Mathew Wright adds Magical Thinking (E10 7a) on Pavey Ark
- Wednesday 19th July 2023
Having made the fourth ascent of Lexicon (E11 7a), Mathew (Mat) Wright has returned to Pavey Ark's East Gully Wall in the Lake District to add Magical Thinking (E10 7a).
The East Gully Wall is one of the most imposing of all on Pavey Ark; impressively, one of the earliest hard classic routes, Astra (E2 5c), dates back to 1960! Following the ascents of Fallen Angel (E4 6a) and Mother Courage (E4 6a) in the '70s it was local legend Dave Birkett’s 1999 route, Impact Day (E8 6c), that really pointed towards the potential of the wall. After considerable effort, Neil Gresham added Lexicon (E11 7a) but one line remained; the direct finish to Sixpence (E6 6b). This line had captivated Charlie Woodburn for quite a while; however, once he’d ‘opened’ the project up Mat Wright returned and made the first ascent of yet another outstanding test-piece.
Climber has talked to Mat about his ascent; here’s that discussion.
East Gully Wall has clearly got under your skin; congrats on completing the first ascent of Magic Thinking. How does it feel adding that to your CV?
Absolutely! It must be one of the most impressive trad walls in England, surely? Climbing this and Lexicon last year felt utterly surreal to say the least, both sharing interesting parallels. Everything about Pavey Ark seems to pull me in, its immense exposure and mountain aspect makes it feel so inviting. I guess it’s almost less about the routes themselves, but more about being high up, on one of the most insane cliffs in Britain. Climbing Magical Thinking and Lexicon are really what climbing on this wall’s about for me.
It just so happens that both routes have such incredible rock, moves and exposure whilst suiting my style perfectly! I couldn’t have wished for a better experience on either route. I’d do that approach daily if that’s the experience I’ll gain every time.
Can you tell us how and when you first became interested in the route?
I’d known about this project pretty much ever since I first started trying Lexicon. Many rumours regarding difficulty and seriousness were circulating; it almost felt as if this was a local topic of discussion. It seemed that it was on everybody’s radar but nobody wanted to commit to the risk attached and the committing approach!
Charlie Woodburn spent many hours working on this unbelievable project… and he’s already got many serious routes to his name. How did you begin on the line; firstly with respect to Charlie and then working on the line and building up to the lead?
Charlie has a well-earned reputation for being one of Britain’s most prolific bold headpoint climbers, making early repetitions of many of the UK's hardest trad routes! I have the ultimate respect for Charlie. I’d heard many rumours regarding this unbelievable project that Charlie had been trying. I always thought about how I would love to be up there, trying that amazing line once Charlie had made the first ascent! Sadly, Charlie decided that he no longer wanted to continue with the process, and opened the gates to others seeking interest. He gave me the thumbs up to check it out which I was hugely excited for!
The process itself was no different to any other headpoint really! I spent three days swinging around in space, trying to find the most reliable sequence… A sequence that I know I wouldn’t fall off. What I discovered was some really cool holds, moves and positions. I couldn’t wait to get on the lead! Although it came together in good time, I felt extremely intimidated by its potentially fatal fall. The thought of making a mistake on the lead kept me up at night! I’d have to risk it all, but the risk was so worth it.
It’s a serious route – more so, in many ways than Lexicon - in that there’s a ramp in the fall zone directly beneath much of the hard climbing. That’s obviously a major factor in the route and presumably meant you had to change the way in which you prepared for the lead. How did your approach and mindset differ from that on Lexicon and can you talk us through how you prepared or when you felt ready for the lead on Magical Thinking?
I would agree with it being more serious than Lexicon but the reality is they’re quite different. With Lexicon, I found it easier to self-manipulate… I felt like I could argue with myself, and convince the mind that I wasn’t just about to risk it all! With Magical Thinking, this wasn’t the case. It’s 100% guaranteed, that if I’d make any kind of mistake, I’d be in some serious trouble. So I really had to just accept that I had no option, other than to be confident in my climbing.
And how did the lead go in the end?
The lead went perfectly! Though I did mess up one move low down, fortunately though, just something minor. Thankfully, it didn’t disturb my zone and I was able to resist the urge to panic. I guess the only way I could describe it is it felt like that mental animalistic switch had flipped and there was no turning back. I just had a small readjustment to make, then back to it! On the upper crux, I felt spot on and enjoyed the sensation of climbing near my limit in a position where falling off could have been fatal.
It’s often the case that one new route leads to another but having Impact Day, Lexicon and now Magical Thinking all on the same wall makes it pretty special. Is that it for there now and if so are you relieved not to have to do that walk-in again?
Yeah, it’s one special wall to say the least! I don’t believe there’s much potential for new routes up there anymore but there is still Hard Cheese and Impact Day for me to do! I really love this mountain and I’m sure I’ll walk up there again many times after this!
Since doing Hubble back in October 2020 you switched to do a lot of trad and you’ve done a fair few first ascents. Firstly, are you finding trad more challenging/rewarding and is that the direction you see your climbing heading in, secondly what does adding new routes mean to you?
Great thought-provoking question, thank you for asking! I’ve thought about this intensely. I considered myself a sport climber for a long time, I could barely even admit that I also loved bouldering just as much!
Truth be told I think these titles and stamps only force us into boxes, where it’s no longer about doing what we love, but instead, more about fitting some stereotype. I’ve found the anticipation of new routing something to admire. You don’t know what you’re about to get, yet you’ve already committed. I just find myself getting so stuck in.
Having filmed Neil Gresham on Lexicon, Alastair Lee has also been back to Pavey to film Mat Wright on Magical Thinking for this year's Brit Rock Film Tour. This will be out later this November.