Controlled Burning on Lundy Island

Ray Wood | 02 April, 2019

James McHaffie took full advantage of an exceptional spell of good weather on Lundy Island to add two new E7s and finish-off the last of his remaining Lundy 'Extreme Rock routes'.

McHaffie’s mission to climb every route in the book Extreme Rock—compiled by Ken Wilson and Bernard Newman—is close to success. He only has five remaining from the 180 routes between its covers to become the first climber to complete this remarkable feat.

Arguably the ultimate tick-list, Extreme Rock was published in 1987 and conceived as a celebration of the finest hard climbing in Britain, stretching from the south-west tip of England to the Scottish Outer Hebrides. Four of its routes are on Lundy Island and you can find the full list here.

Arriving on a Monday in late March by helicopter—the boat doesn’t sail to Lundy during the winter months—McHaffie quickly turned his attention to unfinished business with the roofed crackline of Controlled Burning. In September last year, he narrowly avoided serious injury when a hold broke and the rock crumbled around his first wire, putting him on the deck among the boulders. McHaffie wrote a blog post afterwards entitled Some Lessons from Trad Climbing.

At the time Extreme Rock was published in 1987, the route was given E3 5c. In the 2008 Lundy guidebook it was graded E4 5c, but subsequent rockfalls have dramatically altered its nature and difficulty. Checking it out first from abseil this time and drying a few damp holds, McHaffie was relieved to manage it the following day without any of the drama of his previous attempt.

McHaffie on the upper crack of Controlled Burning (E6/7), Lundy Island. © Ray Wood
McHaffie on the upper crack of Controlled Burning (E6/7), Lundy Island. © Ray Wood
The crack section shared with Brinkman's Ship during McHaffie's first ascent of Ulterior (E7 6c), Lundy Island. © Ray Wood
The crack section shared with Brinkman's Ship during McHaffie's first ascent of Ulterior (E7 6c), Lundy Island. © Ray Wood

Afterwards McHaffie commented: “It has a nasty feel to it, even knowing it. Tony Stone had reclimbed it a couple of weeks before I fell off it, saying it was E6 6a. I thought E6/7 6b was fair and would definitely recommend inspecting it because of the nature of the rock. It has a burly and powerful start on biscuit flakes with poor, blind gear placements.”

He added: “If Extreme Rock was being compiled today it wouldn’t make the cut. Even the middle section is crumbly and dirty.”

Having a few days spare before the scheduled departure on Friday morning, McHaffie had two new lines to try in the Flying Buttress Area. On the ‘dark side’ of the arch formed by the huge monolith leaning against the mainland, McHaffie took a look at the cracks he’d noticed to the right of the Flying Dutchman (E7 6c)—a route he’d onsighted in 2015.

Spirit Guide (E7 6c) turned out to be: “A brilliant pitch around 7c+ and super sustained that’d be hard to onsight. Needs plenty of micro-wires. It was close as I nearly fell-off in the middle and at the end because I was so pumped.”

“It’s tricky, with more hard climbing than Flying Dutchman, and definitely the best new route I’ve done in ages.”

Above the sea-channel on the opposite side of the arch, directly below the Battery, McHaffie added a new start and gymnastic finish to Brinkman’s Ship (E6 6b). Ulterior (E7 6c) gives a more direct line but using the overhanging crack of that route in the middle section.

James McHaffie finding his Spirit Guide (E7 6c) on the first ascent, Flying Buttress Area, Lundy Island. © Ray Wood
James McHaffie finding his Spirit Guide (E7 6c) on the first ascent, Flying Buttress Area, Lundy Island. © Ray Wood

The Flying Buttress Area

Ulterior E7 6c F.A. James McHaffie (27.3.19)

A direct line on Brinkman’s Ship with a new start and finish using the obvious crack of that route. Gain the juggy pancake flake from easy ground on the right and fill the narrow crack above with kit. Thin and committing moves left gain the shake-out at the base of the crack. Climb this for four metres and where Brinkman’s goes right to the fist jam, you go direct by making a long stretch straight up to a crimp edge with your left hand and then a blind move to a quartz pocket. Gymnastic moves and heel hooks are required to flip the lip to gain the slab above.

Spirit Guide E7 6c F.A. James McHaffie (28.3.19)

Climb the easy corner right of Flying Dutchman to the top of the pinnacle/angled block and follow the obvious right-left cracks to an intense sequence around ten metres, leading to a slap for a letter-box jug on the left, shake-out, then climb the amazing and technical crack straight above for another few metres to gain a pod and layback leftwards out of that to gain a jug flake, stand on this to bring the difficulties to an end. Move easily right for three metres to the ridge and a good belay.