Dave MacLeod leading Echo Wall, Ben Nevis, Scotland. MacLeod completed the first ascent of the new testpiece, following two years of work, on July 28, 2008. He considers it “harder than Rhapsody (or anything else I’ve been on).” [Photo] Claire MacLeod / www.velvetantlers.co.uk
Echo Wall–a coveted, unclimbed line on Scotland’s Ben Nevis (1344m)–was sent by UK climbing star Dave MacLeod on Monday evening, July 28, following two years of work. It is a contender for the most difficult traditionally protected climb in Europe. MacLeod describes Echo Wall as a “spectacular route,” and though he hasn’t offered an official rating, he suggests it is “harder than Rhapsody (or anything else I’ve been on).”
In 2006, MacLeod made the first ascent of Rhapsody (E11 7a [5.14c R], 35m) at Dumbarton Rock, Scotland. That route saw its second ascent by Sonnie Trotter in May (read the May 10, 2008 NewsWire for more information). It is still considered one of the hardest cracks in the world. Echo Wall is three times the length; the first third are “easy slabs to a belay at the foot of the grossly overhanging arete of the buttress,” and the 70 meters above offer technical and challenging climbing. The route is “poorly protected in general with groundfall potential at 20 metres near the end of the crux section,” MacLeod said.
According to MacLeod and his wife, Claire, the day was hot and the approach long. When they reached the base of the route, MacLeod said he felt confident. “As I hoped, my feeling at the start was not ‘How can I dare to lead this route?’ but ‘How can I dare not to lead this route?'” Fortunately the fickle Scottish weather held, and as the day cooled off into the evening, MacLeod made his attempt: “I waited and waited until the temperature and rock friction was perfect, and at 9 p.m. exactly, all this preparation over months crystallized and I led the route in a dream state of confident execution.”
Looking back on what he took from the climb, MacLeod said that he learned about “how disparate the ingredients of a good performance are and how big an effect it has on the rare occasions when they come together at just the right moment. Monday was one of those days for me.
“My strongest image from the day though was of Claire as Kev [Shields] and I arrived at the top of the wall, high on Tower Ridge, looking down on Claire–a tiny dot climbing the endless nightmare of scree yet again. Although my name only is on the route description, it was a team ascent.”