Julian Lines recently added a direct finish to Dave Macleod's Holdfast, E9 7a, on Whale Rock in Glen Nevis. In keeping with his experience as a free soloist, Jules soloed the line after working the route extensively on toprope. Upon completing the route, he named the direct finish Hold Fast, Hold True.
Holdfast was first climbed in 2002 by Dave Macleod, the route takes the bulging wall to the left of Femme Fatale, E8 6c, passing a crux at around 5 meters, sustained climbing then leads to good holds at 15m where Holdfast moves left into the adjacent E5; Run for Home. Dave climbed the route with a bouldering pad for protection and a tied off skyhook commenting on the ScottishClimbs website:
"The meat of the route has no protection, climbing a blank, off-vertical wall on micro edges. It has a bouldery and very technical 7a crux at 18ft, possibly protected by a poor skyhook at 8 feet?!... The overall toprope grade of the route is around 7c+ though it is always difficult to tell on vertical routes."
Dave Macleod had cleaned and looked at the direct finish but felt it was too on-off to climb at the time and so left it, and never returned after making the first ascent of Holdfast.
Dave Birkett then repeated the route in 2006 using side-runners for the crux (UKC News Report Here). He fell on the crux when a hold broke, so re-worked the move with the smaller hold, commenting on the crux, Birkett said it was "brilliant and absorbing".
Jules was tipped off about the direct line and went to have a look at it, after re-cleaning it he began to look at the holds and the moves, finding a small but positive hold. Commenting on the cleaning of the route, Jules told UKC:
"Whilst cleaning and working the top section I found a good but flexible hold, after bashing it with a nut-key it came off leaving a positive but much smaller hold. I wasn't sure if it would be do-able but worked the moves and found it was still OK. Secretly I'd hoped I had made it too hard for myself."
Jules then spent some more time around Glen Nevis working on the route on top-rope but was still unsure as to whether he would go for the solo. Last year, Jules managed to climb the whole pitch cleanly from bottom to top, he then committed himself to finishing the project off. However, shortly after this Jules got injured and by the time he was back to strength, it was too late and the wall was either too wet or too cold to climb on the thin holds.
With free-soloing being Jules' favoured way of climbing, right from the beginning he knew that was going to be the way he would do the route, without the use of side-runners or bouldering pads. However, Jules explained how he tried to reduce the risks of climbing a route of this difficulty in a style that left little room for error:
"As I don't project very much the route took a long time to complete, especially with the injury getting in the way. To try and reduce the injury of a possible fall without using any equipment I flattened the base out by filling in the gaps between boulders with rocks and earth, I then rolled moss off adjacent boulders and laid it down on the floor to give me a psychological boost when on the solo. Instead of looking down to see a jumble of boulders I would look down to see moss, hopefully helping me to remain calm. I'm glad I did all this as I did fall off low down on a first attempt but luckily walked away relatively unscathed bar some bruises and scratches."
Jules successfully soloed the line over a month ago and was eventually encouraged by Dave 'Cubby' Cuthbertson to tell people about his ascent, having previously been perfectly happy to have kept it quiet. Naming the direct finish Hold Fast, Hold True Jules commented on the route;
"It's a world class solo for sure. Grade wise I thought it to be around 8a/8a+ with the direct finish though do not do an awful lot of sport climbing, the top section is a grade easier than the lower section but obviously way higher and so puts at least half an E-grade on top of the lower E9 section. I'm really pleased to have finally done it, for me to climb it everything had to come together as I'm not as strong as Macleod or Birkett who can power their way out of trouble"
Jules committed a lot of time to the project, missing out on earning money through working in order to be in Glen Nevis at the right time, as an unsponsored climber this was a risky strategy, however Jules is publishing a book, Tears of the Dawn, documenting the past thirty years of his climbing career, and what drives him to solo so compulsively. To pre-order a copy, head to shelterstone.co.uk
For more information on Cubby's photography, visit his website here