James Mchaffie: First ascent of a 5.14+ slab

posted by dpm on 07/14/2012


I can't remember when I saw it, but sometime in the 90's I saw a picture of Johnny Dawes on the first ascent of the Very Big and the Very Small (5.14a).  Dawes, from the UK, sent the line in 1990 and it was considered the hardest slab in the world at the time. The climb is located in North Wales at the Llanberis slate quarries. It climbs a 70-degree slab of slate, the same stuff those old-school chalkboards are made out of. The image that sticks in my mind is of Dawes, just standing there looking desperate. The slab didn't appear to have many more holds than a chalkboard.   

Steve McClure on the second ascent of the Very Big and the Very Small (5.14a), the most famous hard slab in the world. Photo: Simon Carter/Steve-Mclure's blog

Climbing slabs of slate has to be one of the most specialized disciplines in the game of climbing. It's hard to define the limits of what is possible as slab climbing seems to border on magic. How long can you walk the line of insecurity, desperation, perfect control, sending...or falling.

James McHaffie of the UK may have just pushed the limit of slab climbing a bit further with his ascent of Meltdown in the slate quarries of Llanberis.  The line, originally bolted by Johnny Dawes, has been a long term project that's gained quite a reputation over the 20 years since it's equipping. As one of the few to repeat the Very Big and the Very Small as well as other hard ascents in UK like the second ascent of the Big Bang (5.14d),[Video Link] McHaffie was the man for the job. He's suggested a grade of 5.14c or d for the line.

UKclimbing.com has a one minute clip of James on the first crux move that spit him off a few times.

Don't just do something, stand there! Click the image for the story and video at UKclimbing.com.