Matt Cousins has just made a bold highball/solo ascent of what is regarded as 'the hardest route on Southern Sandstone', Chimaera which is given a grade of UK 7a. All ascents before Matt's utilised the use of a top-rope, in line with the ethics on Southern Sandstone that routes are either top-roped or soloed, due to the delicate nature of the rock. Matt climbed the line above a stack of pads having previously climbed it on a top-rope.
Chimaera was first climbed on top-rope by Dave Turner around 25 years ago, and has since seen repeats from a few people on a top-rope, including (there may be more); James Pearson, Tony Musselbrook (UKC News report), Jon Partridge (UKC News Report + VIDEO), Ned Feehally, Matt Cousins, Tom Gore, Barnaby Ventham, and now once again by Matt but this time he highball/soloed the route above a stack of pads. At 10 metres high, with the UK 7a/font7C+ crux in the upper section of the route, followed by a dirty top-out that could easily be fallen from, makes this a very serious route.
Aged 24, Matt has already been climbing for around 12 years, having started through a school climbing group run by teacher, Mark Alderson. Southern Sandstone is his nearest real rock, with him being based in Canterbury, Kent. Matt explained what sparked his interest in Chimaera and what made him go for the highball having already made an ethically valid ascent 2 years ago:
"My first encounter with Chimaera was when I was 17, when I belayed Tony Musselbrook on the 3rd ascent. I had a quick play on it after he crushed it but I was not good or strong enough to get close.... I came back to the route in september 2011, Myself and Tom Gore got the 5th and 6th ascents on our fourth session... I was pretty psyched and thats when the idea of the highball came into my head but I was nowhere near strong enough to do it consistently... I can't quite explain why I wanted to do it as a highball, maybe because I just knew it 'could' be done... it is such a beautiful line and sequence of moves, it almost feels cluttered having to do it on a top rope... I guess I was just psyched to do it in the purest way I could."
Matt then left the route for a while, returning this summer as he was climbing well and felt strong, having taken training more seriously recently, Matt then spent two sessions familiarising himself with the route again on top-rope, though had to change some of his sequences with a view to being more in control for a possible highball ascent.
On his third session, on Sunday 21st July, Matt highballed Chimaera first go, Matt takes up the story:
"I warmed up, set up the top rope and did it first go of the day. I knew the highball was on! So we sorted out the pads, pulled the rope and I just went for it. It was a strange feeling, almost felt like my body took control and my head was just a passenger, that was until I reached the greasy slot and the rest in the groove when my brain had time to catch up with itself and I had the sudden realisation of what I was actually doing! Im glad I managed to hold it together somehow and not take a fall on the highball! Its definately the hardest climb that I have done physically and mentally"
Matt further explained the reasons why this is potentially the first highball of the route, despite some strong climbers having repeated it on a rope:
"Chimeara is such a precarious route, you can fall off pretty much any move in the groove section, for me there wasn't any single crux move but a hard sequence until you can gain the rest in the groove, and then one hard move after the rest... The top section is easy but its always a bit grubby (no matter how much its cleaned) so provides an exciting finish! It was not necessarily the height of the route that concerned me too much but more the body postions and the potential of a very awkward fall."
4th ascentionist, Tom Gore commented on Matt's ascent:
"Matt's ascent marks a significant point in Southern Sandstone history and shows the way that bouldering and route climbing can cross over. Matt has been busy over the last few months ticking many classic boulder problems and routes. Everyone is looking forward to seeing what else he will crush this summer!"
You can see close up footage of Matt climbing the crux section HERE