Comes The Dervish

Seán Fortune writes about climbing Stevie Haston's classic Comes the Dervish E3 5c at Vivian Quarry, Llanberis, on 'just one of those days where it all clicked...'

"I'll join you in a bit, I just want to check...something..." I mutter vaguely as we reach the bottom of the old tramlines. Unusually, Pete's Eats isn't the first objective following a long day in the quarries. I have something else on my mind. I splinter off from the group, taking the tree-lined trail leading off towards Vivian Quarry.

The all time slate classic  - Comes the Dervish E3 5c  © Mark Reeves
The all time slate classic - Comes the Dervish E3 5c
© Mark Reeves

As the chattering voices fade into the background, I'm left to the silence of my own thoughts and a rising sense of giddy anticipation. I come around a bend and the deep, sombre cleft of Vivian comes into view for the first time. The ominous deep mirror at the base of the pit is the first to catch the eye; its charcoal depths seem to absorb rather than reflect the ashen sky. The monochrome palette only adds to the desolate, apocalyptic setting. No sound of life bar the steady draw of oxygen in and out of my lungs. My eyes are drawn upwards; I don't need any guidebook to spot that beautiful line. My breath catches slightly in my chest as I gaze hungrily up at it. The Dervish.

Comes the Dervish. Stevie Haston's entry in the Pete's Eats new route book. February 1981.  © The Rock Archivist
Comes the Dervish. Stevie Haston's entry in the Pete's Eats new route book. February 1981.
© The Rock Archivist

It doesn't need it's full title, just those two words evoke an almost sacred sense of reverence. It's such a historic route, a seminal line with a legendary history. A classic, A test-piece, iconic - all the buzzwords surround it but none seem to do it justice. My heartbeat quickens, and an impromptu smile spreads across my face. I quickly drop my bag behind a wall, and start to make my way up the smooth worn steps that wind along the left side of the quarry. My eyes flit between the mossy uneven slate stairway and the thin white line as I inch ever closer.

Picking my way across the muddy approach, I step across the memorable gap, and suddenly, I'm there. My breathing and heart rate slows. I stand at the base, gazing up at this proud historic line. How many iconic figures have stood where I am, how many masters of the game made the same approach for this route? Did they have the same goosebumps running down their spine, the same tightness in their chest? It goes, it definitely goes. At least it looks like it does. It's crazy, it doesn't feel like a place I've never been before. It's been on my mind for weeks, feeding my desire with countless videos and pictures, forum posts and articles.

My gaze runs slowly up it, past the pointless and crazy "nut key placement" at the start, on up to the bomber cam slot, through the crux rightward kink and onwards to the overlap. The holds above it are out of sight but good, the gear small as you finish up the top. I sit peacefully at the base, my back resting on the soft wooden tree trunk, my mind settling. Time seems to stop, I'm not sure if I've been here three minutes or thirty - an issue that would repeat itself tomorrow. Clearly there's a time warp in the vicinity! With one last shivering tingle of excitement and a last lingering glance I turn away, knowing it's only temporary, that I'll be back tomorrow.

The soaring seam of Comes the Dervish.  © Seàn Fortune
The soaring seam of Comes the Dervish.
© Seàn Fortune

The day is more than beautiful, it's perfect. Crisp, sunny and with a light breeze. A rampant epidemic of alcoholic overindulgence in the hut the night before means only myself and Dan survive to make the trip to the quarries. As we leave the infected behind, glad I'd been wary enough to avoid getting contaminated for a change, my psyche levels grow exponentially. We head to Dali's Hole first - I'm not the only one with goals - and my psyche is driven impossibly higher with Dan gliding up his first E2 on Holy, Holy, Holy. The route's weighing on my mind, but in the best possible way. No dread, no worries, just pure lust to get on it.

We stroll over, making the same approach as yesterday, familiar now, tremors running down my spine as we approach the pale chalked line. I take my time. There's no rush - sit, have a drink, a snack, relax in the sun. I rack up, more gear than I need, but I know it's a long and hungry route. Move to the base, chalk bag down. Sit beside it. Runners off. Socks next, tuck them into my runners. Right shoe on, then left. Stand again, chalk bag over my head, down and tightened around the waist. Turn and look up along, picturing the moves, considering the cam slot that's my first piece of gear. No faff before that, just moves. It looks closer than yesterday. No trepidation. Turn and smile at Dan.

"You good?"


"Sweet, I'm good."

Turn to the wall again. Chalk up. Smile. Fingers reach out, crimp down. Right foot goes up, feels out a small edge. Just the tip of one foot connecting me to the world now. Weight over onto the right foot, and the left breaks connection with the ground below me. The bubble rushes in, closer than usual; nothing exists outside of the reach of a limb and a long string of holds leading up, ever up. Breathe. Relax. Move. Repeat. It flows, oh how it flows, each move sequencing into the next like the most beautiful ballet imaginable. And somehow I know the moves, I'm a part of it.

It's a surprise to see the slot before my face. It feels like I've just left the ground. I have a vague awareness of Dan chatting to a pair of climbers below, of the fact there's a light breeze, sun on my back, a lake below and the village in the distance. But it's all in another dimension, there's no attachment between me and it. I blink softly, and find myself standing at the anchor. I blink again, slightly confused, How did forty metres of climbing go past already?

Snippets play in my mind, like the flickering reel of a silent movie. Placing a wire at the kink rightwards, and finding it weird only because I realise this is meant to be the crux. Breathing in as my limbs reverse their usual roles; resting my calves, arms still as fresh as when I began. Pulling through the overlap, holds that feel intimately comfortable in defiance of my skin touching them for the first time. Surprise at finding better - and more - gear than I expected on the upper slab. The rising conflicting emotions of elation and dejection as I see the anchors just above me and realise it's coming to an end.

Looking down after a successful ascent.  © Seàn Fortune
Looking down after a successful ascent.
© Seàn Fortune

I clip the chains, and just sit. Sit there, much like a calm sea with a veritable whirlwind of currents flowing underneath the surface. Gazing out my main feeling is one of pride...maybe I am actually becoming a climber. Pride not just in having done the Dervish, but in the way I'd climbed it, that all too rare state of perfect flow, every move, every piece, every step feeling right. I didn't want to move in case that all too fleeting feeling of true happiness gets dislodged and whipped over the edge. But my gaze drifted further out across Llanberis to where Pete's Eats lay and I laugh - more happiness awaits. "Dan?" I call out. "Yup?". A bubble of laughter rises from deep in my chest, an uncontrollable giggle of contentment as I declare down "Safe...I've just done the Dervish!"

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17 Jul

Plus ça change...

(edit: I enjoyed both articles!)

17 Jul

Aaargh after having sent Left Wall with ease, I was more than toying with the idea of the Dervish as my end of season goal. This has certainly got me scheming even more seriously....

17 Jul

I've always known this climb as 'Comes the Dervish', but looking at the image of the new routes book the original name was 'Come the Dervish'. When did the extra 's' get added and have I been wrong all these years?

It's always been Comes the Dervish to my knowledge. Surely Paul Williams would have known!

17 Jul

This was a main aim for me this summer had a trip planned for it but weather put stop to that. Now you can't access it. This article has made me even more sad! 😭

Great read.

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