New Dove Crag E9 by Neil Gresham: Fearless

Neil Gresham has established a new E9 6c at Dove Crag (Dovedale), which he has named Fearless. The route takes the most direct line up the crag through a shallow cave and finishes up James Mchaffie's Fear of Failure E8.

Neil on the steep line of Fearless E9., 198 kb
Neil on the steep line of Fearless E9.
© Neil Gresham

Neil told UKC:

'Dove is something of a mythical crag with a fearsome reputation. I've wanted to climb there for years, ever since hearing the epic tales of the pioneers such as Al Wilson, Chris Hope and James McHaffie back in the 'glory days'. The main wall overhangs at 15-20 degrees for its entire 45m height and the warm-up routes are E5! There are few other mountain crags in the UK where you can attempt E6s and 7s with big holds, decent protection and accompanying sport grades to spur you on.'

Having focused purely on sport climbing for the last four years, this year Neil has been inspired to get back into trad. 'I live in the Lakes, so Dove seemed like the perfect crag to aim for. My original intention was to work steadily through the classics and the last thing I expected was to spot an obvious gap on my first visit,' he commented.

There are several routes on the main face that start on the right-hand side of a shallow cave and follow a vague leftwards-trending diagonal fault-line in order to get established on the upper wall. It occurred to Neil that it might be possible to climb directly up through this cave and into James McHaffie's E8, Fear of Failure, and to finish up that. 'This would only add 50-or-so feet of new climbing, however, it would be the most direct line up the middle of the crag and also, the bottom part of Dove is the 'business end', being the steepest, blankest and with the best rock,' Neil explained.

Approaching Dove Crag., 160 kb
Approaching Dove Crag.
© Neil Gresham

On inspection, the new direct line revealed surprising holds, yet a disappointing lack of gear, as Neil described: 'An easy lower wall leads to a ledge, where there are a couple of low runners, then there's a steep, burly V6/7 section on small crimps and side-pulls, which leads to a break. If you blow it here you'll hit the ledge then bounce down the lower wall, so it definitely pays not to fall off this part. I hauled up a pad which may or may not have helped to take the sting out of the fall. From there, steep, juggy, well-protected climbing leads straight into the crux of Fear of Failure E8, which is a stern 7c+. There's an old knife-blade peg, which protects this, but it's a bit of an unknown quantity - it needs replacing but I didn't dare to bash it too hard - so you need to back it up with small cams, which have to be placed from a really strenuous position, right in the middle of the crux. If you get through this, there's a good rest, which leads to easier but fantastic, racy, juggy climbing on the headwall with big run-outs between good gear.'

Neil was fortunate to tick the route on the day, as it was his last opportunity for a month. 'With work commitments and a family holiday in the diary, I knew I had to take the chance and that I would kick myself if I ducked out,' he said. 'I had also struggled to find a partner and ended up teaming up with someone at the very last minute.'

Neil 'at home' in the Lakes. Hardknott Crag., 151 kb
Neil 'at home' in the Lakes. Hardknott Crag.
© Neil Gresham

Regarding the grade, Neil admits to feeling a bit rusty at this end of the trad grading system, seeing as the last 'headpoint-style' route he did was Equilibrium E10 7a, in 2002. 'I reckon it's low in the grade at E9; however, if Fear of Failure is accepted as E8 then I'm pretty sure that the new direct start bumps it up a grade,' he explained. 'It feels 8a, although more like hard 8a+ if you factor-in placing all the gear, and you definitely wouldn't want to fall off the new crux.'

He added:

'For me it's just great to be back into this style of climbing. I wouldn't want to push the boldness factor any higher, as I have kids now and I made a conscious decision to give up chop-routes over a decade ago. But I'm really happy to go for stuff that's physically hard and has a bit of gear to aim for. It's a shame there are no more decent new lines in the Lakes to go at!'

Neil is sponsored by: La Sportiva, Osprey and Petzl

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