Hardly a month goes by before hearing that some super-wad has climbed yet another 9a+ route. Young guns nowadays have it quite hard to make a name for themselves, the bar has raised significantly in the last 5 years and ticking 8c is seldom newsworthy. But climbing is a broad sport, it harnesses all sorts of individuals, and our dear sport means very different things to all of us. There are quite a few climbing folk out there that don’t really care about hard grades or sport climbing for that matter, because their own personal challenge might be to get up an HVS or a Wi4. And yet sometimes, the journey of the average climber is far more interesting than yet another 8c+ onsight by Adam Ondra.
My last half a year has been quite a journey for myself. From being a pretty settled husband and about to get mortgaged, to being single and living in a flatshare. You can never predict what life will throw at you. But I’m not one for being afraid of changes, I thrive on them. I’m not trying to brush off such a dramatic change like nothing had happen, but at the same time, sulking is a waste of time. So I just saw in such a change as an opportunity…. to be terribly indulgent with climbing. I decided that I was going to set a goal related to rock climbing (and not ice, for once…) A few years back I found that I was quite good at ice and mixed climbing, and I spent a lot of time training for it and I have sacrificed a lot of my family and climbing time to do well in that discipline. This time I wanted to try and do well with my hands and not with my axes, something I have always sort of left in the back burner. I set myself to climb 8a. Not a remarkable grade by any means, but a personal challenge big enough for a old punter like me.
So the cunning plan was to take three months off during the summer, split basically into two trips. Roughly two months in Rodellar, Spain, and a month in Kalymnos, Greece. Both venues are meccas for endurance routes, where 40mts routes are very common, and the angle can go from very steep, to dead horizontal. Sounds a bit like mixed climbing, doesn’t it? Well, I thought I’d play to my strengths…
Early in spring I set to work hard on my training, a lot of indoor sessions mixed with many weekends in real rock. Getting out on the weekends made realise ow much quality sport climbing there is in the UK and I didn’t even know. I kept motivation high all the time, a mandatory requirement for doing anything you want in climbing. I also had a few warm up trip to crags like Margalef and Mallorca. I lined up a whole lot of partners for my trips because I knew it would be impossible to find a single partner for 3 months, and who I’d climb with would be one of the crucial parts of the plan.
Once I arrived in Rodellar, I got myself to work and picked the best 7c and 7c+‘s that would get me strong and fit. The idea was to use Rodellar as a springboard for Kalymnos. I picked the right routes that I would enjoy but would also challenge me enough so to get to the standard I wanted. After a few quick successes on 7c’s and 7c+‘s I got a bit cocky and started trying 8a. It only took me about two weeks to realise that I was nowhere near that sort of level, a bit of a wake up call really. So I had to keep getting more volume of 7c’s before I considered the big game. I left Rodellar two months later with a seriously short list of ticks, probably the shortest ever in the longest amount of time. I did failed hard, but I did try really hard at the same time, and I knew that all that effort wouldn’t go to waste…
Enter Kalymnos, and with a weeks rest in between, I landed in the island feeling in top form. So I started the trip targeting iconic routes in the high 7’s. Now with a score of four 7c’s (1 onsight) and five 7c+‘s (1 onsight as well) in the bag, I felt ready to tackle the big challenge. After questioning all my friends about a suitable candidate, I decided to go for Super-Lolita, a 45mts stamina fest in one of the most inspiring rock venues in the world, the Sikati Cave. I have never been one for monster sport routes, I always found them overwhelming and a lot of hard work, specially if you fall near the top, it can be very taxing on your body and mind. It’s a lot easier to work shorter routes, hence “daniboy” and “angelica” are always line-up with people. But with my new-found endurance from my training and Rodellar, I felt fit for such a vertical expedition.
“Super-Lolita” was bolted for the Petzl rock trip that took place in 2005, and it is the extension of a 7a called “Lolita”. I figured that the french team that bolt it graded the route with the consensus of all the international participants in the trip, so therefore should be fairly accurate. On my first attempt I onsighted past the first pitch belay and got to the crux. I sorted all the extended quickdraws up until there as rope drag can be a major issue. Andre had a go at the route as his warm up, and to his surprise, he onsighted the whole thing in a great display of raw strength. I had one more attempt that day, and fell on the crux. I worked the moves through the crux and left it there feeling utterly exhausted having climbed roughly over 100mts of hard climbing. I took two days off to make sure I was totally fresh on my next go.
We made our way back to the cave, this time with loads more people in it. I warm up with two laps of the 7a, and by the time I was done the queue for the route was six people long. Luckily I belayed Andre on his 8b, and by the time we were done the queue had shortened. Soon I was tied off and fully psyched for a redpoint attempt. With such big routes you have to set goal-posts along the way. Bearing the whole route at once can be overwhelming, so break it down in section helps a lot. The goal for that attempt was to get through the crux and inspect the upper part, that I still hadn’t seen. I got to the rest below the crux, got totally psyched just focusing on the few moves of the crux. To my surprise I dispatched it effortlessly. Then suddenly, it hit me like a train, I was in for a chance of sending it. Instantly I became a nervous wreck! I got past the next hard section onsighting along the way, and got to the next rest. I couldn’t bring my heart-rate down, I thought I was going to trow-up rig there. I closed my eyes for what it seemed and age, but must have been ten minutes. Feeling a bit better now, I went for the upper part of the route, which is about 7b climbing into a headwall section with a crimp finale, not my strong point. But being there, so close, I wasn’t going to let go now. I got through the 7b roof, on to the crimp section, battling with rope drag. I managed to pull enough slack up to my mouth and pull the rest up with my teeth. Managed to clip the draw and carry on in search for the next desperate crimp. I found it, and as Andre warned me, it wasn’t very good. I pulled on it, got my feet higher, and to my surprise I was still on the rock and looking at a good hold and the chains within sight. I took a generous amount of time to climb the next few moves on big holds, just making dead sure I wasn’t going to blow it now. Clipped the chains. My first 8a.
check out more thoughts and photos from the trip on Ramon’s Blog