Franco Cookson climbs hard highball at Highcliffe Nab

Franco Cookson has climbed the 'magic scoop' project at Highcliffe Nab ​​​​​; a hard and highball line that heads up an off vertical arete and into a scoop. The contorted scoop at the top is 'friendly at its bottom right and wildly imposing at its top left.' Franco has said the line is harder than MYXOMOP (E9/8A), but potentially safer depending on how you fall.

Franco had spent a reasonable amount of time on the project, but 'not really doing any links, as it's a bit difficult to work.' Recently, Franco and his friend Si built a ledge underneath the line and began trying the problem with pads at the bottom.

Franco on the lower, precarious arete, 230 kb
Franco on the lower, precarious arete
© Russel Lovett

Franco in the scoop section , 238 kb
Franco in the scoop section
© Russel Lovett

Franco told UKC: 'The buttress looks improbable – partly because of its landing and partly because of its apparent blankness. It's a classic lesson in deconstruction in that sense: sort the landing, explore a path through the rock, try the moves, take some falls: see the future. It's then that the beauty of this thing smacks you in the face. I'd honestly say it is one of the best highballs anywhere: thoroughly superb. It's lucky that the direct finish to the initial arête isn't very probable, as this means the traverse line is the line of weakness and as a result, you get a phenomenal amount of climbing for your money.'

One of several terrifying falls, 216 kb
One of several terrifying falls
© Russel Lovett
Unusually, the climb feels bold the moment you pull off the ground, where you're faced with a pirouetting fall – a good spotter is essential. Above this you have a 'fab spreadeagle teckers bit' above bouldering pads. From here, you're thrust back into danger on a 5 star arete with bad feet.

'With the danger and length of the route, it's definitely approaching that super-highball category, similar to MYXOMOP, although possibly better?'

On the day of his ascent, Franco didn't have the route completely dialled and had several attempts where he slipped or backed off, in addition to landing in holes and on spotters. Getting cold, he wanted to call it a day, but was convinced to give it a couple more attempts by a reluctant pad carrier.

'Eventually I managed to get around the corner and I knew I only had one go on this bit. It very quickly felt very serious and with less than ideal conditions, I started to slip off the holds. The sequence I had didn't seem to be working and I stalled, rethought and generally got very worried. I'm a very inexperienced boulderer, so I think I've got a lot to learn about that mental transition at the mega-highball level.

'I used holds that I hadn't brushed, tried to freestyle several bits, slipped about and eventually climbed in slow motion. It was awful!'

This problem is a testament to the modern style of highballing that only becomes possible with a large amount of bouldering pads and some spotters. Once high, this equipment does very little to mitigate the risk and climbing becomes extremely severe.

'Highcliffe is not a nice place to be in winter and the last few weeks have been a total nightmare for all involved – massive thanks to all who've put the hours in. I even ran up one night before an attempt, just to check it was dry. Thinking it was, we carried loads of pads up, only to find out it wasn't – pretty stupid really.'

Pad Carriers, 224 kb

Franco's ascent was filmed as part of his Hard Sand film – 'there's a lot of footage building up now. Some rather nasty falls, beautiful lines and general antics. Some stuff is going to have to be cut to stop it being 4 hours long.'

Franco is sponsored by: La Sportiva and Petzl

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