Dave MacLeod Repeats ‘Lexicon,’ Hardest Trad Climb in England

Scottish climbing legend Dave MacLeod climbed what many think is England’s hardest trad route in March. Neil Gresham’s Lexicon (E11 7a) is both very hard and mortally scary. Second ascensionist Steve McClure almost decked (read: fell to the ground while wearing a rope, after placing protection) from the top during his efforts last fall.

Had he hit the craggy belay ledge below, he might not have gotten up. The route is about 25m tall.

MacLeod secured the third ascent in late March, then wasted no time roasting his cool-headed, middle-aged predecessors.

“I have not climbed all the hard trad routes in England or Wales by any means, but I have climbed quite a few and Lexicon is harder than any of them. Neil’s effort climbing the first ascent is exceptional in my opinion. There are plenty of climbers who could do the moves on it, but I suspect the number who would actually lead it is rather small, at the moment at least. At 43, I’m delighted to be the youngest person to climb it by some margin,” he wrote on his blog.

The 43-year-old’s tongue-in-cheek tone lands like a slap on the back — Gresham is 45, and McClure is 51.

‘Trad dads’ crush it, MacLeod leads the way

MacLeod himself may not have climbed all the hard trad routes in England or Wales, but the three men may have done so between them. Seeming to get not only stronger but braver as they get older, each of the trio is now individually famous for headpointing hard, scary routes.

MacLeod has arguably been at it the longest. He first altered the trad climbing landscape all the way back in 2006 with Rhapsody, E11 7a. The Scottish route was the first to break the E11 (severity, or objective danger) boundary.

Watch a fresh-faced MacLeod take the notorious 20m whipper from the very last hold in this video preview — then get over to Hot Aches Productions and purchase the full film to watch him do it over and over again.

It’s a good thing for MacLeod that he was younger then. He’d need every bit of musculoskeletal recovery mojo he could get during a first ascent push that saw him take the 20m fall nine times.

Full circle, not done yet

Now, the Scottish king of runout’s career has traveled full circle. But to read his (thorough) blog post is to understand he’s a long way from hanging up his trad rack.

MacLeod has always trained hard, with a surgically precise approach. And despite the extra work that comes along with aging, he’s motivated to keep pace with his cohort.

“I planned my winter training as such: December — board. January — boulder projects outside, February and March — endurance training on the board. Training plans rarely survive real-life intact, but this one seemed to roughly hold up,” MacLeod wrote. “There were niggles; a tweaked finger joint and my usual ankle issues that suddenly seemed to flare. Could I even walk in?!”

Yes, and then some.

“Watching both Neil and Steve destroy such a hard piece of trad climbing is a great example that I would like to emulate as my climbing progresses. Age is a funny thing, it can work in multiple ways. The battle scars that come with it can weigh on you, if you don’t just decide to work around them. On the other hand, it can give you an appreciation that if you don’t go and get on the route and get yourself in finishing shape, the time will pass and you’ll never do it,” MacLeod reflected.

That mindset can put you in a powerful position.”

Bonus: stay tuned to the Ticklist video to hear Franco Cookson’s brilliant statistical analysis (ground falls versus ascents) of Hold Fast Hold True (E10 7a).

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.


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Andy Say
Andy Say
12 days ago

Re the female solo of the Eiger. Alison Hargreaves not counted?

Stephen Williamson
Stephen Williamson
10 days ago

Rhapsody is a Scottish route, Not in England. These things matter greatly on our little islands.😉

Jerry Kobalenko
Admin
10 days ago

Many apologies. Totally understand. We’ve corrected the error.