This year will be remembered as the year that sport climbing fought back. Ascents of 8c routes reached double digits and again Britain has a route which arguably takes its place amongst the hardest in the world. With 2007 being such an epic year, it has been hard to decide what to include in this review. In previous years climbing several 8b's and the odd 8b+ would have made you stand out. This year you don't make the cut if you didn't climb 8c! Onsights were a bit harder to check up on, but with 8a onsights routine these days, only 8a+ and harder makes the list. For the women, anything 8a and harder is still newsworthy. There's too much action to report to waffle on any more, so here we go with a countdown of the burliest UK climbers of 2007 (well it is sport climbing after all)!
Quelle surprise. Over the last few years Steve has been head, shoulders and a fair amount of torso above everyone else in the UK and this year is no exception. I do have sad news to report though; Steve is suffering from early onset memory loss. When pressed, he claimed not to have done much this year. This is from a man who has made the first ascents of two 8c's, onsighted 8b+ in Terradets, Spain and outclassed the rest of the world by onsighting a dripping wet 8b, at night, whilst on the Petzl Roc Trip in Scalatabel, France. However, one route has Overshadow'ed (ho, ho!) the rest. Steve's magnum opus takes the ludicrously steep headwall above Overnite Sensation at Malham. Steve's route made national headlines for his trademark “bat-hang” rest, but the difficulty of this route cannot be overstated. Imagine 100ft of climbing as steep as The Rasp, with holds the size of Long John's Slab. At a probable 9a+, Overshadow combines world-class quality with world-class difficulty and ensures Steve retains the podium position for 2007.
Then to cap off the year in December in five days climbing over a week at Sella, Spain, at the Water Cave and Wild Side sectors, Steve managed an 8c+, four 8b+'s, two 8b's, two 8a+'s and a bunch of 8a's. The 8c+ and one 8b+ were redpointed, the rest mostly onsighted including the 8b+ routes.
We asked. So what is in store, or planned for Steve McClure in 2008?
"The thing at Kilnsey. Perhaps a look at Rhapsody, though I don't pretend for a minute I'm gonna just go and do it - just a look see...and get fitter and stronger."
Despite seemingly ticking every trad route in the country this year, Dave found time to show that he has the firepower to back up his steady head. He showed his hand early with a February ascent of L'Odi Social, 8c+ in Siurana, a very quick 8c tick in Spain in March and the first ascent in May of Metalcore, 8c+ at the Anvil, Scotland.
But what about 2008?
"My plan for 2008 is to wind down my work a bit at the end of the spring so I can go climbing a lot more this summer. I've done loads of work and little climbing for the past couple of years to get myself to a
better position. So hopefully I can start to tip the balance back in favour of climbing again. I don't have any firm plans for routes - it's not really possible to do that in Scotland and not get frustrated. I'll just try hard
on whatever is in good condition."
“Big” Malc Smith
We asked Malcolm what his plans are for 2008?
"I'm still very keen. I think my main motivation for this year is onsight sport climbing. I've onsighted some 8a+ routes before but I'd love to do an 8b, not sure how realistic that is but I live in hope! The Anvil has a couple of hard projects left to do if I can make myself get up there enough. It would be amazing to consistently onsight 8a sport routes, Steve McClure style. Living in Scotland it's hard to get a lot of experience at onsighting, the only thing to do is to get super fit indoors and climb the routes with mistakes and probably over-pulling on the holds!"
One of the great things about sport climbing is the shared joy at the crag when someone succeeds on a project. Whether they've been trying the route for days or years it's fantastic to share in someone's personal triumph. One person who's had more than his fair share of such triumphs is Stewart Watson. Stewart is based in Austria over the summer, and has taken advantage of all that great sport climbing, ticking Gondor, 8c, at Niederthai, as well as two 8b+'s and a whole host of 8b's. He also managed to onsight 8a+ this year and narrowly missed out joining the elite 9a club. If only he'd applied his talents in the UK more, he might have made a higher spot on my list! On a personal note, I was overjoyed to succeed on Make it Funky, 8c, after three long years of suffering. Also, I feel an urge to mention the wacky world of Deep Water Soloing, which is sort of sport climbing, but with more boats. It's been a great year for Deep Water Soloing too; the first 8a+ DWS reached these shores with not one, but two, strong and foolhardy souls making the breakthrough. To climb a grade most people struggle to redpoint with no ropes, no pre-practise and the prospect of a salty enema if you fail is a major effort, so hats off to Neil Gresham, with Cutlass, at Berry Head, and the shy and retiring, yet enormously talented Gavin Symmonds, with Windowchrome at Lulworth. But if soloing 8a+ is worth a mention, imagine doing it onsight! Well, Rob Sutton did just that, with a casual onsight of Carlos Checa in Mallorca.
Sport Climbing - not for girls?
Two of our other leading ladies have also eschewed hard redpointing this year, this time for the delights of child-rearing! Whilst pregnancy prevented both Dalvinder Sohdi and Jenny Woodward from leading anything too hard, they have invented a new form of ascent. The pair have been racking up PTR (pregnant top rope) ascents of many of Yorkshire's classics, including an impressive PTR of L'Obsession, 7c+, at Malham by Jenny when she was 5 months pregnant!
Finally, we have two new entrants to the exclusive 8a club: Katie Whittaker cruised her way up the bouldery Out of My Tree, 8a, at Raven Tor, whilst Lucy Ellis enjoyed well deserved success on Raindogs, perhaps the benchmark 8a, at Malham. The latter route also saw a long awaited ascent from Alison Martindale this year.
Never Too Old
All the world's a stage...
"Paxti Usobiaga had perhaps the best week sport climbing ever when he redpointed two 9a+'s and a 8c+/9a and onsights of 8b, 8c, 8b+. Soon after on the 9th December, taking only five tries, he made the first ascent of a Daniel Andrada project, Fuck the system, at Santa Linya with a proposed a grade of 9a. Patxi Usobiaga has now onsighted several 8c's, the first in October 2005 with Gaua at Lezain and his second, Pata Negra at Rodellar in 2006.
Then on Tuesday, 11th of December he achieved a world first, an onsight of an 8c+ with the first ascent of a project Bizi Euskaraz at Etxauri, a crag in the Navarra region of Spain."
Whilst the brilliantly named Geoffray De Flaugergues showed most Brits up by onsighting two 8a+'s in a weeks holiday in Spain. Geoffray is 12 years old. That's not mentioning 17-year old Charlotte Durif onsighting two 8b's in a week, Ethan Pringle climbing six 8b's or harder onsight and one 8c+ in five days and the 16-year old Spaniard, Eric Lopez climbing two 9a's in a day. As if all that wasn't enough, Chris Sharma took deep water soloing to the next level with Es Pontas, in Mallorca, which may well be 9a+!
So, clearly we Brits have a lot of hard work to do. But do not despair! Steve McClure continues to show the way, and an ever increasing pack of strong young things are creeping up on the world standard. So - fix up that fingerboard and deadhang in front of the TV. Campus all winter and lap circuits all spring. The routes are waiting and all it takes to reach the top is strength, talent and, with any luck, a dry summer!
About the author
Stuart Littlefair is a talented sport climber, boulderer and astrophysicist. He claims he used to be part of an organisation called the Sheffield Mafia. He's also a talented photographer. He is married to Jules, also a climber and they live in Sheffield. You can read more about Stuart and view his photography at his profile at UKClimbing.com, midgets of the world unite and at www.darkpeakimages.co.uk
New Bolts For Old
Big news this year was the BMC Better Bolts Campaign. The BMC has purchased several thousand bolts, at a cost of £10,000 and are donating the hardware to various bolt funds around the country. More details at www.thebmc.co.uk/access
What is a bolt fund?
From the BMC website: "Bolt funds are set up by groups of committed climbers, with a passion for the climbing in their area. These volunteers raise funds for the purchase of bolts, and then do the hard and sometimes dirty work of using them to equip routes. Some funds have been involved in equipping new routes, whilst others have been established solely for replacing old bolts on existing routes."
More on bolts at the BMC website: ww.thebmc.co.uk
Check the Regional Access Database for the latest about access at the cliffs you plan to visit: www.thebmc.co.uk