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New Routes on Iron Crag for Neil Gresham

© Hugo Pilcher

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.'

Neil high up on Ironed Out (E8 7a)  © Hugo Pilcher
Neil high up on Ironed Out (E8 7a)
© Hugo Pilcher

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.

Since moving to Kendal, Neil has had his eyes peeled for trad lines and has taken advantage of his sport climbing fitness. In 2018, he established Fearless (E9 6c) at Dove Crag (Dovedale).

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!

The Ironed Out headwall shown from above  © Hugo Pilcher
The Ironed Out headwall shown from above
© Hugo Pilcher

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.

A successful Gresham  © Hugo Pilcher
A successful Gresham
© Hugo Pilcher

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.

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Neil has performed at a high level in every discipline from Deep Water Soloing to Sport, Ice and Traditional climbing for over two decades. In the UK he made the third ascent of Indian Face (E9 6c) in 1995 and the second...

Neil's Athlete Page 18 posts 5 videos

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3 Jul
Good effort on Way out West... A definite unclimbed part of the crag that's been eyed for a long time. Ironed Out looks like one or two new moves so maybe not quite a new route?
3 Jul

Yeah, did think that about the Iron Man finish. From what I remember, Iron Man climbs to the peg then up and right to the crack in the headwall, where you get the cam and reasonable hold, then a long move out left to jugs . The new line seems to finish directly from the cam by crimpy moves. The description in the news report seems to imply Iron Man finishes left from the peg which is incorrect.

Would be great to see a description for Way out West, that sounds like a wild way through the ground above The Committal Chamber. A good excuse for a return to Iron Crag, a lovely spot.

3 Jul

Thanks for your feedback guys. For those who are keen, Way Out West starts up Western Union then goes across Committal Chamber to the junction with 6-was-9, then it pulls up and left along a sloping ramp into a scoop under the roof, where there's a good rest. From there, break out diagonally right across the headwall, crossing below the hanging groove and dyno for the jug on the overlap (there's an old peg here but I didn't want to use it so taped it up so you couldn't clip it and placed a small nut instead). Pull over onto the upper slab and finish up this, just left of where 6-was-9 tops out. To me it felt like the line of least resistance up there and it's not eliminate at any point. Hope you enjoy it. Regarding Ironed Out, ho hum! : ) I'm still not quite sure what's gone on here and am trying to get to the bottom of it! I chatted to Al and Glenn about this line a couple of years ago and came away thinking it was new, valid and up for grabs. I've been round the houses trying to work out exactly where the original line of Iron Man goes in the upper part and I've heard conflicting versions. Apparently the line may be marked incorrectly in the guidebooks and the descriptions about the top part are very unclear. I've looked at this bit of wall extensively and my conclusion, please correct me if I'm wrong, is that Glenn went left into Pumping Iron earlier (just above the peg) Al went up the central crack then pulled diagonally left to the arete of Pumping Iron's top groove. If so, this pretty-much climbs the headwall with only a minor deviation at the end and means that Ironed Out adds relatively little new climbing, although it does straighten it via a completely new and I dare say, a harder crux. I guess it's a variant and may barely qualify as a new route but it definitely feels like a really exciting and pure way to climb that line. Check the vid and hopefully you'll see what I mean! To be clear, this isn't in any way to detract from the fine previous efforts of Al and Glenn, who's interpretations are clearly just as strong. It's all good and I guess we see many examples of this sort of thing in climbing these days. In some cases there will be just one obvious line but in others there will be major and minor variants. For me, Ironed Out was a bit of sport to get going at the start of the season and no doubt, Way Out West felt more like it was breaking new ground. Hope to see you out there if it ever stops raining!

3 Jul

Thanks for that description. I guess the Committal Chamber break will now need another dry spell to rid it of seeps . It's nice to have another line on that buttress to go for that's not death on a stick. Nowt wrong with steep and safe trad. As it's veering to near acceptable for us Scots to now travel, a visit to Iron Crag is tempting.

Regarding Iron Man/Pumping Iron, the photo topo in Eastern Crags (2011) is definately marked wrongly for the top section. When I did Iron Man I got to the peg then moved up and right to an undercut then gained the crack/niche (camalot placement) ,got established on side pulls then lunged leftwards for jug/edge of small ledge and then finished more easily on bigger holds diagonally right. This pretty much ties in with the description for the top section of Pumping Iron, which Iron Man finishes up once it gains the peg. The pic of Duncan Booth (UKC logbook for Iron Crag) shows him just above the camalot placement and where I went out left for the obvious holds. Watching the vid, you move directly up from the side pulls to crimps then gain the better holds. A fiery variation finish, I only just managed to fall onto the jug out left! Those crimps look small.

Cheers, Iain

Edit; Just realised the new section of Way out West would obviously give a very spicy finish to If 6 was 9.

4 Jul

I have limited memory of the exact line of “The Iron man”, Al Wilson was hanging on a rope taking pictures and shouting instructions at me so I sensibly did as I was told ! Well done Neil on the first ascent they look brilliant. As soon as things dry up I will give them a go, “Way out west“ really appeals.

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