Christmas is time for eating and drinking but not if you want to climb hard in Spain. The sun is low in the sky, the crags are cool, it’s the perfect time for pushing into the high numbers at crags like Oliana and Santa Linya. Here it’s all about the project; you see people on the same route for weeks. They make progress bit by bit, very occasionally sending. The likes of Jonathan Siegrist, Jacob Schubert and Seb Bouin are all visiting and the locals are often there like Edu Marin and Patxi Usobiaga although this year Chris Sharma didn’t make an appearance. It’s hard not to be inspired with all these climbers around and you realise that the way to mastery is letting go of climbing lots but instead focus on one route. Although this may lead to no sense of achievement or satisfaction the best love giving it everything and they are thrilled when they make tiny steps of progress.
I’ve visited this area many times and used the quality routes to push myself. My first 8b was in Margalef, my first 8b+ Siurana, my first 8c Oliana. My goal was to go for my first 8c+. I was searching for a beautiful route with athletic moves right at my limit. Last year I got shut down by an 8b with an 8c+ extension called Blomu but had loved the nature of it. Blomu climbs the left side of Cova Gran near Santa Linya which is thirty metres of perfect orange overhang. The difficulty escalates with the hardest moves being right at the top, the best type of route. After a couple days, I wasn’t sure if it was possible, there was a stopper move right at the chain of the 8b. The moment of realisation it was possible was when I found an awesome drop-knee knee-bar cheat beta for this stopper move. It was time to rest. Now I had all the beta down it was time for red-points. This is when all the nerves and anticipation creep in. No project is possible unless you truly climb freely, focusing only on the climbing and not about the chains. On my first two goes of the day I dropped the top crux, a desperate stab to a three-finger pocket. Normally two hard goes and my arms will be wearing out but as the sun was dipping behind the hill I wanted one last go. This was perfect, I didn’t have any expectations. I just wanted to go and give it hell. I got to the crux and did the next moves, I kept my head together and clipped the chains!
Going back to climbing without fear in your heart, sometimes it comes naturally. You just manage to get out of the right side of the bed in the morning. Maybe coffee helps, maybe it’s the right cereal, or perhaps it’s a low gravity day but climbing like this is special and comes once in a blue moon. I had just one of these days this trip. I’d been being shut down for the third year in a row on Rollito Sharma Extension 8c. This was a true nemesis and a top move felt ridiculous from the floor. However, this one day I climbed it with only a few sketchy moments. After this I felt confident. I went for the flash of an 8b Luke had sent a few days earlier called Codigo Norte. This was a route on the right side of Cova Gran which featured an intense section of about ten moves with a crux revolving about a mono. I fought hard and made it to the top of this one for my first 8b flash. Still brimming with confidence, I decided it would be a good idea to try Ruta de Sol 8b. Frances Bensley and Will Smith had succeeded on this route earlier in the trip and thought it was possible to flash. The moves felt hard but when I thought I was about to fall, my fingers didn’t uncurl. Many times, I should have been off but I still managed to battle through to get the flash. This was a dream as it was cool to actually do a route I’d deliberately not tried in order to do it first go.
We also climbed lots at Oliana. This is a beautiful crag. Its about fifty metres long, sustained and slightly overhanging this makes for some hard routes. Early in the trip I did El Gran Blau 8b+. There was a direct start to it called Joe Blau 8c+ that I’d seen Jessica Pilz do last year and Jim tried it. Both said it was incredible. The first four clips are a hard boulder problem and you end up clipping the fourth draw when it is by your feet. I never took the fall but each time I felt like I was on some hard grit route. Next you have a nice jug rest to chill out. Then the meat comes and you must do about twenty sustained powerful moves which finished in a dyno to a big jug pocket which is the crux move of El Gran Blau. On an early go I got to the dyno move but could barely clip let alone stick this nails jump. Although after this I had the moment where you know it’s possible. After doing the hard climbing you still have an 8a+ to climb which finished in a sustained section of hard technical climbing. Bad feet, bad hands, run-outs and being pumped out of your mind isn’t a very pleasant combination. A few days later, on my second attempt of the day, I went to war. I got to the dyno boxed again but slightly less so and I managed to recover and do the dyno. Now anything less than the top would be a heartbreaker. I climbed quickly on the hard sections and rested lots. Despite this I felt my arms tiring after each stint of climbing. I was at the rest before the final slab. I went for it but nothing felt quite right, my legs and core were weak. Each foot feeling worse than the last, if one pops I’m off. My fingers sweating, mind racing. I can’t drop it here. Three more holds, two more holds, power scream as I stand up. Not cool when you are on a slab and grabbed the good holds. I’m shaking all over, but elated. The sketch was on point!
The most valuable lesson I can take from this trip is to enjoy the process. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. If it’s hard there is doubt and worry but you must keep going. Sending the route is only half the fun!