Author Archives: Jon Leighton

Manic Strain

Although I’ve not explicitly mentioned it here on my blog, I moved from London to Llanberis, North Wales back in October. The two places could hardly be more different, and I’ve enjoyed having a project, Manic Strain 8a, which is walking distance from my house rather than a 4 and a half hour drive as it was previously with my first 8a, The Cider Soak. This certainly makes it easier!


Manic Strain, found in Vivian Quarry, just opposite the Comes The Dervish slab, is the epitome of slate climbing. It features moves I’ve never even done before, in particular a bizarre pinky finger lock which you have to hang off in order to make a foot movement, as well as a big rock-over on a small but good edge for which stiff shoes help a lot.

I had to be resourceful to get this done. Being on the shorter end of the spectrum is quite unhelpful between the first and second bolts. It took 3 sessions to even work out a sequence for this move, and I jealously watched Will and Dan easily use lower, better feet which their extra reach made accessible. In the end my sequence involved a high left foot and then a weird kind of drop knee. The amazing thing is that when I got the body position completely perfect, it didn’t feel hard at all. But if I was off by just a fraction the move felt impossible.

Practising this move to really solidify the muscle memory was crucial, and so I decided to go there on my own, put a rope down from the top, and do some self-belayed climbing. I’ve never done this before, so I also had to figure out how to actually do it. Steph Davis’ article was very useful, since it has photos showing how the chest harness is meant to look. I was of course very careful and cautious at first, but this is a technique I’m glad to have learned, I’m sure it will be useful in the future.


Will Oates on one of the many high steps

Another obstacle was a 4th bolt which was hanging out and wobbling slightly, which you’re also pretty likely to fall onto. Not confidence-inspiring! If you did fall onto it and it failed, a ground-fall would be on the cards.

I talked to Glyn Hudson, who had re-bolted it a few years back, and he told me that at the time he hadn’t realised that he’d been given a pretty blunt drill bit. This meant he had to push quite hard to drill the holes, and so the holes were probably a little too big. Fortunately he was keen to get back there and sort it all out, and he very kindly spent a wet afternoon on Wednesday doing a full re-bolt so the route is now safe. Thanks a lot Glyn.

On my successful attempt today, I tried really hard to be in the moment and focus on each move I was doing. I’d set myself the arbitrary goal of doing it before I go away for 3 weeks this evening (a bit of time in London, then 2 weeks trad climbing in Lewis & Harris!) So this was basically my last opportunity for a while. I’ve definitely failed many times on redpoint attempts when under time pressure, so I was pretty pleased that I managed to find the right head space to focus on the climbing rather than the sending. Obtaining this presence of mind is something I see as a really powerful tool to become a better climber.

Manic Strain hasn’t had many ascents so I’m hoping this post will encourage a few more people to get down there!

San Vito Lo Capo rock climbing; taking the train to Sicily

This year, immediately following Christmas day, I joined my girlfriend Emily and our friends Glyn and Amy to escape the wettest UK December on record for some winter sun and rock climbing in Sicily.

Although there is climbing all over Sicily, we decided to focus on the San Vito Lo Capo area as it was clear there was plenty to do there for one trip and we didn’t want to lose lots of time driving around.


The train journey

We decided (as we often do) to travel via train. There were various possible ways to break the journey down but they basically all involve travelling from Paris to either Turin or Milan, and then from Turin or Milan to either Rome or Naples. From there it’s another train ride to Palermo in Sicily where we hired a car for the final two hour drive to San Vito Lo Capo.



Below is our itinerary. I’ve shown prices too, since I always get questions about this, however note that you need to book in advance (3 months generally or 6 months for the Eurostar) to have a shot at getting these prices. I recommend for tickets, but I do work there so I’m obviously biased. (But I do genuinely think it’s the best site and we have fantastic customer service.)

Train Depart Arrive Cheapest ticket (approx)
London St Pancras International to Paris Nord
9.24 – Day 1 12.47 £29
Paris Nord to Paris Lyon
RER line D
Paris Lyon to Milan Porta Garibaldi
14.41 21.50  £22
Milan Porta Garibaldi to Napoli Centrale
Trenitalia InterCity Notte (4 berth sleeper cabin)
23.17 9.28 – Day 2  £30
Left bags in station left luggage and spent the day exploring Naples
Napoli Centrale to Palermo Centrale
Trenitalia InterCity Notte (4 berth sleeper cabin)
23.53 9.48 – Day 3  £30
Palermo Centrale to Napoli Centrale
Trenitalia InterCity
10.05 – Day 1 19.12  £15
Napoli Centrale to Milano Porta Garibaldi
Trenitalia InterCity Notte (4 berth sleeper cabin)
21.32 7.11 – Day 2 £30
Milano Porta Garibaldi to Paris Lyon
8.45 16.12  £22
Paris Lyon to Paris Nord
RER line D
Paris Nord to London St Pancras International
18.13 19.39  £29

Total cost (assuming cheapest tickets): £210 return

On the outbound journey, it would have been possible to arrive in Palermo at 23.00 on Day 2. But this would have been a bit late to be sorting out a hire car, and we’d have spent the day sitting on a train rather than exploring Naples.

There is actually a night train service (although I use that term loosely as it takes about 20 hours) which goes all the way from Milan to Palermo which avoids the change in Rome or Naples. However it departs too late to connect with the Paris to Milan TGV on the outbound, and arrives too late to connect with the Milan to Paris TGV in the inbound. You could get a later TGV but then you’d miss the last Eurostar to get back to London the same day.

Another option to throw in the mix would be using the Paris to Milan Thello sleeper service rather than the TGV day train; although I’ve heard pretty bad things about that service and have never taken it myself.

We opted for the slightly shorter return journey without the day in Naples, and part of the rationale was that we could experience the incredibly exciting crossing from Sicily to the mainland in the full light of day. There’s no bridge or tunnel, so the train is literally loaded onto a ferry and shipped across the water!



The climbing

The climbing is not spread over a huge area but a car is definitely needed to get around. The routes are generally not mega-long endurance epics; we had a 70m and an 80m rope but the 70 was mostly sufficient. The grades are often soft, sometimes unbelievably so.

In town there is the climbing house which is a great place to hang out and get advice from the friendly staff. They sell excellent beer from some Sicilian micro-breweries, although it’s fairly pricey (but worth it).

You need to keep an eye on the bolts. In the past there have been issues with non-stainless bolts being placed which rust fast in a marine environment (which this is, even if the crag is not right next to the beach). It seems like the locals are aware of the issues and the situation is improving with stuff getting rebolted, but there were some routes we simply avoided because they looked too suspect. You can contribute to the bolt fund at the climbing house.

In our time we got around to most of the main crags…

Salinella is a long but not especially high cliff face which wraps the western side of the peninsula which San Vito Lo Capo sits on. You could easily walk/bike there from town. It is fairly bitty and broken rather than a single clean face, but there are some sections of high quality rock. On the north end I most enjoyed the Cala Mancina sector. Highlight routes were 7c+ and Mal Di Schiena 7c. On the south end my highlights were The Wish Comes True 7c+, Pipeline 7c and Red Pillar 6c (climbed in the dark at the end of the dark, long and exciting).


Cala Mancina (photo: Glyn Hudson)


Glyn flashing “the move” on The Wish 7c+ (photo: Amy Underwood Thompson)

Never Sleeping Wall is one of the longer crags with some interesting tufa formations. Tears of Freedom 7a+ and Long Sleep 6b+ were both excellent.


Never Sleeping Wall (photo: Glyn Hudson)

Crown of Aragon is excellent for climbing in the 7s. It’s not especially high but has some great looking steep lines – the guidebook photos don’t show the full crag very clearly but I was suitably impressed when I first saw it with my own eyes. Highlights were Walk the Line 7b+ and All Cats are Black at Night 7b (climbed at night, which felt appropriate!)

Lost World was worth seeking out; the guidebook photos showing massive tufas hanging in a roof caught our attention, but we were worried by reports of rusty bolts. Fortunately we found out that it has been rebolted 5 months ago and the bolts are now decent. The approach is more complicated than most of the other crags in the area; we needed to drive up a rough track and then descend a via ferrata. It probably took an hour in total to get in, but is well worth the effort. Highlights were Me Gustas Tu 8a and Stabilo Dave 8a although the grades are extremely soft. This crag clearly doesn’t receive as much traffic as other areas; some bits of tufa could well break off and so it felt a little more adventurous here. A helmet wouldn’t go amiss although it’s generally steep enough that the belayer isn’t in the line of fire.


Amazing tufas at Lost World sector (photo: Glyn Hudson)

Parco Cerriolo was my least favourite sector, although this is partly due to the fact that it was a very cold day, the tufas were dripping and I got stung on the head by a bee which then caused me to get a reaction and a fever in the night and take the following day off. But objectively I just don’t think it’s that good; a lot of the harder climbs start with a super steep roof and then turn the lip onto a much easier face. The best route we did was Feistus Reglettas 7b+. Watch out for bees’ nests!

Rocca Firriatio is another more adventurous / less trafficked crag which gets no sun so is best on a warm day. The grades felt harder (i.e. more in line with other places). It’s quite a bush-whack to get in although this will improve if it gets more traffic. There is quite a bit of loose rock; take a helmet – the girls had a near miss when Emily pulled a large block off Let There Be Rock 6b+. Il Pandoro 7a+ is fantastic, climbing up to straddle a huge stalactite and then crossing through a ridiculously steep roof but somehow the holds just keep coming. Roof Rabbit 8a was also excellent and ridiculously steep. I failed to redpoint it in the day but Glyn managed. If it was in Ceuse it would be a classic.


Chilling out on Il Pandoro 7a+ at Rocca Firriatio (photo: Glyn Hudson)


Roof Rabbit 8a at Rocca Firriatio (photo: Glyn Hudson)

On our last day the four of us all went up a multi-pitch, Parole al Vento 6b+/c on a rock pillar on the side of Monte Monaco. We chose this route because it’s one of a few which are fully bolted, and we had no trad gear. However “fully bolted” doesn’t mean it’s a conventional sport route; there are run-outs of up at 5 metres at times which can feel exciting. The climbing was excellent although I unfortunately didn’t have the best time on the crux pitch (P3) because it was very wet and greasy, causing me to fall off. The rest of it was dry and enjoyable though. The final pitch in particular was great.


Glyn at the top of the run-out first pitch of Parole al Vento 6b+/c


Emily right at the top (P5) of Parole al Vento 6b+/c

Climbing as a team of 4 we had both our ropes for the abseil, which was pretty handy. You can probably get down on a single 80m rope but having two ropes saved us the faff of having to back-clip through some roofy bits which we could just descend past.


We climbed in the shade but there was some gorgeous evening light at the end of the day (photo: Glyn Hudson)

Special thanks to Glyn for taking so many great photos on this trip – I was unfortunately extremely lazy with my camera so most of the photos are down to him!

It’s always the beta

After several failed attempts to climb an 8a sport climb last year I decided to sack off roped climbing for the winter to focus on bouldering. More strength and power would make everything feel easier and I was excited to find out what a full-on foray into the world of bouldering would do for me.

Maybe I got a bit stronger. I certainly enjoyed myself and learned a lot. I’d previously done hardly any outdoor bouldering at all.

I also got injured. This may have been predictable. Having never previously had any finger injuries I’ve now had 3 (of varying levels of severity) during 2015. This has forced me to learn about rehabilitating and managing finger injuries, but it has mostly not stopped me from actually climbing.


Anstey’s Cove. I can think of worse places to have a project.

And so in April I returned to sport climbing. Things were going well and after a few weekend trips I felt on good form. I was eager to find out how The Cider Soak, the classic 8a at Anstey’s Cove which I’d been projecting last year, would feel.

I sieged the route last year and made detailed notes about my sequence. I re-read them and jumped on. Perhaps it would now feel really easy with all that bouldering power? Er, no.

What actually happened is that I got very frustrated and tunnel vision set in. I was convinced that I’d worked the beta to perfection last year, and now just needed to execute. But getting on a route which I hadn’t touched for 6 months meant that there were actually all sorts of subtle movements and body positionings which had slipped from my mind. It felt like backward progress, and I left the crag that weekend ready to give up.

The steepness of Ferocity Wall

The compact steepness of Ferocity Wall

I’d been meaning to re-read Dave MacLeod’s book, 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes, for a while, and something made me pick it back up in the week that followed. Its no-nonsense straight talk was exactly the inspiration I needed. As I thought about the route I realised that there were various moves which I was doing inefficiently, or places where I could try an alternative sequence. I studied some videos and returned the next weekend in a better mental state, excited to try various tweaks to my beta rather than doggedly failing the same way.

My first go up the route revealed that these tweaks would work, so I got psyched to try a redpoint. As I tied on, I knew it’d be my best chance of the weekend. I was warmed up but not yet tired. We’d not rushed to the crag so the rock was in the cool evening shade, and most other climbers had left for the day meaning no distractions. Time to focus, but I tried not to put too much pressure on myself either. If it didn’t go this weekend, there’d be another weekend. It doesn’t matter. Enjoy the process.

It went. I wouldn’t say easily – I still had to try – but fairly smoothly. The beta and the preparation had come together, and I was ecstatic. I’ve never worked on a single route over such a long period of time (on and off for almost a year) and the joy of success was all the more potent for it. I remember feeling privileged to experience that feeling; it’s unattainable without putting a huge amount of work into something and seeing the fruits of your labour.

More important than the fleeting euphoria, I learned something: the beta can always be improved. You can always climb a route more efficiently. It’s easy to blame strength or endurance or conditions. These factors are important. But even when I thought I had my sequence dialled there were new opportunities to refine my technique and efficiency.

Bursting with positivity, I headed to Céüse for the first time in mid July. I was on form and ready to crush. Ha!

Harriet on Dietetic Line 7b

Harriet on Dietetic Line 7b

Céüse is a good place to go for a reality check about your climbing ability. The grades are tough, everybody will be climbing harder than you and nothing is a give away. I was prepared for “hard” grades, but this felt like a different scale entirely.

Will on Makash Walou 7c+

Will on Makach Walou 7c+

I think I should have done more easier routes to begin with, to familiarise myself with the style. Instead I relatively quickly got involved with a 7c+ project, Makach Walou, which Ciro and then Will had done battle with.

Lake time beneath the crag

Lake time beneath the crag

The moves came together easily enough and I felt confident that as I built up my crag fitness the route would yield without too much drama. But as the trip continued I racked up more and more unsuccessful attempts. I started to get frustrated, to the point where I was considering having just one more go and then taking the clips out, yay or nay. I felt I was wasting time on one route when there was so much more to climb.

Glyn on Petit Tom 8a. Thanks Ben Rueck for the photo.

Glyn on Petit Tom 8a. Thanks Ben Rueck for the photo.

At the crag we’d made friends with Mayan Smith-Gobat and Ben Rueck, who could be spotted from a mile away covered head to toe in Adidas stripes. On the day that my motivation was waning, Mayan joined our group since Ben was resting. She was also working on Makach Walou, despite having done it years ago, as she is in the process of recovering from shoulder surgery. So we teamed up.

Mayan told me she had a different sequence for the top section, where I’d been falling, so I was interested to try it with her. At this stage I was restricting myself to one attempt per day, so I had my attempt using my known sequence and fell again at the same spot. I then tried Mayan’s sequence and it was much easier for me. I abandoned my one-go-per-day rule and ticked the route on the next attempt, despite feeling a bit tired.

Harriet taking a monster wanger from Blocage Violent 7b+

Harriet taking a monster wanger from Blocage Violent 7b+

Again it was the beta. I’d got my original sequence from Will and had been using it uncritically. But he’s quite a bit taller than me and what perhaps worked well for him was very reachy and tenuous for me, meaning I couldn’t do it when pumped. I should have realised this of my own accord but once again I got tunnel vision until Mayan gave me a fresh perspective. One day I’ll learn!

Rest days are the best days... except for climbing days which are better than rest days

Rest days are the best days… except for climbing days which are better than rest days. But anyway, rest days are nice.

Céüse was hard work but rewarding. By the end of the trip I felt a lot more comfortable with the style and even managed to get up a few of the warm-ups without falls! I could happily have stayed another month so I know I’ll be going back again.

Trying to do a fast redpoint of Berlin 7c on my last day. I didn't quite manage. Thanks Ben Rueck for the photo.

Trying to do a fast redpoint of Berlin 7c on my last day. I didn’t quite manage. Thanks Ben Rueck for the photo.

Now, despite having written over 1,100 words about egocentric grade-chasing, I am actually rather keen to get scared and do some trad climbing! Hopefully our British summer weather will oblige…

A bit of mountain trad with Glyn and Luke in April... more of this sort of thing please!

A golden bit of mountain trad with Glyn and Luke in April… more of this sort of thing please!

Bouldering in Annot

The final hurrah of my winter of bouldering was to be 10 days over Easter, cranking and eating pastries in Fontainebleau. We arrived on a rainy, grey Saturday morning after driving through the night (there was only space for the roof box on the 2:20 AM Eurotunnel!) and spent the rest of the day sleeping before getting some supplies from the most horrifically large supermarket you can imagine. We took at a walk at Cul de Chien, touched some wet holds and retired miserably for dinner.

The next morning we rose late (no rush, it was still raining), had a lazy breakfast and wondered what to do. The forecast ahead looked bleak and we desperately wanted to do some actual climbing. Time to get creative.

Since we had no ropes or gear we had to constrain ourselves to bouldering options. We tossed around the obvious names. Magic Wood? Too wet. Albarracín? Too far. But Sadie had heard of a place called Annot in South France. It’s not a well-known destination so we didn’t know what to expect, but a brief glance at the forecast (full sun for the next week) made the decision for us. We packed the car and settled in for an 8 hour drive south.

The gamble paid off. Following directions from the free topo, we turned up a dirt track just along the road outside the town. The track twists its way up a pine-laden mountainside and the sector you visit more or less depends on which hairpin bend you stop at. It’s just about drivable in a normal car but there are lots of potholes and bumps which makes the process of getting up and down quite a pain in the arse. It takes about 15-30 minutes depending on the sector.


Sadie's hands are not really this big, it's a wide-angle lens

Sadie trying hard at Paf le chien

The rock is sandstone, but coarser than Font which makes for good friction but rapid skin loss when sliding off slopers. Some of the rock is great quality, other bits are quite crumbly. Annot suffers a little from low traffic, which means that some problems are dirty and unclimbable in their current state. Others are fine.

L’ex grosse lunule

The grading system is weird. It uses the “B” system which apparently has origins in the Peak District at some point. Clearly I’m too young to understand, but we found that they roughly corresponded to “soft V grades”, so a B6 felt about V4-5 perhaps. We didn’t spent too much time worrying about this.

I have no idea what we were doing but it was my birthday, woop!

It’s not Font, but there is plenty to get on with and some real gems if you put the effort in to seek them out. You have to work a bit harder, but the reward in our case was sunshine and tranquillity (we were sharing the forest with not more than 10 others).

Panoramix, what a position!

Panoramix, what a position!

Here’s where we climbed:

    • Paf le Chien: We fell off some good harder things including Paf le chien itself and Cartondulé. A lot of the easier stuff was a bit dirty though.
    • Madness: Clean and good rock, easy access being not far up the track and close  to the parking spot. Highlights were Bacalauréat (super fun dyno), Le gymnasium and L’ex grosse lunule.
    • La Crete: My favourite spot, featuring a great problem right next to a beautiful view of the valley. The problem is aptly named Panoramix. Another excellent line was Toit du cul du loup.
    • Requiem for Block: Difficult to find as it’s buried in the woods. There are some cool looking harder things here but we weren’t pulling too hard as it was the fourth day on! On the walk in we stumbled upon Place Vendome which looks good but lacking in warm-ups.
Fantastic onsight of Toit du cul du loup by Sadie, I have no idea how she held that crimp!

Brilliant onsight of Toit du cul du loup by Sadie, I couldn’t hold that crimp but a bit more reach got me through!

After four days in Annot the forecast was looking better in Font so we decided to spend a rest day driving back north. In the end it was a double rest day as the weather gods turned their backs on us once again. But we did finally spend a very nice dry day climbing at Isatis before returning home.

Zof needs to grow some skin...

Zof needs to grow some skin…

After doing so much bouldering this winter I am now nursing some sore fingers (doh) but feeling super psyched to get back on a rope and climb some longer things!

Sector Requiem for Block

Sector Requiem for Block

Sector Requiem for Block

Sector Requiem for Block

Ice climbing in Cogne

I’ve just returned from a week in Cogne in the Italian Alps, on my first proper ice climbing trip. I’ve been trying to gain the skills needed to get into winter climbing for a few years now (doing some winter walking in Wales in 2013 and an ice climbing course near Madrid in January 2014), so it was great to finally bring it all together this season.

Before the trip I had the chance to practise a bit in North Wales. I spent a weekend in January doing some dry tooling in the slate quarries, which was a good way to get a feel for climbing with axes. A couple of weeks later the winter conditions in Wales got pretty decent and I spent another weekend doing some actual winter climbing around Clogwyn Du.

Monkey-bar Kid M6+ in the Dinorwig Quarry

Monkey-bar Kid M6+ in the Dinorwig Quarry

Kuba climbing Slate o' the Art M5+ at Clogwyn Mannod, in atmospheric conditions

Kuba climbing Slate o’ the Art M5+ at Clogwyn Mannod, in atmospheric conditions

Clogwyn Du Right Hand Branch III 3/4

Clogwyn Du Right Hand Branch III 3/4

My companions for the trip were some chaps from The Castle: Jake, Toby and Kuba. Jake and Toby had done plenty of ice climbing before, whereas Kuba and I were a bit newer to it all. During the week we all swapped around with partners which kept things interesting, and enabled Kuba and I to learn quickly from the other two.

Jake on a rest day walk

Jake on a rest day walk

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to climb with more experienced friends on my first trip. This gave me the confidence to fairly quickly move on to harder routes and lead some WI5 pitches by the end of the week.

Toby gearing up for E Tutto Relativo WI4

Toby gearing up for E Tutto Relativo WI4

On the first day we all got warmed up on E Tutto Relativo. I climbed with Toby and he lead the crux pitch, which was a relief since it was running with water which made my fingers completely numb…

Jake leading the steep (and wet!) second pitch of E Tutto Relativo, belayed by Kuba

Jake leading the steep (and wet!) second pitch of E Tutto Relativo, belayed by Kuba

On the second day Kuba and I took on the classic Lillaz Gulley while Jake and Toby went for Lau Bij. This was good fun once we finally got on it; compounded navigational errors initially lead to us spending ages wading through deep powder. The less said about that the better!

Kuba wading through one of the snow pitches on Lillaz Gulley

Kuba wading through one of the snow pitches on Lillaz Gulley

The third day was pretty productive. Jake and I ticked off both Tuborg and Il Candelabro del Coyote. I was keen to lead something a bit harder so took the crux pitch of Tuborg by the vertical left hand ice pillar. It was a bit thin at the bottom and I felt quite nervous stepping on, but I eventually topped out after subjecting Jake to a rather long belay session!

Leading the first pitch of Tuborg WI4+

Leading the first pitch of Tuborg WI4+

Jake following the first pitch of Il Candelabro del Coyote WI4+ (Stella Artice WI5 seen on the other side of the valley)

Jake following the first pitch of Il Candelabro del Coyote WI4+ (Stella Artice WI5 seen on the other side of the valley)

Jake leading the funky second pitch of Il Candelabro del Coyote WI4+

Jake leading the funky second pitch of Il Candelabro del Coyote WI4+

On this third day I’d borrowed a test pair of Black Diamond crampons in a mono-point configuration. Before this I’d been climbing in my Grivel walking crampons which can only be used with dual points and are not really designed for climbing. The difference was huge; I was able to trust my feet way more. I couldn’t face going back to the Grivel ones so on our rest day I got myself a shiny pair of Petzl Lynx’s from the local climbing shop, a decision I did not regret!

Crampon upgrade...

Crampon upgrade…

Following the rest day Jake and Toby wanted to get on their big route, the mega-classic Repentence! We all grimaced when the alarm sounded at 5.30 but it paid off. Kuba and I ticked off Patri de Droite (amazing long crux pitch) followed by Patri de Gauche, while Jake and Toby got Repentence done. Toby took a huge whipper onto a screw which sounded pretty exciting but the screw held and he didn’t get hurt fortunately.

Kuba on Patri

Kuba on Patri

Me getting started on the top pitch of Patri de Droite

Me getting started on the top pitch of Patri de Droite WI4+

Kuba leading Patri de Gauce WI4

Kuba leading Patri de Gauche WI4

Looking back at the Patri routes on a nice sunny afternoon, job done!

Looking back at the Patri routes on a nice sunny afternoon, job done!

The next day Toby and I got on Stella Artice. I lead the WI5 crux pitch which meant that I’d achieved my goal for the week. Happy days!

Stella Artice WI5

Stella Artice WI5

The final day was pretty special. We’d been looking up at this amazing ice pillar the whole week, which hosts a route called Hard Ice In The Rock Direct. Apparently it doesn’t form up all that often, and the crux pitch gets the hair-raising grade of WI6. I’d been trying to persuade Jake that we should do it, although admittedly he didn’t take much persuading. I lead the first pitch, 60 metres at about WI4+, then Jake lead the crux which I found pretty pumpy even on second! Solid effort. We swung leads on a couple of easy pitches, then I lead the final pitch which at about WI5. It wasn’t hooked out at all so it was really nice to get to climb on some pristine ice.

Me on the 60m first pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct

Me on the 60m first pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct

Jake on the WI6 crux pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct!

Jake on the WI6 crux pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct!

Me on the top pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct

Me on the top pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct



We stayed in a self-catered apartment at Les Nigritelles in Lillaz, which was clean, modern, and had everything we needed. Its location meant that we didn’t need to do any driving when climbing in Valeille Rive which I’m sure helped us to get on routes before other parties. And check out the view!

Our view from the apartment balcony. You can make out Lillaz Gulley on the left and the pillar of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct more centrally

Our awesome view from the apartment balcony. You can make out Lillaz Gulley on the left and the pillar of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct more centrally

Xmas and New Year in Albarracín

This year my girlfriend, Emily, decided that she wanted to go home to Melbourne to spend a sunny xmas and new year with her family and friends over there. So when my friend Brett announced that he was heading to the Spanish bouldering destination Albarracín I didn’t take much persuading.

View from a rest day walk. Not shit.

View from a rest day walk. Not shit.

This was right up my street because I had decided that after returning from Turkey I would dedicate myself to bouldering for the winter. Doing my first 8a sport climb was one of my goals for 2014 – I got close but I didn’t quite achieve it. On the 8a’s I’ve tried I think often I’m doing moves which are too close to my limit – that’s what makes them hard. It’s possible, but I need to battle through lots of moves which are close to my limit. Or get stronger, which is why I’ve decided to boulder all winter.

I’ve never properly sunk my teeth into bouldering before. I use it for training at the climbing wall, but when I climb outside I usually prefer routes. So by explicitly deciding not to do routes for a while I was excited to see what would happen if I fully committed to bouldering, inside and outside.

Albarracín is a pretty, old town located in a valley in the province of Teruel (somewhere in the middle of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia).

The central part of the town is actually very attractive and has a lot of history and culture. For this reason the town is popular with normal tourists and not just climbers. It’s quite common as a climber to find yourself in little-known places where the only outsiders who visit are other climbers. It’s not the case in Albarracín, where there are many tourists who probably have a lot more money to spend than the climbers. This perhaps underlies some of the access issues which have come up in the past and have flared up again recently. That said, we didn’t actually have any problems in reality.

The climbing itself is found in the pine forest about 4 KM from the town. Unfortunately it’s a bit far to walk to and from every day (particularly with bouldering pads) and there’s no accommodation next to the climbing, so you kind of need a car. But it would probably be easy to hitch to and fro so long as you’re not trying to do it with 3 pads in tow.

Me hanging out at Arrastradero

Unlike Font, all of the climbing sectors at Albarracín are located within walking distance of each other. This is really nice and means that it’s possible to hit multiple sectors in a day if the fancy takes you.

Brett on xmas day

The sectors we spent most of our time at were Techos (which means “roofs” – a not-so-subtle hint about the predominant style of climbing here), La Fuente and Arrastradero. We also dabbled in the Parking and Tierra Media sectors, but there are several more to go at. I have to return!

Michelle on xmas day

Michelle on xmas day (the light was mostly poor so when the sun popped out in this moment we forced her to pose!)

Having not done a lot of outdoor bouldering before I didn’t really have expectations about what I’d be able to achieve during the trip. So I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to tick a 7B roof climb called Eclipse, in Techos.

Unfortunately I managed to get a finger injury in the process, so the victory was somewhat bittersweet. Having practised the moves the previous day I came along fresh with the intention of having a good angry go on it. I warmed up on some easier climbs and then waited my turn since the problem already had pads underneath and other people were trying. As I watched I reminded myself of the beta and got quite psyched. I pulled on and just went for it, fully expecting to fall at the first hard move.

Working the moves on Eclipse

Me working the moves on Eclipse

But I didn’t fall. What did happen, however was that I felt a sudden explosion of tinglyness in my right ring finger. Facing a split-second decision about whether to drop off or continue I thankfully decided, against my better judgement, to carry on. After a bit of a battle I managed to top out. I tentatively prodded my finger knowing that it was injured but still desperately hoping it was just some odd feeling that would subside any moment. But no, I was injured and I didn’t do any more hard climbing for the rest of the trip. This was actually not a disaster since we had New Year coming up, and I was due to leave soon after that anyway.


I believe that my mistake was that I didn’t warm up enough. Doing some easy routes was not enough warm up to start pulling hard on a route like this. I should have tried the individual moves in isolation first in order to warm up my fingers but I got too psyched and just went for it. A lesson for the future! Fortunately my finger seems to be healing quite quickly so I think it’s just a strained tendon rather than something more serious like a rupture.

Me on A Ciegas

Me on A Ciegas

Another highlight route for me was A Ciegas, also at Techos. Brett had researched this one before the trip and we actually had a play on it on our very first day. We realised it was pretty hard, but came back another day where I didn’t seem to make much progress at all. Finally we came back on a third day and thanks to some beta which Brett had spotted in a video I was finally able to unlock the crux.

Fred on A Ciegas

Fred on A Ciegas

Two things made this climb stand out for me. One was the line: it goes straight up a steep overhanging arete which is just begging to be climbed when you see it. Secondly, the technicality. It was not just a case of jumping on and pulling hard; the beta was very specific in the end and heel hooks were crucial for me. A Ciegas staunchly resisted giving away its secrets but eventually I unlocked a sequence which worked and the battle I’d had made that all the more satisfying.

Jean-Pierre on A Ciegas

Jean-Pierre on A Ciegas

A Ciegas has a complementary route named A Oscuras, which traverses in from the left before going into the shared crux. After unlocking A Ciegas I was also able to do A Oscuras. I think it’s a little bit easier but getting two 7A+ ticks in a session felt pretty satisfying regardless!

Jean-Pierre at Tierra Media

Chris at Tierra Media

Rory (“Gloria”) at Tierra Media

Aside from the climbing, what made this whole trip special for me was the number of amazing people who we met. Bouldering seems more social in that respect. It felt like every couple of days we made some new awesome friends and I left Albarracín feeling warm and fuzzy, smiling from ear to ear. This was especially good for the New Year: having injured my finger I was determined to party hard and I’m happy to say I achieved my goal! Needless to say we didn’t do any climbing on the 1st of January…

Buena gente at La Taba, the coolest/tastiest bar-restaurant in town - highly recommended!

Buena gente at La Taba, the coolest/tastiest bar-restaurant in town – highly recommended!

Dancing en la plaza at New Year

Dancing en la plaza at New Year

Unfortunately the end of my trip was slightly marred by a train travel screw-up which involved me getting stranded overnight in Barcelona and then having to buy an expensive flight back to London the next day. For a few days this rather overshadowed the good feelings I had as I left, but now the grumpiness has worn off my lasting memory is still overwhelmingly positive. I really enjoyed going on a bouldering trip and I fully intend to do more in the future!

Overland to Athens and Turkey

Geyikbayiri in Turkey is a place I always assumed I’d visit. I’d heard about the fabulous rock formations and the hundreds of quality lines. But given I try to avoid flying in order to keep my carbon footprint down, and given it’s quite a long way from my home in London, it had been consigned to the pile of “one day, as part of some epic trip, when I have unlimited time and freedom”.

So when Glyn Hudson phoned me up, excitedly proposing that we go there, I was initially a bit sceptical. There are many great climbing areas much closer to home, but Glyn had won a competition to get a place on the Petzl Roctrip, which was to travel through eastern Europe, finishing in Turkey. Glyn’s prize was to be flown out there for a week. But having a similar desire to avoid flying, he wondered about making the journey overland. Friends who are willing to undertake multi-day overland adventures to reach a destination equally accessible via a quick hop on a short-haul flight are few and far between, and Glyn’s list of such people contained only one person: me.

I agreed, of course. I knew it would be an epic adventure and a chance that wouldn’t come along again in a hurry. So I accepted that my time to visit Turkey had now come.

The plan emerges: Turkey via land and sea, with a week’s stop in Athens

There are basically two ways to reach Turkey overland by public transport.

The first involves pure train travel through Germany, on into eastern Europe, and finally on to Istanbul (visit The Man in Seat 61 for all the gorey details). Once in Istanbul, we’d need to undertake an overnight coach journey to get to the south of the country where Geyikbayiri is located.

The second route takes trains to Bari in southern Italy, and then ferries directly to the south of Turkey using Greece and its islands as stepping stones.

Our chosen route to reach Geyikbayiri

Our chosen route to reach Geyikbayiri

Either way involves at least 4 full days of travel, so we were keen to find a way to break the journey up a bit. I’d heard about the new Athens Climbing Guidebook, published only this year. Athens is surrounded by loads of quality crags, but has remained relatively unknown in the international climbing community, in part due to the absence of a comprehensive English-language guidebook.

Local climbers Antonis, Andreas and Giorgos set out to change this, launching a crowd-funding campaign to finance their work. They did an outstanding job and have produced a comprehensive, clear and useful book, packed with fantastic photos and an individual description for each and every route.

We went to have a look!

Overland to Athens in 3 days, 2 nights

The journey came off without a hitch. One thing I love about overland transport is that the transition from Home to Away comes slowly and gradually. Rather than being violently shoved from one city, culture and climate to another you ease into the trip. You arrive with a feeling of achievement and excitement rather than with an abrupt jolt, stepping sleepily off the plane into another soulless airport.

We took a morning Eurostar to Paris, where we had a bit of time to walk around in the sun and sample the wares from a boulangerie.

Passing time in Paris

Passing time in Paris

After lunch we boarded a TGV to Milan, and upon checking in to our hostel adjacent to Milano Centrale station, we sampled a local bar before getting some sleep.

Milano Centrale: a very impressive station

Milano Centrale: a very impressive station

An early train the next morning took us down the western side of Italy to Bari, where we dawdled through the cobbled streets of the old town, took a dip in the warm ocean, and enjoyed a hand made pizza in a wood-fired oven.

Arriving in Bari

Arriving in Bari

The pretty old town of Bari

The pretty old town of Bari

A dip in the sea

A dip in the sea (testing out my new waterproof camera!)

Cactus display in Bari's old town

Cactus display in Bari’s old town

In the evening we boarded our boat to Patras, on the Western side of Greece.

Boarding the ferry to Greece

Boarding the ferry to Greece

It was a long one so we enjoyed a long sleep and a lazy breakfast the following morning, sunning ourselves on deck as we glided past Greek coastline and scattered islands.

Breakfast on the deck

Breakfast on the deck

Arriving around 1 PM, we shared a taxi to the town centre and boarded a coach to Kiato. In Kiato it was a short interchange onto a modern suburban railway taking us into Athens itself.

After picking up a hire car (fairly essential for Athens climbing, as the crags are dotted around) we checked into a campsite in Kifissia on the outskirks of the city. This turned out to be a good choice – the site was green and leafy with wifi and hot showers. It was close enough to the highway that we could get around easily, but not so close that we had to listen to traffic noise all night.

Mavrosouvola: a huge cavern with tufa dreadlocks

Looking at the guidebook, the crag which had stood out to us particularly strongly was the giant cavern of Mavrosouvola. Not having much in the way of tufa climbing back in the UK, we are drawn to these magnificent formations.

It did not disappoint and we lapped up the easier routes to try to build up some fitness for the rest of the trip.

Unusual climbing on an ancient marble quarry

The following day we sampled something a bit more unusual. It had never occurred to me that a marble crag might be a thing that existed. But if it does exist, of course it must be in Greece! In fact, Spilia Daveli is an ancient marble quarry which is said to have supplied stone for the building of the Acropoplis. And you can climb there!

The brilliant white rock certainly gives a unique experience. Onsighting is particularly hard because the holds are not particularly easy to spot, and any chalk left over from previous ascents blends in easily. That said, Glyn did some great onsights which I managed to flash thanks to his beta.

Unfortunately for us, not all of the routes are fully bolted. As we didn’t have any trad gear with us on the trip, we had to give these ones a miss.

Spilia Daveli, ancient marble quarry

Spilia Daveli, ancient marble quarry

Spooky old chapel next to the crag

Spooky old chapel next to the crag

Glyn onsighting

Glyn onsighting Gerakina 7b+ at Damari, which is round the corner from the main Spilia Daveli crag

Dragonfly at Spilia Daveli

Dragonfly at Spilia Daveli

Decent view upon leaving the crag!

More immaculate tufa climbing at Vrachokipos

The following Sunday we were able to meet some locals, including Giorgos and Andreas who worked on the guidebook, at another great crag named Vrachokipos. This was a welcome change as we had spent the week climbing on our own, but today the crag was packed with friendly people; beta and route recommendations came thick and fast.

A project emerges

For better or for worse, I had involved myself with a serious project at Mavrosouvala in the previous days. Aintes, if I could achieve it, would be my first route at 8a. I’d got to the “obsession” stage of redpointing and so I tried to take it fairly easy at Vrachokipos in order to conserve energy for some final attempts the following day. It was my last chance as we’d resume our journey to Turkey that night.

Usually when redpointing, I know when I’m about to be successful. Everything just comes together and it seems like victory is inevitable. I had this feeling while in an awkward knee-bar rest prior to the last hard section. I knew I’d do it this time. I was sure. But I was wrong: the moment I left the rest, I felt my muscles collapsing. As I desperately stabbed into the finger pocket I knew it was over and I left empty handed.

I don’t regret trying, it was a beautiful route, long and hard. I remember watching a video from Dave McLoed some time ago, where he said that if you know for sure that you’ll be able to achieve something you’re not really pushing yourself. Failure is part of the process, it provides verification that you’re really trying hard. In the end I “knew” I’d succeed, but actually I failed. I’m not sure what that means per McLoed’s rules but I was definitely trying hard!

Trying to send Aintes 8a

Trying to send Aintes 8a

One downside of having this project is there were quite a few crags around Athens which we didn’t make it to. There were quite a few other places which looked really good in the guidebook, so I’d be psyched to go back some time and check them out.

Onwards to Turkey

There are no direct ferries from Greece to Turkey, so it was with a deep sigh of resignation that we accepted we’d probably need to spend a day on one of Greece’s sun-baked islands in the Mediterranean. Perhaps we’d engage in a bit of swimming, purely as a form of “active rest” of course. And perhaps sample the local cuisine, strictly for research purposes, naturally.

There are a few possibilities but the route we chose took an overnight ferry to Rhodes, which is pretty close to Turkey. After a day out in Rhodes we then took an hour’s ferry ride to Marmaris in the early evening. We then had about a 5 hour drive in a hire car to Geyikbayiri.

Another possibility would have been to stop on the island of Kos and then take an onward ferry to Bodrum. Bodrum is further from Geyikbayiri, but from there it’s possible to take an overnight bus to Antalya if you wish to arrive purely by public transport.

Making dinner as we set sail from Athens to Rhodes

Making dinner as we set sail from Athens to Rhodes

Lads on tour! Ready for a swim in the sea

Lads on tour! Ready for a swim in the sea

The sea in Rhodes was amazingly clear

The sea in Rhodes was amazingly clear

Obligatory underwater selfie

Obligatory underwater selfie

Meal in Rhodes with Ed, who we met as we got off the ferry

Meal in Rhodes with Ed, who we met as we got off the ferry

Arriving in Marmaris to the sight of probably the most pimping boat I have ever seen

Arriving in Marmaris to the sight of probably the most pimping boat I have ever seen

Geyikbayiri: too hot, but amazing rock

We got to Geyikbayiri early in October and settled in to the JoSiTo campsite, which was friendly and well-equipped. Despite being “in the mountains” to some degree, the weather was much hotter than we’d experienced in Athens, so it was necessary to climb in the shade. This meant that we only visited the north-facing crag of Trebanna. It’s certainly a great crag and we had plenty to go at, but we’d have liked to have been able to check out some of the other crags too. It also suffers from being the rainy-day and hot-day option, so there’s a fair bit of polish from all the traffic.

I’ve never seen rock like they have in Geyikbayiri. Some places have tufas, but this place has giant columns of rock which you can walk around. It often makes for very three dimensional, pumpy climbing.

Geyikbayiri, overlooked by a pretty good looking mountain

Geyikbayiri, overlooked by a pretty cool mountain

Glyn getting involved

Glyn getting involved

Walking amongst the rock formations

Walking amongst the rock formations

The Roctrip arrives

The Petzl Roctrip arrived in Geyikbayiri a few days after us. Immediately the crag became significantly more crowded and hectic. Uber-wads cranking on the sharp end of bright orange Petzl ropes became a common sight!

Daila Ojeda with a shiny Petzl rope. I tried to practise my Spanish on her which wasn't wildly successful. She did teach me the word for battery though (la pila) - thanks Daila!

Daila Ojeda with a shiny Petzl rope. I tried to practise my Spanish with her which wasn’t wildly successful. She did teach me the word for “battery” though (la pila) – thanks Daila!

A busy day at Trebanna

A busy day at Trebanna

Up-and-coming hard climbing at Citdibi

One nearby crag that the Roctrip was trying to draw attention to is Citdibi, about a 45 minute drive from Geyikbayiri. This was a welcome change from Trebanna, and an incredibly impressive wall.

Citdibi has a lot going for it. Being much higher in the mountains than Geyikbayiri, it has cooler conditions. The huge wall overhangs quite a bit, so even though it rained pretty hard while we were there, the rock we were climbing was bone dry.

On the downside, it’s a fairly new area so there was still a fair bit of loose rock and dustiness. That’ll clean up in time, it just needs more people to climb there.

The other problem I experienced is that the climbing is really quite hard. All the best-looking lines were 8a and upwards. They did look amazing, but too hard for me to have a casual go. Obviously this “problem” depends on how hard you climb, but I found it a bit frustrating that all the really good lines seemed too hard for me.

There’s loads of potential for development at Citdibi, which I’m sure will happen over the coming years, so if you’re in the area I’d recommend a visit.

Walking up to Citdibi. We couldn't find the proper path on first day here, but the forest was pretty nice.

Walking up to Citdibi. We couldn’t find the proper path on first day here, but the forest was pretty nice.

The main "Kanyon" sector provides an incredible viewing platform which lets you spectate climbers when they're about 30m up!

The main “Kanyon” sector provides an incredible viewing platform which lets you spectate climbers when they’re about 30m up!

Onwards to Olympos

We moved with the Roctrip to the seaside venue of Olympos. It’s a funny place; my understanding is that during high summer it functions as a kind of hippy version of Magaluf. Visitors come in droves for sun, sea, sand and stupid quantities of alcohol. But there is some climbing too, leading to a slightly odd scenario where the tourist businesses try to cater for this secondary and quite different market too.

Initially we stayed in Kadir’s Tree Houses, as this was the chosen location of the Roctrip. This place is presumably so named because it sounds more quaint than “Kadir’s Wooden Shacks With Rusty Nails Poking Out the Walls”. Whereas in Magaluf you can presumably retreat from the nightclub to your lodgings once you’ve had enough (I’ve never actually been), the same cannot be said of Kadir’s. The loud music went on every night until about 3 AM, and because everything is made out of wood there was little respite in our room. Even my earplugs barely helped. Perhaps the loud music can be put down to the “Roctrip effect”, but judging by the reviews on Tripadvisor it’s par for the course here.

The climbing itself was rather good, though not plentiful enough that I’d ever want to return. I did some quality routes on the Cennet sector, which features face-climbing with pockets, a welcome antidote when we were becoming weary of tufas. I intended to try out some other crags including the Deep Water Soloing venue, but…

Then we were poisoned

One night we came back late and they had stopped serving dinner. We asked if they could possibly sort us out and a minute later two plates emerged from the kitchen. Relieved, we devoured our meals.

Several hours later as we lay in bed trying desperately to ignore the throbbing beats of the party, Glyn began to feel sick. Thus began an awful night of puking (for Glyn) and diarrhoea (for us both), and we spent the entire next day bedridden feeling totally weak. When I eventually managed to get up and have a shower, it felt so exhausted that I immediately had to lie down again.

I can’t conclusively draw a link between the food we had and the ensuing illness, but the correlation seems pretty suspicious. We’d had enough, so relocated ourselves to a place called Deep Green Bungalows, which was better in just about every way. It was cleaner and quieter, the food was better and the owner was friendly and eager to help.

Whilst after the second night of resting I began to feel a little better (though not perfect) and did a bit more climbing, Glyn was in bed literally until we left. It was a pretty rubbish end to an otherwise great trip. In the following days I spoke to lots of other people who had either felt ill themselves, or knew someone who was feeling ill; surely not a coincidence.

Back to London

When it was time to leave we were glad to do so. Despite our interesting and involved outbound journey, we’d decided due to time constraints to fly back. It felt like a bit of a cop-out for me, especially as I usually try to avoid flying anywhere, but I suppose the convenience won in this case. That said, arriving in Luton airport at 1 AM with our body clocks on 3 AM did not in any sense feel like a victory.

Food highlights

I don’t want to finish the post on a negative. Overall it was a great trip, despite the ending. So let’s talk about food!

I love sampling different food on climbing trips. Often it’s not the “national dishes” which bring the most pleasure but the simple joys such as eating succulent local oranges in Chulilla, or buying fresh croissants in France. Here are some of the tasty things we ate on this trip.

We couldn't find gas for our stove in Athens, so we made amazing salads. In this case, we also ate the bowl, which was made of bread and came from the local bakery!

We couldn’t find gas for our stove in Athens, so we made amazing salads. In this instance, we also ate the bowl, which was made of bread and came from the local bakery!

There were plenty of tasty salad ingredients available

There were plenty of tasty salad ingredients available in Athens

Rest day veggie burger at Avocado Athens - one of the best I've ever had!

Rest day veggie burger at Avocado Athens – one of the best I’ve ever had!

I spent the whole time in Athens trying to find a fig tree which actually had figs on it. One the last day I was finally successfully, which was an intensely happy moment as you can see.

I spent the whole time in Athens trying to find a fig tree which actually had figs on it. One the last day I was finally successful, which was an intensely happy moment as you can see.

Turkey had pomegranates. Bloody loads of them. The green ones are sweet, the red ones are sour.

Turkey had pomegranates. Bloody loads of them! The green ones are sweet, the red ones are sour.

There were also lots of persimmons in Turkey. Sweet and delicious.

There were also lots of persimmons in Turkey. Sweet and delicious.

A traditional meal of barbecued trout in Geyikbayiri

A traditional meal of barbecued trout in Geyikbayiri


Gözleme is a kind of Turkish pancake snack, filled with meat, cheese, spinach, tahini, etc. It’s yummy.

Turkish tea being poured. Very much a national institution, this was available everywhere we went, always served in the same shaped glass cups.

Turkish tea being poured. Very much a national institution, this was available everywhere we went, always served in the same shaped glass cups.

Glyn’s posts about the trip