An interview with climber Ethan Walker
Climber and Mammut athlete, Ethan Walker, has just returned from his third trip to Norway in a battle to succeed on one of the hardest climbing routes he has tried yet.
The ‘Nordic Plumber’ is nothing to do with Scandinavian pipework. It’s an 8c route inside the Hanshelleren Cave, in Flatanger. A cave that’s famed for housing many of the hardest routes in the world. ‘Change’ - the first route to receive a proposed grade of 9b+ and ‘Silence’ – was the first route to be given the loft grade of 9c! Both of which were established by one of the best climbers of all time, Adam Ondra.
“My route, Nordic Plumber, is right next door to Change and starts the same way and then breaks off so you do actually climb part of the route.” Says Ethan.
He first visited the cave in September last year, spending two days practising. Followed by another trip in the spring which didn’t go as planned, “hence I trained my ass off over the summer with the intention to go back in September and seal the deal and thank goodness it happened because it meant the whole summer was worth it.”
So, what had he been missing, the first two times? Turns out it was only a matter of a couple of percent; “I just didn’t have the extra bit in the tank. I needed to be over fit and over strong for it. It’s such a long route so you also need to be aerobically fit – you spend nearly an hour upside down! It’s like a marathon, you need to have the fitness in your lungs. I felt like a different person this time the training really paid off”.
The Hanshelleren Cave is a popular rock-climbing destination with a stunning backdrop. As Ethan says; “It’s probably one of the best of its grade in the world – it has an amazing finishing feature which takes in this perfect sloping rail, that your eye is instantly drawn to – it’s the first thing you see from the bottom of the crag. It’s definitely up there as one of the hardest sport routes I’ve ever done but also a pretty special route. It meant a lot to me.”
“The cave is such an impressive feature, you do forget to look behind you. All you can see is the sea and fjords with the most pristine landscape. I saw more people in five minutes back in Manchester than I did in probably all three of my trips combined! It is so peaceful you have to be careful not to get distracted and drift off.”
And he was thankful for the training when the weather did turn bad, “I reached the finishing holds, clipped the anchor just as the most horrendous Norwegian rain came – the heavens actually opened. It was very bizarre. I was also quite anxious at points, especially about clipping the finishing belay. You have roughly 60 metres of rope out at this point and you need to pull it up and clip back in.”
So, what do you do when you’ve just completed one of the hardest climbs of your life so far…you ring your mum! “I got down and called my mum and my girlfriend! I couldn’t have done it though without my belayer, Paul. He had to stand around in the cold for all that time paying close attention. The nature of the cave means that the floor raises up with the roof of meaning you’re never that far off the ground. So, you have to take extra special care with the rope when paying it out because there is always potential for a sketchy fall. He was very patient!”
I also have my Dad to thank for his endless belaying efforts during my training sessions over the summer!
And what does he think of his Elliot Brown Bloxworth watch – snazzy is the word he uses! “I like the idea that I have a smart watch that goes well with both casual wear and with a suit when going out. I also have a Canford for all round day to day wear – the rubber strap blends into everything. They are both beautiful pieces of kit – they can stand up to some abuse. One of my watches is scratched and covered in chalk but abuse is what we’re given them for!”
Ethan’s next proposed adventure is the Red River Gorge in Kentucky – a bullet hard area of sandstone featuring crazy cave formations. “Plenty of my friends specialise but I want to be the best in every discipline of climbing I can.” His ultimate goal is to attempt a 9a but it’s a couple of years off. It’s on the Before 30 Bucket List.
“Rock climbing is incredibly personal. It’s just you and the climb. With each new challenge you just have to start breaking it down, then each time you try it you feel better until you get to a point where it just gets easy, you’re climbing it in your sleep and you wonder what all the fuss was about!”