F9a on slate – Caff nails Meltdown project

Yesterday evening James ‘Caff’ McHaffie completed the infamous Meltdown project in the Dinorwig slate quarries. This heinously thin line snakes up the wall right of the first pitch of The Quarryman in Twll Mawr.

The route was first equipped and tried by slate master, Johnny Dawes in the late 80s. Johnny came close to doing it (essentially climbing F8c at a time when this grade didn’t really exist anywhere in the world) but in the end had to walk away empty handed.

For many years the line was left to gather dust, but in recent years Caff was drawn to it. The technicalities he found were obscene and he immediately realised that he was facing a long and tricky battle. For a start, persuading belayers to go down into Twll Mawr is not easy; it is an intimidating place with precious little on offer at a reasonable standard. Consequently Caff made many visits on his own, working the moves on a shunt.

In the end he had around 25 sessions on the route, ten of those with a belayer, the rest alone. Until last week he was still talking about it being a long term project, but in a session with Pete Robins he suddenly clicked into a groove and did some big links. For the first time a successful redpoint seemed graspable – if only the weather would play ball.

Yesterday was another manky, damp day, not actually raining but quite humid and always threatening to turn wet. Caff had asked Pete to go down with him, but Pete went to work instead, not believing it was worth the risk of a wasted day.

Luckily for Caff, V12’s very own ‘Jimmy Big Guns’ McCormack was available so Caff had a belayer – all he had to do was piece it all together in one link before the next band of rain arrived.

After a few false starts and some trouble with a quickdraw, the outcome was uncertain. Then, much to Jim’s amazement, Caff surged through the difficulties and made it to the lower-off. History had been made; the quarries (and perhaps North Wales as a whole!) had a new hardest route.

Excited phone calls soon spread the word: The Meltdown had finally been conquered and a new chapter in slate’s rich history was complete.

At first Caff was cautious about attaching a definitive grade, but after some consideration he settled on F9a and added:

“The traverse right at the top involves probably the hardest moves on slate.”

To read more about the background The Meltdown check out page 360 in the history section of the Llanberis Slate guide; it includes a full description of the moves from Johnny (sample quote: “Each move is different to any other, tiny slivers of slate as side pulls manifested in spookily appropriate positions, rounded micro mounds for feet, set in natural perfection to limit the sweep of the hand.”)

Johnny dominated the original development of The Quarryman wall, producing all of the significant routes, including The Quarryman E8 7a and  the unrepeated Coeur de Lion E8 7a. The only previous exception to his reign was Adam Wainwright’s desperate Blockhead E7 6c. Last summer Johnny did make something of a comeback onsighting the difficult and run out King of the Mezz E7 6c.

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