Julian Lines has finished-off his long-term project on Creag an Dubh Loch's False Gully Wall, naming it Magrathea and grading it a weighty E9 7a. The three-pitch line includes two British 6a pitches following the crux pitch, which Jules claims are just as worthy as the first, describing the 2nd in particular as boasting "delightful, absolutely lovely climbing."
I gave Jules a call to find out a bit more about his first ascent and what he's been up to since renouncing his passion for hard solos...
"I don't think I'm like a lot of other people, I just do it. I'm very quiet, I do things mainly for myself - it's my own personal little voyage!"
Read a UKC interview with Jules about his book 'Tears of the Dawn' and his soloing career.
What's the history of the line? When did you first start trying it?
I was on the adjacent route Slartibartfast in 1999, I got a piece of gear in and looked up right to see a blank wall with a slot in it which looked like a friend placement halfway up the wall. I thought that maybe it could be climbable with this piece of gear. So I saved it in my head for a later date. I then moved to the area in 2010, so I thought maybe I need a local project at the Dubh Loch - my local crag, even if you do have to cycle/walk in for 7 miles. This was 11 years later after first spotting the line! So I went up there in October or November, it was blowing a hoolie and I didn't know where to go from the top or where the line was, the rope was blowing, but I abbed down and played around on it. l thought this'll go at about E7 6c. But I always underestimate! When I abbed down To Hell and Back E10 before Dave MacLeod did it, I thought 'that looks E8 6c!'
I didn't really go back, I tried it once and a couple of holds fell off, that made me think 'maybe it's E8 7a.' In 2011 I was doing other things, 2012 wasn't a good year in the East and the rest of the UK with crap weather. 2013 came, after I'd done Hold Fast, Hold True E10 I thought I'll turn my attention back to the Dubh Loch. I was a bit blasé, Dave 'Cubby' Cuthbertson wanted to come and take photos. I'm quite amenable, affable, I like to help people out, so I wanted to help Dave get photos and Tony Stone was keen to come too. I was really naive back then, there was no way I was going to climb it with sunshine on it, it was just too hot. It's got marginal gear, I got it in and I tried it a couple of times, wasn't geting anywhere and went up a few more times in 2013, with Cubby and Danny Laing. Then after that I thought I can't have Cubby there and I had just one chance left in 2013. I went up, thought I'd do it, it hadn't forecast to rain but it rained, although the wall dries off really quickly. It was the last chance of the year - I went for it and then slipped off as it was wet.
2014 came and then I smashed my leg with an iron bar and got a haematoma. So that was most of summer out, I only tried it once with Ian Small and Cubby taking photos in the sun. I took three falls. Each time I got half a move further, then 2014 was over and last year came and I was with Danny in summer again. He'd been away sport climbing abroad and was putting negative thoughts in my head: "Why don't you put a bolt in it, why are you doing it?" A bit of negative energy, he was probably frightened. When you're a friend who's got to hold a rope and you don't know whether the leader's going to kill himself. He'd tried it a bit on the rope and said "That's hard, I wouldn't want to climb 4b with gear like that!" So psychologically I wasn't in a good place, then I had to work, my fingers were sore and I had injuries, so this year I thought 'I'll get rid of my injuries.' At the start of this year, Steve Perry came on the scene - a bundle of positive energy. It was a boost and good for me to have Steve. I have a problem: I'm not a competitive person, not a competitive climber, it's all about myself and wandering about hills on my own. Steve climbs E1 which is perfect for me, I don't feel pressure with him. I feel pressure when I go there with someone who wants a go. I don't like feeling competitiveness there, it ruins my psyche.
We went up in May, everything was good but I'd only been on the route once before this year. It's so sequential: there are certain moves you can make easier but then that makes the next move harder and I'm not a great sport climber so I'm not used to redpointing. I didn't know exactly what I was doing and decided to change my mind. The first time I fell off, the sun had come off the wall but it was still a bit warm. I hit this little hold, I was lucky I lifted my feet up as there's a little ledge 5 inches wide and 10ft off the ground. You know it's there. I lifted my knees and missed the ledge by half an inch - I could have busted my knee cap! Next try, I got to going for the final hold of the hard moves, it's about 5b moves after this jug. I was just staring at it. You can't do anything on such minimal holds, you know you're off if your hand comes off. I took my hand off, slapped, didn't hold it...I went the whole way down the wall and landed a few feet off the ground on stretch. I'd even shortened the quickdraws to one krab!
On the successful lead, what made the difference in the end?
Over the three years what's happened is that I've had to change how I risk assess the route, how I sorted the belay and the gear to check the forces were working in the right way to make sure it was as safe as possible for me. I only used a single rope, it was too much hassle carrying two ropes up. Over the time it's been a massive learning curve. I know people think 'there goes Jules falling off again,' what I said to Cubby was, if I had to approach it to solo it if it were in the same place as Hold Fast, it would be totally different. The problem is that I don't climb much with other people, I don't like asking people, it's the logistics to go and hold my ropes - I feel indebted, I feel pressure since I've got someone to walk in 7 miles to hold my ropes and I feel pressure because it's in the mountains and the crag is 800/900m high and you get winds blasting in certain directions and there's humidity, rain, and sun on the wall when it's too hot. If you go to Millstone or somewhere in Winter, you get out the car knowing there are good conditions. You go up there, you don't know for sure which conditions you will encounter, you've dragged someone up there and you feel presure to try it when it's not quite right, you think you might get away with it, you've got to give it a try.
I have spent a lot of time up there on my own to train, people say "Isn't it a lot of effort?" but it's my local crag and I walk up to the Loch for a swim, I do tai chi on the boulders, it's a day out for me. I enjoy it. Even now I still enjoy going up to the Dubh Loch, I don't feel that I have to solo anything, like I used to in my past, such as Goliath or whatever, I don't feel I have to do that any more. I'm happy to go for a swim - maybe that's actually just old age!
Can you describe the style of the climbing and the gear? Cubby described it as 'marginally protected'!
The climbing's very sequency. It starts off after you get up to the 5-inch ledge, then you climb a hairline crack, with sequential 6b moves to two RPs, then you go up and it does get easier as you get to a shakeout with reasonable hand and footholds and you can rest, but if you fall off going up to the shakeout you'll hit the ground. The 6b moves are well protected and you get to the halfway shakeout and you place about 5 micro wires on their sides. Then there's 15/20ft of climbing where you can't really chalk up, then after that you've just got to go. Well, I couldn't chalk up, Dave MacLeod could! It's very sequency, sustained 6c moves with a last hard move at 6c. There's one move right in the middle, your foot just above the gear, there's a move for me which is harder because I'm short, my foot is on a hold and there's a gaston you can go to but I'm locked into it, if you're taller you could do something, it's harder than the rest until it's in the muscle memory.
There's a wealth of routes from E2-E6 on that wall. Is there potential for more hard lines at the Dubh Loch?
Should I really say this on ukclimbing.com?! [laughs] There are no other new routes at that standard no, locals know about the glaringly obvious line on Broad Terrace Wall, I think Dave knows about it, but it's so mossy. You have to go there with 200m abseil ropes, who's going to do that? I do it because I'm local. It's a lot of effort to clean North/North-east facing cliffs.
The 2nd pitch is delightful, absolutely lovely climbing. When I climbed them I wasn't there at all, I was absolutely buzzing. I didn't know where I was, for the first time ever I wasn't really there. I wasn't compus mentus!
Why the name? Are you a Hitchhiker's fan?
Yes, it's from Hitchhiker's. I come from that era, but I never read it, I knew nothing and didn't even know it was a film or radio programme. I looked up Slartibartfast, I was reading about how he was a Magrathean who comes from the planet Magrathea where they design planets or something. I thought in my head: that's a really nice name, if I ever do it that's what I'll call it.
First I've got to get back and do some work, I'm going to work on the rig next week. I actually feel quite happy to work as I've had a lot of time off. I'm relieved, I think that's the word. People ask "Are you empty, you've done a big project?" No, I'm not -I knew I had a window of opportunity, one more before going to work then maybe once in September with good weather and Steve, then another year would be gone. I look back and it's a relief, my whole year has been about getting to try this, it's a relief that I've got it done without that heartache of 'God, another year,' feeling despondent, another year older, injuries - no, I'm not empty at all. I don't think I'm like a lot of everyone else, I just do it. I'm very quiet, I do things mainly for myself - it's my own personal little voyage!