Dave Macleod has just made the First Free Ascent (FFA) of 'The Great Arch', on the Hebridean Island of Pabbay, Scotland. Climbing with Donald King, Dave headed to Pabbay with the sole focus of trying the line, it having previously repelled two very strong teams.
The route was originally climbed by Dave 'Cubby' Cuthbertson and Lynn Hill in 1997 with one point of aid. The pair named it To Be Continued, grading it E7 7a with the point of aid, however the route is more usually referred to as 'The Great Arch', the name of the crowning feature on Pabbay. The route then sat unrepeated or unreported with seemingly nobody showing any interest in it, despite a number of strong climbers heading to the islands of Pabbay and Mingulay (The two are often linked together into one trip). However, in June 2010, Lucy Creamer and Steve McClure had a go on their last day on the island, with the only knowledge being a description and Steve having abbed down to the lip of the roof to have a look at the holds (UKC News Report Here). The pair onsighted up to the final crux pitch but Steve fell on the roof section, pulled up the ropes to his highpoint and led through to the top, a very good effort considering the difficulty and the lack of knowledge of the route.
Dave travelled to Pabbay with the intention of looking at the line on an abb-rope, working out what to do and then climb the route, in a style somewhere between his more clinical headpoint ascents and Steve's flash attempt. On the first day, the roof was very wet from sea spray so Dave simply tried a few of the moves on a grigri and got an idea of what the route entailed and where it went. After waiting until the evening the next day to go and look at the route, Dave decided that due to some poor weather due in a couple of days time, he would try the route the next day.
Once again the route was shrouded in sea mist the next day when the pair arrived at the crag, however, they decided to sit it out and wait to see if conditions improved. By early evening, the route was beginning to dry up, fortunately due to how far north Pabbay is, the sun doesn't set until around mignight, giving plenty of time left for an attempt on The Great Arch. Dave described his ascent further in his blog:
"Pitches 1 and 2 flew by in minutes. The big third pitch was a grunt with still wet holds... The infamous offwidth slot of pitch 4 was only a few metres, but gave my first experience of 'scapular walking'. I have no idea if that is a climbing technique, but it worked. Pitch 5 was the most gloriously exposed and finely positioned 5a pitch I have ever climbed."
Upon arriving below the crux 6th pitch, a breeze picked up providing perfect temperatures and drying any remaining grease off of the next crux pitch. Dave gave a more detailed description of the pitch:
"The next thing I knew I was 10 metres up the pitch leaning back with my hands off with a double knee bar... The first crux was right above. A full stretch from an undercut to a tiny crimp and then a bouldr problem to get to the break at the back of the arch itself. In the space of ten minutes I'd gone from a bag of nerves to feeling totally relaxed and just eager to go for it.
Unsurprisingly, the transition to comletely horizontal roof climbing felt a bit of a shock to the system, and I fumbled with two cams, and then decided to not even bother with the third. I was getting too pumped. I got really excited about the next seconds as I'd find out whether I had enough power to do the crux, or fling myself into the huge space below and test the cams and wires in the creaky roof flake... What followed was a classic climbing moment of a blur of slapping hands, quickly made up sequences on the hop when I did it all worng, and a bit of aggression. In no time I found myself stood above the lip, panting to catch my breath."
Commenting on the climbing Dave said:
"The projected grade I'd heard for the free ascent was E9 7a, but in the end E8 6c was more like it"