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Tuning the Piano

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The balancey span move across to the arete on My Piano. Exquisite moves.

This last couple of months Nesscliffe, the secluded Shropshire sandstone crag, has seen a whirlwind of action by Britain’s best trad climbers. James “Caff” McHaffie, Emma Twyford, Calum Musket, Angus Kile and Tom Livingstone, to name a few, all made the pilgrimage at the same time to try their hand at the hard routes. In a matter of four days, there were countless E8 and E7’s ascents, many onsight. There was so much action everywhere that was difficult to concentrate on my own little project: My Piano (E8 6c). It’s fair to say that I felt under the spell of Nesscliffe on my very first visit. We decided to go there on a whim deciding against Longridge at the last minute, only to discover an enchanted magical place with intriguing mythical routes.

This is about where I took the fall that broke my helmet. After the left hand pinch I latched the right hand crimp and then it's pretty much ove. I didn't clip the biner hanging in this pic, just topped out with the last gear below in the break.

The line that immediately caught my attention was My Piano, as soaring arete carved out of orange sandstone of the Main Wall (I admit I have a soft spot for sandstone). The only problem was that the route was supposedly E8, a long way above my pay grade. So for the next three years I became a somewhat regular of the crag trying to hone my skills. I worked my way through the routes at my level, the E3’s and E5’s and eventually found myself dropping a top rope on the route that initially inspired me. The other slight detail about the route is that it couldn’t have been more my anti-style: vertical, insecure, balancey climbing on sloping holds with some big run-outs, even potential for decking out. In fact, it couldn’t have been a worse candidate for my hardest trad route yet.

Caff on his hard project, the extension of Bird Brain. The rumor is that is about 8b+/c climbing, Nessy's first E10?

So my journey became inevitably long due to my ineptitude with that particular style, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the learning and I can safely say I’m all the better climber for it now. And in the process I seem to have drawn quite a few people into the crag. I wouldn’t credit myself with the “Nessy momentum”, but it seemed that coincidentally some weekends the crag was teeming with some of the best British talent, setting the crag alight with impressive ascents right, left and centre. There’s nothing more rewarding than sharing the love of an quirky obscure crag with your kindred spirit. All that attention culminated last weekend with quite a gathering were the group psyche was so high that I think gravity level must have dropped considerably for me to finally get up the route without falling (I took a fall from high up earlier on, resulting on a broken helmet and bruised body). I couldn’t have time it better to climb My Piano on that weekend as for just a fleeting two days it seemed to be the beating heart of British Trad. As for the grade, My Piano might be E7 or E8 depends how you look at it, but that’s missing the point, I didn’t climb it for the number. It was an experience I won’t forget any time soon.

Andre defied the crag mood of Sheffielders moaning about bad conditions to send his long term project Mecca (8b+) on his second go of the day. Photo: Hot Aches

Me and Andre don't climb together much nowadays, but when we do, it's a blast. We had a weekend line up to go North, and since he was working Mecca, Raven Tor it was. I was keen to get back into sport climbing, but the Nesscliffe rat kept nagging me for further feeding. But I kept the psyche up for the Tor to support Andre. It was a cold and humid day and most folk weren't too happy about conditions and that seemed to be the topic of the crag. Not that stopped Andre. If you drive five hours for your project, you give it all you got. And that's what he did, dispatching the route on his second attempt. I was trying "Obscene Toilet", and as the route name might suggest, it failed to keep away my thoughts of Nesscliffe. As soon as I lowered to the ground I suggested to Andre to head to there, and of course, in less than ten minutes later we were driving to Shropshire.

The start of 10 O'clock Saturday Morning E7 6c. So please to do this quickly. Harder but safer than My Piano, so less of a mental battle.

On my last visit I had a quick play on 10 0'clock Saturday Morning (Johnny Dawes birth time apparently) and I found I could do it in a oner but didn't have enough time to lead it. This time, as soon as we got to Nessy, with a beautiful golden light shimmering through the trees, I top rope it in a oner again. We retreated to the Three Pigeons pub for a meal and then to the van to drink beer and whisky. The Sunday proved a bit challenging to get out of bet feeling far from fresh, but that's the usual cards you get hand out when climbing with Andre. Once we burned off the whisky with a warm up on the route, Andre went for the flash. The problem with Andre, him being deaf, you have to give all the beta on the ground, because once he's off, he's off, and no chance of giving on-the-go beta. He did well getting to the crux, but went for it wrong handed and took a whopper on the half-in peg. A bit more play on the crux and he dutifully got it done next go. I went up next feeling all confident that it would be a piece of cake only to fall off on the peg. Three more falls later I did go through the crux eventually. Bloody whisky. I lowered, rested for five minutes and got back on. This time all went well and really enjoyed climbing in control and feeling I knew what I was doing.

The finishing touches to 10 O'clock E7 6c

Both content with the quick E7 tick, we moved on to Bird O'clock, which is another E7 that starts Bird brain and tops out the route we just done. Andre went first on a top rope and didn't have much trouble. I went next and also top rope it flash without much of an issue. Next Andre geared up nonchalantly, I asked a few questions whether he had the right gear, which he ignored and he was off. By half way up I could see things were not going well, Andre seemed pumped and basically the last good gear half way up the route. As he neared the top, he placed the dodgy thread around the sandy rock bridge as his only gear before the last peg that protect the last crux which is reaching the top of the crag. At once I realized what was about to happen: the peg hadn't been extended, so he'll have to do the last crux move with only teh thread a pro, which he would break in case of a fall and he would flying sideways (without helmet) halfway down the crag and swing onto the Tombola corner unless I figured a good way to stop it. I realized by watching Andre sketching up the last moves that he was at his limit so I chose for a super soft catch to avoid impact. I immediatly walked back, payed slack and as soon he went for the mono move, with his left and at the top of the crag, he pinged off, fell, broke the thread runner and kept flying down and sideways. I immediately run in, jumped up and let some rope through the system, luckily he avoided impact but landed was short of my head, so a good 10mt fall. He was visibly shaken, so I skipped telling him off. All I said that next time he was wearing a helmet or I wouldn't belay, specially since he's expecting his first child in a few weeks.

About to start the difficulties on Bird O'clock E7 6c. I bailed soon after this, having run out of steam for the day.

After Andre's epic was my turn, but after the adrenaline subsided, my pysched to go for it subsided a bit. Still, I racked up and tied on, but as soon as I reached the first crux I just bailed, I just didn't have it in me and didn't fancy more terrifying falls, specially since the one I took from the upper deck of My Piano really hurt. So we call it quits for an amazing weekend and headed back down South still buzzing from it all. Never a boring weekend with the Hedger.

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