INTERVIEW: McHaffie and Dunne on The Great Escape

As reported yesterday, James McHaffie and Ryan Pasquill onsighted John Dunne's The Great Escape​ E8 (6b, 6c, 6b) at Cioch na-h-oighe on Arran last weekend. Since its first ascent in 2001, the route previously had just two known repeats - by Scottish climbers Dave MacLeod and Iain Small. This latest onsight is made even more significant in that it is likely the hardest traditional onsight in Scotland to date.

John Dunne on the first ascent of The Great Escape in 2001
© Dave Simmonite

We got in touch with James to find out more about the onsight, alongside some comments from first ascensionist John Dunne...

"Great to see Ryan and James putting the effort in and moving the game forward - hardest onsight in Scotland yet for sure I guess?" - John Dunne

James McHaffie

What inspired you attempt the line?

I'd seen a cover shot of John Dunne on it many years ago and it just looked wild. After our trip to the Mournes last year, Arran seemed another good option for a trip and a few friends were keen. It's a stunning route, it was even better than expected.

Did it need a good clean?

Iain Small did it last year so I knew it would be clean enough. We went up the first day as I was keen to try and get it done as it was a main objective. It was a bit dank and cloudy when we arrived at the base so we hung out for a bit to let things dry. As it hadn't been climbed on I brushed a lot of the footholds with a toothbrush before committing to the cruxes. 

Ryan leading the way on The Great Escape, 168 kb
Ryan leading the way on The Great Escape
© James McHaffie

Describe the pitches briefly - the middle one looks amazing!
Ryan led the first pitch which is OK. I led the next pitch which has some hard route-finding in the middle. It could feel quite lonely if you went the wrong way and didn't find some key gear in pockets. The crux is above, giving a brilliantly delicate and wild move left to gain the crack, which gives a burly E3/4 finish. I abbed and Ryan led it, then I seconded it with loads of gear and got pumped to buggery. I thought the top pitch looked easy but it was a pokey boulder problem with two possible methods. Ryan led this pitch and I seconded it, the crux is lower down the pitch but the top slab is still a brilliant and bold 5c/6a to finish.

A great route. I thought the rock was very good. The main pitch might be E7, but it is still an intimidating lead if unchalked without a good description of where to go.  It was great to do it with my mate Ryan. We've got another week here so we're keen to check out Cir Mhor and maybe some new routes.

Ryan 'Chav' Pasquill displaying atypical trad climbing attire, 159 kb
Ryan 'Chav' Pasquill displaying atypical trad climbing attire
© James McHaffie

This onsight comes 15 years after John's first ascent. Not many repeats have been made. In your eyes, is it a line worthy of more repeats?
I might even do the route again myself as it was stunning and definitely deserves traffic! We've a few more people who are keen for The Great Escape on our next trip so it should be getting plenty of ascents.

Have you got your sights set on anything else in Scotland?
I've got two more trips to Scotland, mainly doing some Extreme Rock ticks I've not done as I'd like to get close to finishing them next year if possible. 

John Dunne

John Dunne on the distinctive flake feature of The Great Escape in 2001
© Dave Simmonite
How did you discover the line?
Kev Howett accidentally told me about the line and the reason we went to do it was because during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, it was one of the only places to climb due to it being an island. Hence the name Great Escape.

Tell us a bit about the climbing.
I was stunned at the scale and quality of the wall and it is a fantastic piece of rock, technical and bold with the huge flake feature on the main pitch. The route is awesome and world class.

How much time did you put into establishing the route?
We initially went up and spent a day cleaning the route and preparing it for a lead. I then returned and led the route shortly after then made a further trip up with Dave Simmonite to get some pictures.

What do you make of James and Ryan's onsight, 15 years on? 
It's a superb effort from James and Ryan and I feel really pleased they have not only climbed it but done it in better style – great to see. 

Do you think there is more potential for similar lines on Arran and other Scottish islands - they are still relatively unspoilt, it would seem!
For sure there are loads of lines still to do in Scotland. The wall right of Great Escape for example, freeing the nose on 'The Strone' - the huge leftwards trending stepped overlap on Sron Ulladale on the Isle of Harris.

James is sponsored by: Boreal, DMM, RabSterling Rope and is a BMC Ambassador.

Ryan is sponsored by: Boreal

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