"As my girlfriend Ruth and I set off in our van for Spain at the start of October my confidence was high - I'd just redpointed Cry Freedom at Malham (F8b+) the day before we left and Ruth had redpointed Supercool at Gordale (F8a+) the week before that."
Neil's ascent of Cry Freedom (UKC News), the very hard F8b+, had set him up well for some serious ticking in Spain:
"We drove straight to Rodellar and spent the next 3 weeks doing loads of relatively easy pitches each day to get our fitness up. After some very mixed weather at the start of November I redpointed Botanics F8b/+ in Rodellar and Ruth redpointed Gracias Fina F8a."
The monster 35m pitch of Botanics climbs up the back wall of the Ventanas del Mascun and pulls through the roof to finish up an overhanging prow. It's an endurance route with no 'hard' moves (but no easy ones either) and has only two very poor rests.
"I finished off 2 hard F8b's that I'd tried and failed on the previous year; Democracia at Terradets and the amazing 40m pitch of Marroncita at Oliana."
It wasn't all redpointing though. Neil got stuck in to some serious onsight action:
"I also did my hardest on-sight to date; Millenium F8a/+ at Terradets. I spent almost two hours on the route, working out the slab crux and the tricky upper wall, making sure I got it right after putting in so much effort to get there. I was totally mentally and physically drained after this experience."
Ruth was also climbing well at this time, flashing Orient F7c/+ at Terradets. Neil then quickly redpointed Rollito Sharma F8b+ in the back of the huge cave of Santa Linya and, feeling good, was keen to get on a F8c. But even in Spain the weather can get in the way:
"The good weather ended and the snow arrived just before Christmas, prompting us to make the decision of leaving projects and quickdraws and drive South to the Costa Blanca." "The month we spent down there was mostly a frustrating time driving between very damp cliffs. It wasn't until the last few days when the Wild Side sector of Sella finally dried enough for us both to do the routes we had come down here for. I'd seen Espacio Tiempo the April before and had picked it out as an F8c that might suit me. It's a 28m power-endurance route on crimps and thin tufas up a slightly leaning wall."
"The month we spent down there was mostly a frustrating time driving between very damp cliffs. It wasn't until the last few days when the Wild Side sector of Sella finally dried enough for us both to do the routes we had come down here for. I'd seen Espacio Tiempo the April before and had picked it out as an F8c that might suit me. It's a 28m power-endurance route on crimps and thin tufas up a slightly leaning wall."
Whilst Neil's attention was on the F8c, Ruth set her sights on Mediterraneo F8a, also at the Wild Side. She redpointed this classic test-piece a few days before Neil also succeeded on his redpoint project of Espacio Tiempo:
"The first two days I spent trying the route I couldn't even get to the chains as it had a section near the top that was totally soaked. After a windy day it had dried enough for me to get the top section worked out with a really tenuous move up a faint groove just after a kneebar to get to the last clip. The next day it was strangely wetter again at the top and my redpoint attempt was ended trying to get into the kneebar after my hand greased off the wet tufa. I resorted to taping a rag onto the tufa above the hold and this seemed to keep it dry some how. On my fifth day on the route I clipped the chains and was psyched I'd just climbed my first F8c!"
We'd been told that Neil found Espacio Tiempo (F8c) easier than Cry Freedom at Malham (F8b+) and knowing how us Brits like to think our grades are hard, I thought some more information was needed:
"I found Espacio Tiempo mentally easier than Cry Freedom but maybe that was due to the fact Espacio Tiempo was wet to start with and I put no pressure on myself to do it because of this. Also all the hype and history surrounding Cry Freedom that I'd grown up with meant it felt like a massive undertaking trying it."
Neil and Ruth then headed back North to Catalunya:
The route is a massive 50m pitch with the first half being a F7c+ to a good rest where you can look up at the single tufa pipe going on and on up the barrelling grey wall above. I had been there the winter before and belayed Steve Mac when he redpointed it and thought it looked amazing. For me it's one of those awesome lines that is just crying out to be climbed and is definitely one of the best sport routes I've ever done. It was great to finish the trip on such a high with this route."
Whilst Neil was grappling with his tufa pipe Ruth pulled out a fine redpoint of Formula Weekend F8a at Terradets.
Neil's Numbers for his Spanish Winter Trip:
Neil is sponsored by Marmot and Zero-G Climbing .
Thanks go to Pete O'Donovan, Ruth Smitton and Eddie Martinez for the photographs.
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