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The Van Trip: Part 2 – Siurana, Margalef, El Chorro, Akchour, Reguchillo

This is my second and final post about our 5 month European camper van trip. Here’s part one.

We arrived on the ferry from Corsica to a bright sunny day in Toulon and immediately started the drive to Catalonia. Back in 2014 I’d spent christmas and new year in Albarracín. There I’d met a lovely couple, Marc and Itzi, who have since bought a house in Cornudella de Montsant, close to the world-famous climbing in Siurana. So we planned to head down and meet them.


Siurana, Catalonia

Emily couldn’t climb on her sprained ankle, but since Marc and Itzi had a two month old baby, it actually worked quite well to climb in a three anyway, so that there was always somebody to comfort the baby.

Marc and Itzi were absolute legends and helped us with lots of things. They gave us a key to their house so we could pop in for showers, helped us convert the van’s cooking gas setup to fit a Spanish system, but most importantly they provided a postal address to which we could order 4 KG of unsalted pure crunchy peanut butter from the web to rejuvenate our supplies (finding good peanut butter in European supermarkets is a challenge…)


While Emily couldn’t climb she developed a packed schedule of extra-curricular activities such as guitar practise, yoga and daily reading goals. Meanwhile I climbed with Marc and Itzi and whoever else I could find. I was pleased to bump into an affable Israeli called Avi who I had met in Rodellar way back in October 2013 and we had fun working Marihuana together.

On a rest day Emily and I decided to take in a “cultural experience” at the Festival of Xató in Vilanova i la Geltru. Xató is a traditional Catalan sauce which is served in an endive salad, and there was a competition for who could make the best version. I can’t say we liked the salad all that much but the festival was a good excuse to try lots of other tasty things!


Competitive Xató making

After a couple of weeks in Siruana we moved around to the nearby pocket climbing paradise at Margalef. It was starting to get seriously cold overnight at this point and we regretted a bit not buying a van that had a heater. We frequently woke up to completely iced up windows and I was generally eating my breakfast wearing 2 down jackets, a hat, gloves, while sitting inside a down sleeping bag! In these temperatures, the only sensible crag to climb at was the south-facing Espedelles sector. Even though it was very cold overnight, it was pretty comfortable to climb in the middle of the day if the sun was shining.


A chilly morning in Margalef


Espedelles sector, Margalef

Emily started to do a bit of climbing about 4 weeks after her accident. Her ankle wasn’t perfect but was getting better and we took it slowly at first. I was happy to have my climbing partner back!


How to check if it’s cold: has the olive oil turned solid?

One day we had a video call with Emily’s mum and we clearly looked freezing, because she subsequently offered to pay for us to stay somewhere warm for a few days as a christmas present. We decided to book somewhere in Andalusia (the south), which gave us a bit of a deadline to wrap things up in Margalef. I had a project on the go (an 8a+ called Braguetasso), which is really the only reason we didn’t leave any sooner. The day that I did it we immediately got in the van and drove to Chulilla, where the temperatures were much more pleasant (in part because of its lower altitude I think).


Thawing out in Chulilla

We only had time to spend a few days in Chulilla to break up the journey south, but I didn’t mind as I’ve previously spent 4 weeks there over 2 separate trips. It’s funny how popular it has become. On my first trip there it really felt like we’d found somewhere a bit off the beaten track.


Enjoying the wood stove



After a few days enjoying the luxury of having a wood burner and an oven in the holiday cottage, we made our way to El Chorro. This is somewhere I’d never been but seemingly every other climber I knew had, so it was an obvious destination. We had a few days there over christmas before heading off to board a ferry to Morocco – our plan was to return to El Chorro when we came back to Spain.

el chorro

El Chorro, Andalusia

We’d arranged to meet some friends in Morocco which we were pretty excited about. Glyn and Amy came via train to Algeciras, and booked onto the same ferry as us. We offered to cook them some dinner in the van and bring it onto the ferry, which would have worked out great if the ferry had actually left at its scheduled departure time of 8pm, but it actually left at 10.30pm by which point we were all quite hungry!

On arrival, we had to get the van through the Moroccan customs ‘temporary vehicle import‘ process, which was quite a struggle.


Akchour, Morocco

We waited ages for an official to come and deal with us (it felt like they were deliberately ignoring us), and when one finally did, he said that there was a problem with the immigration number stamped on my passport. The vehicle gets linked to the immigration number of the person importing it, and apparently it hadn’t been entered correctly in their computer system or something. He pointed me to some booths where there would apparently be a police officer who could fix it, but the booths were empty. I came back and another customs guy now instructed me to drive the opposite way back up the one-way road we had driven in on, go around a corner and take a right after 50m. There we would apparently find somebody who could fix the problem.

We did that and didn’t see anything obvious, but found some other official looking people who Emily talked in French with. They seemed to get the idea and pointed us down another road. We repeated this experience several times. Everybody seemed to know what we were after but it started to feel like a huge ploy to send the foreigners on a wild goose chase. Eventually we did finally make it to a building that looked promising – we were now several kilometres away from the customs checkpoint (thought still inside the port). On the ground floor a police officer sent us to the first floor. On the first floor another police officer took us to a different room containing a third police officer. This police officer took my passport, tapped a few things into a computer, and apparently we were sorted. We drove back to the customs checkpoint. They took a look at my passport, which hadn’t changed at all, and then simply stamped the import form without looking at anything on a computer!

The whole thing felt farcical but we were finally on our way, hours after the ferry had docked. We located Glyn and Amy who had disembarked as foot passengers and began the drive to Cafe Rueda, about 2 and a half hours away. We’d read about the Akchour area on UKC. It was 5:30am Spanish time when we arrived!


The impressive multi-pitch wall. Photo: Glyn Hudson

The next day we slept rather late, but squeezed in a few hours climbing before dark, at which point Glyn and I set off on a 6 hour round trip to pick up our others friends, Luke and Kate, from the airport.


Cooking for 6 in the van was challenging but cosy!

I had some quite “interesting” experiences on the roads in Morocco, but the most terrifying one was on the way to the airport. We were on an unlit motorway when the sat nav told us to take the next exit. It was dark and a bit foggy, so I put the headlights on full beam as I came onto the slip road. Something loomed out of the darkness so I dabbed the brakes before very quickly slamming my foot down and coming to a halt mere metres before a massive concrete barrier blocking the road ahead. It turns out this exit was closed – when we later drove down the same road in daylight we saw that they had indicated this by putting black tape in a cross over the road sign, but the sign was unlit and we hadn’t noticed anything at night.


Crisis averted…

After a couple of climbing days it was new year. We went out on a little excursion to Chefchaouen, a picturesque city nearby. It has a very interesting old town with lots of cute little streets, and almost all the buildings are painted blue. We had the quintessential Moroccan experience of going into a rug shop, being given little cups of mint tea loaded with sugar and then gently, charmingly being talked into buying something. After a prolonged negotiation we came away with a couple of very attractive rugs and some spices thrown in for good measure, which I am entirely OK with.


🎜 I have a blue house with a blue window 🎜

One thing everyone says about Morocco is that you’ve got to be careful about getting stomach bugs. We all tried to be pretty switched on about this and made a point to apply hand sanitiser before every meal (‘The time has come to… SANITISE’ – Chemical Brothers). But despite our best efforts Emily got taken down that evening, so I spent the next day looking after her while the others went and did a multi-pitch climb.


The rug shop

The next evening Emily was starting to feel better and I managed to talk Luke into doing a multi-pitch with me the following day, even though he was a bit tired from that day’s outing. So off we went in the morning. I got psyched up for the crux 7c pitch which seemed to pass fairly easily. Luke then started up the final 7a pitch and found it really hard. After trying for a while he decided to hand over to me, and I only just managed to power-scream my way to the chains. Later we realised that we’d gone the wrong way after the first two pitches, and ended up on a new route which wasn’t in our guidebook – the last two pitches were graded 7a+ and 7c, which made a lot more sense!


One of the rugs we bought

That evening I started to feel a bit dodgy. Initially I thought it would pass but it soon became clear that I too was succumbing to food poisoning. I had a pretty grim night puking up, but at least Emily was feeling better by this point so at least we weren’t both taken out at the same time. The others all escaped unscathed!

It started to get rather cold and rainy, which interfered with the climbing a bit. There was even some snow on the tops of some of the mountains. Still, we managed to get some things done here and there when it wasn’t raining. Emily and I did a multi-pitch called Speleologie towards the end, but it wasn’t very good – lots of loose rock and only one pitch that felt like decent climbing. On the way down we got a rope stuck and I had a terrifying but short-lived experience where I was ascending the rope in the dark to sort out the problem when it suddenly moved really quickly. For a second I thought it had cut on an edge or something and I was about to fall to the ground, but then it stopped and everything was fine. I think what had actually happened is that it was stuck on a bit of tree, and had eventually pulled free from the tree, causing me to fall a metre or so before it came tight again on the anchor. Quite scary.


Morocco was a pretty interesting cultural experience, but I didn’t find the climbing in Akchour to be amazing. The cliff looks very impressive from a distance, but there is a lot of loose rock. There are some good pitches for sure, but also plenty of bad, chossy ones in between. It was lovely to hang out with our friends though, and if the weather had been a bit better and we hadn’t got food poisoning then I’m sure it would have felt a bit different.


I heard a lot of things before we went about getting hassle from the locals in Morocco. I felt a little apprehensive about going over there with the van, especially given that we were basically driving around with all our possessions. In the towns and cities we did get quite a few people coming up to us and trying to sell us things (often weed!) but I never felt unsafe and generally found the locals to be friendly and generous, especially in the rural areas.

Once back in Spain we spent a day in Algeciras doing errands. We took the van to a garage to get a slow puncture repaired and I was pleased that I managed to arrange this with my fairly mediocre Spanish skills. Since the van is quite tall, the mechanic decided to drive it alongside the workshop rather than reversing inside. He then just put it on a jack and removed the wheel. Meanwhile, another mechanic got in a different customer’s car, and reversed straight back into the side of the van. Clearly he wasn’t used to there being a vehicle there and didn’t check the mirror. I watched the whole thing happen and just sort of sighed. The manager eventually came and spoke to me, and we just about managed to communicate that he would arrange for their insurance company to have it repaired. He took my details and said somebody would be in touch, so we headed back to El Chorro.



At this stage, Emily and I were both keen to do some projecting. Emily’s ankle was now quite a bit better and her fitness had returned. After some days climbing with some friends from London who happened to be visiting, we started paying regular visits to Makinodromo. It’s a stunning crag but you have to work for it, with the 1.5 hour walk in.


Walking in to Makinodromo

Everybody told me to get on Lourdes of course, which is surely the most famous route in El Chorro, but I was keen to push myself a bit further. I decided to try an 8b which was a grade I hadn’t climbed before and was not sure if I could climb. I picked a long steep tufa route called Randi which is just a bit to the left of Lourdes. It actually has two chains and gets 8a+ to the first, or 8b if you go all the way. On the first day there I worked the moves of the 8a+ section and it felt pretty hard. Doubt quickly crept in and I started to think maybe I shouldn’t bother trying the upper section. But Emily reminded me that I had wanted to find something hard and I hadn’t even tried the moves!

She had a point… after a rest day I surprised myself by doing the 8a+ first go. I really had no excuse not to try the full line, so I lowered the rope to get some more quickdraws and went for a look.


There are hundreds of Griffon Vultures in El Chorro

The climb is steep the whole way and goes like this: bouldery moves off the ground lead to moderate tufa climbing. At the top of a huge tufa you throw out right and enter a long sustained section with some slopers. There’s a jug in the middle – good for a shake out but the feet are bad so it’s not as restful as it might be. After the shake, you race up pinching a small tufa until a final big throw (quite droppable) to the finishing jug of the 8a+. This is maybe 30m up. A bit above there’s a really good knee bar – hang out here for as long as possible. When you finally leave the rest, there are a few pumpy moves and then a poor knee bar at the start of the crux. The crux is on pockets, and given my (lack of) height, the way I ended up doing it was quite specific and weird. I’m not sure if the sequence would be more obvious for a taller person, but in any case there were some pretty desperate moves stabbing into pockets for me. It took several sessions to work out a crux sequence. After the crux is maybe 5 or so metres of much easier climbing to the top of the wall.



We stashed our gear at the crag and settled into a rhythm. One day on, one day off. On the climbing days we’d wake up pre-dawn and get to there around 10am. After warming up, I’d have one go at my route and then just rest and belay Emily all afternoon. I’d have one more go at the end of the day, and then we’d walk out in the dark. The route was so long and pumpy that this felt like the best tactics, since I needed a lot of rest between attempts. It made for a long day out, but I didn’t mind – the route was starting to feel possible and I was pretty motivated.

I entered into that phase where you’ve worked out a sequence and you know it’s possible, but you just keep bloody falling off. Part of the problem was actually the heat. This was the middle of winter, but El Makinodromo is a sun trap and the days were often clear. I generally think that if I don’t do a hard project on my first attempt after the warm up, I probably won’t do it that day. But on the day I did it some clouds had rolled in during the afternoon. I didn’t know when we’d get these conditions again, so I gave it an all-out effort and just managed to scrape through. Which was lucky, because the crux pockets were eating my skin, and one of my fingers started spewing blood mid-crux. I’m not sure I would have been able to climb it again without taking quite a few days off for my skin to heal.


Cloud inversion on the walk in to Makinodromo

I was elated of course, but after that my psyche really seemed to disappear. Having had such a clear goal I now didn’t seem to have much of a focus. We carried on climbing in El Chorro, mainly because we were still trying to sort out getting the dent in the van repaired. We had identified a garage that could do it, but needed to wait for the insurance company to approve the quote, and then for a day when they could do all the work in a single day (since it was also our home…) All this was arranged during several trips back and forth to Álora to gesticulate with a very patient Spanish man named Luís.

It did allow the opportunity for a spontaneous party though. During our time in El Chorro we’d got friendly with the people running the bar at Finca la Campana. They had a rather enthusiastic group from a university climbing club staying there one week, and on their last night I ended up DJing for them for about 4 hours.

Finally the van was fixed and we decided what we needed was a change of scene. In Morocco, Kate had mentioned that some other friends, Katie and Alex, had visited the Jaén area and had spoken highly of it, so we thought we’d give it a go.

We headed to one of the bigger crags in the local area, which is called Reguchillo. This was partly driven by the fact that it gets a bit of sun. The weather had gotten colder again, and we were now a bit higher up, not far beneath the snow line. There’s an excellent local guidebook (in Spanish), which we bought from the climbing shop in town.


Reguchillo, Jaén

My psyche instantly returned, and I was frothing to try the climbs. I had forgotten how exciting it is to go and explore somewhere new!




After about 10 days of excellent climbing in Reguchillo, we reluctantly started driving back north. This was a bit depressing – the trip was nearly over and the more we drove the more wintery it became. We had a brief stop in Siurana to see Marc and Itzi again, then another in Fontainebleau to meet up with some friends who were on a trip over there.

When we got to the Eurotunnel check-in at Calais, one of the staff pointed out that we had quite a bit of smoke coming out of the exhaust. They were worried about whether it would mess with the fire detection system on the train, but let us travel in the end. On the other side we weren’t sure what to do. We were worried that to carry on driving might exacerbate whatever problem we had. Unfortunately it was the absolute worst time to need to visit a garage – we arrived early evening on Saturday, so all the garages were closed until Monday morning.


Emily starting up her proj in Reguchillo

We decided to sit tight until we could get to a garage. It felt like a depressing end to the trip as we sat in the van next to a random field back in Brexit Britain freezing our arses off while the “Beast from the East” made its final approach. When Monday did arrive we found a garage who could take a look, but it was a bit pointless really. They concluded that they didn’t really know what was going on but thought it would be OK to drive home so we decided to just crack on.

We limped back to North Wales on Tuesday, by which point it was snowing quite a lot.

Fixing the van ended up costing quite a bit and taking weeks. Glyn was a total hero, offering to help sort it all out and then sell the van, since we had to get a plane to Australia!


A wintry return to North Wales

So, now we’re at the bit where I try to reflect and write some sort of neat conclusion…

To be honest I never had any doubt that I’d enjoy the trip, but I think Emily was a bit more tentative about whether it was what she really wanted to spend 5 months of her life doing. So I was very grateful that she was willing to entertain the idea, and in the end we were both really into it. Given we were in each others’ faces pretty much all day every day, there was perhaps some risk that it might become a bit too much of a good thing. But instead I think it brought us closer together and the pace of life allowed us to slow down and make more time for each other.

I loved being outside and in nature literally every single day for such a stretch of time. It felt very healthy in quite a primal sense, and now I’m living in a city again I feel somewhat like a caged animal.

Obviously, doing loads of great climbing was also a highlight! I feel that I achieved a level of fitness that I’d never previously been able to reach, and it was exciting to explore what I could do with that.

I definitely hope this is not the last such trip I do, although perhaps my next one will be in an electric van? Since we came to live in Australia, Glyn has bought his own electric van and I’ve been inspired following his progress turning it into a low-carbon camper.

The Van Trip: Part 1 – Arco, Finale Ligure, Corsica

It almost feels like a different life now, but in late September last year, Emily and I set out across the English channel for 5 months of European adventuring in a camper van…

Our trip began on an unassuming suburban street somewhere near Merton. Having made a stop in London to see various friends, we woke up the next morning to head to Folkestone for the Eurotunnel. We quickly realised that the van’s leisure battery was flat, as the lights wouldn’t turn on. No worries, we thought. We’ll just hit the road and the alternator can charge it. It then became apparent that the starter battery was also flat. Luckily we managed to enlist the help of some builders for a jump-start. (We later figured out that the voltage sensing relay had been wired incorrectly, which meant that the two batteries were basically permanently connected, hence why our appliances had been able to drain the starter battery. Doh.)

We crossed the channel and immediately pulled over, because we still hadn’t decided where we were actually going. After a quick ponder of various options we picked Arco, in Northern Italy. We spent the next few days making our way there, stopping overnight on the France/Luxemburg border, and then next to a gorgeous lake in Austria.


Waking up in Austria, en route to Arco

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Arco, Italy

Our arrival in Arco was a bit fraught. We’d been driving all day, were quite tired, and didn’t really know where we should park up. We tried to get to the famous Massone crag, but it became apparent that we probably weren’t going to be able to squeeze through the narrow streets that lead there. So we retreated, but our van manoeuvring skills were somewhat under-developed at this stage of the trip and it was a bit chaotic to say the least. Eventually we got turned around and drove about some more getting increasingly frustrated. A chilly plunge in Lake Geneva cleared my head and we finally found our way to a good spot near a crag called Nago.


A nice tufa cave at La Gola sector, though very polished

To be honest the time in Arco was not the highlight of the trip. Although we did find some good things to climb here and there, the rock was often extremely polished to the point of being unpleasant. Fundamentally though, I think we were also still just getting into the swing of van life. We’d had several rather busy and stressful weeks trying to sort things out and tie up loose ends before we left, and we were still unwinding from that and learning how to live in the van.

As well, there seemed to be a steady stream of random little problems like the flat battery. Another was that the sliding door got stuck closed. This meant our only access in and out was to climb over the front seats. On a rest day we found a friendly mechanic who spoke precisely zero English, but we managed to communicate about the problem through mime and Google Translate. We now refer to him only as “the van whisperer” because he pushed and jiggled the door in some kind of special way and it miraculously came open. He unbolted part of the locking mechanism and told us that we needed to get a new one from a dealership. So off we went to nearby Trento and they ordered us the part, which meant we were committed to staying in Arco for another 10 days. We made the best of it but were pretty keen to move on when the time came.


Sore skin from some sharp crimps prompted us to take a double rest day from climbing. On one of them we did the Rino Pisetta via ferrata above the village of Sarche.



When we got the part, we bolted it back into the door and tested it without closing the door. It seemed to work. So we then slid the door closed, and it was stuck shut again. Bollocks.

This time there were no van whisperer tricks to be had, but we decided to head on to less polished pastures nonetheless. We resigned ourselves to climbing over those seats for a few more days.

Our next destination was Finale Ligure, which we liked quite a bit. The grades were stiff but the rock was good quality and not too polished. We spent quite a bit of time at the amazing tufa-laden wall to the right of the Grotta della Strapatente (see here for some good photos), but also visited various other crags including the much-photographed Grotto dell’Edera – an impressive cylinder of rock that you climb inside of. (And it’s not just aesthetic – the climbs are pretty good too.)

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Finale Ligure, Italy

A local garage managed to resolve our sliding door woes for €50, too, so things were coming together.


Lovely pocket climbing at Boragni sector in Finale Ligure

I really enjoyed the onsighting in Finale but there weren’t a whole load of options for redpoint projects for me, which was a bit of a shame. We considered checking out some of the crags in the Oltrefinale guidebook (an area a little further away), which had some harder crags, but ultimately decided against it because they were south facing and the weather was still on the warm side for climbing in full sun. We did get to have a couple of bracing swims in the sea though! (A good way to get clean as they had showers on the beach…)


The wonderful Grotto dell’Edera – quite hard to capture in a photo!

After a couple of weeks in Finale, we boarded a daytime ferry to the French island of Corsica. As we came into port at sunset we were greeted by a beautiful red textured sky. We drove in the dark to Corte, in the middle of the island, intending to climb in the Restonica valley.

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Corte, Corsica

Next morning we went straight to the climbing shop in town to buy the sport climbing guidebook, planning to have a fairly relaxed day while we got our bearings. However the woman in the shop told us it was out of print, so we bought the multi-pitch guide instead and made a snap decision to go and do one of the shorter routes.


Restonica valley is absolutely stunning with immaculate granite walls in all directions. I have to admit that I was surging with psyche in that moment and perhaps pushed the decision to go and do a multi-pitch a little more than I should have. By the time we’d bought the guide, driven into the valley and parked the van, it was 11AM. The month was now November so we didn’t have oodles of daylight to play with. Our chosen objective, Le Vent du Silence, was only 5 pitches long but there was a bit of a walk-in, and given Emily hadn’t done lots of multi-pitching before we weren’t able to move super fast on the route. We got to the top but darkness fell during the descent. On the last abseil in the dark I landed us in the wrong place which meant we had to do a bit of sketchy down-climbing to get to our bags. Not ideal in hindsight, it put a bit of a damper on things and wasn’t very confidence-building for Emily.



At the top of Le Vent du Silence. Note how low the sun is, we are definitely about to get benighted!

In the car park we met a friendly French man who was on holiday with his family. He knew the area pretty well and gave us lots of recommendations. It was a stroke of luck that he was leaving the next morning, so offered to sell us his copy of the sport climbing guide which was a great help.


A stunning sport crag right next to the road in Restonica

After some sport climbing we took a rest day and started to think about what to do next. Emily was a bit apprehensive about doing more multi-pitch, but in the end she decided to tackle that head on, picking not just any multi-pitch but a very long one with a big walk in! We set out in the dark the next morning, heading for Esméralda. It was an exhausting 13 hour day, with 8 hours actually on the route, but there was no major drama and we both had fun.


The route takes a rightwards trending line


Climbing through some of the abundant tafoni formations




Needless to say the following day was a rest day! I found some sweet chestnuts which I toasted and put in a potato salad, yum.

When we first arrived in Corsica it was early November. The place was pretty deserted, with not many tourists around, and the conditions were perfect for climbing. But after our first week there, the weather started to get a lot more unsettled and we had to sit out some really wet days. It got cold too, with a bit snow falling in the mountains. It was clear that winter was starting to set in.

We began to get a bit frustrated with the weather, especially since whenever we looked at the forecast for Spain we saw a run of clear sunny days. Our plan had been to continue on from Corsica to the more southerly Italian island of Sardinia, and then catch a ferry onwards to Barcelona from there. But after checking the long range forecast and reviewing the seasonal average conditions for these islands, we thought better of it and booked a ferry to Toulon, from where we planned to drive to Spain.

Meanwhile, we still had a week or so left in Corsica. On one overcast day we went to do some roadside sport climbing. As I stepped off the ground on the warm-up, I somehow trapped a nerve in my neck and was plunged into agonising pain. It was really weird and just went away of its own accord eventually, but I couldn’t climb that day so just belayed Emily as she ticked her project. We decided to leave it there so headed back to the van early, and I thought that since I hadn’t had much exercise that day, I’d take my bike for a spin up the valley.

In my haste to get going, I didn’t really think it through properly and decided to just go ‘fast and light’. I wore only a t-shirt and a thin base layer, and took no food or water. I think I thought that I’d only be out for a short while, but once I got going I was pretty keen to make the ~13km to the car park at the top of the valley. On the way up my body was generating plenty of heat to keep warm, but I did start to get a bit hungry and thirsty and to have doubts. Eventually I stopped at a bridge about 1km shy of my target, and decided that was probably far enough. I’d reached snow patches so it was pretty cold, and I was hungry for sure. I went down to the river and slurped up some of the icy water.

I hopped back on my bike and started rolling downhill, and instantly understood that I was about to get very cold. Soon it became quite a struggle to squeeze the brakes, and I had to stay focused because there were many corners and big drops to the side of the road. I was in a deserted valley and suddenly it felt like quite a serious situation. On the way up I’d seen one or two cars driving the other way but there were none around now. Every so often I stopped to try to rewarm my hands in my armpits, and was literally yelling “come on! keep going!” at myself as I went. I’ve heard stories of people who have hypothermia just sort of sitting down and ‘going to sleep’, and was afraid of what might happen if I allowed myself to dawdle.

Eventually I turned yet another a corner and finally saw the van. My whole body was tingling and vibrating involuntarily, which I’ve never experienced before. I collapsed through the door and whimpered at Emily, put on all the clothes I could find and curled up in a ball in a sleeping bag while she made me some tea. I won’t be making that mistake again!

Next we headed south east to the Aiguilles de Bavella. There’s a lot of climbing in this region, but we weren’t sure if the weather would really let us sample any of it. Still, we thought that it would be nice to get a change of scenery and take a look around, even if we couldn’t do much climbing.

We’d been particularly drawn by one of the most famous multi-pitches on the island, a route by the Petit brothers named Jeef. After a day’s sport climbing followed by two extremely wet days, it looked like we might just have a weather window to try it. For efficiency we scoped out the walk-in the day before, since Corsican approaches can be pretty tricky to find. We stopped when we got to the river crossing. We could see where to go, but with the amount of water that had been coming down the river had swelled and was impassable (at least without getting wet). We headed back to the van and hoped that it would subside by the next morning.

The next day we rose at 5 to give ourselves maximum time. At first light we reached the river and were happy to see that it had dropped quite a bit, so we could make the crossing. Once on the route we dispatched the first couple of pitches and were at the start of the crux pitch, which features a single 7b move which I failed to do but could pull past easily.


On the approach to Jeef

In order to allow me to lead a 7a+ pitch later on, without us having to turn the rope over, I decided to try to run this pitch into the next one. This was a poor decision. Since the two pitches wind around a bit, I knew I’d get pretty bad rope drag but decided to do it anyway. At the belay I was out of sight of Emily. I called out that she could start climbing, and soon felt the rope go tight, meaning she’d fallen off that tricky first move. After a short while it went slack and then tight again, and I heard a piercing scream. Shit.

Not really sure what to do, I waited to see if she would start moving again. She didn’t. We attempted to shout at each other but I couldn’t really hear anything apart from nondescript hollering. After waiting quite a long time I decided that I had to do something else. I didn’t have very much rope left at my end, but decided to tie Emily off to the anchor, untie from my side of the rope, and abseil down it to try to see what was going on.

Fortunately, after going down about 10m I could see Emily and we could talk to each other. She told me that she had hit her ankle on the rock during the second fall, it was really painful and she couldn’t put any weight on it. Clearly we had to abandon the climb.

We formulated a plan. Emily had pulled up a short distance above the anchor so couldn’t clip into it, but was within reach of two separate bolts and managed to attach herself to them. She then untied and I pulled the rope up to where I was and did a couple of abseils to get to her. As I had traversed I had to do a bit of a pendulum but it was OK since the rock was slabby so I could run along it to move horizontally, and eventually I was able to throw the ends of the rope to her so she could pull me over.

From there, we could easily abseil to the ground, but still needed to do the walk-out with a sprained ankle. We put as much weight as possible into my bag and Emily hobbled down very slowly, spending a lot of time sliding over rocks on her bum. We got there eventually, and I felt grateful that we’d had the accident early on, with plenty of daylight to spare.

The belay at the start of the pitch that Emily fell off is just above an overlap in the rock face. The amount of drag meant that I couldn’t keep the rope very tight, and there was also a lot of rope out. So when she fell, it stretched quite a bit. It all happened quite quickly so we don’t know for sure, but we think that the rope probably stretched enough that Emily fell past the overlap, with the rope running over it. This would have caused her to swing in forcefully to the rock below, which is probably why she hit her ankle so badly. I definitely feel culpable for this, given it was my decision to run the pitches together! A lesson learned the hard way…


The overlap that became so problematic…

Needless to say, that was the end of our climbing in Corsica. We only had a couple of days left before the ferry anyway, so we wound our way slowly back up to the port. En route we had probably the best meal of the whole trip next to a cosy open fire at a restaurant called U Tavanincu.


A tasty meal before we left Corsica. Emily’s ankle was still so painful that I had to give her a piggy-back into the restaurant!

We boarded the ferry to Toulon and then started the drive down to Catalonia, unsure about how soon Emily would be able to climb again.

I’ll continue the story in Part 2!

North Wales, Australia, climbing, and the start of our van life

Nearly two years ago I stepped into the unknown and moved to North Wales. I’d arrived in London three and a half years prior, not really knowing what I wanted from the place but feeling like it was an obvious thing to do. As I got increasingly motivated for climbing I started to feel less and less content in the city. Week days were busy with work, evenings at the climbing wall, and then at the weekends I went in search of real rock. Long drives to Portland, Brean Down, Anstey’s, the Peak or sometimes North Wales. There wasn’t really much space left for the other things which feature in a balanced life, like having friends for dinner, going for a walk in the park or spending time with my partner.

I’d been discussing a move with Emily for months but eventually we concluded that whilst she had her reasons to want to stay put for a while longer, I really needed a change. So we decided to try living apart for the first time in five and a half years. It felt like a risk, but the status quo wasn’t risk-free either.


Clogwyn yr Eryr with Will on my 27th birthday

I slotted into the Llanberis climbing scene and for the first time felt like I lived in a real community. Hours on motorways were replaced with having a social life. I could walk down the street and bump into friends. I had enough time and didn’t need to rush from one thing to the next. It wasn’t perfect but it felt like a huge improvement on the big smoke.

I was delighted when Emily decided to join me the next July. Surely she’d love it! We’d live happily ever after in our cute little mountain village, surrounded by friends, rock, and lots of fluffy sheep!


Snow day with Emily and a friend’s lively dog

She did love North Wales, so it came as a bit of a shock when later that year she told me that after a long process of reflection, she’d decided that what she really needed was to return home to Australia. Having come to the UK 10 years ago for university, she’d not really intended to settle but had ended up staying (I had something to do with it…) But Australia was home and she was asking me to go with her.


Bouldering in the winter sun with Ramon at Porth Ysgo

A digression: one thing that I have found helpful in the last couple of years is learning about mindfulness and meditation. There are some good apps available to help. Initially I used Headspace for a few months but fell out of the habit. I picked it back up with Calm around the time that Emily and I were having this discussion, and have managed to continue more or less daily since then (although I no longer use an app).

Anyway, mindfulness has definitely made me more able to be accepting of the idea that I am not actually the absolute master of my life, able to direct it exactly how I want. (For what it’s worth, nor do I believe that there is some external deity orchestrating things.)


Trying out our new wetsuits at Whistling Sands on the Llyn Peninsula

It’s easy to think that we know what should happen or is going to happen in life, but that idea is demonstrably false. I can think of many instances in my own life when I was convinced something was going to turn out terribly, and yet it did not. And vice versa – times when I thought things were going great but then the shit hit the fan.

Observing this has made me more able to accept paths I did not explicitly choose. Paths like moving to Australia. Initially I definitely threw my toys out of the pram a bit, but as I gave it more thought, I realised that I actually have no idea what might happen either way. What I do know is that I value my relationship and that given I can’t predict the future, I may as well focus on enjoying the present.

So we’re moving to Australia in March! Melbourne initially, but we will probably look to live closer to rocks in the longer term.


Gogarth Red Wall

Having made this decision I started to relate to climbing in North Wales a bit differently. My days there were now numbered and I needed to choose my battles. Somebody asked me in April what my goals were for the season. I hadn’t given it much thought but replied that a very good year would include doing my first F8a+ redpoint and my first E6 onsight. I didn’t really think I’d achieve this, but knew I’d be stoked if I did.

The spring and early summer saw many days spent at LPT . I had half an eye on a planned trip to Céüse in July and so got stuck into sport climbing. One session I decided to have a play on an 8a+ called Wild Understatement. It’s a cool variation on Ben Moon’s classic 8a, Statement of Youth – it takes a more direct start through a big roof, climbs through the middle of Statement, and then branches out left into a delicate off-balance crack at the top.

I was surprised to find that I could basically do all the moves and so decided to keep trying it, whilst telling myself that I was still just playing around. After a few sessions I fell right at the top and had to admit that I was probably now on redpoint. I got it done just before the Céüse trip, many thanks to John Bunney who pretty much came down to hang out and belay me! In hindsight, Wild Understatement was exactly my style: sustained endurance climbing without any super bouldery cruxes.


Introducing our friend Charlie to the slate

When I returned from Céüse I was super keen to do lots of trad climbing. The sport climbing in North Wales is decent, but trad is really what it’s best at, and I still had loads of classics to work through. As the summer wore on, in the back of my mind was Skinhead Moonstomp on Gogarth Main Cliff. I’d read about it in Andy Pollitt’s book and it sounded epic and kind of scary. But Dan Mcmanus told me it was basically safe so I kept wondering… maybe I should try it.

I spent a while waiting to see if the opportunity would magically arise but it did not. Eventually I realised that if I wanted to try it I needed to just decide to do so and make it happen. I couldn’t really think of who else I could persuade me to give me a belay so asked Emily, and she graciously agreed.

We left a bit later in the day as I thought conditions would be better, but arrived at the base to discover that the only other party on the cliff were just starting up Positron, with which Skinhead Moonstomp shares some climbing. After waiting for them to get ahead I did the first pitch and Emily started seconding.

I’d perhaps been a bit optimistic about Emily’s suitability as a second for this route, and she fell off but eventually got to the belay. I started up the second pitch, which is the E6 6b crux. You traverse out left to beneath what I think the guide describes as a “looming wall”, plug in some gear, take a deep breath, and run it out until Positron’s crack. At this point the ropes are fluttering in the breeze for perhaps 8 metres below. (I could have done with a breeze actually, my t-shirt was now drenched in sweat.) You then do a few moves on Positron before going directly up to the infamous “bucket seat” belay. Somehow I succeeded, my Céüse fitness certainly helped but it was touch and go.

Poor Emily now needed to follow, and the traverse moves are not actually straightforward. She fell off and took a pendulum, finding herself dangling in mid-air some way beneath me. I’d hurriedly tried to remind her how to prussik at the previous belay, but she was out of practise and there was some trial and error involved (we couldn’t really communicate due to the noise from the sea). By the time she arrived at the bucket seat it was nearly dark. I set off to string together the final two easier pitches by head-torch, slightly gripping. When we got back to our bags it was midnight… dinner was on me the following evening!


Rock Bottom Line with Glyn. My technique was completely wrong but made for some fun photos…

Having decided to move to Australia, I was sad to be leaving behind the fantastic variety of climbing destinations that Europe has to offer. (Which is certainly not to say that Australia doesn’t also have exciting climbing potential.) So I was pleased when Emily agreed to the idea of us spending the winter pursuing the quintessential climbers’ dream of living in a camper van, following the sun, and doing loads of climbing at European crags.

It’s easy to look at people doing these sorts of things and think “wow, they must be having fun literally all the time”, but this overlooks the fact that such trips take quite a bit of (worthwhile) work to put together, and even once you’re on the road there are still highs and lows. (I’m still getting used to the stress of manoeuvring a massive van up tiny Italian mountain roads…) The fact that we rarely share photos of the more dull or difficult moments of our lives probably helps to perpetuate the image that everybody else is having more fun.

For us the run-up to coming away felt pretty stressful and busy, and didn’t involve much climbing either (in part due to a terrible September in North Wales). There were lots of things to do: buy a van, get it ready, sort through our belongings, get rid of a load of them, pack the rest of it into boxes, clean the flat, and so on. Then, once we’d finally left North Wales, several days of driving lay between us and our first destination, Arco in Northern Italy.


Putting a solar panel on the roof of the van

Before all this though, we thought that if we were going to move to the other side of the world, we’d be really sad to say goodbye to the lovely friends we have in the UK. It felt important to mark the occasion, so we decided to put together a big party in North Wales.

Just a few miles from Llanberis is a beautiful, co-operatively run, organic farm called Tyddyn Teg. We’d been getting weekly veg from them and so asked if it might be possible to hire out their barn. They agreed so we set the date for the first weekend of September and started to make plans.


Tyddyn Teg farm

We were really touched to receive help in all sorts of ways from various friends which made the end result all the more special. Lots of people pitched in to make food (veg supplied by the farm!), Nathan set up some awesome speakers, lights, lasers and smoke machines, Amy made hanging decorations, James and Chris (aka Gaenz and Fixd) kept the dance floor moving til the early hours, and lots of people turned up with great costumes. We were quite stressed with the organisation for a couple of days preceding but it came off really well and felt very rewarding to put on a party that everyone seemed to enjoy!


Amazing lighting setup from Nathan


Veg shop jamming trio

Also, I had been pondering learning to DJ for some time prior, and so decided that having a deadline would give me some impetus to actually do it. I played for the first hour or so and it seemed to go down pretty well!


My first live DJ set!

So that’s it! I’m sad to leave North Wales behind, but I also feel like it has been an immense privilege to spend two years of my life there. It’s the first place I’ve ever left which I feel like I’ll miss.

Now we’re on the trip, living in the back of a van in Northern Italy. We’ve enjoyed some great climbing in beautiful scenery, but have also dealt with some electrical issues in the van, a part of the sliding door breaking, some exceedingly polished routes (which we are striving to avoid) and various day-to-day things that don’t just go away because you’re on a trip.


Waking up in Austria, en route to Northern Italy


Rest day sunshine in Sarche, Northern Italy

At some point we’re planning to get a ferry to Corsica and/or Sardinia, and then another ferry onwards to Catalonia. In March we’ll fly to Melbourne. After that, who knows?

Australia Part 2 – The Totem Pole

Four years ago, when I first visited Australia with my partner Emily (who is from Melbourne), we spent a week in Tasmania at her family’s holiday home in Oyster Cove, about 30 minutes south of Hobart.


Looking out from the lovely holiday home at Oyster Cove

Before we went across on the ferry, her dad, Rod, lent me a book to read: The Totem Pole by Paul Pritchard. I’d never heard of Paul Pritchard or The Totem Pole at the time, but Paul was a key member of the 80’s climbing scene in Llanberis (where I live now). In 1998 he came on a trip to Tasmania and planned to climb The Totem Pole which is a unique tower of dolerite, 65 metres high, about 4 metres wide, jutting out of the sea just off the western coast of the Tasman Peninsula. An abseiling accident caused a loose block to give him a life-threatening head injury and the book tells the tale of his injury, rescue and subsequent recovery (although he is now not able to move one side of his body).

It was with impeccable timing that Paul visited North Wales about a week before I came out to Australia, showing a film and giving a lecture about his accident and successful attempt, last April, to reclimb the pole. He has a wonderfully positive outlook on his accident and how it changed him for the better. (Read this interview, it’s brilliant.)

On that visit we didn’t do any climbing, but the book motivated us to go on a boat trip along that section of coast line. While the rest of the tourists marvelled at seals I looked up at “The Tote” and thought to myself: one day.


Tree hugging in Tasmania, four years ago

This past March, Rod sadly and suddenly died, so it has been a difficult year for Emily and her mum, Mandy. We came back to Australia for christmas to be with Mandy but I have also been able to fit in some climbing as well. My top agenda item was of course the Tote. It seems fitting that we are here primarily due to Rod’s death, and it was he who introduced me to the Tote in the first place.


Emily’s dad, Rod

I was a bit worried about how to find a suitable climbing partner in Tasmania, but everything came together. I got in touch with Rob Greenwood who was also planning a trip at this time, and he told me to talk to another Brit, Jim Hulbert, who has been on a working holiday for nine months, sampling the best climbing spots across Australia. Jim was already planning to come to Tasmania the day before me, so we agreed to partner up.


Fortescue Bay

After a couple of days warming up at The Organ Pipes above Hobart, we took a rest day and then headed for the beautiful Fortescue Bay, where the hour and a half long walk-in to Cape Hauy begins. After descending through bush until we were about level with the top of the pole, we found abseil bolts and fixed a rope.


Jim descending down the mainland cliff

I was first down and faced the slightly tricky task of swinging on the ab rope about 4m out from the mainland in order to get onto the starting belay on the Tote. The rock was greasy and there’s not a lot to grab, but after a few tries I managed to do it, hooking my index finger through a bolt hanger before quickly clipping in.


Hanging belay at the bottom of the Tote


About to pull Jim across onto the Tote (the chaps behind are gearing up for an icy swim to the start of the Candlestick, which is another sea stack behind the Tote)


Aforementioned icy swim in progress (he didn’t hang about)

We immediately regretted our optimistic clothing choices as it’s quite dingy down there and the wind comes howling through the channel. Jim set off on pitch 1 of the Deep Play route, which climbs 20m to a ledge at grade 24 (about French 7a). After a good fight, Jim unfortunately popped off on the onsight. We decided to lower back to the start and he had a couple more goes at redpointing the pitch, but didn’t quite manage as there wasn’t much time for him to rest between attempts and I was getting increasingly chilly. So we decided to press on. (Jim plans to return for another go later in his trip.)


Jim on pitch 1 (Deep Play, 24)

Now it was my turn: the Deep Play route joins the original Free Route for its second pitch, a 40m grade 25 (about French 7a+). This pitch was superb and we were far enough above the water now that there was no greasiness. The climbing mostly involved short harder sections between pretty good shake outs, although there was quite a bit of chalk on route which no doubt made the onsight easier. Despite notionally following an arete, most of the moves were actually face climbing with occassional use of the arete for hand holds.


Jim getting ready to come up pitch 2 (Free Route, 25)


We had tourist boats gawping at us all day! Note the shadow of the Tote projected onto the side of the Candlestick.

Jim then lead us up the final 5m so we could stand on top of the huge block which perches on the summit of the pole.


Summit selfie, trying not to wobble off! (It’s quite small and not very flat)

All that remained was to get off: we’d been trailing the rope we’d abseiled on behind us, and we needed to use this to rig a tyrolean traverse, something neither of us had done before but reckoned we could figure out!


On the Tyrolean traverse (you can see we have threaded the bolts, ready to pull the rope through)

Fortunately it was straightforward. We threaded the rope to the mainland through the bolts on the summit of the pole, and pulled it tight using a gri-gri (we tied a knot behind the gri-gri just in case). Jim then clipped in to the line and went across, trailing the other end. We now had a rope which was tied at one end to the mainland, went across to the summit of the pole and through the bolts there, and then went back to the mainland. I removed the gri-gri on the pole side, and Jim used another gri-gri on the mainland side to tension it up from there. I could then go across the doubled-over line leaving no gear on the summit, and we then pulled the end of the rope through the bolts to retrieve it.

I’d read that this was a mixed route with both bolts and trad gear required. In fact it was probably about 80/20 bolts/gear, and all of the harder moves were protected with bolts. We placed a few bits of gear: 1 wire and some small cams. Frankly I don’t really understand this bolting ethic; it felt like it was practically a sport route and I think that if you’re going to place that many bolts you may as well just bolt the whole thing and be done with it. Or leave the bolts out except where absolutely essential. (Doing the whole thing on trad gear would undoubtedly be a much more serious proposition.)


Cute echidna spotted on the walk out

Anyway, rant over, it was a fantastic day out in a beautiful place, and a major item ticked off the bucket list!


Australia Part 1 – Arapiles and Grampians

I’m currently in Australia, and whilst the primary motive for the trip was to spend christmas with my partner’s family (who live in/around Melbourne), I have been able to arrange to sample some of the climbing as well.


Smoking the ham on the Weber, a christmas tradition apparently!

In the run-up to christmas we stayed in Melbourne and did various social things meeting up with family and friends. This was enjoyable but by the time christmas day came I was really looking forward to Emily and I heading out on our own to do some camping and climbing.


christmas day – it reached something like 35°C!

We started at Arapiles. Being summer time, it’s not really the best season for climbing in the state of Victoria, but I was keen to check out some of the classic venues whilst not having high expectations about encountering good conditions.


Surprisingly we actually had quite a bit of wind and rain rather than the searing heat we had expected. But the rain was mostly light and we managed to climb in between (and sometime just in) showers. We spent a couple of days at Arapiles getting a feel for the place and ticking off some classics such as Kachoong (21) (good fun, I didn’t find it to be overrated as some have reported) and Comic Relief (21) (amazing climbing, hard for the grade and bold at the start). Having never climbed in Australia I didn’t have a good feel for the grade system, but discovered that in general everything felt harder than expected! This is probably partly due to conditions, but also lack of fitness…


The juggy roof of Kachoong (21)

On our rest day we debated sticking around but eventually decided to move to the Grampians. We were worried about finding crags that would work with the weather, but the desire to see somewhere new pulled us away from Arapiles.

We headed for Dreamtime Wall which is mostly a sport climbing venue, but in a very remote location. After a fairly sketchy drive  down a 5km dirt track (we didn’t have a vehicle with much ground clearance) we established a bush camp and settled in for the night.


Complex manoeuvring around a hole in the track…


Bush camp for Dreamtime Wall


The gorgeous sky that night

After warming up on Dreaming of Reconciliation (22), I decided to try to step it up a bit with Red Chilli Nights (25). It was really warm and humid and I didn’t realise the route relied on quite a few slopey holds. After an onsight battle I greased off, got frustrated and decided to come down. Then it started to rain and everything got wet, and I got even more frustrated! Eventually the rain eased a bit and Emily talked me in to trying something else, so I did R.E.M. (21). When I came down it had finally started to properly dry up and I could enjoy The Stolen Generation (23), which redeemed the day somewhat.


Looking out from Dreamtime Wall – so nice to be able to see nothing but the natural environment


Massive spider next to our tent, perhaps a Huntsman?

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the climbing at Dreamtime Wall as there was quite a lot of loose rock, but I think my opinion is probably biased by the terrible conditions we had that day. (And the loose rock should clear up over time.) That said I did enjoy going to this remote location and camping on our own in the bush, so it wasn’t all bad.


Our little friend at the crag. Not sure what type of lizard this is.

The next day it was much cooler and we headed to Eureka Wall, which is one of the more famous bits of rock in the Grampians. I’d have liked to get on the classic Archimedes Principal (26) but it was clear by now that given the conditions and my fitness, I would be biting off more than I could chew. Instead I did a quality crack climb, Newton’s Law (23/24) and then the pumpy P2 of Darwin’s Theory (18) after Emily lead P1. It was a great way to get to the top of this impressive wall, and I’m now very psyched to come back for an onsight crack at the harder routes one day!


Eureka Wall! Photos don’t do it justice. It is simply magnificent. Archimedes Principle (26) follows the enticing black streak.


Blue-tongued lizard (Tiliqua rugosa, I think)

Once we got down from Darwin’s Theory it was approaching 8 PM but I managed to persuade Emily that we should mission it a bit further up the hill to Eureka Towers for Return to Gariwerd (22). Our guidebook promised a cairned track but it seemed very overgrown and we ended up mostly bush-bashing our way through. But the route was an absolute joy to climb, hands down the best route so far, and as I topped out the golden sun was just dipping below the horizon… a beautiful sight… but one which meant we needed to walk down in the dark!


Massive fly on our windscreen

This was more challenging than expected because with our head torches we could only see a few metres ahead, and there was dense bush everywhere. Once we got back to Eureka Wall we thought it would be easy to follow the cairns down, but we couldn’t even find the start of the track! After searching around for ages we just plowed into the undergrowth and eventually came upon a cairn, but it was still very difficult to follow the track. We got down at maybe 11 PM and pitched our tent in the dirt, tired but content. We were treated to a completely clear, starry sky and saw several shooting stars!


Red bull ant dragging what I think is a dead horse-fly

After that we were too tired to climb the next day so headed off to meet some friends to celebrate the new year. I’m now about to get an overnight ferry to Tasmania for part 2 of the trip, and looking forward to much cooler conditions down there!


An echidna trying to hide from us


A chilled-out wallaby

Lewis and Harris

Last year I did plenty of great climbing and went on some very enjoyable trips, but I was rather left with the feeling that I had lacked a little bit of adventure in my activities. Whilst I very much enjoy pushing myself physically, the more adventurous types of climbing add a little bit of spice which I can’t do without.

So when Ramon Marin asked me whether I would be interested on going on a trad climbing mission I was very keen. We picked our dates specifically to maximise the potential for good conditions in Scotland: late May to early June would hopefully have that potent combination of long days, stable weather and few midges. Fortunately for us the stars did indeed align and I’ve just returned from two weeks of stunning adventure climbing on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis and Harris (it’s one island, but the northern part is called Lewis and the southern part is called Harris).

retouched 2-1-35.jpg


After a long drive up to Ullapool and a 2 and a half hour ferry crossing to Stornoway we headed to Dalbeg and parked the van right next to a beautiful beach. The next day we ticked off Neptune E3 5c and Limpet Crack E3 5c (I pumped out and fell off on my first go, but it went ground up on the next attempt). We were also visited by a pod of dolphins which was pretty special.


Looking over to Dalbeg Buttress, which is the left-facing wall above the slab

Next we headed down to to Uig area which has lots of good crags in close proximity. Our particular motivation was the 4-pitch E4 5c, The Prozac Link at Mangersta. This route featured on the front cover of our guidebook so we knew it was one we had to do.


The Prozac Link E4 5c takes a line above this massive sea cave

When we first walked down to the cliff and peered round the corner my stomach lurched a little. This thing was absolutely massive, and there would be little chance to bail after the first pitch as an abseil, if our ropes reached, would just land us in the sea. It didn’t help that the cliff was in the shade when we first arrived which made the whole place seem much more foreboding.

We chilled out for a bit and waited for the sun the come around to burn off any grease. Gradually the crag seemed to soften its gaze and become less terrifying, and in actual fact I needn’t have worried. As ever, things are easier when broken down into steps, and it turns out the climbing is quite soft for E4. I think it gets the grade due to the commitment factor more than anything. The first pitch is probably the best and features a lovely granitic crack, although it was a little greasy towards the bottom.


Ramon dispatching the first 5c pitch. This crack was probably the best bit.


Pitch 2 (5b) of The Prozac Link

Next day we were keen for pushing a little harder on some single pitch climbs so we headed to a crag called The Painted Wall, where I did (wait for it) The Painted Wall E4 5c, following a lovely pink pegamatite band. I’d never heard of pegamatite before, but it’s super solid and fun to climb, though gear can be tricky.

Ramon then stepped it up a notch with Dauntless E5 6a, and then it was my turn to climb again. I had come away on this trip with the definite intention of doing my first E5, and it seemed like now was as good a time as any to try one. However, the best-looking line featured British 6b moves, which seemed like quite a challenge. I’m fairly sure I’d never tried any 6b moves on a trad climb before.

Faced with the conundrum of a great-looking E5 6b or a slightly inferior E5 6a, which crossed the route I’d already done, I decided to follow my heart and go for the great line. It didn’t matter if I failed, at least I’d learn something in the process. I’m so glad I did, because I gave that route everything I had, coming within a whisker of falling in several places but somehow just managing to stay with it. Elated, I gave Ramon a belay as he finished up with Pink and Black E4 5c.

retouched 2-1-31

Me on Goodbye Ruby Tuesday E5 6b


Ramon seconding Goodbye Ruby Tuesday

After a rest day we headed to another nearby crag, the Magic Geo. After following Ramon up the excellent Am Burach E4 6a, I decided to try another E5, The Magician E5 6a. This was a totally different experience which I’ve already written about: the route proved long, loose and very pumpy at the top. After I’d fallen twice I felt totally battered and we bailed.

The next day we tried to climb but actually failed to find the crag! The guidebook directions didn’t work for us and we didn’t have an OS map which would have provided some clarity. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since I was still feeling depleted from the day before, and we had our sights on a bigger objective: Stone E5 6a at Sron Ulladale.


Walking in to Sron Ulladale

Sron Ulladale is a big, adventurous crag which requires at least 2 hours for the walk in and another 2 for the walk out. Our chosen route had 7 pitches, although some of them were quite straightforward (but still take time). Of the harder pitches, there was a 5c which I’d lead and a 6a which Ramon would lead.


Sron Ulladale

We got up at 8 AM, got ready, walked in, got on the route and made it to the crux pitch easily enough. It was a massive 40 metre corner, which we thought looked OK, but oh how wrong we were! Ramon went up and put in a strong effort, but a route-finding error (the guidebook description was a bit confusing) unfortunately saw him back at the belay. Next go he did it clean, and I followed up. Even on second, I couldn’t believe how hard this thing was. Despite my confidence at the belay, the crack was way more steep and strenuous than I had realised. It was also wet and dirty in places, and didn’t really let up at any point. Eventually I power-screamed my way onto the next belay ledge and we finished up the easier pitches above. Ramon said that he was close to giving up at points and would have passed the baton to me, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that – I really don’t know if I could have done it! A really impressive lead.

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Me on the 5c pitch of Stone E5 6a


Ramon on the crux 6a pitch of Stone


A belay with a view!

We finished the route and got back to the base for about 10 PM (sun still shining this far north). We then walked out, had dinner, and got to bed for about 1.30 AM. A very long day out!

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Captain, bring up the midge defences

After resting up we headed back to Mangersta for some of the single pitch objectives there: we both lead Killer Fingers E5 6a, and then I did Suffering Bastard E4 6a, a sustained crack climb which I probably found harder than the E5 actually.


Suffering Bastard E4 6a


Walking out at Mangersta

The next day Ramon did Tidal Rave E4 6a at Aird Fenish – a lovely route but unfortunately done in pretty greasy conditions. I tried Wave Dancing E4 6a but bailed half way up when I realised my arms were completely blasted.

Next we headed back to Dalbeg to look at a couple of highly-rated long E5s in the area. Ramon got on Blessed Are The Weak E5 6a, but wasn’t feeling it and decided to back off (the gear wasn’t great). I then went to attempt The Storm E5 6a, which is a full 50 metres long.


Ramon on Blessed Are The Weak E5 6a

The Storm starts up a steep crack, and unfortunately I pumped out about 15 metres up. Fortunately Ramon encouraged me to lower off and have a ground-up go. I’m really glad I did. After looking at the route quite a bit from the ground, on my next go I found a bomber knee bar just below my high point. From this I was able to blast up through the hard section above and get to a hidden jug.

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Abseiling into The Storm E5 6a. Amazing patterns on the rock eh? The route starts up the crack in the top left corner of this photo.

But I wasn’t even half way at this point. I think I must have been on the route at least 2 if not 3 hours, climbing through some fiddly gear and really scary run outs. A blessing in disguise – if there had been more gear I’d have placed it all and had none left by the top! It really seemed to go on forever; 50 metres is a long way. At one point I was convinced I could see foliage poking over the top, only to move up and discover another 10 metres or so above me. Eventually I got onto easy but very loose terrain, about 4 metres from the top and was experiencing some mega rope drag. I looked down to Ramon who yelled something about the red rope, which my exhausted mind thought to mean that I was nearly out of rope. So I tied in to the abseil line and belayed from there. When Ramon arrived, it emerged that he was trying to tell me my red rope was caught on a spike, thus causing all that drag.


Grappling with the steep crack at the start of The Storm

The Storm was a real effort and a real adventure, surely one of the most intense climbing experiences of my life. This is what I love about trad climbing: I have yet to find a better way to reliably have a really memorable day out.

For our last day we opted for a gentler outing, ticking off a bunch of classics at Creag Liam on Bernera island.


A rest day swim, fortunately the beach wasn’t too busy

This is the first time I’ve climbed in Scotland. It’s certainly an effort to come somewhere like this. You endure a long drive, take risks with the weather and meet plenty of bastard midges (although we were mostly fairly lucky, since there was often a breeze). But the effort is worth it. The climbing is world-class, and the stunning raw beauty of Lewis and Harris felt really special. As well as midges, we saw eagles, seals, dolphins, herons and countless sea birds. We swam in turquoise waters next to deserted golden beaches (thanks for lending your wetsuit, Ramon) and even managed to get sunburnt!

Totally epic. Scotland, I’ll be back!

The Magician

Bouyed by success on both my first proper E5 and my first British 6b onsight, prior to our rest day, I decide to try the 3-star E5 6a at today’s Hebridean crag.

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A rewarding effort on Goodbye Ruby Tuesday E5 6b

The Magician begins with an insecure move to what looks like a decent ledge, the only protection being an RP. Unfortunately the RP is too low to really keep you off the boulders should you fluff it, but psychological protection is better than none at all. The holds are also affected by seepage and are unpleasantly greasy. This is not ideal, but I reason that if I can sketch through this section, we’ll be rewarded by some amazing climbing above. The route soars 40 metres up an obvious crack line which steepens out beyond vertical at the top.

I climb up and down a few times, unsure. I dowse the holds in chalk and wonder why the good ledge gets further away when I’m on the rock. Eventually I unlock a sequence. A high left toe on a pointy little nubbin lets me sit on my foot to chalk the next sidepull. Believing it, I commit, and am rewarded with a good flatty and a solid wire. We’re in.

I go on up for 10 metres or so, placing plenty of gear, thankful that there actually is some now. The next crux looks to be a rightwards traverse out from under a little roof with smeary feet and sidepulls. Although most of the route is bone dry, I seem to have found another seepage line and the holds are greasy. I place a suspicious nut behind a flaky flat hold, and a decent blue alien in a thin crack. The flaky flat hold becomes my foothold, and proceeds to crumble incrementally as I weight it.

Eventually I begin a delicate sequence rightwards. Trusting the smears I reach for the next sidepull. I am careful to hold the barn-door, but the sidepull snaps and down I go. The decent blue alien blew, but the suspicious nut stuck. A lower cam also blew. 1 out of 3 is fine, right?

I improve the gear and lower off for a ground-up attempt. I’m not particularly keen to repeat the start but with gear in-situ and the sequence sussed out it should be fine. The holds are wet again, so more chalk is needed. I weight my left foot on the pointy little nubbin and this time it crumbles under me. I downclimb, but after several false starts I eventually manage to make a different and slightly worse foothold work for me. The quickdraw tantalisingly stroking my hair helps.

Back to my high point. Hold the barn-door. I step gingerly onto a ledge, arrange some gear, and exhale. The next bit looks delicate, but my confidence in the security of this rock has been seriously undermined by now. Footholds routinely crumble away, and pulling on thin flakes now seems a ridiculous proposition. Who knew gneiss could be so chossy? I procrastinate.

Eventually I manage a few balancy moves up. Looking around I find no gear and no real holds above. I’m off route. Keep it together. I get back down to the ledge with difficulty, and try the more rightward line I had spied.

Now approaching what is evidently the crux of this neverending expedition, the crack rears out above me. I put a big yellow cam in and eventually suss out the next little sequence to what looks like a jug. I’ll get there, arrange some gear and then press on with confidence.

Unfortunately what looks like a jug is not always a jug, and the position is more strenuous than intended. My feet are on smears and my hands are sweating up. Shit, time to move.

I reach up to a juggy undercut flake and run my feet up the wall. That yellow cam seems far away now, and my position is seriously strenuous. It occurs to me that a knee-bar might be possible in theory, but there’s no way I have the juice to figure that out. I shove a cam under the flake, wasting energy. I know it’s bad but I don’t want to go all out with no more gear, although I also don’t want to hang around to place a better piece either. Failure is close now.

Giving it all I’ve got, I reach for a distant sidepull, body at full stretch, feet skating on smears. I let out a roar and urge them to move higher up, but it’s no use. Something snaps, and as I begin the ride I notice that my leg is behind the blue rope. I flip upside-down and have time to be thankful that my helmet is on my head. When I eventually come to a halt, sure enough, the last cam is dangling around my waist. I feel like I’ve been beaten up and there are grazes on both elbows and both knees.

“Can I maybe come down now, Ramon?” Graciously he agrees. I collapse on a boulder while he scopes out the escape, a VDiff corner. It doesn’t feel easy in this state. Sensing that I’m incapable of doing much else, Ramon instructs me to sit down while he abs for the gear. I don’t need much persuasion.


The rock that spat me off!

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!