Saturday, 27 December 2014

Rope Solo 1.0

When I climbed Zeppelin in El Chorro gorge 4 years ago my eyes were drawn to a series of enormous roofs to my right. Los Tres Techos (The Three Roofs) is a 300m aid route which blasts straight out of these tackling the final dizzying roof head on. This year I decided to attempt it as my first rope-solo. I was nervous but excited for an adventure. The thought of spending two days up there completely alone was something I found quite hard to imagine.

One of the things I love about climbing is how multifaceted the sport is, I’m constantly finding new ways to enjoy myself on the rocks.

I mostly used a method of rope soloing called the continuous loop method, with my 80m Edelweiss Curve 9.8. I had a gri-gri, backed up by a clove-hitch with a big loop of slack between. Before setting off I spent a couple of days going up single pitch sport routes by myself. I practiced paying out enough rope on my gri-gri to free climb to the next bolt, where I would clip in again and pay out more rope. I practiced taking progressively bigger and bigger falls to convince myself that the system worked.

I spent Friday night between 9pm and midnight fixing the first pitch. It was spooky hanging by myself in a near horizontal roof that late at night in the gorge, especially when trains would roll past directly underneath me every hour or so. Most of the pitch was a bolt ladder with bolts of varying quality, although there was a short section in the middle with some uninspiring rusty pegs. The next morning Bron came to see me off and took a photo as I jugged up my fixed line from the night before:

Rope-soloing is slow, mostly due to the fact you have to ascend each pitch twice, once on lead and then again to clean the gear. I aimed to bivy on a ledge above the second roof and complete the climb over two days. Instead of hauling I opted to clean each pitch with a backpack containing my sleeping bag, food and water. I coiled my rope into an ikea bag so it would feed out nicely with no-one at the belay.

I got to the bivvy spot and had enough time to fix three pitches up the wall above before dark. Actually the process of climbing alone was a lot less nerve-racking than I expected, absorbed by the moment I didn’t have much time to get scared or over-think things. That night I listened to my ipod and stayed up late reading Lynn Hill's book Climbing Free, I tried to keep my mind from worrying too much about sheathing my rope over a sharp edge or dropping something crucial. The next day I woke early and continued upwards, every now and then I would stop and look around me, just empty air and vultures below my feet. It was extremely windy for the last two pitches, any strand of rope I dropped would blow out almost horizontally to my side. The final roof was wild!

Rope Solo 1.0 from Jacob Cook on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

El Topo

"Eeet iz errrr... how you say?... F*cked."

Said the French mechanic. We stood looking forlornly at the broken Landrover. We'd made it about 700km down France to just North of Lyon. Ian and my epic Verdon adventure plans were rapidly collapsing before our eyes.

The plan was a good one. El Topo is a 14 pitch route up the biggest bit of the Verdon Gorge that was yet to see a one push free ascent. The crux being pitch 13, a f8a slab, it was going to be a challenge. Whilst the weather in August was far too hot (and our fingers far too weak) for 'in-a-day' attempts, the wall goes into the shade at 2pm. Our plan was to make a free ascent, over several days, with a portaledge, climbing only in the shade between 2pm and nightfall.

Steve (the owner of the broken Landrover and our lift to the Verdon) looked at us like we were completely insane when we told him our new plan.

"We're gonna leave the stuff and hitch-hike 700km back to England, pick up Ian's car and drive back..."

Pro hitching tip: Look as crazy and nonthreatening as possible. I donned a tie-dye vest and some pelican sun-glasses, Ian a Hawaian shirt. We had the inflatable palm tree as a last resort if it came to it.

It worked! We managed to hitch from Lyon to Calais in an afternoon! Arriving back at the ferry port at 11pm.

The woman at the ferry desk looked unimpressed.

"No foot passengers on the ferry at night, you'll have to wait until tomorrow morning"

Ian and I were on a roll at this point. We walked out, then drove our imaginary car back up to the ferry desk. The woman started to speak but I mimed that I couldn't hear her, wound down the imaginary window and stuck my head out. Ten minutes later we were on the ferry back to England!

Back in Lyon the following afternoon we picked up our food, haulbag, gear, ropes and borrowed portaledge and continued to the Verdon. We joked that the detour made it feel like we were approaching a real remote big wall. Except we could ab off and get baguettes at any point... perfect!

I don't think people go big walling in the Verdon very often, we got lots of confused questions in the campsite.

El Topo topo
Since we'd already tried the 8a pitch 13 on a trip the month before and to make the hauling easier we decided to ab in from the top and leave a stash of food and water at the bottom of pitch 13 and then try the rest of the wall "ground up" to reach our stash.

Day 1.
We walked in to the bottom of the route with all our stuff including ~28 liters of water. Humidity seems to just sit at the bottom of the gorge and we were both totally drenched in sweat. I ran the first two pitches together, Ian got off to a bad start by taking a groundfall on rope stretch from the first bolt! What are we doing!? The hauling was hard work. Everywhere the bag could get stuck it did get stuck. Ian abbed down next to the bag and helped it past obstacles whilst I space hauled from the belay. We had a worrying five minutes where we couldn't get a knot undone and thought we might have to go down or cut the rope. Then to both of our surprise I onsighted and Ian flashed the 7b pitch to get to our bivi ledge at pitch 4. No portaledge necessary! I managed to bivi on an ants nest.

Day 2. 
Ian smoothly sent the 7a pitch 5 as a warm up to arrive at the first 7b+ pitch. "It's completely blank" was the helpful piece of beta I had from Dan Mcmanus who had tried the route earlier in summer. It looked it! A smooth slab traverse of grey Verdon limestone with no visible hand or foot holds. My heart sank, what made us think we could do this?

It's not so much the grades of the pitches which make this route really hard but the style that those pitches are in. Smooth grey slab with no chalk on any of the holds... if there are any.

I set off on the pitch without any expectations. Something clicked and my self doubting internal chatter stopped, and I was just climbing. My body seemed to know what to do! I was dimly aware that I was pulling off "impossible" moves, fingernail crimps and sideways, directional smears connected by improbable, contorted shapes. Like a slow motion dance off with the rock. I reached the belay having onsighted the pitch and my thoughts immediately turned to Ian, how had I just done that? How on earth was Ian going to do it?! The pitch was so traversy that working it on top-rope would be next to impossible. He managed it as well! Both of us agreed afterwards that we had no idea where that kind of form came from.

 Blank grey slab stretched on above us, it felt cool to be out in the middle of nowhere on such a huge featureless wall. I managed to flash the 7b+ above, Ian getting it second go before doing one more "6c" pitch before dark, nothing is a pushover on this route!

This was to be my first night in a portaledge. Setting it up in the dark at a hanging belay proved somewhat tricky.

"Is it supposed to be this wobbly?"

I asked nervously whilst semi-sitting on the ledge, still gripping the attachment point for dear life with one hand. Portaledges are not relaxing things! During the night it somehow slipped and I ended up lying very downhill with all the blood at my head.

Day 3.
We sat on our wonky portaledge sipping coffee under an umbrella whilst the wall around us baked in the morning sun. "This is the life!"

The 7a off the belay was short, powerful and a bit chossy, I did some power whimpering and onsighted it by the skin of my teeth. The 7b+/c pitch above looked steep and powerful, a nice change from the blank slabs below. Unfortunately we didn't account for the obligatory slab crux by the first bolt...

Ian did some swearing and dogged the pitch to get the clips in and the haul line fixed. This was going to be tough. Again something happened and I was watching myself climb, perfectly. I need to find a way of switching this kind of focus on and off. I flashed the pitch, no falls so far! Ian got it first try on second.

"It's really hard and thin, me and Callum Muskett thought it was harder than the 8a pitch"

was Dan's helpful information about pitch 11. I fell off the crux. I fell off the crux again. I repeatedly fell off the crux for about twenty minutes "Oh dear, what if we can't even get to the top! Who could possibly think this is 7c!?!!"

In desperation I crimped down on a two finger dimple and rocked over on a non-foothold. Extending my go-go gadget arm I was able to reach a sidepull 20 feet to my left. A bit of a riverdance cross-over foot sequence saw me clipping the next bolt.

"I'm not sure if I can redpoint this pitch Ian."

I went to the top which proved sustained even after the crux, I would say the pitch was comparable to something like Zoolook at Malham. We decided to press on with one more pitch before it got dark so we could reach our stash underneath the 8a and go back down to redpoint p11 the next day.

Dinner was two packets of Uncle Ben's rice, a luxurious cold tin of ratatouille followed by an extravagant Nuttella binge!

I went to sleep worrying about the pitch below us, I could see myself repeatedly falling off that slab crux...

Day 4.

We reasoned that whilst we may or may not be the first people to get a continuous free ascent of El Topo, we would DEFINITELY be the first people to have a Hawaiian party up there!

Once the sun was off the wall we went down to try the "7c" pitch 11 again. Both of us now convinced it was more like 8a. (We found out afterwards from local Alan Carne that someone broke a key hold at the crux of that pitch, which explains a lot.)

I found the crux slightly easier without the weight of the haul-line on my harness, and did the pitch next go! But as I was doing the final moves to clip the belay I felt a familiar pop in my ring finger. 4 days on a big wall doing very fingery climbing had taken its toll and my collateral ligament was partially torn. Ian lowered me off the pitch and I proceeded to terrify him by screaming in frustration and kicking the rock for 5 minutes.

I really really wanted the climb and all that stood between me and success was the 8a pitch 13.

Aware that it was a totally stupid thing to do I mummified my injured finger in tape so it couldn't bend and then strapped it to the fingers either side, effectively turning my left hand into a flipper.

Somehow by sheer determination and stubbornness I managed the 8a first go and then lead out on the final easier pitch to the top of the crag. Managing a complete free ascent with 12 of the 14 pitches onsight or flash.

I stood in the last rays of the sun totally exhausted, unsure whether to be ecstatic at having done the route or furious with myself for getting injured again.

Ian was yet to redpoint pitch 13 and also wanted a continuous free ascent so I descended to join him on the portaledge for another night.

Day 5. 
We woke up very early to black clouds and the sound of thunder, we quickly decided to abb off for baguettes!  Having been caught in a thunderstorm in the exact same place a month before it was not something either of us wanted to repeat.

It was odd after spending 4 days getting up there to be back on the ground again in just over an hour. The baguettes and coffee tasted amazing.

That evening I was having a nap and enjoying terra-firma when Ian stuck his head into the tent. His eyes were wide and he had a familiar insane grin on his face.

"The weathers cleared up and there's still an hour of light! I'm gonna have a redpoint and err... if I can't do it... I'm gonna spend a night on the portaledge by myself!"

Eerr ok Ian, sure, whatever :).

We abbed back in and despite a valiant attempt Ian didn't quite send. I jugged back out at sunset to leave him looking very zen, sat on the portaledge reading "The Rock Warriors Way"

Day 6. 
The next day I went back down and this time he managed a successful redpoint! Also completing a basically continuous ascent minus abbing off for a few hours to get baguettes. A phenomenal effort. Ian also gets extra style points for picking up hitch hikers during his ascent.

I'm gradually learning that the main obstacle to having really great adventures is dreaming them up in the first place. This whole trip took the same amount of time and money as a regular euro sport-climbing holiday but it's definitely something I'll remember. Bring on the next adventure!

Some more photos:

You can see the portaledge top-right.

Thursday, 14 August 2014


I've put together a short film of climbing The Nose on El Cap with my girlfriend last May. This was our first proper big wall and we had a lot of learning to do on the way. Hopefully it comes across how much fun we had up there!

The Nose from Jacob Cook on Vimeo.

Also I realised I never posted this nice short film by Abstract Normality Media about a first ascent I made last March. Apologies if you've seen it already! (You can watch this in HD if you click the link and go to the Vimeo website.)

The Lizard King from Abstract Normality on Vimeo.

Friday, 1 August 2014


The last month I've mostly been climbing with the mentalist that is... Ian Cooper.

This is a collection of our best days in July.

Arriving at the top of Hindenburg E7 6c at Mother Careys Kitchen in Pembroke it looked steep and terrifying. Not least because the guidebook warned of crucial pegs rotten or missing and that it may not have been climbed in it's current state. The fact that Caff had told me it was fine only served to make me much more scared!

We went down in trainers on two separate ab ropes and back aided into the massive overhang. We found some gear and replaced a few threads. Doing this turned a potentially life threatening onsight attempt into something much more enjoyable.

I managed a flash, doing some shouting as I passed the second bouldery section. This left Ian to test the peg (it held) and he managed to send on his third go. We ended the day on an HVS called "Inner Space". Calling this a climb would be misleading, it's more of a tunnelling and sideways chimneying exercise. The crux is not being too intimidated by the horrific sounds made by seabirds in the depths of the cave!

back-aiding into Hindenburg
Staffordshire Nose Challenge:
The challenge is to climb all 31 Brown and Whillans routes in Stafforshire as fast as possible. The difficulties lie in the fact that these routes happen to be excruciatingly painful and horrifically awkward, you can view the full list here. We finished in 9 and a half hours, both having to redpoint the desperate Ramshaw Crack. Other gems were Crack of Gloom and Masochism, routes to do before you die! Speed attempt next! Since we're competing against the Wideboyz we obviously need a team name, I'm pushing for "Jacob Cook and the Disasters" but for some reason Ian isn't happy with this... weird.

John Dunne has been making noises about creating a Yorkshire version. This is still in the pipeline but I've tentatively named it BIG JOHN'S YORKSHIRE HARD-MAN CHALLENGE and it's going to be beefy...

Verdon Gorge:
My PhD supervisor made the mistake of telling me he was going on holiday for the last week of July and somehow I found myself in the Verdon! The best route was "Alix Punk De Vergons" a 10 pitch 7b/+ up the mighty, overhanging and tuffa infested Duc. Ian and I were both surprised and chuffed not to fall off, team free onsight, booya!

I may have to report this to Jens...

We also tried the crux pitch of El Topo, an epic 14 pitch voyage up the biggest bit of rock in the Verdon, ending in an 8a at pitch 13! The style is pockety slab climbing with bad feet, Verdon at it's finest. We both had a bolt to bolt before being suddenly, unexpectedly caught in the middle of a thunderstorm. Unsure whether to cower in the cave or jug out to the lip as quickly as possible we opted for the latter. As I manicly jumared lightening struck the rim of the gorge about 30m from me... a close call.

El Topo clip from Jacob Cook on Vimeo.

Unfortunately I tweaked a finger so never got to have a redpoint and had to stand and watch as Ian went for glory and sent the pitch. Here's some photos from the glorious 8a 13th pitch, I'd love to go back for the whole route...

Thursday, 19 June 2014


I'm really excited to be working with Rab, my new sponsor. Over the years the brand has made a name for itself by creating the top quality gear for the mountains.

They supported our West Greenland Expedition in summer 2013 and I was really impressed with the gear they gave us. Ian Faulkner and myself were around ¾ of the way up the then unclimbed 1200m main face of the Horn of Upernivik. As we climbed clouds were swirling around the surrounding mountains. When the clouds moved in around us and it started raining we crawled under a fallen block. All I had with me was one of the Generator jackets. I’m not going to lie and say I was warm! But after a night of shivering I was very much still alive and able to take full advantage of a small window of sun to blast to the top before the weather closed in again. Since then I’ve stuffed the jacket in the bottom of the bag on every multi-pitch route, just in case.
Team Rab at the north summit of Uummannaq mountain, Greenland.
Find the people!
Back to the present I spent last weekend on the South Coast, the highlight being an onsight of Privateer, a spectacular 7b+/E6 deep water solo off of Funky Ledge, Swanage. The slappy compression moves high above the sea required full commitment and left me with an enormous grin on my face, I love this stuff! I’m so excited to be in the UK for a summer of adventure climbing…

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Yosemite part 1

Day 1: The pitch is labeled with an innocuous sounding “5.8 fist”. 

“well that’s about VS, I could probably solo this blindfolded”, I think to myself.

I put my fist in the crack.

I take it out and look at it.

I put my fist in the crack the other way up.

I take it out and look at it again.

I put my other fist in the crack.


10 meters later I’m a gibbering wreck, desperately trying to make the crack wider with one hand on either side. My lone blue camalot is the only thing keeping me from a 20 meter screamer. Above me 5.8 fist crack stretches on indefinitely. “HOW DO PEOPLE DO THIS?!?”

Well it could only get better from there!

I just got back from a month in Yosemite with my girlfriend Bron. I was super excited to learn how to climb big walls, which was the aim of this trip: figure out big wall, aid and crack climbing. These are some highlights from the trip:

Big Wall Number 1: Our first step towards big wall glory was the south face of Washington Column. On dinner ledge, our first bivy spot, we were joined by a guy who told us his name was Joe-semite. He appeared to be climbing by himself, had long straggly black hair, tiny John Lennon sunglasses and reggae blaring from the large boombox hanging from his harness. Occasionally he would yell “YEAH FUCK YEAH” at the top of his lungs. He seemed to be having a good time. Later two friends joined him having hauled a case of beer, whisky, rum AND vodka up to the ledge. Party! Not what I was expecting for my first big wall bivy!!! The next day we climbed and hauled to the top, Bron put in a great effort leading the last scary loose pitch by headtorch. We pulled our haulbag over the top and collapsed where we stood.
"Everything is clipped to everything else, what is aid climbing anyway!?"
Topping out in the dark from our first big wall!
Royal Arches Solo: Royal arches is a classic 16 pitch 5.7/severe-ish, my time was 1 hour 55 minutes valley to valley. Running down I was laughing to myself, this much fun shouldn't be legal.

Astroman: Alex from Montreal had slightly crazy eyes and pretty much told me I was climbing Astroman with him. Astroman is THE classic free day route in the valley, it's about 12 pitches long and at 5.11c it would probably get E5 or E6 in the UK. The crux pitch is the terrifying Harding Slot, an E6 squeeze chimney! I knew my friend Steve Dunning had got benighted on the route last year so we started early, really early. By 7am Alex was leading up pitch 3, the Enduro Corner, an incredible pitch of unrelenting thin hand-jamming. Or frantic laybacking in my case! I climbed the corner like any self respecting sport climber would, shaking out, chalking up and not a single jam. A pitch or two higher my foot pinged and I was suddenly aware of an awful lot of space underneath me. My stomach stayed where it was and the rest of my body came to a halt 15 meters lower. I did some adrenalized shouting, pulled back up the rope and finished off the pitch. I could actually feel myself learning how to jam, on the route! Unfortunately I fell a few more times getting into the Harding Slot so the 100% free ascent was blown, it really is rather hard.  I wasn't bothered though, it was amazing to be finding pitch after pitch of incredible climbing. Every pitch on the route would be at least a 3 star E4 in the UK! Higher on the route I started to get into my groove, onsighting the E5ish changing corners pitch and the ominous sounding 5.10dR last pitch. We were on top by 2pm so probably didn't need to start quite that early!
Entering the Harding Slot
"I can't breathe!"
The incredible Changing Corners pitch.

The Nose: We climbed the world's most famous big wall route in 4 days and 3 nights. It's popular for a reason, the climbing is SO GOOD and the exposure is out of this world. Vertical camping! It felt totally surreal waking up each morning and looking down at the valley below. Like being in space. Somehow everything clicked and big walling started to feel manageable. Our ascent was a leisurely one, I think we could have done it in 3 days at the speed we were going, but instead it was nice to stop well before dark each day and have time to chill out on the incredible ledges. I can't wait to get back there and try my hand at some of the harder big walls in both free and aid style.

The Great Roof
Bron seconding the Great Roof.
The Pancake Flake
Camp VI, our final bivy on the route
Some Italians we met on the final day