Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor, Jul 2009
© Jack Geldard 2009 Some classic video footage of Neil Mawson taking a ground-fall from the bold gritstone E9 of Meshuga at Black Rocks back in 2005 was recently uploaded to Youtube by North Wales climber and camera pointer Chris Doyle.
For those who follow climbing, you'll probably remember the clip from the start of the film Committed.... ouch!
Having got to know Neil Mawson a little bit over the last couple of years, and having chatted to him about his approach to Trad climbing, I wondered if this ground-fall had affected his climbing. Neil, fast approaching 30 years old, is one of the UK's strongest sport climbers and has an amazingly good Trad pedigree too. Earlier this year he repeated Tim Emmett's Pembroke route of Muy Caliente!, which was graded E10, and he has also climbed multiple 8c sport routes. Clearly not weak and also clearly bold as brass, surely a route like Meshuga would be easy for him now?
Jack: When did you come off Meshuga?
Neil: I fell off Meshuga in Dec 2005.
Jack: What kind of trad were you doing around that time?
Neil: I'd been climbing loads of trad that year onsighting loads of E5's & E6's and I'd headpointed Chupracabra in Pembroke and Monk's Satanic Verses in Devon both E8. But almost all of that trad climbing was on limestone or mountain rock and not much on the grit. I'd headpointed Gaia (E8) the winter before.
Jack: What was your sport level then?
Neil: My sport climbing level was relatively low having only climbed 3 F8a+'s and less than 10 F8a's.
Jack: Did the fall have a knock-on affect on your climbing?
Neil: At the time I didn't think that my fall off Meshuga had affected me that much but looking back it definitely did. I started to sport climb a lot more after the fall and climbed my 1st 8b in spring 2006 and onsighted my 1st 8a later that year. By the end of 2006 I'd climbed over 30 grade 8 sport routes and got fully hooked on sport climbing.
The next few years I did very little trad climbing, onsighting or headpointing, and concentrated on pushing my sport climbing level. I tried over those years between 2006 and 2010 to headpoint some trad routes but I found I could never commit to the lead even though I'd climbed them cleanly on top rope. I'm sure that my lack of confidence to get on lead was due to my fall off Meshuga. Before then I'd never had any problem committing to the lead after top roping the route clean, but then that changed and it was really frustrating.
Jack: Do you see a change continuing as you get older?
Neil: I'm definitely more attracted to the longer trad routes (i.e. not grit) that are safe but physically much harder. I don't think I'll ever try anything really dangerous again. I've got loads of respect for Neil Gresham who took the same fall off Meshuga but still went back and did it, which I wanted to do as I don't like unfinished business, but for me I don't think it's worth the risk now. I was lucky and got away with the fall once, I don't want to risk it again. I've put a lot of time and hard work getting to this strength and fitness level and I don't want to have a long lay-off due to injury from falling off a dangerous route. I'd also not be able to work, and as I'm self employed I would be a bit stuck for money.
Jack: But clearly you're still doing hard and scary trad. How does a route like Meshuga compare to something like Muy Caliente! in Pembroke?
Okay - enough of the chit chat - lets see that fall!! (Ouch!)