INTERVIEW: Chris Bevins 1st British NIAD Soloby Duncan Campbell - UKC Jun/2013
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After the unsurprising amount of interest shown in Chris Bevins' 1st British Nose in a day (NIAD) solo, and the lack of information we had on the ascent and Chris in general, UKC got in touch with Chris and managed to get an interview.
Here Chris reveals a bit more about himself, his training, systems and tactics for his NIAD solo and future plans:
Duncan: Tell us a bit about yourself Chris, you have come pretty much out of nowhere with your NIAD solo. Where are you from? Do you work/are you a student? How did you begin climbing?
Chris: I guess I live in London, though I don't have a place there at the moment. I grew up in Dorset and did most of my early trad climbing there. Though I had climbed a bit here and there, I learned to climb properly at Brunel University. Two older guys called Prof and Mike ran this amazing course where you learned ropework and climbing for 2 hrs a week all year round, it was totally free, I owe a lot to them.
Workwise, I'm a rope access technician, currently working in East Timor. I've been doing it for around 7 years now, and really enjoy the job. Particularly the amount of climbing trips it allows me.
Duncan: You are obviously an experienced big wall climber, can you give us some background on what you have previously climbed?
Chris: Yep, I've been climbing in Yosemite for about 6/7 years now. I went out the first year with my long time climbing partner Oli Lyon. We had no idea! We started with the Leaning Tower and The Prow on Washington Column, then the Nose on El Capitan, and finished with Zodiac and Salathe wall. We really jumped in at the deep end on that trip. Now I feel pretty experienced in that area of climbing. 12 successful ascents of El Cap (3 solo) and one solo bail (New Dawn after a storm) where I probably learned more than any other experience in my climbing. Over the years, I have made a lot of trips and climbed around the word, but I would say that Yosemite remains my passion; I'm obsessed with El Cap.
Duncan: I guess you also enjoy other styles of climbing, is big walling a particular favourite? Do you have any other passions or is climbing your sole interest?
Chris: For sure, big wall climbing and speed climbing are my passions. I love climbs that I can BASE jump down from and I'm really psyched on the 'most climbing that you can fit into a day' mentality. I don't really like bouldering that much, but I know that that is what I need to work on. The boulder problem crux (5.13a) was what shut down my totally free Freerider dream this year; I kept falling from the last move.
Duncan: How does it feel to be the 1st British NIAD soloist and therefore 1st non-North American NIAD soloist? What gave you the confidence to feel like you could succeed where others had failed?
Chris: I suppose the main thing I've been feeling is relief, it's something that had been on my mind for a long time, and I had planned to get it done a few years ago, so it's great to have it done and be thinking about new projects. I definitely feel proud too.
Confidence is an interesting one, since this is definitely the most important thing in speed climbing. Having soloed on El Cap a few times and climbed the Nose 3 times before, I knew that I had the skills to get to the top eventually or in an emergency, to rescue myself. This gave me the confidence to take minimal gear and travel fast/light. Also, many of the previous 'solo NIADs' were by friends/climbing partners of mine, so there was definitely a strong element of vicarious experience. I sought out some advice from friends in the park, and Eric Sloan/ Ranger Ben in particular gave me some good tips.
Duncan: Climbing the Nose in a Day is an exhausting and extremely challenging feat for two people climbing roped together, did you do any fitness training prior to your ascent? What did it entail?
Chris: I wasn't able to climb a lot last year, as I was working in the middle of the sea for 7 out of 12 months, so I came into the trip a bit out of shape. Fortunately, there was time to head to Indian Creek for 3 weeks before the valley. There is absolutely no better way to train for brutal cracks than camping out in the desert. Once we got to the valley, Oli and I basically lived on El Cap, working the Freerider, so this helped massively to get 'wall fit'. I did have a fingerboard program at work, and, knowing that cardio would be key, I trained a lot on the crosstrainer. Running makes my knees hurt, and I figured that the crosstrainer was a similar movement to crack climbing. Basically I would do intervals for 45 mins and everytime I felt like vomiting, I'd close my eyes and imagine climbing dream cracks on el cap. This really helped me to keep motivated.
Another thing that helped immensly and gave me confidence was being able to train with the Silent partner indoors. I was lucky that The Castle Climbing Centre allowed me to train with the silent partner before opening hours, so i could get comfortable with the device before getting on El Capitan. I took a lot of practice whippers to gain confidence in the device. I really owe a lot of thanks to The Castle.
Duncan: Big wall climbing efficiently is all about systems, how did you go about climbing the Nose, solo in a day? Did you free large sections? Where you always roped up or did you climb sections without a belay? Did you have a strategy? Any beta from previous NIAD soloists?
Chris: I used a silent partner, which was a huge step up from soloing with the gri-gri, and allowed me to confidently and quickly free climb without worrying nearly as much about getting short roped. I think it's key to free climb, or at least 'french-free' as much as possible. I didn't get my etriers out until the great roof, and even on aid pitches after that, you need to be looking for every opportunity to free climb and save a few minutes.
I only free-soloed a few sections, but ran a 'death loop' on many others. This entails doubling the rope through the belay and climbing with no gear, you then pull the rope afterwards. On these pitches and on many others where you place minimal/ no gear to make cleaning the pitch easier, it's definitely a free solo headspace.
Going into the climb, I had a fairly well formed strategy for the first 20 pitches, as they were fresh in my head from leading them in a NIAD with Oli Lyon the month before. I tried to link as much as possible. Stretching out 70m pitches and making intermediate belays in order to pass the many parties on the route. When it came to the final 11 pitches, I sort of made it up as I went along, which combined with fatigue and the darkness, meant I lost a huge amount of time. With more defined strategy I'm sure I could take 4-5 hours off of the time without climbing much harder.
Duncan: Where there any particularly scary or low points during your solo ascent?
Chris: I wouldn't say that there were any particularly scary points during the climb. It feels like a safe climb and I'm confident in my systems. Rope tangles were definitely low points. On a pitch above the changing corners, a narrowing ate my rope and I found myself unable to go upwards. I had to build a pretty bad belay, and lost a fair amount of time dealing with this. Everything is hard in the dark after 20 hrs.
Duncan: What were the best parts of your ascent?
Chris: I definitely enjoyed the first half more than the second. Crusing the stovelegs, and freeing the boot flake were highlights. After the king-swing, I ran into a team of Americans with a gigantic, fathers day 'Dad flag', they were hilarious, climbing the Lynn Hill traverse while they cheered me on, I felt like a rock star!
Duncan: What are your plans now? Do you have any trips and/or big walls in the pipeline?
Chris: I'm back working in Timor at the moment, but the plan for the summer is to be living in a van with my girlfriend. We are going to travel through France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, chasing good weather and climbing, paragliding and BASE jumping. I have a new, super fast wingsuit that I have only jumped 15 times, so I'm looking forward to learning to fly that better. After that, I'd love to get back on some big walls. The plan is to get strong for the first time, and be able to free El Capitan next time I get back to Yosemite. I'd also like to team up with fast friends to do some speed link ups of multiple big walls in the valley, and have just started thinking about soloing Salathe in a day. It's also on the agenda to do some more remote big walling in the future, and of course to fly down after.
Chris' climbing partner Oli Lyon is making some short videos about their trip to the US, here is a trailer for their time in Utah: