Unfinished Symphony

Not long after I started climbing, my dad took me to Dumbarton Rock, where he had started climbing. It was all pretty hard for me then and leaving with an ascent of Friar’s Mantel or Nemesis, was a good day for me. He would tell me about the legendary characters of the 80’s Dumby generation. Guys like Tam “The Bam”, a man comfortable with climbing in just his underpants in front of mum (I kid thee not) or the “youngster” Gary Latter, who was busy ticking everything all over Scotland.  But, looking up at that big face above us, there was only one super-hero; Cubby, the man who had climbed the “only possible line” up that iconic imposing face. I dreamt of one day emulating that feat.

This was the early 90’s and bolts were being seriously embraced. The 90’s Dumby generation aided by the new approach were able to find ways up the seemingly unprotectable blank North Face. The main man at that time was Andy Gallagher. I guess, in the spirit of the time, the seemingly blank walls either side of Requiem were the canvas upon which to draw futuristic bolt lines. Andy put the bolts in and reputedly stated that he’d just “wasted a load of money there”.

Malc and Ben were starting to climb more and more blank walls, just look at Hubble! In those days 9a’s were countable on one hand and only really existed in far-off lands. Maybe one day someone would be born who could climb these things.

Over the years, with nobody even having tried the lines seriously their reputations grew. Even the English had heard about them! I had read Keith Sharples article “Total Clips; Cutting Edge Sport Climbing” in On The Edge 100 tons of times:

a couple of futuristic lines either side of Requiem at Dumbarton have been bolted, although only the right-hand one is allegedly do-able and even then the grade is thought to be well into the 9’s”

” ‘the Dumbarton lines are pipe dreams and very unlikely without major chipping.’ – Spider MacKenzie”

Fast forward to a month ago, I was belaying Helen on what was to become her first 7a+, Persistence of Vision and up appeared Dumby’s most famous visionary, Dave Macleod (part of Dumbarton’s 00’s generation). We were chatting away, and he asked if I had tried the line above us. I was a bit surprised, “what the 9b?”.

I had looked at the other project briefly after having done Metalcore but got so freaked by the state of the bolts I had sacked it off till I could be bothered to waste some money on replacing them. “No, I haven’t”. He told me it would definitely go at “about 8b” to the obvious jug undercut at 2/3 height.

The satisfying but not that hard first "dyno". The super direct version of this route, eliminating the buckle to Requiem would require a 6 foot mantle into dyno off this ledge to catch the slopers of the crux.  Font 9a in the sky?

The satisfying but not that hard first “dyno”. The super direct version of this route, eliminating the buckle to Requiem would require a 6 foot mantle into dyno off this ledge to catch the slopers of the crux. Font 9a in the sky? (Photo: Adam Lincoln)

My interest was sparked but I could not (from the ground) believe he was serious, given the huge 6ft blank section at only the second bolt. I went up anyway, and stuck with it, doing most of it to the undercut on my first trip up, despite the July heat wave. It obviously couldn’t be that hard if you could climb most of it in that heat.

Shame about the impossible move though, huh?

I then realised that I was thinking about it the wrong way. This was my chance to set a marker for others to improve upon. As long as the line made sense, I could do whatever I wanted. It seemed like if I followed the ledge feature to its end, I would be able to reach Requiem, make a move up and then possibly rejoin that horrible slopey ramp. I tried and tried, with much frustration. I took the annoying pendulum again and again, until finally figuring out the subtle body positions required to re-enter the route. It was game on and on that cool day it didn’t seem that hard actually.

9 redpoints later, I was getting perplexed. If it was cool, I would do the crux every time, only to be shut down a few moves later. I would make a long move off a tiny, marginal foothold for one leg, my calf would cramp up and thus I couldn’t do the next move. Over and over, the same thing. The only overhanging route I knew of where you fell because of a calf pump as opposed to a forearm pump! How hard was it? With the sun out I basically couldn’t do the crux and I could not figure out a way that left my calf unstrained but it wasn’t pumpy. 8a+ to 8c all seemed feasible.

And so yesterday (Sunday 25th August) I arrived later than I would have wanted to an already warm and still Dumbarton. 3 redpoints later and I hadn’t suck the crux once. The sun was coming and I would have to wait another week. But, as the sun started to mottle the wall, a slight breeze picked up and I decided to have one of those goes, where the pressure is off. I somehow stayed attached to the slopers and my calf, perhaps soothed by the warm sun didn’t cramp up, (as much). Overall the route wasn’t as hard as I might have hoped or that such an iconic blank wall would deserve, but I was delighted that I had just put my name in Dumby’s history books, at least for now.

In many ways it is nice that the first route to breach those blank faces is at an attainable grade (yes all you Dumby boulderers you can climb this route). I am proud to be building on the visions of those who came before and to be able to show to those that are coming through next that these projects might not be as ludicrous as once thought. The future of Dumbarton’s Requiem face is not over. This is my Unfinished Symphony8b+.


Coming in to match the slopey ramp from the Requiem crack is the crux. With a good cool wind and a big span maybe it’s not that hard. Dumby being Dumby, 95% of the time the conditions won’t help! (Photo: Adam Lincoln)

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