As for sport climbing, Caff had onsighted up to 8a+ but had never spent much time redpointing on limestone. All that changed in 2010 when he turned his attention to the hard sport routes on Lower Pen Trwyn (LPT).
“I made the shift to sport partly because I've done much of the trad stuff near where I live,” says Caff. “To do harder sport offers a quick area of improvement and opens up more great routes.”
Infanticide (8c) fell quickly during the summer of 2010, but it was the heinous extension above that had really captured Caff’s imagination. Neil Carson’s route, Big Bang (9a) had remained unrepeated for 15 years and was certainly one of the outstanding challenges in North Wales.
After a hard winter season of training he returned to LPT in 2011 and began the battle of his life. Caff had raised his game and it soon showed as he redpointed up to the lip of the upper slab on repeated occasions; however, this proved to be the stopping point and repeated psyche-testing failures ensued.
Realising he needed uninterrupted focus to succeed he booked a nine-day stint off work. Success came unexpectedly on the first day: Caff had broken the spell of Carson’s route and was now part of a very select group of British climbers to have climbed 9a.
Throughout 2012 Caff continued his mission to take on the biggest challenges around. In the spring he ‘warmed up’ by making the first ascent of the Tower of Midnight (E8 6c) on Cyrn Las in the Llanberis Pass. Then in July he completed the first ascent of Johnny Dawes’ infamous unfinished slate project in Twll Mawr, Dinorwig Quarry. After some consideration Caff suggested a grade of 9a for The Meltdown, making it a contender for the hardest off-vertical pitch in the world. Later in the year he climbed the Pre-Miur Wall (5.13c/d) on El Capitan, Yosemite, with Hazel Findlay and Neil Dyer.
2013 brought a renewed focus on trad climbing and an astonishing roll call of hard ascents. The previous year Caff had made the trip to Hoy in Scotland and managed to repeat the crux pitch of Dave MacLeod’s Longhope, originally given E11 7a. Bad weather prevented a full ascent of this nine-pitch route but he returned in 2013 with Ben Bransby for a successful full ascent, commenting that a grade of E9 7a seemed more appropriate.
As 2013 progressed there came a slew of E7 onsights, Box of Blood (E7 6b/c) and Harmony (E7 6c) on Craig Dorys, and Night Flight (E7 6c) and Bubbly Boson (E7 6b) in Pembroke, to name a few. A swift repeat of the unspeakably bold Indian Face (E9 6b/c) at Cloggy was impressive given that Caff didn’t even bother top roping the whole route before going for the lead. He later climbed Margins of the Mind (E8 6c), next to Indian Face, after only checking the crux on abseil.
Also in North Wales he made rapid repeats of Gribin Wall (E8/9 6c) and Rare Lichen (E8/9 6c) on Clogwyn y Tarw, and over at Trearddur Bay, Chicama (E8/9 6c) was given short shrift, too.
Caff also made some superb first ascents in North Wales, including The Ambassador (E8 7a) on Milestone Buttress, Tick’s Groove (E6 6b) in the Dinorwig Quarries and the desperate Satan’s Scream (E8 6c) on Red Wall at Gogarth.
In 2014 he continued in a similarly impressive vein, onsighting numerous E7s—including three in one day at Greenham Common in Pembroke and two in a day on Dove Crag in the Lakes. Then another trip to Yosemite, this time with Dan McManus, resulted in free ascents of the classic big wall climbs Salathé Wall (5.13b) and El Nino (5.13c).
In June Caff returned to the Lakes to take on the previously abandoned challenge of soloing 100 extremes in a day. He completed this remarkable achievement in less than twenty hours and still made it to the pub in Keswick for last orders. This was a lifetime’s ambition realised and a deeply personal journey, which reconnected him with his Lakeland roots.