"It was last summer that I started to visit Ben Nevis again with an eye for new routes. In between trying Anubis I wandered around and felt more and more overwhelmed by the possibilities for amazing new routes at all grades. It takes a massive amount of work to climb just one hard route on the 'big bad Ben'. The routes are long and cleaning of loose rock and lichen is hard going on very steep rock. To overcome this feeling, I decided to come back this summer and work only on the best looking line I saw; a huge and unbelievable line which would require many superlatives to do it justice. Everything about it is massive, the line, the exposure, the difficulty, the logistics and the danger. I just came back stiff and sore from 4 days intense work on it, It's clean and the moves are done. But I'm not sure if I will do it. All of the hard climbing (and it is hard!) is unprotected. So now I am back to feeling overwhelmed again. I will try it, but must be ready to walk away if I still feel it is too serious. Much preparation is needed now. The first task is to get my endurance back. Now I am working on hard mountain routes again I am remembering why it is hard to do the 'all rounder' thing. After two weeks of carrying big sacks and racks up mountains, jugging ropes and brushing holds, I have done very little actual climbing. Next time up the Ben I can get down to business though."
Echo Wall has taken almost exactly two years of hard work.
Back in May, Dave was up on the Ben, shirtless, shovelling snow with all his might, so that melt water didn't run down his route - giving him extra days of dry rock in which to work on his project. He soloed Darwin Dixit F8b+/c, a short but fairly serious route in Spain (UKC News) as a psychological training exercise, taking him one step further toward leading Echo Wall. He climbed A Muerte F9a, also in Spain, (UKC News) to confirm his physical level. He used that route as a stepping stone and as a physical yardstick. He then trained specifically for the upside-down rest on Echo Wall on the nearby boulders in Glen Nevis (UKC News).
Dave MacLeod has made the punishing walk up to one of the highest mountain crags in the UK countless times. His fitness is top notch and his dedication is unparalleled. His scientific approach to climbing is in itself quite remarkable. He has left an impact on the UK climbing scene that may not be superseded for decades.
"This thing is just not the same as something like Rhapsody - the climbing on that was quite tricky (at the time it was my limit) but it was right there - easy to sling a rope down in a few minutes and get climbing on it with nothing in the way. I've done the hard mountain routes like Birkett's and Dunne's too, but they were [relative to this] easy climbing - you just turn up, put in a day or two's work and crush it. This is different - the mix of 8c or harder climbing, the prospect of a ground fall on the lead, and the logistical challenge of climbing this so high on the north face of the Ben. That is why it will be another level beyond any of the other routes. That is what I am after on the whole."
The grade of the route is unknown. Perhaps Dave will propose a grade, perhaps he won't. All he has said so far is that it is a grade harder than Rhapsody. The grade can only settle after a route has had several repeats, so I don't think this will be confirmed at E10, 11, 12 or 13 for quite a few years yet.
From Dave MacLeod's blog Dated 30/07/2008
"On Monday night (July 28th) I led my Echo Wall project. I was for me a perfect climbing day. Folk always ask me how doing a degree in sport science helped me do hard routes, expecting to hear about little details about physical training practice. But the biggest thing I learned was about how disparate the ingredients of a good performance are and how big an effect it has on the rare occasions when they come together at just the right moment. Monday was one of those days for me...
...The air was so crisp but it was hot. Kev checked out a big groove, I belayed, time passed. I was waiting for the Katabatic winds of the late evening rolling off the plateau and snowfields just above the route. At 8pm the chill wind gently got going. I waited and waited until the temperature and rock friction was perfect, and at 9pm exactly, all this preparation over months crystallised and I led the route in a dream state of confident execution.
It felt easy, as every hard route I've ever done has – the great paradox!"
Claire and Dave are producing a film about Dave's climbing exploits that will include Echo Wall.
Dave MacLeod is sponsored by Scarpa, Black Diamond, Mountain Equipment and Gore-Tex.
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