Tom Randall Climbs Franco Cookson's Roof Project: Infusoria E7 6b

© Coldhouse Collective

Tom Randall has made the first ascent of what is thought to be the largest roof on grit or sandstone. At Cringle Crag on the North York Moors, it is one of many unclimbed projects in the area. The route goes through an area where a large section of a huge roof fell down, leaving a giant, unclimbed, overhanging prow.

Tom on the first ascent of Infusoria, E7 6b  © Coldhouse Collecive
Tom on the first ascent of Infusoria, E7 6b
© Coldhouse Collecive

Tom described it as 'climbing like a sport route but on sandstone'. He continues, 'It has big chunky holds but it’s very steep, so your feet are up by your hands. You’re doing kick throughs all the way along the lip. You follow the big lip of a roof and at the end you climb a double fridge huggy prow, and then you have a slopey finish. It’s great.'

How did you find out about the project?

It was on a North Yorkshire Moors project list that Franco Cookson has written, it tells you all the best unclimbed projects. I found out about the list two years ago and I’ve been referencing it as my Bible, picking off all the best routes up there. I didn’t realise how much good climbing there was up there; I’ve been going back again and again. I’ve heard about another roof project today up there.

What made you choose this one in particular?

I first saw it three or four months ago when I went up to climb with Franco in the Moors recently on an ‘experience’ day out. Franco took me on a tour of all these crags with unclimbed routes. The thing about Franco that’s amazing is that he’s so passionate about his area that he will take people around and show them all the best routes. He wants you to see this and try that, it’s great. I tried some of his projects and some things he’d already done, but this was the one I knew I had to go back for. It was amazing. was wet and green, but I still thought it was good.

I guess I chose it because I like things that are different. I’m used to climbing walls and arêtes, and it was a much bigger roof than I’d ever seen, the biggest roof on sandstone and gritstone maybe. I'm a complete sucker for new experiences.

Infusoria breaches the biggest roof on sandstone in the UK  © Coldhouse Collective
Infusoria breaches the biggest roof on sandstone in the UK
© Coldhouse Collective

What was the process that you went through with the route?

I went been back three times since then. The first time it poured with rain for four days solid. I went out to the crag each day in all my waterproofs and cleaned all the green off the route; it was disgusting. It was a miserable experience: on my own, on the moors with wet ropes, in fact everything wet, cleaning a route. A bit of a labour of love. After a second session working the route, I’ve just been back and led it.

How did you find the lead?

When I did it I got up to the roof, put my first bit of gear in and ripped a hold off. It hit me in the head and then hit my belayer on the hand. I decided to continue. However it then started pouring down with rain - the route was like a waterfall.  I downclimbed and waited an hour. It dried up, and I went for it again. This time I got right out to the end of the roof before it started raining again, so I climbed the last bit really quickly and topped out in the rain. It was all wet on the top holds. It was a bit sketchy - the top is the scariest bit, it’s run out...ground fall type run out. There’s a cam below it that you put in as potential back up, but it’s really rubbush. 

Tom on the top section of Infusoria, raindrops already visible  © Coldhouse Collective
Tom on the top section of Infusoria, raindrops already visible
© Coldhouse Collective

How dangerous is it? 

It’s a tiny bit sandy and friable and the holds are chunky so they can snap off...maybe I should give it an XS grade...? I’m really glad I didn’t fall off at the top though, because I did some of the sequences again for the camera at the end, and one of the pieces of gear I thought was bomber, wasn't. I took an 8ft fall for the camera and it ripped out. That made me think it was sketchier than I thought.

What's in the name? 

Tom has called the route 'Infusoria', explaining it is a reference to HG Wells' War Of The Worlds: 'We are the Infusoria to the aliens in HG Wells.'  Tom explains futher, telling the story of his drive up to Cringle Crag:

I was driving up to the North Yorkshire Moors at night and as I got close to Middlesbrough, I could see this bright, pulsating light in the distance; it looked about 50 miles away.  It sounds really weird now, but I genuinely thought there was a chance that there could be an alien invasion. I’m totally serious; my heart was going so fast, and I got really excited when I saw a police car coming the other way. I followed my nose towards this light and eventually arrived at an oil refinery on the coastline. There was a massive burning flame coming out the top of a tower - they were jettisoning off excess gas. It was like ‘War of the Worlds’ or something; I was genuinely quite nervous.

North York Moors New Routing Potential

There are many more unclimbed lines on the crags of the North York Moors. Tom spoke in particular about Franco Cookson's ' Sandy Crag Project', 'Franco’s is the big one that has been around for a long time now.' As Infusoria had been on Franco's list, UKClimbing asked him for his thoughts on the route and a bit about what is on offer up in the Moors. 

Tom's ascent is really impressive. To come to a strange crag and manage to link and lead a logistically challenging route so quickly shows the kind of climber he is. He doesn't mess about! Whilst this route might not pack the biggest grades ever, it's an incredibly meaty and intimidating challenge. It's also worth noting that whilst the gear is pretty good on the route, you are totally reliant on a couple of half-decent cams from preventing certain death on the fall. The boulders below are pointy!

On a more general note, I think it's brilliant that the Moors is getting recognition from internationally respected climbers. People have had mixed experiences, but above E4 the Moors holds it's own against any area.

Was Infusoria a route you were considering trying?

I think it should be on everyone's list to try. It's pretty monstrous! I had my eye on the line when Wedge Route still existed. Wedge Route undercutted a crack with feet just above this climb. I was always trying to figure out in my head whether Tom's new lip would be a goer when it was only just below the crack. When the crack and the massive amount of rock above fell down, it left this absolute plumb of a line. I'd given it a vague clean and done the moves from the gear, but never given it a serious effort.

You need to be a proper climber to get something like this done quickly and I get most enjoyment out of the exploring part of development anyway - it's amazing to think there are routes like this that no one has ever even tried.

Tom heel hooking on the roof of Infusoria  © Coldhouse Collective
Tom heel hooking on the roof of Infusoria
© Coldhouse Collective

Are there many other projects still remaining in the area?

Stacks. Every time someone climbs a project, they seem to find two new ones.

Tom spoke about a list of unclimbed projects, is that a list you've been gathering?

Dave Warburton, Matthew Ferrier and I have gradually been compiling a list. If half the routes on the list ever get climbed, the North York Moors is going to be one of the big destinations for mid to hard trad. At the rate everyone's knocking them off, it won't be long.

What about your own big project at Sandy Crag? How close are you on it?

Eeee! It's getting exciting now. I've linked it, which was a pretty amazing experience. I'm just trying to get fitter, whilst not getting injured. Last weekend I took an inverted fall trying to ground-up a new route at Ingleby Incline and all I could think about as I fell was the Sandy Crag arête. Any movement could be my last - I really don't want that to happen before I climb this thing.

Tom is also a part owner of No match for crag id:16784,"Climbing Station", a Director of Sublime Brushes, and a Director of Lattice Training.

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13 Jul, 2016
Great stuff, though I would maybe say 'possibly the biggest CLIMBABLE roof on Sandstone in the UK'. I'm sure a good explore around the NW/Orkney (for example) would reveal some absolute whoppers, particularly when you consider sea caves.
13 Jul, 2016
Get in! Nice one Tom.
13 Jul, 2016
It's definitely not. Maybe in Englandshire.
13 Jul, 2016
Hmm, On the basis of the photos I can think of a couple of unclimbed roofs in Northumberland that are possibly a shade bigger....... And they aren't hidden away. Steve
13 Jul, 2016
Also Great Gate Buttress in the Churnett with all those Nadin routes no-one seemingly climbs looks bigger....whats the vital statistics?
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