I relate to Clogwyn Du'r Arddu's Great Wall in two ways: obsessively, and with disinterest, both holding equal space in my ambivalent brain. A tortuous hard-edged abstraction fusing into a surreal blur, captured visions, strange scenarios of fleeting ordeals, dancing, finger-tipping, all stilled on a limbering backcloth. Not a black cliff, nor even grey, but framed by vibrant colour, an ecstasy of claustrophobic white beyond the confines of the stage and sickly whole. Betrothed to this substance I act out my petulances, clothed in fear, the earth humming around my presence, ancient, the very epicentre of all birth-trauma — indeed she is a very kind lady. I am, of course, no exception. With each child, each climb, the question — and we keep paying for this audacity. She remains supreme, for me never more beautifully apparent than here — Great Wall, Clogwyn Du'r Arddu. The players and their games, the Wall's lure for generations of climbers, their actions and their videos, the past bouts which soil the screen, blacken the cliff which in reality is never black, nor at all sombre. Of tradition, the words here are plentiful, joined together for your indoctrinated logic, steeped in the Establishment quagmire. I care very little, play to my own parameters. However abstract these lines appear, they form a discipline. An historical account?
The Black Cliff is your neat package. Indulge yourself; Boysen Quasimodo-esque, a cartoon-photograph on Troach, swinging on a long sling. Climbing? Banner on an attempt on Troach, spending hours chipping a spike. I don't believe it! Braithwaite hammering nuts into cracks; Yates pre-placing chocks; and Crew, so desperately obsessed to burn Brown off, abseiling, chipping, pre-placing. Is this comedy? Are they real?-Still with the audacity to talk about the ethics of today. . ? But the screen exists — a quality wall, perhaps the finest. Consuming. . . She expels the players to her flanks. The last white I ever saw. "Great Wall" itself is a classic route, with a history of much nonsense and debate I don't care to take too seriously: Brown with his allocation of two pegs and two balls; Kid Crew in dubious style and trendy sunglasses; "John Allen climbs Great Wall free with chalk" at E3, 6a; eventually soloed; a classic tale. I first really appreciated the fabric of the rock from the Great Wall stance; Drummond's brink.challenge of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; freed by Whillance in 1977 at E6,6b — fine effort though this was, Drummond's sky-hook blast was the wild fix. Second attempts at the freestyle ended dramatically: Berzins plummetted above the top peg, stripping it and some of the flake behind which it nestled; Carrigan reached a similar position, flew away on a 70ft scream.
Hall pulled out on a
rope; the second ascent in '82 by myself. Drummond's bolt, blessed
thing — it failed to be mentioned in the fracas surrounding my own
attempts on "Master's Wall", when bolts were an issue. I
wonder if a chipped spike for aid might have been more acceptable?
"Master's" — my own attempts from 1980 have been well
wagged about. I called them the "Tormented Ejaculation" —
not just mere climbing, but an expression of the flesh and blood of
my work, the poetry of rock-movement inextricably bound up with the
network of shape and colour. A vague, indeterminate line down Great
Wall was inspected and cleaned and the lack of protection soon became
painfully evident. With the day drawing in, and the apparently
unjustifiable nature of the route looming ever larger in my mind,
Chris Shorter and I decided to bale out. A last look at the line and
strange impulse took hold of me. I went for it. At 70ft I woke up.
Ghastly! The aggression was dissipated and fear gripped me. I had
climbed with virtually no protection and was now eyeballing a tiny
shallow crack. I remembered it from the abseil and it had looked
pathetic. It was real now. I contemplated jumping on the scree below
before the situation got out of control. I fell a million times, my
arms unfolding, my breath fading.
Original Images-Keith Robertson
A number 1 stopper came to a halt, halfway down this crack, half-in, rocking —my weight was on it. I clipped in and sagged down, unable to comprehend the awful possible consequences should the nut slip through. It didn't, and I was lowered to the ground. The next day I returned, only to see myself lowering from a sky-hook. I switched to another channel and learned a lot about chrysanthemums. I came back on 13 May 1980. The mental preparation was becoming harder and harder. The so-called psyching-up, a pain beyond reason. Out of the acquaintance grew more and more fear. Gone the initial naivety which had sparked off this now terrifying enterprise. I knew the score and was unnerved by it. Keith Robertson ("Big Willy") holding the lines — fine mood — encouraged — no sky-hook — I go. I distinctly felt a tiny slide on a friction move lower down and became very insecure, with my feet in Canyon boots. I got to the little crack another 20ft up and was dangerously pumped because of the extra strain on my fingers. The resin was wearing off the boots. I managed to place an RP1, clipped in and was about to place a No. 2 when my right foot shot off. The strain came on the RP, ripped it through and I cartwheeled a long way down the wall. A No. 1 stopper held and, encouraged, I climbed back up. Stuck again, I jumped for an abseil rope and pretended to forget the programme —I was more than bored with the whole series. But my pathetic memory became once again in situ on the wall — another failure — no dramatics. And again in '81, further than ever, but still failing to move left into the faint groove/crack. I placed the famous bolt — confident in its justification.
Gearing up for next
year, I broke my wrist badly. Moffatt skipped in, wearing sunglasses.
I suppose I did care a little. I had much, much time to put myself
into some cartoon sketch depicting pathos and long slings on Troach —
looking bad! A line was climbed and, with much presumption, called
Master's Wall. I repeated the route this summer at E7,6b with Dave
.Towse, and realised that if the bolt was replaced for my route, the
existing route — Master's Wall —which traverses off into
Spreadeagle, would be substantially changed. So we think again. I
look upon my lurcher dog as the real heroine of Cloggy, after a
particularly extensive scavenging exercise whilst I was climbing this
summer. Many sacks had been looted. There were many complaints about
my fine animal. One lady climber, having been on the rock all day,
looking forward to her butties, returned to find torn scraps of
paper, she was so indignant that she demanded to know whether I had
any sandwiches. My back was up, and I said that I wasn't so stupid as
to bring food to the cliff with me, as I knew my thieving dog would
have it, and that if she had any complaints and could run fast, she
should take it out on the dog, as the dog owned itself, especially on
Cloggy that day.
High's original Feature from 35 years ago.
Prior to the second ascent of "Master's Wall" two other lines were climbed. We were there five days, two lives, camped as lovers, a pure cobalt sky, the sun baked our bodies. The lake was cool, and a fine woman brought us food and things. We slept till noon and climbed in the orange of evening. The first line was Margins of the Mind at E7,6b/c, the second a line on Great Wall, inspected, cleaned, dreamily cruised and called Womb-Bits, E5,6b, a beautiful pitch, describing much atmosphere and style. This begins easily 25ft right of Great Wall, starting in earnest at a layaway move into a crack — good RPs, and that's enough, because I'm not writing a frigging guidebook. So get your own heads into Midsummer Night's Dream's traverse into the Great Wall stance. Mocking The Black Cliff, Towse asked, "Womb-Bits, Womb-Bits, what the hell's a Womb-Bits?" Lazy but intense hours bathed in joyous non-colour. Fixed. Floating on an aura perceivably sliceable. Their day done, the dancers returned to camp. We emerged to cross their path: "Climbing?" "Aye!" "Master's" slipped by, the greyness in my head a little paler, almost unnoticed — an anti-climax, sad at the butchered aesthetics, though happily steadied by the purity of movement, I cast my eye at the blinding, death-like passage that beckons — a little leftwards. .
John Redhead: First published in High-January 1985