Two days after James 'Caff' McHaffie's stylish ascent of The Indian Face
in a day, Calum Muskett and George Ullrich have successfully played the same head-game, following the line of white dabs up the right-side of The Great Wall. Caff's preparation was impressively limited to checking-out the crux moves and protection on a GriGri before going for the lead. George seconded Caff up the route without any problems and Calum also managed it cleanly on a top-rope. The die was cast.
Calum returned to The Indian Face the next day with the intention of leading it. After top roping the line to get the moves clear in his head, he sat at the foot of the route, concerned about the humidity and weighing up whether to go for it or not. The Welsh weatherman, Derek Brockway, had tweeted that the humidity and dew point were going to be a lot lower the next day. This was enough to convince Calum to leave it for a day plus he also knew George was supposed to be coming up to try it then.
Derek wasn't wrong with his forecast and conditions were much fresher at the crag. Calum had another top rope and opted to lead it with the poor gear pre-placed.
Calum explained: "It all revolves around the cluster of RPs really at just over half-height. I felt that pre-placed there was a better chance they might hold than placed on lead but I still don't really think there's much chance they'd hold! I didn't bother placing any sky hooks because I thought the placements were a bit crap but carried one up on my harness just in case. I'd agree with Caff, it felt pretty much like a solo, but it was nice to have the psychological support of a rope and possible survival should you fall!"
To put it in context, "there isn't a piece of gear on the route I'd be happy to lower-off," says Caff.
A climber Calum had only met that morning on the approach to the crag, inadvertently played a walk-on part in the day's unfolding drama. Standing around at the bottom of the crag Dan Parks found himself belaying Calum on a top rope. Next thing Dan was given the option of holding his ropes for the lead. Nobody wants to belay someone on The Indian Face but he agreed.
Calum's plan was to climb it fast before the momentum was lost and any fear took hold.
"I ended up leading it in just over 5 mins of almost non-stop movement, only stopping for about 30 seconds at the little foot ledge. I didn't really have time to get scared - I was just in 'up' mode! The lead went very smoothly apart from one move after the crux where I couldn't pull as hard as I wanted to on a poor crimp because my skin was worn from the previous day. I think George was out of sight around the corner when I led it."
The tension had barely subsided when George, after checking the route from a top rope, set off on the lead. Opting to place the gear he clearly had more confidence in the sky hook placements than Calum and placed four in two groups of two. Just after pulling over the first overlap George remarked to his belayer, Sam Underhill, that he had an uber dry mouth and wished that he'd taken his t-shirt off. It took on a slightly surreal feel when he called down: "You alright Sam?"
At about 28 metres, standing on the small foot ledge below the crux, George began to feel 'ledge fever' creeping into his bones - the longer he waited at this hands-off rest the harder it was becoming to leave it. Getting to this point Caff reckons is E8 6b in itself. The F7b+ crux above passed without any leg shaking and the seventh ascent of Indian Face was as good as history.
Reaching the top of the route, Calum called across to George: "How do you feel?"
"I don't know." replied George.
You can read an account of Caff's ascent including details of his Master's Wall ordeal, thirteen years earlier, on his blog.