Tom Bolger on Era Vella, 9a Interview

© Tom Bolger Collection

Catalunya-based Brit, Tom Bolger recently had a return to 9a form with an ascent of Era Vella, following a back injury preventing him from climbing (UKC News Report). 

Tom Bolger redpointing Era Vella, 9a, Margalef
© Said Belhaj

Tom has been resident in Spain for a number of years now and has clocked up an impressive number of hard routes including Catxasita, 9a/+ (UKC News Report), the first ascent of Gypsy Blood, 8c+ (UKC News Report), and a number of other 9a's and 8c+'s. 

At the end of 2012 things went quiet from Tom, until recently when he made a repeat of Era Vella, one of the most popular 9a's in the world. It was first climbed by Chris Sharma in 2010 and was Sasha DiGiulian's second 9a route when she climbed it in 2012. 

Tom Bolger on his new route Gypsy Blood (8c+) at Santa Linya
© Lynne Malcolm got in contact with Tom to find out a bit more about Era Vella, his injury and what his plans for the future are.

Nice one on Era Vella! How did it feel to clip the chains? 

Tom: Clipping the chains of Era Vella was one of those rare, perfect moments. One of those times where everything pulls together and flows.

So how does Era Vella compare to other 9a's you have done?

Tom: Era Vella weaves its way up a stunning wall. I personally feel that it is easier than other 9a's I have done in Santa Linya but is a completely different style, strangely I know of seasoned 9a+ climbers who find the route desperate. I think it is the perfect route for comp climbers and may be the reason for its number of repeats.

You tried Era Vella before you injured your back, were you close to redpointing it?

Tom: I tried Era Vella before hurting my back and was fairly close to doing the route but always seemed to lack the endurance, but what I think I also lacked was the right tactics for a route of this style. I had to approach the route with the right rhythm and pace, which for me meant spending less time at the rests and basically running up the route.

Tom Bolger redpointing Victimas del Passat, 8c, a few weeks before Era Vella
© Bolger Coll.

This is your first 9a since you injured your back in 2012 - how did you injure your back? How long has the recovery period been?

Tom: I injured my back in December 2012 working on my house in Catalunya. I was lifting boulders out of a window, stupid I know, when I felt something go which followed with a tingling burning sensation down my left leg. I originally thought it was muscular but after a period of a month and my back getting much worse I sought medical help. 

At that point I wasn't sleeping due to the pain, I couldn't sit down for any period of time and general life seemed really hard work. Climbing was out of the question. In total it has taken over a year for my back to recover to the point that I am at now, but I still have stretches that I need to do religiously or my back can flare up.

So once you were climbing again, how long did it take to get back up to full fitness?

Tom: Coming back to climbing I focused on onsighting and quick redpoints. Since injuring my back I think my style of climbing has changed a bit, instead of powering through sequences with high feet i'm concentrating on better sequences.

In January when I got back into climbing I was terrified about falling off and injuring my back, I was also in bad shape, falling off 7a routes. After a couple of weeks I managed to get back into the swing of it and got up to flashing 8a, I concentrated on onsighting and quick redpoints. Being able to climb again I had bags of motivation and I think that really counts when trying to get back into shape. In that period I didn't go to my old haunts I wanted to climb onsight and not compare my current form by trying routes I had done before.

Have there been any highlights since you recovered that spurred you on to keep pushing to get fit enough to climb Era Vella?

Tom: One route that really spurred me on was onsighting Trenque Tranques, 8b, it really planted the seed in my mind that my back was recovering properly and that I could start thinking about trying hard projects again.

What sort of training do you do?

Tom: So current training plan is: climb outside! I always say I'm going to put together a training plan, but I never seem to get round to it...

So where are your favourite areas in Spain to climb at? 

Tom: My favourite areas are Santa Linya, Margalef, Terradets, Bielsa, and Rodellar.

You have climbed multiple 9a's since moving to Spain, and also a 9a/+. Now that you are back to climbing 9a what are your goals?

Tom: My goals for the future are to keep progressing, work my weaknesses, redpoint 9a+ and 9b and onsight 8c. I am also keen to try some hard multipitch routes.

Tom Bolger on Catxasita, 9a/+, Santa Linya  © Henning Wang
Tom Bolger on Catxasita, 9a/+, Santa Linya
© Henning Wang

You can watch some footage of Sasha DiGiulian on Era Vella below:

Tom Bolger is sponsored by: Core Climbing, Edelrid and Sherpa Adventure Gear

Tom Bolger is a British expat who moved to Catalunya to focus on his climbing career. He's redpointed numerous ninth-grade routes up to 9a+ (Gancho Perfecto). He's also a former GB Climbing Team member.

Tom's Athlete Page 22 posts

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