Earlier this week, Jen Wood made the first ascent of her hardest route to date, on the island of Hvar, Croatia.
Whilst she's struggled to decide upon a name for the route (we're currently following her lead and calling it 'Velika Stiniva Route 18'), Jen has decided on a grade.
At 8c, this route is not only Jen's first FA at the grade, but it is also believed to be the hardest first ascent ever by a British female.
We sent Jen some questions to find out more.
Congratulations on the FA of Velika Stiniva Route 18, 8c! What was it about the route that made you want to try it?
I saw that Hvar had had a climbing festival on Instagram and just hadn't heard of it so was curious. I did a bit of research and thought it looked like a really cool place to mix a bit of holiday and climbing and explore somewhere new. The Velika Stiniva bay seemed amazing and much more peaceful than main towns on Hvar so we based ourselves there knowing there was a crag on the doorstep with plenty to go at.
I was super psyched to push myself and was really intrigued by the projects at the crag. I got in touch with someone who ran the festival and asked about the projects and if they'd been sent or tried and he said the steep one was really hard, 8c+ or harder and the slightly less steep one was a bit less hard. So I got stuck into the easier one!
You mentioned that this route is by far the hardest you've ever done, what is it about the route that makes it a step above other hard routes you've climbed, like Stay as You Are, 8c?
To me the route felt like an 8a/+ with the hardest boulder I've done on rock slapped in the middle!
The first four clips are not too hard, but a bit tricky and pumpy, then you're thrown into the crux with no rest. There's a marginal rest then into some really spicy techy climbing. The first day on the route I could barely hold the holds on the crux section, let alone do the moves.
It took a few sessions before I had done the crux (a series of eight punchy compression moves in the middle of the route) in two parts! Linking it from the ground seemed crazy.
I have just never tried something where the moves actually felt at my limit. I had to keep playing with beta to perfect every bit of it.
You've now made both an 8c repeat and an 8c FA, tell us a bit about the differences between projecting an established climb at the top end and establishing your own route at the same grade?
I think I found trying an unclimbed route much more intimidating at first, but then way more exciting.
I'd been told the route was thought to be around the 8b+ to 8c mark, so it wasn't a complete unknown, but I was definitely a bit more exploratory with beta, having to try every little micro tweak rather than being like 'oh yeh there's rubber here... that kinda works... crack on'.
As I got closer to sending there was definitely a bit more fire there knowing if I got it done quick it would be a first ascent. I think the time pressure for sure helped me send haha.
Talk us through the route - where does the difficulty lie, and what are the hardest things to get right?
The route is pure power endurance, with minimal rests and very body positiony climbing.
The crux is all compression on very small pinches after some steep tufa climbing, then you're into squirming up a vague vertical crack line of crimps. I thought I had the top fairly wired, but man I was so close to dropping every move on the send.
What is your process when projecting routes near your limit?
I'm not sure I really have a proper process, but I flipping loved it! Trying that hard, screaming my way up the moves was so fun.
I love trying things at my limit and surprising myself, and every go felt maximal ! Fourth day on I didn't go forwards, so I rested next day.. I dreamt up a little beta tweak and rushed to the crag at 6am the next day to test my dream beta. It felt good (way less flukey) but the sun came on the route shortly after, so we went back in the evening and I sent on my third go!
Talk us through the successful attempt!
On the first go of the evening I got most of the way through the boulder before falling and thought 'it's on'. Next go I thought I was gonna do it, but dropped a move higher, just one move from the "rest".
It was getting late, but it seemed daft not to have one more go when I was still making progress.
On the send go the moves on the boulder just felt way more dialled, so I could move quick through those. I even managed to relax a bit in the rest after.
The bit after was a total mess though, I was just so flipping powered out. I basically did it on muscle memory and pure desperation. I love the sends when they're still a fight all the way!
Have you had any further thoughts on the name of the route?
Haha, I've been pondering names all day. I think I'm overthinking it..
What's the climbing like on Hvar?
To be honest I went into full siege mode from day one so haven't climbed much else. But the sevens at the same crag have been mega. Fairly Kalymnos style with tufas and decent rests but absolutely no polish, and the crag has been so quiet. The view is also pretty special!
What are your plans now? Onto the next route, spending some time bouldering, or some well deserved rest and recuperation?
I'm psyched to bulk out my pyramid a bit. At the moment it's a wobbly stick. I'd like to do a few more routes closer to home but I'm planning to get stuck into something on my next Kalymnos trip in November :)