In this article we speak to George Ullrich, firstly in written form covering George's general climbing and adventures, then an audio podcast where George describes his recent trip to Vietnam and then his ascent of Indian Face.
George is an exceptional climber and has been on many adventurous big wall expeditions as well as making fast ascents of hard UK trad climbs. Originally from Cumbria, George now makes his home in Llanberis, North Wales, where earlier this summer he made the seventh ascent of Indian Face (E9 6c).
Jack: Your first 'shot to fame' in the blockbuster 'Call it what you want' - when was that and can you explain what the film was about?
George: Dave Gill and I started making the film around 2008 I think. It followed me over a year of climbing at home and aboard. The film also touched on other topics such as style and ethics, surrounding the question - what is truly important in rock climbing? Initially it wasn't planned to be a blockbuster as you called it, "call it what you want" I suppose. It was more of a social thing between a few mates which somehow evolved into a proper film and as a result, it helped kick start my climbing "career" as well as Dave Gill's career as a filmmaker.
Jack: And how was the experience of being filmed?
George: Traumatising, I don't really mind being filmed climbing as much because you can switch off from the camera, but interviews! Why do you think this has taken so long to get this interview out of me!?
Jack: Did the film affect your personal climbing? Have your motivations changed?
Jack: And how did you start climbing? And where?
George: I first started climbing when I was 10 where I used to go to a Junior club at Kendal wall. I was introduced to outdoor climbing at BMC youth meets in the Lake District. Since then, living in Kendal I grew up going out cragging with mates in the Lakes.
Jack: You now live in North Wales - how has that been for your climbing?
George: Pretty convenient, the variety of different types in such a small area keeps things interesting. After all, variety is the spice of life. A lot of the climbing in North Wales suits my style. Most of all I really enjoy the adventurous esoteric side of Gogarth and the Lleyn peninsula. A couple of highlights being "Other Realms" on the Lleyn and "The Bells The Bells" on the North stack.
Jack: You seem to prefer adventurous expeditions to large rock walls. Where have you been recently?
George: My most recent major trip was a big wall expedition to the Venezuelan Jungle with an international team, including me, another Brit (Sam), Siebe from Belgium and Kinloch from the states. We attempted to free climb a previously unclimbed wall directly behind a waterfall, 600m high and 100m overhanging. We got to the top of the wall but didn't manage to free climb all of it. After twelve days and only half of the wall climbed we were all individually questioning whether we would have the time, and particularly food and water to top out. This meant our initial goal of free climbing every pitch had to be shelved. In hindsight this was still a massive achievement.
Jack: If you had to pick one route or face to climb in the whole world - what would it be?
George: "The ships Prow!" Its an incredible overhanging wall shaped like a ships prow on the end of a small island just off Baffin Island.
Jack: Who are your current main climbing partners - at home and abroad, and what do they bring to the table in terms of ability or character?
George: I climbed with this really tall lanky guy called Jack once, that was quite funny... On a trip to the States in 2008 I climbed with American crack specialist Kinloch Mason Earl. Since then I have been on two major expeditions with him which have both been a great success, You can always count on him bringing a musical element to the table. We seem to make a good team, His supreme crack climbing abilities and my bold slab and wall climbing seem to complement each other.
At home in Wales I'm current climbing a lot with Alex Mason. Alex is a very keen and continually improving strong all round trad climber. You can always count on him doing something totally inappropriate at exactly the right time. For example when you are half way through a crux sequence high above your last piece of gear and you look down at him in horror when you hear a yelp of delight as he takes a dump of the hanging belay into the raging sea below. That happened to me last week.
Jack: What is the best effort/hardest route/toughest challenge that you have ever undertaken in climbing? How did it pan out?
George: In terms of doing what seemed the impossible, It has got to be our recent trip to Venezuela. After almost two weeks on the wall with slow progress tackling massive roofs and large sections of rotten rock and only just over half way. We somehow made it to the top just in time as we were scraping the bottom of our porridge bags.
Jack: I heard you nearly sliced your hand off on that trip - what happened?
George: Yeah pretty stupid. A day or two before we were to commit to the route. We were moving rocks at the base of the wall trying to make a flat area to sleep on. I moved a rock which was holding up another rock (about the size of a house!) which rolled over and squashed my hand. I fainted when I saw a tendon poking out the back of my hand. For a moment I thought that was the end of the trip for me. Fortunately a few good wraps of finger tape seemed to sort it and was climbing a day later.
In this clip from Dave Gill, the man behind the film 'Call it what you want' George Ullrich takes the lob from Gaia. It's a great clip if you haven't seen it before, and what we really like is George's comments as he's climbing! Great!
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