On 23 June, James McHaffie soloed 100 Extreme climbs, racking up an incredible total of 160 E points, 2,976m of rock climbing and making it to Oddfellows in Keswick for last orders. Sarah Stirling catches up with him and gets a first look at his tick list.
I got up at 2.45am, so I had a reasonable night’s sleep. I wanted to tank it through and get down for last orders. I began climbing at 3.40am, by headtorch as it was still dark. Central Buttress on Scafell (E1 5b) was the first route and I finished on Angel’s Highway (E1 5a) at Castle Rock around 22.15pm.
The hardest climb was probably Rogue Herries (E4 6a) on Goats Crag in Borrowdale, which was route 90. Cut-throat, an E3 6a next to Gillette Direct on Neckband Crag, was also quite hard.
I was chuffed to do Thirlmere Eliminate and Harlots Face as part of the final five climbs as well.
I got the idea from Ron Fawcett’s Peak epic. He soloed 100 grit Extremes in a day in 1986. I wanted to do 100 solos to pay homage to the Lakes, as Ron had to the Peak.
When you go out and do three or four good routes, that’s a good day, isn’t it? Now imagine doing that times 20 or 30-fold. That’s the way I look at it. Doing as many great climbs in a day is what I was after.
It’s also relatively novel in Britain, in terms of a mountain passage. And the challenge suited me, being mountain endurance-based.
The timing for the day was extremely lucky. It had been warm and dry for ages and was a quiet weekday. It was also close to the longest day of the year, so there was plenty of light.
The crags I visited took a logical, fairly straight path through some of the bigger classic cliffs in the Lakes. I started on Scafell then went to Piers Gill Crag, Undercarriage Buttress, Flat Crags, Neckband, Gimmer, Cove, Bright Beck, Sergeant Crag Slabs, Heron, Bleak How, Fat Charlies, Goat, Grange, Shepherds, Reecastle, Little Goat and Castle Rock.
The route list was what I was happy to solo and what was clean. Starting on Central Buttress was a mark of respect for Siegfried Herford, amongst many others who died in World War I, two years after his first ascent of Central Buttress.
When I finished I had a bottle of Cumberland Ale at the crag with my mates. Then we went for another one in the Oddfellows in Keswick.
The Lakes is where I was brought up and where I did most of my soloing. I feel at home and love being in the hills there. 80% or so of the climbing I did in the late 90s was solo, and most of it in the Lakes.
I don’t enjoy soloing as much as I once did. But if I categorised myself as a climber, ‘soloist’ is certainly what I’d come under as much as ‘trad climber’.
I’m a considerably more nervous and cautious soloist than I used to be, even though I was doing routes I could second in my trainers with a blindfold on. I was better at soloing when I was younger, but I’m stronger now. Although I’ve lost a lot of confidence I know I can hang on hard!
I tried not to think very much. Many of the routes I’d done before. I concentrated on good balance and efficiency so as not to get too knackered.
If I became nervous I tried to blank my mind as much as possible, as the moves for a very experienced climber should be done unconsciously. If I’m struggling when soloing then positive affirmation is next. If that fails I back off.
You get more done and develop good technique when soloing. Also, you don’t need a partner - in rural areas where there are few climbers this can be a big asset.
I’d not recommend soloing though. Although everyone who lead-climbs does it to some degree, there are always going to be moments when falling off is a very bad idea. Even people who demonise soloing will be in those positions at some points.
There are very few soloists who have died due to technical difficulty - most die on routes that are easy for them when they aren’t concentrating. I strongly believe that driving is very much more dangerous, with many more factors that could kill you.
Look at old pictures of Joe Brown on Tensor (E2 6a at Tremadog) and Pete Crew on Erosion Groove Direct (E2 5c at Carreg Wastad, Gwynedd). They’re as near as damn it soloing on hard routes in shit footwear. Doug Shaw, Ron Fawcett, Catherine Destivelle, Eric Jones, Pete Livesey, Ron Fawcett, Peter Croft. They all soloed a massive array of hard climbing.
My top five Lakes ticks are:
Central Buttress, Scafell (E1 5b)
Bitter Oasis, Goat Crags, Borrowdale (E4 5c)
Troutdale Pinnacle, Black Crag, Borrowdale (S)
Overhanging Bastion, Castle Rock of Triermain (VS 5a)
Central Pillar, Esk Buttress, Dow Crag (E2 5b)
Adam Hocking had organised a few friends to come out and I was very impressed with his organisation and support. Adam, Simon Gee, Steve Ashworth, Jago and Richard, Henry Iddon, Maxine Willett and Nicole MacGregor - lots of people were around at various stages during the day. And Julian, a friend who stashed a rope for me.
I don’t have any specifics plans for the future right now but I’ll see how I feel in a week or two.
James McHaffie is a BMC ambassador
Read more on his blog
WATCH: James solo White Noise (E3) at Reecastle exclusive to BMC TV
(Filmed a few days before his challenge)
READ: the routes list
1. Central Buttress E1 5B Scafell Crag
2. Heatwave 95 E2 5B Piers Gill Crag
3. Shaun & Haley E2 5C Piers Gill Crag
4. Sleeping with the Stars E2 5B Piers Gill Crag
5. Piers de Piece E1 5B Piers Gill Crag
6. Wheel of Misfortune E2 5C Undercarriage Wall
7. Fastburn E2 5B Flat Crags
8. Gillete Direct E2 5C Neckband Crag
9. Razor Crack E1 5A Neckband Crag
10. Gandalf’s Groove Direct E2 5B Neckband Crag
11. Sweeney Todd E2 5C Neckband Crag
12. Cut-throat E3 6A Neckband Crag
13. Aragorn E2 5C Neckband Crag
14. Intern E1 5B Gimmer Crag
15. Gimmer String E1 5B Gimmer Crag
16. Capella E1 5B Pavey Ark
17. Poker Face E1 5B Pavey Ark
18. The Confidence Man E2 5B Cove Crag
19. The Future’s Bright E1 5A Cove Crag
20. Slab, Ridge and Arête E1 5B Cove Crag
21. Nobble Nibble E1 5B Cove Crag
22. Bright Beck Corner E3 6A Bright Beck Crag
23. Confusion Wall E4 6A Bright Beck Crag
24. The Tinkerer E1 5B Bright Beck Crag
25. Little Jack E1 5C Bright Beck Crag
26. Aphasia E2 5B Sergeant Crag Slabs
27. Quicksilver E1 5B Sergeant Crag Slabs
28. Holly Tree Crack E1 5B Sergeant Crag Slabs
29. The Death Stroke E1 5B Sergeant Crag Slabs
30. Between The Lines E1 5B Sergeant Crag Slabs
31. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now E1 5B Heron Crag
32. Flamingo Fandango E1 5B Heron Crag
33. Big Foot E2 5C Heron Crag
34. The Question E2 5C Heron Crag
35. Little Corner E1 5B Heron Crag
36. Barefoot E2 5C Heron Crag
37. Joie Pur E2 5C Heron Crag
38. Traverse of the Frogs E2 5B Heron Crag
39. Amistad Con El Diablo E2 5C Bleak How
40. Bleak How Buttress E2 5C Bleak How
41. Cellulite E2 6A Fat Charlie’s Buttress
42. Cholesterol Corner E1 5B Fat Charlie’s Buttress
43. Supermodel E1 5B Fat Charlie’s Buttress
44. Reassuringly Stocky E1 5C Fat Charlie’s Buttress
45. Praying Mantis E1 5B Goat Crag
46. The Sting E2 5C Goat Crag
47. Paint it Black E2 5C Steel Knotts
48. Zombie in the Dark E3 6C Castle Crag
49. One Across E1 5C Castle Crag
50. Fuel Crisis E2 5C Grange Crag
51. Driving Ambition E1 5B Grange Crag
52. Desmond Decker E2 6A Grange Crag
53. Rough Justice E1 5C Grange Crag
54. Sudden Impact E2 5C Grange Crag
55. Red Neck E2 5B Grange Crag
56. Mule Train E2 5C Shepherds Crag
57. The Black Icicle E1 5B Shepherds Crag
58. Porcupine E3 6A Shepherds Crag
59. Hippos Might Fly E1 5A Shepherds Crag
60. Straight and Narrow E3 6A Shepherds Crag
61. The Grasp E1 5B Shepherds Crag
62. Poop & Clutch E2 5C Shepherds Crag
63. M.G.C. E2 5C Shepherds Crag
64. Shanna E2 5C Shepherds Crag
65. Aaros E1 5B Shepherds Crag
66. P.S. E1 5B Shepherds Crag
67. North Buttress E1 5B Shepherds Crag
68. Imago E1 5C Shepherds Crag
69. Jaws E1 5B Shepherds Crag
70. Conclusion E1 5B Shepherds Crag
71. Brown Crag Grooves E1 5B Shepherds Crag
72. White Noise E3 5C Reecastle Crag
73. Rack Direct E2 5C Reecastle Crag
74. Rack Finger Flake E2 5C Reecastle Crag
75. Water Torture E2 5C Reecastle Crag
76. Bold Warrior E1 5B Reecastle Crag
77. The Gibbet E1 5B Reecastle Crag
78. Guillotine E3 5C Reecastle Crag
79. The Gauntlet E1 5B Reecastle Crag
80. Widowmaker E2 5B Reecastle Crag
81. Mort E1 5B Goat Crag
82. Balancing Act E1 5B Goat Crag
83. Light Fantastic E2 5C Goat Crag
84. Pussy Galore E2 5C Goat Crag
85. Munich Agreement E1 5B Goat Crag
86. Optional Omission E1 5A Goat Crag
87. Nightmare Zone E1 5B Goat Crag
88. Berlin Wall E2 5B Goat Crag
89. Stranger to the Ground E3 5C Goat Crag
90. Rogue Herries E4 6A Goat Crag
91. Mackanory E1 5B Goat Crag
92. Green Eggs And Ham E1 5C Castle Rock
93. Reward E2 5C Castle Rock
94. Romantically Challenged E1 5B Castle Rock
95. Pinnacle Wall E1 5A Castle Rock
96. The Final Giggle E1 5A Castle Rock
97. Harlot Face E1 5B Castle Rock
98. Thirlmere Eliminate E1 5B Castle Rock
99. Wingnut E2 5C Castle Rock
100. Angel’s Highway E1 5A Castle Rock