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Marlena - Anatomy of a Sports Climb

Adrian Crofton undressing Marlena, Cave Crag, Dunkeld

It's been a few years since I had regularly climbed at Cave Crag, home to Scotland's best sports routes, though challenged a little by the emerging crags such as Goat Crag in the North West. Nevertheless, all the routes on this excellent schist wall still provide the benchmarks for early season fitness and a musical rosary of desire: Hamish Ted's, Marlena, Silk Teddies, Silk Purse, Ultima Necat.. Hamish Ted's, Marlena...

Viewing the crag from Dunkeld on the first visit in spring, it always looks intimidating: a towering mass looming over Dunkeld - to me a grey-white page from the book of failed redpoints. So it was I returned midweek to my nemesis: 'Marlena', as the warm spring winds and sun dried out the weeps. This route was originally climbed consecutively by Dave Cuthbertson and Murray Hamilton in late summer 1986, with nothing more than the odd bolt, pegs and wires for protection. Colin Lambton texted me to say it was the 20th anniversary of his repeat in 'original clothing'. Since those dizzy days of headbands, stretch lycra and hairy-arsed boldness, it has been climbed thousands of times by visiting climbers, though most come a cropper just below the chain. This is where a notorious technical sequence 'deep in the pump' spits off wannabes in furious wrath.

In 2009, I resolved to get it done before a looming turn of personal decades... I felt nowhere near fit enough, though I was strong enough for any of the moves, but it's such a long, complex rubric of sequences. Finding the ability to rest and recover on it is crucial - if you can't recover at the junction jugs, lap Hamish Ted's instead to build up the required stamina.

Originally given an E6 grade, Marlena was later rebolted and consensus repeats point to a grade of F7c as opposed to a previously stiff 7b+. It is a CV 'must-have' qualification for any Scottish sport-climber - I just wish I'd put more effort in years ago, it's a lot harder work now! The only thing to do was to reacquaint myself with the route and its engrams of movement. Marlena is as much a test of memory under physical stress as it is a test of stamina. So this is as much for my future benefit as anything else, due to the phenomenon of goldfish memory! Maybe other folk have different beta, but this method suits me best for the redpoint:

Marlena F7c - Beta

1. Right foot edge on and boost RH to Gaston, up left to good hold, RH up to another press.
2. Cross over LH to the lower of double gastons, RF on slopey hold.
3. Up to LH jug and knobbly quartz jugs, clip.
4. Cross LH on quartz, RH up to good flattie, grab the bottom slot nubbin, clip underneath RH.
5. RH out to good edge, sort feet, stretch left to sidepull, walk feet over, undercling slot, up to higher LH hold.
6. High feet and up to block, shake out, clip.
7. Direct: pocket and crimp up to RH edge, lunge for bottom of flange, sort hands go again to rail, clip.
8. Handrail across and egyptian up to jugs, clip, shake out as much as you can.
9. Stretch LH to sidepull, powerful cross to higher slot in crack, clip.
10. Up to LH pinch sidepull, clip.
10. Step RF in high and step up to gaston, LF on polished edge, LH pocket.
11. RF on square edge, trail LF and crank up high to RH slot.
12. LH up to 2-finger slot, RF in pocket, LH up and high as possible to finger slot, step high, cross to chain.


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