Johnny Dawes

Johnny Dawes (born 9 May 1964) is a British rock climber and author, known for a dynamic climbing style and for establishing bold traditional climbing routes. This included the first ascent of The Indian Face, the first-ever route at the E9-grade.[6] His influence on British climbing was at its peak in the mid to late-1980s.

Johnny Dawes
Johnny dawes head crop.jpg
Dawes, May 2011
Personal information
Nickname(s)Stone monkey[1]
Born (1964-05-09) 9 May 1964 (age 58)
Birmingham, West Midlands
EducationUppingham School
OccupationProfessional rock climber
Height5 ft 3 in (160 cm)[2]
Climbing career
Type of climberTraditional climbing, Sport climbing, Bouldering, Free solo climbing
Highest grade
Known forExtreme traditional routes
First ascents
  • Gaia (E8 6c)
  • Indian Face (E9 6c)
  • The Quarryman (E8 7a)
  • The Very Big & the Very Small 8b+ (5.14a)
Major ascentsIndian Face (E9 6c)

Climbing careerEdit

Dawes onsights Regalo da Babbo Natale 7b (5.12b), at Lucertole al Sole, Lotzorai, Sardinia. 2009

Dawes' main climbing career roughly splits into an initial period pre-1986 where he focused on gritstone in the Peak District, which was suited to his unique climbing style (e.g. Gaia, and End of the Affair).[7][8][9] From 1986, Dawes focused on Wales and on a diverse range of rock, from the slate quarries of Llanberis (e.g. The Quarryman, The Very Big and the Very Small, and Dawes of Perception), to the quartzite cliffs of Gogarth North Stack (e.g. Conan the Librarian, and Hardback Thesaurus), and the rhyolite mountain crags of Clogwyn Du'r Arddu (e.g. The Indian Face).[7][8] Dawes is mostly remembered for intimidating traditional climbing routes, in the legacy of Pete Livesey and Ron Fawcett,[9] and less for sport climbing routes, unlike his contemporaries Jerry Moffatt and Ben Moon.[7][8]

Dawes came to prominence outside of the rock climbing world with his 4 October 1986 ascent of Indian Face,[a] the first E9-graded traditional rock route in Britain,[11][12] and at the time, considered to be the hardest and most dangerous traditional route in the world.[13][14] The guidebook described it as "A pitch of such appalling difficulty as to be almost beyond the realms of human comprehension".[13] In a 2011 interview, Dawes said: "As you set off it's best to consider yourself already dead. You just do it".[7] The climb, and rare repeats, are the subject of a 2006 documentary, Johnny Dawes and the Story of Indian Face.[13][15]

In 1993, Dawes was a member of an expedition funded by the Mount Everest Foundation to attempt the first ascent of The Shark's Fin on Meru Peak in Gangotri Himalaya, India; a dropped boot led to a forced descent from 6,000 meters to avoid frostbite.[16]

Dawes is noted for the dynamic nature of his technique, leaping between very small holds, and also for his levels of balance and foot-control that enable him to climb extreme-grade routes without using his hands.[1][17] Welsh climber George Smith said: "His climbing seemed choreographed rather than constructed in a gym. If there's perfect pitch for movement, he has it".[8] Aspects of his unique technique was captured in the 1986 climbing film, Stone Monkey, considered one of the best-ever films in the genre,[8] as well as the 2015 climbing series, No Handed Climbing,[18][19][20] and other "no-hands",[21][22] and "no-feet" videos.[23]

His unorthodox climbing style, coupled with his reputation for a keen intellect and an artistic or bohemian bent,[8] made Dawes an enigmatic and mercurial character in British climbing.[7][24] His writing has been called "quirky, convoluted, and often obscure",[8] and a tendency to "speak in riddles" earned him the titles of "nutty professor", and of "mad genius" from some commentators.[25][26][9] His approach also made it difficult to secure commercial sponsorship, with Dawes saying in a 2019 interview, "I wasn’t supported by the climbing industry because I didn't fit the commercial template".[27]


Dawes is widely considered a legend of British rock climbing,[1][12] and one of the most influential figures in British rock climbing history.[7][14] Over a career spanning the early-1980s to the early-1990s, he pushed the technical level of traditional climbing with routes that were unprecedented both in terms of difficulty, and the style in which they were climbed.[7][24] In 2012, The Guardian called Dawes a "defining figure" and that: "His climbs were rated among the very hardest in the world, test pieces of both balance and nerve, some with a reputation for terrible danger".[17] Some of his routes are still considered so intimidating that they are rarely repeated, and several feature in climbing films focused on Dawes (e.g. 80s Birth of Extreme) and his routes (e.g. Hard Grit, Quarrymen).[7]

Personal lifeEdit

Dawes was born in 1964 in Birmingham,[28] into a wealthy family, whose parents were part of the 1960s British motor racing scene,[12]. His education at the Uppingham School was a difficult one, with Dawes suffering from periods of depression and bullying.[17][8]

Dawes rejected the career path of his contemporaries into third-level education and then a likely London-based career, choosing instead to obsess on climbing, telling The Guardian, "I was in a shut-off state, to a certain extent. When I was doing something dangerous it would wake me up".[17]

Around 2011, Dawes was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which he called "depressing and heavy", but by 2018, his treatment enabled him to climb at 8b+ (5.14a).[3]

Notable ascentsEdit

  • 1986: Gaia (E8 6c), Black Rocks, Derbyshire. First ascent.[7] Britain's first grade-E8; featured in the 1998 film, Hard Grit; repeats are still coveted.[29][30]
  • 1986: End of the Affair (E8 6c), Curbar Edge. First ascent. Dawes' hardest gritstone route, and the end of a period of focus by Dawes on gritstone.[7]
  • 1986: The Indian Face (E9 6c), Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, Snowdonia. First ascent.[11] Britain's first grade-E9,[11] and considered the world's hardest climb at the time; features in the 2006 climbing-film, Johnny Dawes and the Indian Face.[13][15]
  • 1986: The Quarryman (E8 7a), Twll Mawr, Dinorwic quarry, Llanberis. First ascent, 4 pitches on Welsh slate, one of the hardest climbing routes at the time, now part of a 2019 climbing film, The Quarrymen,[31] and its notorious Groove pitch features in the 1986 climbing film, Stone Monkey.[32]
  • 1987: The Scoop (E7 6b), Strone Ulladale, Harris. First ascent with Paul Pritchard of 8 pitches of Doug Scott's 1969 grade-A5 aid climbing route;[14] considered in 1984 to be one of British climbing's "great challenges";[33] partly shown in the 1988 film, 80s Birth of Extreme.[4]
  • 1988: Hardback Thesaurus (E7/8 6c), Gogarth North Stack. First ascent and one of the first-ever onsights of an E7; is shown in the 1988 film, 80s Birth of Extreme.[7][4]
  • 1990: The Very Big & the Very Small 8b+ (5.14a), Rainbow Slab Area, Dinorwic quarry, Llanberis. First ascent. Only 3-bolts, hardest slate route at time; rarely repeated; Dawes believes grade is 8c.[3]
  • 1994: Angel's share (E8 7a) or 7C (V9), Black Rocks, Derbyshire. First ascent. Gritstone slab graded E8 7a without bouldering pads, or a 7C (V9) boulder with pads.[5]
  • 1995: Face Mecca (E9 6c), Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, Snowdonia. Second ascent. FFA Nick Dixon in 1989.[34][35]


  • Peak Rock – The History, The Routes, The Climbers, (Phil Kelly, Graham Hoey, Giles Barker), 2013. ISBN 978-1906148720.
  • Full of Myself (Johnny Dawes), 2011. ISBN 978-0957030800.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The exact date is per the official guidebook to Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, and also used by the British Mountaineering Council.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Larson, Samantha (16 April 2015). ""Look Ma, No Hands!" A Rock Climber Scales Cliffs Without Using His Hands". Smithsonian. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  2. ^ Howett, Kevin; Schirrmacher, Katherine (August 2013). FUNdamentals of Climbing 2: TECHNIQUE (A Workshop for Performance Climbing Coaches) (PDF). Mountaineering Scotland. p. 9. Retrieved 10 January 2022. Johnny Dawes: Mesomorph; Somatotype: 2:6:5. Below average height (5ft 3 inch) for an elite climber; naturally athletic with a muscular build; generally explosive dynamic style of climbing; exceptional on steep slabs and gently overhanging ground.
  3. ^ a b c Berry, Nathalie (3 December 2018). "Johnny Dawes on Climbing Back to 8b+". Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  4. ^ a b c "The 80's: Birth of Extreme by Alun Hughes". November 2007. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  5. ^ a b Findlay, Hazel (1 March 2012). "Katy Whittaker: two Johnny Dawes hard slab climbs in a day". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  6. ^ Williams, Paul; Sharp, Alec (1989). Clogwyn Du'r Arddu. Climbers Club. ISBN 0901601438.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Johnny Dawes - the rock climbing interview". PlanetMountain. 23 December 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Douglas, Ed (4 November 2011). "Johnny Dawes - Full of Myself Review". Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  9. ^ a b c Kelly, Phil; Hoey, Graham; Barker, Giles (2013). Peak Rock – The History, The Routes, The Climbers. ISBN 978-1906148720.
  10. ^ Grimes, Niall (30 July 2021). "Hold the line". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  11. ^ a b c "The Indian Face by Johnny Dawes, the story of Britain's first E9". 1 June 2020. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  12. ^ a b c Nelsson, Richard (2009). On the Roof of the World (The Guardian's anthology of climbing articles). Guardian Books. pp. 198–200. ISBN 978-0852651209.
  13. ^ a b c d Editorial (3 June 2020). "Johnny Dawes and the Story of Indian Face: the UK's First E9 Climb". Climbing. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  14. ^ a b c "25 October 1986: Johnny Dawes climbs the Indian Face". The Guardian. 22 December 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  15. ^ a b Hughes, Alun (2 June 2020). "The Story of the Indian Face: The UK's First E9". Rock & Ice. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  16. ^ The Mount Everest Foundation. "Meru Shark's Fin 1993". The Mount Everest Foundation. The Mount Everest Foundation. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  17. ^ a b c d Beaumont, Peter (3 January 2012). "Johnny Dawes: 'It's about doing something that's fun… and impossible'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  18. ^ "Johnny Dawes no handed climbing". 15 April 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  19. ^ "Johnny Dawes: No Handed Climbing". Rock & Ice. 20 April 2021. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  20. ^ "Video: Johnny Dawes No-Handed Climbing 2". Climbing. 20 April 2021. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  21. ^ Brown, Nick (15 March 2019). "Hands free at the Roaches with Johnny Dawes". Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  22. ^ "Watch Johnny Dawes Walk-Up Five-Pitch 5.5". 30 November 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  23. ^ "Johnny Dawes Climbing in Roller Blades". Rock & Ice. 5 May 2018. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  24. ^ a b Samet, Matt (27 September 2007). "The Full Johnny Dawes Interview". Climbing. Retrieved 10 January 2022.
  25. ^ Sever, Michael (11 October 2012). "Dancing on the edge of vertigo". Irish Times. Retrieved 10 January 2022. The various approaches to rock climbers' ever-present dilemmas evolve into schools of thought within climbing, with some adopting a highly physical approach and others, such as Johnny Dawes (the "nutty professor" of climbing), a more psychological approach.
  26. ^ Graham, Neil (January 2001). "A Masterclass Beyond the Edge". Climber Magazine. Retrieved 10 January 2022. No one doubts Johnny Dawes' radical and unorthodox approach to climbing; the problem is that few people understand it! The 'nutty professor' of modern climbing, who thinks in patterns and moves in waves is also renowned for speaking in riddles
  27. ^ "Interview with Johnny Dawes". JohnHorscroft. 6 February 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  28. ^ McCarthy, James (8 January 2012). "How the real-life Spiderman Johnny Dawes scaled Wales' toughest cliff face". Media Wales. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  29. ^ "Video: Sean McColl climbing Gaia at Black Rocks". 17 March 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  30. ^ "Watch Sean McColl on Classic Grit Route Gaia E8 6c". 6 June 2021. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  31. ^ "The Quarrymen, featuring climbers James Pearson and Johnny Dawes". 18 February 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  32. ^ "Caroline Ciavaldini makes first female ascent of The Quarryman in Wales". 14 October 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  33. ^ Farquhar, Grant (30 November 2018). "Mission Impossible: British Climbing's Great Challenges". Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  34. ^ Dawes, Johnny (2 September 2013). "Facing The Indian". Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  35. ^ "James McHaffie repeats Face Mecca (E9)". Climbr. 7 June 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2022.

External linksEdit