulder, linking up several problems with no let up. Basically Font 7a traverse into Pongo SS. Up this (Font 8a) and reverse the traverse of In Bloom (Font 7c) into Slap Happy Font 7a to finish. About 30 moves in total." Dave has now done all three Font 8b's in Scotland, the other two being Pressure and The Perfect Crime, both at Dumbarton Rock.

  • 11 Apr, 2006
    Are you sure he boulders at font 8C mick? Don't you mean 8B?
    11 Apr, 2006
    He's done Marcus Brock's Armstrong, which is 8c.
    11 Apr, 2006
    Marcus Bock's Armstrong is indeed 8c. 'tis a route though, not a boulder problem.
    11 Apr, 2006
    'I've hardly done anything else except try this route for nearly 2 years' Just Scottish winter XI, Font 8B, 3rd ascent of Breathless.
    11 Apr, 2006
    clearly the UK's best climber at the moment. His list of achievements are second to none and awesome. Bloody amazing. Will Mr MacLeod ease up now and be happy with his lot or go onto even more unbelievable stuff? Time I got back out and did some climbing.
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