I still remember in 2000 as a 19 year old feeling invincible, I guess that’s why the insurance is so high for that age category. The first half on Indian Face had felt pretty easy, I’d failed to find the critical rock 6 as indeed it doesn’t even look like a wire slot and had put on 2 hooks there instead.
After a few tough sequences leading up right to get stood up in semi balance on crimps I thought I was ‘in’, a small amount of euphoria started to arrive. Unfortunately the handholds went dry, just having those ‘only for balance’ type hand holds. The move was obvious, put your left foot high onto a small edge and spring for what was hopefully an edge above. I was pretty baked from the effort so far and could see the feet went shit beyond. Half an hour of failing to progress via any possible option and the invincibility had worn off with the pain of reality soon to become the biggest epic I’d ever had in climbing dangerous routes. I think the sun had hit me before I’d realised I’d have to drop the ropes and it was 2 hours or so later before the ropes, 2* 9mm’s tied together got thrown blindly from Adam Wilde out over Cloggy to rescue my absolutely fucked body and mind from the clutches of the black cliff.
The situation had been horrendous for both of us, he was looking at having a teenage kid die on him and I had assumed for some length of time I was going to die as my tendons had been ebbing away in a really terrifying manner. I also knew my family would be devastated and I knew it was stupid. I remember thinking so fast about everything. Everything I wouldn’t ever be able to do. I was so sure I was a dead man. I’d pleaded with every god I could think of for a miracle and tbh when I sailed down to near the base of Vember on that line it did feel like I’d received one.
In 2013 I did Indian Face and felt I’d layed this to rest somewhat but I guess I hadn’t treaded in Moffats footsteps so to speak , Just Dawes’ and hadn’t climbed through my dread zone.
The next attempt on what is Masters Wall happened solely because the route is named in Ken Wilsons Extreme Rock book! That’s the only reason. With Ken passing away not long ago I thought it would be good homage to his brilliant books to try and ‘tick’ the last 1.
When you abseil down Masters wall you realise it is profoundly dangerous and risking your life for a puerile tick (Tony Stones words) would get you the Darwin Award should the worst case happen, and the nature of the moves mean that the worst case could easily happen unless you are trying quite hard and up for a fight.
My partner was Ferdia who I first met at the Works party in Sheffield. Her 1st sentence when we met was to ask if I’d be dancing in a cage at dempsies the following night, I figured after enough drinks it could have happened. We’d agreed on going on a climbing trip to Scotland together and this was a test day to see if climbing in Scotland was prudent. After doing Jelly Roll I thought I’d have a punt. The first 10 metres above the overlap has never felt as easy as when I was 19 and I was cursing my younger self, the little shit. At 13/14 metres the main wire, a sideways hex looked totally shit when I put it in, it blatantly wouldn’t hold a lob and if you fluffed 1 of the many higher 6b moves it could be taking a 15 metre+ lob and apart from some shit hooks would be your lifeline before the deck.
The next best wire on the critical midriff is halfway up indian face, an offset RP1 before you break right into sustained and dodgy moves. The little bastard wire wouldn’t go in on my first few efforts and my feet felt in bulk. There was a strong feeling that I was doomed to die on this fucking route and justifying it at this point was proving difficult, I slung on a shit hook and did a scary lower. My bloody onsight effort was considerably higher than my ‘headpoint’ effort. This was my bogey route.
We did Daurigal, a brilliant E3 left of Great wall and once on the ground I asked Ferdia if she fancied a brew in beris. She mentioned how she was keen to try Midsummer Nights dream. Earlier in the day she’d said she probably wouldn’t climb and that she felt shit. I told her that it was great she was going to try it but secretly thought we were going to be in for another bloody epic.
Starting up Midsummers, Ferdia proceeded to make a fast and super smooth lead on the bold pitch! Scotland was looking optimistic.
That evening in conversation via messenger with Emma I told her with some passion that this route was just so fucking dangerous. It can be tricky getting pepped up for serious routes at the best of times and I have to say if you think your destined to die on a climb it doesn’t make it easier.
We pissed off to Scotland soon after and I was looking forward to doing routes with gear good enough to lower off without being backed up by a shit hook.
We had a fantastic trip. I put up some pictures up on facebook to ensure some people who had already told me they were jealous about coming on the trip were even more jealous. God how I laughed about this imagining their facial expression, almost as funny as keeping Niall awake all night for his immensely hairbrained idea that I’d like to be filmed wearing a bear suit. He saw the funny side…some months later.
We were both tired at the start of the trip. Myself due to the Night Kitchen party in Sheffield and Ferdia seemed to think she had Lymes Disease although I believed it may have been Lazy-itis but it would have been rather hypocritical of me to express this with the amount of time off I’d been having.
After some chilly days on some small outcrops (although still considerably bigger than most cliffs found in the Peak area) we made the hike into Dubh Loch. Christ my bag felt like it weighed a ton. After making base on the beach on the loch we strapped it onto Naked Ape. A route I’d wanted to do for 20+ years, being put up by Lakes extraordinaire, Pete Whillance. It didn’t disappoint. Ferdia made rapid work on the first pitch. The rib on the 2nd pitch was poky and I got Ferdia to change position in case I landed on her. The move to gain the arete I thought may bump it up to E6 as well but I could be going soft. Ferdia wore every down jacket we had with us to 2nd and looked like a zorb. The 3rd pitch was highly deceptive and Ferdia did a storming lead on it with a slo-mo mantle at the end which must have felt like a lifetime.
The next day we ventured onto Cougar and confirmed it is re-climbable getting into the middle of the rock scar but thought an abseil check would be prudent. Later on Ferdia did Giant via a V9 sequence. We left for Skye. Ferdia put on some blinding tunes, Relax, Temptation, Girls just want to have fun, Freakout…I doubt there had ever been happier climbers making the journey, certainly not Scottish climbers, see Murdo, Stone, Rab, Blair et al.
We met up with Andy Moles and did Stairway to Heaven in the perfect weather before starting the journey south to reality and Wales.
Cloggy again. I was drawn up there almost unconsciously. I’d justified it to myself, partly through listening to Jerrys take on the route. I’ve always loved treading in the footsteps of heros and this was another opportunity. It wasn’t about the quality of the route, it was about the experience it offered. It was also a mental block and I hate the thought of those, they just shouldn’t be allowed.
Waking up in the morning I was almost twice the age as when I’d first tried Masters and feeling invincible I was not. I’d had about 18 years more life than I’d expected to have when I was trapped on the wall in the sun at 20.00 pm on that epic day in July 2000. There’d been some really great moments during that time, that series 6 of Game of thrones was really special.
After a strong coffee and listening to some of James Williams’ set from the Youtopia party I walked up with Dave Turnbull and Luke Brooks. They did Capricorn while I abbed it again. Johnny Dawes, Nick Dixon, Craig Smith and Dave Greenall were on hand giving the cliff an 1980s feel.
Craigs companion Will had some tobacco. Smoking is a truly stupid habit but I did procure 1 from Will as if you are destined to die on a route you should take all opportunity for stimulation before embarking on said climb.
The first half of Indian Face felt ok and getting to the RP1 at half height I sat on my heels to relax for 2 minutes.
Where you leave IF things start to get punchy and in contrast to 18 years prior I didn’t feel I could dick about and was disconcerted how hard I was having to try to maintain positions for even short periods of time. Getting my fingers on the edges nearing my highpoint things weren’t going well, it felt warm, sweaty and fucking sketchy. Reading the Extreme Rock book later this is apparently where Jerry contemplated lowering off a hook. Getting stood back onto those edges I was flapping and went almost immediately into the spring for the edge I’d bottled as a kid and then the awful move rightwards, how was it such a fucking fight. Craig Smith was on November to the right of me and said he had put 2 runners in and was ready to jump and grab me should I have fluffed it. I was uncertain if this was as unethical as using things like kneebars? Perhaps the closer the catcher is to you the lower the grade as the more chance of them jumping to grab you before you plummet to your death?
The rest of it also felt hard. Luke seconded it and arriving at the base I left the craggers to it and went for a swim in the llyn before heading down.
I’d done more than 200 routes of E7-9 and this bastard felt amongst the most serious few leads I’d ever done. It was more than just my history with it for sure, the way Jerry went was really dangerous and if Leo went that way as a 17 year old in shit shoes it’s just extraordinary and shows the mental audacity he had in the late 90s. From reading into Jerrys account of his ascent I’m pretty sure this is where he went and I’ll just throw it out there and say I think he did an E9 in 1983 and I don’t feel too bad for having a total fucking epic on it as a teenager. There is a lower weakness beneath the line of Masters Wall leaving the Indian Face 5 metres above the overlap which would be soft E7. It isn't that surprising with the form Jerry had at the time, few climbers in the UK have ever been onsight soloing E4s on mountain cliffs and if you are adept a climber as Jerry obviously was then onsighting many E7s wouldn't feel too hard and after multiple abseils I'd go so far as to say he'd find E7s piss. Listen to his account of his ascent.
For me well I was just glad I wasn’t in fact destined to die on that particular piece of rock, I know the BMC will appreciate me being here to deliver the Student safety seminar and some youth meets. I know my mums glad I’m still here. I know I could finish off every route in Extreme Rock within the year not withstanding serious injury/illness and I know my dance moves would certainly have been missed at the next party, of this I have no doubt.