Northern Lights Ascent for Depot Climbing athlete Pete Dawson
Depot Climbing athlete Pete Dawson recently became just the sixth climber to make an ascent of the infamous Northern Lights at Kilnsey crag in the Yorkshire Dales.
First climbed by Steve McClure in 2000 after being realised in the early 90s by climbing legend Ben Moon, Pete joins an illustrious list of climbers to have made an ascent and can now put his name on the list alongside Adam Ondra, Alex Megos, Will Bosi and fellow Depot Climbing athlete Josh Ibberston.
Northern Lights is steeped in history, it is one of the UK’s most famous 9a routes, and if you’ve ever been to Kilnsey there’s no doubt you probably took a walk over to stand underneath the route and marvel at the blank face above.
We caught up with Pete to hear more about his ascent and his approach to hard redpoint climbing.
So, Northern Lights. How does it feel to have added this infamous route to your logbook?
I feel pretty happy, it is a route that I’d previously written off as too hard so it felt like it wasn’t just a case of putting in the effort; I had to improve as a climber to be able to do it. Routes that make me step it up a level are definitely the most satisfying to get done.
It’s a strong list of names that have made the ascents of this line so far and reads like a list of who’s who of hard rock climbing, pointing to the notion that this isn’t a route for everyone. so what is the route like? How would you describe it to the regular climber?
The route is about 20 metres and overhangs roughly 20 degrees so it is quite steep. The main difficult part of the climb is within the first 10 metres and then the second half is easier but by that point, I was pretty pumped so it felt like more of a fight!
Is there a specific sequence on the route that you can still envisage and see now? If so, can you tell us about it and what was involved?
My favourite sequence is in the middle of a route where I had to jump off both feet to grab a good flat edge. I always cut loose on that move so it was extra cool.
How does Northern Lights compare to some of the other 9a routes you’ve climbed?
I think Northern Lights is probably the hardest 9a I’ve climbed, it’s certainly harder than Rainshadow, the other classic Yorkshire 9a just because it has so many more hard moves.
Can you walk us through the route and the day of the send?
The day was very good, it was the best conditions I had had for the route so far, but I didn’t feel that rested because I climbed quite hard during the week. My first go, putting the clips in was awful, I fell off at the second clip and it didn’t fill me with confidence. Then I just tried to go from the floor the next go and ended up at the top, it was a bit surprising!
Despite not being climbed until 2000 Ben Moon was working this line in the 1990s and had a slightly different sequence in mind; did you ever have a look at the direct line Ben was originally attempting?
The direct line has a good pocket on but then there is a big gap of no holds. I wondered if I could use the pocket to go up but didn’t see any way forward from that.
Northern Lights is an infamous route, was it its notoriety of it that drew you in, or was it a natural evolution for someone who has done a lot of climbing at Kilnsey?
It was just a natural evolution, I’ve worked my way through most of the hard routes at Kilnsey so the obvious challenge remaining was to try Northern Lights. I really like the style of North Buttress, last year I did Progress and loved it so this year I want to do more of that pumpy and technical climbing, so Northern Lights was the next step.
Climbing on our limits can often take a lot of time and dedication, how long had you been working on the route?
I think I had about 5 sessions on it when I was in Manchester, this was when I found it too hard. I really struggled with the lower wall because it has some big moves and non-obvious holds. Then this year I went back and tried it again. More people has been trying it so some holds I’d previously written off I tried again and this unlocked the lower wall. Since then I went as often as I could and had about 7 sessions this year since June.
This is the latest addition to your tick list of hard UK sport climbs having multiple 9a’s already on there. What’s next from here?
I want to climb Mutation at Raven Tor, I’ve been close but it has defeated me year after year. Hopefully, with a summer of crimping at Kilnsey under my belt, the holds will feel a bit better.
Do you have any pre-climb rituals that you run through before setting off on the redpoint attempt?
Yeah, I have a very well-defined pre-climb ritual, it’s really important for me to go through the motions before trying hard. I think the main thing I do is to tell myself to try hard and climb well.
When you’re working on hard redpoints how does your week around that look? Are you still training hard indoors? Or do you lessen the load and supplement it with off-the-wall exercises?
Normally to climb my hardest I need two days of rest before or a very light week, however, sometimes I get bored resting so go and climb inside (usually at Depot Climbing) anyway for fun.
Working on your limits can often be a difficult undertaking, so what tips would you offer to those looking to push their grades and pick out some hard projects to push their limits and abilities?
Picking a good route is probably the most important choice if you want to push the limit. The number of repeats is a huge factor because generally there will be more sequences that have been done on the route so you are more likely to find a sequence that will fit you. Also if you try a route it doesn’t mean that needs to be your project, I think trying a few briefly is a good way to choose because then you won’t go down a dead-end. I’ve tried routes before on trips only to discover the route to the left that is the same grade is loads easier for me.