When Adam Bailes and Dan Varian said yes to a trip to Hoy I was excited. It’s always nice when you ring people to go on a trip and they say they’re well keen, it’s like they’re saying they don’t think you’re too much of a tool, although me and Dan were gutted Adam said yes as we only asked him out of politeness (only kidding). Inspired by the pictures of Dave Macleod on the top pitch of Long Hope we were keen to check it out ready for an attempt on the whole thing in the longer days (and hopefully better weather) of next year.
2nd go involved being still boxed from the 1st go but knowing I didn’t need the mono I put a rattly little tricam in it committed to the next move and ‘bravely grabbed the tat on a weird bolt as my fingers were uncurling. Varians first go back on trad for years and after a warm up burn his next arrived him hands over the top arête but unfortunately the greenery prevented the top out. Next go we both did it and it’s a class ‘ships prow’ climb, Adams fingers were too big to fit in all the monos. And we all finished on Thin Ice a great E4. We drive through the rain and camp in the Arrochar Alps hoping to head to the Cobbler.
Waking up to very strong winds we head to the Anvil where Dan goes up Firepower to check the moves and does it easily next go. Watching him piss the V10 crux I remembered he’s got several grades in hand. I nurse tired arms from the poor warm up the day before and head back early for a coffee and guidebook read. We drive to Fort and stay with Guy and Blair. Next day we head to Reiff. This place is special. The rock feels like granite. We solo abit and walk for hours without finding the routes i was keen for. We do a nice E4, Walk like an Egyptian where Adam showed his disco routine on the top corner.
On the way back I stared in awe as Dan nearly does a heinous looking Font 8a/+ above his carrymat, finger on the last hold but not quite hanging it long enough. We eat at Reiff then drive to near Scrabster to get the early ferry. Knackered. Mark reeves had told me the Rackwick bothy was the best bothy in the world and I think he’s right, this place is special. We make a base that eve and play lots of cards and scrabble after a beach walk to test the rock stability of the region.
The next day was a little epic. We hike up with all our ropes and kit to the top of St johns head. The ground was very wet and it was very windy but I was keen to abseil down to assess what would be required for the hard final pitch. As I set off over I looked down at 400m of Seagulls, my 100m static blew horizontal and never dropped from the winds grip. I nearly backed off the abseil but with thoughts of Drummonds and Hills exploits on the wall I managed to MTFU. I looked at the gear and some of the holds on my way down but learned little as I was in trainers and gloves and couldn’t fathom climbing in such conditions. I head up and Adam goes down for a peek. Coming back up he pronounces the pitch easy with youthful enthusiasm. I suggest a decamp to Rora head hoping for shelter or at least better temps. We abb in off dans Dog stakes, I’d left the guide at the Bothy as it looked abit heavy with all the other stuff we had. It was getting late by now but thinking to do a quick classic I had a vague memory of where Mucklehouse Wall went. I set off up the middle of the face and after locking into an undercling thought better of it and reversed (my vague memory ended up being totally wrong). Wanting to be back at the hut we discuss options. Dan says the way out via the shore is dodgy. Thinking about how smug I’d be if I made it round to the top to look down on them jugging up I try anyway. I get close. Having slithered onto the end of a slopey platform as the waves wash out all I have to do is drop down 4 feet and do 3 boulder hops to safety. I watch the wave. Feeling like Papillon a feeling of achievement starts to set in when suddenly the swell picks up hitting my perch and the feeling changes to terror. I look back the way I’ve come and it looks like it’s about to become one with the sea. I manage to only slip in up to my waist once whilst reversing. Feeling like a fool I join the others who inform me that as the smallest member of the team its best if I jug up the rope first to confirm the rope is running well and back it up. We get back to the Bothy knackered.
The next day makes up for the first. After a lazy start we ab into Rora head again (with a guidebook) and do an amazing 3 pitch E6 called Two Wee Laddies. The position and gear was great and it ranks as one of the finest of its grade I’ve done in the UK.
The next day we make the pilgrimage back to St Johns head. Abseiling down the face is sheltered from the strong Southerlies giving perfect climbing conditions. I spend half an hour on a grigri playing on the moves and checking the protection. Adam goes down for a look and when its my turn for a top rope I’m keen to do the longest link i can and manage to link it 1st go
The day after we arrived there again, I rechecked the gear and warmed up mincing about on the nice E5 wall to gain the gear and the crackline. It’s quite windy but as it was our last day i knew it would give me confidence to come back to try the full link if i led this pitch. The lead went smoothly and as a locked the 2 crimps to reach for the jugs before a hands off and the e4 6b finishing crack my foot popped off. Although I fell on the biggest runout on the pitch I had a good rock 11 and rock 2 at foot height. I was going to pull back on and go to the top as I’d learned what I wanted to about the pitch but Adam said to give it another go. After a good rest huddling from the wind on the belay we pulled the ropes and I set off up. I’d asked Adam about how he did the crux high step about halfway up which I’d felt a little sloppy on. I attempted it his way and promptly fell off that move. Pissed off I came down pulled the rope and after afew minutes climbed it and this time it felt steady. I abbed and stripped it and Adam jugged out near hypothermic for his belay efforts. As i took out the last of the belay and swung out on the Abb rope I felt I was going to die, swinging out 15/20 m with the wind taking me towards Big John I start to jug up the rope as fast as I can feeling dizzy.
The pitch would way in at E8 7a, with good protection after the initial E5 start. It’s a great achievement by Dave Macleod to do it after all the other pitches as climbing an E8 7a when tired is hard.
The pitch itself is not E9 because it’s lacking in any form of runout with many E6/7s being much more serious propositions than this. Once you’ve done the E5 start you could fall off any move and not go very far and even the E5 you’d just take airtime. It also has only 1 move that would warrant 7a, and 2 of 6c.
E9/10 should have multiple 6c/7a moves and a runout, when you look at Macleods Echo wall and Rhapsody these routes fit the remit of E11 well, 8c with big runouts - amazing efforts and a big step forward in trad standards in the UK.
Ricky Bells the Rachlin Effect is blatantly a sandbag at the grade of E8 having 8a+ climbing and a 6b move after a 10m runout nr the end which would give you plenty of time to admire Rachlin wall, sounds like E9 to me. If Longhopes top pitch was graded harder than Ricky’s I don’t think it would be fair as I doubt it’s anywhere near as big a lead.
I look forward to getting back up there with a team next year and expect it to be one of the uber classic hard routes of the UK as it deserves. Stunning efforts from Drummond, Hill, Arran, Turnbull, Macleod and Turner. Get up there.