Morus Sanderson climbs Indian Face, E9 6cInterview

© Russell Lovett

Morus Sanderson has made the ninth ascent of the iconic Indian Face (E9 6c), at  Clogwyn Du'r Arddu (Cloggy), Wales.

Clogwyn Du'r Arddu.  © Russell Lovett
Clogwyn Du'r Arddu.
© Russell Lovett, May 2022

His ascent is the first for five years, after Angus Kille climbed it in 2018.

Established by Johnny Dawes in 1986, Indian Face was the first route to be graded E9, and, as such, was widely considered to be one of the most dangerous routes in the world.

Since then we have seen the introduction of E10, E11, and even whisperings of E12, yet Indian Face's reputation as a dangerous and insecure route has remained firm. Despite being one of the most well-known trad routes in the world, and being at the 'easier' end of E9 in terms of technical difficulty, the prospect of trusting marginal smears high above largely ornamental gear has meant that the route is rarely sought out, with only eight repeats in thirty-seven years.

Indian Face is perhaps best described in the 1989 Cloggy Guide, where Paul Williams wrote:

Standard: E9; Exceptionally Severe (Excessively so). Rubbers.

It has been said that up the face to the right of
A Midsummer Night's Dream (E6 6a), a pitch of such appalling difficulty as to be almost beyond the realms of human comprehension has been ascended without mechanical machinations or other insidious practices normally associated with a route of this calibre...

Protection is at best illusory; the whole sweep of rock affords not so much as a single nubbin on which the thinnest line may be secured, nor a single crack in which the most vestigial of chockstones could hope to gain lodgement. Should the leader fail to negotiate the crux, or be seized by a palsy high on the pitch, disaster must be imminent...

The successful leader, even though he be of a modest disposition, may relax, and justifiably award himself a 'pat on the back'.

With illusory protection and imminent distaster safely navigated, we got in touch with Morus, first and foremost to give him a well deserved 'pat on the back', and, thereafter, to ask a few questions about how his ascent of this famous route came to pass.

Hi Morus - and congratulations! For those of us who don't know you already, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you based, how did you first get into climbing, is it mainly trad you're into or do you like to do other discplines as well?

Thank you very much! Being raised in a small village called Mynydd Llandygai, I always sensed that climbing had a character to play in the community. During my time at Pete's Eats cafe, this became especially apparent.

Despite doing some climbing inside, I didn't properly start climbing until the first lockdown when me and my friend went to check out a boulder he'd 'discovered'. We returned with my sister's gymnastic mat and two sessions later I topped out of The Ramp (f5+) at Braichmelyn Boulder. My first 5+! I continued building up through the grades steadily, and eventually started trad climbing in December 2021 after some encouragement from my boss Alex Mason. 

Topping out my first E7; My Halo at Seamstress Slab, May 2022  © Morus Sanderson
Topping out my first E7; My Halo at Seamstress Slab, May 2022
© Morus Sanderson

I never had a mentor, so I gave myself a personal crash-course on trad climbing. In hindsight it's a genuine miracle I survived last year; I found myself in a death situation most weekends due to missing crucial pieces of protection or stranding myself on a wall climb, we've all been there before I guess. It became rather concerning when I took an eleven metre fall on Cripple Creek (E3 5b), the ropes came tight moments before I landed on my neck. Nick Bullock still thinks this is hilarious. Not sure if I do.

By May 2022, my belays and gear placements had become more trustworthy and by pushing the grades further, I was able to onsight routes like Poetry Pink (E5 6b), Electric Blue (E4 5c), and similar climbs in the area (with major disco legs bearing in mind). I soon discovered the dark art of headpointing, allowing me to engage harder routes in a more risk averse way.

Morus on Daddy Cool, E8 6b  © Moza
Morus on Daddy Cool, E8 6b

I've only climbed 7b+ on bolts outside, but I very rarely go sport climbing so headpointing is my version of sport, and onsight-trad is just standard trad climbing. Although I do attend an annual bouldering session, I generally don't find them stimulating enough anymore, and I prefer mixing it up with fell running nowadays.

Let's talk about Indian Face - it's such an iconic route, steeped in climbing history, do you remember how and when you first encountered/heard about the route?

Being raised locally, Clogwyn Du'r Arddu was always under my nose but I only became aware of the route some time ago when I started trad climbing.

It doesn't take much research to understand how it has attained such a dreadful reputation, back then the notion of leading such a route was laughable. However after doing some bold headpoints earlier this year and maintaining that form, I thought I'd give Indian Face a cheeky 'look', (evidently I developed a greater interest).

Angus Kille, just about visible, makes the eighth ascent of Indian Face in 2018  © Matt Stygal
Angus Kille, just about visible, makes the eighth ascent of Indian Face in 2018

Did you speak to any of the previous ascensionists about it before climbing Indian Face?

I'd been to Lower Pen Trwyn with Calum (Muskett) and explained my intention of leading the route, so he described his account of being snatchy on the crux and startling any onlookers. I also mentioned it to Caff, but judging by his reaction I don't think he actually thought I'd go for it!

How did you go about preparing for the ascent?

Lots of fingerboarding and stretching, so that I was flexible and strong. I wanted a reserve in case things went pear-shaped on the lead.

Also, anyone from North Wales will know that it's been monsoon season over here from mid June to August, so weather windows for Clogwyn Du'r Arddu were non-existent. This meant revising the moves in my head before I went to bed was critical. This was my method of getting the route 'wired'.

Sunset at Cloggy while working Indian Face  © Morus Sanderson
Sunset at Cloggy while working Indian Face
© Morus Sanderson

How and when did you know you were ready to go for the lead attempt?

I tried the route around mid June and was somewhat ready to lead on my third session but I decided against it. I wasn't psyched, so I left the route for a while, it's one of those routes where you need to be aware and mindful of your motivations. The route has an appalling reputation for a reason, so it wasn't hard to step away.

However I was already infected with the prospect of doing Indian Face, so I returned a month later. After reacquainting myself with the route, I knew it was on; I was excited about the possibility of tying in.

Talk us through the ascent!

I was at work all day becoming increasingly keyed up knowing I'd potentially be leading the route after I finished. The lonely hike up to the black cliff tormented me, I couldn't think of anything else but stepping off that chocolate bar sized ledge and leaning my weight on those scrittly smears.

I finally reached the crag at 7pm and had a clean go on my shunt device, just before Rachel Pearce and my cousin George Sanderson arrived. The whole crux was wet so I spent ages drying it off with towels and chalk balls thinking the prospect of a lead was completely mental in these conditions.

Being myopic in nature, I hadn't invested time into finding out the optimal positions to place the gear in the nest and after talking to Rach and George I opted to pre-place some of the gear I was unsure of.

Equalised gear for the nest  © Morus Sanderson
Equalised gear for the nest
© Morus Sanderson

I tied in to lead the route around 8:45 pm, just in time to hear a towel fall right by us. I realised it was a matter of time before the crux would be wet again so I set off straight away.

I moved with more care than usual; you're inevitably going to do the lower half somewhat differently every time as it's a long E8 up to the solitary confinement ledge. A mistake almost anywhere on this route is disastrous, so you must take your time. I didn't spend much time on the footledge, probably three minutes, and engaged without any hesitation on the crux, choreographing the moves perfectly like I had on top rope.

To my horror, just as I stood up on the crux, I discovered the seepage had drained much lower than anticipated; and the last twenty feet of hard climbing was damp at best, and soaking in parts. At this point I was beyond committed, and falling off was undoubtedly off the table, so I rubbed my palms on the upcoming footholds to try to dry them out. With my heart pounding I began moving up precariously. A few moments later I latched onto the jug - exhilarated, but very much aware that I'd danced with death

I remember my hand shaking when placing the wire at the top, gazing over my shoulder to watch the sun plunge behind Ynys Môn. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and relief, the satisfaction of an ambition achieved. That's a memory I won't forget anytime soon.

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

Circulating North Wales onsighting established routes is my favourite form of climbing for sure, particularly at Gogarth.

I'll always have a headpoint going in the background, so when friends bail or the weather's poor I'll train for it. I'll eventually justify leading the project and it'll be the only thing I can think about for the following week.

Keeping a cool head on Gribin Wall Climb, E9 6c  © Moza
Keeping a cool head on Gribin Wall Climb, E9 6c

Any other projects you're excited about right now?

I've been climbing now almost non-stop since lockdown and I'm taking a break until I go off to Salford University this September.

However I'm certain I'll be ticking classic gritstone routes and training for potential (safer) projects at home like Mission Impossible (E9 6c) or Trauma (E8 7a) before you know it.

Right Wall  © jethro kiernan
Right Wall
© jethro kiernan, May 2023

Finally, have you heard from any of the previous ascensionists since you climbed Indian Face?

I've talked to Caff and Calum since then yeah, they were some of the first to know. I think they were impressed but alarmed in equal measures that I fancied a lead of Indian Face in the given conditions, but all's well that ends well!

Moon rising, walking away fro Cloggy having just done Indian Face  © Morus Sanderson
Moon rising, walking away fro Cloggy having just done Indian Face
© Morus Sanderson

For anyone looking for a refresher on what Indian Face is all about, check out the video of Dave MacLeod's 2010 ascent below:

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17 Aug, 2023

Wow! Im conflicted weather to be impressed or horrified by that account of Indian face. f5 to E9 in a few years, mind-blowing. Clearly reports of the death of trad has been greatly exaggerated.

17 Aug, 2023

Good grief! Felt like E7 just reading that

17 Aug, 2023

Well that was pretty jaw dropping!

17 Aug, 2023


17 Aug, 2023

Good effort!

He's gone through the grades very quickly - first outdoor route in 2020 to E9 in 2023!

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