James McHaffie becomes The Master

© John Bunney

After a harrowing experience on an onsight attempt of Jerry Moffat's Master's Wall E7 6b on Clogwyn Du'r Arddu (Cloggy) in 2000 aged 18, James 'Caff' McHaffie never returned to his unfinished business - until this month. On Thursday, he finally ticked the line that both eluded and haunted him for 18 years.

Johnny Dawes and James McHaffie prior to Caffs ascent of Masters Wall.   © John Bunney
Johnny Dawes and James McHaffie prior to Caffs ascent of Masters Wall.
© John Bunney, Jun 2018

Caff told UKC:

'I actually felt I was destined to die on this route, and I'm now almost exactly twice the age as when I tried to onsight it, getting fairly close.'

In 2013, Caff returned to the cliff to make a quick ascent of the Indian Face E9 6c, believing that climbing this harder line would lay his history with Master's Wall to rest. In a blog post, he writes: 'But I guess I hadn't trodden in Moffat's footsteps so to speak, just Dawes', and I hadn't climbed through my dread zone.'

Caff's recent attempts on Master's Wall were prompted by a desire to tick off Ken Wilson's Extreme Rock list. 'That's the only reason,' he wrote. 'With Ken passing away not long ago I thought it would be good homage to his brilliant books to try and 'tick' the last one.'

Caff tried it again two weeks ago and got halfway up Indian Face. 'My feet felt baked and my gut was telling me not to be there,' he told us. 'I did a scary lower off an RP1 and a hook. I had put in 3 times more kit than in 2000 and got 7 metres lower than my onsight effort even though I'd abbed it and knew the holds! My bogey route.'

Caff contemplating before setting off.  © John Bunney
Caff contemplating before setting off.
© John Bunney

Returning to Cloggy on Thursday, Caff re-abbed the line. Johnny Dawes, Craig Smith, Nick Dixon and Dave Greenall amongst others were on the cliff, 'giving it an 80s feel,' he explained.

'Where my feet were baked last time halfway up Indian Face, I sat on my heels for a rest before the tenuous push, which as Nick Dixon mentioned is a pushier piece of climbing than anything on Indian Face. Some people went right too low according to Nick, but if you follow the description it offers some very dangerous and scary climbing.'

Commenting on the difficulty, Caff said:

'It felt the same level as Indian Face to me but then I have a history with it!'

Caff on the crux move of Master's Wall.
© John Bunney

The only onsight to date of Master's Wall was made by Leo Houlding at age 16. In his blog, Caff praised both the first ascent and Leo's bold onsight:

'I'd done more than 200 routes of E7-9 and this bastard felt amongst the most serious few leads I'd ever done. It was more than just my history with it for sure, the way Jerry went was really dangerous and if Leo went that way as a 17 year old in shit shoes it's just extraordinary and shows the mental audacity he had in the late 90s. From reading into Jerry's account of his ascent I'm pretty sure this is where he went and I'll just throw it out there and say I think he did an E9 in 1983 and I don't feel too bad for having a total f*cking epic on it as a teenager. There is a lower weakness beneath the line of Masters Wall leaving the Indian Face 5 metres above the overlap which would be soft E7.'

With his nemesis route in the bag, the crucial piece of the Extreme Rock puzzle has been placed. 'I know I could finish off every route in Extreme Rock within the year without serious injury/illness,' Caff writes.

Read Caff's blog on the ascent.

Read a UKC article by Caff from 2013 about Indian Face and Master's Wall.

Watch an interview with Caff about his ascent:

Listen to our UKC Factor Two podcast by Wil Treasure, which features Jerry Moffat and Caff talking about Master's Wall and Caff's onsight attempt.

This post has been read 21,177 times

Return to Latest News

James is a full time climbing instructor and coach. You can book him via his website.

James's Athlete Page 20 posts 1 video

Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make UKClimbing the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate UKClimbing then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC porter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

2 Jul, 2018

Wow... there wouldn't be many better qualified people to suggest Indian Face was no longer the UK's first E9! 

2 Jul, 2018

I love the way he refers to Masters Wall as 'that bastard' and 'that f*cking route'. There's a really sense of affection there.

2 Jul, 2018

Utterly inspiring. So he has completed Extreme Rock then?

2 Jul, 2018

He days in his blog that he has an e6 and a few easier routes to do to complete it. 

As an educated guess, I’d say he’s got Wild Country, Unicorn, Scansor, and Kingpin left to go. With the weather as it is I’d imagine he will have realistically competed it within the next fortnight. As an Extreme Rock fanatic you can’t begin to imagine how excited this makes me...

More Comments
Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest