Moonrise Kingdom: New E9 Multipitch by McHaffie and Varian

by Natalie Berry - UKC 15/May/2017
This news story has been read 11,049 times

Making the most of Scotland's summer last week, James McHaffie and Dan Varian established a new 130m 3-pitch E9 (6b, 6b/c, 6b) on Coir' Uisg Buttress, Skye, named Moonrise Kingdom. The route is yet another quality addition by the pair, who made the first ascent of Skye Fall E6 6b on the same buttress last year (UKC News Report). James has likened the seriousness of the crux pitch to the incredibly bold The Indian Face E9 and claims that the line as a whole is a contender for the most serious multipitch climb in the UK.

Cleaning the line of Moonrise Kingdom, 215 kbCleaning the line of Moonrise Kingdom
© James McHaffie

The pair spotted the line on their trip to Loch Coruisk last year, where they repeated Dave Birkett's bold Skye Wall E8 6b and established Skye Fall E6 6b. James told UKC:

'On the last trip with Dan, I was surprised there weren't any routes on the huge face between Skye Wall and Coruisk Corner. There was a stunning looking groove line at 1/3 or so height and if it was climbable it looked like you could access the upper wall. In some pictures I'd looked at it appeared that a flake line in a scoop on the main face might have holds and gear if it could be accessed. That Monday morning I confidently said to Dan that we were aiming to get two new ones done that day! Little did I know.'

James and Dan returned this year with Ben Bransby, Adam Long and Ray Wood and set up camp again at the end of the Loch in stunning weather. However, finding the line of the route proved more difficult than initially thought:

'Dan led up to a ledge at 15 metres and belayed. I came up and found a way into the scoop above and up a groove to a belay at the roof. This was a tad tougher than I had expected at E6 or so. The line we were wanting went through the overhang and into the groove above and looked like a go-er, with a brilliant move at the end of the roof. I was gleeful when I pulled above as the rock was good, there was some good gear and it felt like a Tremadog E6. When I pulled up to the sloping ledge above the last roof the nature of the route changed considerably and all the earlier joy went with it. I was hoping to belay around there and it was obvious there was no pro and it was weirdly pumpy. I made a nest mainly of hooks and eventually committed optimistically off the left end of the ledge to a pumpy position, thinking that another move might gain a weakness leading to that flake line I mentioned earlier which looked less likely the nearer I got.'

Dan hanging around on Moonrise Kingdom, 207 kbDan hanging around on Moonrise Kingdom
© James McHaffie

A rescue mission was very nearly deployed, as James got into difficulty and seemingly climbed himself into a cul de sac:

'Once thoroughly pumped I managed to execute a move very badly to gain a small scoop above. Once I did this I knew I was stuffed. There wasn't much of a weakness leading left to the 'flake'. I shouted to Ray that if Ben and Adam were on top and would like to abseil down this way they would be most welcome. I managed to get in a poor offset wire in a flared undercut and after attempting the moves to gain the flake, eventually gave up and - loading the poor wire on one rope - did a semi pumped downclimb/lower to the safety of the hooks. I lowered to the belay and we abbed off.'

He added:

'It was worth risking a lob onto the hooks to save the social embarrassment of Ben rescuing, as he apparently had his video on his phone ready and was going to run up a sgurr to get signal to tell everyone.'

James and Dan later abbed down the face to the highpoint and were surprised at the nature of the climbed that followed:

'The flake/scoop was useless and petered out to nothing above anyway, the whole face was steeper than it looked and very lacking in pro. I was expecting E7/8 ground and was pretty disgruntled and tired. I retrieved the protection and on the way back up looked at the line of edges leading straight up above my highpoint. There was no gear but the climbing was superb and technical. I joined Dan on the ground and said that after another abseil to clean off where it steepens I thought I could lead it competently. The day after I was baked from that day and after cleaning off the last ten metres of the middle pitch I was too tired to try it and not too happy with the gear.'

Dan's new highball slab, 183 kbDan's new highball slab
© James McHaffie

Dan established a new highball slab problem near the campsite and the pair left the area the next morning to climb Supercharger at Neist Point before heading to Raasay to check out some bouldering the following day. Their original plan was to head to Lewis, but Sron Ulladale was bird banned and thoughts returned to unfinished business on Skye:

'We walked up to the crag and things were looking hopeful, then it started raining and we hunkered down under the base feeling we'd made a shit decision. When it stopped I abbed to dry some holds and double check the critical gear after the runout, I also brushed some sidepulls to pull through on for the last pitch. I got down feeling confident and it started raining hard again! I was getting pretty drained mentally by this point.'

After half an hour, the rain stopped and Dan set off leading the first two pitches in one push to beneath the roof in muggy conditions. James told UKC:

'I came up and after sorting the hooks, set off through with the first tough bit feeling more like 6c in the mugginess rather than the 6a/b it had felt like on Monday. I arrived at the skyhook ledge rapidly and spent a bit of time there organising the hooks and psyching up. Leaving it does feel like a big push, as none of them are inspiring on their own and to actually fall on any of the moves was to my mind unthinkable. The steep moves above the shallow wire also feel serious as the wire could well rip in a fall or even come out with rope drag so you don't want to be feeling too pumped. I took ten on the hands-off ledge to psyche up for the last slap out of the slim groove for sinkers, as it's not a good move for shorties and the rope drag definitely adds to the move.

'I was made up to get to the good break and belay and knew that unless it started raining torrentially forever we could get to the top. Dan came up and after a short break he flashed the top pitch that I'd brushed, which gives a brilliant exposed boulder finish leading to an easy groove all the way to the top.'

Loch Coruisk scenes, 103 kbLoch Coruisk scenes
© James McHaffie

Summing up the line, James commented:

'The route provided three exceptional pitches going the full height of the diamond buttress and the middle one is certainly amongst the wildest and most serious pitches of its type that I've climbed.'

James sent through the following route description.


Moonrise Kingdom, E9, 6b, 6b/c, 6b - 130 metres.

An amazing route picking the line of least resistance up the middle of the crag. The climbing on the 2nd pitch is immaculate but it is certainly one of the most serious pitches in the UK being comparable to the Indian Face. Start at the toe of the buttress, 20 metres down left of Skye wall.

Pitch 1, 30 metres, 6b

Climb up for 8 metres to gain the big horizontal running left onto ledges and follow it for 5 metres before making a few moves up into the greeny-white rock leading to some good holds and disappointing gear. Strange and committing moves up and left gain the groove which leads to the overhang, a hands-off rest and a belay.

Pitch 2, 40 metres, 6b/c. (The Indian Face pitch)

Undercut the roof rightwards and make a tricky pull into the groove to the next roof, moves up the face lead to the thin roof above and the last proper gear for a very long way. Step right around this roof to the disappointing ‘ledge’ and hand traverse this leftwards a little way. Make a nest of skyhooks anywhere you can and extend them. A committing move leads leftwards and up off the left hand end of the ledge, where technical and serious face climbing for much longer than you’d like eventually gains a shallow wire in a flake (kneebar) and a cam on the right. Steep moves to leave this lead to some better holds, which lead up rightwards to a sloping ledge and thankful hands-off rest (crucial micro cam). The short and slim groove above has a tricky move/jump for shorties to gain sinkers at the break and a swing right to belay in the break on cam 3.5 and 4s. A dangerous and spectacular pitch.

Pitch 3. 60 metres, 6b

Climb above the belay for 2 metres to sinkers (good cam 4). Stand awkwardly on these and using sidepulls make a couple of tricky moves up to gain good holds and ledges leading leftwards to a long groove on the left which provides a nice VS leading right to the top.

James is sponsored by: Boreal, DMM, Sterling Rope and is a BMC Ambassador.

Dan is sponsored by: Friction Labs, Organic, Scarpa and works at Beastmaker.

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