Steve McClure has completed Neil Gresham's open project on Malham Cove's Upper Tier. The line, which Steve has named Fixation, is an 8c+ extension of the classic 7c+ L'Obsession.
In 2017, Neil placed seven bolts and a belay in the steep ground above L'Obsession. He spent some time stabilising the rock and figuring out sequences through the roof - with some holds snapping along the way - but ultimately abandoned the project to focus on hard trad. Describing the line, Steve told UKC:
'L'Obsession is one of the best routes on the upper tier, with the name clearly being a play on the neighbouring classic 'Obsession'. 'L'ob' is 7c+, has a gnarly start, then steady technical wall climbing with no really hard moves, but no easy ones either, and no rest.'
Neil's extension is a long boulder problem with over nineteen hand movements requiring cunning footwork and tactical clipping. Steve explained:
'It feels like a boulder problem compared to the bottom wall, with the switch-up in style from techy plodding to brutal snatching with all heel and toe-hooks. There is a half-decent hold midway through the bulge where you can clip from, the only bolt you do clip, and in fact it feels pretty spicy skipping three bolts through the first section! This part is pretty intense, with wide moves on undercuts and bad feet; snatching the holds with full commitment. Turning the lip is awesome, full heel/toe action with totally crazy moves, leading to some slaps to edges and a final baffling set of moves on vertical rock that you stare at, sure there just has to be an easier way, but there isn't! That limestone up there is water worn to a zero-friction sheen, getting wet in every shower unlike all the routes below.'
To make a vague comparison with other routes at different crags, Steve suggested that Fixation would be a bit like doing Indecent Exposure straight into Make It Funky at Raven Tor, 'though lowering off this is considerably more fun than lowering off Make It Funky and has a somewhat better view!' he said.
The Cove's impressive roofs bulges have historically been the threshold for many existing lines, as their anchors often sit just below a steep overlap. Not for much longer, as Steve explained:
'For those of us pushing ourselves above the 'catwalk' far below, these roofs offer a convenient umbrella that shelters us from even the heaviest of downpours, such is their size, but they are the future of new development at the cove.'
What attracted you to trying Neil's project?
I was drawn to the difficulty - I knew it was gonna be hard, big numbers had been suggested! I've had a few years of not getting stuck into something! I miss that, the obsession with a project, and all that goes with it. I did another route through the roof to the right two years back (must be 30m to the right!) which was amazing but it all happened too quick. This last year (pre-lockdown) a few people have tried it including Eder Lopez and Buster Martin. This is what motivated me: at last the chance to try something new with someone else! And this was the best part, going up with Buster, chatting about the moves, the sequences, how to improve. But not once was there any kind of race between us; neither of us were out to win. The win is against the rock, not the person.
And of course something new is always appealing, but not 'new' as in unclimbed, but new to me! To be honest, I've spent many hundreds of days figuring out new projects and I'm more than happy to do something established, with an approved set of sequences to waffle about and ready to view on Youtube! Working this with Buster was such fun as we unlocked it together.
Buster is well-known for his amazing power and strength. Last year he climbed First Ley 9a+ in Spain, a pretty physical route to say the least.
How did your different styles compare (not saying you are weak)?
I am weak, relative to Buster. To be honest, this is what made it. He is the young, super strong guy, I'm the old technician. I can plod up the lower wall and then sag on the roof, whereas Buster absolutely smashes though the steepness almost ripping off the holds but gets pumped on the vert below! We got a bit of video of our banter, I reckon it will be interesting. We were both pretty much 'level pegging' with our progress despite such huge differences in strengths; it just goes to show how broad climbing is as a sport.
What was the process of trying it like?
I reckon we'd both had a couple of days playing around, but with some wet holds that mattered. Once we hooked up and it had dried we made rapid gains. On about my fourth day, having sorted a sequence, but feeling very unsure I could ever actually link it, I watched Buster blast his way through the entire extension. It was utterly motivating, and made me really think 'yes – this will go!!' 10 minutes later I redpointed from the ground to the last move! This was a reminder of just how hard you can try when psyched, that tenacity right on the limit. It was such a huge buzz to be in that zone again, that as I fell off I was actually happy that I'd get to try that hard again. Next go I reached the second-to-last move but tired out. A few days later we were back, but the Malham gods were not with me. Buster went up and placed the gear and it was good to go. Then the heavens opened and it totally chucked it down making it impossible. I still made it to the second-to-last move, but there was no way of going all the way. Three hours later it had dried, but now seepage dripped through the roof and I fell there. Next trip up, the gods were with me! Damp holds in the roof were dried with a towel and I scraped my way through. An hour later, in dank drizzle and mist, the whole route was sopping! Phew!
Was it one of those redpoints that goes easily in the end?
No way! A bit of dampness in the roof and I was only just through it, and I only just made it through the upper section, grabbing a previously unused bit of nothing as I was falling off! And the final few moves I totally sketched in freestyle mode so much so that as I clipped the belay I burst out laughing.
What do you reckon to the grade?
This is a tough one. They all are really, grading new routes, but usually I don't have anyone to 'help' and it's all based on my judgement. Others have invested in this route, with their own ideas, which helps a little, or maybe makes it more confusing. Basically we decided there was no way it could be 9a+, and no way it could be 8c…The other issue is I don't know how I'm doing, being a 50-year-old in a weird year. I'll go with 8c+ - it can't really be 9a with my post-lockdown lack of fitness!
What else have you been up to post-lockdown (did the 'house climbing' help your fitness..?!)
It seems a long time since I was getting laughed at on Gogglebox! For most of us this has been a year that didn't really get going. Many of the targets I had were blown due to travel restrictions, though some were scuppered due the good old British weather. Ironically, for maybe the first time ever, I had a chance to train with some proper structure and not be sidetracked by totally contrasting outdoor targets, and worn out with lots of routesetting. It really worked! I was as strong as I've ever been, and at first my outdoor benchmarks felt easy….. unfortunately that's probably all gone now. Still, I should learn from that, it's the sort of thing I spend hours telling people, but never get round to myself!