INTERVIEW: Jorg Verhoeven and Katha Saurwein in the UK

Dutch/Austrian husband and wife team Jorg Verhoeven and Katha Saurwein recently visited the UK to sample some gritstone trad and bouldering. Unfortunately, the inclement British weather lived up to its reputation and prevented the pair from ticking all of our classics (phew!) but they managed to squeeze in a good number of different crags and routes nonetheless.

Katha on the Stanage Popular classic Flying Buttress Direct E1., 248 kb
Katha on the Stanage Popular classic Flying Buttress Direct E1.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

Despite their background in competition climbing, with Jorg winning the overall Lead World Cup in 2008 and Katha winning multiple international events at both junior and senior level, the couple have turned their attention to trad climbing together in recent years around the world, from a tour of Australia - where they spent their honeymoon - to the granite walls of Yosemite.

We got in touch with Jorg and Katha to find out what their intentions were and what they got done between the showers...

What brought you to the UK this time?

Jorg: Gritstone! Definitely not British food! ;) Although I must say you guys have some great Indian food, and I'm always up for some tea and scones. We had some lovely weather, but it seems like this late summer has been crazy wet. Some of the areas were soaking and boggy (The Roaches and Wimberry in particular).

A moody sky threatens above Not to be taken away (6C) Stanage Plantation.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

When you were over here previously, what did you get done?

Jorg: We've both been over before, (Katha mainly bouldering, me mainly trad climbing). Gritstone is without doubt the best rock on the planet, and despite the moody weather I've always loved coming here.

I got a taste of Hard Grit on my first trip right away, onsighting Paralogism (E7 6b), and falling off trying to flash Cemetery Waits (E7 6c), but I've been lucky so far in gnarly situations (shouldn't have said that!)

Although the hard stuff is tempting, the nice thing about the Peak is also its moderate climbing. I think I've climbed Flying Buttress maybe ten times already, it's still my favourite.

Katha: I got a taste of trad climbing in Yosemite, so climbing on grit seemed like it was going to be loads of fun. Especially as a boulderer; it's the perfect mixture of trad climbing and not getting too pumped (comparing it against 40m Yosemite splitters). Hard Grit scared me at first, but it's just so tempting. Routes like Gaia, Master's Edge or Meshuga, does it get any better?

What were your first impressions of the UK climbing scene/crags/weather?!

Jorg: Well, the weather is often total crap of course, but it seems like you can always find something to climb on. Sometimes the wind dries the rock quicker than the rain makes it wet...I've got used to it, and I'm starting to like it, even. Experiencing some harsh conditions makes you enjoy the nice days even more.

Katha: I was pleasantly surprised about the scene here: there are so many people going out climbing. It makes sense though, as gritstone is a paradise when it comes to moderates and it's just out of town, but it's still nice to see all of these people enjoying the outdoors. Sometimes it's a bit scary, you see people trying routes right at their limit, or way above it. It seems like there's a steep learning curve.

Jorg Verhoeven on the Millstone classic London Wall E5 6a, 240 kb
Jorg Verhoeven on the Millstone classic London Wall E5 6a
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

Where did you visit this latest trip and what did you get done?

Jorg: Ha, we tried to find some dry rock, so we were a bit all over to see what was climbable: Stanage, Burbage, Millstone, Higgar Tor, The Roaches and Wimberry.

We only had three days unfortunately, but we made the most of them! We did lots and lots of classics, since we had two American friends over who were first time visitors. Stuff like Archangel, Crescent Arete, London Wall etc.

Katha climbed Nosferatu (E6 6b), and I did Balance it is (E7 6c), a classic that I was still missing. I was a bit sad to not be able to climb at Wimberry because of the wetness. (and green stuff...)

Katha, you did The File at Higgar Tor and said it felt more like an E-grade. Did you get used to the jamming technique, or layback it?

Haha, I was just saying that sometimes an 'easy' jamming crack can still give you some trouble...I love finger cracks, like London Wall, and offwidths, but never really got used to hand-jamming cracks.

Katha on The File VS at Higgar Tor., 158 kb
Katha on The File VS at Higgar Tor.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

What do you think of our trad ethics?

Jorg: It's great! Imagine Gaia being a bolted clip-up, how boring would it be? Now don't get mad, but I always saw it this way: The UK has a LOT of rock, but most of it wouldn't be of interest for sport climbing (except Malham, Kilnsey). Not using bolts (or using them sparsely like on slate) was the best thing that happened to UK climbing. A very unique style of trad climbing evolved. The Brits are getting everything out of the rock that they have.

Katha: I fully agree with that, it's just the grading system that not very transparent. I guess you get used to it, but especially for harder routes it doesn't seem to be perfect.

You've climbed all over the world. Is gritstone really as good as we make it out to be?

Yup. No need to add more here!

Are there other areas of the UK that you'd like to visit?

Katha: Jorg has always been incredibly psyched on the grit, and only recently decided that the rest of the island needs 'exploring'. I think we'll be back often!

Jorg: I've been to North Wales for a couple of days, visiting Llanberis areas, Pen Twryn, Gogarth (wow!) etc. There's just sooo much to do that will be loads of fun. Pembroke, Yorkshire, Dumbarton, Old Man of Hoy, Long Hope. The list is endless.

Jorg gets to grips with Balance it is E7 6c, Burbage South.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

You were in Morocco recently - tell us about that trip!

Katha: We spent two weeks in Taghia, a paradise for limestone multipitches, based in a remote village in the Atlas mountains. It feels like a little Yosemite for Europeans. Cheap flights, big walls, no park rangers, no tourists, endless potential.

I was still having trouble with mononucleosis, which I've been fighting for almost a year. It was hard to do long approaches and long climbing days. I helped open a new route, which was an amazing experience!

Jorg: I tried to focus on a project that Arnaud Petit had started 10 years ago. 400 metres with several pitches of 8c-9a climbing. My own little Mini Dawn Wall...

What made you both decide to miss the lead competitions this season (or some of them at least)?

Katha: We've done about half of the bouldering season, Jorg did some of the lead comps (for the first time in 4 years), my last lead comp was almost a decade ago.

Jorg: While we're both still enjoying the comps, we're trying to make more time for climbing outdoors, and making trips to places we love to go. There's a lot more to climbing than World Cups! ;)

What's next for you guys?

Jorg: More UK climbing :) It's hard to say, we've done lots of trips this year so far, so it'll be nice to be at home for a while. Of course plans for next year's trips are in the making.

I'm starting my project 9b, which is basically seeing whether I can still reach the 9b level in sport climbing. Then Autumn will most likely be time for more Taghia and Yosemite.

Katha: I'm very keen to go to Squamish, specifically to try Cobra Crack, a beautiful 8c finger crack. So training on London Wall wouldn't be a bad idea, would it?

Follow Jorg and Katha on Instagram: @jorgverhoeven and @katha_saurwein

Jorg and Katha are sponsored by: La Sportiva, Marmot and Petzl

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