Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Innocent Bystanders?

Dave MacLeod has finished his E10 project, To Hell and Back, at Hell's Lum crag in Scotland, creating one of the world's most dangerous extreme rock climbs. E10 6c translates to 5.13c X—the kind of route that only the best rock climbers could ascend, even with perfect protection. But this one has no pro at all in its crux second half, and a slip there is likely to be fatal.

MacLeod originally planned to attempt the route during the BBC's Great Climb program, but the live broadcast was cancelled because of persistent rain. However, a small film crew stuck around because MacLeod was still psyched to finish the route. By all accounts, it was a harrowing performance on Friday when he finally did the climb. You can read Dave's typically personal and honest account here . And there's a fascinating insider perspective from Dave Brown, one of the film crew, at the Hot Aches blog.

On the big day, Brown was hanging with his camera right at the crux passage of the climb, where a key hold often was damp, and soon he became a participant and not just a voyeur: "The tension at the crag was horrendous," Brown writes. "Dave tied on ready to lead and called up to me for an evaluation of how wet the hold was? What a damn question to ask. Of course I want the film ‘in the can’, but MacLeod is a friend, and I don’t want him dead. So I looked at the hold. Probably only the bit for his pinky was wet by now, maybe in the time it takes for him to reach the hold it would be wet only for the second finger? What do I know? I couldn’t do that move even if it was bone dry. I gave him the thumbs up, and he set off."

Read the whole post...it's amazing stuff. I feel for Brown, who was unwittingly put in a terrible position. What if, after Brown's thumbs-up, MacLeod had slipped to his death from that wet hold? Would Brown be to blame? Certainly he'd blame himself. Even aside from the go or no-go decision on the wet hold, who knows how much pressure the presence of the film crew that week might have put on MacLeod, consciously or not. Had things gone badly, I might have shared some blame, too, in a small way, because, in the course of several interviews with MacLeod for an article appearing soon in Climbing magazine, I asked him if his recent decision to back off a bold climb in Wales meant that he'd lost his head for such "death routes." In going To Hell and Back, was MacLeod trying to prove he still had it? He would emphatically deny it, but, had things gone the wrong way, we'd all be asking ourselves that sort of question.

I feel for MacLeod, too, who felt terrible about the burden he'd placed on the surrounding cast, which included his wife, Claire, who was holding one of the belay ropes while he climbed. But, it must be said, his friends, his family, and the media all were there because they wanted to be. Really, none of us are innocent bystanders.

So many questions are posed by such a climb, but like many great and bold climbers, MacLeod, despite trying his best to explain himself, is unable to answer the foremost question: Why? At least not in a way that will satisfy most of us. He just leaves us to marvel at his ascents, and to hope they all go well.

The BBC plans to show this wild footage before the end of the year. Hopefully, a DVD will be released so people in other countries can watch it, too—if they dare.


Lorrie said...

Love your blog!

Renegade said...

Wow! I have a lot of respect for MacLeod. Why? Because it's there!

Check out Renegade's BS

Derek said...

been hoping to see this. hopefully they will release this in the usa...