MacLeod: To Hell and Back

MacLeod leading the second pitch (E5) of To Hell and Back. Hard enough, but not a death pitch.

MacLeod leading the second pitch (E5) of To Hell and Back. Hard enough, but not a death pitch.

Scotland’s Dave MacLeod has completed “the most dangerous lead I’ve ever done,” a new route at Hell’s Lum crag in the Cairngorm mountains.To Hell and Back (E10 6c, or 5.13c X) is a two-pitch route on solid granite but with little protection—MacLeod said a fall from the second half of the 115-foot first pitch is “unlikely to be survivable.”

MacLeod first started working on the climb in preparation for a live BBC broadcast called The Great Climb, scheduled to air on August 18. After heavy rains forced cancellation of the broadcast, MacLeod returned last week to complete the route. After further rehearsal, he sent the climb on August 24, using two ropes and two belayers—one ideally positioned for the pull on a skyhook and poor cam, and the other ready to hurl herself off the belay ledge to take up slack in case of a fall. Fortunately, MacLeod did not fall, but the lead was traumatic, as he describes on his blog (

“In the moment of the lead, I screamed at myself twice at the top of my voice because the reality hit me of where I was and what I was doing. I think it achieved little more than spreading my fear across everyone who was there filming, Tony who was on the skyhook rope, and especially Claire on the gully sprint rope running through the only good gear, 40 feet below me. An outcome was needed to free everyone from the sentence, so I screamed away all my thoughts and uncaringly hydraulicked like a robot through the slopers and on to the belay.”

MacLeod on top. The caption on his blog says: “Was it worth it?” Photo by Claire MacLeod, courtesy of

MacLeod: To Hell and Back

A second, easier and better protected lead (E5 or 5.11+/5.12- R) gained the top of Hell’s Lum’s overhanging face. (Lum means “chimney” in Scottish.)

MacLeod is most famous for his E11 (5.14c R) route Rhapsody, also in Scotland, which took him two years and many 60- to 70-foot falls to redpoint. He has repeated three other E10 routes in England, Wales, and Ireleand, and has established several E9 climbs. He also has climbed 5.14c sport routes in Scotland and Spain.

Date of Ascent: August 24, 2007

Sources: Dave MacLeod,,

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