INTERVIEW: Franco Cookson's New E9 on North York Moors

by Jack Geldard & Duncan Campbell - UKC May/2014
This news story has been read 11,881 times

Eying Up The Crux Leap On The First Ascent Of 'Fly Agaric' (H8 7a), 230 kb
Eying Up The Crux Leap On The First Ascent Of 'Fly Agaric' (H8 7a)
© Franco Cookson, Apr 2014

Franco Cookson has added another new route to the sandstone outcrops on the North York Moors. Fly Agaric is found at Danby Crag and is graded E9/H8 7a. 

Franco headpointed the route after a long period of top-rope practice, originally believing that it would have to be left to the next generation.

On the UKC Logbooks Franco entered a description for Fly Agaric:

"A large span from the break reaches good crimps before setting up for the crux on a sidepull and a microscopic crimp. With very little for the feet and still a long way from the end, jump for the Jurassic rockery that is the top. The rope wouldn't come tight before you hit the ground, so a running belayer is essential and makes the climb reasonably safe." 

Franco has been at the forefront of the North York Moors development with first ascents of many hard routes such as; The Hypocrisy of Moose, E8 7a (UKC News Report), Psykovsky's SequinsE8 7a (UKC News Report + Report on Dave Birkett's Repeat) and now Fly Agaric, E9 7a, along with many other new routes between E5 and E7.

Franco is also not shy of the limelight and always up for a laugh, kindly agreeing to be featured in a UKC 'April Fool' (See Here) and if you want to see how his idea of a 'reasonably safe' route might differ from yours, check this 2011 video of him taking a ground-fall attempting to climb O'Grady's Incurable Itch, E6, in Tintwistle Knarr without side-runners (UKC News Report). caught up with Franco to find out more about Fly Agaric and the driving force behind North York Moors new routing:

Where are you based, how old are you, what do you do for a job, and how long have you been climbing?

Franco: I'm based in the NY Moors and have just turned 23. I've been climbing for about seven years now. Currently doing a bit of everything, route setting, working in pubs. I worked 45 hours in three days over the bank holiday weekend!

How did you start out climbing?

Franco: I was lucky enough to have started climbing the old fashioned way, with my mate Dave, outside, making it up as we went along. It started off with scrambling and soloing whilst mucking about in the evenings after school and gradually evolved as we learnt about proper climbing that people did elsewhere.

A year ago you made the first ascent of Psykovsky's Sequins (PS), which you estimated to be E10. It was great to see that route repeated so quickly, and by Dave Birkett, one of the UK's trad climbing legends. Was this your intention with the big grade?

Franco: I estimated a grade of H9/10 actually, but UKC is still behind the times with the lack of H grades on their logbooks, so I had to give it an E grade. Obviously I have no idea about the E grade as I didn't climb it ground-up. A lot of my chums at the time were keen to basically just sandbag it to avoid controversy, but I found that a pretty boring idea. I knew you could fit a removable bolt in the hole, but then I found it hard to justify not just putting a permanent one in if I did that. I didn't think about a "filed down thing, similar to a slider", which is a lovely solution to the line. Bit of genius there from Dave I think. Ultimately I enjoyed the experience of the solo, it was outrageous. Massive moves between monos are fantastic, especially when you're in danger.

Franco Cookson on his 2013 route Psykovsky's Sequins, 108 kb
Franco Cookson on his 2013 route Psykovsky's Sequins
© Jake Hampshire

Your new route from this month - Fly Agaric - you have graded E9. How does it compare to PS?

Franco: It's a lot easier than soloing Pyskovsky's. The hard bit is basically just a couple of moves rather than an entire route. It's also probably safer. You'd hit the ground without a running belayer, but with a competent pal on the blunt end, you'd probably be okay. Each route has a distinct, very fingery crux. On Psykovsky's you yard about four feet on a ring finger mono, on Fly Agaric, you have a shorter distance to go, but the footholds are terrible.

Give us a break down of Fly Agaric - describe it, the moves, the danger, the safety, the feel, the psyche? And why the name?

Franco: It's strange actually comparing Psykovsky's and Fly Agaric, because I probably have a closer personal connection to Fly Agaric. I love this line. I love the left-hand crimp on the crux and the implausible sequence that gets you to the top. You feel like you're sinking and then a wave of euphoria brings you right back up onto a massive fat shelf. You're coming up. The name is about making giants from everyday life. Giant experiences.

There have been loads of new route put up on your home area The North York Moors recently. Which are the best, and which are the hardest? And are any of them actually any good?

Franco: This year has been class, because quality has been the main focus. Most of the lines that have been climbed are wizard. There have been a lot too. Matt Ferrier climbed a nice little groove at Fox Ghyll, Dave's climbed a good handful of bold highballs like Penthouse Perfection, E7, Wheat From The Chaff, E6, Midnight Sun, E5, and Franziskaner, E6. I suppose the best find was Maiden's Bluff, which is on the coast over-looking the sea. There's a slab there that has a ludicrous amount of very good highballing. We've climbed half a dozen climbs E5-E7 that are all very good and there's double that still to go.

Franco Cookson on The Hypocrisy of Moose, 160 kb
Franco Cookson on The Hypocrisy of Moose
© Lee Robinson /

Back in 2011 you took a monster ground fall from O'Grady's. Have you been back and tried the route since? Would you consider it? How have you changed as a climber since then? And have you changed since PS?

Franco: Nah. I'd like to go back and do that one day, but it's pretty steady climbing that is just quite insecure. Perhaps something to do when I retire (if I get there).

What is next for the North York Moors? Any more big lines to go?

Franco: Masses. We're about a quarter of the way in. There are some really hard and bold lines left to do, many of which I'm not good enough to do.

Do you ever climb anywhere else? Any hard grit under your belt? I'd guess the styles are very similar? Any sport climbing this year?

Franco: I had a day on some Zillertal sport routes last year. That was really fun. I've done no hard grit. It looks good like, although the culture surrounding the grit seems to foster antipathy and false modesty. That's pretty rank. I should be living in Sheffield next year though, so we'll see. Grit climbing and Iron Sandstone climbing can be surprisingly different. Think of a mixture between slate and grit. I'd like to live in the Lake District one day.

If you had to give away one project to the masses, which one - come on, throw us a bone!

Franco: I'd give them all away. I just want the lines to get climbed! The arete at Kay Nest is brilliant, along with the wall there. Like I mentioned before, Maiden's is a gold mine and there is a mental arete there to do too, with no protection and pretty wild climbing - stoked for that! There are bits and bobs all over though: The Magic Scoop at Highcliffe; stuff at the Smuggler's Terrace; The Ingleby Roof; The Wangledoodle Wall; The Landslip Arete, etc.

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