Was this the biggest day out in UK climbing history?

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 26/06/2014
James McHaffie soloing White Noise, Reecastle.

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



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1) Anonymous User
07/07/2014
Reminds me of John Allen & Shane Ohly having a big day out on the grit some years back.... I believe they managed 500 routes between them - but then teh grit routes were shorter ;-]

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