Neil Gresham has put his post-lockdown motivation to good use and climbed two new routes on Iron Crag, Thirlmere in the Lakes. Ironed Out (E8 7a) is a direct finish to The Iron Man (E7 6c) and Way Out West (E8 6c) starts up Western Union (E6 6b) and then 'takes a rightwards diagonal line across the upper headwall in the centre of the crag.'
Iron Crag has a reputation for being a hard crag. Dave Birkett's If 6 was 9 (E9 6c) has only had two repeats since the first ascent in 1992, for instance. The crag certainly requires climbers to be in good shape if they want to tackle anything on the steep buttress at the right-hand end of the crag. Neil's new routes are no exception and as well as a traditional grade, he has given Ironed Out F8a+ and Way Out West F7c+R.
This Epic TV short from their La Sportiva Living Legends series shows Neil attempting Ironed Out:
We caught up with Neil, who spilled the beans on his latest endeavours:
When did you first try the direct on Iron Man?
I had a couple of goes at it in 2018 but decided to leave it and focus on other things. I had a couple of new lines I wanted to do at Kilnsey first as I think there's more pressure to finish projects when you've placed bolts! It was great to come back to this route and I'd forgotten just how enjoyable the climbing was. It's nice to do something on trad that feels exactly like sport climbing – in other words, totally safe but hard and strenuous. Oops, I'm probably not supposed to say things like that!
What's the line like?
Iron Man was a tremendous find from Al Wilson and Glenn Sutcliffe 'back in the day'. It's gently overhanging with good but spaced gear and is somewhere around 7b+/c to the point where it moves slightly leftwards to join the top part of Pumping Iron, just above a peg. From the same peg, my new version goes up and right into the obvious crack in the headwall. You place a cam and there's a hard, dynamic sequence on micro crimps, which is probably V6/7. You have to really go for it and I took the lob 3 or 4 times before eventually sticking the last move.
Your second route, Way Out West has been described as one of the obvious remaining challenges in the Lakes. How did this come about?
I honestly feel that this is one of the best trad routes I've ever climbed. It really suits me in that it is long and endurance based and also really run-out but on good gear. It follows a devious line and it took me ages to unlock it. A key breakthrough was when I hoofed off a huge loose flake, which no doubt would have deterred other suitors from having a go. My favourite part is that you get a really good rest fifteen feet above the gear, just before the final crux sequence. You have to really bolster yourself up to leave this position as you then enter a series of increasingly difficult moves, culminating in a dyno to a jug, which is probably 25 feet above the gear. If you fluffed this move you'd have plenty of time to regret it before the rope pulled tight! I think as E8s go it's low in the grade and I'm hoping it will see some action soon.
How was lockdown training for you?
It was so interesting to use the time to work on weaknesses and see themes through to their conclusion. It's amazing what you can achieve on a fingerboard if you plan and really commit. I've never struggled with converting strength gains to the rock, so I felt I was able to cash-in as soon as I got out on the crags. It was also fascinating to follow the progress of the people who I was coaching online. I think that home training really gave people a sense of purpose during lockdown and many commented that their mental health benefited as much as their physical performance.
You kept us entertained with your videos – what's next?
Ha ha, thanks, well I tried to have a bit of fun as well as, hopefully, putting out some useful training info. As for what's next, well, unfortunately, there are no more new routes to do in the Lakes, so I suppose I'll have to start looking elsewhere.