INTERVIEW: Alan Cassidy's 'Summer of Dove'

Alan Cassidy, 104 kb
Alan Cassidy
© Alan Cassidy Collection

In the recent Mediterranean weather the UK has been enjoying, Alan Cassidy, The Climbing Academy (TCA) Glasgow manager and Scottish strongman, has made a number of border raids to Dove Crag (Dovedale), in the Lake District, and come away with some respectable plunder including two E7s. Alan is no stranger to hard climbing having redpointed Dave Macleod's Metalcore, 8c+, at the Anvil, and onsighted up to E7 including an ascent of Dalriada on the Cobbler last year.

Dove Crag is located in Dovedale, in the Lake District and is home to many classic routes such as Extol (E2), Fast and Furious (E5), Bucket City (E6) and Vlad the Impailer (E7). The crag is made up of two sections the South Buttress which contains routes such as Extol, Hiraeth (E2), and Dovedale Grooves (E1) many of which can be quite dirty. The North Buttress is a great overhanging section of good quality, clean rock and is home to many quality routes of E5 to E8. This part of the crag has been the focus of Alan's border raids over the past month.

UKC caught up with Alan to find out more about his 'Summer of Dove'.

Duncan: Had you been to Dove Crag before? What was it that inspired you to head down to the Lakes when you have loads of good cragging in Scotland?

Alan: My first ever trip to Dove was at the start of July. It's somewhere I have wanted to go to for ages. I remember reading the articles about the last "Summer of Dove" almost 10 years ago when Al Wilson, Steve Crowe et al had totally revamped the crag. Niall McNair & Tony Stone had mentioned the place loads to me as well, conversations seem to go along the lines of "Vlad, Vlad, Vlad...Steep, steep,'d love it".  At that time though I was onsighting 8a, I had never lead harder than E5 onsight and dismissed it as all being too serious for a wimp like me. 

All that changed this year was that Rob Sutton and myself were heading down to represent TCA Glasgow at an ABC meeting and were looking for a stop off on the way to Sheffield. It was the start of the recent heat wave and all the lower options seemed impossible. Dove came into mind and since that first visit I have wanted to do it all.  
So, the initial visit was a bit of whim and I just got hooked. Its not really about dismissing the great crags of Scotland. Being based in Glasgow I can get to Dove Crag faster than a great deal of the Scottish crags and I know the hard routes are a lot cleaner, actually see ascents or are more attainable for me than many of the equivalent grade in Scotland. That said, I'm definitely getting back into the mountain tradding after having forsaken it for quite a few years and there are so many routes up here I need to do. Cubby is one of my big heroes, I need to do more of his routes.
Alan Cassidy at Seynes, France, 144 kb
Alan Cassidy at Seynes, France
© Alan Cassidy Collection
Duncan: What were your first impressions of the crag? You did Fear and Fascination (E5) first right? The climbing style on the North Buttress, is it like sport climbing on trad gear?
Alan: Well thats what people always say. I can categorically say that Dove crag is most definitely trad climbing! Sure there is a fair bit of fixed gear and plenty of cams but the place is pretty intimidating when you first get there. I always think crags with scree and big blocks at the base are pretty scary. Dove doesn't lack that but when you get on the wall the holds reveal themselves. I suppose the main similarity with a sport crag is that the routes are steep and athletic. The fact they have a lot of junctions helps to and has made it much easier to get into. Once you've dipped into one route, you instantly have points to aim for on others. The scale of the place reduces and doing harder and harder things ground up then becomes possible. 
So yeah, I did Fear. I got really gripped on that actually. It was my first proper trad lead of the year and other than Dalriada (E7) I haven't done much hard trad in a few years. The crux of Fear isn't inconsequential when the holds are chalked, so go now if you want to do it. It was the perfect intro for the other routes though. I knew that there were places on the face I'd feel comfortable having done that. Some of the E7's were then a go-er. I'd recommend it to anyone who has aspirations of climbing E6 or E7 who has a good bit of sport fitness.
Alan Cassidy on La Fabelita, F8c, in the Santa Linya cave, Catalunya., 181 kb
Alan Cassidy on La Fabelita, F8c, in the Santa Linya cave, Catalunya.
© Pete O'Donovan
Duncan: You then headed back down to Dove crag a further 3 times, what did you get done on these trips?
Alan: On my 2nd visit I wanted to do Bucket City which is an awesome E6 that shares a bit of Fear. I got that pretty comfortably. Al Wilson was there that day, cleaning routes, giving out beta and replacing fixed gear. It was amazing to see someone care so much that other people had a good experience of a crag, let alone one with a not insignificant walk in. That just doesn't happen in Scotland. Credit in recent years is due to Ian Small and Tony Stone for brushing up many an E6 and 7s in Scotland but mostly on individual routes that they were going for. I don't know that they were putting in as much effort as Al just to get a crag clean for others. That guy deserves a lot of credit. His routes at Dove are ace too, but I guess we will come to that.
3rd visit was a really great day. First my mate Stu (Cobra) Lyall did his first E6, which was awesome to be a part of. I was eyeing up an E7 called Beyond the Pail, basically it starts up Fear to its crux, sprints through a few hard moves to a fixed wire then runs it out to a junction with Bucket City. I knew I could do Bucket, I thought I could see the sequence from the ground so I just went for it and it all went pretty well. We bivi-ed in Priests Hole that night and I went to sleep knowing that really I needed to give Vlad the Impailer a punt. My first go ended pretty early with a crazily deep flash pump. I'm glad I gave it a second shot as that turned out to be one of the best trad experience I have ever had. That route is evil. It keeps coming at you right 'til the end. I think the only time I have ever dug so deep was when I did my hardest sport onsight a few years back. It took me an age to see the way to do the last bit. I just remembered Al Wilson talking about the finish being "American style". Luckily it came to me in the end what that meant.
My most recent trip was with Niall McNair, who put in an impressive onsight on From Dusk Till Dawn. Again, wow, what a route! Niall's epic stamina sucked me in to thinking there was a rest where there wasn't one so again it took a second effort to get that one. I was pretty peeved not to flash that, but the feeling of disappointment dissipated when I reached the belay on yet another truly amazing piece of climbing. My last day ended topping out in a thunder storm on the E6, Pail Face. It felt like quite a nice closing scene on my month of weekends at Dove which had been brought on by the best July in years.
Alan Cassidy on Metalcore - 8c+
© Matt Pycroft
Duncan: Which of the routes you did at Dove stood out for you? 
Alan: All the routes I have done so far are worthy of their stars and all have been great experiences in their own right, but for me its got to be Vlad. What a route! There can't be that many trad routes in the UK at that keep coming at you like that route does.

Duncan: What made you keep returning to Dove crag? Was it something in particular about the crag, a single partner who was mega psyched or just coincidence?

Alan: I think it was that combination of clean, hard routes that I felt were achievable and the opportunity with the weather. The setting helps too. While not the most remote it feels like a mountain crag. Bivi-ing out too, that has been brilliant fun and taken me back to my younger days. Dove has really fostered a desire for more trad climbing adventures again. I really would recommend people get up there.

Duncan: Any plans to head back, or to head into the Scottish hills at all?

Alan: Yes and yes. Like I said I want to tick the crag. Its time for a Dove E8 I guess. The weather might spare me from the fright though, as I write the standard summer rain has returned.  In fact I have had the Gary Latter guides out today, there are a lot of Scottish E7s I fancy a tickle of now. I'm inspired to put in the cleaning shift now too. Al has made me feel I should be doing my bit too. Unlike Dove though, where you know things have seen ascents, so many of the hard Scottish routes have barely seen a repeat.

You can follow Alan's climbing on his blog: Alan Cassidy Climbing

Alan Cassidy is sponsored by: Montane, Five Ten, CragX and The Climbing Academy Glasgow

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