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Selected Repeats

This section contains more info on some of Neil's favourite repeat ascents on rock and ice in the UK and overseas.

 

 
 Falling from Equilibrium E10 7a, Burbage during the second ascent in 2002.  Photo: Mike Robertson

Falling from Equilibrium E10 7a, Burbage during the second ascent in 2002.

Photo: Mike Robertson

Equilibrium E10 7a  Burbage, UK, 2nd ascent in 2002

As seen in the film of the same name, Equilibrium was first climbed by Neil Bentley in 1999. It was regarded at the time as the hardest route on gritstone and it held this title for the subsequent fifteen years. It took me a year of specific training and mental preparation to do this climb, along with some exceptionally close-shave, ground-sweeping falls! The belayer needs to run back to save a fall from the first half of the route and a fall from the top section would almost certainly be unsalvageable.

 Meshuga E9 6c, Black Rocks, UK. Second ascent in 2000.  Photo: Ray Wood

Meshuga E9 6c, Black Rocks, UK. Second ascent in 2000.

Photo: Ray Wood

Meshuga E9 6c Black Rocks, UK, 2nd ascent in 2000

Immortalised by the video, Hard Grit, Seb Grieve's ascent of Meshuga horrified viewers all over the World and was regarded as the benchmark in gritstone boldness. My first attempt to repeat the climb resulted in a horrendous ground fall from which I sustained a head injury. My decision to return and repeat Meshuga was one of the toughest of my life, but its routes like this that you always remember.

 Abseiling down to check the protection on Indian Face E9 6c, prior to making the third ascent in 1996.  Photo: Gresham collection

Abseiling down to check the protection on Indian Face E9 6c, prior to making the third ascent in 1996.

Photo: Gresham collection

Indian Face, E9 6c Cloggy, UK, 3rd ascent in 1996

Rock climbing so rarely makes national news headlines, but when Johnny Dawes climbed 'the line' on Clogwyn d'ur Arddu in 1985, it completely re-shaped the face of British climbing. This 150ft high and virtually un-protected slab route remained unrepeated for over a decade and gained a reputation as being untouchable. It took the vision and persuasive powers of Nick Dixon to tempt me to try the route with him and we both fell under its spell and ended up making ascents within a week of each other. It had all gone so smoothly on a top-rope but I lost all semblance of control on the lead and this was without doubt, the most scared I've ever been! I attempted to keep my ascent of Indian Face secret from my parents but didn't quite manage it!

 Minaret E8 6c, Halle, Sweden. Second ascent in 1999.  Photo: Gresham collection

Minaret E8 6c, Halle, Sweden. Second ascent in 1999.

Photo: Gresham collection

Minaret E8 6c  Halle, Sweden, 2nd ascent in 1999 

 

The bolder side of British trad climbing is not to all tastes, but top young Swedish climber Rikard Ekehed is one who was seduced by the ‘Hard Grit’ scene when he visited in 1997. He returned home to establish a similarly bold creation at a granite crag near Gothenburg but was horrified when it was threatened with retro-bolting unless it was repeated soon. A reconnaissance team of like-minded Brits went out there to the rescue and I ended up saving Minaret from the clutches of the evil bolters! Being a top pitch, this is the first and only climb of its kind that I’ve done which features a potential factor 2 fall. We calculated that the belayer would need to jump off from the stance in order to save the leader from hitting the ground from nearly 100 feet! (Team members: Leo Houlding, Patch Hammond, Charlie Woodburn, Rick Smee)

 Belaying Adam Ondra on Masters Edge E7 6b in 2014, nearly two decades after my ground-up ascent in 1997.   Photo: Gresham collection

Belaying Adam Ondra on Masters Edge E7 6b in 2014, nearly two decades after my ground-up ascent in 1997. 

Photo: Gresham collection

Master’s Edge E7 6b  Millstone, UK. Ground-up ascent in 1997  

 

There is something compelling about Ron Fawcett’s celebrated monolith arête at Millstone Edge. Maybe it’s the fact that is looks almost impossible to climb from the ground or that it has only one protection point at half height. For me the challenge was to crack this route without prior inspection and the result was a couple of ground-scraping plummets from the final moves. The smile was wiped off my face as I latched the finishing jug only to then realise that the exit mantelshelf was going to be much harder than I expected, and from there a fall is no longer an option.

 The Abyss 7b S3, Pembroke, UK. Second ascent in 2014.  Photo: Wojtek Kozakeiwicz / LW Images

The Abyss 7b S3, Pembroke, UK. Second ascent in 2014.

Photo: Wojtek Kozakeiwicz / LW Images

The Abyss 7b S3  Pembroke, UK. Second ascent, insight in 08.14

 

Guidebook quote: ‘An outstanding voyage into the cave and up through the roofs above: one of Julian Lines’ very finest contributions to the genre.’ - Deep Water by Mike Robertson, 2007. 

 

The Abyss is just one of those routes where the grade is completely meaningless. A decade on from the first ascent, it remained unrepeated and shrouded in mystery. Of all the Deep Water Solos I’ve done, it is the most varied, atmospheric and possibly the best. The Abyss throws everything at you from an overhanging off-width, to a maze of hanging blocks to an implausible squeeze-chimney. I can’t remember a route that has ever looked as intimidating on first inspection and I don’t think I’ve ever been so exhausted after climbing a lowly ‘7b’. The Abyss is so steep that it’s impossible to inspect it on abseil, so the only way to go is onsight. This ranks as one of the most adventurous single climbing experiences I’ve ever had. 

 
 
 Tim Emmett battles freezing temperatures and wet holds on Lord of the Flies E6 6a during our attempt at the 'Welsh Triple Crown'. Photo: Gresham collection

Tim Emmett battles freezing temperatures and wet holds on Lord of the Flies E6 6a during our attempt at the 'Welsh Triple Crown'. Photo: Gresham collection

‘Welsh Triple Crown’ Trifecta - Llanberis, UK, 04.13

 

The term trifecta was first coined in the Alps to describe a link-up of three different climbs in a single push. Whilst this type of challenge is less well known in the UK, during my early days in North Wales I became aware of a mythical challenge that was referred to by locals as the ‘Triple Crown’ or ‘King of the Pass’. The concept was to link the boulder problem, Jerry’s Roof V9, with iconic trad route, Lord of the Flies E6 and the magnificent Central Icefall Direct VI, all in the same day. It was commonly dismissed as impossible on the grounds that there wouldn’t be any ice if it was warm enough to do Lord of the Flies! However, it took the superhuman powers of James McHaffie to make the link-up on his first attempt, during a rare spell of settled high-pressure weather in April 2013. On hearing the news, I hurried over to Llanberis to attempt to follow suit, but for me it ended up being a far more drawn-out and nail-biting affair.  

 Central Icefall Direct WI 6, the final leg of the 'Welsh Triple Crown' Challenge. Photo Gresham collection

Central Icefall Direct WI 6, the final leg of the 'Welsh Triple Crown' Challenge. Photo Gresham collection

I spent the entire first morning floundering on Jerry’s Roof and retreated with my tail between my legs having failed to leave the roadside. The following day, armed with some moral support and friendly competition from my old sparring partner Tim Emmett, we both sent Jerry’s, only to end up taking 40-foot whippers from the top of Lord of the Flies, which was running with water. 

I awoke on the third consecutive morning with every muscle aching but somehow managed to claw my way out of bed and up Jerry’s Roof in Tim’s absence. Lord was drier in the afternoon sun and with much relief it passed without incident. I scuttled back down to the road with my partner, Robin Thomas and we collected our ice tools and crossed over to the shady side of the pass. It was something of a dream to cruise up Central Icefall in the late afternoon light, whilst looking back across to the Pass to Dinas Cromlech and Jerry’s boulder. 

 A shocking view of Craeg y Rhaedr, following the collapse of Central Icefall, minutes after we reached the top.  Photo: Gresham collection

A shocking view of Craeg y Rhaedr, following the collapse of Central Icefall, minutes after we reached the top.

Photo: Gresham collection

I couldn't stop smiling as I coiled the ropes on the top with Robin, but then suddenly there was a deafening crash and a cloud of white smoke filled the air. We barely dared discuss what might have happened and crept timidly down the snow-slope to assess the damage. Sure enough, the top two pitches of the route we’d just climbed were now a jumble of car-sized ice boulders at the base of the crag. It had been a narrow escape and my feelings of elation were firmly tempered by the notion that we’d cut it a little too fine on this occasion!