Olwen, which was a long-time open project until Taylor made the first ascent, is a hybrid sport-trad route. It follows the same line as Easel-EE (E7 6c) for the first three bolts, before continuing directly upwards on trad gear where Easel-EE heads leftwards.
The route is Caro's second at E9, and her first E9 as a mother. We spoke to Caro earlier in the week to find out more.
Congratulations on the third ascent of Olwen, and on your second E9! Was this always the main goal of your Rhoscolyn trip?
Actually, I never had it in my mind beforehand. I barely knew about The Painted Wall, all I knew was that James wanted to look at some routes on this crag. I only went there to accompany James, but when I was there I started playing on some routes.
How did you go about working the route?
I first abseiled Olwen by mistake, actually as I wanted to look at Easel-EE (E7 6c). I had a look at Olwen and managed all the moves on the first time I went on it.
After doing Easel-EE, I went back on Olwen as I was waiting for James to do Prisoners of the Sun (E10 7a). I then realised that I could link the route in one go on top rope.
At that point I still really wasn't thinking of leading the route as there is a properly dangerous section. James gave me a little bit of a nudge there, making me realise that I could make that decision.
I took a day away from the crag, and asked some friends about the marginal gear they had found before deciding to commit. On our third day at the crag, the conditions were a little bit better and I decided to have a go at it. I did it on my first headpoint attempt. I was quite at my limit on the top section, where the climbing is hard but safe, but it just about worked.
Tell us a bit about Rhoscolyn and Painted Wall, what's it like there?
I really like the seacliff ambience. I feel like you only find it in the UK really.
You are out of the world, with only the sound of the sea and the strong wind, and usually no phone signal. It's a full day of things being 'very different' than usual.
This is definitely not a child friendly crag, and usually James and I don't really get to go in places like that anymore. Obviously being in a place like that, with the grandparents taking care of our children, was a privilege.
Talk us through the ascent, it sounds like there are some pretty big run-outs! Did it all go to plan?
You start with three peg-bolts. Then you start a fairly strenuous section, something like 7b+ or 7c. You place a friend in a fairly bad crack, just to hopefully gain a metre of protection, because from the last peg you have a really big run out until the next good gear, and on that section, if you fell on the top, you would be on the ground.
I also placed two extra fairly bad pieces of gear. As you place them from a semi-good rest, it makes you feel like you have a bit less air, even if the protection is bad. After that, you still have to do three more moves that are really not easy, but should be secure if you're not pumped, to reach an undercling where you can place three very good friends.
Then you have the top section: that is about ten moves of roughly the same difficulty, and a hard last move. I made a tiny mistake on that section, everything before had flowed perfectly. It just slowed me down enough to be extra pumped, so I just about stuck the last move, and had my ass really going backwards as I arrived on the last hold. I just about stuck it, and got extremely pumped on the last movements of the route!
James mentioned on instagram that whilst this is your second E9, it is your first since becoming a mother - how does being a mother factor into your feelings about having climbed Olwen? Does it feel very different from when you climbed Chicama (E9 6c)?
Getting pregnant, with all the putting on weight, losing your abdominals, having a massive body change, then a baby that is great, but extremely tiring… And doing that twice, I would say that it gave me more or less five years where my climbing was not very good.
I actually got back to fitness between my two children, back to my best level, but that took a lot of effort. I would really not say that things have been easy in terms of training, I don't think it ever is when you become a parent, whether you are a mum or dad.
After this most recent pregnancy I started working with Maddy Cope from Lattice to help me find the right balance between an efficient 'comeback' and injury prevention. To get back to my best level after two children is definitely something that I am really happy with.
Trad climbing adds a commitment element. I think with more time and more responsibility I am calculating more and more the risk that I am willing to take. Maybe on Chicama, I wasn't fully able to measure it all, and just sometimes I was simply believing in my endurance without considering the potential of a fall. Now I think I am more calculated with my decision process.
I did Olwen because I was really interested in putting together the elements that would allow me to climb very well in a situation where a mistake was not allowed. I like to answer that question in climbing, I find it interesting. It also demands a lot of mental focus, and I guess in a very different manner, this was something that I really liked in competition back in time.
What's next for you? Will you be heading back to Annot to take on Le Voyage (8b+)?
Totally. I have been training for a year now, with always Le Voyage in my mind. I am constantly creating time, and doing trainings with that route in my head.
Finally, what it is about climbing that gives you the most joy at the moment?
Since becoming a parent, time has become more precious, and one of the great gifts of having such a full agenda is that both James and I have really fallen in love with climbing again. Every session is fun. Maybe simply because every time that we climb, this is time for us.
What is it that I like in climbing? I have always had the same answer… I like the intensity that it takes. I like that, in climbing, you have to disappear, to become the movement, and there is no space for anything else in your head.
Check out the video below to see Caro's third ascent, and first female ascent, of Olwen E9 6c.