Robbie Phillips has added a new E10 7a to Duntelchaig crag, Invernesshire, which he has named 'What we do in the Shadows'. The line leads up Nosferatu - an E8 6c established by Robbie in 2020 (UKC News) - before heading directly to the top of the crag, rather than following Nosferatu's rightwards-trending crack. Dave MacLeod repeated the line shortly after Robbie's ascent.
Robbie first spotted the line on a rest day last year that turned out to be anything but. He told UKC:
"An abseil led to a wire brush clean, which led to a project session! It was apparent that the direct line was going to be hard, but the crack line trending rightwards would go quickly, and the next session I lead that to create "Nosferatu" (E8 6c). The direct was the next challenge and being a bit blinkered by the first holds I spotted, I just used them and started trying a mad dyno to the top of the crag. When Dave repeated Nosferatu, he did a bit more digging (quite literally under the moss) and found more crimps out left which made a more amenable, yet still totally savage climb. And thus the project was born!"
Although the gear seemed reliable, the consequences of a long and uncontrolled fall were undesirable. Robbie told UKC:
"I took some practice lobs from near the top and was glancing the arête below, which if you hit at a bad angle, could be really serious!"
However, in the last session or so before the lead, Dave spotted an offset cam placement a bit further right which had the effect of pulling a climber rightwards away from the arête. Robbie continued:
"Result - the fall was now safe! It's still a fairly big fall, and a soft catch is necessary, but I wouldn't say the climbing is particularly bold."
Last week, Robbie returned and made the most of the diminishing Scottish weather window. 'It didn't go down without a fight,' he wrote on Instagram. 'I dropped the last move twice! Turns out the fall is safe, which is awesome because that makes it an f8c/5.14b trad line with relatively low risk attached!'
Robbie considers the line to be the hardest rock climb he's ever done. He told UKC:
"I've climbed around 40+ sport climbs in the 8c/+ bracket over the years, and not many of them took longer than a week, some of them a couple of days. This line required multiple months spread across Autumn/Winter 2020 and Sept/Oct 2021. If it had bolts it would absolutely be solid 8c, but for me it was particularly tough as it really didn't suit my style. I'm an endurance climber and I like long pumpy climbs or vertical to slightly overhung face climbs. This was pure power endurance on a really steep wall - a tough 7A+ boulder leads you into bicep sapping undercuts and straight into another 7C+ boulder on savage crimps, then I do a deadpoint/dyno to the top."
Dave used a different method at the top and pulled on some small crimps instead. On working the line together, as the pair also did recently on Dave's new E9 Mnemosyne (UKC News), Robbie commented:
"I get along well with Dave. We both really like climbing and we both drink a lot of tea. I don't think we've arrived at the crag once without sitting down for 15-20mins to drink tea first. I've also learned a lot from Dave in this relatively short time frame - he's a wizard at figuring out beta, and using tactics to make things easier. I've never seen anyone so tuned-in to their own body's movement, and how it feels, and also how to deal with different climbing situations such as placing gear, resting, recovery, etc... I thought I was good at this stuff, but Dave really is the master!"
The ascent came unexpectedly for Dave, who had worked the line with Robbie last autumn, but has been recovering from acute tennis elbow recently. He therefore considered his attempt an opportunity for 'fall practice' and remembering how to try hard on lead. Instead, it became an exercise in 'not falling off practice', as well as a confirmation of the grade.
As far as developing the crag further, there's not much more trad potential to be explored, but a fair bit of bouldering, according to Robbie. He said:
"There is of course the original dyno version of the route. If I ever move up to the Highlands, that will be a fun little project when everything else is wet. I joked to Dave that I'll give it E14 and he won't be able to downgrade it unless he gets really flippin' good at dynos! There is also a mega arête line next to Dracula that will only go if it was bolted. I suggested that to some locals and there was mixed feelings, as you can imagine. Aside from that, there isn't much left at that buttress to be done in the realms of trad, however, there are tonnes of unclimbed boulders! Last year, Pete Herd made the First Ascent of Hyperborea (E7 7a) round the back of Dracula buttress which I'd like to highball and that will make an amazing F7C+, but there are also literally hundreds of boulders that need cleaned and climbed.'
After a difficult year, the name 'What We do in the Shadows' holds multiple meanings for Robbie. He wrote on Instagram:
In 2022, Robbie is looking forward to more adventures close to home. He told UKC:
"I think I'll stick to Scotland mostly, but maybe head to Lakes/Wales/SouthWest if I get a chance. I'm definitely heading back to Hoy for Longhope in the Spring and back to Skye for some unfinished business there. I'm hoping to convince someone to sail us to St Kilda towards end of Summer, and maybe even go to the Outer Hebrides too. I'm not really looking at doing any international travel for climbing next year - I've got a lot of family stuff going on so it's good to be a bit closer to home and I'm very excited about exploring Scotland for more first ascents."