It has been more than a decade since the last ascent and not through want of trying. Some of the country's best climbers have been knocked back by the long lock and hard moves after 25 metres of power-endurance pulling.
This spring saw Roberto 'the Stallion' Stallioni and myself working our way right to left across Malham's catwalk, steadily ticking the test-pieces. When the Austrian Oak (F8b) fell, the next appealing hard line was Cry Freedom, with its fearsome reputation only slightly lessened by already having the quickdraws hanging courtesy of Neil 'trad-man-of-the-year' Dickson.
A quick run on a rope was promising as ninety percent of the moves felt steady. The first crux beta fell rapidly into place which doesn't seem to happen too often on the complex white Yorkshire limestone.
The next top-rope run found me falling from the top holds (this was soon to become a theme) and was the necessary indicator to get on the sharp end. The other F8b+s I've done have been wildly varying in styles, one was a 13 metre horizontal Thai roof that took 3 days of rapid fire efforts. The other extreme was a 42 metre Slovenian power endurance fest which again took 3 days but of more concentrated work.
Those who have 'Cried Freedom!'
The main issue for me, when redpointing, is that I get over-psyched. Struggling to sleep, thinking about the route and spending every spare minute rehearsing the moves and visualising the overlapping links. This is very tiresome for friends and family as this makes me even more boring than usual. Because of this I generally stick to on-sighting or I keep a conscious limit on the route's grade (so that they can usually be ticked in a day), but this time it was different. This route was worth it.
The long drive from Pickering to Malham was something I'd get used to for the next week or two and was a handy hour and a half of thinking time, refining and drilling in the sequences.
The first run on lead went well with a brutal set of moves I fought my way to last holds before powering out, I really thought I was going to do it first redpoint, but as is often the case I'd not given the top few moves the respect they deserved.
With the British Championships and the World Cups just around the corner I'd picked up the training intensity and diet for the previous few months and was feeling relatively light and strong, not on top form yet, but getting there.
With the weather being so warm lately I couldn't imagine pulling on until an hour or two after the sun had moved off the top holds, so I was rarely climbing before 7pm. Combine this with the nature of the route, a high redpoint crux at the top means you generally only get one decent throw a day. The next 3 redpoint throws all ended the same way, but the moves up to that point were developing from nails to casual and I was reaching the last holds with plenty in the tank.
Time to reassess the beta. After about 5 minutes looking at the final holds I noticed a small smear for my left foot....and if I'm going again with my right hand, I need to change that smear to a right foot and......bloody hell, that was way easier. Drive home, rest a day, drive back, it's pretty windy and cool, no rain. This was adding up to perfect conditions. I knew it was going to go down. Arrive at the crag, scuttle up and throw the draws in.
Have a chill for a bit and then off comes the duvet and gloves. On goes the chalk bag.
Pulling comfortably and silently through the bottom crux (my other attempts have involved a grunt that would have embarrassed Venus Williams) and all was feeling good.
A quick heel-hook rest and a shake, 'I don't really need this rest' I'm thinking, but it's become so ingrained I have to stay there for a little while. Then onwards, ploughing up and left under the bulge feeling locky and ace. A chalk and a 'French blow' in honour of 'the Stallion' and then the big move up and right. The small hold feels terrible until you can re-adjust it then it's okay.....but I can't re-adjust it, I can hang it for a few seconds, but I can't pull up to get my heel in.
I do have a moment of clarity where I know it's not going to happen this time and I use it to scream an expletive that echoes beautifully around the limestone amphitheatre and disappears off to offend the masses in Skipton.
Then I'm falling, with even more beta to add to the now super-refined top sequence. A crucial foot shuffle. I hate refinement. If I have to refine something so much I'm not strong enough, but hey, I'll get over it (just this once)!
Back on the catwalk with my flask and not feeling too worried. The moves are pretty efficient now and I reckon I'll be able to have another run tonight. An hour later with a sigh, it's time to get back on the route. 'Do you want me to smack you in the face to psyche you up?' is the kindly offer of Simon (my interim belay bunny. My girlfriend has work to do (and more sense) and 'the Stallion' is babysitting).
I decline his generous offer and set off up the route with my new foot shuffle bouncing around my head. No tiredness remains from the first attempt and before I realise it I'm at my previous high point, I throw the new little foot shuffle into the mix and I'm crimping the hell out of the last hold feeling fab, stick on the heel, flick into undercut (it's so easy to catch this wrong), but I catch it right and then....the magic that is the sneaky smear. At this point if Simon had thrown himself off the catwalk and had been swinging on the other end of the rope, that smear would have stuck and I would have still made the last long move and clipped the top bolt.
Everything felt good. Plenty physically in the tank, but emotionally I've had enough and I simply wanted to finish it. 'Just enjoy the route' is always good advice, but for me the enjoyment comes after success, not during.
I'm very happy to stick my name on the bottom of that list.
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