Squirming through the apex of El Delphine arch via a poor mans easy 7a version… memorable!

El Delphin is an orange, semi-circular limestone arch in Rodella Gorge. Squirming through the jagged gap at the apex of the arch – head-jam, body-jam, knees pressed against rock – body-jam… squirm-thrutch-wriggle … thighs pumped, back scratched. Inching, inching, inching … and then at last, the rock releases – I’m born into space and air and layback-from-buckets, and eventually I reach the top of the climb. The climb was graded 7a, certainly not a test piece, but for me, this one amongst many, will be more memorable.

Sport climbing with attitude. Aiming for the sky in the apex of the arch. Not everyones idea of fun or even climbing.

Matt seconding and about to enter, THE HORROR!

Weeks into my first pure rock trip in years, I have come to the conclusion I’m not of the correct mental make-up to be a good sport climber. But am I making this comment purely on the grade of climb I succeed – and by succeed I mean get to the top of without falling? In sport climbing I think, success is not based purely, if at all, on the enjoyment received from climbing great moves – it is based on reaching the chains without falling? Sport climbing success for many is not based on being in a beautiful area, enjoying the company, the wildlife; it is based on clipping the chains without falling from a climb at the top of your grade? Sport climbing is trying to push grades and reach a new number isnt it, or is this me projecting my thoughts wrongly?

I’ve always struggled with this. Don’t get me wrong, there is something very satisfying about pushing yourself and reaching a new grade but I think sport climbing focuses and draws people into this thinking too much. All the time people say, “I want to climb 8a, 8b, 8c… etc, very rarely is it I want to climb this route because it is a great line.

I much prefer to move over rock at a standard I can hopefully reach the top, at the top of my ability first or second go. Is there anything wrong with climbing satisfying moves at a lower grade in great surroundings and having fun and getting fit and learning to read and experience the rock without working a climb into submission? 

Made in Mascun. Amother of the more memorable climbs which traverses the whole of the cave.

Unknown American climber making El Delphine look like a path.


I had hoped to climb to a grade of 8a on this trip, but in the last few weeks the usual attempting to on-sight climbs near the top of my on-sighting ability, (7b+ at the moment), is much more enjoyable and has taken over. It is also the fact that I want to climb routes that are visually pleasing and appeal, not just any route with a certain grade attached. I receive so much more from battling into the unknown, attempting to work out moves and sequences – attempting to battle the voices in my mind that desperately want to make my mouth shout take. The whole battle of the mind that keeps me hanging on, shaking-out, hanging-on, placing a quick-draw, shaking-out, hanging-on, altering my grip a fraction to conserve some energy, clipping the rope, shaking-out, shaking-out and then attempting to move higher – this is what I enjoy and receive pleasure. There are so many beautiful, testing lines to climb in my grade range – this to me means much more  than repeatedly returning to the same place and the same piece of rock over and over to reach a new grade.

I don’t decry anyone who wants to work one climb to reach a certain grade, I’m just saying, for me; I have re-affirmed this is not what climbing rock is about. I suppose if I left the winter and the mountains alone for a while, even with my fast twitch mentality, I would naturally progress to the point that climbing to a new number would not involve much time but I know this will not happen as the world of climbing means gaining many more experiences from all aspects of what it has to offer – its rock, places, people and mountains and climbing to a new number while clipping bolts is not really that important to me.

Riglos is always a place I have wanted to visit and Fiesta De Los Biceps is a route full of character that has always appealed. At 7a it isn’t a test piece or anything to shout about but the memories of climbing this route will remain forever, more so than any other route climbed on this trip.


Arriving and sorting out gear at Riglos the evening before climbing fiesta.


Walking in to climb Fiesta at 6am to avoid being cooked!


Katy on pitch 2 after setting off just as daylight arrived.


Small potatoes and technical climbingon pitch 4.


The higher you get the bigger the potatoes, the steeper the ground and the more runout between bolts.


Pitch 5, lets the memorable madness begin!


Steep, high and crazy… big potatoe pulling in a wild situation.


Katy higher on the 6th, 6b+ pitch.


The seventh, crux pitch.


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4 Responses to Memories.

  1. Tim says:

    Nice 1 Nick…..good pics. First few look like your thinking about a rematch with Ormuzd? Love the alpine start for Fiesta….awesome that Katie carried her base jump rig for the descent! C u soon, Tim x

    • Nick Bullock says:

      yO Bigguy, nope, no Ormuzd on my agender, not now, not ever… I know when I aint good enough!! Yeah, had to go Alpine for Fiesta as my toes dont like 40 degrees in rock shoes… imagine the moaning 😉 And Katy jumpimng from the top was def something… no hesitation, no nerves … no rig either, pretty brave, but the water bottles slowed her descent well 🙂

  2. Matt B says:

    Nice to hear your having a great time still in Spain and on to Ceuse hopefully. Its lovely to have my arse feature in your blog on what was truly an “anti Rodellar style climb” right slap bang in the middle of the arch. A climb and experience my back and thighs wont forget in a hurry. Stay safe you two and I hope to hear you climb a lot more visually jaw-dropping routes. Matt x

  3. Pete H says:

    The challenge is the process, not the final send. Redpointing a sport route at or close to your personal physical redpoint limit takes sheer dumb persistence, determination and mental togetherness which alpinists would recognise. Along with lots of good fortune and looking after your body. Just it takes place in mundane surroundings, and less mundanely, in the head. A physical and mental challenge on par with any climbing challenge but scaled down into a scruffy few metres of rock which looks identical to the scruffy bit of rock right next to it. ‘The number’ is just a label to identify a suitable object of perverse physical and mental torture in much the same way as an eye-catching visual line and the reported difficulty of an alpine route attracts the seeker of challenge, or not.

    There’s a sustained sacrifice with a high risk of failure involved in either pursuit, an uncertain outcome – one of the elements of adventure.

    An ok overview:

    Ste Mac’s brilliant articles about redpointing his hardest routes gives a great insight into the obsessive determination required to overcome the mental battle of hard redpointing.

    None of which is a valid excuse for speedos.

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