Scotland’s Dave MacLeod has completed a legendary unfinished project in Glen Nevis, near the base of the highest peak in Great Britain.Ring of Steall (8c+/5.14c) is a sport route bolted but never sent by Dave Cuthbertson in the early ’90s.
Dave “Cubby” Cuthbertson is little-known outside the UK but was one of the world’s best climbers in his day; if he had completed this route at the Steall Hut Crag in 1992, as he almost did before injuries and work intervened, it would have been among the hardest sport climbs anywhere. The world’s first 5.14c, Hubble, had only been climbed two years earlier.
MacLeod had been attempting the route off and on for about a decade, but he didn’t get serious about it until he moved to nearby Fort William this summer. The route requires 5.13c climbing to a big undercling, from which one grabs a tiny crimp of mica schist with the left hand that MacLeod describes on his blog as “so smooth it’s almost like its been buffed and polished—nothing but pure strength will do to hold it.” This is just the start of the crux sequence: a technical Egyptian move that took many tries to figure out.
Dave MacLeod on Ring of Steall (5.14c) in Glen Nevis. The route is named for a famous nearby hike, traversing seven peaks near Ben Nevis. Photo by Claire MacLeod, courtesy of www.davemacleod.blogspot.com.
MacLeod takes up the story of this crux on his blog: “Over the past month I’ve walked down the path from Steall feeling that it’s the most beautiful move I’ve ever experienced on rock, and other nights been cursing it to hell. Last week I finally mastered the correct timing of how to drop the knee and then push in the exactly correct direction with each foot. It’s the ultimate move—when performed with technical excellence, it's easy. But if you don’t move the limbs in the correct sequence of subtle shifts, no amount of strength or psyche will make any impression. This type of climbing suits Cubby’s technical mastery perfectly, so it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to finish it. It’s no surprise to me that the route left such a big impression on him, as it has done on me—perfect movement in a beautiful place.”
MacLeod’s most famous route is Rhapsody (E11 7a, or poorly protected 5.14c), a direct finish to a Dave Cuthbertson 5.13, which MacLeod finished in the spring of 2006. Earlier this year, he redpointed the first 5.14c sport climb in Scotland, Metalcore, at the Anvil crag.
Date of Ascent: August 1, 2007