James McHaffie makes the first ascent of 'The Cumbrian Face' E8 7a

Continuing his theme of bold mountain routes protected by skyhooks, James McHaffie has made the most of the recent spell of warm weather by climbing a new line on Clogwyn Du'r Arddu (aka. Cloggy), with regular partner in crime Dan McManus. We asked him a few questions about the route, the name, and his reference to 'an emotional affair' on Twitter.

When did you first see the line, and where exactly does it go?

Caff on the first ascent of The Cumbrian Face, 130 kb
Caff on the first ascent of The Cumbrian Face
© Dan McManus
It was an old project which a few people had looked at briefly over the years. Pete Robins and Dave Towse went and looked at it in 2005 or so and that's how I knew about it. I abbed it in early July last year, and after a couple of sessions cleaning it and checking the moves was keen to give it a lead, but never got the opportunity to try it again that year. I cleaned it again after work this year, re-checked the moves, and optimistically tried it the morning after when knackered and hot. I failed and made a slightly sketchy lower off the hook. I shouldn't have tried it then as I wasn't feeling great, but opportunities to climb on Cloggy when dry are few in normal years.

I was sick of the sight of sky hooks* so bought a thin shallow knifeblade which would only go in is exactly where you need it. It's shallow and a bit shit really, but torques into the crack if clipped correctly. Better than a hook.

Last night I went up with Dan Mcmanus after work. Iolo and John Gwyn and team had dropped off the top of Snowdon and we filmed near the base chatting a bit about the history of the cliff, think it was for BBC Wales.

* read the New 12-Skyhook E9 by James McHaffie: House of Talons and Moonrise Kingdom: New E9 Multipitch by McHaffie and Varian News Reports for an indication of why this might be

I remember seeing a tweet of yours a few weeks back from a failed attempt, which ended in a soggy walk back to Llanberis (I'm presuming you were up there to try the route?). How many visits did it take to get the route dialled?

I've had a few visits up to hang out on my own in the evening on the green gallery brushing and numerous attempts walking up to the base to get rained on and go straight down.

Dan McManus seconding The Cumbrian Face, 203 kb

Dan McManus seconding The Cumbrian Face, 167 kb

You mention on Twitter that it was 'an emotional affair', what exactly happened?

I'd slept shit the night before and the day had a good deal of emotional ups and downs. I felt worse than the prior attempt, but again opportunity and all that. Dan led the Pigotts to the ledge and I led the main pitch after fluffing it first go just, miserably on my 2nd go and scraping through it 3rd somehow.

The route tackles the face right of Pistolero's crux pitch climbing 2 thin parallel seam lines in an exposed position. It's quite bouldery and thin. To the peg is about E6/7 6c then you do a massive and - if of shorter stature - all out move up left to good edges and a pumpy position where you can put on 2 hooks to protect the last 6b/c stand up into the upper crack where you get a good wire and easier moves to finish.

After that we went straight down to Llyn Padarn and jumped in. Dan came up with the name. I was going to call it 'Bad Hombre' or 'Emotional Affair' after the day itself, but his is funnier.

With reference to the peg, James added:

I'll leave the peg in the next month and then take it out to save the placement which is in the left hand seam line 2 foot left of the critical crux pinch.

And as for the grade?

It's probs about E8 7a in its current form and feels a bit like doing a bouldery slate 8a or 8a+ for small people like me.

Knowing Caff's mastery of the understatement we decided to get a second opinion from his climbing partner, Dan McManus, who said:

Dan and James Mchaffie on El Nino, 114 kb
Dan and James Mchaffie on El Nino
© Dan Mcmanus Collection
"Caff was a bit nervous about going for the lead, which is unusual for him. This was partly due to being tired from a weekend of climbing and heavy drinking in Pembroke I expect. There was an above average amount of sorry saying during the ascent as a result (ed. Caff is renowned for apologising a lot whilst climbing).

I hadn't tried the route but I gathered it was tough and protected by a non-bomber looking peg. If this blew then it would become an emotional experience, but I wasn't too worried as it's got a fairly clear fall-out zone.

Conditions were not good with it being so warm and muggy. Caff fell onto the peg and became more relaxed after it didn't rip. After another fall he decided to have one last ditch effort and then bail and wait for cooler weather. He did it third go which was impressive as I found it very hard and technical. Great new route.

Caff is sponsored by: Boreal, DMM, Sterling Rope and and is a BMC Ambassador

Dan is sponsored by: Scarpa, DMM

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