James McHaffie becomes The Master

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. , 178 kb
Johnny Dawes and James McHaffie prior to Caffs ascent of Masters Wall.
© John Bunney, 29 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., 235 kb
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.

James is sponsored by: Boreal, DMM and Sterling Rope

Forums 46 comments

That is a brilliant blog post. Caff would get full marks for using the term 'cyber-wanker' alone, but then this sentence really got me, "...that I like to mainly chat about things I think are interesting or newsworthy...
I really wonder if we had great  predictable weather like at present, but more consistently every year would more of these climbs get done?  Cloggy really does need a few days to dry out after the rains that are a...
Yep and last! I'm not sure whether we should read between the lines and questioned whether Leo did the actual line Caff did or the lower line he alludes to? If he did do the same line as Caff then at 16 years old Leo...
Hi there, here’s a link to an audio file on my Vimeo page you guys might enjoy. It’s an excerpt from a conversation with Caff last year about his climbing, motivations and early onsight attempt on master’s wall. A...
It was actually Jerry who chopped it. I've always been in awe of the original efforts on this wall. The idea of heading up something so obviously blank and dangerous *completely* onsight, not even knowing if it was...
Difficult to compare and contrast climbers, on one had is a genius who played to his strengths in niche activity, and on the other a climber who took it out at world class level on rock and competition. Then shouted...

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