Cold hands, warm feet.

Grade pyramid? What’s that?

9a time.

Plans were made for an Easter trip to Margalef for Era Vella, the longest, steepest, most sustained, most pockety 9a going. Training commenced and more plans were made for a recce trip in February; five days to find out what it was about.

Turns out that it’s about sustained pocket climbing on a long steep wall… roughly.

We were met with some chilly conditions on arrival and, seeing as the route gets all of 20 minutes sun at this time of year, sport climbing felt more like alpine climbing at times. All the tactics were pulled out but it seems no matter how many hand warmers I put in my chalkbag or star jumps I do while belaying, climbing a 50 metre route is not ideal in the cold (and neither is belaying one!)


That cold…


Despite my complaints about the weather, the trip served its purpose of reconnaissance and the last few weeks of training can now be all the more directed.  I’ve got 2 weeks at Easter, whether that is enough time is hard to say but I’ve realised it doesn’t really matter. Half the point of goals is that they motivate you to improve. As long as I’m having fun and getting better while fueled by that motivation then I don’t mind if I climb it now or later. It’ll still be there. I’ll give it my best shot though.

Not a bad line.

Not a bad line.

Andrada showing the way.

Andrada showing the way.



6 weeks in Gorges du Loup teaches your knees a lesson. Drop knee-ing between knee bars was the predominant climbing style of the route I chose to project. ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ is an 8c+ following a line of chipped pockets and tufas to the top of the crag. It’s got some of the best moves I’ve done on rock which is lucky as I had to spend a fair while on it to get up it!

Jerome Mowat kindly jumared up to get these shots.

Gurn and try harder.

Gurn and try harder.

This move is so flipping good but not unfortunately so conducinve to knee health.

This move is so flipping good but unfortunately not so conducive to knee health.



Your arms are about the only thing that recovers in these rests. Head exploding, mouth dry, core burning and calf muscles so pumped up with lactic acid that you can’t quite feel them anymore.



Another drop knee…


And another.


Wait. Are these even different photos?

Soul sac topo1

My revision for the evenings. The middle section of the route.



A video of another route I did, kindly filmed by Peter Wuensche.

Pocket Pulling Paradise

A short trip to Margalef over Easter provided a much needed dose of Spanish limestone.

Thanks to Michael Watson for most of these photos.


Camouflaged on Sativa Patatica, 8a


El Frustigador, 8a+


Nearing the chains on El Frustigador.


Sativa Patatica, 8a.



The run up to this trip was plagued by a finger injury but the pockets were forgiving enough for me to get a few things done. My first 8b+ and a few 8a onsights were highlights but the most memorable route was one I failed on. ‘Cubata + Chupito 3 euros’ is route at Finestra with a crap name but good climbing. I’d belayed a friend of mine, Mark Busby, on it several times while he worked it so beta was a-plenty (thanks Mark!) and I went for the flash. I passed the two bottom cruxes by the skin of my teeth and made it into the easier terrain above. Unfortunately, and very annoyingly for me, a small footwork error led to a foot slip – spitting me off with only 2 more clips worth of easier climbing remaining. At 8a+/b, I’d have been really pleased to flash this route but it wasn’t to be. Initially I was frustrated but as with any close call like this, it showed me what was possible when in the correct mindset. Next time!

There certainly will be a next time with Margalef too! I love the place and all its pockets! I spent much of the trip trying routes which, with the time I had, were above me. This was to find out how hard ‘hard’ is and whats required. It proved really useful in goal setting and has given me plans about what to go back for. It’s something that many people, especially in the UK, dont do enough of I think. Forget your tick-list for a minute, don’t be intimidated, and jump on something properly hard for you! It doesn’t take a whole lot of time and is no doubt beneficial in the long term.

The one to go back for. Era Vella, 9a.

The one to go back for. Era Vella, 9a.

Chris Shepherd taking a decent lob!

Chris Shepherd taking a decent lob!


Jonny Baker on Nina Mala, 8b.

Thanks to Michael Watson for most of these photos.

Journey to 8c

Ive always wanted to climb big numbers. Grades motivate me. I think it’s almost seen as taboo to say that but for me, it’s true. It’s partly just the numbers themselves but it’s also what they represent. A challenge that you’ll have to push yourself harder than before to achieve but once completed, will bring satisfaction.

I did my first 8a in July 2011. I went to Ceuse in August 2012 and did my first 8b and that was where my goal of 8c began. I’d advanced 2 grades in a year, why not try to do the same again? I had a gap year to do it in.


The goal rolled around in my head over the winter and although I was training for my road trip I never specifically focused on training for 8c. It’s hard to train for a grade, it’s much easier to train for a specific route of a certain grade. Training with just a grade as your goal is too vague, you’re effectively just training for overall improvement that way which lacks specificity and focus. I needed to find a specific 8c to train for. It was during my time spent in Rodellar in May that I found that route.


Pata Negra at the Ventannas sector of Rodellar is an impressive route tackling the line of least resistance through 35 metres of overhanging rock above one of the arches. For the most part the climbing suits me pretty well; crux sections between rests, lots of heel hooks and above all, it’s long and steep. A true ‘stamina monster’ as Micha put it. When I first tried the route in May with Ben I tried to remain optimistic that I’d be able to finish it off during that trip but after a couple more goes it was hard to ignore the fact that I just wasn’t physically in good enough shape for it. There were a couple moves I couldn’t really do and a few more that were all out desperate slaps for me. On a shorter bouldery route this would be ok, with more work the moves would get a bit easier and the route would become possible, but when you have to do said moves after 25 metres of pumpy climbing you need to be able to do them fairly solidly in isolation to ever stand a chance of linking them from the floor. I went home knowing what I needed to do and as explained in the previous post, trained pretty hard for my return to Rodellar.


After working hard at home for 3 months I came back with a lot of motivation and was prepared for a siege. I’d already decided that if Pata Negra was the only route I did on this 5 week trip then I’d go home a happy man. On my first day climbing I warmed up and then headed across to Ventannas, nervous but excited. I’d planned to set off with the mind set of expecting it to feel brick hard. Starting an endurance route hoping for it to feel steady is an error I’ve fallen victim to in the past. Inevitably some sections will feel stiff if it’s a route at your limit and your mind won’t be ready for that so will amplify the feeling of difficulty and you’ll start to feel negative about the chance of success. I had to set off expecting to try hard but also had to stay positive that it would be do-able. Confident but not over confident. A good mind set on my first go was important, it would mean I’d come down with positive energy and that would lead me into the next go well and hopefully things would continue upwards from there. Come down feeling negative and everything could so easily go the other way. Climbing is 95% in the head.

In a way the first go was the moment of truth for me, from my first go I’d know if the training had worked. Were the crux replicas similar enough? Would the gains in finger strength on the bit of wood above my door transfer to the route? Were the past three months worth it? I tried to keep these questions out of my head and just focus on the climbing.


I lowered down and breathed a small sigh of relief, it had gone well, I felt good on all the moves and above all was feeling positive. It still felt hard but of course it did. Its 8c and my name’s not Ondra.

Over the next two days on the route I continued to develop beta, refine it, practice it, get it wired and I soon began to have a few redpoints. I could only have two good goes per day, that’s the trouble with projecting long steep stamina routes. The time I spent on the route in my head was much longer though. Thoughts about it consumed my mind. It was an obsession, perhaps an unhealthy one. The only way I could really escape from it was to go and climb other routes so that’s what I did. First day on was spent on Pata and second day on was spent in other sectors climbing different routes. It’s not good to think about the same thing all the time.

Any preparation I could do to improve my chances of success, I did. I went as far as cutting the labels off my harness. Tesco aren’t talking shit when they say every little helps. However the preparation for my fourth day on the route wasn’t exactly ideal. I’d spent the previous day attempting to recover from a cold. My attempts were unsuccessful, I still had the cold so was considering taking a second rest day. I headed out in the morning to belay Phil and in the end I decided to take my kit as conditions were good. The best we’d had all trip, it had cooled down and a strong wind was blowing.


I arrived to a busy Ventannas in the afternoon, there was a queue for my normal warm up and I had to wait 20 minutes for someone on Pata Negra. Despite this, the atmosphere was good and I was starting to feel a lot better. I didn’t want to hang about any longer so did some hangs on the fingerboard and climbed the first few easy clips of Pata. Not my normal warm up but it would do. Conditions were the best I could ask for and at that moment my mind was in a perfect place, I couldn’t waste that. For the first time I left my dogging quickdraw on the ground, time for a proper redpoint.

I set off, the first crux felt the easiest it ever had. I came to my previous high point in the second crux, about halfway. Ok. Keep going. I make it to the rest, relax. Into the last crux, the redpoint crux. Dropknee, pull. Im still on. Swap the dropknee and pull again. What? I’m still on! Hold the cut loose. Crimp. Eye up the jug and lay one on. What the fuck? I came here for 5 weeks to climb only this route and here I am, just 10 days in, with only a section of about 7a to get to the top. I try to relax, lower my heart rate and then continue. I pull up some rope and clip the chain.

Suddenly in that one moment all the pressure is wiped, I’m free, weightless, the hard work has an answer. I can relax.


Redpointing is weird. All that time and energy invested into one thing and then in an instant it’s all over. Im still fairly shocked that I climbed it on my fourth session this trip. Four sessions is hardly a project but when you add in 3 months of training at home just for this route it certainly feels like it. In the end I can say it was all worth it. Gap year goal achieved.


I should take a minute to say thanks to Ben who showed me the way back in June when he climbed Pata. Top effort to him for doing it without having to go home and train for it. He also helped me a lot with all the beta he sent me while I was working the route. Also thanks to Phil and Babsi for the belaying and good energy!

Here’s the video.

Photo credits: Miguel Catita

Hard Work Works

To carry on where the last blog left off (albeit a bit late), the final month and a half of my trip was spent in Gorges du Tarn and Rodellar. I had a good time, climbed some nice routes but to be perfectly honest, didn’t achieve my goals. By the time I got to Rodellar, where there are a number of harder routes I had my eye on, the past 2 months of climbing was starting to take its toll. I burnt out, performance dropped and naturally my motivation followed suit. I came home 3 weeks early feeling slightly disappointed that I hadn’t climbed anything harder than when I left.

Enough complaining about failure. I knew what I wanted to do. Rodellar round 2!

On returning home I took 2 weeks completely off from climbing and used the time to regain motivation, rest up, write a training plan and book a flight back to Spain. I then had 10 weeks of training in which I had to get into the shape required to achieve my gap year goal, 8c. Nothing was missed out, all the weaknesses I had discovered in the last trip were addressed, I improved my diet and sleep, did 2 and a half hours stretching per week and gave my training priority over everything else. I used the July heat wave to get ready for the potential conditions in Spain, climbing on the crux replicas I had setup on my board with the garage door shut and the fan turned off. I also limited the number of times I went out on rock in the UK. Sure, climbing on rock is one of the best ways to get good at climbing on rock but I had just spent 3 months doing that. Despite it being a much more attractive idea than being stuck in the garage, days out on rock weren’t what I needed.

I’ll write some separate blogs at some point detailing some of the specifics of the training and keep this post just to the overall experience of it. Training in this way was quite high pressure. I had to get it right. It wasn’t like I could just drive a couple hours every weekend to try my project and see if my hard work was pushing me in the right direction. I could never be quite sure if I was being stupidly optimistic. I had 10 weeks training and then a 5 week trip in which to try the route. Once that time was up I had to go to university with no chance of coming back anytime soon. I had to believe it was possible, my efforts would be pointless otherwise.

By the end of the 10 week training plan I was feeling good. I’d lost 4kg’s, achieved almost all of the training goals I had set and felt strong on the crux replicas. Was this enough though? Would it all pay off? I didn’t really know, I just hoped. The only way to find out was to go to Spain and try the route.

I’m now sitting in Rodellar, halfway through my trip having climbed my first 8c, Pata Negra. So the answer to those questions was yes. The hard work worked!

I’ll write about the experience of redpointing the route in the next blog.

Back on a Rope

After leaving Fontainebleau we headed south to clip some bolts. 3 weeks of bouldering had left me keen to get back on a rope but I was also aware of my lack of fitness. The length of this trip and the fact we started in Font meant that I had trained endurance very little prior to leaving. The plan was to get fit on rock while out here.

Our first stop was St Leger, a crag that surpassed my expectations in terms of its size and quality. Arriving here and seeing so many impressive routes that would normally be within mine and Ben’s capabilities, but knowing that we would have to spend most of our time here lapping easier routes, was slightly disappointing. However, we set to it, running laps on 7a’s in the hope our forearms would get the message. By the end of the week I had redpointed 8a and although there was still a long way to go in terms of fitness, it was progress.

Someone on 'Rose des Sables' 7a, Buoux

Someone on ‘Rose des Sables’ 7a, Buoux

Next stop was Buoux, the home of hard sport climbing. I think this is a place where you remember the names of routes, not the grades and some of the most famous sport climbs in the world lie here so it was a shame to only have 3 days of climbing. The highlight for me was climbing ‘Reve de Papillon‘, the first 8a in France. It’s a perfect example of a route where the moves aren’t amazing but the line and the history are what give it its classic status. I also tried ‘Le Rose et le Vampire’ and although time and fitness didn’t allow me to climb this one, it was cool to do the original rose move! One to go back for.

Lourmarin! (Ben in bottom left for scale)

Lourmarin! (Ben in bottom left for scale)

After a day at a lesser known but impressive crag called Lourmarin we headed for Gorges du Loup. The week spent here was the first part of the trip where I no longer felt so hindered by my lack of fitness, this was marked by my first 8b of the trip, a route called ‘New Power Generation’ at Deverse. Short, steep and mainly on chipped pockets, its quite a powerful route but still succumbed to some heel trickery, a satisfying tick as normally such a short route wouldn’t be my cup of tea. Many thanks to the Wuensche family for letting us stay in their house in Loup, it was a welcome break from camping in the rain and it was good to climb with a big group of friends for a while.

'New Power Generation' 8b.  Photo: Peter Wuensche

‘New Power Generation’ 8b.
Photo: Peter Wuensche

'New Power Generation' 8b.  Photo: Peter Wuensche

‘New Power Generation’ 8b.
Photo: Peter Wuensche



Next up is Gorges du Tarn, psyched for some long routes!

A Sport Climber Above a Pad

Hello blog, it’s been a while!

Since my last blog I’ve been mainly working and training in preparation for the trip I’m now on. Four months of European rock. At the end of February we set off for our first destination, the forest of Fontainebleau. We came in search of perfect sandstone and cold, dry conditions. We found the rock and the cold but the dryness was not so easy to come across. However, on the days it was present, we had some good days out.

Climbing 'Atomic Playboy' 7C+.Photo: Alex Fry

Climbing ‘Atomic Playboy’ 7C+.
Photo: Alex Fry

My main goal for this part of the trip was to stay injury free. My last two trips to the forest have ended with worn out elbows and with three months of sport climbing ahead I was keen to stay in decent shape. I’ve learnt that when on a long trip like this your mentality has to change when compared with how it is on a short trip. In the past on trips of a week or two I’ve tried to make the most of my time by climbing as much as possible with as little rest as possible, this leaves you worn out after a couple of weeks but by then its time go home anyway. Learning to hold back a bit, prioritize what I really want to climb and take rest when its needed should hopefully allow me to keep climbing well into the next few months.

Numbers wise the trip went reasonably too, I did my first and second 7C+’s and clocked up some more volume in the lower grades. I feel like climbing in the forest for 3 weeks has had a good impact on my technique and I‘m now moving better than before, however the ability to move gracefully over slopey mantles still eludes me!

Sponsored by Alex on Fluide Magnetique.Photo credit: AlexT-shirt credit: AlexPad credit: Alex

Sponsored by Alex on ‘Fluide Magnetique’.
Photo credit: Alex
T-shirt credit: Alex
Pad credit: Alex

I’m not going to try to describe the experience of being in Font, partly because you can read about that on a million other blogs but mainly because I’m unable to do it justice. If you haven’t been before then go. It’s worth it! The pictures here will do a much better job than anything I can write, many thanks to Alex Fry for them.

I’m now well into the sport climbing part of my trip so I’ll try to get a blog up on that soon.

'Appartenance' 7cPhoto: Alex Fry

‘Appartenance’ 7c
Photo: Alex Fry

A Trip up North

The other weekend I headed up to Edinburgh to compete in the British Lead Climbing Championships. This was my first comp in over a year as I had taken time away from competing to focus on climbing on rock. On the Saturday I entered the juniors, I was psyched but far too nervous. This showed on the first route as I was tense and shaky and came off much earlier than I would have liked. The second route saw a better performance and I finished the day in 5th. I wasn’t very happy with this but I can’t be too disappointed given that I haven’t competed in a while. On the Sunday I entered the adults, more for the extra comp experience than anything else. Again I was nervous and unable to relax while climbing, and after 2 routes I finished in a disappointing 17th but I know this can be improved on a lot.

Photo: Peter Wuensche

Wanting to make the most of the trip I then went for 2 days bouldering with Ben in Northumberland. It was my first time climbing in the county so I was keen to check out the place. Day 1 and we headed to Back Bowden. I soon got stuck into a steep 7B+ called Severus Snape and after a decent flash attempt I thought this would go down quickly. After many flailing cut looses later I realised this wouldn’t be the case. I tried lots of different beta and eventually came up with a cool double clutch sequence that made the cut loose easier for me and it was done. I finished the day with Barbastelle, 7A.

The destination for day two was Kyloe in the Woods. Ben gave me the tour and we got going. I started off not feeling so good and struggled on the warm ups however things turned up after getting Monty Pythons SS, 7A+ and Jocks and Geordies SS 7A in the bag fairly quickly. Next was Cubbys Lip 7B+, a low traverse with lots of pockets and heel hooks so it suited me well and was done after a few goes. Just to the left of that was another 7B+ called Crouching Tiger, the crux being on small sharp crimps so this didn’t suit me well at all. After a lot of failed attempts I was running low on skin and power but with ‘last go, best go’ in my mind I scraped my way up it. Still psyched I used what little I had left to get up Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy 7A+. A good day! For me bouldering comes second to routes but I still enjoy days like this, getting lots done at a new place.

Ben got some footage of a couple of the problems. Warning: the first problem contains some serious shirt dabbing!

Greasy in Greece

After Ceuse I took some rest but was soon into the trough after my peak so I didn’t really get out much and just focussed on maintaining fitness. I did have one good day at Stanage though, doing a couple E3s and an E4. It was nice to get away from clipping bolts for a bit and climb on some grit!

Next it was back to the limestone with a trip to the Greek island of Kalymnos. On arrival I was stunned by the amount of rock there. At most Euro sport destinations you see quite a bit of unbolted rock that would be some of the best if it was in the UK. Kalymnos takes this to another level, looking up at anywhere that isn’t just a short walk from the road there is masses of quality looking rock that is completely undeveloped. The conditions however, were not so impressive. September and October are two of the most popular months to go and I’d heard that the island is normally blessed with a strong breeze. Maybe this is usually the case but during my two and a half weeks there we had 3 or 4 days of good conditions and the rest of the time it was still and humid. Perfect for all the sunbathers, not so good for climbing!

Phil and Babsi with a friend. Respect to these goats for the most sketchy soloing I’ve seen.

In the end we managed to sweat our way up a few routes. I focussed on consolidating in the low 8s and high 7s, choosing not to redpoint anything for too long as I wanted to experience as much rock as I could. There are some crazy routes in Kalymnos, Fun de Chichunne being a perfect example of this. It’s pretty much 40 metres of horizontal climbing on tufa blobs and stalactites. It’s like nothing I’ve ever climbed on before and on first sight I was a bit overwhelmed, if it wasn’t for the clips being in then I’m not sure I would have tried it. No surprise they are in either, don’t think many people would fancy getting 28 quick draws out of a roof! Setting off on this route felt like a proper adventure into a forest of stalactites and tufas. Fortunately the occasional huge stalactite provides an essential breathing spot just as your forearms are about to give in, contorting yourself between and around these is one of the most interesting parts of the climbing in the Grande Grotta.

Resting on Fun de Chichunne

The highlight of the trip for me was my flash of the classic 8a called Daniboy. After climbing Fun de Chichunne I headed up the hill to the line of pockets in the centre of an amphitheatre of rock called Spartacus. Ben and some others gave me beta and I set off. Nearing the top I was pumped, elbows up and slapping for holds. I had to fight really really hard on the last few moves but made it to the finishing jugs with a smile. For some reason things just clicked for me on this climb. Sometimes everything comes together right and when it does, not only do I climb better but the climbing is much more enjoyable too. Not thinking about anything, just turning the mind off and doing the moves with no hesitation or doubt.

I managed an 8a onsight too, Super Lolita, but Daniboy remains the highlight for me as I had to try much harder on it. Also, I’m sceptical about the grade of Super Lolita, its certainly soft but whether its soft enough to be 7c+ I dont really know. I think I will keep waiting for my first real 8a onsight. Grading on the island is worth a quick mention. I had heard a lot about very generous grades but comparing the newer and older guides, many routes have now been downgraded meaning the island is starting to lose its reputation for soft routes. This is no Buoux but in general I thought the grades seemed pretty fair, with some obvious exceptions.

I also did my first 8a slab while I was there, a route called The Path to Deliverance. This isn’t something I was expecting to do, partly because Kalymnos isn’t known for that style of climbing but mainly because I’m rubbish at slab climbing. It’s something I’ve been working on though, trying to climb more vertical/slabby/techy stuff while at the wall. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I quite enjoyed balancing my way up the thin crimps.

Grande Grotta

All in all it was a good trip and I’m sure ill be back one day as there is so much yet to do there. Probably at a different time of year though!

Here’s the routes I did, 7c and above:

8a+      Punto Caramelo (second go)
8a+      Ne pas Toucher a ma Bite
8a?      Super Lolita (onsight)
8a        Daniboy (flash)
8a        Fun de Chichunne (second go)
8a        The Path to Deliverance (second go)
8a        Helios (second go)
7c+      Adam (onsight)
7c+      Neska Polita (second go)
7c+      Little Bulbos (second go)
7c+      Boom Boom (second go)
7c+      Amores Perros (second go)
7c+      Orion (second go)
7c+      Marci Marc
7c        Carnivore (onsight)
7c        Aegialis (onsight)
7c        Zawinul Syndicate (onsight)
7c        Sirene (flash)
7c        Nicola la Tigre (flash)
7c        Polifemo (second go)
7c        Neolithic Line (second go)

Sikati Cave, the huge hole in the ground.