We talk to the climbers racking up in the valleys, roosting in the crags, and reliving their ascents in the pubs of the Lake District this summer. First up is James McHaffie, Extremely Proficient Rock Climber, and BMC Youth and Partnerships Officer. Lake District Born.
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Name, age, Main activity when not climbing;
James, 37, when not climbing probably reading or plotting something…
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Your favourite Lake District Route and why?
Very tricky to choose between the best routes on earth but…’Bitter Oasis’ E4 5c, Goats Crag, Borrowdale. It was put up by Pete Livesey who I had massive regard for both for his vision and dry humour. It cuts through wild terrain and when I first did it it felt a pushy lead and was the start of a great few years of climbing as a teenager.
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What does finding a true trad partner feel like?
Shared experiences can be powerful thing and trad can offer many great adventures to have with people, which ingrains trust. Most of my main trad partners I love to go to the pub with as much as the crag. Apart from Calum, doesn’t drink!
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Which climb keeps you awake at night?
The current one I’ve tried in Ireland is a Ricky Bell route called ‘Rathlin Effect’ E8 6c. I knew it would be hard from seeing the pics and speaking to Ricky. 65 metres long and it might be the wildest pitch I’ve ever been on. Dropped a dyno on it yesterday. It’s probably my dream route I think, bold technical wall climbing, wild laybacks and aretes. A mind blowing route.
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What’s your worst climbing habit?
Probably saying sorry a lot, I think it could be my coping mechanism when the going gets tough.
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What’s your most treasured piece of kit?
My talon skyhooks. I love and hate them!
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Which notable climbers would you invite to your dream crag day out?
Notable climbers crag day out: Emma Twyford, Maddy Cope, Katy Whitt, Sierra Blair, Sasha, Mina….no blokes are invited.
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What about the current state of climbing makes you unhappy?
The emphasis on training, improvement and self promotion I find a bit strange and sometimes off putting. What happens to peoples motivation if they don’t achieve the next grade and is climbing all about improvement? I don’t think it’s just within climbing though, with the world having changed so rapidly with things like social media and constant updates from everyone with a phone I think climbing is just trying to integrate this into it. Before news none got told when someone did something, now its tricky to pick out news from the ‘noise’ of everyday stuff.
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What’s the most important lesson trad has taught you?
Trad has taught me to be calm and focused (not all the time obvs) but those moments when you are in great need and you find that focused ‘heat’ which gets you through. I’ve definitely found it useful in other areas of life.
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To what do you owe your climbing mentors?
Some mentors like Colin Downer taught me to be safer and reduced the likelihood of dying young. You can learn a lot from people you respect. Often mentors won’t be climbers but people who find fulfilment or excel at something they enjoy or work. I think if someone has a passion for something it shows up, from people who are great crafts people to people who can recall everything from their memory. You can take a lot of traits from people you admire and work on them yourself.
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What’s the worst climb you’ve ever done?
‘Final Act’ E2 5c. A route on the far end of Shepherds dad cleaned up. I went back to find it and couldn’t even see a climb beneath the moss. Where did we go?
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What single thing would improve the quality of your climbing?
Resting more usually is the key to improve my climbing, but then I wouldn’t get as much done!
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Tell us a Lake District Secret?
There is an extra subject kids have to do in Cumbrian schools: The art of morbidity. Have you ever met more dower people from anywhere? Maybe Yorkshire.
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If you could bring something of climbings past back to life, what would it be?
I’d bring back open air raves in the slate quarries. I feel I’ve really missed out on a great cultural heritage.
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What does the future of climbing hold for you?
More trad adventures, I’ll hopefully be within striking distance of extreme rock later this year, depending on Scottish conditions. I’ll continue to help set up youth trad meets and oversee accessible climbing courses and things like the fundraiser campaign we did at the end of march this year. I’d be keen if I could just grow old as gracefully as possible and help some people out if possible along the way. We’ll have to see how things go though, sometimes I enjoy just going nuclear.
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Below: James Mchaffie making the first ascent of ‘The Royal Westing’ just a few days ago.
Below: A charity fundraiser which Caff did with Climbing for all Sheffield.

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