My ultimate route. Not sure it gets any better, or any harder! The very first time I visited Malham Cove I stood at the base of the cliff and stared up into the future. An unclimbed line of immeasurable difficulty, right in the centre of the Cove, soared directly towards the finishing ledge 40 meters above. It crossed the most difficult terrain and the blankest of rock; impossible for me to comprehend.

That was back in about 1995 I was desperate to do Raindogs. It was such a classic. But there was nothing above it, just a massive section of unclimbed rock. I didn’t even dream I’d be up there, but I could see the line, the exact line that I would end up climbing. I remember thinking it would be amazing when someone finally climbed it.

17 8 rainman cover pic

Rainman has been a gift for me, above all the other routes, and that’s saying something! I’ve had more than my share: Mutation was my first hard route, on the doorstep. Northern Lights; left over by Ben Moon for me to build an entire career. Rainshadow one of the best routes anywhere, and Overshadow as the hardest in the UK. Hard to follow that lot. But Rainman was something different; it was the journey that sets it apart. They say it’s all about the journey, maybe it is. I thought I’d been on every path, but this one was different. This one felt right on the limit.

Overshadow, at 9a+ felt similar to Rainman, at least at first. It was the first route that required ‘extra’ effort. Everything else I knew I would climb eventually; it was just a matter of banging my head against them for a while. Some routes took 10 days, some more, but I knew they would go. I was already capable. But at the start I knew Overshadow was too hard; I needed to raise my game physically. However, I kind of knew I could raise my game, I guess I knew deep down I was going to be capable. It required massive effort, and a lot of uncertainty and pressure, but looking back, the journey had a destination that was always within reach.

Rainman has been all about the limit. It was a journey that for most of the way didn’t seem to have an ending at all. That’s interesting. It’s been something really different. It’s also been massively absorbing. Maybe this was the perfect thing to suit a time in life with so many things considered: family, work, health, motivation. I’d done a lot of stuff in climbing, I needed a challenge on a different level.

I first tried it back in 2010. Most of the time since then I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d ever climb it. At best I figured I had a chance, but often I ‘knew’ deep down it was too hard. I guess there were enough ‘optimistic’ moments to keep going. That’s part of the long game that I’d not yet explored, the REALLY long game, only played by the very few! Last Spring I felt for the first time that I was capable, but to be fair I never had that moment where it was ‘on’. This year it gradually built up, and then suddenly I had the breakthrough and was up towards the last few moves. Then it was there for the taking! And everything changed. A window of opportunity had opened that I’d never expected. The pressure was massive because I wasn’t sure I’d get another window, ever, and this window was rapidly closing. With it being so close to my limit, everything had to count on every effort. I guess that was the problem; to reach a high point had taken my best ever performance, I then had to keep repeating my best ever performance, and go one better! My window was starting to run out, that’s the BIG window, life’s window. At 46, how many seasons can I expect to be climbing at my best?

I thought it was my limit, and as success inched closer I realised just how much comes into play when you are close to the limit: conditions, injury, diet, finding partners, how long is the season, planning work, illness, physical peak.. so much that I’d not had to contend with. When you are on the limit it becomes far more than how you can perform physically.

128 days over 7 years. Does that seem ridiculous? It seems so, putting it down on paper. Something kept me going, perhaps I had nothing better to do? Or maybe it was all about the relationship with not just the route but everything that goes with it; the focus, the training, the edging closer, the needing to be my best. And that’s not to mention the place itself, and the scene, and the banter. But the route; the moves are simply fantastic. I honestly couldn’t have asked for any more. And for it to have been right on my limit. It’s given me a once in a lifetime journey. I’ll look back on this route as the culmination of my career.