For this week’s guest treat, super-keen climber Duncan Campbell reflects on one of trad’s great rites of passage. We’ve all been there, if only in our dreams, but is it the right time? Pic by Rob Greenwood.
I look up, try to relax my grip and shake the flash pump out of my forearms whilst I plan a sequence up and across the pocketed wall above…
I waited for this moment for 5 years and I want to tell you how I floated through every sequence, how I felt strong, confident, how the day was warm and the rock was dry. But that’s not how it happened.
Fortunately, the near hurricane winds aren’t in full effect here but there is little sun and it doesn’t feel like June. I curse myself for not warming up properly, for not bringing a belay jacket, for not waiting until tomorrow when the wet pockets would have had more time to dry.
What’s one more day compared to 5 years?
No. It could not be put off anymore, I want to know what it is like up there, I want to feel the flutter of the runout, to peer into the ‘porthole’, the flow of the sequences, to dare to set off.
Right Wall, E5 6a, Dinas Cromlech. F.A. Pete Livesey 1974.
My relationship with Right Wall began in 2010, during my first year at Bangor
For those that don’t know (shame on you!) Right Wall weaves its way up the wall right of Cenotaph Corner on the Cromlech, and has captured my imagination for years, seemingly encapsulating a lot of what British climbing is all about. It doesn’t follow any crack systems, and incorporates tricky, sustained climbing with some long run outs.
My relationship with Right Wall began in 2010, during my first year at Bangor University. I had arrived an E1 leader, yet by Christmas had on-sighted my first E3 with the slate classic Comes the Dervish. I thought I was God’s gift to climbing and this progression proved that. At this rate E5 by the summer should be no problem so I set my sights on Right Wall.
Obviously, I didn’t get anywhere near Right Wall that summer, I on-sighted my first E4s but these were on the slate; I was bold, I had strong fingers, but my endurance and steep climbing technique were poor. I had a great summer consolidating at E2, falling off Left Wall, E2 5c, exposed my lack of endurance, but gave me the kick up the arse to do something about it.
A couple of years went by and although it was still an ambition, I was still consolidating at E4 and too intimidated by the Cromlech to even think about heading up there. If someone suggested going to do Right Wall I would put it off, before I knew it I had left North Wales without even attempting it.
Riding high on an already amazing trip I fired up to North Wales from Pembroke, sights set firmly on the Cromlech… Typically, as we reached the boundaries of Snowdonia the sky became dark and by the time we reached Llanberis, the rain fell thick and fast, continuing to do so through the night and into the morning. The Right Wall of the Cromlech stayed wet all day as we skulked at the bottom, another good day and it would be dry enough, waking to more rain we sacked it and headed off to Gogarth.
Another opportunity arose, but unsure where to go at the start and feeling the pressure I down-climbed. My head not in the game after a long, productive summer of pushing the boat out.
Now ready, I have a few E5s under my belt, and have been restless to get Right Wall done whilst on form…
Moving through the wet, positive pockets I remain calm. A stretch past a wet streak gains a smooth, wet sidepull. There is nothing else so I quickly commit to the move and even quicker lose any composure. Back on dry holds I look around for gear – there are no cracks;
“Where the fuck is this bomber wire?”
“By your knee – it looks shit but it is good”
I slap my way through the next hard section to the ledge and before calming down to climb the technical section to the porthole. One last worrying sequence sees me above the difficulties. I look down and take in the full feeling of the final runout – I am suddenly aware that this is the end of a dream. The deep ache of cold flash pump remains in my shoulders and forearms whilst I climb the final crack to the top, trying for the life of me to enjoy it and not rush to the top.
I look down and take in the full feeling of the final runout – I am suddenly aware that this is the end of a dream
Back at work on Monday, I don’t feel the joy I thought I would feel, only a weird emptiness. I begin to fall into daydreams about Right Wall only to have them burst by real memories, not memories of me cruising though. Reality rarely lives up to 5 years of dreaming. Soon enough it sinks in and I begin to enjoy the memories: the bad conditions made it better, not worse.
For many ambitious climbers, Right Wall is high on the list of routes, and when those that have done it are asked what next, they can often be heard to whisper “oh Lord…”