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Exploring New Challenges One Fingertip At A Time

For pro climbers like Gaz Parry, the joy of discovering an amazing new line up an untouched face is only the first step in what can become years of an incremental, inch by inch struggle as they push themselves past their maximum limits, lifting themselves up onto new ground

How many times have you tried and failed at one, single thing? For most of us, if we can’t progress at something within a few tries, or days, then we give up and move onto something else. After all, there’s no sense in flogging a dead horse. Now imagine repeating the same challenge, in the same spot, day in, day out for week, months, or even years. That’s the level of commitment Gaz Parry and climbers like him can face when opening a new sports route, where the challenge is athletic, finger-shredding and often requires moving beyond your physical limits, to find a new definition of performance.

Parry’s climbing career has taken him from competition success as a British Lead, Boulder and Speed Champion, to the first ever ascent of the world’s biggest sea cliff (Greenland’s 4,4094ft Devil’s Thumbnail), to developing hard routes in areas he comes across when exploring and living in new places.

One of these features an incredibly steep wall on a prow of rock in Val de la Gallinera, Spain. Named ‘Sector 45’ for its 45° angle, it includes a climb called Supersonico, which Parry bolted, and has 30m of 45° climbing around limestone outcroppings called tufas, followed by a prow and headwall. It was a supremely technical challenge, which became a fight lasting years and made a friend of failure...

Failure is the path to learning – good climbers and athletes spend most of their lives failing

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Sport climbing is an interesting discipline in that you’re always trying to push your limits, while falling a lot – what’s it like to fail that much?
‘I like to be challenged, regardless of what level the challenge is. I don’t mind failing. Most people fail on something and walk away from it, they won’t push and push. But people at the top of any sport are used to failure – it’s the path to learning. Good climbers and good athletes usually spend most of their lives failing.’

When you moved to Spain you uncovered a whole new area for climbing, in the Val de la Gallinera?
‘Yes in that valley we found a crag and called it Sector 45, because there is a wall in it that’s 45° overhanging with a prow on the side. It’s a very obvious feature and I could see what looked like an amazing line up it, so that’s what motivated me to climb it.’

Were you surprised to find a whole untouched crag with this amazing line on the Costa Blanca?
‘It was a surprise to find it in somewhere like Spain, which is a mecca for sport climbing with a very large number of very good climbers, but there’s still a lot to discover, I think, even in Spain especially if you go up further north up into the base of the Pyrenees. And it’s been really interesting for me seeing some of the stuff Adam Ondra has done recently in Serbia, Albania and Macedonia – there’s a lot of rock there as well and it’s well off the beaten track.’

You found a hard new line called Supersonico there that took you three seasons to eventually climb – it must have been a challenge to even bolt?
‘The prow I bolted to become Supersonico was very, very steep – 45° and I bolted it on my own. So, I rigged one static line, tensioned it, then abseiled down and ‘stood’ on that line while holding onto the rock a little bit and drilling bolts with the other hand. It was about 19 bolts and was quite a juggling act that took a couple of days to do. In reality discovering and bolting something that is hard, is the easy bit – the hard bit is climbing it, and that can take quite a while.’

‘So, I tried it over a couple of seasons, initially, then it was coming into the winter season so the temperatures improved a bit and I had trained quite a lot for it. I had plenty of time there to try on it, to progress slowly and make little gains.’

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Do you have to be happy with that slow rate of progress, given that you’re trying to push your limits?
‘If you are trying to climb at your maximum, or a new grade that you have never climbed before, then you are going to fail consistently. You’re going to fall off, a lot. The biggest lesson that I learnt was when climbing on a route in Northern Spain – it was the hardest thing I had ever tried and still failed on.’

‘It was weird because I’d go home in the evening and chill out, get quite positive about it and confident again and think I’d give it another good go tomorrow. I’d rest up, eat well and wake up in the morning feeling really good, drive to the crag feeling good, pull into the carpark, get out of the car and that was just it – end of the game – I was failed straight away, just mentally broken down before I’d even walked to the crag.’

What did you learn from that experience?
‘When I walked away from it (I have still never been back) I started to look at a different approach. It’s to always take something away from every route, or boulder problem or climb that you try, even if you fail. It’s to not focus on the thing that you can’t do, it’s to focus on something you’ve gained from it, whether it be that you’ve just done a move a bit easier, found a better sequence or something small, and then you walk away feeling positive. That was a really big learning process for me, and this is after climbing for 30 years!’

In the past you’ve moved to Spain and Bulgaria in places close to climbing but now you’re in Hungary away from the crags – how has that changed your approach?
‘Now, it’s either home and no climbing, or going on climbing trips, so I can go for 20 days, knuckle down and focus more on doing something hard. Last month we went to Flatanger in Norway for 20 days and climbed a classic hard route called Nordic Flower (8c) – it’s granite and beautiful to climb on. It was the approach of learning how to deal with failing on it – because I spent a lot of times failing on it – and being there to do a job. It’s like anything else – to get good at anything you’ve got to be immersed in it, doing it day in, day out. I climbed the route on the last day and the last attempt!’

Follow Gaz Parry’s climbing adventures on Instagram @gazzparry. Gaz is sponsored by Scarpa, Grivel, Edelweiss, 3rd Rock, Rockcity

Photography: Esteban Lahoz, John Arran
Words: Matt Ray

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