Franco Cookson has climbed a variation of The Young at Callaly ground up. The stunning Tombstone Buttress was first climbed by Andy Earl and has since been repeated by Dan Varian, who used a slightly different sequence to Andy. Ned Feehally and Micky Page have also done a variation which escapes left on bigger holds, avoiding the crux at the top for a grade of around Font 7C+/8A. Franco is the first person who has taken on the top crux ground-up.
Speaking to UKC, Franco said: 'There are some places that just inspire. Callaly is one of those places. It is a heaven of lush sphagnum bundles, of oak-moss plastered trees, of erupting rock pinnacles. Amongst it all is the wall: without doubt one of the most pristine highball walls in the UK.
'Out of the Earl Trilogy of The Prow at Kyloe In, The Dark Side at Back Bowden and The Young, I was always most drawn to this one. It's the most vertical and probably the boldest, but it's also gained an almost mythical status amongst those looking to repeat the harder highballs on the UK, owing largely to its position in such a wonderfully beautiful part of the world. Finding the crag was rumoured to be tricky and the top half of the route was pretty much accepted as being in the no fall zone.
'It seemed like the ultimate experience would be trying to climb it with no pre-inspection: set off from the ground and unpick the sequence, knowing that any slight mistake would mean hurtling back to the ground. So that's what I started doing. The route is effectively 3 boulder problems with good shake-outs in between. The beginning one was simple enough but a bit scrittly, and I hit a bit of a mental block at half height and it took some belief from Tim Blake (as well as several nasty falls) to figure out a way to do the pop to the first blob.'
Despite the stunning line of The Young, there are sections of the climb which are slightly eliminate. From the start, you are within reach of the VS crack and then throughout the climb there are various points where you can escape left or right. To climb Andy Earl's original line, you are forced to stay direct.
'It was at this point that a few problems with the line presented themselves. I'd climbed the start a lot and, despite someone having evidently glued the holds prior to my effort, it was obvious I was starting to wear the delicate holds (and my skin!) and it just wasn't that fun. There's a debate to be had here about just how ethical ground up climbing on sandstone is. I also found that after this sequence, at the big rest, your toe is about 3 inches from a VS crack. I decided it would therefore be better to climb the first couple of moves of the crack and then into this rest, rather than unnecessarily trashing the start of the climb, on what could have taken a load of sessions to do.
'Inevitably, once I took that decision, it didn't take that long until I got near the top. If people are going to try this ground up in the future, I'd certainly recommend starting up the crack once you have the start dialled, as the beginning is on a par with West Side Story at Burbage in terms of superb power/balance climbing and it would be a real shame if we lost it to unnecessary wear.'
Franco quickly arrived at the top feeling warmed-up and ready, realising he was at a height he had never fallen from as he looked down at spotter Si:
'It felt lonely and scary. I shouted some frantic instructions about mats to Si and tried to summon some kind of courage. He did some superb work getting a good stack in place. I was now hands-on blobs, toe up on a smear, and was only about 2 metres from the top. I started to pull, pushed off the rounded blob I had my right hand on and tried to somehow make two moves of progress off of holds that were only enough for half a move. There was the sickening feeling where I had to decide whether the route or some semblance of safety was more important. I half-fell-half-jumped, whizzing through the air to crash onto the mats. Si punched me.
Micky Page, Ned Feehally and Mickey Stainthorpe attempt The Young:
'As so often is the case when you're climbing close to your limit in pokey surrounds, having the confidence that falling might be okay is often enough to spur you on for that next level of commitment. I knew the fall from the top could be rolled. And so I found myself back up there.
'By the time I was back up high, I couldn't remember anything of the long sequence from the ground – I'd been too absorbed in the fantastic moves on shallow dishes. I knew I had had my heel up high, my feet pushing on shallow dishes, my fingers grasping desperately for naff monos, but I couldn't remember a thing. I'd woken up at the top of The Young, dinner plates in hand and making a move higher than was safe – and then another. I was right near the top of the crag, but still impossibly far. The dream state told me one thing – I was finally in the right zone to commit.
'I'd had a subconscious plan (one of three) in the back of my mind about what I could do in this position. I knew that the sketchiest, but the one that would give me the greatest chance of success, was to lob a high left heel on one of the sloping blobs. It might pop and if it did, I would be facing a rancid twisting descent onto my wrists, but if it held for the initial pull onto it, the chances are it would stay on as I dragged my body higher and higher over it until I had nearly all my weight on it. It was a bold plan, but potentially my only hope.
'I knew that as soon as I started to put weight on that heel that I was trapped, but at that moment, that's exactly what I did. I was fully committed, in a world of not-knowing. I hoped that I would be able to reach the top once I was onto the heel, but I didn't know. I was inches below the top now and still, I didn't know whether it would be in-span, but at the last minute, with nothing left to give, I snatched at the pine-needled top. Then matched. Safe.
'I didn't realise how much it meant to me until I was up there. The climbing is the best. The wall, just class. There's obvious room for those that like to criticise to say that I didn't climb the whole thing, as I missed out the boulder start. I can totally see their point. For me the big challenge was unpicking the top without having inspected the line and I'm really pleased I was able to do that, even if the time I got up it happened to be the time I skipped the start. More to the point, I think the way I climbed it was the most fun – It was a fantastic experience. Callaly has quickly become a deep part of my soul and whilst the line might be a bit weird, the weird ones are sometimes the best.'
Away from the dizzying heights of ground-up efforts in the County, Franco is hard at work completing his long-awaited definitive guidebook to the North York Moors. As a BMC access rep for Northumberland, he has also organised the 2019 BMC Northumberland Festival which is taking place near Hadrian's Wall this year.