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.
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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?
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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.
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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.