Josh Ibbertson on Rainman, Training, and the FutureInterview

© Marsha Balaeva

Back in June, 18-year-old prodigy Josh Ibbertson climbed his first 9b with an ascent of Steve McClure's Rainman (9b) at Malham Cove.

The route links some of the hardest climbing at the limestone crag; starting up Raindogs (8a) before tackling the crux of Rainshadow (9a), and finishing up Bat Route (8c). Josh redpointed the route in a brief interlude from his A-level exams and shortly after the route's second ascent from Eder Lomba.

Josh is no stranger to Yorkshire limestone, having previously redpointed the likes of Rainshadow (9a), Northern Lights (9a), and Batman (9a). We caught up with Josh to find out about his process on the route, his incredible rise through the grades, and his family climbing dynasty.

Josh on Steve's 2017 masterpiece, Rainman (9b)  © Marsha Balaeva
Josh on Steve's 2017 masterpiece, Rainman (9b)

When did you start working Rainman?

I first experienced some of the climbing on Rainman when I started trying Rainshadow in October of 2020, but I suppose you could say climbing Raindogs in 2015 was my first ever experience of the route. I specifically started trying Rainman after doing Batman at the end of September 2021. I didn't quite have the strength to do it then, so I had to abandon my efforts as the season ended and it got wet for the winter. Over the winter, I did lots of bouldering and strength training along with lots of leg work to build the strength required for the kneebar.

Had you tried any other 9bs, or 9a+s? [Batman is 9a/+]

This was the first 9a+ or 9b route that I've tried. There aren't tons of options for 9a+/9b routes in the UK, so it seemed like the next progression after doing Batman and Rainshadow. It felt like a bit of a daunting jump at first, but as it started coming together, I thought more and more that it would be possible.

How did you train for the route? You mostly seem to climb outdoors - does that make up the majority of your training?

I do tend to climb outside for large chunks at a time, however, over the winter I didn't touch rock for over 3 months and just focused on training for Rainman with the help of my Lattice coach, Ella. I did lots of specific leg training and replica problems, alongside more general strength conditioning to make me more robust. However, usually, I do spend a lot of time outdoors and find that I can still make good progress as long as I treat some of my outdoor sessions as training instead of redpointing.

What was your progression on the route like? 

During the Easter break, I got to the slot move, which is high on the headwall, and I thought the route could go anytime. Unfortunately, I caught a nasty bug at the worst possible time and it took me a while to feel on form again. Although I was able to get through the crux of Rainshadow consistently, I was struggling to reach my high point. This was pretty frustrating!

I found it really difficult to stay in the kneebar and kept sliding out of it on redpoint. I spent time practising the kneebar and working out how far I could push it before falling out. I got to the point where I could stay in it for 25-30 seconds on redpoint but didn't seem to be able to push it any further than that. I realised that I had two options, either get stronger legs or better endurance. So, I had a change of tack and started focusing on getting fitter on the route rather than milking the rest. This seemed to work for me and at the start of June I suddenly felt good on the route again and I was getting to my high point on most attempts. I think I spent too much time worrying about the knee bar when really, I just needed to get fitter!

You must be quite used to Malham style by now - how did it compare to the other king lines of the cove?

Yes, Malham style takes a bit of getting used to; poor feet and the holds are always seemingly the wrong way around. Rainman is no exception here but is certainly the king line of the Cove. It takes in some of the best and hardest climbing straight up the centre. For me, it's one of the most inspiring routes in the country. It has quite a varied style: you do the boulder of Rainshadow, which is really burly, but then the headwall is much more technical and on smaller holds with lots of deep drop knees and interesting body positions. It's classic Malham climbing all the way!

Josh redpointed Rainman in a lull between A-Level exams  © Marsha Balaeva
Josh redpointed Rainman in a lull between A-Level exams

How did it feel to tick it?

It took a while to process it! The send was super unexpected so I couldn't quite believe it at first. I sent it on my fourth go of my second day when conditions weren't exactly ideal. In my head, it was just going to be a training burn. I think this took some of the pressure off allowing me to relax and flow. When I stuck the last hard move joining Bat Route, which was the redpoint crux for me, I was super nervous. By this point, you've done all the hardest climbing and shouldn't blow the top headwall, but it is still droppable as you've still got to do the redpoint crux of Bat Route. Luckily, I was able to compose myself and I felt surprisingly relaxed on the final headwall. Clipping the chains, sitting on the ledge and looking at the view down the valley will always be a memorable and special moment for me.

You climb with your dad and brother (and maybe mum too?) How has climbing as a family influenced your progress?

From a young age, it's been the norm to hang out at the crag as a family. It's always really motivating. On a practical level it's always very useful as I've always got a lift to the crag! I wouldn't have had half the opportunities without them. My dad has always been so supportive and integral to my climbing, as well as giving more than his fair share of belays along the way!

My Mum climbs too but is perhaps not as obsessed as the rest of us and Jack has been out of action lately with a finger injury, so has been learning to surf instead, but he's getting back into climbing now which is great.

There are a lot of young up-and-coming sport climbers at the moment, including you and Toby Roberts amongst others. Does this inspire you to keep trying hard? Do you climb with Toby and others much?

I've spent a lot of time trying routes at Malham with Toby and Eder, we also trained a bit together over the winter which was good fun. It's always so motivating and inspiring to climb with psyched people on the same route, sharing beta and psyche. Eder, Toby and I all have quite different climbing styles, so that has always been very interesting to analyse and I learnt a lot from both of them.

8a at age 10, 8a+ at 11, 8c and 8c+ at 13, 9a at 16 and 9b at 18! That's some progression throughout your childhood and teens. Have you ever had periods of plateaus or not feeling as motivated? What do you put your overall progression down to? 

I've had some plateaus but that's part of climbing. There was a period of a couple of years where I didn't increase my hardest grade, Covid and lockdowns got in the way, but realistically you can't always be trying to redpoint your hardest routes.

I don't remember ever losing motivation. If I feel like I'm losing psyche, I just change my focus: training, onsighting, redpointing, bouldering…

You and your brother Jack took some time out of school to travel and climb when you were kids. What did you gain from the experience? 

Climbing-wise, the chance to climb lots of varied styles at different crags really helped me learn how to read moves and flow on rock.  Meeting and learning from other climbers was a huge help too. Lots of other things...improving my Spanish, learning to surf, becoming more independent with school work...and maths lessons with Jacob Cook were fascinating! 

Now you've finished your exams...what's next in life and climbing? What are your goals?

I'm really looking forward to getting in lots of mileage after a proper siege. We're heading to northern Spain in a couple of weeks where we'll hopefully get some surfing in and Eder is going to show us around some of his local crags. In the longer term, I'd like to mix up climbing abroad with climbing in the UK, there are still plenty of great hard routes around Yorkshire and hopefully some new ones too!

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Born into a climbing family, Josh has quietly worked his way through the grades over the years, ticking 8a at age...

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