Another 9a at Santa Linya for Tom BolgerInterview

© Lynne Malcolm

British climber Tom Bolger has added yet another top level sport route to his CV with an ascent of Fabela pa la enmienda (9a) in the Santa Linya cave, Northern Spain.

The route is one of the few that climbs all the way out of this monster limestone overhang, and is a link-up of other routes, which is common in the Santa Linya cave, as many lines cross each other.

Tom Bolger fighting his way to victory on another 9a - Fabela pa la enmienda  © Lynne Malcolm
Tom Bolger fighting his way to victory on another 9a - Fabela pa la enmienda
© Lynne Malcolm

Tom commented to UKC:

"This route came as somewhat of a surprise because my main focus has been on Catxasa 9a+, but recently having fallen off the top 9 times and everything starting to feel a bit stale it felt like time to mix things up. The decision of what to try was easy as since the very first day that I stepped inside the intimidating cave of Santa Linya I had wanted to climb a route all the way to the top.

Santa Linya is one of the most insane climbing features in the world as the easiest way to climb all the way out of the cave is 8c+!"

Tom Bolger lives in Santa Linya, where he moved to concentrate on his sport climbing. He has previously climbed many hard routes, including lots of 8c and 8c+s as well as several 9as and a 9a/+ with his ascent of Ciudad de Dios around a year ago.

Tom is one of the UK's leading sport climbers and is currently on very good form. Here we find out a little more about what it takes to tick the magic grade of 9a.

Another view of Tom Bolger on Fabela pa la enmienda - 9a  © Lynne Malcolm
Another view of Tom Bolger on Fabela pa la enmienda - 9a
© Lynne Malcolm

Tom Bolger, high on the super-steep and sustained route of Fabela pa la enmienda - 9a  © Lynne Malcolm
Tom Bolger, high on the super-steep and sustained route of Fabela pa la enmienda - 9a
© Lynne Malcolm

INTERVIEW: Tom Bolger - Fabela pa la enmienda (9a)

Tell us about the actual route Tom:

"Fabela pa la enmienda breaks down into a really powerful and pumpy start into a series of strenuous heel hooks, once you've done the first 8c+ of Fabela you've then got a 25 metre (8b+) section to go, which is full of massive Dani Andrada style slap moves, and big run outs. In fact you clip 5 bolts in the second half of the route, I had to skip the last bolt and dyno to the clipping hold, properly scared but a good dose of determination got me through that.

Obviously it is massively physically challenging but it quickly became apparent that this route seemed like a test of so many other factors. Staying relaxed, staying determined, an ability to suffer!"

And the story of your initial attempts:

"I knew the first part really well but didn't know the top. On my first redpoint go I got stuck into the top part of the wall, I felt tense but was managing to keep my nerves at bay. I got up into a crucial knee bar at about 3⁄4 height of the route and was shaking out, I had my left hand in a thin diagonal crack hold and my right on a cool tufa lump undercut. Just as I was feeling ready to start pushing on again, my foot slipped and my kneebar ripped, I didn't fall off because my ring finger on my left hand got completely wedged and stuck in the crack! Crapping myself, I fumbled around trying to get my right hand into another side pull to de-wedge my finger,I didn't want to give in because I'd put in so much effort just to get there but after a few seconds I had to stretch for the quickdraw and shout out a panicked "take", ugggh such a horrible feeling. That experience nearly put me off the route for good. Luckily my finger was fine.

With a rested body and grateful for having all my fingers, I was back on the head-wall and missing the filthy crack hold pressing on towards the top crux. Mid-crux I stepped out onto the obvious foothold and crunch, I ripped off a fist sized block. Just managing to stay on I replaced my foot on what was left behind only to be met by the same fate! Two broken footholds in the same place! Fighting my way on I scraped my way up to the next clip but pumped out of my mind I couldn't even take a hand off to pull the rope, letting go to a 15 metre fall is pretty amazing and makes the route even more of a unique experience.

The pure length of this route means that you feel destroyed after one redpoint, It's like doing school cross country, at some points you just want to give in. It hurts.

At the same time it's really exhilarating near the top of the route, as you do 20 moves without clipping, giving you a real sensation of freedom of movement way up there above the ground.

After a huge fall, bouncing back up the rope is no mean feat! Tom Bolger on Fabela pa la enmienda 9a.  © Lynne Malcolm
After a huge fall, bouncing back up the rope is no mean feat! Tom Bolger on Fabela pa la enmienda 9a.
© Lynne Malcolm
The next day I was up there again, now really starting to feel relaxed in the exposed environment I reached the point where I had broken the two footholds. I carefully selected the foothold that I had decided on after falling the previous day but somehow I broke it again! Now I am the first to admit that in some parts of the Santa Linya cave the rock is the not the best quality but 3 footholds in the same 15 cm radius is just taking the piss!

This time instead of trying to fight on I just slumped, like a defeated hooked fish. After batman-ing (bouncing up the rope) 10 metres up the rope you are even more pumped than when you fell off! I pulled back on and climbed all the way to the chain. This time round I lowered down the route and inspected the foothold properly. Finding a bomb proof foothold I went down to the ground.

After one redpoint it was time to pack up. I was trying the route before shooting off to work, which only left me enough time to have one go."

Did all those broken holds and failed attempts nearly put you off?

"Once you have fallen and then climbed to the top of a route, you sort of know that you should be able to do it but at the same time it builds all those nerves that really mess with your performance and can be the limiting factor. Staying determined and focused on the whole route and not a crux sequence is crucial when redpointing, remembering all the moves is vital with this route, but it was a real challenge as there are over 100 hand moves."

But you got straight back on it?

"The redpoint came after the next rest day, I set off feeling psyched, you have to keep the route broken down in your mind when you start or the whole thing just seems overwhelming. Every section between the rests requires it's own system of beta and tempo of climbing.

Reaching the point at where I had fallen I felt a tiny bit fresher than before but knew that the last moves to the anchor where going to be a fight, especially with my beta which is a dyno to the clipping hold.

Shaking out just before the last section, I had to tell myself not to hesitate and just to "go for it, miss the clip and jump for the finishing hold", it paid off I grabbed it swung round and clipped the chain!

Woohoo 9a in the bag, just in time for my birthday at the weekend!"

Brilliant Tom - good effort!

Hannah Midtbo on her first 8c - Fabelita
© Lynne Malcolm

Tell us a little more about the scene over at Santa Linya:

"It has been an amazing season so far in Santa Linya with a full international vibe, people from all over the world have been here pushing themselves to the limits. My friend Gerard Roull from Barcelona started out last year with a horrendous operation replacing his A2 pulley. He has made an amazing recovery and in 6 months has come back stronger than ever having climbed his first 8c and then subsequently his first 8c+.

Norwegian, Hannah Midtbo has been on form, climbing her first ever 8c Fabelita, and is currently living in Santa Linya and is set to stay for a few more months. New local and fellow Brit, Gaz Parry has had a great season so far having done his first 8c+ Blomu.

I'm psyched for the rest of the season, so now it is on to the next project......."

Thanks Tom, good luck!

Gaz Parry on Fabelita - 8c  © Lynne Malcolm
Gaz Parry on Fabelita - 8c
© Lynne Malcolm
Gerard Roull from Barcelona on Fabelita 8c, just 6 months after serious tendon surgery!  © Lynne Malcolm
Gerard Roull from Barcelona on Fabelita 8c, just 6 months after serious tendon surgery!
© Lynne Malcolm
Eli Hardie Howes on Pegue nocturno - 8b  © Lynne Malcolm
Eli Hardie Howes on Pegue nocturno - 8b
© Lynne Malcolm

And finally Tom would like to add: "I would like to give a massive thanks to Edelrid, with their support I feel more psyched than ever about achieving my goals."

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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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23 Jan, 2012
What a shame about that Mattress in all the photos.
23 Jan, 2012
Its not a mattress it is the archaeologists method of covering their dig comes with a six foot fence to.
23 Jan, 2012
I liked that interview a lot. Really liked the way Tom described clearly his redpointing process on this route and the layers of things you need to get right to pull off sending a route which is approaching the limit of your ability. Definitely a few pointers in there for anyone wanting to climb as hard as they can.
23 Jan, 2012
It's a metal covering over the dig sites - archaeologists are interested in the cave as Neanderthals (or something similar) lived there 'back in the day'. Fortunately there's a deal in place whereby climbers get the cave in winter and they use it in summer, and they cover the bits they're interested in when they leave each year. Actually it's quite useful for keeping your kit out of the dust! Good work Tom (and nice photos Lynne)!
23 Jan, 2012
Imagine what the Neanderthals would've made of the ascents!
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