Way back in May this year, whilst out in Manikia in Greece, Alex Huber took me to one side and insisted I studied the images on his phone. They were amazing, pictures of Alex throwing wildly exposed moves through a massive roof with incredible views behind. “This is my route La Bavarese, it’s one of the best I’ve ever done, it has to be one of the most outrageous and hardest of its style anywhere”.

Straight away I was hooked. It doesn’t often happen like that, where you are instantly drawn in, but I could tell this route had exactly the right ingredients for the kind of challenge I was psyched for. Maybe 20 years ago whilst climbing the famous mult-pitch Wolfgang Gullich I’d looked over at this monster cave and wondered if anyone would ever climb through it…

I love the way that rock climbing gives us the chance to twist and turn through its many beautiful styles. These days I can’t even second guess what I’ll be motivated for in a years’ time, I just let it happen; but something always comes along. Last year I was psyched for trad headpoints, and this year I just couldn’t get enough of the 3D tufa world. But the thought of a big multi-pitch added a layer of adventure that would get me going way more than a hard single pitch does these days.

The pitch breakdown for La Bavarese was perfect, at least on paper, with 8a+, 8b+, 8b, 8b+, 7b+. I’ve done a lot of onsighting this last year but was after something different and a level up that would take multiple days. Any harder and it would be too hard, and much easier and I’d be aiming to try each pitch onsight, or to do it from the ground in a day redpointing anything I fell off. That would be cool, and someone will do that for sure, but too hard for me. This pitch breakdown was exactly what I wanted, without doubt a challenge, and something that would take multiple days or even a few trips, and even then it was far from ‘likely’ that I’d get it. But of course, that unknown is essential, that is where the challenge lies. I wanted to get involved, to be hanging out up there taking it all in. When you spend days on a wall you get really attached and really get a feel for it.

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Huber had made his ascent in February after three trips, with one foiled in Autumn 2021 through wet tufas (unusual for Autumn). He had bolted on lead, following an existing bolted line called Nike for two and a half pitches before breaking out and following the ‘best line of weakness’ through the massive roofs. Nike had been bolted by local Jan Kares but as yet not lead and remained open. I’m still not sure why Huber opted not to ‘just do it’ (Nike that is), possibly it was due to his Adidas sponsorship, or maybe he just wanted a separate line. Anyway, knowing absolutely zero about Nike, it was La Bavarese that was our target!

Finding a partner was no easy task! Ethan Walker was up for it, a solid trad climber, and with loads of hard sport climbing up to 8c+ he is more than qualified and a fun dude to hang with. That’s important! And then literally at the last minute while I was chatting to film maker Ben Pritchard about something totally different, I mentioned this route, he saw the pics, and was instantly psyched! But I must put in a big shout for Riky Felderer, owner of the awesome Lemon House BnB which is perfect for climbers. He was the belayer and photographer of Huber on La Bavarese. He totally sorted us out with a place to stay (good rates), gave us the beta, loaned ropes, quickdraws… I reckon he’d have even carried in all the kit too if he hadn’t injured his leg.

The addition of filming changes the game considerably. On the plus side you get to have a nice reminder of your efforts when you are old and grey (in my case, that’s now), and other people can also watch and laugh at you when you look silly (plus side?). On the negative there is way more kit to lug around, and the film guy will want his rope put up in various awkward places. It’s a bonus if the camera man can just lob a rope down from the top, but in this case that was completely impossible, meaning someone (i.e. me) would have to lead up trailing a big fat static to secure to the belay anchor. Actually, that was also a good thing, in a way (not so much the static), as it took all the decision making out of whether it might be worth trying to onsight every pitch. I’d not stand a chance with a heap of rope dangling behind me, and anyway if I did try onsighting, Ben would only be able to get bum shots from below leading to a very poor film indeed!

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As it turns out, and for reference for those interested, I think I’d have onsighted P1, but no way P2; too bouldery and blind. Maybe I could have flashed it on a good day. P3 I reckon I’d have onsighted it, when fresh and after a nice sit down on the ground. But P4 I doubt I’d have even come close to onsight, even if chalked and feeling like I’d just had a few rest days as opposed to having climbed a bunch of really hard things! It’s certainly possible for top top wads to onsight all the way up… the issue will be time, unless your belayer is just there for a belaying/jugging experience combined with a nice view! Good luck if you both want to climb everything!

I reckon I’d have onsighted the 8a+ P1, as that’s exactly what happened. I’d planned to warm up slowly, figure it out, rest on the bolts lots. But it starts quite easy, maybe 7b or so, and I just couldn’t get off; it was so much fun. And then I was fighting hard and going for it! A great start, or not a great start depending on how you look at it. I knew I’d missed the most efficient sequences and so had to go back on the whole pitch again, to learn how to climb it with the least effort, since that was going to be essential when we went for our ‘big push’. This looks like the easy vertical pitch, but you soon realise its ridiculously steep and overhangs about 15m or more out of the 35m, and the steepest bit, and the crux, is at the end. On its own this would be a three-star classic, its brilliant, and probably worth the walk in on its own! Belay at a fig tree, avoiding using it as a hand hold. Note the rather excellent in-situ seat, made by me, from a genuine bit of The Foundry! Watch out for the fig leaves. On my onsight, before we had sawed the thin branches off, I pushed through the leaves, and one of them, with its very slightly serrated edge sliced straight across my eyeball! This was less than fun and led to a rather worrying few days where my vision in that eye was totally blurred. That was the penalty for the onsight; lost sight! Luckily it sorted itself out and by the end of the trip was back to normal; amazing how the eye (and body) can recover.

Pitch 2 is short and bouldery, like something from the Peak with tiny edges, and quite out of character with the rest of the route (though it’s still really overhanging!). A good pitch for Peak climbers! Only about 6 or 7 bolts, two of which you don’t even clip. Good jug to finish on.

Pitch 3 is where it gets complex, although its actually not complex at all, if you have even a vague idea of the topo, which we didn’t! All we knew was La Bavarese split from Nike, that was it! I thought it would be obvious from the pictures, but the cave is so massive everything looked different. With my topo now it will be MUCH easier to know where to go. The only issue you will have is - which way do you want to go? P3 begins with a hard move off a wet jug questing into crazy terrain. After maybe 7 or 8 bolts Nike splits from La Bavarese. Nike trends left to a final awkward move to a ‘climbing wall style’ belay anchor (nice and shiny, 2 bolts with chain and double clip). La Bavarese climbs straight up from the split to an even harder awkward final move left of another fig tree and a not-so-climbing wall style anchor, more UK Peak style; a few bolts connected with a piece of old tat. So Brits will feel quite at home there. This is the ‘Crystal Cave’ Belay, where you can examine all the crystals whilst belaying, and ponder when Dave Graham might turn up. P3 Left (Nike) is about 8a. Straight up is given 8b, which I suppose it could be, but it’s a better way for sure, more direct and harder.

Its worth noting that from this (top of P3) anchor, or the Nike anchor you can get down to the deck in a single 80m abseil, just.

And that’s what we did. It had taken all day of our day 1 to get to that point, and unbeknown to me, I now had the static in the Nike anchor, i.e., the wrong anchor. We were out of light, with it getting dark at about 6.30pm towards the end of October.

Day 2 began with a sore eye and very sore skin, and the realisation after much studying of pictures that I had gone to the wrong belay of P3. Ethan very nearly redpointed P1 but I opted for a complete dogging session, which felt desperate, and I had no idea how I’d managed to onsight it. Then I redpointed the 8b+ because I just wanted to know I could do it, and figured there was also a likely situation where simply having done all the pitches in a random order over a number of days might well be as good as it got for my style of ascent; best bag them while I could! Two down felt like a good number out of four, though out of two days doesn’t sound so good.

Pitch 3 begin knowing I had to retrieve the static and quickdraws from the wrong way, and then check out the La Bavarese way. This should have been a chilled bolt-to-bolt, but I ended up redpointing the Nike pitch, just because it was so good, and because of the old climber saying, ‘once you start you can’t get off’, or, ‘I was going up or I was coming off’! Really good pitch, though of course not adding in any way to our actual plan. Then it was a reverse climb, and dogging session up to the Crystal Cave Belay making sure any fig-tree-eye incidents were avoided (actually easy to avoid, as the final hard moves are to the side of the tree).

Pitch 4 seemed to disappear out horizontally into impossible terrain, and starting this was quite unnerving, partly through the exposure, but probably more because the entire route depended on if this felt hard or easy for the grade, or if any stopper moves appeared, holds fell off, monos were required, or long spans of any kind!

Actually, this pitch was totally out there! The first half is on decent holds but basically roof climbing. Then there is another junction, which was totally unexpected. As it turns out Nike and La Bavarese also share a few moves of their pitch 4, but we had no idea what was going on. Left looked better but harder, but a bolt stud without hanger persuaded me to head right. Rightwards was also hard, but the rock deteriorated a little as it traversed way off sideways. Eventually at the belay I could find no trace of where to progress onto the next pitch and had that sinking feeling of having gone wrong again and burned a ton of energy in the process! (dogging an 8b+ with 50m of static rope hanging off your harness is no fun!). Thus followed a scary reverse down-climb to the junction, and a quick look up the left version. This proved hard, some moves I could not do, and to be honest by that time I’d kind of had a sense-of-humour failure, and was aware that Ethan had been hanging in his harness for about two hours and he would be having a much worse sense of humour failure. It was getting dark and basically I’d had enough! But even getting down is hard, its WAY to high to just abseil off, and we had to abseil in stages, going down and jugging back up ropes and moving between different ropes, almost as hard as climbing!

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So, we’d now had 2 days on the wall and took a much-needed rest day, using plenty of it trying to get some knowledge of what was up there: where does Bavarese actually go? how hard is Nike? is there a topo for Nike and has it even been climbed? In the end it was as I’d began to suspect: La Bavarese did in fact go way out right, and the left version, P4 of Nike, was unclimbed. In fact most of Nike was unclimbed, including pitch five, the one above the 8b+, though that was estimated at ‘maybe 7b’. And even after P5 Nike then joined another route (Boreas) with another two pitches of 7a+ and 7c+… so a lot more climbing still to do!

It sounds like an easy choice for P4…. Go right along La Bavarese. After all, that was the route we had come to do, I had it worked, and figured I could do it, and after P4 there was just one more 7b+ to do before the top. However, the draws were now out, and instead they were hanging in the Nike way, along with a static rope at the belay, which someone had to get out (i.e. – me!).

Decisions-decisions! After the rest day and a lovely swim in the still warm sea in an attempt to fix finger skin, we were back, already wondering if one day was even nearly enough, and if there was actually any point in trying to ‘go for it’ at all. I figured I’d get the first pitch, after all I’d onsighted it, but you never know! Basically I thought there was a decent chance of getting to the 4th pitch, but I had no idea how tired I’d be, and still didn’t actually have a plan for that pitch, and thus the rest of the route. This had been nagging away at me for a while, as the left-hand way into Nike is clearly (I think) the absolute challenge of the cliff: it takes the best rock and the best features and is relentless in difficulty. The position is so out there, with 100+ meters of space below as you quest out on crazy tufas.

The dream for a route like this is to climb every pitch in a day with no falls. But its kind of standard acceptance that a fall is OK, so long as each individual pitch is climbed without a fall on that day. My vague plan, assuming I actually managed P1, P2 and P3, was to have a crack at P4 the hard way, possibly work it and go for a redpoint, and if it all went pear shaped try La Bavarese way. But I was all too aware this was a gamble. Setting off up P4 with the fatigue of 3 hard pitches, and feeling like I’d prefer an extra rest day or two, I knew it was on a knife edge: ‘Who dares wins’, or ‘he who gets greedy goes home with nothing’!

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P4 zooms outwards on good holds, though since it’s basically a roof, they still don’t feel so good. It wanders left, then back right to a good jug and a slightly ‘odd’ hole through a tufa fin, which makes a nice hand-hold. This is the junction, and on lead I had already decided, and committed to since I’d not taken any quickdraws anyway! I chose the left way into Nike which was the right way (as in, the correct way). But man, did I have to fight, and man, was that knife edge between success and failure sharp!! Quite clearly I’d not worked out what to do or where to rest, and if you’re not sure I’m exaggerating, then the footage taken by Ben quite clearly shows my panicked fumbling. But that was awesome! I knew roughly where the holds were, but not quite sure how to get between them. The last few moves were such a battle, with a little voice in the back of my head saying ‘if you fall off now, you’ll probably never do this route’… which could have been an exaggeration, but actually could also have been completely true. Sometimes you reach a belay and you know you squeezed out a good dose of your luck quota!

P5 looked way less steep, it felt like we had already done the route. I felt any tension slip away, we even had time on our side. But setting off on what ‘might be 7b’ (according to Jan) very quickly became a total sandbag, with the total previous traffic amounting to just Jan dogging is way along a good while ago. I put in the battle of my life; maybe I went wrong, there is a lot of up and down options, but Ethan following was cursing and very glad he had not led through. Next pitch was OK, another traverse on really sharp holds, techy wall climbing. And the final 7c+! Zero chalk and in the sun. Myself and Ethan sat at the top of the 7a+ pitch, looking up at the 7c+. It began with a substantial bush-whack across a sloping ledge, in fact, thinking about it, where we sat was actually a great place to finish the route, and after all, these last few pitches were part of another established route. The belay was comfy, and with the huge bushes it felt like the natural end. From there we could abseil straight down to the top of P4 and be back in time for tea and cake. Surely an extra 7c+ on top makes no difference right… maybe it even makes it worse…. The excuses seemed reasonable, but then were they excuses? Basically, if I pulled on and tried, and fell off, I’d now fallen off on what so far had become a ’no-falls’ ascent, and I’d have to redpoint it to succeed. However, if I just called it quits then that would be fine and give anyone else who tried this English version a cop-out option. Afterall, though you can walk off from the top of the cliff, we were abseiling down anyway, so what was the point of going up even more? But that’s hardly a good question to ask, since if you ask that question there isn’t any point to climbing at all. And so with that I was off upwards again, crimping and sketching, forearms burning but arms much relieved of the angle change from the craziness of below. I fluked it I reckon. But what a finish: a sit down on the top of the cliff with that vast view below. What a route! One of the best routes I’ve done in years, and one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

Overall we kind of climbed a combo of Nike and La Baverese. The topo shows our path! Basically there is just one way up for the first two and a half pitches. Jan had bolted these and Alex ‘borrowed’ them for his route La Bavarese. But I think he made the first actual redpoint ascent of these pitches (not sure). In the end I guess we did a bit of a combo, though the way we took was awesome, and actually, thinking about it, is pretty logical and direct, and may be the best way up. HUGE respect to Jan and Alex for their efforts with the exploring and bolting.

Giradili topo 3   

Watch out for the BMC TV film coming soon!


Kit. Quickdraws, approximately! P1-16, P2-7, P3-11, P4-14, P5-10, P6-10, P7-14

Rope – 80m, essential to lower off P1

More rope if planning to climb over multiple days. Minimum of 1 x 80m static (or abseil rope). Its possible to abseil off directly from the top of P3 with an 80m abseil.

It is also possible to abseil from the top of P5 (Nike way, after the long traverse left) with an 80m abseil onto a spur (and then more abseils). This would be a good place to finish the route, and is a natural end to the climb, though of course you’ll always know you didn’t really do the route properly!

Approach – as for Wolfgang Gullich. Use the guide book to find and follow the amazing path that cuts its way down beside the cliff with amazing views. After maybe 30 minutes you walk through an obvious gap/hole formed by two massive boulders. The big cave (your target) is coming into view up on the left now. Access to the base of the cave and the route is from the right-hand-side of the cave so carry on down for maybe another 3 or 4 minutes. Follow your nose, bearing in mind that you are looking for a way up to the right side of the cave, but not beyond the right side. A small cairn did mark the point to leave the main track, but that might have fallen down! Anyway, about 1 minute up left from the main path is the way, a short gully with a fixed rope to climb. Then follows another 10 minute slog up and left to the start of the route!

Apparently you can walk off the top, which would be lovely. But you’ll have to fully go for it and burn all your bridges as you go and take your shoes and all your kit with you. However, that would be the best way to do it; in ‘standard multi-pitch’ style. But this does require a strong team, and not a camera man and a few hundred meters of static in tow!

If you do abseil down again you can drop directly from the belay of P6 (that’s the 7a+ rightwards traverse pitch) to the top of P4. We had left our bags there. Its not a huge abseil but you need to get a swing going in and out or you will be left hanging in space!

P1 is in the shade till maybe 11am, then the first half gets sun, but if you are starting at 11am you are too late anyway! P5 gets loads of sun, as does P6 and P7. unless its cloudy.

Accommodation, loads, but I recommend the….             www.thelemonhouse.eu

Note, its about 90 minutes drive from Cala Gonone, so that is not a good place to base yourself for this route! However, Cala Gonone does have loads of great climbing too, so ideally stay at two different places!