After years of sporadic work Dave MacLeod finished off the first free ascent of Longhope Direct on St. John’s Head in Orkney, Scotland last week. The 500 meter line was first done as an aid route in 1970 as a difficult crack pitch near the top was deemed too difficult for free climbing. The challenge seemed perfect for MacLeod though as he is well-known for his bold traditional climbing.
After many trips of prep work MacLeod ramped up the pressure last week when he set off for Orkney with partner Andy Turner and a large film crew to document the action. Hoping to free the entire line in a day MacLeod set off up the 400 meters of “approach” climbing to reach the crux:
As I brought Andy up [to the belay beneath the crux pitch] I could feel a sinking sense of failure on the route and the huge waste of opportunity. I started to wonder if the odd missed training session here and there would have made the difference? Should I not have eaten this or that? The chance to be on this route, in good conditions, with a good partner is so special. As I get older I sense more and more strongly all the time that life moves on, opportunities pass – for good. Just to have opportunity is such a gift. Wasting half chances is just not on.
With this in mind and swallowing a lot of nerves, I launched up the pitch for an all out fight with no inhibitions or hesitation. On the final crux before joining John Arran’s E7 section, All I could see was the outline of the jug above me. I grabbed it and screamed with utter relief.