"To most people in the climbing world, John Redhead was best known as arguably the finest rock climber of his day. Some of his routes had to wait for up to ten years before a second ascentionist had sufficient madness or bottle (not to mention ability) to repeat them, and were characterised by lethal seriousness combined with cutting-edge technical difficulty. Many have not seen a third ascent and Margins of the Mind remains unrepeated, eighteen years on (“What does that say about the youth of today?”, says Redhead).
However, his primary means of self expression was his painting; big canvases which mattered more to him than his climbing did, and which was a side of him hardly revealed to the often un-artistically minded climbing public.
He was perceived by many, including me, as an intense, potentially unstable madman, screaming at the periphery of the technical, wild-eyed and wild-haired; sexually obsessed and in constant homage to the fecund, menstrually prolific Earth Goddess. Just look at his route names: The Tormented Ejaculation, Cockblock, The Clown (a potent symbol of male weakness), A Wreath of Deadly Nightshade, Womb Bits, Menstrual Gossip, Manic Strain, Sexual Salami. The fact that he called one of them Margins of the Mind perhaps indicated where he was operating from.
He is maybe best known (and most notorious) for the saga of his routes on Great Wall at Cloggy: his painting high on the crag, about which the howls of outrage reverberated from every cliff in the land: his allegedly knocking on Johnny Dawes' door to present him with the “crucial” flake from the Indian Face, of which more later.
Equally legendary and surrounded by such rumour that they are almost mythic in quality are his routes on North Stack at Gogarth: following Fawcett’s example (The Cad), but taking it “out there”, to put up The Bells, The Bells – E7 6b in the days of EB’s – and The Demons of Bosch E7 6b, on which a krab unclipped itself from the peg, bringing about fear-induced hallucinations of leering demons who mocked him as he continued to climb, when a fall would have been the end.'
That Photo in context !
This Friday,Brian Trevelyan travels from the English climbing capital of Sheffield to the Welsh climbing capital of Llanberis with partner Jude Calvert-Toulmin to meet the enigmatic enfant terrible of Welsh Climbing...John Redhead. Originally written for the late lamented UK climbing magazine 'On the Edge'. the article was never published.A revealing insight into the life and philosophy of a creative force of nature.