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This last couple of weekends Nesscliffe, the secluded Shropshire sandstone crag, has seen a whirlwind of action by Britain’s best trad climbers. James “Caff” McHaffie, Emma Twyford, Calum Musket, Angus Killie and Tom Livingstone, to name a few, all made the pilgrimage at the same time to try their hand at the hard routes.
In a matter of four days, there were countless E8 and E7 ascents, many onsight. There was so much action everywhere that it was difficult to concentrate on my own little project: My Piano (E8 6c). It’s fair to say that I fell under the spell of Nesscliffe on my very first visit. We decided to go there on a whim deciding against Longridge at the last minute, only to discover an enchanted magical place with intriguing mythical routes. The line that immediately caught my attention was My Piano, a soaring arete carved out of orange sandstone of the Main Wall (I admit I have a soft spot for sandstone). The only problem was that the route was supposedly E8, a long way above my pay grade. So for the next three years I became a somewhat regular of the crag trying to hone my skills.
Hoping the training on sloping holds has paid off
I worked my way through the routes at my level, the E3’s and E5’s and eventually found myself dropping a top rope on the route that initially inspired me. The other slight detail about the route is that it couldn’t have been more my anti-style: vertical, insecure, balancey climbing on sloping holds with some big run-outs, even potential for decking out. In fact, it couldn’t have been a worse candidate for my hardest trad route yet. So my journey became inevitably long due to my ineptitude with that particular style, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the learning and I can safely say I’m all the better climber for it now. And in the process I seem to have drawn quite a few people into the crag. I wouldn’t credit myself with the “Nessy momentum”, but it seemed that coincidentally some weekends the crag was teeming with some of the best British talent, setting the crag alight with impressive ascents left, right and centre. There’s nothing more rewarding than sharing the love of a quirky obscure crag with your kindred spirit.
James McHaffie after new routes at Nesscliffe
All that attention culminated last weekend with quite a gathering, where the group psyche was so high that I think gravity level must have dropped considerably for me to finally get up the route without falling (I took a fall from high up earlier on, resulting in a broken helmet and bruised body). I couldn’t have timed it better to climb My Piano on that weekend as for just a fleeting two days it seemed to be the beating heart of British Trad. As for the grade, My Piano might be E7 or E8 depends how you look at it, but that’s missing the point, I didn’t climb it for the number. It was an experience I won’t forget any time soon.
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Nice article, but what? A Nesscliffe article without mentioning Nick Dixon and his truly massive contribution to developing the crag?
Honorable mention also to Phil Davidson, a bright light of bold soloing and on-sighting in the 80s, back after a long lay off. Nobody knows how old he is but E7...