This huge sandstone sea cliff has kept him busy for several years and the direct finish final pitch, which is the main focus of Dave's efforts, is thought to be of exceptionally high difficulty, featuring physically hard (high French 8) climbing on soft sandstone with natural protection. The pitch is right at the top of this very long and arduous route, coming after many other adventurous pitches on this huge crag.
Only brief details are available at the moment such as a short blog post from MacLeod's climbing partner Andy Turner stating:
"Just a one liner - IN THE BAG!"
And a tweet from MacLeod saying:
"Pulled out the stops and finished the project."
The route is currently being discussed in the UKC Forums.
Accompanying MacLeod on his trip to the island is the film company Hotaches as well as professional photographer Lukasz Warzecha. No doubt the ascent was captured on film as well as in photographs.
St. John's Head is the largest vertical sea cliff in the UK, rising to a height of over 350m. As far as we know the cliff is home to only four routes: The Original Route, Longhope Route, Big John and Testament to the Insane.
The Original Route and Longhope Route were multi day undertakings climbed in 1969 and 1970. Ed Drummond spent seven days climbing the Longhope Route (in a mixture of free climbing and aid), sleeping in a hammock. The route remained unrepeated for 27 years, until John Arran and Dave 'BMC' Turnbull repeated it free over four days at a mighty E7 6c - but they took a logical alternative line to the aid pitch on the headwall.
John Arran commented:
"The whole point of the Long Hope Route was to climb the headwall. What we did was to find an alternative line up the headwall which was more suited to free climbing, the knife-blade crack that Drummond aided up being obviously ridiculous to climb free. So we diverged from the aid line for a pitch or two before rejoining it before the top. Dave has now proved that even the ridiculous is free climbable if you're talented enough!"
Dave MacLeod's new super-route tackles the headwall direct in a stunning position - see a topo on the Hotaches Blog.
John Arran commented in the UKC forums:
"That's great news. Nice one Dave.
I find it incredible that this route has seen only three ascents in over 40 years and has never been repeated (or even attempted?) in the style of the previous ascent. To summarise:
First Drummond and Hill climbed it however they could, using substantial aid but also an amazing amount of free climbing which will have been cutting edge in its day, especially without cams.
27 years later Turnbull and I climbed it all free according to the original constraints of keeping on the headwall and between the two main arêtes, which we did only be departing from Drummond's original line in preference for a line more easily free climbed.
Now 14 years later it sounds like Dave's managed to free the original aid crux as well as the rest of the route.
I doubt there's a route anywhere in the world which has seen so few ascents over such a long time but where each ascent has been seen as a groundbreaking improvement on the previous. In fact are there even any other candidates?"
Info on Orkney and Hoy:
Orkney is an archipelago of over 70 islands, of which 17 are currently inhabited. They are mainly quite flat, however the island of Hoy is an exception, rising to 477 metres above sea level and guarded by huge sea cliffs - offering massive new route potential.
The broken nature of the rock means the routes are extremely adventurous, and the large ledge systems provide ample nesting sites for birds. The fertile sea provides plenty of food and as a result Orkney's cliffs support thousands of pairs of breeding sea birds, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, gannets and bonxies. Loose rock could be the least of your worries.
- Most climbers visit the island to climb the famous sea stack The Old Man of Hoy.
We hope to have more details soon.