Towards the end of 2013 me and Charlotte were keen to get to Spain early in the new year to get some sunny weather and do some nice long sport routes. We then decided to head to El Chorro and stay at The Olive Branch which was very close to Las Encantadas and Frontales Medias. I had been training very hard for this trip and wanted to make it as ‘worth it’ as possible. Before we knew it it was time to leave England and head to Spain…
We arrived in El Chorro late on Thursday 13th and I was so excited to get up and go out to the crags the following day. Soon enough we headed out to the first crag on our list which was the Poema de Roca sector in Frontales Medias. The first route I wanted to try was the classic Poema de Roca 7a which I got totally pumped on and almost dropped it in several places but pulled through to the first anchor… once at the chains there was a really good rest and then I remember the extension to the right which was 7c so decided to have a go at that and again managed to pull through with my first route of the trip being a 7c onsight. The route was very steep and pretty juggy all the way to the top with a few slopers mixed in there too. I was very pleased and so I decided to pack up and head up to El Olimpio where I tried Trango 8b. I figured the moves out which took quite a while as the route wasn’t so straight forward and was pretty technical which isn’t really my style. However I decided to have a redpoint attempt that day and surprised myself by getting through to the crux but popped off on a wet hold, this day was very hot so I was pretty tired after this and we headed back to the chalet.
The following day we headed straight back to Trango and I did it first go that day. It is a weird route and not what I expected at all; it is on a super steep wall but has lots of bridges on small smears with some big run-outs in places. The climbing is a mix between powerful and very subtle technical moves, really fun to be on. We then went back to Poema de Roca and I decided to try and onsight Talmania which is 7c to the first lower off and 8a to the second, it is a steep route with loads of jugs everywhere and then some strong moves on the headwall and then it eases off a little. I was very nervous when I started and then had quickly arrived at the chains of 7c and now only had a little more climbing before I had done my first 8a onsight! I climbed through shaking out wherever possible and soon made it to the last bolt. I was completely pumped and could barely hold on, then before I knew it I was off, my first 8a onsight was no longer so close for the taking. I was so annoyed. I pulled back on and found that I had missed a huge jug which would have made the route a whole lot easier. I lowered back down feeling pretty upset knowing that it was so close but was also pleased to know that I could come so close to onsighting 8a and I even had the feeling that I might be able to onsight one on this trip.
An 8a onsight on this trip would be pretty special to me as just before I did my first 8a I read a Cailean Harker’s blogpost about 8a and the goals he had set based around this 8a grade; they were (1) redpointing 8a (2) two 8a’s in a day (3) doing 8a second-go (4) flashing 8a (5) coming the full circle and onsighting 8a. When I first did an 8a in March 2013 I couldn’t ever imagine onsighting 8a and I couldn’t see how onsighting (or even flashing) an 8a would be possible for me. Anyway these would be my personal goals in order to improve my climbing over the next couple of years and had expected it to take about 5 years to complete these goals. However shortly after that I went on a trip to Gorges du Loup where I did an 8a on my second attempt, then a couple of days later I went for a half-hearted attempt at flashing a short bouldery 8a at Mesa Verde… before I knew it I was clipping the chains and I had flashed my first 8a. Not long after returning from France I headed up to Brean where I did two 8a’s in a day. I had completed 4/5 of these goals but still felt that I was far from clipping the chains on an 8a onsight, especially as I had always felt that outdoor onsighting was my weakness. This meant that if I could get an 8a onsight on this trip then I’d have completed all 5 of these goals within a single year instead of the 5 years which I had previously estimated.
The next day I had decided to try a short 8a+ which I thought looked pretty cool called El Padre Orillos. I had heard that this route was pretty soft for the grade but I wanted to test myself with the goal of climbing an 8a+ in a day. As I wanted to test myself with the route, I went directly up the route on some poor holds instead moving out right where there were lots of chalk and some good holds. This meant that if I could complete the goal then it would feel complete and less ‘artificial’. I soon figured a sequence and fell off from the crux on my first attempt which was on two really bad slopers and then a big move out left to a thin slot with a small two finger edge inside. On my second go I screamed, caught the slot with my back-two fingers (oops) and then made the big throw over for a pretty good hold! I had done it and just had to hold it together for the top sustained sequence, which I did manage and I was soon clipping the chains and I had completed the goal!
On Monday we decided to head up to Makinodromo where the famous Loudres is and have a go on that and a classic 8c which there called Cous Cous. However on the way we got lost and decided to turn back and go to a crag nearer the chalet. After around 5 hours of walking we got back and were ruined. We went up to Las Encantadas but were too tired to climb and nothing got done.
Tuesday came and we decided to return to Poema de Roca where I wanted to try another 8a+ which extended the classic Poema de Roca (7a) into the steep roof above. I went up and found a sequence after a long time of looking and soon found an undercut and then I had to cross through to a poor slopey crimp and then a big move out to a fairly an okay hold and then there were a couple more easy move to the chains. I had a redpoint attempt on this and fell off at the crux just tickling the good hold due to nerves and wrong foot positions.
I didn’t feel like I wanted to have another attempt on this today and wanted to try and get it on my second go, so I left the draws in and planned to come back tomorrow. We had about an hour and a half daylight left and I wanted to do another route. The first thing I looked at was the El Ave Fenix which was around 40 meters long with loads of jugs and good tufas. This was a route I had previously looked at as a good 8a onsight possibility, so was a bit nervous about trying the route now and blowing my chances of onsighting it. However I pulled on and now there was no going back, I climbed the easy start which I struggled on massively and then was ready to move into the steep headwall of El Ave Fenix where the route really began. I was so nervous when I started up the route and I was climbing pretty badly but got steadier as I got higher on the steep wall and then I found some fairly good holds where I spent quite a while shaking out and reading the sequence… I’m not going to bore you with a hold by hold description but the part that felt great on the route was when I was just moving onto the headwall and I saw the chains, well I had arrived on some okay holds, the right hand was really good and the left was a good gaston but a little painful to hold, despite the pain I rested there for a long time trying to get as much back as possible before finally commiting to the last section… before I knew it I was clipping the chains on my first 8a onsight! What a relief it was to see that my training had been helping me so much and I had managed to go from redpointing 8a to onsighting 8a in under a year whilst ticking all my ‘8a goals’ along the way! Charlotte also made a very impressive first redpoint ascent of Talbania 7c on this day. She had tried some of the moves a couple of days ago and then crushed it on her first go!
The following day we ended up back at Poema de Roca as I had left my draws in Poema de Roca L2 8a+. I started by onsighting La Villa Strangiato 7b+ to warm up and then got back on Poema de Roca L2 and did it first go that day. Charlotte was keen to try Honk Down 7c which was just round the corner and I was keen to give this 40 meter classic an onsight attempt. Before I knew it I was clipping the chains and had onsighted one of the best 7c’s I have ever done, this was such a brilliant route and one of my favourite routes of the trip.
Day 7 we had a lazy morning and later in the day I had decided to have a go on a harder route which would be the next level for me and spent a while figuring out the moves and then had a quick redpoint attempt. This go went terribly and I felt very nervous; this reflected in my climbing and I climbed awfully… very slow and very shaky. I fell off coming out of the crux but felt really tired so then headed to Poema to do some easier routes to finish off. I then onsighted Viejo Amigo 7a, Viejo Traidor 7b+/c and couple of easier routes.
Day 8 and I had planned to get back on the project but wanted to go to Poema de Roca first to try and onsight another 8a and hopefully prove to myself that I can onsight 8a. We arrived at the crag and I saw the draws were in Talbania so I decided to have a go at that as I dropped it on the onsight before and wanted to finish it. So I jumped on that to warm up and luckily got past where I got to on my onsight go and finished it off. I then did Viejo Traidor again as the draws were in that too. I had a go on another 8a extension which I don’t know the name of but it was pretty wet so jumped off and took the draws out straight away. I then felt ready to try and onsight another 8a… Gabiel Hermafrodita. I went up the easier start to a good ledge, spent a while thinking the route through and trying to read the sequence, which I couldn’t do. Sadly this route didn’t have in-situ draws so placing draws along the way made the route a little trickier. I soon arrived at two okay but slopey undercuts and rested for a while whilst trying to figure out how to do the next section but all I could find was a bad crimpy sidepull and then I couldn’t see the next holds… I soon committed and found some more holds before arriving at a fairly good stalactite where I could spend a while getting back enough energy to take on the next section. I was soon through that and was now on some bad holds trying to read the next sequence which looked to be a big move to a poor undercut far above your head and then a big move to a jug where you clip the chains off. I was wrong about the jug… I pulled into the undercut and moved over the lip to find a small crimp which you had to lock off on to clip the chains! I did however manage to clip the chains and had onsighted my second 8a! This route was quite a bit harder that my first 8a onsight, this was because there were fewer rests and the sequence was much harder to read so more of the moves were very committing and lots of risks had to be taken in order to get success. After this we did some really cool 7a+ which felt really hard and a nice bouldery 6c called Fahrenheit which climbs much better than it looks.
The final day I headed back to the project where I got through the crux twice and but fell on the upper section where I had no power left to get through the final power move before some easier technical climbing despite feeling fairly fresh both times. I had a lot of fun on this route but didn’t have enough time to finish it on this trip but will be keen to get back on it soon. We then headed back to Poema to try the last of the 8a’s in the cave but it was so busy and I didn’t manage to get on it, so we headed back to The Olive Branch and got ready to head home the following day.
I am very pleased with how the trip went and am extremely happy to get my first 8a onsight and I am excited for my other trips this year where I have set myself to big goals and will be continuing to train hard for. I am also keen to start training a lot more for competitions, especially after I learnt so much about onsighting and how fun onsighting is when you take it a little more seriously.
Thank you to Charlotte Warner for being such fun to travel with and for all the belaying you did whilst in Spain and when preparing for the trip, it has helped so much! Also thanks to Mike Cleverdon, Mike Adams, The Boulder Bunker and The Quay Climbing Centre for helping with training and so on.
Also a big thanks to Mammut for all the amazing kit which helps me get up these cool and hard routes!
Thanks for reading…