First ascent of Britain's hardest slab climb

10 July, 2012
James McHaffie working Meltdown, Twll Mawr, Dinorwig Quarry. © Ray Wood
James McHaffie working Meltdown, Twll Mawr, Dinorwig Quarry. © Ray Wood

In weather that most people would simply choose to opt for a coffee, rather than go climbing, James McHaffie a.k.a Caff, has completed Johnny Dawes' great unfinished project, The Meltdown, on The Quarryman Wall of Twll Mawr; to give Britain's hardest slab climb and a contender for the World's hardest single pitch slab route.

Yesterday afternoon, after drying wet holds and in between the drizzle, Caff even surprised himself to complete the Dinorwig Quarry project that Dawes had finally walked away from in 1990. Caff had just marked down in his diary, every potential opportunity to go on the route before leaving for America in September. Suddenly his diary is a lot freer.

Caff cites Andy Murray as an inspiration. He said: "Will power is a finite resource. And if you get inspired by other people it makes it easier to bolster your own personal will power."

Caff added: "The grade is up for grabs. It's at least F8c+ overall and maybe F9a, who knows. It's definitely the hardest slab climb in Britain."

Pete Robins, who has also been on the route and belayed Caff last week on his previous best attempt, said: "Having watched him link it with only one fall and a 30 second rest, I knew it wouldn't be long. He had the fire in his eyes."

Pete added: "Its a fantastic route, it feels utterly desperate at first, as you'd imagine with hard slate, but I can see why he is struggling to grade it, as slate always feels different when you can actually do it. You can break it down into four sections: a F7c to a rest, then a crux traverse left (very weird Font 7C/+), then up a lovely seam on lay-aways (sustained English 6c to a heinous 7a move to get established at a rest). The last bit is also desperate, with a bunched traverse back right leading to a de-rigeur spicy run-out to the belay. Well done Caff!"

You can listen to Caff describe the route in the Audioboo below:

From the start to reach a two finger-stack ten metres directly above the traverse Caff felt it was F8c/+. In his previous session Caff had made it through the moves left and up to the two finger-stack for the first time before falling off. Getting stood on that hold for a rest is another desperate move. From here the traverse back right Caff originally felt was V10 (F7c+) but described it as feeling a lot easier when he knew the moves.

There's a short video clip from Jack Geldard over at UKC showing Caff attempting the crux moves stepping left and getting established on the seam above.

Johnny Dawes writes in his autobiography Full of Myself about The Meltdown: "The technicality of these highly positional unique cruxes is such that any limb's contact can fail."

At the time of writing the book Johnny noted that Caff had done the move on the top traverse and writing, as if throwing down the gauntlet for the next generation: "We'll have to see who prevails."

Caff climbed his first F9a last July with his historic repeat of Big Bang and joined the DMM Climbing Team at the start of this year.

Caff's memo sheet for the moves on The Meltdown.
Caff's memo sheet for the moves on The Meltdown.