The last 5 months: Choss paradise in Oman, rain in the UK and my first 8b+ in Spain

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I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front; consequently the last 5 months are here condensed into a mega post.

After a week on the ground after El Cap I went on a North Face expedition to Oman for three weeks, climbing choss, deep water soloing and sailing around on a catamaran in one of the world’s most beautiful places. I’d like to write about it, but since there is article coming out in National Geographic, I’ll let everyone read that first.

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Even though I was traveling from paradise, to England in late November I was so happy to be going home. I’d basically been traveling for all of the last year, and was happy to just chill out in the rain and see family and friends. It was also nice to have a mental and physical break from climbing. I’m not massively in to Christmas and New Year celebrations, but it seems like a good time to have a look back at what you’ve done in the last year, and plan the next one. But the novelty inevitably wore off and I was itching to see the sun and go climbing every day. So off we went to Spain!

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Winter climbing with Peter in the Lake District

Days out in the Peak District

Days out in the Peak District

My Dad has chosen to spend yet another winter in Thailand (many don’t blame him), and I managed to commandeer his car. This Audi estate is no high top VW but it’s definitely a step up from a Citroen Saxo Desire.  Bonuses are that we can sleep in it, the exhaust isn’t falling off, and I don’t have to hot wire it to start it.

Orange rock and light in Siurana

Orange rock and light in Siurana

The good thing about having some time off is that when you do go back to climbing you are really psyched. Or I was anyway – every crimp seems like a gift, getting pumped is awesome, and waking up with sore muscles is a novelty. The bad thing about having some time off is that you’re really shit at climbing. The first day we had on rock was horrible. I couldn’t do the moves on F7a, and I was cursing myself for having gone back to rainy England. Cursing myself for not having trained more down the wall. But the next day I climbed 7b+, pumped out my mind, hanging on for dear life. Two days later, 7c, then 7c+, then before I knew it I was onsighting 8a and climbing 8a+ second try. It was really nice to see this kind of progression, I think if you go sport climbing for a few months and you get some fitness, when you go back to it the gains are much easier to get back.

Peter racing through the grades on his first proper sport climbing trip

Peter racing through the grades on his first proper sport climbing trip. Jam Session at Bruix, Terredets

We moved from Siurana to Terredets to Masriudoms and Chulilla and then back to Siurana. Masriudoms is an awesome crag, especially if you’re in Siurana and it gets chilly. The grade range isn’t massive though – it’s best to be climbing between 7b to 8a+.

STEEP and LONG pitches at Masriudoms

STEEP and LONG pitches at Masriudoms

Another 8a succumbs to Howard's impeccable technique at Masriudoms

Another 8a succumbs to Howard’s impeccable technique at Masriudoms

Chulilla is an amazing place. Such good routes, but hardly anyone goes there – maybe because there is no guidebook, or maybe because climbers are like sheep and all go to the same places. I hear there is a guidebook due to come soon, so I have no doubt that popularity will grow. There is a lot of rock left to develop there as well.

Chulilla - where climbing dreams are made

Chulilla – where climbing dreams are made

Now, we are in Siurana. With big forearms but little biceps – I wanted a project. So I tried an 8b called Ramadan. I knew it was supposed to quite soft for 8b, but I also knew that it’s very bouldery, so I thought it would take me a couple of days at least. The first time I tried it, I thought that maybe I couldn’t do the move at all, but then after a bit of tinkering I found I could do it. Since the climbing after the crux is relatively easy, I started throwing myself at the route. On my third go, my fingers popped off and I knew that I could probably do it. It was so cold though, and I was taking up a lot of Peter’s belay time, so I barely had 10 minutes rest and went again. I got through the crux, but found I was really tired on the ‘easy’ 20 metres to finish. Luckily I managed to stay with it. I was quite proud to do my supposed project in a morning and decided I need to try something harder.

Me on Ramadan, 8b

Me on Ramadan, 8b, Kate Keltie photo

So next came Kale Borroka, 8b+. One I’ve wanted to do for a while, having seen pictures and video of Lucy (Creamer) on it. The line is amazing, a 40 metre crack line through a massively steep barrel shaped wall. The rock, however isn’t great. Before coming to Siurna, all I heard was that it’s the mecca of sport climbing, and in my mind it became a sort of fantasy land for bolt clipping. However, overall I would say that I am slightly underwhelmed. I’ve done some amazing routes here, but I’ve also come across a lot of choss, a lot of bad rock, and a similar theme of uber crimping (which is great, but not what you want all the time). It’s certainly a world class climbing destination, but no more so than most the other Spanish crags i’ve been to.

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An OK line, Jack Geldard photo (chief editor of UKC)

When you do something thats at your limit, its easy to get carried away with how good a route is, and I did find myself falling for Kalea Borokka somewhat. This being said, the numerous loose holds and the dirty/polished/slimey lower section of the route, were ample reminder that this isn’t the best pitch I’ve climbed. The crux headwall, however, has some amazing moves on it and it felt great to be up there. Despite the bad quality rock, it is a mega line, and a mega classic.

It was also a pleasure and a surprise when I finally did it. The weather has been pretty on/off here in Siurana, and with Kalea Borokka being a very conditions dependent route (the start gets very slimy in wet conditions) I was worried that I wouldn’t get a chance to do it. But after the rain, the sun came out and a light breeze dried it off, giving me a chance. I think it was my 5th day that I did it. So this is my first 8b+! After doing 6 or so 8bs I thought I was capable of climbing 8b+, but not many of them, not without the mega-siege anyway. Although Kalea isn’t massively my style (being so steep) it is an endurance climb, and that suits me much more than something bouldery.

I sit now, with water streaming from my eyes and nose with the worst cold I’ve (probably) ever had. This, along with the snow that has settled on the ground outside, makes me even more psyched to have done Kalea when I did. Now I hope to rid myself of this cold then return to dry rock in the UK so I can use my new found sport fitness on some home ground.

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