"Climbing for me provided a means of self-expression. Ability, too, can mean wider social acceptance, even if only in a superficial "one of the gang" way. To a young, socially immature person, that grew as a cancer, to a stage where my climbing was taken out of my hands to an extent. The end of this lies in photographs, sponsorship, ugly tights and a dead end with a bolted door. Eventually there comes a time when you have nothing to prove. You have made friends through compassion, and that bad side to your climbing disappears. With its departure there is left a strange beast - more able mentally and physically than before, but without the naivete and wonder of youth. Its direction becomes an anguished cry to complete fate within a cycle of time: and afterwards to move on to new, more dilute and comprehensive ambitions.
For me this involved many dangerous yet necessary climbs. The culmination of all this process was the Indian Face. The mechanics and story of this climb trace my liberation from... something?
It's been good for three days!
A nice day sneaks over Crib Goch while I sleep, and Cloggy creeps slyly, with its keen climbers, towards dusk. In Pete's Eats, I find the team has gone to Gogarth. I sit and tear out my hair, with tea that dries my upper palate. Keith tells me to get my feet off the chair, and so I order a salad. The WALL envelops me for a moment, the cage then not so continuous around me. In places it is very thick and permanent, other borders open and close like a heart, and my nausea belches steam up through my skin to my head. Carlos the bandit, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and dark glasses, walks in. He's fed up with slate and a little with climbing in general just now, but he is a sucker for a good long walk.
I smile and suggest Cloggy, no strings attached. Trevor or Carlos, whoever it is, agrees, after much convincing, that he is keen. We walk up to the crag, and I start up. Bob watches me from Llanberis: "ghoul below the Eigerwand".
I got to the move left, next to Redhead's bolt, down-climbed and lowered off again. Trevor felt ill, so we walked down and had some food and beer.
The next day I was much better prepared mentally and physically, but deep down knew something primitive was being expended on each effort: I was getting psyched out rather than familiar. The wall's mechanics were becoming exterior and disconcerting; there is never a place to get into the rock, no groove to shadow your fear. Just blankness and no gear. I abseiled down the climb a third time, got the holds clean, practiced the entry to the upper flakes, where I had gone wrong twice previously and had to down-climb 30ft on side-pulls and smears to escape.
I tested the RURP in the top overlap. It is in only an eighth of an inch, but is tied off with 2mm Perlon. The RURP is at about 100ft. Above that there is no gear that would hold body weight. Thirty feet below there is an RP2, and this, on "shock tape", provides the crucial gear. This is backed up by a Chouinard one-half biting in a loose flake, and below this is a 2mm Perlon sling and an RP zero. For the other rope RPs 3 and 4 in poor placements and a situ nut l0ft above, which came out. At 45ft there is a Stopper 6 (filed down on Kevlar rope) between two fins - the best runner on "Master's Wall".
The climbing itself is hard, and with eight bolts would rate about E6 6b/c but there is only half a bolt and that stares at you while you laugh at your runners, a tribute both to a man's vision and to his shortsightedness. John Redhead's voyages on this wall deserve special praise. He had already done The Bells at North Stack and was working on the sweeping scoop right of Midsummer. He had one near-fatal fall from high up when, placing a small wire, his foot slipped on a smear, the resin worn off his Canyons. The Stopper 6 took the fall and back up he went. This time he lowered off the Stopper 1, which skated in its placement. Another visit had him jumping for a 9mm abseil rope.
Redhead, frustrated but proud, placed a bolt like a dog pissing to mark his territory, and retreated to recover. An 80ft cameo, fresh but incomplete, The Tormented Ejaculation (E8 7a) rests in his portfolio. But the line remained.
Jerry Moffatt arrived, chopped the bolt, and the Master's Wall remained. Before that, there had been other efforts. Ray Evans and Hank Pasquill had tried the line on sight; failures more impressive than latter successes perhaps; while Mick Fowler had climbed an impressive route in Spreadeagle, which starts in the groove left of The Master's Start and finishes left of the upper section of Moffatt's route. It was my turn to struggle with obsession.
There comes a time when the romance of the climb is crowded out by the raw danger of the route, and this happened on the third day. On the fourth I walked up walk down again, somebody's son and friend.
Imagine the wall. It is a random-woven wire mesh, tilted so that it steepens towards its top. At the base two thick cables disappear in the turf. The lights in the town flicker as you touch the rock. Each move forms an electric circuit between your hands. As you move, you worry about the outcome of that move, the tension a dull hum. Then I make a false move and the rock barks out a spark. I try another hold - but which one to use? Use the wrong one and retreat may be impossible. The gear is poor and a bad mistake could mean a death-jolt full across the heart. So you move, taking note of your position and the holds, but as you move higher the voltage grows and amongst the myriad connections there lie false trails that can kill.
I went up with sticky rubber soles which do not conduct electricity and two friends who knew the score.
At 70ft I felt OK. An automaton in a plastic bag, my brain floated out in space behind me. It had slim threads which blew in the wind but didn't seem to be catching on anything; so I continued. As I climbed I felt as if I was not there, but I wasn't somewhere else either. Just nowhere; alone on the surface. I arrived on the flake, the moves a blur, the body smudged over the rock. I was playing chess with the Woubits gort. On the way up to the crag for only three steps the eyes of the gort are visible: the first and last steps see it wink, the middle step sees its full centuries-stare. I could see it no longer, but I knew it was there with its dagger ears.
In went light pieces of metal, fiddling with unfIoured pastry on the top of my mother's birthday cake when I was twelve. The asymmetric stopwatch was complete.
All the time my mouth would give out these little tunes which disappeared. Then heavy breathing, and then short jerky gulps: shallow panting. In went the RP2 just above. I climb up and begin to live dangerously; steep and sequency climbing on undercuts and dimples just below the point of commitment. I'm l0ft from gear and decide to downclimb as if on the last training traverse on the climbing wall. I come level with the gear. "Slow and smooth," my mouth says as I lower off for a rest.
The release of tension was enough to make me want to stay on the ground, but I knew I would only be back next year. I had no choice. Twenty-five minutes rest and a cigarette and the two sides of my feelings still did not converge. I need to do it, but I desperately want to walk home happy. I knew that would be a lie so I go up to die a little more; homeopathy.
A hundred feet up, out over the last gear, I'm faced with the first of the hardest moves. My anxiety has made me enter the moves before reflection and the rock is all in the wrong place. My body feels heavy and lumpy. I slap out right, a move that should be static, and am committed to the crux, a precarious mantel onto a rounded boss. If I fell on this move the gear off to the left would rip.
Once on the boss you can rest and clip the tied-off RURP, which is most comforting. You stand on your heels, your hands by your side. At this point I noticed a friend whom I'd met while on holiday in Verdon on the belay of Great Wall. His face spoke volumes. I tried smiling to relieve his tension, but that made me relax and so I collapsed back to rest.
I was there for half an hour; totally alone, the overall crux ahead, yet my position physically comfortable. Rescue twenty minutes away. I would have to say 'Yes' and 'No' to the finish five or six times by the time they had reached the top and lowered me a lifeline.
I went for the crux, the motion startling me like a car unexpectedly in gear in a crowded parking lot. I swarm through the roundness of the bulge to a crank on a brittle spike for a cluster of three crystals on the right; each finger crucial and separate like the keys for a piano chord. I change feet three times to rest my lower legs, each time having to jump my foot out to put the other in. The finger-holds are too poor to hang on should the toes catch on each other. All those foot-changing mistakes on easy moves by runners come to mind. There is no resting. I must go and climb for the top. I swarm up towards the sunlight, gasping for air. A brittle hold stays under mistreatment and then I really blow it. Fearful of a smear on now-non-sticky boots I use an edge and move up, a fall fatal, but the automaton stabs back through, wobbling, but giving its all and I grasp a large sidepull and tube upward. The ropes dangle uselessly from my waist. Arthur Birtwhistle on Diagonal, I grasp in cuts and the tight movement swerves to a glide as gravity swings skyward.
Indian Face is climbed and I can rest and feel proud: Longland's, The Drainpipe Crack, Bloody Slab, Troach, Great Wall smile in me again, but like fine antiques. The Gallery and Dark Mystic. Yes!"