MacLeod Leads Hardest Headpoint Yet

Scotland’s Dave MacLeod has led the Echo Wall on Ben Nevis, calling it “harder than Rhapsody (or anything else I’ve been on).” The 70-meter second pitch of Echo Wall ascends a clean arête high on the volcanic rock of Ben Nevis’ Tower Ridge, with very poor protection.

Earlier, MacLeod described Echo Wall as scary 8a+ (5.13c) to a rest at a roof, followed by 8b (5.13d) climbing. “But the problem is that it will be sick hard to stop and place the protection in the roof, especially the most crucial two wires,” MacLeod wrote at his blog. “So, overall, linking plus placing the gear is looking physically harder than Rhapsody.”

MacLeod completed the first ascent of Rhapsody (E11 7a) in 2006 at Dumbarton Rock in Scotland. Sonnie Trotter and Steve McClure repeated the climb this summer, and both men said the climb was the equivalent of 5.14b/c R.

MacLeod first explored the Echo Wall on top-rope in 2006, putting in eight days on the climb. “It was too hard for me then,” MacLeod said. “I realized I’d need to be doing 9a [5.14d] sport to be able to get it done. I would have tried it again last summer, but I couldn’t even get a single day on it, the weather was so bad.” MacLeod trained this past winter with the route specifically in mind. Redpoints up to 9a (5.14d) and the solo ascent of a short 5.14b, both in Spain, convinced him that he could gain the fitness and psychological strength for the Echo Wall.

In May and June he worked on the climb after spending several days shoveling snow that was melting onto the wall. When the weather was too poor for climbing on Ben Nevis, MacLeod “pounded” himself with training, establishing some desperate bouldering traverses in the nearby hills. On July 7 he linked the Echo Wall pitch for the first time on top-rope, but he was far from 100 percent afterward, including several worrying falls from the “death move” at the second crux during linkage attempts. He had fretted about a break for a work trip to North America in mid-July, but the days off provided the perfect spell of tapering. After two hard days of work on the route just after he returned to Scotland, followed by two rest days, MacLeod led the climb late on a clear Scottish evening on July 28, belayed by his friend Kev Shields and filmed by his wife, Claire.

MacLeod works the crux moves of Echo Wall. Dave MacLeod Collection /

At his blog, MacLeod wrote, “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?’ What an opportunity! All these ingredients coming together to put such a fine climbing experience on a plate in front of me.”

See MacLeod’s account and photos of the climb at his blog and Claire MacLeod’s blog.

Date of Ascent: July 28, 2008

Sources: Dave MacLeod,, Climbing 262

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