15-year-old Toby Roberts has climbed Rainshadow (9a) 9a at Malham Cove, becoming the youngest Brit to climb the grade in the process. Toby is a GB Junior Climbing Team member and was European Youth Boulder Champion and placed 2nd in the European Youth Lead Championships last year (UKC News).
Will Bosi held the previous record for the youngest ascent of a 9a by a Brit at the age of 17 in 2016, when he ticked Rainshadow. In 2015, Toby became the youngest Brit to climb 8a with an ascent of Raindogs, also at Malham Cove. One year later, he redpointed Revelations 8b at Raven Tor at the age of 11.
Toby told UKC:
'I've always wanted to climb 9a but I never imagined Rainshadow would be my first. I climbed Raindogs 5 years ago when I was 10 – and I remember looking at the boulder problem in the roof and thinking it just wouldn't be possible after having to climb Raindogs to get there. I wasn't even aware that the top section was a sustained 8a+ route. It all links together to create an incredible line first climbed by Steve McClure directly up the middle of the Cove.'
In February, Toby was psyched for the upcoming competition season, but within a matter of weeks the season was cancelled, walls were forced to close and he was at home with no training facilities. Toby said:
'I rested for the first two weeks of lockdown while we built a Moonboard in the garden and I set myself the goal of climbing Rainshadow this year as a focus for my training. I've never climbed extensively on a board so the aim for the first month of lockdown was simply 'not to get injured' which involved lots of rest days and progressively building my training volume using my Lattice plan.'
In late July, upon release from lockdown, Toby had a successful trip to Raven Tor, but mainly stuck to the bouldery routes as he was "getting pumped by the third clip" – but he was happy to tick Mecca 8b+ and Make It Funky 8c.
By the end of the summer – after a trip to the Tout à Blocs bouldering competition in France, where he won the Youth B category - Toby was focusing on his lead training while waiting for the nesting birds to leave Malham.
By October, Toby's stamina was improving and his routine involved a 10-hour round trip to Malham to work the route over a few days, before resting and then training at his local walls and doing as many doubles and triples on the hardest lines he could find. Toby explained:
'I knew I at least needed to be able to lap these to have a chance at the top of Rainshadow if I was ever able to get through the crux after doing Raindogs and I could feel my stamina and power endurance improving as I was training.
'The first time making it through the crux was huge progress for me, but I powered out about five moves before the top jugs. The pinch at the end of the traverse can be used to get another small rest before the top section but it was soaking wet the whole time I was trying it, so I knew the only way would be to try and climb it as quickly as I could before the pump arrived!'
Checking weather apps by the hour became the norm as Toby desperately searched for conditions while trying to maintain his fitness with walls now shut because of lockdown 2.0. He wasn't willing to give up. Toby explained:
'I wasn't interested in sending in spring 2021. This had become my goal for the year and time was running out.'
Heavy rain and even snow was forecast for 3 December and Toby knew that the crag wouldn't be able to take additional wetness when he was already climbing around wet streaks on Raindogs and a damp streak in the crux. He returned to Malham at the last possible opportunity.
Toby described the big day as follows:
'My first go about 12.30pm on Tuesday 2nd resulted in falling in the crux – I was gutted. I honestly believed it was my last chance of the year and that I would be too tired for another attempt with rain on the way. My dad told me that no-one sends a big route before a customary walk to the top of the Cove – Ben Moon on Rainshadow, Steve McClure on Rainman, etc. – so we walked to the top of the Cove with a flask of tea…'
At about 2.30pm, Toby and his dad walked straight back to the route. He tied in and clipped the chains. Toby commented:
'I'd both achieved my goal for the year and freed myself from obsessively checking the weather forecast. Can't explain how happy I am with this route being the first of the grade for me. I've also really appreciated the constant psyche and support from a lot of people – especially Ian Dunn, Steve McClure, Ollie Torr, Ben Moon and I'm also glad my dad enjoys belaying so much!
Toby summed up: 'It's the best route I've ever tried – not because of the grade – because of the climbing.'
16-year-old Josh Ibbertson has also ticked Rainshadow this weekend - stay tuned for a report.