Hitting the 8th grade – three times over

On the 1st of June 2021 Malta based climber Suhail Kakpori, better known as Kako, surprised the local community with an announcement that he had broken the 8th grade barrier during the month of May, not once, but three times over, with ticks on Down in a Hole (8a, Mellieħa Cave); Bold Corona (8a/+, McCarthy’s Cave, Għar Lapsi) and a First Ascent of Wavelength (8a+/b, The Wave, Victoria Lines, Ħal-Għargħur).

We caught up with Kako to find out more about this impressive run.

Down in a Hole (8a) – Il-Latnija Mellieħa Cave

MCC: Usually when a climber breaks into the 8th grade, they get one tick after a long period of projecting. Getting three in a month must have taken quite a bit of work and effort. Have you been working on these routes for long?
Kako: I’ve been working on the routes for a while now but due to family responsibilities and work, I can only climb once or twice a week. However, I did manage to remember all the moves and work on them in my head too. With endurance being an issue with not being able to climb much, I did have to strategise the climbs. Taking rests on the routes became essential for me. These 3 routes all fit my style for sure as I’m a dynamic climber most of the time. I like to skip, and jump up holds whenever I can as I feel it saves me energy. These 3 routes are surely the hardest I’ve ever climbed.

Bold Corona (8a/+), McCarthy’s Cave, Għar Lapsi

MCC: You’re a weekend warrior, climbing once or twice a week. What’s your training process like?
Kako: I started working on Down in a Hole as more of a training route to prep for some harder projects. Jeffrey Camilleri has been pushing me to work on some routes that are yet to be sent and they sure look interesting. All of them seem to be in the harder grades than 8a so I needed to train hard.

With the Covid situation, climbing routes outdoors seems to be the key. I can only afford a few hours a day since I’ve been in Malta for the past 6 years or so, but not much structured training really. Some basic stuff. I do some weights training using my kid as weight.

I have plenty of power but needed to work on endurance, so Climbing a lot and getting pumped was the only necessity. My training regimen is mostly climbing and plenty of resting. Resting mainly because of working shifts at work.

I do train a lot mentally. Long ago I read how mental training can sometimes be as effective as physical training. This mental training, I think, somehow is keeping me fit – either that or it’s my Himalayan genes.

Bouldering at Wied Mixta (Għar Ħasan)

MCC: You mention that you’re a very dynamic climber, and I know that you come from a bouldering background. Can you tell us a bit more about your climbing roots?
Kako: I did climb and loved bouldering more but started on sports routes too. Back in Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayas, we took upon ourselves to promote Climbing as much as possible. We developed a few crags with the help of our American friend Jeremy, who brought in a load of experience.

I own and run a Climbing company called GraviT with my friend and partner Jammy, who has now taken this dream of developing the Ladakh region into a climbing destination.

We also run an outdoor adventure festival by the name Suru Fest which is doing really well and we even received an award for the best bouldering fest in 2019 from the UIAA. The Suru Fest was was initially a boulder fest and has evolved into an outdoor fest with various outdoor sports like bouldering, trad climbing, sports climbing, kayaking, highlining, slacklining, MTB and much more. It’s become India’s best known outdoor fest now due to the hard work put in by Jammy and team GraviT.

MCC: Bouldering is your passion and your first love in climbing, and it’s not exactly a popular pursuit on limestone in general, and even less so in Malta. Do you manage to get your bouldering fix here?
Kako: I’m really pushing to send hard boulders here too… The few there are here in Malta!

My hardest send locally is a Font 7C+ at Xgħajra; but the boulders aren’t all hard! I’ve opened a few 7As and some easier ones as well.

Seaside bouldering in Xgħajra

MCC: The three routes you sent are in different locations characterised by different climbing styles … so the big question is: which was your favourite send?
Kako: If I had to choose the route I liked the most, I would say all of them have their own flavours. I would say I like Wavelength at the Wave sector especially as I got the FA on it. It does hold something special for me. The crux on it would be boulder grades between Font 7C/+, which is why I would say it could be an 8b. I would love for the route to see some more ascents to confirm the grade though.

Wavelength is a short and powerful route with a hard, precision based crux with some delicate movement. I wouldn’t have managed to get through the crux without giving in all the might that I had and then some more.

Wavelength (8a+/b), The Wave, Victoria Lines, Ħal-Għargħur

MCC: You’ve just sent your three hardest routes in May. Are you looking forward to a summer of rest and relaxation, or have you got your sights already set on your next project?
Kako: I do have some projects set and already worked on them. Just need to get some power endurance and I believe I can get into sending them with time and effort. I would need to give in every bit of effort I can muster and more.

Jeffey has been showing me a lot of these unclimbed routes and always manages to get me on them to solve the crux somehow. Jeffrey is a great motivator and he inspires me to work even harder for these sends on project routes. Now that my son is 6 years old, I can give some more time into Climbing.

A note about grades:
Sport route grades are on the French scale, boulder grades on the Fontainebleau Bouldering grade.

Wavelength was rebolted using equipment provided by the MCC Bolt fund to replace the poor quality galvanised bolts installed by the original route equipper.

All photos from the Suhail Kakpori collection.

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