Rachel Pearce on Nightmayer E8 6cInterview

© Jethro Kiernan

Rachel Pearce has made the second female ascent of Nightmayer (E8 6c), at Cenotaph Corner on Dinas Cromlech, in the Llanberis Pass.

Rachel Pearce on Nightmayer, E8 6c  © Jethro Kiernan
Rachel Pearce on Nightmayer, E8 6c
© Jethro Kiernan

Until James McHaffie's 2016 ascent of House of Talons (E9 6c), Nightmayer was the hardest route on Dinas Cromlech, and remains the hardest on the iconic Cenotaph Corner. The logbook entry for the route is as follows:

Nightmayer ☆☆ E8 6c

If Lord of the Flies isn't bold or hard enough for you, the line to its left should satisfy. Sustained technical climbing, long runouts, iffy gear and a desperate high crux should test all but the toughest mettle.

First climbed by Steve Mayers in 1992, Nightmayer has since tested the mettle of a series of top-end trad climbers. In 2008, Nico Favresse attempted the route on his very first day of climbing in the UK. Encouraged into an onsight attempt by Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll and Pat Littlejohn, Nico came off just beneath the upper crux, ripped three pieces of gear, and fell roughly twenty metres before a good wire stopped him.

More recently, the route saw its first female ascent at the hands of Emma Twyford in 2018, before, a year later, Steve McClure brought steely fingers and composure to give the route its first - and to date, its only - onsight ascent.

Whilst Rachel's own ascent is her first of the grade, it will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen her logbook.

Since May 2022, she has led no less than nine E7 routes, including two in as many days back in September, as well as having onsighted ten E5's since February this year.

We got in touch with Rachel to get more details on the ascent.

You've progressed so steadily through the E grades, pretty much moving up one E grade a year since you broke into them back in 2016 - has that been a conscious goal or a natural progression?

No, I've just gone climbing! I enjoy onsighting and variety, exploring new crags, rock types, and good routes. I pretty much spend all my time climbing whenever it's possible (in North Wales we can nearly almost always get out, you just need to get away in the winter!)

I've always enjoyed a challenge and the fight, and as my climbing has improved that challenge level has just increased with it. I'm getting a similar experience now as when I stepped on Left Wall for the first time, or the corner. The grade isn't important, you can experience the same thing at whatever grade. Being up on a route giving it your best effort. 

Judging by your logbook, it looks like you've done a bit more sport than you have trad, and your sport grade has been improving with a similar steadiness! How do you balance the two, and are there any aspects of sport climbing that have helped you when climbing harder trad routes?

I wouldn't say I have done more sport than trad, if you compare days for days there's probably not a huge difference. You can just get more done sport climbing. I climb trad April-October. When in the UK I don't climb much sport, just because I'm so psyched by the trad where I live.

Once it's too cold to go trad climbing, we try and find some sun and do sport. Even when sport climbing I still really enjoy trying to onsight or flash hard routes, and these are nearly always the best experience, regardless of whether I'm successful or not. I definitely think that's improved my trad drastically.

You get much more used to climbing when tired through hard ground, get used to fighting the absolute full battle and going to the death, and it also teaches you a lot about falling off and what's involved in taking and holding falls.

When I realised I could climb trad like I climb sport it was a game changer, you just need to make sure you choose your routes carefully. When I did my first power scream on trad, or a sporty move like a knee bar, flag or something a bit experimental it really unlocked a new door. It made trad even more fun! 

You've climbed on Dinas Cromlech a fair bit already - tell us a bit about why you love climbing there?

I really enjoy the style of the wall. From the moment you leave the floor the climbing is fairly sustained right to the top. Whilst you've got the girdle ledge, that's about it for 'hands off' rests up there. The rock makes lots of interesting holds, pockets, and crimps. And it's not always that easy to read. So some of the routes can feel a bit like a quest. Generally the climbing here is safe, and every route I have done here has left a lasting memory.

I still remember the time I went up the corner and decided to go before George for a change. It was a change in my climbing and attitude, where I decided to take the reigns for myself, previously I was just happy seconding everything. I came down and had found it pretty easy, and then it was sort of satisfying to see George find something harder than me for a change!

Then there was the time I did Left Wall (E2 5c) for the first time, our good friend Dan was with us, and the boys were egging me on to do the direct finish hoping I would fall off. So I went for it, and - disappointingly for them - didn't fall off.

Another time I walked up to do Resurrection (E4 6a) one evening after MCI training, having drunk way too much free coffee at the Brenin. I shook myself up the first five metres to the spike and had to retreat. I came back and did it early one morning, and then went to do King Wad (E6 6b) in the afternoon. That was a good day, getting to watch Angus onsight Surgical Lust (E7 6b) and Dave Rudkin and Donald on The Trumpet Blowers (E7 6c).

I could go on with these memories, but you get the idea. The Cromlech makes for great climbing, and is a nice place to hang out. 

What about the route itself, tell us about the climbing?

It's a more serious version of Lord of the Flies (E6 6a) up to the ledge, where you can then get some good gear and psyche yourself up for the headwall. It's then about twelve metres of sustained 8a-ish wall climbing with a distinct crux involving a really high rock over.

The crux isn't scary, but the headwall is definitely run out. I did find a white tricam just before the top, which made the finish feel considerably safer because you're not just relying on the sky hooks. 

How much time did you put into the route?

I first tried it three weeks ago, and went up around six times with about three laps a session. I found a way to do the crux quite quickly, but could never make it any easier or more secure. It felt a bit hit and miss, and I could do it around 75% of the time.

You can't just try hard and pull harder, the holds are poor and balancy with small feet. Body position is critical. Going up with James Taylor was really helpful and his sky-hookanator is a genius contraption, maybe available soon from Taylor Made Holds! 

Tell us about the successful attempt!

So it was the hottest day of the year so far. I felt ready to do it last week but I was away for my mum's birthday in Yorkshire (which was nice - Kilnsey was literally freezing and Malham was nice and hot!) When I got back I was desperate to do it at the first chance and give it a go.

It just so happened to be very hot! Not exactly ideal given the style of climbing. Conditions actually felt fine, the only bad slightly sweaty hold was just before the crux where I had to piano match and swap hands on a bad sloping smooth rail. At this point the disco leg really kicked in! But I did manage to recover a lot on the small edges after this and calm myself down by doing some good breathing! 

Rachel high up on Nightmayer, E8 6c  © Jethro Kiernan
Rachel high up on Nightmayer, E8 6c
© Jethro Kiernan

The most concerning part of the route was the first third, and I told George the only bit I was really worried about was the moves just after a red dragonfly. He went to go and check the gear, and after fiddling with the dragonfly and giving it a few solid pulls the placement blew. I was quite disappointed when he shouted this down, it wasn't what I wanted to hear! 

The most sketchy bit of the whole route was climbing towards the girdle ledge. Earlier in the day I had spotted another way of doing a move but hadn't really practiced it. I thought it looked really easy but hadn't realised that the feet didn't work.

Long story short, don't change your sequence on the fly! I was totally stuck with my left foot where my right foot needed to go, and - a bit like Steve in the video at the top - I was frozen looking at my hands, and then my feet, and then back at my hands, and back at my feet, completely unable to move. In the end I chose an awful mossy smear for my foot and deployed a couple of James Williams 'psaaaahs' - but it was really touch and go! 

How did you feel after finishing the route?

Psyched and pretty relieved not to have to do the first half again. Whilst I loved working it and climbing it, it took a lot of mental energy. The lower half is bold and really serious, it would have been hard to recharge for another go the next day.

What's next for you? Are you thinking about the 'next' grade, or is it other things that motivate you?

To be honest onsighting an E6 would give me a similar challenge, and maybe feel like more of an achievement for me right now. There's plenty to do at Gogarth.

To be honest I want to try everything! North Wales is packed with good routes. Once you've done one, it just leads to another. Big Tim is good for esoteric route suggestion, and I'm basically just psyched by everything everyone else is getting up to. 

Going vaguely back to that first question, I think consolidating at each grade helps you become a more rounded climber. This is my first E8, and for now there are lots of other E8s in North Wales that will provide plenty enough of a challenge. I'm not that interested in sitting under a route too long, there's too much good stuff to climb here!

Previously when I have gone to check out harder routes, it has been the grade that has taken me there, and I never got that psyched. But when I looked at Nightmayer it was the climbing and the Cromlech that drew me to it, hoping it would be just a harder version of the Cromlech style I love. I don't want to feel any particular pressure to climb a certain grade, I just want to find the right challenge level for how I'm feeling at the time.

What is it about climbing that gets you the most excited at the moment?

The same thing I've always enjoyed about it. The movement, and how engaged I become in the activity, the people I meet along the way, and the places I get to go to.

It's exhilarating feeling in control up there, and it can be scary pushing on into the unknown, but I quite like that sometimes. Onsighting or flashing keeps you on your toes just thinking the whole time. I have a lot of respect for people like Steve McClure who are really good at this. To me it's the gold standard of style. You can't just be strong, brave, or a technical wizard. You need everything, and you need it all at the right moment - including a good bit of luck! 

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15 Jun, 2023

Really good read and can relate a lot to the way Rachel talks about her approach to climbing. Inspiring to see the steady progression through the grades that has come from a love of getting out!

15 Jun, 2023

Amazing! Not to mention the fact this has had hardly any ascents in 30 years despite this being one of the best known routes in the area says something about it…

15 Jun, 2023

I think that Nico Favresse clip might have something to do with it!

15 Jun, 2023

Truly outstanding and inspiring :-)

15 Jun, 2023

He went most of the height of the crag!

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