On Monday the 23rd of June, James McHaffie made British climbing history by climbing 100 extreme routes in the English Lake District, solo and in just 19 hours.
James, brought up in Borrowdale - one of the key climbing valleys of the Lakes - is widely regarded as Britiain's top all round rock climber, and is able to perform at a world class level in almost all styles of climbing. His ascents or attempts at some of the most iconic climbs on the planet, and his almost limitless UK traditional ticklist, juxtaposed with his understated and humble manner have resonated with the British climbing community and placed him in a short list of all time greats.
James 'Caff' McHaffie, born on January 15th 1981, developed his love of soloing early in his climbing career, and a wild period in the late 90's and 00's saw him clocking up hundreds of solo ascents across the UK as well as countless desperate and bold onsights of roped climbs. He has wound back a little on the soloing as the years have gone by, saying that his confidence isn't quite what it used to be. Where his confidence might have dropped (and by any normal climber's standard, he is supremely confident), his physical ability has sky-rocketed. Realising that his physical strength was the limiting factor in his climbing, James set about rebuilding his body a few years ago, and after climbing two sport routes of 9a, has taken that level of traditional skill and sport strength to quickly dispatch hard routes with minimum fuss, such as The Long Hope Route on Hoy and Salathe Wall in Yosemite.
Reading James' heartfelt write-up of his Lakes 100, his appreciation for the beauty of the Lakeland landscape, as well as its climbers, both current and past, flows from the page. If you haven't read it, then you should: Jame's McHaffie's Blog.
"I was deeply touched by the level of support given by people both on the day and in congratulations afterwards on what I’d seen as a personal pilgrimage through some great memories of the Lake District. Some climbs were big, some were tiny, some were clean, some were filthy but all were in the most fantastic landscape." - James McHaffie's blog after his Lakes 100.
James McHaffie on the Lakes 100:
I had wondered how I'd feel on the E2s at Grange Crag at about the halfway mark and they felt alright, but when I got to Reecastle I did 8 routes back to back, with Guillotine as the last route at the crag and I felt really tired on it. I was going to do Thumbscrew and someone said that he found it the easiest out of the lot and suggested I did it, but I told him I couldn't do it safely so wouldn't be doing it. So I went and did a nice short technical E2 - I could still do techy stuff just not moves where you needed to pull hard.
I then headed straight round with Adam Hocking to Goats crag and knocked out a load of short ones, I had a last route that I was thinking of missing out, an E4 called Rogue Herries, that felt okay when I onsight soloed it the week before. It's relatively short so I decided to go for it, but I got quite high and then suddenly realised I was in the red zone, with nothing in the tank, and I had about 5 seconds to do something, you know. That was the only close call really. Adam showed me the video footage afterwards and I look okay but actually I'm going all out at that point.
I did actually back off an E1 just after that because it had felt a bit awkward and mossy when I did it fresh the week before, so I decided against it when tired.
For the last thirty routes I didn't think I'd do it because I just felt too exhausted but I wanted to hit 90 or 95 even if I didn't finish the full century. Then I got to Castle Rock and had a 45 minute rest where I had a load of food and Lucozade. After that I felt quite good and managed to get up to 95.
I had wanted to do Thirlmere Eliminate as the last route but I was a bit intimidated about doing a 3 pitch route when I was so tired so it ended up being number 98 I think. I was going to do Ted Cheasby next but decided on something a bit more technical so I did Wingnut and then finished on the jug-fest of Angel's Highway.
It got dark just as I topped out on the last route, I put quite a big effort in once I got that second wind at Castle Rock as I knew I had just over an hour of day light left. I felt quite revitalised and could still climb 5c and on Thirlmere Eliminate which is ok because you can bridge the crux. Plus the great thing about Castle Rock is that the holds are so positive that even when you are tired you feel secure.
Adam Hocking came up and camped with me at Scafell and he organised it all really. I came up on the Tuesday, a bit hungover and headed to the two Goat crags to solo a few routes and check out some E2s that I'd not done before, but Hock had stashed some ropes and organised loads of help from all sorts of folk. I couldn't have done it without all the support.
I was unbelievably lucky leading up to it. You know when you feel like everything is going your way - the weather was perfect over the weekend, I chose not to do it at the weekend because it would be too busy. It was a beautiful morning once I topped out on Central Buttress and as I ran down to Piers Gill Crag, the sun had started rising and I could see over to Derwent Water and Borrowdale and I though "Fuck yeah that's where I'm heading!".
It was great catching up with old friends, not the routes so much but people like Steve Ashworth who I've not seen for years and Duncan Booth, a really good climber who now has MS, he brought his wife and kids up to Reecastle. The Mountain Heritage Trust had the Abraham brothers' camera, who my dad used to talk about in his slideshow, and took some photos of me at Reecastle. It was just a very surreal day.
You can't compare something like this to a route like Salathe Wall really. I think the Lakes 100 suited me, and I found it quite hard, throughout the last third, I really didn't expect to do it. Especially at Reecastle and Shephard's because the routes are steep and it was hot, and I felt knackered on routes I knew well.
I'm having a bit of a rest now, but I'll be over in the Lakes again in a couple of weeks and I'll have a rope on this time! And I'm meeting up with a load of school mates I've not seen for a long time. I'd like to do Borderline an E7 on Scafell and Incantations (E6) and I'd like to do some of Birkett's routes. I may end up heading to Scotland, maybe I'll do a bit of both. It might be a bit of a flying visit to the Lakes, we'll see. It all depends on the weather.
THE FULL LIST: James McHaffie's Lakes 100