Trad pioneer Franco Cookson has repeated Academia (E8 7a) E10 at Boscawen Point. Academia is one of a handful of Cornish E10s put up by Mark Edwards shortly after the turn of the millennium. Unlike many of Edwards' other offerings, Academia is a slab climb, of around 15 metres in height. The route had remained unrepeated for more than a decade, with very little information on any attempts to be found online.
Lying at Boscawen Point, the slab is situated just up the coast from the bays of St Loy and Penberth, in one of several granite sectors interspersed with white beaches. Franco summed it up: 'It's a magical place to climb; Chamonix style granite, lush flora and wildlife, with tonnes of spots for a quick dip to cool off.'
Franco's first climbing holiday of the year turned out to be a bit of a disaster, after he tried to flash Dave MacLeod's Die By The Drop (E10 7a) in Glen Shian and injured both ankles. However, this didn't stop him driving south for more soloing. He told UKC:
'I was kind of keen to not repeat that epic, but trying to balance August beach shenanigans with repeating E10s never seems to work that well. I initially thought the wall of Academia looked pretty safe, but once you get on a top rope, you realise how high the crux is and the ground has some bad head-smashing rocks and others just beneath the surface. The route description curiously makes reference to not using pads, which was handy, as I didn't have any with me. The base of the climb is in any case a sloping rock ledge covered by grass, so you'd need a lot of pads to make it even vaguely falloffable. So in my head it moved from a bit of fun to something firmly in the no fall zone. It's a weird one, as I'm trying to make a living as a full time climber now, and so you have an extra level of worry in the sense that "I need my body to work to earn money." Also, I really didn't want to knack myself for my main project at Howlerhirst.'
Franco made quick progress on top rope and felt ready to go for the solo, despite poor conditions.
'It was basically raining, but the forecast was worse for the next day. Off I went. Very tense. Soloing always feels different to sketching above bad gear. Inevitably, the crux crystals you stand on felt really sketchy, I didn't fully commit and then there was that sickening moment where you know you're not moving upwards anymore. I floated down with a single word of exclamation from Anna ringing in my ears. She was grabbing some photos close by on an abseil rope and I could feel her expression of shock burrowing into the back of my head. "This is going to hurt". Amazingly I hit this one patch of soil on the hill at the bottom, bounced into a rucksack I'd put on a rock and then into the foliage. I could feel my bad ankles a bit, but was pretty much totally unharmed. I was pretty annoyed with myself for taking such a daft fall when I could do the moves, but mostly just happy to be alright. I've taken so many outrageous groundfalls now, I don't really understand how I keep getting away with it. I think I must be really undense.'
On his next go, Franco really went for it. He commented:
'My tips were totally trashed in the humidity, but I just crimped the hell out of crux, got my really high foot and popped for the crux crimp. I only just scraped it.'
Regarding the grade, Franco is unsure. he told UKC:
'There's inevitably a lot of chat about grades and quality. I'm not best placed to judge, not least with climbing it in such bad conditions. The first thing I'd say is that it seemed a little shorter than 15m. It's a grade or so harder climbing than 14 Lives, 13 Souls down the coast. Potentially hard 6c rather than 7a though. It's probably also a grade bolder than 14 Lives. I don't think it's a 3 star line. There's an E4 6b By Stealth that climbs the start of this wall, traverses off it and then back onto it after the crux - it's one of those walls where you can traverse with ease at a couple of points, which maybe detracts from the WOW factor I like to have on a 3 star route. Having said that, there is a long sequence of inescapable climbing around the crux that is of very fine quality, so it's certainly not rubbish or eliminate (apart from the very start). In many ways it's very much like one of the Curbar classics.'
Franco feels strongly about the quality and potential for difficult trad lines down in Cornwall. He explained:
'I think there's a broader point about the climbing down here to be made. It's very easy to dismiss things because they don't quite fit the mould of what we're used to. Whatever you think of the Edwards saga, the routes he recorded do exist. I think it's time now people got down here and jumped on some stuff. There aren't many places in the UK with such potential for hard trad. Certainly the Peak and the Lakes are scraping the barrel. These guys with 9a fitness could work wonders at places like Carn Vellan.'
Academia is one of several H10/E10 graded lines that Franco has either repeated or established, including Nothing Lasts (E11 7a) H10 7a, Mono Wall Project E10 7a and Divine Moments Of Truth (E9 6c) H10 7a. The 'H' grade is used by Franco to indicate a headpoint ascent.