Before there was time there was gravity. It’s the one thing that rules this universe.

As children we leave the womb, and we struggle against gravity. We learn to crawl, we learn to walk, and then for a few of us, we learn to climb. For those of us who climb, we respect gravity and honour it more than others.

Conrad Anker – Petzl RocTrip 2022.

The alarm blared at me, set at full volume, just in case. I’d arrived at 3am, Greek time, and it was now 7am, or 5am UK time, which my brain was clearly still operating on. Rubbing my eyes I stumbled into the breakfast area, immediately scanning for the quiet corner where I could scoff some pastries and avoid friendly hellos from acclimatised Frienchies. I cursed my pathetic ability to remember names, but then it had been a while, 8 years to be exact, since the last Petzl Roctrip way back in 2014 in Turkey. Really? That long?

We made our way into the ‘athlete briefing’. Scanning the scene was an awe-inspiring sight of A-list crankers: Chris Sharma, Margo Hayes, Alex Megos, Dave Graham, Sasha DiGiulian, Dani Andrada, Edu Marin, Shaun Bailey, Anak Verhoeven and many more…. I began to feel a bit of a hot flush, like there had been some kind of clerical error and I’d been invited along because of an outdated mailing list. Or perhaps when the invites had gone out, I’d been remembered by Petzl staff as that old British guy who still manages to drag himself up the odd route. But 8 years had now passed, which suddenly seemed to be at least 16 years in terms of appearance as I scanned the scene of young, ripped, strong looking youths. With my shoddy social media presence and lack of publicity they might not have noticed any aging, but pretty soon I’d be found out, and I hid behind Nico Favresse, braced for when I was spotted by the young guns who would surely ask ‘hey grandad, I think you are in the wrong place’.

Briefing over and we all emerged into the glaring sunlight and drifted naturally into groups of familiar company. The Americans, the Spanish, the French, the strong youths bonded through many international comps… I hunted for my place, and was just starting to panic when I spotted Neil Gresham approaching. As well as being a Petzl athlete, Neil was here as the main man, the essential dude, the on-stage introducer of everything, the figure head of the event that the whole world would see. Bloody hard work, though I felt somewhat jealous of his distinct purpose as opposed to my invite being down to historical reasons. Neil had to rush, he had interviews to record, places to be, things to do….

An announcement: the creative-onsight was to begin! Teams gravitated into their groups, apprehensive about what was to come, introductions finally made in person building on the online meetings over previous months with phone-screen faces the only judge of personality. Of course, everyone on our team was already best mates and as they jabbered away in Spanish about recent exotic expeditions and fun times to come I put on my best smile and hoped no one would ask what was going down in my life. But still, our team looked pretty solid; Sasha, Edu, Larissa and guest Conrad Anker. That’s a fair line up! At last, we were all there in person, and the adventure was about to begin!

It had all began months ago, in fact years ago, you could even say decades ago, with the first Petzl Roctrip, and then so many that would follow. My first trip had been to the Gunks way back in 2002. The original concept, to bring climbers and community together had held strong throughout, with legendary trips to places like China, Squamish, The Red River, Mexico and Argentina. And then, with the last one finishing in Turkey way back in 2014, the Roctrip began to fade. As the years went by, with a new demand for safe indoor arenas and coloured holds, these seemingly primitive games drifted into the past. At first they remained a beautiful memory, but slowly with the passage of time they became legends, then eventually became myths, their stories often only preserved on the ancient parchment of hard-copy magazines.

But now the Roctrip was back, with Petzl joining the Manikia Project, a non-profit association of the inhabitants of the local area. The project goal to highlight the unique beauty of the environment and outdoor activities which can support economic, social and cultural development. A perfect partnership, and when Petzl heard of the project, and saw the potential of the area, the acres of unclimbed rock, combined with all the other ingredients, they must have instantly known…. The Roctrip must come back! Visiting Manikia for the first time back in October with Petzl I realised it was a special place. The scenery, the rock, the climbing movement, the climate, culture and the people; a beautiful mix. Within days of getting home I'd already booked a return trip for November. Both trips had been amazing, perfect conditions. Routes are typically monsters, huge 30m tufa strewn journeys through massive overhangs. But there is everything from 9a epics to the lovely grey walls and slabs covered in low 6’s, and a good selection of quality multi-pitch routes too. Interestingly, of all the amazing places I’ve been in my life, and of all the times I’ve said, ‘I must come back soon’, this was the first time I’ve ever actually done it; come straight back. And to have 3 trips in the space of 8 months shows how much I fell for the place. The 3rd trip, for the actual Roctrip couldn’t come soon enough!

22 manikia tufa low

Way back before the 3rd trip, January 2022, we had our first ‘Creative-Onsight challenge’ meeting, remotely of course, with The Petzl organisers of LaFouche and Manu describing the challenge as I frantically tried to get my phone to work, my forward-facing camera unresponsive and the mic seemingly off-line. Damn technology!! Everybody else’s tech seemed to be working just fine through. By the end I was just about limping along and asked a bunch of questions that had already been answered, thereby confirming my place as the team idiot and securing my intelligence level to cave-man standards, which was to prove ironic considering how our story was to develop. The concept of the creative-onsight was to add something a little different to this Roctrip, bringing climbers together to do something fun for the climbing community. It was not about top crankers looking cool. The mission was pretty simple, to make a film and gather some pictures. It could be about anything we liked, though a few bits of climbing/scenery/location/culture/language etc should ideally be included! We also had to bring along a guest, which could be anyone at all. So, things were pretty wide open to say the least. Being the oldest on the team by far, and most capable of writing more than 20 words in a row for an Instagram post, I set about a story, built up loosely around the character of a cave-man, which I’d almost certainly find myself playing. In the end we needed a narrator for our kind of yarn, and who else but Conrad Anker; master, legend and visionary; one of the most prolific mountaineers in history… but chosen mainly as he has a good voice!

May 2022, Vrisi town; the ancient and deserted school which has become the headquarters for this Manikia Roctrip, and the teams gather in the courtyard, shading under random trees from the blazing sunlight. Beside us is ‘team USA’, with Sharma, Graham, Margo, Sean Bailey and guest Dani Andrada. They look chilled. I think I’d fit in well there…. And there is team ‘Alex Megos’, with his four superstar girls. Typical – he’ll do well in that team! But glad I wasn’t in his place, I’d have just looked like their dad. And the ‘French speakers’ team, headlined by Sean Villanueva and Nico Favresse, that mad pair of musician crazy crankers. Phew, glad I swerved that bunch, as my British-ness would have been quickly found to be useless in whatever plot they dreamt up, plus I can’t speak French, unless it’s to buy a cheese and chorizo baguette.

22 jon low 22 sasha low 22 ste low

Jon Caldwel called our team over, one of our two camera men alongside Cameron Maier. There had been a little confusion at first, with Jon being an absolute machine and 9a+ legend, as to how he’d ended up on the wrong side of the lens. But turns out he’s also a wizard behind the camera as well as in front of it. Man, don’t these multi-talented folk make you sick! At least we knew he’d not be scared of heights, or asking us to put up static ropes all day. Between our team we discussed our story, my original weak plot would now be held together by the force of gravity…. Conrad’s idea, and a good one too, with the concept of gravity, and climbers battling against it, running throughout the whole film. Now we really had a plan thanks to Conrad. As well as an off-the-scale mountain dude, he is also a real intellectual, and I found myself drawn to him, though that was more due to him being relatively old and having kids, and so we had lots in common as we later struggled up 6c’s in the shade while the rest of the team warmed up on 8a’s in the sun. Thus followed five days of filming and editing, lots of climbing and squirming up tufas, knee-bars behind stalactites and pumped arms on big overhangs. The terrain is simply incredible, this style is just so much fun, like a kids adventure playground for adults (or kids too). But by far the most fun day was our ‘character’ filming day, with each of the team adopting something completely made up, and in part, to suit whatever props we could find. It’s amazing what you can acquire, especially when you have no shame taking bits of rubbish out of a skip (a skill of mine). An old potato sack, some bits of curtain, half an old lamp shade, a waste-paper bin, some battered fake flowers and a manky ripped T-shirt, plus some imagination, as well as my scruffy wig, and we had a full range of costumes!

22 edu low  22 lary low 22 conrad low

The great thing about this trip was that it wasn’t about top climbers climbing super hard routes, otherwise I’d have quickly been found out to be surplus to requirement. As it was, it was more about climbers making something for the community, and in some cases making a bit of a fool of themselves, which as it turned out, I was pretty good at. So at least my position at the rock trip did have some value. But there was still plenty of hard climbing going down. Sasha onsighted numerous 8a’s, Michaela Kiersch nailed a desperate 8b+ on the hottest day of the trip which was one of the most impressive ascents I’ve seen in years, and Molly Thompson-Smith onsighted 8a+’s with ease, despite almost no route climbing in years. This I found rather interesting, especially as she didn’t even need to rest in all the knee-bars where I’d shoved in every square millimetre of knee-pad rubber to give my blasted forearms a breather. [More about this in the next CLIMBER magazine]. Sean Bailey smashed an 8c+ in just a few days, and Dani Andrada did everything, declaring most of the routes ‘impossible to fall off’. However, it was Alex Megos who was really at the next level, with basically the entire area barely qualifying as a warmup.

8c proj low 2

To make life harder for himself he generally shuns the knee-pads, which have become about as standard as a pair of shoes and a chalk bag. An 8c+ project through the massive roof looked insane, I injured my neck just looking at it. Alex warmed up on the moves, each section looking decidedly easy, I even wondered if I should try…Back on the ground, in a very understated way, he declared he’d probably do it next go, which he did 10 minutes later. What was very apparent was the strength and skill of Alex. I know he is one of the world’s best, but to see it in action was truly inspiring.

But it wasn’t about a climbing competition, and those old ultimate routes of the last Roctrips were long gone. It would seem the evolution of the Roctrip had coincided rather well with my natural progression in climbing (i.e. – downwards!). The only competition was between the ‘teams’ as we spied on their strategies and tried to imagine what they were dreaming up! Surely ours would be the best, our camera team often heard bursting into laughter as they poured over the edit. In the few days we’d been together we’d laughed more than I can remember in years, our team so bonded by the experience. Camaraderie like that is rare.

The Roctrip was in full swing; the base-camp was set up with tents, stalls, screens and sound systems; a real festival vibe! Climbers came from all over the world; Australia, Chile, America, even from England. And there were so many locals, not just climber locals, but villagers old and young, keen to get involved and see what was going down. By daytime thousands of meters were climbed, Petzl athletes ran coaching clinics, rivers were swam, and the sun poured down from a crystal clear blue sky. By night there was music and dancing till late. Our creative-onsight films all hit the screen, all so different, but all so good! It’s a cliché to say, ‘there are no winners, it’s all about the taking part’, but in this instance there simply couldn’t be any winners and it really was all about the taking part! But I still laughed most at Dave Graham, just a single comment and he had me in stitches…

22 cameron low

As a team we had really shared something special, but not just our team, all the teams, and all the teams had come together. And as we gave each other big hugs and back-slaps into the night you could feel the energy between us and the depth of the friendship. I had fallen in love, not like the love for a lover, a child, a parent or sibling, but for good friends of the best kind. Perhaps the last few years had dampened our feelings, a Covid Vacuum. We made our way through it, and for many it wasn’t so bad, enjoying local areas and the company of close family and friends. But now things felt back to normal, we had the green light, to hug someone for real without a moment of hesitation. The goal had been to gather the athletes and the climbing community together, but also around one project: to develop and sustain a climbing area. In these goals I have no doubt they succeeded.

And so the Petzl Roctrip finally came to an end. Like an express train, those on board enjoying the view, taking in the entertainment, not even considering the end of the journey, but all aware of a final destination. And then the train suddenly stops; from full speed to zero. Almost without warning, though we all knew it was coming. It’s jarring. Everyone gets off, scattering home across the globe with 7am starts and jam-packed hire-cars in the blazing early morning sun. I waved, almost feeling the tears welling up, though to be fair, that was most likely due to my hangover combined with the unfairly early start I’d been subjected to. Unfair, as I wasn’t even leaving, not yet. My train had another stetch to the journey; a few more days in this incredible place. And later, tied in and chalked up I grasped those beautiful tufas again, feeling the texture and the friction of the grey and orange limestone and the shape and size, as if designed to fit a hand. Moving upwards, arms filling with blood and my mind now fresh and focused, energised by the previous days but excited by those to come, my eternal battle with the force continues…. As climbers we learn to respect and honour gravity. It pulls at us, dragging us downwards, but without it, our sport is nothing. We love gravity!