Jim Pope has made the first repeat of James Taylor's Olwen (E9 6c) E9 6c at Rhoscolyn and made a rare - and only the second British - onsight of the classic Strawberries (E7 6b) at Tremadog, (Craig Bwlch y Moch), both in North Wales.
On Saturday, Jim headed to the coastal cliffs of Rhoscolyn. Olwen is a hybrid sport-trad route, starting on the drilled and glued bolts of Easel-EE (E7 6c). The route follows the same line as Easel-EE until the third bolt, and then - where Easel-EE goes left - heads directly up. Jim adds the line to his previous E10 repeat on the same sector, Prisoners of the Sun, and E9 ascents on grit of Appointment with Death (UKC News) and Meshuga (UKC News).
Yesterday, he went to Tremadog to attempt an onsight of Strawberries. The line was first climbed by Ron Fawcett in 1980 and the first onsight was claimed by Stefan Glowacz in 1987. Since then, the line has defeated many onsight attempts by top climbers, including James McHaffie and Nico Favresse. Only a handful of climbers are known to have succeeded, including Jorg Verhoeven and the late Hansjörg Auer. Steve McClure made the first British onsight in 2014.
Strawberries begins up Cream E4 6a before trending left on small crimps and crack sequences. Although the gear is said to be decent, it can be difficult to place. Originally graded E5 7a, over time the route has been upgraded to E7 6b.
For more about the history of the route, read this UKC article by Jack Geldard.
Prior to his trad ticking spree, Jim had just returned from the IFSC World Championships in Bern, Switzerland, where he was competing in both the Lead and Boulder events, finishing 31st (narrowly missing out on the semi-final cut of 26th) and 53rd respectively.
An all-rounder, Jim somehow manages to combine competition climbing with hard sport, bouldering, trad and alpine climbing between training indoors.
We sent him some questions about his weekend trad hit and his approach to maintaining a high level across multiple disciplines.
Firstly, how was Bern?
I had a good time at the World Championships. It was one of the largest fields we've ever seen, and the depth of the field is crazy. My boulder shape wasn't as good as it could have been, but it is nearing the end of the lead season so I felt fit, and narrowly missed out on the lead semi-finals. It would have been nice to have stayed and supported the rest of the team who advanced to the next rounds, but Bern is an expensive place to hang out in, haha.
Had you planned to try these routes this summer or was it a spur of the moment decision?
Once I arrived home, my good friend Pat Hill asked if I fancied a weekend trad climbing on Anglesey, at Gogarth and Rhoscolyn. After a long competition season with very little rock climbing, it was just what I wanted really!
We drove over on Saturday with Ben Heason and had a day on Painted Wall, where I made the second ascent of James's route 'Olwen' then stayed at Ben's parents in Nantmor. Tremadog wasn't initially on the agenda, but it was really close and the weather was looking good so we headed there instead.
Tell us about Olwen. How did it compare to Prisoners of the Sun E10 7a and your two grit E9s?
It's very different to the two I've done on grit, and is pretty different to Prisoners on the same cliff. It starts up Easel-EE clipping three bolts, then has a big run-out to some good gear and another run-out to the top pegs. It was definitely pumpy! But quite secure climbing.
There is a lot of history to Strawberries. How much did you know about the line beforehand? (Did you have any idea about the cruxes or the gear, etc.?)
I've always been interested in climbing history, so had heard about the climb through various books and Extreme Rock. I knew from the guidebook description that there was a hard move transitioning between the cracks, and that it didn't ease off after there! I didn't know anything about the gear, and massively over-racked for the route. I think I placed four pieces, but carried a Gogarth rack, haha!
The line has defeated a lot of onsight attempts! How did the ascent go and how did you feel on it?
I was pretty hesitant beforehand as I'd wanted to onsight this route for a long time. I figured even if I didn't manage to, the experience of having a good onsight battle would be worth it anyway! I got through the bottom section quickly, but maybe didn't find the best method, and was pretty sapped.
After placing some good wires I arrived at the last crack looking at the last few moves above. By this point I was redlining, and my last wire was a long way below. Pat's cheers of encouragement were gradually getting more and more high-pitched and flustered, so I figured I should try to get something else in.
I desperately tried to fiddle in a small cam, but it looked so bad that I didn't even clip it. I stuck the next few moves by the skin of my teeth and I (and Pat) was very relieved to top it out! I didn't have gear in as high as I could have, so the fall from the top crux would have been a big flight!
What did you think of the grade?
It's always hard to comment on the grades when onsighting because you don't often find the best sequence. I've heard it touted as around 7b+ but I felt like I was trying harder than I have on 8c+ redpoints! I could imagine if you knew what you were doing and had it dialled, it might feel around 7c, but I'm not very good at crack climbing!
Are you more interested in doing trad onsighting or hard headpointing?
I like to mix it up and do both — you get different things out of each, and both are just as satisfying in different ways!
How does competition training complement your trad climbing and vice versa?
Training for the competitions definitely helps with my trad climbing. I train really hard, and the fitness and strength needed for competition routes helps a lot to have more in the tank when you're climbing outdoors. But I'm not so sure trad climbing is very good for competition climbing!
I still have one more World Cup in Koper in September, then I'm heading from there to the Dolomites and the Alps with Will Rupp for a few weeks. No plans after that!
Watch a video of Jim's onsight of Strawberries. Thanks to Alex Riley for the footage.