INTERVIEW: James McHaffie on his 100 Lakes Extremes in a Day

by Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor Jun/2014
This news story has been read 12,343 times

James McHaffie enjoying a beer after soloing 100 Lakeland Extremes in a day., 104 kbJames McHaffie enjoying a beer after soloing 100 Lakeland Extremes in a day.
© Henry Iddon
On Monday the 23rd of June, James McHaffie made British climbing history by climbing 100 extreme routes in the English Lake District, solo and in just 19 hours.

James, brought up in Borrowdale - one of the key climbing valleys of the Lakes - is widely regarded as Britiain's top all round rock climber, and is able to perform at a world class level in almost all styles of climbing. His ascents or attempts at some of the most iconic climbs on the planet, and his almost limitless UK traditional ticklist, juxtaposed with his understated and humble manner have resonated with the British climbing community and placed him in a short list of all time greats.

James 'Caff' McHaffie, born on January 15th 1981, developed his love of soloing early in his climbing career, and a wild period in the late 90's and 00's saw him clocking up hundreds of solo ascents across the UK as well as countless desperate and bold onsights of roped climbs. He has wound back a little on the soloing as the years have gone by, saying that his confidence isn't quite what it used to be. Where his confidence might have dropped (and by any normal climber's standard, he is supremely confident), his physical ability has sky-rocketed. Realising that his physical strength was the limiting factor in his climbing, James set about rebuilding his body a few years ago, and after climbing two sport routes of 9a, has taken that level of traditional skill and sport strength to quickly dispatch hard routes with minimum fuss, such as The Long Hope Route on Hoy and Salathe Wall in Yosemite.

Reading James' heartfelt write-up of his Lakes 100, his appreciation for the beauty of the Lakeland landscape, as well as its climbers, both current and past, flows from the page. If you haven't read it, then you should: Jame's McHaffie's Blog.

"I was deeply touched by the level of support given by people both on the day and in congratulations afterwards on what I’d seen as a personal pilgrimage through some great memories of the Lake District. Some climbs were big, some were tiny, some were clean, some were filthy but all were in the most fantastic landscape." - James McHaffie's blog after his Lakes 100.

James McHaffie climbing 'Reward' E2 5c, Castle Rock of Triermain, St. Johns in the Vale during his 'Lakes 100', 221 kbJames McHaffie climbing 'Reward' E2 5c, Castle Rock of Triermain, St. Johns in the Vale during his 'Lakes 100'
© Henry Iddon

James McHaffie on the Lakes 100:

I had wondered how I'd feel on the E2s at Grange Crag at about the halfway mark and they felt alright, but when I got to Reecastle I did 8 routes back to back, with Guillotine as the last route at the crag and I felt really tired on it. I was going to do Thumbscrew and someone said that he found it the easiest out of the lot and suggested I did it, but I told him I couldn't do it safely so wouldn't be doing it. So I went and did a nice short technical E2 - I could still do techy stuff just not moves where you needed to pull hard.

James McHaffie climbing 'Guillotine' E3 5c, Reecastle Crag, Borrowdale, on his solo of 100 Lake District Extremes in 24 hours, 198 kbJames McHaffie climbing 'Guillotine' E3 5c, Reecastle Crag, Borrowdale, on his solo of 100 Lake District Extremes in 24 hours
© Henry Iddon

I then headed straight round with Adam Hocking to Goats crag and knocked out a load of short ones, I had a last route that I was thinking of missing out, an E4 called Rogue Herries, that felt okay when I onsight soloed it the week before. It's relatively short so I decided to go for it, but I got quite high and then suddenly realised I was in the red zone, with nothing in the tank, and I had about 5 seconds to do something, you know. That was the only close call really. Adam showed me the video footage afterwards and I look okay but actually I'm going all out at that point.

I did actually back off an E1 just after that because it had felt a bit awkward and mossy when I did it fresh the week before, so I decided against it when tired.

For the last thirty routes I didn't think I'd do it because I just felt too exhausted but I wanted to hit 90 or 95 even if I didn't finish the full century. Then I got to Castle Rock and had a 45 minute rest where I had a load of food and Lucozade. After that I felt quite good and managed to get up to 95.

I had wanted to do Thirlmere Eliminate as the last route but I was a bit intimidated about doing a 3 pitch route when I was so tired so it ended up being number 98 I think. I was going to do Ted Cheasby next but decided on something a bit more technical so I did Wingnut and then finished on the jug-fest of Angel's Highway

It got dark just as I topped out on the last route, I put quite a big effort in once I got that second wind at Castle Rock as I knew I had just over an hour of day light left. I felt quite revitalised and could still climb 5c and on Thirlmere Eliminate which is ok because you can bridge the crux. Plus the great thing about Castle Rock is that the holds are so positive that even when you are tired you feel secure. 

Adam Hocking came up and camped with me at Scafell and he organised it all really. I came up on the Tuesday, a bit hungover and headed to the two Goat crags to solo a few routes and check out some E2s that I'd not done before, but Hock had stashed some ropes and organised loads of help from all sorts of folk. I couldn't have done it without all the support.

I was unbelievably lucky leading up to it. You know when you feel like everything is going your way - the weather was perfect over the weekend, I chose not to do it at the weekend because it would be too busy. It was a beautiful morning once I topped out on Central Buttress and as I ran down to Piers Gill Crag, the sun had started rising and I could see over to Derwent Water and Borrowdale and I though "Fuck yeah that's where I'm heading!".

James McHaffie climbing 'Green Eggs and Ham' Castle Rock of Triermain, E1 5c, 232 kbJames McHaffie climbing 'Green Eggs and Ham' Castle Rock of Triermain, E1 5c
© Henry Iddon
Caff on Harlot's Face E1 5b, Castle Rock, on his way to soloing 100 Lake District Extremes, 165 kbCaff on Harlot's Face E1 5b, Castle Rock, on his way to soloing 100 Lake District Extremes
© Henry Iddon

James McHaffie climbing 'Angels Highway' E1 5a, Castle Rock, , 119 kbJames McHaffie climbing 'Angels Highway' E1 5a, Castle Rock,
© Henry Iddon
It was great catching up with old friends, not the routes so much but people like Steve Ashworth who I've not seen for years and Duncan Booth, a really good climber who now has MS, he brought his wife and kids up to Reecastle. The Mountain Heritage Trust had the Abraham brothers' camera, who my dad used to talk about in his slideshow, and took some photos of me at Reecastle. It was just a very surreal day. 

You can't compare something like this to a route like Salathe Wall really. I think the Lakes 100 suited me, and I found it quite hard, throughout the last third, I really didn't expect to do it. Especially at Reecastle and Shephard's because the routes are steep and it was hot, and I felt knackered on routes I knew well. 

I'm having a bit of a rest now, but I'll be over in the Lakes again in a couple of weeks and I'll have a rope on this time! And I'm meeting up with a load of school mates I've not seen for a long time. I'd like to do Borderline an E7 on Scafell and Incantations (E6) and I'd like to do some of Birkett's routes. I may end up heading to Scotland, maybe I'll do a bit of both. It might be a bit of a flying visit to the Lakes, we'll see. It all depends on the weather.

THE FULL LIST: James McHaffie's Lakes 100


Central ButtressE1 5bScafell Crag
Heatwave 95E2 5bPiers Gill
Shaun & HaleyE2 5cPiers Gill
Sleeping with the StarsE2 5bPiers Gill
Piers de PieceE1 5bPiers Gill
Wheels of MisfortuneE2 5cRound How
FastburnE2 5bNeckband Crag
Gillette DirectE2 5cNeckband Crag
Razor CrackE1 5aNeckband Crag
Gandalf's Groove DirectE2 5bNeckband Crag
Sweeney ToddE2 5cNeckband Crag
Cut-throatE3 6aNeckband Crag
AragornE2 5cNeckband Crag
InternE1 5bGimmer Crag
Gimmer StringE1 5bGimmer Crag
CapellaE1 5bPavey Ark
Poker FaceE1 5bPavey Ark
The Confidence ManE2 5bCove Crag
The Future's BrightE1 5aCove Crag
Slab Ridge and AreteE1 5bCove Crag
Nobble NibbleE1 5bCove Crag
Bright Beck CornerE3 6aBright Beck Crag
Confusion WallE4 6aBright Beck Crag
The TinkererE1 5bBright Beck Crag
Little JackE1 5cBright Beck Crag
AphasiaE2 5bSergeant Crag Slabs
QuicksilverE1 5bSergeant Crag Slabs
Holly Tree CrackE1 5bSergeant Crag Slabs
The Death StrokeE1 5bSergeant Crag Slabs
Between The LinesE1 5bSergeant Crag Slabs
Heaven Knows I'm Miserable NowE1 5bHeron Crag
Flamingo FandangoE1 5bHeron Crag
Big FootE2 5cHeron Crag
The QuestionE2 5cHeron Crag
Little CornerE1 5bHeron Crag
BarefootE2 5cHeron Crag
Joie PurE2 5cHeron Crag
Traverse of the FrogsE2 5bHeron Crag
Amistad con el DiabloE2 5cBleak How
Bleak How ButtressE2 5cBleak How
CelluliteE2 6aFat Charlie's Buttress
Cholesterol CornerE1 5bFat Charlie's Buttress
SupermodelE1 5bFat Charlie's Buttress
Reassuringly StockyE1 5cFat Charlie's Buttress
Praying MantisE1 5bGoat Crags
The StingE2 5cSteel Knots
Paint it BlackE2 5cSteel Knots
Zombie in the DarkE3 6cCastle Crag
One AcrossE1 5cCastle Crag
Fuel CrisisE2 5cGrange Crags
Driving AmbitionE1 5bGrange Crags
Desmond DeckerE2 6aGrange Crags
Rough JusticeE1 5cGrange Crags
Sudden ImpactE2 5cGrange Crags
Red NeckE2 5bGrange Crags
Mule TrainE2 5cShepherds Crag
Black IcicleE1 5bShepherds Crag
PorcupineE3 6aShepherds Crag
Hippos might flyE1 5aShepherds Crag
Straight and NarrowE3 6aShepherds Crag
The GraspE1 5bShepherds Crag
Poop & ClutchE2 5cShepherds Crag
MGCE2 5cShepherds Crag
ShannaE2 5cShepherds Crag
AarosE1 5bShepherds Crag
PSE1 5bShepherds Crag
North ButtressE1 5bShepherds Crag
ImagoE2 5cShepherds Crag
JawsE1 5bShepherds Crag
ConclusionE1 5bShepherds Crag
Brown Crag GroovesE1 5bShepherds Crag
White NoiseE3 5cReecastle Crag
Rack DirectE2 5cReecastle Crag   
Rack Finger FlakeE2 5cReecastle Crag 
Water TortureE2 5cReecastle Crag
Bold WarriorE1 5bReecastle Crag
GibbetE1 5bReecastle Crag
GuillotineE3 5cReecastle Crag
GauntletE1 5bReecastle Crag
WidowmakerE2 5bReecastle Crag
MortE1 5bGoats Crag
Balancing ActE1 5bGoats Crag
Light FantasticE2 5cGoats Crag  
Pussy GaloreE2 5cGoats Crag   
Munich AgreementE1 5bGoats Crag  
Optional OmissionE1 5aGoats Crag   
Nightmare ZoneE1 5bGoats Crag   
Berlin WallE2 5bGoats Crag  
Stranger to the GroundE3 5cGoats Crag   
Rogue HerriesE4 6aGoats Crag   
MackanoryE1 5bGoats Crag
Green Eggs and HamE1 5cCastle Rock of Triermain
RewardE2 5cCastle Rock of Triermain
Romantically ChallengedE1 5bCastle Rock of Triermain    
Pinnacle WallE1 5aCastle Rock of Triermain    
Final GiggleE1 5aCastle Rock of Triermain   
Harlots FaceE1 5bCastle Rock of Triermain   
Thirlmere EliminateE1 5bCastle Rock of Triermain    
WingnutE2 5cCastle Rock of Triermain   
Angels HighwayE1 5aCastle Rock of Triermain

James McHaffie is sponsored by: Boreal, DMM, Rab and Sterling Rope

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