Tuesday, 22 September 2015

No Hero


"A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life"
Over 4 years on from the epic rescue on the Peñon d'Ifach of a Base Jumper & now great friend Hana, I wanted to reflect on my experience and respond to the label of a "Hero"

Sunday 3rd April 2011

However you wrap it up, climbing is a selfish pursuit. It is justly a respectable physical & mental discipline with many examples of admirable achievement, maybe even honourable but never noble. It may lead to mastering qualities of self that can be later applied to acts of nobility, but ultimately the action of climbing itself only serves the climber.

So there I was, eye to eye with a complete stranger, who's current predicament had more in common with a Hollywood action film than real life.
I could see her canopy was impossibly snagged on a ledge that bore no definition but had somehow caught her and prevented what should have been a certain plummet to the ground 200 metres below. She had been here for over 4hrs, waiting, patiently for her rescue. Yet she was calm, still, in a sense at peace, she smiled, said hello and politely asked how I was. Absorbing all this made me pause for a moment, there was too much conflicting circumstance and this trigged a feeling of disbelief, making me re-evaluate everything I was witnessing.
I was level with her high above the ground and about 30m to her side, close enough to talk easily but still too far to be any help. My self and Jose (from the Fire service rescue team) had climbed fast and efficient to this point, but now we could see in detail what had happened and how precarious her situation was. The canopy had until this moment appeared to be stable, unbelievable when you see what it was, or more to the point wasn't caught on, but never the less still stable.
Then it hit me, a feeling that will haunt me forever. In this moment a deep bone splitting chill pierced my entire being, I was filled with the instant and morbid realisation that she could be moments away from death. The wind had suddenly picked up and her canopy had started to inflate, the "stable" situation had just been turned on it's head.
It was as if Death was perched eagerly waiting on the ledge where her canopy was caught, his feet delicately holding it there, whilst at the same time conjuring up an evil wind that was set in motion to place an end in sight, one way or the other, the count down had begun. It was as if he had handed me the baton, turned the egg timer, grinned and whispered "check, your move."
The coldest part of this chill was not only that things looked like they were about to turn into a fatal tragedy in front of my eyes but that now my climbing was going to directly influence if someone was going to live or die.
Surely fate wouldn't be so cruel, but then I realised there is no fate.

Let me rewind to the beginning of the day.

Meet Nando (left), my climbing partner for the 12 hr climbing rallies that year.

This also sums up his character....

It was like the start of any other climbing day, we met early at the car park in the port behind the Peñon d'Ifach. The evening before we had discussed rough plans for the day, what routes we could do and what equipment we would need. The competitions were fast approaching and I was aware of our lack of preparation and fitness. So I'd proposed the plan of climbing fast and light with the idea of climbing several multi pitch routes that day. Two or three routes that were safely protected but physically challenging so we could improve our fitness and stamina.
"Shall I bring my Trad rack" Nando had asked, "No" I said, "let's just stick to sports routes and move fast"

So this was the first "fateful" decision made or more correctly, ignored!!!
Nando, for some reason had chosen to ignore me and brought the Trad gear anyway. As you will soon discover this was one of many factors that had to perfectly align for our happy ending to this story.

We geared up at our vans, carefully selecting the exact equipment & water that we would need for the day. One of the biggest challenges of climbing on the south face of the Peñon d'Ifach is coping with the heat of the Sun. For this reason an early start had been planned to allow maximum climbing in the shade before the face comes in to the sun around midday.
The routes we planned to climb have guide book times of 4-6hrs and our aim was to speed climb each one in 2hrs or less.

"Shall we bring some Trad gear" Nando had asked yet again pointing to the shiny heavy metal in the back of his van. "Do you want to carry it?" I joked. "We won't need it " I reassured him with a smile. "We'll just be clipping bolts today"
With that he closed his van and we continued on foot on the walk way that leads to the passage under the main face of the Peñon.

It was a typical scene, a familiar picture looking up at the impressive and intimidating face; sun, blue skies, calm sea and the occasional cry of a seagull. The temperatures were good, no wind (perfect jump conditions for Base Jumpers) and I noted a high level of humidity in the air. Certain sections of the Peñon are highly susceptible to humidity, in the sense the rock can hold it and turn otherwise reasonable climbing in to near impossible, frictionless soap. I noted to myself that we'd made a good choice to day to be doing sports routes on the greyer rock, rather than the white/orange rock that suffers most from this anomaly.

We pushed on to the base of the face towards our intended first route "El Navigante"

I'd placed my small rucksack down and was about to start racking up. Then


A loud exploding napping sound erupted from the surrounding cliffs. Loud noises from above will make any climber flinch in anticipation of some kind falling danger. From my semi cowering position I glanced up to see a blue canopy fill my vision of the sky to my right.
Relaxing I noted out loud to Nando, "cool, base jumper".

Returning my attention to the heavens I noticed the canopy turn in towards the cliff face where it disappeared from my line of sight due to a large protruding buttress situated between us. 
I glanced back to my task at hand, racking up for the climb ahead.
In my head I just expected to very soon see the blue canopy return in to my field of vision as it made its safe return to the ground.

I immediately dismissed it's absence to my miscalculation of its distance from the cliff and had turned away to land out of sight or was still obscured from view by the buttress between us. This assumption was not given any time to settle as I then heard unsettling shouts from lower down on the cause way.
"Hmm something is wrong." But I hadn't heard anything like an impact, but still, something is wrong.

So I suspended my racking up, placed everything on the ground at my feet and walked out from the base of the wall with nothing short of a mild dread in my stomach. Hoping to be wrong I passed the buttress and was welcomed with this view...

No movement from the limp looking casualty hanging from beneath the canopy.
"He's dead" was my first thought, my second was;
"What a fucking idiot, now we've got to deal with this shit and our day is fucked"

So not only had I made the mistake of assuming that she was a he, I'd also shamefully placed unfair selfish worth on my training day.

I felt nauseous looking up, too many close calls in my past, too many intimate glances with death, it didn't take much to vividly imagine the last movements of this persons existence.

So I then proceeded to remove my mobile phone from my bag and dial 112, whilst discussing options with Nando, "let's call this in and go, maybe Gandia, we don't need to be here to watch a body recovery".

Then as I glanced up again, still feeling sick, I saw MOVEMENT...
"Wait", I passed the phone to Nando to continue the conversation with the emergency services.
I shouted up "Hello, are you ok? Are you hurt?"
Then SHE shouted back, "Yes, I'm ok!"
She! I didn't know what shocked me more, that he was a she or she was alive and ok.
Why was I even shocked it was a female? I guess from my experience in climbing females tend to take less unnecessary risks than their male counterparts, coupled with my limited knowledge of the base jumping community impressed upon me a male dominated sport.
Anyway that's completely irrelevant I thought to myself, by some shear miracle she was alive.
"We've called the rescue services they are on their way"

Now everything had changed, the irresponsible idiot who had just killed themselves had now transformed into a living person, and I was starting to feel a degree of responsibility towards her.
Nando and I discussed options, should we try to go up? We could but quickly assessed it would be better to wait for the rescue team to arrive, they would have better equipment, more resources and we didn't want to get in their way. Also we had friends in the team and we had full confidence in their experience and competence to deal with this kind of situations.

The next 40 mins was spent trying to send reassurances to Hana whilst waiting for the helicopter, we'd called twice more to find out if it was on it's way as Hana had repeatedly asked "is it coming? when is it coming?"
I was beginning to feel the sense of time drag on, I can only imagine how she felt suspended by a wish & a pray, waiting for rescue. Little did we all know that this was going to be hours away....

Finally the distinctive hum of the helicopter came echoing up from the south. You could feel a temporary sense of relief in the air, even as it's powerful blades cut the air to it's will. The rescue team are here, to save the day, she'll be down on the ground soon and we can all go home and reflect on witnessing a close call. 


As the helicopter approached the reality of the situation became sickeningly apparent, why hadn't I thought of this before?
As it came in closer the down draft started to partially inflate the canopy, I gasped in horror expecting to see her peel off in front of our eyes .The helicopter pilot must of seen and thought the same as he immediately pulled away, levelling off out to sea at the same level as Hana, it waited a few minutes and then made a move to come in and land at the base of the wall.
"Of course they can't use the helicopter" I thought to myself, the down draught will be too risky and the wall is too steep for it to position itself above her. That is why it's a good wall to base jump from, because it's so steep.
But still, the rescue team are here and they will know what to do.
We shouted up to Hana that the team are here and they will get her very soon, and with that we started to descend to the base of the wall and promenade below. "Our bit is done now, let's go." I remarked to Nando.
My phone ran, it was Hugo, a friend from the rescue team, "Chris, are you still there?" he immediate asked, "yes!" I replied, "are you on the helicopter?"
"Wait there, don't go anywhere, I will call you right back",
"Ok but..." he was gone
"That's weird" I turned to Nando, "why do they want us here?" It didn't make sense, maybe they wanted our testimony or something, but there was a sense of urgency in Hugo's voice that pointed to something more impending!
2 mins later Hugo was back in the phone, "Chris, listen carefully, the helicopter has only come with 1 climber, the rest of the team is on it's way but none of them are climbers! And this situation needs a rescue from below."
"OK" I replied still wondering where this was leading.
"Also they don't have any equipment for ascent, only descent" arrh I get it they want to use my equipment, fair enough, of course, I thought.
"Are you on your way?" I asked still oblivious to the assignment of my 'fateful' role.
"No, I'm too far away and won't get there in time!" he said coldly. It then clicked before he said what followed.
"So you need to go up with Jose as you two are the only ones on site able to climb that wall! Do you know Jose?" he asked
"Yes I met him last year in Albarracin." We'd met by chance in the forest and hooked up for the weekend as we both had young children and thus common ground as well as climbing.
"Good, do you have a trad rack with you? you'll need that as well." as he said that I gulped and looked at Nando with an unearthly state glaring "how the fuck did you know?"
"Yes we have that in the van"
"Excellent, grab it now and go and meet him at the helicopter, good luck." and he was gone.

I quickly explained to Nando the plan and our relaxed casual descent turned into a fast run.
We we're soon sprinting back to the car park to collect the trad rack from Nando's van and then pelted it back to the helicopter to meet Jose.

The view of Hana from the ground as we made our rescue plan.

"Hey Jose, How's things? What's the plan?" I said after a quick embrace & salutation.
"You and me will climb up, we'll lay fixed rope for the rest of the team to follow with a stretcher. We'll get to her, stabilise her and then work out a safe descent"
"Sounds straight forward, let's go" I replied.


With that we turned and headed back up to the base of the wall, quick but steady.
So as we started climbing, I reflected that really this was just going to be a normal day out climbing with a bit of extra excitement added in.
Very quickly we hit the harder 7b/+ sections and the humidity had us both slipping and sliding off the holds and regularly falling off! 2 Pitches later we were back on less greasy rock, but the 200 plus metres of  fixed rope I was carrying for the rest of the team was starting to take it's toll on me physically.

Climbing on slippery rock on early pitches, heavy ropes in tow

The climbing took a familiar pace of normality, a rhythm of absorbed focus that had become my normal meditative motion that I always aimed for.
Jose had taken the lead and thus dealing with the more mental challenge of route finding and lead climbing, leaving me to carry the weight of fixed ropes and responsibility to climb fast. We soon reached some bold moves. I clearly remember Jose about 10m above his last piece of gear facing a seemingly blank section of rock for at least another 10-15m before any protection could be placed. He just looked down and me and shrugged and then proceed to climb with compete confidence, it was clearly hard and I did the maths if he'd of fallen, no good outcomes there so I immediately expelled that assessment as "not an option" and returned to 100% focus on his movement, as if willing him to keep his focus and calm, and stay strong. As all climbers who've chosen  risky climbs know, when you get to a section you're not sure about, you choose to climb it or not to climb it, as there's no room for any middle ground, any hesitation will most likely lead to manifesting your worst fears.

climbing with Jose on the 3rd Pitch

After each pitch we had waited for the rescue team to ascend the fixed ropes we had laid and bring up yet more fixed rope for us.
Although they moved with well trained efficiency, it just seemed to take so long for them to ascend. Only because we we're sat waiting for their arrival at each stance, mostly only a few minutes but this felt so long.

So up to this point we had a sense of urgency but things felt calm, controlled and stable.
So now we return to the beginning of my story, I'm there level with Hana and everything had changed. And in the moment of my chilled realisation that what I now do will determine if she lives or dies, Jose shouts from above, he's clearly seen the same, "Chris, cut all of the fixed ropes free and move, we have to move faster"
I immediately unclipped all the fixed ropes from my harness and like a wind up child's toy car, I felt all the potential energy surge inside of me. Adrenalin flowed strong, this was a stranger to my body as I had worked for years to keep it out as it has no place in sustained physical activity and often limits your mental capacity and perspective. But in this case fight or flights was the flavour of the hour, coupled with weighing almost half the weight I did when carrying the fixed line, I felt like I could almost fly up the rock. I was bedding in for a fight!
I have never ever climbed so fast, it was a full 70m pitch, sustained and steep. I sprung with intent and speed, not particularly graceful, I grabbed the first thing with in reach on each move and pulled with all the dynamic force I could muster. No stopping to evaluate holds or body position, just grab and pull, grab and pull. The initial sensation of feeling near to weightless after dropping all the heavy fixed ropes soon passed and muscle burn set in, "breath deeper, push harder" I kept saying to myself, now half way to the next stance and the eager stare of Jose.
"Man it burns" I was breathing so hard, it was all I could hear, my deep panting echoing around my head, sweat was poring into my eyes I could barely see, "I just need to rest a bit" the weaker side of my mind said, and I forced a glance at Hana and her ever inflating canopy, "The fuck you won't, you can rest when this is over, now move you Cunt" - all other thoughts were expelled, I dug deeper, started to power scream on every movement, "dig deeper, move, dig deeper move, move move move!" I enveloped every fibre of my will with one purpose; climb faster than I'm capable of and when it burns too much just push harder... Hana, I refuse to let you die because I didn't climb fast enough.
Seconds! later I was on the belay stance with Jose, "good" he said. I was gasping and feeling like every muscle in my body was about to explode, I failed to reply with words, just nods and pants. 
Jose leaned in and said quietly, "we don't have much time, we're a little higher than her now but not high enough, I'm going to climb up this bolted section here above for a about 3 or 4 bolts, and then I want you to lower me down to her., OK?"
Still unable to speak I gave a thumps up.

I couldn't see Hana now but every few seconds her canopy would partially inflate blustering into view.

I could almost hear a countdown in the back of my mind and Deaths cruel laugh bouncing around the cliff, "Times up boys, hahahahah".
We're so close, it can't end now, we have to get to her, we must.
This is our purpose, this is all that exists, I reject any other outcome....

With in a few minutes I was lowering Jose steadily down to her and shortly after he had clipped himself to her, ensuring her safety.

A big grin grew on my face, followed by a deep sign of relief, I slumped forward with my helmet pressed against the rock. Still smiling, I gave Death the middle finger.

Jose arriving to secure Hana. You can see how much her canopy was inflating.

But it didn't end there.

Although we had successfully secured the situation and prevented Hana from falling, which given how the wind increased shortly after, I reckon we literally only had a few minutes left. We had abandoned the rescue team below with the fixed ropes & stretcher, which were needed to implement the original plan to bring her down.
I started to formulate from my own knowledge as a Mountaineering Instructor and time spent in the cliff rescue team in the UK, plans on how I could set up a counter balanced abseil to reach them both and then a series of assisted multi pitch abseils back to the ground.
"Yeah that will work" I thought. And just as I was about to relay my idea to Jose, the Helicopter fired up it's engine.

WTF, "Jose, what's going on?" I had no radio and with in seconds the bellow of the helicopter engulfed all sonic air space, making communication impossible. 
"Oh well, it's out of my hands now" we'd done our part, Hana was safe, yet what did they have planned next, I couldn't see any way the helicopter could reach us, it was too steep and impossible for it to position itself directly above us.

What happened next was something that took this story to pure Hollywood drama.

The flying machine quickly positioned itself above the summit directly above us, and a fireman starts a descent from a rope attached to the helicopters side. "What on earth is he doing?" I asked myself. "There's no way he can reach us" it seemed impossible, one, it was about 150 - 200 metre away and two, he would be too far away from the cliff.
Then bang, I get a face full of green juice, "What the....?"
Bang, again, a metre to my right, another explosion of green. 
I looked up to see that the down draft of the helicopter was knocking off cactus leaves from the plants above, then forcing them turblently down and inwards, directly towards me!
"Hay!!!"  I screamed up, pointless as I could barely hear myself over the noise of the helicopter.
"Really!! this is how it ends, death by cactus leaf?"
These leafs although plant material where large, about half a metre square, loaded with water and moving very fast. So as the fireman continued to abseil out of the helicopter, now linking ropes together, I spent the next 10mins trying to dodge these green spiky bombs. Which was hard as I was anchored in and unable to move more than a few inches in each direction, plus I was on a protruding rib that had no steep rock directly above to offer any protection. Fortunately, Hana and Jose were under a small  overhanging section of rock to the side, protected and oblivious to my predicament. 
After a while and a few more mouthfuls of cactus juice plus some glancing blows to my back pack, the helicopter had exhausted the supply of detachable green incendiary devices from above. I returned to a calm enjoyment of the cooling and much welcomed down draft whilst watching the spectacle unravel in front of me.
Now the fireman was level with me, having linked over 3 ropes together he was level and about 30 metres away from the cliff, grinning straight at me.
"Throw me your rope" he commanded.
"You are joking aren't you?" I replied, knowing exactly what would happen if I tried.
"Throw it" he repeated.
"Ok" I replied shacking my head, I bundled a large section of rope, more than enough to reach him plus some more to provide extra momentum. As expected with the force of the down draft of the helicopter the ropes never made it beyond about 10 metre from my location. Even with out the down draft it would have been a difficult throw. This was impossible. I gave it a few more attempts before he admitted defeat.
Then what happend next left me with my jaw wide open in shock, awe and amazment.

He radioed up to his pilot something I couldn't hear, then the helicopter positioned him so he was level and facing Hana and Jose, but still way to far out to reach them.
"Swing me" I heard him shout into his radio.
"Did I hear that right? I thought to my self. Swing? How? and looking up at the long 10mm diameter rope connecting him to the helicopter, I could see it was pressed firmly against the cliff top edge. Any slight movement from the pilot could cut the rope. Climbing ropes are strong, but when under load and any where near a sharp edge, it's like a hot knife through butter!

With his command the pilot gently and perfectly moved the helicopter away from the cliff and with a gracefully delicate "flick" returned to the same position, sending the winch man first out into space towards the sea and then rocketing back in again.
"Again" he shouted.

This time the same manoeuvre but with added momentum from the previous swing sent the winch-man straight in on target and Jose caught him. The winch-man then reached in connected himself to her, unclipped Jose from her and cut her canopy free, all in one smooth action and immediately floated back out into space with Hana safely connected to him.

As they swung out away I shouted "Yeah Hana Yeah" emotion pouring, eyes running. She had her back to me and couldn't hear me over the noise of the helicopter. But it was over, I slumped forward and wept.
Within moments the helicopter had them both safely on the ground and in the hands of the medical team.

Jose then popped back into view, we discussed our descent and I lowered him to the high point of the rescue team with whom he then descend with.

I was then alone, half way up one of the most impressive and omniscient big walls on the Mediterranean coast. Left to reflect on what had just happened, still not quite believing it all, I drifted back into my familiar climbing mode, calm, focused on the job at hand, retreive what equipment I could and descend in safety.

This video is form the news team there covering the incident.
I have been back several times and climbed over the exact point where Hana's canopy was caught, each time I stop there, I shake my head in disbelief in how the canopy actually took hold there, it's impossible, yet it happened.

I have to conclude that fate is an illusion, either used to explain situations where meaning can not be extracted or used as an excuse where we refuse to take responsibility or fail to act.
It was not fate that saved Hana, it was not me nor Jose. Nor was it the impeccable skills of the helicopter pilot, or the chance that Jose was on duty that day. Nor was it Nando who decided to bring the trad equipment anyway. It was the sum of a series of impossible acts, decisions and choices that allowed this to happen. Each one was as important as the next, each as fragile, each as insignificant and each as critical!

So the question that I'm forced to ask is why? It wasn't luck because as we can see individual volition was key in all of this, each persons active choices had purpose and were not random chance outcomes.
What gave the underlying adhesion to keep each element on track and in communication?

You could argue that it was all pure luck and my role was purely coincidental and I was in the right place at the right time and with the necessary skill set, but I also stopped believing in Father Christmas a long time ago....

So to address the label of hero I have to strongly refute this.
Firstly as I mentioned above, I was a small part of a much bigger series of events that all equally deserve credit.
Secondly, I did nothing that risked my life, nothing that I wouldn't do any other day of the week.
And lastly there was no nobility in what I did, honour, maybe, but I did what I did because I was there and it needed doing, I was amid equals who would have done the same for me. I did it because we all share the same love for the mountains and share the same risks. I did it for the same reason I climb, because I love life. I am not a hero.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

12hrs Leiva 2012

12hr Climbing Rally - Leiva - 2012

The 2nd round of the Spanish cup this year was held on the walls of Leiva in the Sierra Espuña, Nr Murcia.
This was the first time a 12hr Rally had been run at Leiva and saw 16 teams take part.

Leiva is nested in magnificent scenery, its south facing wall rises vertically over the valley that gives it its name, emerging from the pine wood forest as an Island of rock. It is cut perfectly with 200m of height and more than 2 km long. The quality of the climbing matches the stunning natural environment of this Natural Park. Once the 40 min walk in has been completed you can't help but be impressed by it's beauty and notably remote sensation.

Above, video of the Leiva Rally

With very little time to prepare for this Rally our strategy was way off. We did enough routes 8 (only 7 counted as we finished the last one 30 seconds over time!) but went a bit too light in route selection and played things too safe!
The day started well but our position slowly sank as the day progressed, by which point it was too late to try harder routes to make up the points. So we had to settle with 5th place.

Leiva (2nd round) Results - 31st March 2012:
1st - Gonzalo Larrocha / Jose Luis Olivares
2nd - Roy de Valera / Adrian Ripoll
3rd - Jorge Couceiro / Hipolito Olivares
4th - Francisco Javier Perez / Jorge Montesinos
5th - Chris Newton-Goverd / Vicente Bartual

Current Spanish Cup Standings:
1st  - Roy de Valera / Adrian Ripoll
2nd - Jorge Couceiro / Hipolito Olivares
3rd - Chris Newton-Goverd / Vicente Bartual

See the full standings in detail here:

So we are currently ranked 3rd in the Spanish Cup! but my climbing partner (Vicente) unfortunately can't make the Riglos round so we will have to pull something special out of the bag for the Terradets round to hold on to our place in the top 3...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Peñon d'Ifach 12hr Rally 2012

The 11th Peñon 12hr rally was approaching fast, it was to be my third time competing in this event, I knew what was in store, what torture lay ahead, could I sleep? No chance. My mind continually raced, visualising each climb we'd planned, each pitch and each move! Over and over.... Too many unknowns, so many variables out of my control and so much time and opportunity for things to go very well or very bad. Will it be too hot? Will we get the route we need to climb first? Will we find a good pace to climb at, or will we go too fast too soon and burn out? Or too slow and not climb enough ground? So many variables....The anticipation of the ordeal to come had filled my whole being with an anxiety that destroyed any hope of sleep & rest!

6am, the fog of semi-sleep began to lift, kit in the car, coffee in hand, on the Road. Passing two early morning car crashes, was this an omen? Body chilling as thoughts sparked strong mental images of 40m falls, trad gear ripping, hitting ledges, bones snapping and then.......the sunrise, I'll take that omen 'thank you'. Warmth soaking my face and the Peñon d'Ifach now insight on the horizon. “Sort your shit out, it's just another day climbing, do what you do, keep cool” I told myself.
20 minutes later I'm greeting my partner, Vicente and pulling on my “official” competitors t-shirt and racking up, trying to ignore the number 13 embezzled on our shirts! Nervous smiles and bundles of crazy energy bounced around the competitors as we gathered around the starting line. We're all here to have fun, here for the crack! Who are we kidding, this won't be fun, it's pure madness.
But still we'll all continue to pretend otherwise....
Vicente Bartual
Cordada numero 13.” That's us! First out of the sorting hat, proving already to be a lucky number. “Sin Permiso de Obras” I shouted. I felt a great sigh of relief pass over me as we now had our first choice route to ourselves. The sorting is a raffle based system where each teams' number is drawn from the hat and they claim the right to climb first on their chosen route. After that lottery, it's first come first served.
I was psyched, ready to go, doing my best to ignore the overwhelming walls of the Peñon looming above us. Each accidental gaze was punished by the wall noticing & growing higher and steeper. Or was it me shrinking in realisation of our vulnerability?
Our practised time saving tricks were already in action; ropes loosely looped over the shoulders, ready for quick use, already tied in, quickdraws fully extended.

Grouped on the starting line everyone was buzzing, biting at the bit, exchanging gazes of mad excitement and then the horn blew. The 12 hours had begun.

The next 11 hours blurred together in a haze of muscle burn, sweat and soul drying thirst.


The style of climbing in the Rallies is nothing like normal climbing, in the same way that Bouldering differs from Roped Climbing, this endurance race demands a completely different approach. For a start, anything goes, if it's there you can pull or stand on it, bolts, quickdraws, trees, climbing partners etc. There's no obligation to free any moves but some climbs force some moves to be freed and thus carry more points! Also, if you have to protect moves with trad gear instead of clipping bolts this also carries more points!
Everything else is strategy and preparation, knowing what equipment is needed, practising and learning each move so it can be climbed faster, what pitches can be linked together, who's going to lead what? Fast rope management techniques! And above all a solid & steady pace.
Each variable can save or waste hours and all must be perfected!

Our first route “Sin Permiso de Obras” is the longest route on the Peñon entailing 450m & 11 pitches of climbing! With several pitches of forced 7a cruxes. It has a guide book time of 6-8hrs and an amazing record time of 1hr 35 mins (by A.Ripoll & X.Pineda in the 2010 Rally)
We took a steady pace of 2hrs 30mins.

If you've ever been to the top of the Peñon d'Ifach you will know how treacherous the descent is, not for any technical difficulties or dangerously exposed sections, but for its glass like texture under foot on randomly uneven rock. A normal relaxed descent would take 1hr 30mins. But that's 1hr 30mins of precious time not climbing, so the ideas it to run back down to the base of the wall as quickly as possible and do it all over again. I say “running” but it's more controlled falling than actual running!

25 mins later we are back under the South Face of the Peñon again, quick stop at the check point to confirm our last route and state our intended next climb. Top up of water and smash in a power snack -
UpRaw (a fantastic new protein rich energy snack)

Next up, Route 2 - “Herbes Magiques” 350m - The scary one! For me anyway, I had just lead every pitch on the previous route and agreed to lead every pitch on this one. The first pitch is a sketchy, awkward A2, steep, broken, loose & often soap like texture crack.

Then easy ground (6a) but massive run outs on suspect rock .- falling is not an option. 

To finish is a mind blowing exposed A2 pitch right at the top.
2hr 50min.
Adrian Ripoll on the last A2 pitch on "Herbes Magiques"
When moving at this pace each route has a notable mental price as well as a physical cost to your reserve. For me I had to maintain my “mental bubble” and “happy place” just for these first two routes before handing over the leads to Vicente. Now all my mental reserves could be focused in to physical performance and efficiency.
It's an unusual concept to lead an entire multi pitch route and not swing alternate leads but it is the most energy efficient way to climb over long periods of time. Otherwise when linking 2 or 3 pitches together in one long push and using the traditional style of swinging leads one could easily be in a position of seconding 70m and immediately lead another 70m (140m) with no rest whilst the belayer gets cold. Leading whole routes balances rest and movement as well as giving a complete mental break for one person.

Run, slip, slide back to the start....
Legs screaming...

I could now relax and let Vicente take the reigns, a crushing tension in my mind dissolved immediately, now to just dig deeper and climb faster, like the wind baby!
Route 3 - the most physical on the Peñon – “Nueva Dimension” 350m – The steepest line in the face, finishing direct up the steep cave at the top of the wall. Breath taking exposure...
2hrs 50mins

Run, slip, slide back to the start.... Maybe base jumping would be easier?

6.19pm. “Time for one more?” I asked. “yeah why not?” came an exhausted reply.
Route 4 - “El Navegante” 250m 7a – record time was 2hrs!!! Normally a 8 pitch route, let's do it in 4!
Even though we were shattered a pace had been set, we were in the “zone”, a late surge of diluted adrenaline seeped into my blood stream. With a strong pace of “pull, move, pull, move”, industrial rhythm and constant motion, never stopping, just go go go.
7pm - 2 pitches up and the veil of darkness was falling fast. Twilight only lasts a few minutes this far south and I could see the curtains of darkness chasing up from the depths below and the last dwindles of light vanish from the summit. Head Torch on.
7.45pm Both huddled on last stance with the last pitch head, also the crux 7a pitch. We exchanged a momentary glance, no words, both our faces screamed urgency. Vicente snatched the remainder of the quickdraws and rocketed off into the darkness above, silent and graceful. A Ninja into the night!
7.56pm “Reunion!” small pause, “Cuando quieras”. “Voy” I responded.
4mins to climb this? Oh dear.... I disengaged any sense of style or graceful movement, dropped the clutch and floored it with full power. It was a panic spinning screaming slobbering mess, a vertical sprint of desperation. Where my feet landed I pushed, where my fingers touched I pulled. Blood spat out of my fingers and shins as sloppy limbs stumbled over vertical features.

Vicente gave a nervous smile as he saw this this panting mess charging from the darkness on the towards the summit.
What's the time? pant pant” 7.59 pm – Horn blows, 12hrs done.
A new record set for “El Navegante” – 1hr 40mins

Calmly descending from the summit we passed the last check point official who announced we'd come 2nd! “Really” I said. Both of us looked at each other in surprise.

We'd had only 1 week to prepare for this Rally, we'd never climbed together before, and Vicente never climbed these routes before on the Peñon! So, understandably a shock and more than satisfactory result.
Not bad for a “puta guiri” and a “rookie

Results for the 1st Round – Peñon d'Ifach, 10th March 2012:

st Roy de Valera Paseka / Adrián Ripoll Torres           87 Puntos.   1.320 mts.

2nd Chris Newton-Goverd / Vicente Bartual Tortajada  69 Puntos.   1.400 mts.

3rd Jorge Couceiro Canales / Hipólito Olivares Pérez     66 Puntos.   1.160 mts.

Mixed (Male & Female Teams):
1st Sonia Tierraseca García / Ximo Pineda Pastor          43 Puntos.      700 mts.

1st Ana Ruiz Pérez / Idoia Rubial Elorza                         29 Puntos.      550 mts.

1st Miguel Diez Rodríguez / Gonzalo Panzano Fuentes    35 Puntos.      780 mts.

See full results here

Full Calendar of the Spanish Cup Rounds:
st Round: “12 horas de escalada en el Peñón de Ifach”, Alicante - 10th March

2nd Round: “12 horas de escalada en el Valle de Leiva”, Murcia - 31st March

3rd Round: “12 horas de escalada en los Mallos de Riglos”, Huesca - 21st April

4th & last Round: “12 horas de escalada en Terradets”, Lleida - 12th May

Thanks to:
WildWolf  for sponsoring the Calpe round.Parc Natural del Penyal d’Ifac - for supporting & permitting the event.
Club Alpi de Gandia, Grup de Muntanya de Calp & Particularly Miguel Cebrián and Roy de Varela for Organisation
Guardia Civil & Fire Service Mountain Rescue teams, for their support.
Roy de Varela (photos)
Vicente Cotaina (photos)
UpRaw for the fuel - Hitting the wall is not an option!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

3rd Spanish Cup for 12hr Climbing Rallies

12hr Climbing Rallies – Spanish Cup 2012.

The 3rd season of the 12hr Climbing Rallies Spanish cup is now under way, it comprises of 4 rounds in the following big wall locations in Spain; Peñon d'Ifach, Leiva, Riglos and Terradets.
In each venue the set up is the same, there are up to 30 teams battling it out in this gruelling endurance challenge, with 12 hours of climbing to complete as many climbs as possible on multi-pitch ground.
The designated routes are given points based on their length, difficulty and seriousness. Competitors attempt to climb strategically to gain as many points as possible in the time they have.
The rankings for the Spanish cup are decided on each teams best 3 out of the 4 results from the league rounds.

The rules are simple, each climbing team must:
  • wear a helmet & use double ropes
  • never climb simultaneously
  • both climbers must reach the top of their route before the 12hrs is up for it to count
  • only overtake other teams if they give you permission
  • not repeat routes already climbed
  • keep the same climbing partner for the whole rally
  • clip at least 3 points of protection on each pitch
  • carry at least 1 litre of water per person at the start of the rally & at least one mobile phone per team
The format
Arrive Friday, the night before the rally & attend the briefing.
Saturday, start 8am – finish 8pm, 10pm Dinner, collapse, normally face in food.
Sunday - limp home....broken....

History & Venues
The first 12 hr climbing rally was conceived in Calpe on the Peñon d'Ifach over 11 years ago, where it continued without much outside attention, until in 2009 saw the first Rally in Riglos.
Riglos gave a new dimension to the rallies, all forearms and a very specific style of climbing (you'll know what I mean if you've climbed there)
Due to the success and popularity of Riglos the following year (2010) saw the formation of the 1st League and Spanish cup with Riglos, Terradets and the Peñon d'Ifach in the mix.
The Terradets gave yet again a completely unique edge and style, more vertical and technical climbing with some spicy run outs and very sore feet at the end.
2011 saw the same 3 locations run at full success.
New to 2012 is Leiva in Murcia. A much smaller wall (only 150m high) it will be interesting to see what flavour this brings to the rally….

Calendar of the Spanish Cup Rounds:
st Round: “12 horas de escalada en el Peñón de Ifach”, Alicante - 10th March

2nd Round: “12 horas de escalada en el Valle de Leiva”, Murcia - 31st March

3rd Round: “12 horas de escalada en los Mallos de Riglos”, Huesca - 21st April

4th & last Round: “12 horas de escalada en Terradets”, Lleida - 12th May

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Up Down and Up again

To quote Isaac Newton (no relation) "What goes up must come down!"

This law of Physics is something as climbers we are all too aware of, we continue to invest huge amounts of time and energy into resisting gravity whilst travelling over vertical or overhanging surfaces. Only to then submit to falling off or lowering back down to the ground once at an arbitrary point has been reached.

On the face of it a seemingly futile and worthless exercise but the source of so much emotion, passion & obsession.

Up's & Down's in climbing can come in many shapes and sizes; Fit/Unfit, Injury/Peak Performance, Tired/Fresh, Good Conditions/Not so Good Conditions, Head Strong/Messy Jelly Head etc
It's our ability to deal with the attachment to perceived success that determines how well we cope with the "down" times.
Understanding what we have really achieved in an ascent is key and the answer never truly lies in a conceptual number (grade) or the conquering a piece of wall. It is far more personal and internal. My other blog The Tao of Climbing will expand on these ideas & practices.

My recent experience of up's and down's taught be some valuable lessons and reminded me of some I'd forgotten!

The Up
In November I had started to regain some former fitness which culminated in an ascent of "la Bestia" in Lliber on 11.11.11 - A notable day to be taking down the "Beast" !! Not a classic route by any means, La Bestia forms an eliminate that only has real interest for locals. A simple bridge into the corner will bring the route down to 6c+, but sticking to the wall is a whole different experience! A recent ascent proposed 7c/7c+, which given the sizes of the hold looked about right.
After a few goes I found a sneaky & technical heel placement that allowed me to bypass all the small crux holds and brought it down to the 7b+ ish mark.
Sending "la Bestia" - Lliber
The Down
Four days later - BANG - I find myself being prepared for emergency surgery on a Perianal abscess!
Several minutes post operation - high as a kite...
So now at least 6 - 8 weeks to heal and reflect!!!

Why had this happened?
Mainly poor diet, ignoring what I knew was unhealthy and questing forward blindly....

How do I make this a positive?
Make positive changes in my diet and lifestyle, return to my deepest motivation and source of enjoyment in climbing.

The return
It's only logical that "What goes down must come up!"

In the Christmas break I ventured out for some easy sessions and concentrating on building basic fitness and more importantly enjoying not being inside. Fortunately climbing hurt less than walking!!
Coupled with perfect winter conditions (blue skies, warm, not cloud insight...) it was very enjoyable to be out climbing easier routes I'd previously over looked and continue to remind myself why I enjoy climbing....
And even more importantly to reinforce & retain the learnings both from Dietary changes that increased my rate of recovery & ultimately improved performance, but also the philosophical perspective that encourages a healthy view of success & failure.

Perfect winter conditions at Gandia
Not before long my eye drifted upwards and caught sight of some old projects
Jan 9th 2012 - just before sending "Baila al Alba" (Dance at dawn) 7c - Gandia

Sending "Sugar Glass" 7b+ Gandia

On the crux of "Sugar Glass"
A big part of my recovery has been down to meeting up with Sol Fernandez again and experimenting with his UpRaw snacks and dietary advice to power my climbing days. These dietary improvements have brought fruit to undeniable results and positive changes. The most profound result came from completely removing Bread from my diet!!!!


Looking forward, the 12hr climbing rallys are only a few weeks away so I will be training hard and putting UpRaw to the ultimate rock climbing endurance challenge...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Albarracin - the Holy Land

This weekend we paid homage to "the Holy Land" of Albarracin. The Bouldering mecca of Spain, situated near Teruel in Aragon, just 2hrs drive from Valencia.

What a change this place has seen in such a short time, to be fair it was a holiday weekend so naturally more people than normal but even so all the car parks were rammed to capacity and every sector full of people.

The sensitivity of this nature reserve is ever more prominent, the great works of http://escaladasosteniblealbarracin.blogspot.com/ and their recent clean up operations at the end of last season have helped ensure further closures are prevented.

The current guidelines for anyone thinking of going are detailed here: http://www.boulderalbarracin.com/ALBARRACIN_BOULDERING_NEW_RULES_29_10_2010.pdf
These guidelines are all fair and based on responsible behaviour, respect and agreements with the land owners. It was sad to see in the space of a few hours I'd witnessed nearly all these been broken by large numbers of climbers! Including climbing in banned sectors!!

Although climbing time was short in the forest this time round, I still left with no skin and played on some fun problems:

Roof Action

I'm available for Guiding & Coaching in Albarracin with Rock & Sun

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Summer's over

The Summer is over, temperatures are great, skies are Blue & the rock is dry.
Hardest part of the day is deciding where to climb! And which projects to get on....

Blasco starting up "Momo"

Man Flu hit me today, so feeling weak and feeble I ventured a full 3 minute drive to L'ocaive and surprised myself by doing an old 7b there called "Momo" which had shut me down several times in the past.

Blasco lowering off "Momo" 7b, L'Ocaive.

Great to see Miguel climbing today - I'm truly inspired by his recent progression. Not so long ago he was projecting 6c, today I arrived to see him comfortably working on the 7c/7c+ variation of the popular 8a at L'Ocaive - just a matter of time till he sends it....

 Miguel on the 7c/7c+ variation

So next up, to hunt out a worthy Big Wall Project, something that's not been freed, but realistic for this year! Fitness is slowly coming back and with wiser training this season I'm excited to see what will happen.