He has climbed over thirty E7's in the purest style, with no pre-inspection and with no falls. Around ten of these are what James might describe in his quiet, understated way as "quite tough". Many climbers have onsighted an E7 or two, usually (and quite sensibly) choosing from a list of soft touches or relatively safe and straight forward routes, but there are some routes on James' CV that are quite a different proposition.
He is pushing this style of climbing up to the elusive grade of E8 and he is always out on the crag. Why then, does he make only brief appearances in the film that focusses directly on his speciality?
Perhaps it is because James climbs smoothly and quietly, doesn't enjoy the presence of a film camera, doesn't often take huge falls and doesn't dress in bright, camera-friendly clothes. He climbs E6's and E7's in much the same way as many people climb VS's, sometimes with his approach shoes clipped to the back of his harness and the guidebook stuffed down his jumper.
In this short film we see James 'retro-flashing' the fiercely technical slate groove of Spider Pants (E6 6b/c). James had climbed the route three years previously, onsight, and here he repeats it again. Although he has some knowledge of the route from his earlier ascent, it isn't a full blown red-point, James is improvising and reading the rock as he climbs.
The route is extremely physical, the frictionless slate corner ensures a full body pump. It is also mid-winter, very cold, and James has no warm-up route to get him going, preferring instead to quickly touch his toes and "give it a quick look". Some of the holds are wet which adds to the already slippery nature of the route. The route is a 'hybrid', utilising a mixture of bolts and natural protection as is quite normal on some slate climbs.
James' previous onsight of this route is, as far as we know, the only onsight to date.
James McHaffie is a professional mountaineering instructor at Plas y Brenin in North Wales.
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