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Rainshadow 4th Ascent

Yesterday I realized the dream I had of climbing Steve McClure’s classic 9a route Rainshadow. The dream began whilst walking in the Yorkshire Dales with my wife in 2012. Our route took us under the amazing limestone cove of Malham, it wasn’t a great day for climbing and most of the cove was wet but there was one lone climber working a route up the center of the cove. It turned out to be Jordan Buys and the route was Rainshadow. At the time I knew little or nothing about the route other than it was one of the hardest in the UK and graded 9a. Adam Ondra repeated it in 2011 in just 2 days and afterwards he said it was one of the best 9a routes he had climbed. Later in 2012 Jordan made the 3rd ascent.

Since that day I’ve learnt a lot more about this route and what makes it so special. It takes a stunning line up the centre of the cove on bullet hard limestone and requires that special combination of strength and endurance. It’s not enough to be strong or fit, you need to be strong and fit. The routes starts up a classic 8a called Raindogs before trending right below the huge crux bulge to a poor resting spot. To this point is F8a+. After the rest you make a couple of moves up to the bulge before the meat of the route instantly kicks in, a 12 move Font 8a boulder problem on poor pinches, layaways and under clings. Once you have negotiated this there is no time to rest or catch your breath before launching out left to find your way up the impending headwall at F8a+. It’s a stunning climb in an impressive location and is a must climb 9a route.

After a really hard winter of training at the newly built School Room I headed up to Malham on the 10th February for my 1st attempt for what I expected to be a very long campaign. My experience of 9a is pretty much limited to Hubble, Action Direct and my Kilnsey project (Northern Lights) and I didn’t really know what to expect. I was initially quite shocked at the difficulty of the boulder problem and although I did manage it in 2 overlapping sections I couldn’t imagine climbing it after doing an 8a+ route. Leaving the crag that day I was preparing myself for a long battle over 2 or 3 seasons. Over the next 2 months I continued my training interspersed with regular trips to Malham to work the 3 sections that make up Rainshadow. By day 5 I had climbed the crux sequence in a oner and by day 7 I had climbed the crux sequence to the top. With the benefit of hard training and a good strategy the route had come together a lot quicker than I expected. My diary entry for the 17th April ended with the words “Need to start redpointing”.

Working routes is great fun, redpointing them is a serious high-pressure business. The harder the route, the more time invested, the higher the pressure. Dealing with this pressure is what hard redpointing is all about and you have to embrace it. I cut out all my training and everything was geared around 2 weekly trips to Malham and making sure I was in peak condition for these 2 days. My expectations were high because of the links I had done whilst working the route but there is some stuff you cannot learn about a route until you start redpointing. During the working phase I had broken the route down into sections and I took the same approach on redpoint. Climb the 8a+ efficiently, get through the boulder problem, then redpoint the 8a+ to finish. Each day I made progress but still couldn’t get through the boulder problem crux. Suddenly on day 15 I made it through the crux but immediately powered out without making the slightest impact on the 8a+ headwall. Suddenly doubt crept in and I questioned whether I was fit enough for the route. Then the unbelievable happened and on the last go of the day I was through the crux a second time and feeling good. No time to think, just go and before I knew it was through the top crux of the 8a+ headwall and looking at the last hard move. I threw for the layaway, my fingers curled around it but I couldn’t hold on and the next moment I was flying through the air and the dream was over! I couldn’t believe I had fallen off.

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It was half term now and I had promised my family we would do family stuff together and I wouldn’t go to Malham. I had 10 days to think about my failure and to live with the expectation from within myself and from all my friends who thought the route was now a dead cert. With this level of expectation I was never going to do it on my next day and although I again got high on the headwall I was totally pumped. On day 17 I came close again, twice pumping out on the 8a+ headwall crux. I had been climbing a lot with Steve McClure and in my moments of doubt he gave me the confidence to believe I was good enough and told me simple that today wasn’t the day but that it would come.

When I started the redpoint phase I gave myself 6 weeks to complete the route and if it didn’t happen I would walk away and come back another time. My 6 weeks were almost up and I had just 2 more redpoint days before the walk away. Day 18 seemed just like the other days although my 1st redpoint attempt was worst than on previous days. I battled through the crux boulder problem but immediately powered out and made no impact on the 8a+ headwall. Time was running out. I walked up the hill next to the cove thinking about Sharma’s words as he battled with the pressure to redpoint Biographie the worlds 1st 9a+.

“Everything has to come together perfectly for me to do this route..feel strong but not too confident, have the desire to do it but not too attached on getting to the top as much as just enjoying the climbing..”

I lay down in the sun, closed my eyes and went slowly through the 60-move sequence that would take me to the top. Near the top of the route I could feel myself drifting off but managed to bring myself back to clip the chains before letting myself go completely. 1 hour later I awoke from my sleep, walked back down the hill, tied in and redpointed Rainshadow. I felt great, strong through the crux, slightly pumped on the top section but always in control. I really couldn’t believe it. The best and hardest route I’ve ever done? Yes definitely.

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I feel overwhelmed by all the kind and generous messages I’ve received over the past 24 hours. Thank you. I also feel incredibly lucky to have found climbing and as I get older I can see and appreciate this more than ever. Life is very precious, live healthy, train hard, climb harder.