Franco Cookson has completed the renowned arête project - the 'Sandy Crag Project' - at Sandy Crag in Northumberland. After 30 months, 100 sessions and 1 ground fall, Franco finally established Nothing Lasts H10 7a this weekend. The 'H' grade is used by Franco to indicate a headpoint ascent.
The Boulby Wall (E8 6c **) provided a gentle start to the trad season in March and two weekends ago Franco finally managed to complete The Futuristic Herring Gull Project, a highball that he has been trying for years. Franco told UKC:
'That meant a great deal – properly thin slab climbing, outrageously good, high up and in a brand new venue. Now this has happened – I don't really know what to think. I really can't believe my luck this year. Loads of things that I've been trying for ages have finally been slotting into place.'
The line of Nothing Lasts has seen a lot of attention over the years. The Rockfax Northern England guide describes it as "One of the best lines in the county (or is that country?!)", which Franco considers accurate. Northumberland legends Karl Telfer and Mark Savage had previously scoped out the line (and apparently Johnny Dawes, too). In recent years efforts the route has been on the radar of strong locals including Adam Watson. Franco commented:
'I'd planned to take a little longer to get the line sussed, but when I walked in on Dan Varian shunting it last week, I knew I had to get a shuffle on! It was mental setting out on a route, knowing that I had about a 30% chance of doing it, but I had no choice.'
Franco's first lead attempt didn't quite go to plan, but it proved to him that he was capable of climbing it:
'The only protection for the first 12m is some ratcheted-down skyhooks at 5.5m. It was absolutely terrifying setting out on the lead first time round. I climbed perfectly to and past the hooks, but fell off most of the way through the 3rd 7a crux move, taking an outrageous groundfall. This fall was strange, because it should have put me off and shook me up, but I knew as my body recoiled off of the floor that I could do this route. That was the first time I had anything resembling confidence - my mental barrier was always this 3rd crux move, and I now knew I could just try harder and get through it.'
However, the next attempt was scarier, as Franco describes:
'My skin was trashed and I was thinking about all sorts of things. I made small mistakes the whole way up, but wouldn't let myself disintegrate into a negative thought cycle. I got into the 2nd crux move, which is probably the hardest on the climb, and kind of fudged the landing of the crimpy pop. This set me up in a bad position for the move I had previously fallen off, but I wanted to avoid the fall so badly, I just absolutely went for it. I made a slight foot adjustment and gave it everything I had. Only just did my foot get on the high nubbin and then I was tired, arched and in a properly bad place. Every move a sketch. Every hip position a fight. Every second, total and utter panic. The next section should be easy, but I was out of juice and properly scared. Somehow I made it to the sloping shelf and then onto the rest and sliders. It was hard keeping it together there and I started shouting, which I never do. It was out of this world then joining Victim Of Circumstance and just enjoying the romp to the top. Just class.'
Summing up the ascent, Franco commented:
'"The Journey" to climbing this has been a really special one. I've been trying it since just before I moved to Northumberland, so it's linked closely in my thoughts to settling down up here with Anna and feeling at home in a new area. Of course the people I've met here have played a huge part in feeling welcomed. The Northumberland scene is quite a stern one at first, but the people are so friendly – We're all up here doing the same things, delving into the esoteric and generally having a bit of a mad time. I've started climbing a lot with Si Litchfield, who's a bizarre character – filling you with fine-dining tips, ridiculously high-register vocabulary and bags full of psyche. He's brought a great energy to the whole region – long before I turned up – and is central to this new wave of Northumberland, and now North York Moors development. It's sad to be climbing less with Dave Warburton these days, but I'm sure his injuries will heal.'
Regarding Sandy Crag as a venue, Franco is highly complimentary:
'Of course Sandy itself is the focal point of the experience. It's here that another character looms of supreme significance. The crag is dominated by two aretes – this one and that of Mark Savage's Greenford Road Direct (E8 6b ***). The whole cliff feels like an amphitheatre, a castle, an out-spanned hawk. These two lines sit as gods at the high alter. It's strange now to look back at this line and see the clear mentor Mark has been for me at this crag, mirrored in our two routes side-by-side. I think it meant a great deal to both of us when I topped out on Nothing Lasts. There couldn't be any greater imagery for me finding my place here.
'The name is about our place in space and time. All that we are, will one day cease to be. With the immense sadness that this realisation brings, comes an opportunity to rid oneself of the shackles of the human condition.'
'On a note of thanks…climbing a route that is a pathless 1 hour uphill heather walk from the road is a logistical nightmare and I must thank all the gear people have leant me – most notably Mark Rankine, Joe Spoor and Paul Craven. There's obviously no money in British Trad these days and without people lending each other gear, these kind of things would be made a lot harder. I've had so many kind offers to help haul pads and equipment to the crag and so many belays – Michaela Tracy, Malcolm Scott, Dave Warburton and of course Anna. I just couldn't have done this route without Si Litchfield and Mark Savage. Loads of big days, carrying obscene loads up a massive hill – not to mention that key ingredient: motivation.'
The ascent was filmed as part of an upcoming 'Hard Sand' film project.
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