Iker Pou climbing interview
Iker Pou from Spain is one of the world's most talented rock climbers, with cutting-edge climbs spanning from 9a+ at the crag to 8a at 6000 meters. In this interview he shares his climbing thoughts after his repeat of Demencia Senil 9a+ at Margalef.
At the end of January Iker Pou from Spain managed to repeat Demenica Senil, the ultra-steep 9a+ at Margalef first ascended by Chris Sharma in February 2009. The 33 year old Spaniard is obviously stronger than ever before, spanning the spectrum from super hard sport routes such Wolfgang Güllich's classic Action Direct to mountain classics such as Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy and Eternal Flame on the Trango Towers. It's obvious that there is more to Iker than just his raw hold-pulling power and we used his latest ascent as a pretext to find out more.
Iker, every year you get stronger and stronger... what's your secret?
I think the most important thing is motivation. Last year I found myself really motivated and happy to climb, just like when I first started many years ago. I also know myself better now, my limits and physical possibilities and so I manage to plan my climbing season better than before.
How did success come about on Demencia Senil?
The main reason why I managed to do it was that we've had a really bad winter here in Spain, which meant I spent weeks training indoors! I usually never train indoors, I only climb outside. You get stronger much faster climbing indoors and when the good weather finally arrived I was really motivated to try the route. In the future I would like to try something harder, like a 9b.
How hard is it to improve from 9a to 9a+? And from 9a+ to 9b?
To improve from 9a to 9a+ is very, very hard. The higher the grades become, the more you need to find a route that suits your abilities. But grades in sport climbing are a delicate thing, they are not an exact science. What is important is that you're honest with yourself. And to answer your question about 9a + to 9b - at present this seems futuristic!
How do you rate first ascents?
For me personally, doing a hard first ascent in sport climbing isn't that important. I think the important thing is to send the routes! It's not a problem if you are the first or the last, but I can understand that if you bolt a route and it's a good one, then sometimes you do like to be the first.
What are you attracted to in a route?
I'm impressed by the beauty of a line and if it's natural. And if the route is short, even better!
Short and sweet!
Yes, I definitively like powerful routes! On short routes you can see the difficulty, small crimps, pockets... you really need power. On long endurance problems you don't really come across extreme difficulty, usually you have some big holds and the routes tend to be very steep. Maybe routes like Chris Sharma's Golpe de Estado are now the future: long routes made up of a lot of hard boulder problems.
With routes like Supercanaleta and Eternal Flame, Iker is more than just a super sport climber!
During the last few years I've focussed more on big wall climbing and alpine routes. I really like the entire adventure that revolves around these climbs, visiting new places, meeting new people, travelling around the world.
But sport climbing offers this too...
Yes, but with this type of climbing you can't experience the sensations that you can find in the mountains. I've realised that I need one expedition a year, like like our expedition to Chani Chico last year. I need adventure!
Last summer you found adventure closer to home, in the Naranjo de Bulnes. What makes your Orbayu special is that it's also psychological, with long run-outs. How do you evaluate risk in general?
On Orbayu my brother Eneko and I immediately realised that the route was exposed, but we also saw that it was possible. Had it been too hard, or too dangerous, we would have looked for something easier. We always evaluate each situation and carefully decide on what are we doing!
You and your brother form a highly experienced partnership
We climb together because we started climbing at the same time and we know our abilities and faults really well. We understand each other, both in life in general and in climbing in particular. I think we're a perfect team for climbing, we have great fun together.
With Eneko, during your seven continent challenge, you also climbed The Nose in Yosemite. 32 out of its 34 pitches went free – will you ever return for those two missing pitches?
Yes, I would like to return to try The Nose, but not yet. It's an incredible route but it has one pitch which is very technical and slopy, the Changing Corners. You need to try this pitch a lot to get good beta... and it makes you despair! It's not a power problem, but something very technical indeed... Maybe something to try in the next couple of years.
Some climbing trivia: when you repeated Wallstreet, you climbed it via the rarely repeated original version. How come?
For me Wallstreet is a legendary route. I dreamt about climbing it ever since I was young, so when the opportunity finally arrived I wanted to climb the original version. Wallstreet for me is the original version, but I know that people can climb any way they want.
The same could hold true for another of Wolfgang's routes, Action Direct, which you made the third ascent of in 2000. If I'm not mistaken, only Britain's Rich Simpson used the same sequence as Wolfgang...
On Action Direct I used a different sequence than Wolfgang, but I think the difference is small because only few moves are different, whereas in Wallstreet if you climb to the right you change the route totally, it's still very hard, but different. But everyone is free to choose the best option for themselves and that's the best thing about climbing, there are no rules or referees.
Soloing is another aspect of our sport
For me those who solo climbs have a special mind, and different merit. But I personally don't like soloing - we only live once and life is so short anyway!
Tell us about your perfect day?
Having a full day just to go climbing, with friends, in good company, having fun. It's as simple as that.
And when you go to bed, what do you dream about?
Sometimes when I'm very focussed on a project I dream about the moves. But this normally happens only when I'm very close to sending it. At the moment I'm dreaming about a beautiful woman!
Iker Pou repeating Demencia Senil 9a+ at Margalef, Spain