8 is a big number for climbers, and during May 2021 a couple of local stalwarts of the climbing community broke through the barrier with some admirable ticks. Following on last week’s chat with Suhail, this week we catch up with Charlie Ylaya to find out about how he got to clipping the chains on Down in a Hole (8a), at il-Latnija in Mellieħa, the hard man’s climbing area better known as Mellieħa Cave.
MCC: This is your first climb in the 8th grade. It usually takes a big effort to break this barrier – have you been working on this project for a long time?
Charlie: I think I started checking the route last year as other climbers were already working on it. At the time I was still working on other Mellieħa Cave projects like Caveman (7c) and Blind Date (7c). After sending those projects, I started focusing more on the details of Down in a Hole. With a great help from other climbers like Jeffrey Camilleri, Kako (Suhail Kakpori) and Miura Hawkins, who had already worked out the route, I checked each move bolt to bolt. My first goal was to check if the moves are all possible for me. Weather conditions were also another factor in working on this project as Mellieħa Cave is often damp – it needs a strong NW wind which blows right into the cave to dry the holds.
MCC: Did you follow special training or focus specifically on this route to get the send, or were you just climbing hard and enjoying yourself?
Charlie: During the first lockdown, I tried to do some training regularly on my pull up bar but I ended up injuring myself, so I just went back to climbing regularly outdoors. During a session, I do volumes of routes that I am comfortable with, generally in the 6a to 6c grade range. When the conditions were right, I worked on the project from time to time; making incremental progress by linking some moves bolt to bolt.
MCC: What made you choose this route in particular as your project? Does it fit your style? Was it the aesthetics of the route?
Charlie: I think the route fits my style as I got used to the style of climbing in Mellieħa Cave. I also like the route as it has everything on it: knee bars, heel hooks and holds like jugs, crimps and even some two finger pockets. The route is angled at about 45 degrees with a horizontal roof finish. I did a top out finish as I noticed I still had energy after clipping the chains.
MCC: How do you keep motivated for climbing hard?
Charlie: Small progress keeps me motivated in climbing hard routes. Some moves that seem to be impossible on your first try gradually become a normal move at the end of the projecting process. It’s a weird feeling sometimes; that you will feel more psyched when you figure out and do the crux move whilst working the route, than during the actual send itself. Enjoying the process keeps the motivation high. Motivation is also contagious. Sometimes you will feel more motivated when the climbers around you are also motivated to climb harder.
MCC: What next for Charlie? More projects, more hard sends? Or is it time for a break with the heat coming in?
Charlie: I am eyeing some projects around the island like a one overhang 7c+/8a in Mellieħa Cave and some vertical routes like Mistra’s Smooth Criminal (8a) and Radar Point’s Farewell (8a). As the temperature is starting to rise with the onset of summer, a regular session won’t happen so often. Some crags are still doable when they’re in the shade, so I am looking forward to make small progress on those projects during the summer and then probably send them all when the condition is right.
All photos by Matteo Camilleri