Almost exactly four years ago I was stood beneath a piece of grey pockety rock in a German forest, having just put on a brand new pair of 5.10 climbing shoes, about to get onto my first ever outdoor sport route on the sharp end of the rope.
Frankenjura was perhaps not the best place to begin, come to think of it. I was only leading around 6a+ at the climbing gym at the time and wanted something to easy myself into the outdoor lead-climbing experience, so I chose something like a 5a (German grade V+) to begin with. It was easy, but I wasn’t ready for the Frankenjura bolting, where the first bolt is often halfway up the climb, there is almost always at least one run out, and the easier the route the fewer bolts it is equipped with.
I remember the experience well, because it was quite scary, despite being a really straightforward climb. I don’t think I walked away with anything harder than a 6a lead that trip, and I barely cared about whether I did the routes clean (without stopping for numerous rests), I just wanted to get to the top.
Four years later, I’m looking back at those first tentative steps as the start of a huge journey. One that has already made me quit my job, find a life partner who shares my passion, travel halfway around the world to scale some world-class rock, and caused many an emotional rollercoaster along the way.
In these four years, I have progressed from leading my first French grade 5 route outdoors to climbing a number of 7a’s in Frankenjura (German grade VIII) – an area known for pretty tough grading and a powerful, bouldery style that I don’t consider to be something that plays to my strengths.
One of my favourite routes of that grade in the ‘jura was Gilgamesh at Weidener Wand. It was really hard for me – bouldery moves on pockets at the start, a runout in the middle, and another fingery crux after that while fighting off the pump. There was definitely a tantrum on this one, but I got it eventually. On this year’s visit, I also sent my first Frankenjura 7a+ (VIII+).
If I’m honest, I was hoping to send something harder, but it’s not always easy to find the routes that call your name in this area. With so many little crags scattered across the huge expanse of forest picking a line to put some work into can be tricky. But I’m pretty content with what I have achieved so far. The next grade up can wait for my future visit to this enchanted forest. Maybe next year!
Photo credit: @clayclaydon, the mysterious and mesmerising forest of Frankenjura