Robbie Phillips - he's young, he's brash, he's bold and he's been over in the Alps this summer climbing some of the hardest alpine rock routes in Europe.
We caught up with Robbie to find out exactly what he climbed, when he climbed it, and to find out why this 'Scottish sport climber' has turned his attention to the bigger faces of Europe... and with astonishing success. What's his secret?
The big three were Silbergeier (8b+, Ratikon, Switzerland), Project Fear (8c, Dolomites, Italy) and Paciencia (8a, Eiger, Switzerland) - amongst a fair few easier multipitches up to 8a and a bit of sport and trad to fill the gaps.
Wow! Well, that is a pretty good effort! What is your secret to crushing these hard long routes?!
Emmmm... I drink copious amounts of tea, consume more than the recommended daily allowance of chocolate biscuits and try really really hard!
That sounds like a diet and training regime I can stick to, I'll give it a go! Who were you climbing with on this tea and biscuit fuelled journey?
I was climbing most of the summer with a good mate of mine from back home, Willis Morris. Me and Willis just had so much fun on the wall everyday; no amount of tiredness or scary situation could stop us from having a bloody good time! Climbing with someone you have confidence in as well as someone who is up for having a laugh is the best combination!
The idea for this season was to get out to the Alps and do lots of big routes! After climbing Bellavista last year I have been infatuated by doing big walls and being in the mountains. I wanted to progress from last year and get more volume in. By the end of the summer I was hoping to be confident enough to tackle something really big, the Eiger! For me the Eiger has always been a motivation, the history and notoriety of the mountain playing a large role in that. For Willis, climbing the Eiger meant everything; it was his longest ambition and a dream since he was a kid.
And which routes did you plan to do? And did it all come off okay?
So the routes we had planned to do were exactly what we got done...
- Project Fear
We even got a lot more done around the place on easier routes. When I got home I was reading a ticklist of climbs I had made for this year and was astounded to read that I'm almost through the entire list - I wouldn't have really expected that this summer would have gone as well as it did. I set my goals, I did the training and we got really lucky with the weather! Maybe not so lucky on the Eiger the first time but as Dave Mac said to me after we did it: "You made your own luck when you were there and ready for it when the sun came out".
It wasn't hard to maintain motivation when things were going well, however there was a stint in the middle where we got battered off the Eiger on our first attempt by a thunderstorm. Willis had run out of money and had to go home to work! We were both pretty down for that period - I climbed about Chamonix but the weather had been really bad. Then came an amazing stroke of luck; 2 weeks after Willis had gone and when I couldn't find another climbing partner, Willis got an anonymous donation. Somebody who had been following the adventures on social media decided to give Willis enough to get back out for an extra 2 weeks and give us the last chance we needed to finish off the climb!
Out of the big climbs you did - which was the hardest, most challenging and most emotional?
I would honestly say I was happiest with Silbergeier - It was a challenging climb! You can't control the weather, but when you have the conditions it's up to you to perform. Silbergeier was challenging from start to finish. On the first week I didn't get on it once as the weather was so bad! The 2nd week it was glorious - I had 6 days on the wall working out every pitch and making sure I knew exactly what I was going to be doing. On the 7th day we went for the redpoint and I hit every pitch perfectly! It's hard to keep performing on such technical and mentally demanding pitches; but somehow I found it in myself to keep trying hard at every pitch and when I topped out it was an unbelievable feeling!
Silbergeier was a 10-year dream of mine from when I first started climbing; so to come to Switzerland this summer and leave having ticked of literally my longest lifetime goal... Nothing compares!
Paciencia on the Eiger was an incredible climb; really long and sustained with lots of hard, technical and some quite scary pitches; but the climbing was quite far below my limit. This meant I could hold things together despite being tired or if conditions were not as perfect as they could be - but that's mountain climbing for you, you've got to take what you're given!
Why the switch to these bigger climbs?
Adventure has always been at the heart of my love for climbing... After an amazing trip to Australia last year I felt like pure sport climbing just wasn't satisfying the adventure drive anymore. Being on Bellavista last year was a refreshing boost and after leaving the Dolomites everything else was really quite dull in comparison. You'd understand if you've ever been in the great roof of Cima Ovest or stood atop the North Face - it's wildly exhilarating and hard to match!
I guess as well, it's only natural for your mood to change from time to time. Sometimes I get really psyched for doing single pitch trad, other times I'm more keen for sport... right now I'm actually really psyched about training indoors and actually looking forward to Scottish winter more than anything! I have a sport climbing trip in January to Siurana where I want to try a 9a, so that's going to be hilarious after a season of winter climbing!!! There better be some big jugs on this 9a hahaha!
The big routes you did were all Alpine 'rock routes', non-glacietd approaches and no mixed sections - are you planning to switch to some more Alpine ascents at any point? Strapping on some ice axes perhaps?
It's important for me to prepare well for any endeavour. I need to build up volume doing easier routes first before I take on any much bigger more challenging Alpine territory, so this winter season I am planning on getting out A LOT!!! I think at any point over the winter period my van will probably be easily spotted around the highlands if it's not covered in snow... I'm challenging myself to be as much of an all-rounder as possible - I don't want to be limited in my capacity to adapt to any situation and a lot of the big routes I have planned for the future require skills beyond what I currently have...
If the winter season goes well and I feel up for it, Willis and I might head back out to the Eiger to attempt the Classic 1938 Route in winter conditions - we will see :)
As for the future - Alpine climbing is certainly a direction I am going in... we'll just have to see if I'm cut out for it .
I'm sure you are Robbie! So except for some Scottish winter and a trip to Siurana, what else are you planning?
Well... I've not got much money left in the old coffers so I'll have to do something about that - sell a Kidney on UKC forums perhaps?! Thankfully I don't have to do what my 17 year-old self did at Ceuse and sell off all my old climbing gear to pay for a bus ride home...
Next year the plan is to stay at home mostly in the spring and focus on trad onsighting. I want to train my mind to be better adapted at dealing with pressure; this spring I spent more time headpointing which doesn't challenge your decision making in quite the same way; there's just not that uncertainty you get with onsighting.
As for the Summer 2016, I've been planning a few more routes (another trilogy) with friends - I think me and Calum Muskett will attempt the Voie Petit on the Grand Capucin. I'm a bit late on that one I'll admit as we had planned to try it together around 5 years ago but I wimped out!
I also plan on finishing off what is commonly referred to as the "Alpine Trilogy" - Des Kaiser Neue Kleider and End of Silence. This accompanied with Silbergeier makes that famous trilogy of alpine rock routes. It's been a dream of mine since I was a kid to do the trilogy and it's really only now I feel I am ready to undertake this!
Lastly, I'm planning on heading to Yosemite in the last quarter of 2016... I'm in no delusion that I will most likely spend the trip redpointing 6a off-widths... In fact I'm rather looking forward to it!
Thanks Robbie and great effort on the summer ticklist - maybe see you in Scotland this winter!
FinalCrux Films are putting together a series about these climbs - watch out for that - we'll keep you updated on UKC.
And there is going to be a series of lectures across the UK from Robbie - the dates aren't confirmed yet but you can follow Robbie Phillips on Facebook and he'll be updating that page with dates soon.
Willis Morris also has a Facebook Page.
The trip itself was also supported by: Edinburgh Carpet Warehouse and Jöttnar