I’d thought about this route on and off for 3 years. Yes, it had become a bit of a nightmare, as I would mentally prepare for the idea of a lead attempt it would inevitably start to piss it down and I would just accept that it would have to wait another year. Maybe it was my easy exit out; to just blame it on the weather. It meant I didn’t have to really commit.
I’d climbed a fair chunk of the routes on the Cromlech ticking off the classics in the book case area. But, then it came to the more serious and famous routes, one’s that I had been saving for the onsight. The Cromlech always had a slightly intimidating aura and though I knew I was capable of climbing these routes there was something that made them feel more special and scary. Most of the time I will just get on a route but for Right Wall (E5 6a) and Lord of the Flies (E6 6a) I waited until the moment felt right.
I always knew that Nightmayer first climbed by Steve Mayer (E8 6c) in 1992 was on this majestic wall but I’d never entertained the idea of being good enough to climb it until the last few years. Somehow it had this unspoken aura surrounding it with only one repeat ascent by Tim Emmett. I saw the video footage of Nico Favresse trying to flash the route and taking the mega lob which only added to its reputation. I wondered why this route had seen so few ascents when Indian Face which was surely more dangerous had seen more than double the amount of ascents.
The intimidation of this route finally broke for me when strong dark horse Alex Mason tried this route and finally achieved the 3rdascent in the rain. I briefly tried the route with Mason and figured out a sequence on the crux. I started to realise this route was hard but possible, it sucked me in. Over the next couple of years it would dip in and out of my mind, luring me once again to the bottom of the face. It became a quiet and subtle obsession, I wanted to do it but I wanted to be ready for it both mentally and physically. I wanted to fight but be ready to justify the danger, overall I didn’t want to be stupid and hurt myself unnecessarily.
The following year I briefly tried it with Angus again before he got the 4thascent. In Nick Bullocks account of Nightmayer I found this funny description of Angus “In all of my time I don’t think I have seen a person so worked up and psyched and frustrated and driven all in one young bundle, or at least not since looking into an 18 year old reflection in a mirror” and “This tightly skinned, pent-up bundle once again began striding and shaking his head, obviously lost in a dream of him successfully pulling the final moves and standing here where we now stood but with this dream realised.”
For anyone who has met Angus I felt these descriptions were pretty apt. He’s incredibly passionate and obsessed but this drive makes him one of the most talented climbers I know. I hate to be too nice to Angus but climbing such a serious route on someone else’s rack which isn’t what you planned is probably one of the most impressive and stupid acts of commitment I know of.
This year I decided it was time to decrease the number of projects I was amounting but not finishing. I believe strongly in following the momentum you generate. It felt like the right time to try Nightmayer but it also felt like I had to commit and try it regardless of what the weather would do. I’d obsessively and quietly read Nick Bullock’s account of attempts and ascensionists over the years, I had no place left to hide, this time I would face this route head on. On my first return to this route with James Taylor I retro flashed the route on a top rope but I was sure the sequence I had was a poor one. I top roped it again clean with the same sequence and was discussing a return trip with James, maybe I should stop trying to top rope it clean and get a decent sequence.
We returned about a week later. I think both of us had a plan to lead it with one more top rope to check gear and the sequences. As we left Llanberis village driving up in James’s car I was quietly nervous. John Bunney would be arriving later to get pictures of our lead attempts so it seemed like today was inevitably the day for success or some air time. It had rained a bit earlier in the week but we were sure it would be dry, we were right in some ways but wrong in others.
As we rocked up to the bottom of the crag we were both surprised to see an unexpected wet streak on the bold section of climbing. Well that was that then, game over but we should check it out anyway on top rope as we’ve walked all the way up here. I set up off the classic Cemetery Gates to get us to the top of the route so we could set up a top rope to check the line. Whilst James set off down I sat up at the top in my own little sanctuary eating some Bilberries to pass the time and admire the views of the pass on offer. I knew I wanted to be here, this crag has bought me so much joy over the years and I am sure it is one I will keep returning to just for the pleasure to climb some of the classic routes again or to introduce other people to its delights.
As we lowered to the bottom I tried to towel dry the wet patches in the hope it would magically make the route dry, blind optimism was my best bet right now. James went first cruising through the moves cleanly as there are no consequences on top rope. I decided to break it down and check the gear out so I would know what I was placing and where. I tried to figure out better sequences but as it turned out my spanner sequence instincts were pretty good. James was up first, he understandably got pretty terrified on the wet section but put in a ballsy effort falling off mid crux at the top, he’d shown it was possible despite the bad conditions and I have no doubt when it dries out James will be back to smash this route.
As I set off for my attempt I was trying not to let the wet terrain get to my head. I started off up the shared start with Lord of the Flies questioning everything I was doing. I reversed to get my ‘shit’ together and to settle on the decision that I was going to give it everything I had. Once my head had settled I quickly got into the bold section and hit a special moment of being calm. As I hit the first wet holds on House of God the idea of falling and being uncertain as to whether the tiny cam and wire nest would hold didn’t phase me. I panicked a little with how wet the holds were, especially the positive holds that were part of my sequence but I managed to improvise a little to avoid these holds and I knew the dangerous bit would be over quickly. My head took me into a zone where I just focused on the climbing and not the consequences.
I made it to the ledges after the porthole a little more pumped than I had been on top rope, some of the holds after the porthole and on the second run out had been a little damper than I expected. I decided to get the decent ledge nests of kit in and wander out right under right wall to re-focus and dry my boots off in a more comfortable position. I went over to have a chat with Bunney and have a bit of a giggle, it put my head in the right place again after a fairly terrifying start. I was ready to give it everything for the hard head wall with run outs between good kit.
As I set off leaving the ledges the climbing gets technically trickier, I aimed for the next bomber wire as quickly as I could. I was in, this was the point where I could no longer feasibly reverse the moves I could only push on or bail on to the gear if I got scared. I’d got this far though so bailing didn’t really feel like an option, I had to really try hard even if I felt like I was about to fall. The next few tricky moves came just after the good wire, I knew I could blow it on these tenuous moves. All the time my brain is computing this perfectly executed sequence with no hesitation, it feels so involved trying to focus on the right footholds making sure I use the correct hand sequence with the right body position. But it flows so beautifully, the Cromlech makes you feel like a technical wizard and this route is the culmination of all the routes on the Cromlech.
I gain the pockets just before the crux and at the height where Nico took his infamous big lob. There are quite a few holds around this area that will eventually break off, who knows what they will leave behind. Will Sim broke something off around the crux when he was working it, as Nick seemed to think it might be something to do with his Cumbrian fingers of steel. As I hit a good pinch just before the last wire, it wobbles a bit and I hoped this wouldn’t be the time it decided to detach itself from the rock. I move into the crimps making one hard move before I can place the last crucial wire, it slots in perfectly. I feel so alone up here with this tiny crucial wire, it has held so many falls, I’m sure it will hold me too. The crux is hard, I hit the Spock pocket badly with only my middle and little finger. As I move my left foot up I feel like I’m falling outwards but somehow I stay on when my foot hits the miniscule foot edge and I’m suddenly falling upwards. But now I’ve really set myself up for the potential of a bigger fall onto the small wire. I hit the sanctuary of 2 good pockets before the last few hard moves to the top. I place 2 good skyhooks, at least I tell myself that because I don’t want to think about what might happen if I blew the last moves onto the small wire. I shake out for a long time, I don’t want to leave the pockets but I know I will eventually have to go for the last moves. I finally decided it was time to finish the journey, I hit the last hard move from a backhand, rolled into a small pocket and gained the top shelf. I’d made it to the top and let out a big whoop of relief and probably a fair few choice swearwords.
I had a small moment of reflection at the top. I took in the scenery and I gave myself a small moment to celebrate. I was happy to top out on such an incredible route on one of the most iconic walls in North Wales but also a little sad that it was over.
I have had one of my best trad years to date in terms of headpointing and this route comes close to being the top spot. I love the Cromlech in all it’s glory, I love the history behind the routes up there and I can appreciate the impressive first ascents in their day. I always knew that Steve was a strong climber but this might be one of his most impressive first ascents in my humble opinion, it definitely felt pretty ‘out there’ and technically tricky to me. I can now go into a new phase of appreciation of the Cromlech, if I’m walking up there now it is will be for the joy of just climbing up there until the time I decide to try the upper routes I guess.