E.L.L.I.E - 9b First Ascent by Tom Bolger

© @esteben.ele.eme

Tom Bolger has made the first ascent of a 9b project named E.L.L.I.E in a cave in La Bisbal de Falset, Priorat. If confirmed, the route will be a first of the grade for the British expat living in Catalonia.

Tom Bolger on the steep and bouldery E.L.L.I.E.  © @esteben.ele.eme
Tom Bolger on the steep and bouldery E.L.L.I.E.
© @esteben.ele.eme

Tom and his friends began developing the steep cave when the pandemic hit in 2020.

'We couldn't travel even to the neighbouring village, Margalef!' he told UKC. 'But what a discovery it was.'

Tom likens the crag to the Alibaba Cave in Rodellar, allowing for hybrid routes combining bouldering into sport by using pads for the first section before linking into a route.

Over the last few years, Tom established the hardest lines in the cave with the help of others, including German 9b+ climber Alex Megos. Tom explained:

'He [Megos] made the first ascent of Pink Patatas 9a+, which I then subsequently repeated before starting to work on the last link-up of the cave which would become E.L.L.I.E.'

According to Tom, it was Megos who 'planted the seed' for him to keep trying the last project in the cave.

The climb breaks works out at an 8A+/B boulder into a 7C+/ 8A boulder into an 8c+ route on a very steep section of rock.

Climbing the line involved 'a hell of a lot of adaptation to roof style climbing, even more falling, some slightly painful deck-outs, missing pads, an A2 pulley injury - and a few hold breaks….'

The name is a backronym for a mantra that Tom made up using the letters in 'Ellie', his dog's name: 'Every lesson learned is evolution'.

On completing his long-term project, Tom said:

'The mental side of these long projects is HUGE, it's not easy, it needs to be trained just like anything else. Maintaining focus, not comparing yourself to previous attempts or not concerning yourself with outcomes but staying in the moment requires training and dedication.'

'This route made me learn to trust the process, to stay positive no matter what and embrace a beginner mindset, being willing to learn and improve wherever possible. It brought emotions of excitement, confidence and pride but not without doubts, nervousness and frustration. It tested me to the point of injury. It broke me but it also made me stronger. I learnt my lessons.

'It was a full circle process from the seedling of bolting the very first line in this unique cave to the fruition of this mega pitch. One that at first I thought I would never climb.'

Commenting on the grade, Tom told UKC:

'As it is with all routes it's my opinion, I'm well psyched for people to try this thing and see what they think!'

Tom adds E.L.L.I.E to a long list of 9a, 9a/+ and 9a+ first ascents and repeats, including Gancho Perfecto 9a+ (UKC News), Pink Patatas 9a+ and Maya 9a+ (UKC News).

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