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The Complete Scream

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

Underdeveloped is to Irish climbing what Hard Grit is to Peak grit climbing. It came out in the mid 2000’s whilst I was at university in Belfast and I can remember Ricky Bell delivering a copy round to my house and then watching it on repeat. The final bit of footage, and certainly the best, is of Ricky climbing the first ascent of The Complete Scream. The history, the music, the grainy filming, they all add together to give a great wee bit of footage. I distinctly remember watching it and thinking what a mentalist.

Underdeveloped. I watched my first copy so much I wore it out.

A year or two later I climbed Primal Scream, Eddie Coopers classic line that traversed in above the bolt and headed to the top via some fantastic wall climbing. It was my first E6 so I was pretty chuffed. Lying at the top looking down the wall I couldn’t help but think what it would be like to climb all the way from the ground. It was a fantasy thought but the seed was sown and then swiftly forgot about. That day I was climbing with Swaily and the next day he suggested we go and climb Blockbuster, a classic E2. I got totally shut down on the first pitch, on second. Admittedly it’s a tricky jamming pitch but still, there is nothing like being totally shut down to put you back in your place. A week or two later I moved to North Wales and soon had a whole other country full of classic routes to be climbed.

Primal Scream in 2009 just before moving to North Wales. Photo: Jonny Parr

Ten years ago Fairhead was still one of those slightly mysterious places, especially across the water, that not many had been to. It was before the new guidebook and the Meets that would end up putting it firmly on the climbing radar. I would find myself going on about Fairhead and how great it was to anyone who would listen and for a couple of years I organised a big house in Ballycastle for myself and a bunch of friends from North Wales and Scotland to stay in. I remember feeling vindicated for going on about it when a couple of them proclaimed how they couldn't believe how good it was. Ricky had written us an ‘Ultimate Fairhead hitlist for hardcore Welsh bumblies’ which really was aimed at the likes of Caff but we could all pretend. It was the descriptions for the likes of The Complete Scream that really stood out, that both enticed you in and put you off at the same time.

The Complete Scream E8 6b

--it’s prime for an onsight--but it’s so fucking’s like Fr 7a+ maybe??? easy flat crimps all the way but one tricky move just below the traverse off primal scream..gotta stand up on your left foot on a small hold..easy peasy if you’ve been on it on a rope before...with a shit load of hooks you could maybe make it safe for a ground up/onsight...or its an quick head of the best lines in the country in my opinion...and personally i’d love to see it get onsighted--be careful tho//not worth getting killed on...

Nick on the utterly brilliant Un Jour, Peut Etre.

A few years later on a trip with Nick we had climbed the routes we came to do, including the absolutely fantastic 'Un Jour, Peut Etre' so we thought we might as well throw a rope down The Complete Scream, as neither of us would be going for the onsight so nothing lost. It’s one of those routes that isn’t actually ‘that hard’ on a top rope. It’s about Fr 7a+ for a couple of moves. The moves being about halfway up a 60m wall with really only skyhook and other marginal protection below you. I climbed it first go on a top rope and then wished I hadn’t, for now I knew I could climb it there was one less doubt but also a multitude of others in its place. I had another go and tried to find the elusive ‘new’ nut placement that some say made it E7 not E8. I was rather disappointed when I found it as, for me, it would come into the category of ‘wouldn't want to fall on that’, some of the skyhook placements felt more solid. I left Fairhead with yet another account opened and not knowing if it would be closed, or if I wanted to close it. The next couple of years were mainly taken up with becoming a Guide and it wasn't until I had passed that I could really focus again on proper rock climbing.

Starting off up the wall with as many skyhooks as I was able to get my hands on. I'd arrived at the bottom to Caff playing out some techno on his phone, thankfully he turned that off as it wasn't what I was needing at that point! Photo James Mchaffie

You’re on top rope

You’re on top rope

I’m sure I had heard those words in a climbing film but here I was saying them to myself halfway up the most stunning wall at Fairhead trying not to think about why on earth I was here in this position.

It was the last morning of the trip with Tim and Caff. I’d belayed Caff on The Rathlin Effect the day before so now it was his turn to hold my ropes. I’d come to the Fairhead Meet with a few routes in mind but really I had come to put to bed The Complete Scream in one way or another. Either I was going to do it or walkaway and try and forget about it. I had it wired; the climbing, the gear, the mental prep to a certain extent. What I didn’t know was how I was going to deal with being that far above the ground doing the crux moves with a few slings, blutacked skyhooks and a sideways nut in a fractured piece of rock. I have climbed a few bold routes but none this serious, none where the crux moves are so far away from any good gear that, if you blow it, you’re probably going to hit the ground from 30m up which would definitely be sub optimal.

My experience of headpointing was, that to a point, it’s a given that I’ll do the route with no falls as long as I can both switch my mind both off and on. This route was different as I wasn’t sure how my mind would deal with doing what is a wiggy move that far up. I think Caff had even once mentioned he thought it wasn't his cup of tea. I had thought over the small list of people who had climbed it and to my mind they are in a different league, why was I even thinking about trying it! I really wanted to climb it though and I knew that counted for a lot.

All I had to do was stand up on that tiny foothold, easypeasy. I had felt the tension build as I climbed to this point, the point of no return. Up or off (or more likely shakily downclimbing). I went to make the move and suddenly the fear came rushing towards me, the 'what if's' started to surface. I realised I was approaching a 'paralysis by analysis' scenario, if I spent too long thinking about it I wasn't going to do it and probably never would. Only one option, go for it. Talking out loud to myself, 'You're on top rope, you're on top rope..' Methodically going through the moves towards the jug and safety. 'I'm in' I shouted down to Caff as I relaxed on to the jugs of Primal Scream. A sigh of relief, a smile as I looked back down the wall. Climbing to the top was like a dream, I've never relaxed and enjoyed leading an E6 pitch as much.

Caff approaching the top and the end of an incredible trip.

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