Caroline Ciavaldini makes third ascent of Olwen (E9 6c)
- Tuesday 15th August 2023
Caroline Ciavaldini has made the third ascent of Olwen (E9 6c) on the Painted Wall, Rhoscolyn, Anglesey in north Wales
During another whistle-stop trip over from France, Caroline – a.k.a. Caro – Ciavaldini has made short work of Olwen, James Taylor’s recent route (read the report here). Jim Pope made the second ascent earlier this month during a break from climbing competitions.
It’s Caro’s second-ever E9, her first was Chicama (E9 6c) at nearby Trearddur Bay (must be the Anglesey water!). Caro had been projecting Le Voyage (E10 7a) at Annot, France over the winter but is using this trip to ‘get back into the flow’ of trad climbing, Caro kicked off with an ascent of Easel-EE (E7 6c) on the Painted Wall before getting to grips with Olwen. The route follows a 'rib-like' feature in the middle of the wall with two spicy run-out sections.
Climber has been in touch with Caro to ask her about her ascents on the Painted Wall, how she approached them and what it’s like juggling hard climbing whilst having a young family:
For starters can you tell us, how you got hooked on Painted Wall?
To be honest, I did simply what the old Caro would have done. I just followed James on his ideas, he was keen to have a look at the Painted Wall. I try not to function like that anymore and have my own inspirations, but of course, James and I are a team in every sense and this time was supposed to be mainly focused on him. I originally wanted to go back on Strawberries, but I think the wall is wet.
You began by repeating Easel-EE (E7 6c). That’s an interesting part sport and part trad route. How did you approach that how did your ascent go?
I actually abseiled on Olwen by mistake, as I was aiming for Easel-EE, but it seemed really hard and scary, and then I finally realised I was in the wrong place. Since my second baby was born, I have only been in one trad route, Le Voyage, which I am working on. I have had a lot of internal dialogue while readying myself on this project, and going on Easel-EE, I wanted to settle myself back into trad in a softer manner. I didn’t find Easel-EE easy at all, on my first attempt I fell on the top part, there is a boulder that I find fairly hard. Also, I did a typical beginner’s mistake, as I had forgotten one of my placements, and I got so pumped because I was scared as I had missed one gear. On the second attempt, I did the route, I got really pumped, but I climbed quite well and found some of my old habits back.
You then switched your attention to James Taylor’s recent addition, Olwen (E9 6c). This starts up Easel-EE (E7 6c) before continuing direct to tackle the crucial headwall. Firstly, was it always your intention to ‘warm up’ on Easel-EE and then try Olwen?
Not at all, I only went back on Olwen because I was satisfied with my first route and I was just curious to see how hard Olwen’s movements felt. I really didn’t think I wanted to try it on lead, I was only spending the time whilst James finished his own project elsewhere on the wall.
How did you go about trying Olwen and at what stage did you think it was a goer?
After two careful abseil inspections, and having figured out all the movements I started to do a few links on a static. I found some mediocre extra gear in the run-out, but I still really wasn’t considering having a go, I was more curious because I knew James had in his mind to try to flash the route in the future. I then installed a top rope and I managed to do the route clean on my first top rope try.
How did your ascent go; any tricky moments?
I still wasn’t considering trying to lead the route because there is this one big run out in the middle, where you would most likely hit the ground if you fell. James pushed me a little bit there to look at things logically rather than emotionally, and it’s true that the few moves where a ground fall is likely are also a lot easier than the rest of the route. We left the crag for that day, and I had a day to think, I also asked friends about gear quality in the meantime. We came back to the wall, and I had decided I would only try to lead the route if I had another clean top rope go and if the conditions felt better.
When I lead the route, nearly everything went perfectly, I was exactly in the right mindset on the dangerous part. But on the top part, after the undercling rest and some good gear, there is the hardest section that is safe because of the extra height, but still very run out. It is around 10 continuously difficult moves, and I made a small mistake with a blind left foot, which slowed me a lot, and I got instantly more pumped than I would’ve liked to. I really just about stuck the last hard movement, with my ass really going backwards, but I managed to stay on the wall. I got really pumped at the very very end, where it is supposed to be finished, but I stayed composed and could finish the route.
It’s great to see that you’ve got back into the harder grades since having your second child; that’s obviously going to be a tremendous inspiration for lots of other women. You’ve recently climbed your second Font 8A boulder and with your vast climbing experience and endurance do you feel as though you’re climbing as well as ever?
I wouldn’t say that I am climbing as well as ever, but I think I’m just about back to my best former level, which with all things considered is pretty motivating. I have been training with Maddy Cope from Lattice and she’s been really helpful to add new ingredients to my training that I didn’t have before, and also helping me avoid big injuries, like that happened after my first pregnancy when I trained myself. I also just wanted to say that obviously because I’m a pro climber, climbing is my job and it’s way easier for me to find the time to train than for people who have an everyday job. Obviously, I’m thinking of young mothers there. It is still a constant struggle for James and I to create enough time, and still be good parents. So these three days on a sea cliff (almost impossible with small children) we were really lucky because James’ parents took care of Arthur (4) and Zoellie (2). Most of the time we try to find crags that fit our children, and that is the first and most important ingredient in our choices.
Obviously, it’s not easy juggling a young family and super hard climbing but do you feel you can and want to push on and climb even harder now?
I actually had a lot of this internal conversation, when I was deciding to commit to Olwen or not. In the end, I decided to go for it, but I really wanted it to be for the right reasons. Not because that would be my second E9 ever, not because of my sponsors, not because of pressure or self-promotion. I realized I wanted to do Olwen which is a relatively dangerous route, because I really like what this type of route is about… I like to control my emotions in a relatively hard and dangerous section. Staying composed when you know that you can’t make a mistake and lose it. I like to be in control of that, I want to be this person.
Now, my project since a year is Le Voyage in Annot. I’ve had my eyes set on that for a while now and I feel like I will definitely give everything I have to do it.
You’ve often mixed up hard trad and hard sport in the past so that opens up a vast array of opportunities. Is it correct to assume you still have that mindset and have you got any ideas about what you’re keen to try for the rest of the year?
As I told you, Le Voyage is all over my mind. I do function just like I used to, but one big difference is that I am more gentle with myself. I don’t give myself a time deadline. It will take the time that it will take. And maybe I won’t even do it. And that’s OK. I don’t think that makes me a better athlete but I really think this is necessary for me to be a good mum.