I often see the hashtag “livingthedream” and this winter I’m pretty certain I lived mine. Two months sport climbing in Spain with Laura (and Oreo) and we lost only one day to rain, amazing.
Sport climbing has taken centre stage in my personal climbing this last year, although I’m massively psyched for some trad action this summer, and a big reason for that was a trip to Spain last winter. Then I climbed in Margalef, Siurana and Costa Blanca, but also in Chulilla for a couple of awesome weeks, I love that place! Chulilla is such a friendly little place, where the climbing psyche levels are massive, but also not super intimidating like some places, it has a couple of great bars, cheap food shops, and you can walk to the crags. If like us you’re in a van, life couldn’t be easier, there’s even showers there! After the last trip I came back to the UK with a focus on climbing harder, and spoke to a mate about some coaching and trained properly – something which I’d not done before, with the focus being another Spain trip and half an eye on the magic 8a grade.
The most important question, did I climb 8a? No. I got on one though! I had a great year, climbed some mega routes such as Empire of the Sun in Devon, 7b+ and Katana E4 up here in Wales, plus loads of other stuff, but never quite in the volume I wanted. Partly because work really took off last year and I was super busy with that, something for which I’m massively grateful and excited about! The training kept ticking over, but again not quite in the same volume as I had aimed for, but I did maintain focus and structure, the lack of volume though meant 8a was always going to be a massive ask.
After a few days in Siurana, where it was flipping cold we drove further South. Chulilla is awesome! Sport climbing everywhere you look with pitches up to 40m, all vertical or gently overhanging, with the odd exception and it’s such a beautiful place – so much so I asked Laura to marry me there and she said yes! I climbed so many quality routes and eventually the training gains I had made were matched by my movement and confidence on the rock – which took a little while to catch up as my last “hard” route on rock had been in August. I began to onsight 7a routes as warm ups and get 7b+ routes within 2 or 3 goes, which had been my limit previously. So it was time for 7c…
Sex Shop, no not a rest day activity but one of the sectors at Chulilla, lovely climbing and plenty of sun, but some shade later on for when you’re trying hard. Conflicto Territorial is an ace 7a+ (a tricky one with the crux at the top!) that I’d done early on in the trip. Halfway up it there’s a route called Happy End which breaks off right and the clips were already in it so I thought I’d have a play. I found it hard unsurprisingly, but it was 7c so I’m ok with that. The crux section suited me, after a dead point move it has very thin holds and is super sequency, I’d never seen anyone on it so I had to figure it out myself. Over 3 days I worked it on lead, the redpoint crux was the last moves at nearly 40 metres, where I was pretty powered out. I fell off it countless times, which is great for the head, fear of falling off becomes a thing of the past. Attempt number 11 and I’m at the half decent rest before the crux section of about 6 bolts, I tell myself to be like Ben Moon in old videos get some aggression going and it works, two clips to go and I know I can do it but the pump is kicking in, I’ve got no gas to clip from these holds. I don’t care, I’ll just climb on skipping it, the big finishing holds feel small but I made it. Psyched! Mega psyched!
So what comes after 7c, well 7c+! Actually no. I found it quite draining so I spent a few days climbing 7a, 7a+ routes just to chill out and messed around trying to find a 7c+ I liked the look of, plus a quick play on 8a just to get a feel for it (hard!).
Bricopaco was the one, over on the shady crag, Oasis, so I have to thank Laura big time for her mega effort belaying me on it in the cold, a lot! I’m not usually much of a top roper, preferring to work stuff on the lead, but this was at my limit so I gave in. It took me a lot of goes to work out the crux sequence, like a lot of Chulilla there’s a lot of movements in it, going again with hands and small foot movements unlocking sections, and some really small holds, sometimes sloping the wrong way, nice to have a bit of core strength. 7 top rope efforts later, it was time to start trying it on the lead. Things were starting to come together but I really didn’t know if I had it in me to do it clean, even clipping was tricky in places and the boulder problem start wasn’t a foregone conclusion! I could talk you through each move of this route, how every hand hold felt, exactly where your foot needed to be, how the climb changed go after go after go, from feeling like I couldn’t even hang the holds, to ok but I can’t link the moves, to ok but how on earth do I clip from here. On that final redpoint I climbed the best I ever have, precise, controlled but flowing. Through the sharp boulder problem start to the good rest on the sloping ledge where I had a massive word with myself, through the pumpy section to the big span that had felt impossible on my first goes, to the undercut that unlocks the crux, going with the right, going again with the right. Wow I’m feeling good, I clip from a different position because I’m feeling stronger. All the time now I’m saying to myself (out loud it turns out!) “You’re not doing this move again!”. The crux went down, but that’s just the start of the sustained sections. The slopey but big side pull latched I can feel my fingers uncurling “You’re not doing this move again!”. I reversed a move to an ok hold and had a quick shake out, although I’ve no idea how before setting off again, last hard move – left hand dead point, slap, I’m a centimetre short, bump it up, it’s in the mini jug and the route is mine! Lots of shouting and then the last couple of easy bolts.
Bricopaco, 7c+, done. 9 top ropes and ticked on my 9th redpoint attempt.
I learnt so much on this trip, here’s some random points:
-I hadn’t climbed much hard stuff on rock running up to the trip so it took a couple of weeks to get firing properly
-Lack of power was more of an issue than pump (reflected by lots of endurance training in ’17)
-I’m crap on tufas!
-I climb very smoothly and efficiently, but am I too rigid, which uses more energy?
-My strength is routes with medium length cruxes.
-I prefer redpointing to on sighting (on sport)
-I stayed injury free, I think due to warming up properly for every route
-Felt like I got stronger throughout the trip
-I definitely spot and use rests better now.
-Fear of falling went completely, but it will creep back fast unaddressed
-I’m good at working out sequences when working a route
-Got to want it 100%
So like I said, Chulilla is ace, we’re going back next year! I think you really want to be climbing 7a, or wanting to push in to the 7s to make the most of it. A lot of the easier routes are pretty tough for the grades, where as it feels like a great place to push yourself if 7s (or 8s) are the target. This makes it extra impressive that Laura got her first ever 6b+, then her first ever 6c on the trip – so psyched about that!
If you’re keen to push your grade, get in touch! We’re running a few coaching courses in Wales this year, for various levels of ability and it’s we absolutely love helping others achieve their goals!
Watch this space for a Chulilla coaching trip Jan ’19 too…!