INTERVIEW: Dan 'Dark Horse' Mcmanus

Dan Mcmanus is, according to accomplished trad master Calum Muskett, "One of the very best onsight trad climbers in the UK." The quiet Welshman has steadily been ticking off countless hard trad routes for the past decade, always going ground-up, and usually suceeding on his first try. His trad skills are "seriously impressive" said Muskett.

Never one to blow his own trumpet, after hearing that Dan was recently ripping it up in Northern Ireland (it's a popular place right now!) we thought we'd drop Dan a line and see if we can blow his trumpet for him!

Dan relaxing on a ledge at Cilan Head, 100 kb
Dan relaxing on a ledge at Cilan Head
© Dan McManus

Dan's impressive ticklist from just a few days at the recent Fair Head meet in Northern Ireland (see below) is just a snapshot in to the level that Dan is regularly operating at. He's also no slouch when it comes to sport climbing, but onsight trad is where his heart is.

  • Taming the Tiger, on-sight, "given E6 felt more like E7, very few repeats apparently!"
  • Way of the Jive Monkeys, E7, OS
  • Where the Grass is Greener, E7, OS
  • Styx, E7, "not quite ground up because I abbed to strip the gear after my first go. Utterly desperate, there is a rumour of some holds having fallen off!"

You are a bit of a dark horse having made some very impressive ascents which we don't hear much about. What are your biggest achievements to date?

Some of my most memorable experiences climbing have been on trips to Yosemite. I've been four times now and each time I felt like I achieved a milestone in my climbing. The first was getting up El Cap for the first time after doing the Nose in a day with a partner from many other adventures, Andy Reeve. The second was freeing El Cap for the first time, via Golden Gate with Calum Muskett, while learning how to bigwall.

Dan on Freerider in Yosemite
© James Lucas

Golden Gate, Yosemite, 236 kb
Golden Gate, Yosemite
© Dan Mcmanus Collection

This was an epic 6 days involving numerous school boy errors, including forgetting a lighter and losing a belay device! Then, last spring, I climbed El Nino with James McHaffie, a route that until I actually climbed it I believed was totally out of my league. Most recently, last autumn, I succeeded in climbing El Cap partner-free in a day, via Freerider, with Madaleine Sorkin in a very tiring 22 hours!

Dan and James Mchaffie on El Nino, 114 kb
Dan and James Mchaffie on El Nino
© Dan Mcmanus Collection

I went on a great trip to Greenland in 2008 which means a lot to me. Seven of us spent a month in a rarely visited valley at the southern tip of Greenland and experienced perfect weather. Es Tressidder and I climbed a new route up the middle of the biggest wall, with pitches only up to about E5, but that was really long and was done in a 39 hour push, stopping briefly on a ledge to shut our eyes for a few hours near the top.

© Dan Mcmanus Collection

Other than these trips away, there are a few days climbing in the UK that stand out too. Such as, doing Point Blank at Pembroke, one of the best pitches of climbing around and made for on-sighting. Also, nabbing Jack's deep water solo project at Rhoscolyn (sorry Jack) was a great experience – I didn't expect to get anywhere on it at all! But after one almighty fight lasting well over an hour, and getting very lucky on my choice of sequences, I managed to do it on my first attempt.

Dangerous Crocodile Snogging, 141 kb
Dangerous Crocodile Snogging
© Guy van Greuning

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up on the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales surrounded by loads of amazing climbing, not that I knew the sport existed until I was given the opportunity to try it. I went to school with Pat Littlejohn's kids and so got to know Pat, who then introduced me and a friend to climbing. We initially went out climbing mainly diffs and v. diffs and it was a while before I starting climbing indoors. Some of my early days climbing were following Pat up some loose terrain new routing on the Lleyn. I think that being introduced to climbing in this way is the reason I've always preferred the adventure of trad on-sighting or being in the mountains. I've now been living in Sheffield for about four years, which is of course a great place to be based as a climber.

Dan on Atomic Hot Rod
© Andy Reeve

You were recently climbing at Fairhead with Pete Whittaker - can you describe how the trip came about?

I haven't known Pete very long really and we had hardly climbed together, but somehow we ended up making plans to climb together in Yosemite this autumn. With this in mind we thought it might be good to try climbing together at least once before we go! A friend was planning a week in Fairhead and we were both keen to do some trad climbing, so we teamed up and headed out.

Bivi on Salathe Wall, 177 kb
Bivi on Salathe Wall
© James Mchaffie

Did you have any specific goals for the trip? 

Not at all. I had been before, but quite a while ago and so I'd forgotten what was there. I also haven't been doing loads of trad climbing so wasn't sure what sort of form I'd be on. I was just keen to try and on-sight a load of high quality routes, and I think that's what Pete was keen for too.

You were mainly on sighting on this trip, is there anything harder you've got your eye on if you return? And would you think about headpointing?

There are still a few good looking on-sight propositions for next time and I'd be keen to go exploring for new routes. I doubt I'd do much head-pointing of harder things though, this isn't something I usually find time for.

Dan on Balance it is
© Mark Rankine

Of your very impressive Fairhead ticklist, which route stood out as the most memorable for you?

Styx was probably the most memorable because I had such a hard time on it! I fell off the crux a couple of times, it seemed really tough and with hard to place RPs. I stripped the gear on the ab and still couldn't see any holds. There was a bit of time left on the last dry day, after doing another amazing route called the Grass is Greener, so I thought I might as well have another go. I did the crux this time with extreme difficulty and then proceeded to have a tough time on the 'easy' top section which was hard and filthy. Superb pitch though! On the last day it rained and we ended up going to the bouldering wall in Belfast, and a guy there suggested some holds might have fallen off!

Tell us about the gaffa tape and blu tack incident

I belayed Pete when he covered his legs in gaffa tape and did the Complete Scream with a rack of sky hooks and blu tack. It was an odd choice considering he'd been saying the day before how he was absolutely not going to do any super bold climbs this trip! It was just another belay really, although I'd not climbed much with Pete, it was quickly obvious that he's not mad and he really knows what he's doing. So, I did think there was a good chance he might back off the route, but I knew there was basically no way he was going to fall off.

Dan on Salathe Wall, 210 kb
Dan on Salathe Wall
© James Lucas

I've heard a trip to Yosemite is on the cards...tell us more about this! Do you think you can tolerate Pete as a climbing partner now?

Yes! We're off the Yosemite for 6 weeks this autumn and I couldn't be more psyched. Pete seems like he could be tolerable on a bigwall! I just need to train like a fiend if I'm ever going to have a chance of keeping up. There has been some big talk going on and if we only manage one of our many outlandish objectives it will be a fantastic trip.

Describe yourself in 3 words...

I'm not sure what I'd choose, but I have been described by others as awkward, ambiguous and as having completely unrealistic optimism when it comes to my own climbing ability, the tides and the weather.


Dan is sponsored by: Scarpa

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