I started trying Kaabah on the same day I clipped the chains of the Extension back in June last year. It felt like the logical next step to make use of the fitness gained in trying a similar route but even harder! While the Extension stacks an 8a on top of an 8b+ with two very good rests, Kaabah has significantly harder climbing (8a+) leaving Mecca just before its belay and then rejoining the Extension from below in the middle of its final traverse right, with only a poorer, single resting spot in a 'niche' high up on the wall. I knew this was going to push me to the limit when I began trying it but resolved that as long as I continued to see progress I would stick with it as it would be amazing to do such a cool 'directissima' on Mecca, taking the route to its ultimate conclusion.
The Mecca Crux (Video Still)
I initially spent some time working out different methods for the very thin moves leaving the rest and studied the few videos of the route. I couldn't touch Steve's ultracrimpy method, its nails! Alex and Ryan's way going straight for the base of the Extension flake with the right hand was too reachy so I managed to work out a way pressing out left at the limit of my reach off a nasty thumb sprag to the 'car body filler' undercut of the Extension (don't ask!) I even managed to link to the base of the Extension Flake from the base of the Mecca groove using this early method before realising that by instead pulling on one of the tiny footholds of the Extension slightly higher up with my right hand the move was made a bit easier, although its still a very fickle customer in the wrong conditions. With my new sequence, although you are able to join the Extension a move earlier than either of Steve's or Alex's method's, you still have work to do as you are pretty stretched out and need to semi-dynamically flick you right hand into the tiny black sidepull used on the Extension once you have gained the left hand undercut (which is an extremely precarious move and requires you to drill you right toe into a tiny dink by your feet which is barely visible as you are pasted to the wall and can't easily spy your footholds). After repeated work, I was able to reliably climb from the niche to the Extension belay as part of my warm up on the route. This was the first time I had worked out a new method on a climb for myself so I was quite satisfied with the whole process.
Now just the link in of Mecca to go, easier said than done! In July last year I started the process of linking in sections of Mecca from successively lower stages (i.e. first level with the belay then the base of the groove by the 5th bolt then from the 3rd bolt by the big pocket). This adds a lot of pump to the upper 8a+ as I soon found. Before I was able to complete the key link from the 3rd bolt to the top, I got sucked into trying it from the ground, perhaps too early as this year it seemed that just knowing that you have completed this major link makes a big difference mentally. Progress came incrementally and last summer it turned into a war of attrition. Every saturday morning I would be there for another attempt and eventually got to the stage where I managed to join the Extension from the ground, although in a stage of terminal pump. I tried everything from gaffa taping the final clip into the rock to even using a fluorescent orange sticky tab to mark the hard-to-spot foothold.
On this route you only get very small windows for success as firstly you have to get yourself up Mecca every time. Then you need to be firing on all cylinders for the top wall so just scraping up Mecca is not enough, you need to own every hold and get to the rest with something left in the tank. On too many attempts I arrived at the shakeout with very little or nothing left to give to the top moves. They felt completely desparate from the ground and I found it was pretty much irrelevant how good they felt on the warmup. I got to the stage in August where I was fighting for extra individual moves on each successive visit, pushing my highpoint gradually upwards and routinely trying the hardest I have ever fought on a rock climb. Still, I was making some limited progress, enough to entice me to keep coming back for more.
The moves on the top wall are so sustained that I found no place where you could stop and clip a bolt between the one you clip at the resting niche and the next one, which is a fair way above. There is the old 'bean can' aid bolt inbetween which offers a possibility for clipping an intermediate bolt in the middle of the upper crux. This can be backed up with a long sling but I found that this drained power at a crucial stage so rather than diminishing my chances, I decided to press on and embrace taking the ride! If you fall off on the moves getting both hands on the Extension flake you will take up to a 25 footer (hard grit comes to the lime!) Don't let this put you off though as it is actually an alright fall if you take care to stay balanced, don't tense up and get a nice soft catch - I must have taken this fall over 30 times so I guess I have road tested it!
In order to clip the next bolt after the niche, you must get both hands on the Extension flake and then, (as per the front cover of Alastair Lee's DVD 'Psyche') take you right hand off to quickly drop the rope into the draw. I found that as the bolt was so close in this position, it was easier to use a single crab. This feels the living end from the ground as all your muscles are screaming for you to let go and end the agony! It feels the easiest thing in the world just to grab the draw and give up!
The Big Fall! Attempt 24 June 2014
After 14 times reaching the resting niche or higher from the ground in August and September, on my best attempt I got to the move shared with the Extension where you have to put your right heel really high up on the flake while compressing between opposing sidepulls in order to reach up for higher crimps and easier moves leading to the final jugs. I probably only had 1% power left to give and remember squeezing like crazy between the flake with my right hand and the tiny high sidepull for my left hand. I briefly thought this was it, the time I was going to do it (a mistake in retrospect). Then dismayingly my heel refused to go any higher up to the flake as my arms gave out and I was off plummeting back into the void. Close but no cigar!
This last attempt proved to be my best go of the year and due to evening sessions on the route running out in late August, I was never able to regain this highpoint despite quite a few more attempts. I had a trip to Smith Rock planned in the last 2 weeks of October so resolved to get it bagged on my return but unfortunately the crag started seeping, which stopped everybody's campaigns on their projects for the year.
2014 - A Fresh Approach
A return trip to Smith Rocks in March proved the key to getting the monkey off my back. I felt a different climber this year, fitter from multiple laps on many 7b's and 7b+'s at Stockport but probably less strong from doing less bouldering. Ticking To Bolt or Not to Be at Smith was a great confidence booster and although it is a different beast to Kaabah being less steep but with twice as many moves, it provided a great foundation to work from. I had to bide my time up in Yorkshire in April and early May while the route dried out. Eventually the niche dried out enough to allow redpoint attempts. Crucially I managed to do the 3rd bolt to top link in late June, which I then managed on three other occasions. All I needed to do now was get up Mecca again.
Link from the 3rd bolt to the Top - 1 July 2014
I was also trying to gain more fitness on Kristian's excellent 7c 'Resistance', which is the finish to either Mark Tomlinson's 'Resistance is Futile' 8a+ or a new linkup I did 'Chimes of Resistance' 8b and is conveniently placed just above and to the right of the Extension loweroff. I found that this provided a crucial extra few percent of stamina. Frustratingly in late June/early July, I had 3 or 4 sessions where I couldn't get up the big M. However, I knew I could do it, it was a just a matter of time before I could stick the crux of Mecca gaining the horn - get working your left hand deadhangs for this move!
The day I did it I had actually had two previous unsuccessful attempts at getting through Mecca. I tried from the ground for a third time more as a matter of routine than anything else but was very relieved when I finally held the horn and then gained the kneebar in the groove. I knew I had a good chance even though the day was getting on and the air temperature was warming up. Arriving in the niche, I remembered not to outstay my welcome and pressed on up the sidepulls and gastons. The moves leading to the Extension flake and making the next clip felt good and in control although I could tell I had only a small margin for error. This time on the compression move was payback time and I was able to get my right heel up just fine, no terminal pump this time round. The last few moves passed in a blur and before I knew it I was hanging off the final jugs shouting for joy. The finish up Resistance felt hard but a fitting finish to create a new linkup 'Kaabah is Futile', no change in grade, just more pump!
It was great to finish this project and finally be free from something that badly needed finishing off. So, onto the next project, good luck with all your sends out there, there is an end to all redpoint sagas...eventually!