James McHaffie: new routing and hard sport projects

Posted by Peter Burnside on 07/05/2016
Here Caff demonstrates the 'talon' crimp. Photo: Dave Turnbull
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As a break from training and projecting hard routes, BMC ambassador James McHaffie decided to do some new routing. But only Caff would relax by bagging a scary E9 with 12 skyhooks for protection! We interviewed him to find out about his new hobby of claiming first ascents and how he's faring on his project at Malham.

Where did the name “House of Talons” come from?
My partner, Sophie, actually came up with the name. There’s a three-pronged skyhook called a talon that is crucial for the route, and then you mimic that shape with your hand on crimps most of the way up. Normal skyhooks wouldn’t do the job, so to speak.

When you spotted the line, did you already know that gear would be pretty minimal?
Yeah, it looked bare; basically it’s a blank wall. There isn’t any normal gear really apart from a few micro-cams and RPs, but they’re too low to do any good. After that, it’s all hooks or nothing. The climbing is tricky enough that you want something and some of them will probably hold a fall.

Have you always been a keen new router?
I’m not generally, no. This year, I did Gravity Wave (a new E8 6c at Anglesey), but only because I was listening to the radio about the first time scientists detected gravitational waves and then remembered I had this possible line to do, so it was good timing. A lot of the fun is giving it a name!

I actually had such good fun cleaning up the route that it got me thinking about all those lines I’ve looked at over the years. For me, a lot of the enjoyment comes from wondering if it can be done and how it would go, and it’s especially quite nice when you find these blank looking bits of rock and then work out you can climb it.

How many more lines have you got in mind?
I made a list of around 20 in Britain. There’s a few left in Wales I’d like to do, two or three in the Lake District, two on the grit; so yeah, there’s a few around. Whenever the weather’s good I’ll get out and give them a go!

READ: Caff's secrets to climbing E5 and top 100 E5s ticklist

You’ve been spending a lot of time projecting Rainshadow, how’s it going so far?
Haha, not too good! Basically, I can’t get this heel-toe cam to stick. In 2011, I was instantly all over the route and it didn’t feel that hard, but I was probably the fittest I’ve ever been at that time. Whereas, when I went back to it this year, I was a little bit out of shape and the route felt really hard.

So I can’t get this move to stick which means I’ll more than likely have to do it the other way with the drop-knee, which I find particularly strenuous and strength sapping. But I’m starting to get fitness on it now though and can do it in two with a break in the middle of the hard bit. I’ll have to see how it goes, so to speak, in a few weeks. If I could just get this heel-toe to stick well then I’d do it fast, maybe even in my next session!

I’m sure it’s not all negatives though?
The only good part is that, after climbing Raindogs, I can get most of my strength back in the shake-out, despite it being a bit poor. And then the upper part of the crux to the end is starting to feel pretty steady now. So it’s slowly coming together, the hard bit will now be maintaining the energy and effort to keep driving up there.

Any other plans for the year?
Oh I’ve always got plans! The Welsh 100 (soloing 100 extremes in Wales in a day) is certainly in the back of my mind, I would like to do that as it’d be an awesome day out, and then I’ve got the trip to Arran which will be my main climbing trip to try The Great Escape and maybe some new routes as well.

Rainshadow is the main sport route that I want to do, but sport climbing goals are always more like back-burner plans to me. I see them as training for trad climbing; whether or not I do them, it gets me fit for the other stuff that I do.

So not much on the radar in terms of sport climbing?
Not really, but if I do Rainshadow I might give Liquid Ambar another go, as I jumped back on it recently and did it with one rest straightaway. And then, if I’m still keen on sport climbing (which might be hopelessly optimistic), I might have a try at Northern Lights at Kilnsey in the latter half of the year.

Projecting sport climbs requires you to do very little else, it involves mainly training and then trying one route, whereas I kinda like to just go climbing!


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