INTERVIEW: Ben Moon on Rainshadow 9a - "I'm Over the Moon!"

As previously reported, Ben Moon has climbed his second 9a with Rainshadow at Malham Cove, claiming its fourth ascent 25 years after his historic climb of Hubble 9a in 1990.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Moon was a pioneer of the British sport climbing scene, his name synonymous with hard first ascents of routes from 8a-8c+/9a which pushed boundaries not only nationally, but globally. Statement of Youth 8a, Agincourt 8c, Sea of Tranquility 8c+ and Hubble 9a to name but a few - these routes remain testpieces for climbers at the forefront of the sport today.

Ben Moon on Rainshadow (9a) at Malham Cove, 222 kb
Ben Moon on Rainshadow (9a) at Malham Cove
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Ben released his biography - Statement - in February this year. Following yesterday's phenomenal ascent, it may now be missing a chapter or two, or at least a postscript. Named after Statement of Youth 8a - a route he made the first ascent of in 1984 aged 17 - the title is all the more significant in light of his latest achievement.

Now aged 48 and just days before his 49th birthday, Ben's ascent of Rainshadow appears to have come as a surprise to many. A world away from the groundbreaking ascent of Hubble 9a - his first of the grade and widely regarded as the first of the grade globally - as a spritely 23 year-old sporting his iconic dreadlocks and Lycra, a quarter of a century may have passed by, but Ben Moon has defied the odds and proved that age is no barrier to achievement.

Ben Moon on Hubble. Photo by Steve Lewis.
© Steve Lewis

We caught up with the man of the moment to find out more...

Ben - congratulations! How do you feel?

I'm over the moon! Yeah, I'm really psyched - it's been a sort of dream for a couple of years ever since getting back into climbing, because that's the reason I got back into climbing so to finally redpoint it is just incredible. It's one of the hardest routes I've ever done so I'm psyched!

What were you doing in the period before discovering Rainshadow?

Not a lot really, I've got a 6 year old daughter now. I was just focussed on my family and my business climbing just once a month maybe down the wall.

Why did you choose Rainshadow?

I was up walking at Malham with my wife and saw Jordan Buys on this route which turned out to be Rainshadow. It just looked amazing and that was the spark that got me fired up for climbing again. It's just a stunning line really and I was just blown away by it. I didn't know much about it but after finding out more it just got even better. It's certainly on of the best routes I've ever done.

Tell us a bit about the climbing.

What makes the route so good is that you need to be both strong and fit. It's got a very powerful 12 move Font 8A boulder problem which you have to do after a climbing a route 8a+ and then once you do the problem you go straight into another 8a+ and there's no place to stop and shake out. You need really good endurance and really good strength. That blend of power and endurance is what makes it such a classic 9a.

Ben Moon reporting his ascent on Twitter

When did you realise it could be possible?

After the first day on it I was shocked at how hard the problem felt, but I did do it in two overlapping halves. On that day I thought "I reckon I can do this - it's going to take a long time," and maybe after 3 or 4 days on it I thought it's doable - but it's going to be a long term project. I didn't expect to do it as quickly as I have - I thought I'd be trying it next year as well. Certainly by after about 7 or 8 days I'd linked it from the start of the boulder to the top and at that point I was ready to start redpointing really.

Did your approach to redpointing differ in any way from when you were younger?

It's a long time since I've done any hard redpointing but I was very systematic in my whole approach to Rainshadow, both in the way I worked the route and how I approached the redpointing and I was just really focussed as well - it's pretty much all I've been focussed on since I started trying it in February and even before then I was training all through the winter with a view to giving it a go. So very structured and very focussed really!

Could you have imagined 25 years ago that you would climb your second 9a at 48?

Oh god no! Never! No...I probably wouldn't have even thought about but if I had thought about it I probably would have thought "There's no way!" But we've now got 9b/9b+ in the world today and I think one of the big things is that a lot of people around the world have climbed 9a. Psychological barriers have been broken down and that makes a massive difference. Knowing other climbers have done Rainshadow is a massive psychological advantage really. It's not like you're the first person to climb it - it's much harder to be the first person to climb something or the first person to climb the grade.

How did Rainshadow compare to climbing Hubble?

It's a completely different route, Hubble's effectively a boulder problem and six moves long, it's all about being strong and no endurance is required at all. Rainshadow is 20 metres long, has a hard boulder problem but also requires endurance - so it's completely different, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to it because it is so different.

Do you think your ascent will inspire more people to try Rainshadow?

There are other people trying it to be fair, Ryan Pasquill has been trying it for the last couple of years and he got very close earlier on this year, then he got injured. Stu Littlefair, James Mchaffie have also been on it so there are people out there, but yeah it would be nice to see other climbers come along and get stuck in really. I got a bit of stick recently for saying that there aren't really any world-class sport climbers apart from Steve McClure in the UK at the moment, but when there's such a thriving indoor scene it's such a shame that these routes aren't getting done more often by younger climbers.

I heard you climbed Raindogs 11 times in one day - what was that about?!

I got a bit of a finger tweak on the Rainshadow crux and I had about 2 weeks off trying the crux section and I ended up working out on Raindogs one day, just to sort of improve my fitness and get it more wired. Steve McClure had said he'd heard that Malcolm (Smith) had done it ten times in a day so I had to just go one better there!

What's next for you?

Northern Lights really, I really want to see if I can do Northern Lights - my old Kilnsey project - so I'd like to go and check out that, see how it feels and how it compares to Rainshadow.

Read Ben's blog for more information.

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