Some boulder problems carry the weight of history on their shoulders; they stand out like beacons of hope, emblematic of a higher ideal. These special lines are deeply inspiring, even to those who have no chance of ever grasping the holds. In short, they matter.
One such problem is the infamous Fred Nicole Roof at Porth Ysgo. Back in the 90s, when the modern bouldering boom really took off in North Wales, attention soon became focussed upon this immaculate dolerite boulder field. After a frenzy of activity most of the obvious lines up to 7C had been climbed, but one big bad project stuck out like a sore thumb.
The jet black roof right of Willyís Crack was a glaringly obvious challenge Ė the trouble being, it was far too challenging for the members of the North Wales Bouldering Mafia who frequented the crag at the time. It was even beyond the ken of the super strong Paul Higginson, who subsequently went on to climb the era-defining, Pool of Bethesda 8A+ in the Llanberis Pass.
At the time Fred Nicole was the best boulderer in the world; it seemed only natural to name the project in his honour. A few years later Mark Katz met Fred in the US and told him of his namesake project, but alas, Fred could not be tempted to make the journey to the Lleyn. No doubt he would have crushed it if he had, but no one gets a medal if they donít turn up for the game. Fredís indifference did little to dent the reputation of the project, which left all who saw it gasping in awe at its perfect form.
In more recent years general bouldering standards had begun to rise and the idea of climbing at a similar level to Fred was no longer quite so unthinkable. One man who regularly seems to think the unthinkable and follows through by doing the undo-able is the supremely talented Mike Adams. In 2010 he became interested in the Fred Nicole Roof. Although, in the end, not successful on the main right-to-left line, he did come away with Left Said Fred, a rather wild 8A, which snatches into and climbs the end section of the main roof project. (Incidentally, would-be wads, this is unrepeated.)
Mike wasnít the only person who felt the magnetic pull of this great project. Local lad, Dave Noden, had also fallen under its spell. He started to work the moves and made good progress, sorting out a useable, albeit desperate sequence. Nonetheless a successful ascent proved hard to nail, as fickle conditions and tidal restrictions, not to mention the hour drive from Llanberis, all conspired to push success frustratingly, just out of reach.
Pete Robins also became interested and spent a few sessions trying to join the dots on this minimally featured line. To the bystander it seemed obvious that if you could combine Dave and Peteís strong points on the problem you would have a quick and clean ascent. Unfortunately we donít yet have the technology to meld two grown men into one, so the last great project remained just that, a project.
May Bank Holiday 2013 and the DMM sponsored German team arrived in North Wales to sample some of the climbing and cultural delights that make this such a special area. Alex Megos, a key member of the visiting team, is riding high on a wave of hard ascents across the world, which has seen him widely regarded as a true rival to that other globetrotting superstar, Adam Ondra.
First day and the DMM hosts had the good sense to take the band of Euro wads to Porth Ysgo. Alex tried the line and got close, but an incoming tide, which threatened to wash away the spotting team, cut short his attempts. That might have been it, but the unseasonably cold weather curtailed any ambitions to engage with the hard sport routes of LPT. Alex did go down and do Statement of Youth F8a, but left quickly, disappointed by the cold and greasy conditions.
Porth Ysgo was calling again - and those who have visited will be familiar with the intoxicating draw of the place Ė a rematch was too tempting to miss.
This time Pete Robins, acting as an ambassador for the North Wales crew, joined the team. Unfortunately, the roof was quite damp on arrival and hopes of a successful ascent dwindled. Sea level conditions can change quite quickly though, and as luck would have it that is exactly what happened. After some spirited attempts to dry the holds, the friction improved dramatically and a good hour of sticky friction ensued. Being the pro that he is, Alex, made his move and completed the ascent.
And that was that, the Fred Nicole Roof was finally made real. A world class 8B, stuck on the end of the Lleyn Peninsula.
Despite the long established traditional name, Alex has suggested a new moniker: Das Pumpenhausen Test Piece. Whether or not this gains wider usage remains to be seen (the response thus far from the locals has been less than enthusiastic).
As a foot note it is worth mentioning Alexís visit to Parisellaís Cave on Bank Holiday Monday. Once more he was given a guided tour by Pete Robins and came away with the following impressive run of problems:
Lou Ferrino sans chipped holds 8A, Halfway House 8A, Rock Atrocity 7C, Hatchatrocity 8A, Hatchlife High 8A/+, Left Wall Traverse 7B, Left Wall High 7C, Beaver Cleaver 7A+/B, and Bonnie 8A/+ to the last drill hole.