Interview – Lee Cujes & the La Sportiva Easter Tick Contest

The Australian born and bred climbing database, theCrag.com, has launched an Australia-wide climbing competition sponsored by La Sportiva. Kicking off on 16 March and running for a month until 16 April, the competition is based on climbing the most number of (unique) pitches/boulders, with the top three winners in the two categories of bouldering and sport & trad climbing receiving a pair of La Sportiva Traverse X shoes. There is also a bonus pair of La Sportivas to be won for climbers who can climb more pitches than one of theCrags.com’s most avid users, Lee Cujes. We spoke to Lee to find out how hard he will be going for the month, and also to learn about why and how he uses theCrag.com

For the full low-down on the La Sportiva Easter Tick Contest, and to sign up, visit here.

You are the man to beat when it comes to theCrag.com’s La Sportiva Easter Tick Contest. Will you just be climbing a normal amount or will you be going out of your way to crush the competition by lapping up as many routes as you can?
A bit of both. I think it’s my job to set some reasonable benchmark that will encourage people to get out and climb a bunch of routes. At the same time, Easter conditions are primo here and I want to make some headway on my projects!

I actually really like the way theCrag and La Sportiva have structured the comp. It’s based on unique, clean ascents of any difficulty. I’ve seen similar comps which are based on metres climbed, and this led to competitors finding the easiest route possible and top-rope soloing it on a mini traxion for days on end. It was the most pointless exercise I’d ever seen.

So for this comp, you just want to get out there and do heaps of different routes of all grades. Think strategically. With difficulty not being a factor, I predict there’ll be a lot of Arapiles climbers in the top of the pack.

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Lee on The Enforcer (27) Waylander, Blue Mountains. Image by Kamil Sustiak

According to theCrag’s stats you are Australia’s fourth most active climber having amassed 94,090m. Neil Monteith is Number One on a massive 140,209m – is it super embarrassing being beaten by a bumbly? Do you have any plans to overtake him by fair or foul means?
As climbers, it’s our duty to pick an obscure metric in which we can excel. That’s why they invented the Masters division in competitions. I’ll never beat Neil in metres climbed, so I think I’ll choose to specialise in ‘number of tufas climbed’.

Are you afraid that people might take the #beatleecujes hashtag literally? Incidentally, what’s your address?
The increasing prevalence of stick clips at the crag has made this a real hazard.

Is meterage the best way to calculate who the leading light of Aussie climbing is?
It’s probably one of the better ways for a physio to look for a cash cow.

Do you think raw mileage on the rock is important for being a better climber?
A few years ago I might have said yes. Now, I’d say yes and no. I think mileage helps you become more competent within your current level of ability. If you want to expand your level of ability, you need to be exposed to harder moves, which means projecting, bouldering and the like, rather than mileage. For a climber in their first few years in the sport, however, mileage is almost always the answer.

How long have you been a member of theCrag for and can you tell us a little bit about how you use the site?
I’ve been on there since the very beginning. I don’t even know what year that was. Early 2000s I think. I’ve got a shocking memory, and I like to keep track of what I’ve done, so that’s its primary use for me. So often I’ll go to log an ‘onsight’ only to find I’d climbed the route 10 years prior. I also use it a lot for trip planning. Browsing areas, seeing what’s there and what’s popular. I’m also somewhat obsessive compulsive when it comes to recording crag data. I have been known to spend entire rest days on overseas trips transcribing routes into the database.

Lee is not thinking about his performance graphs as he sets up to pounce on The Enforcer (27), Waylander. Blue Mountains. Image by Kamil Sustiak

Lee is not thinking about his performance graphs as he sets up to pounce on The Enforcer (27), Waylander. Blue Mountains. Image by Kamil Sustiak

I honestly wish there was just one single route database. Duplicating info across 8a.nu, Mountain Project, Rockfax, 27Crags (and the list goes on) just does my head in. In my perfect world there would be a single source of truth (with all apps and services pointing to a central database). For me personally, that single source would be theCrag.com. Of everything out there, it is the most comprehensive and well-designed route database bar none. And it just happens to be designed and run by Aussies. Oi Oi Oi.

Do you use the available data analysis tools, and when you look at the graphs do they tell you a story?
A few times a year I might look at these. The stats are only getting better and more detailed over time. Looking at theCrag’s competition such as 8a.nu it’s just phenomenal – theCrag is so much better it’s actually now pointless to compare. In terms of what my stats say about my climbing, well, they tell me that while Climbing Your Age (CYA) is a young-un’s game, it is possible to continue to gradually improve your climbing over a 20+ year climbing career.

Do you find the data that you can extract from theCrag has helped your climbing improve?
I think anything that provides motivation is a positive thing. So the biggest thing I find I’m motivated by at the moment is the tick feed – seeing the endless stream of what others are climbing, commenting and congratulating friends and getting psyched as a community.

Do you know how many new routes you have logged through theCrag?
As in first ascents? I’d need to look it up – 301! That’s a lot of bolts.

We note from theCrag that you climbed your hardest routes five years ago, do you feel like you’ve stopped improving or has your climbing improved in ways that are not measured by your hardest redpoint?
I reckon I was peaking at 32, and I’m now 40. In saying that, I recently did an overseas trip in Greece where I logged my best ever performances in onsighting with three 8as (29s), whereas I’d only ever done one 8a onsight previously. My focus these days is remaining injury-free, training as much as I am able (because I really enjoy it), and climbing on fun and challenging routes. Like many climbers, I still believe my best redpoints are ahead of me, and I hope I’m not deluding myself.

009A5538-EditHaving watched your climbing career for a long time now, we’ve always been impressed by how systematically your climbing has improved. Is this something that has happened organically or do you have some kind of long-term plan?
No, I live in The Now. While I’m methodical, I’m not a long-term planner. I’m quite habitual, and I think this is a key factor in systematic and long-term progression. Specifically, I decided many years ago I would train for climbing in a regular/systematic way, and this has provided the framework for whatever successes I’ve enjoyed. I’ve chosen to make training a habit, and climbing one of my life’s priorities. I’m happy to put time into both.

You moved to the Blue Mountains a couple of year back, has that had an impact on your climbing?
For sure. In the first year or two, I’d say my overall climbing level decreased, and I didn’t mind a bit. So many exciting crags to visit and moderate routes to onsight! It’s only now I’ve been here for around three years that I’m putting some time and focus on projecting harder routes, which has inevitably seen my climbing level start to creep back up.

To find out more about the La Sportiva Easter Tick Contest, and to sign up, visit here.

Winners will receive a pair of La Sportiva Traverse Xs (note, they may not be this exact model).

Winners will receive a pair of La Sportiva Traverse Xs (note, they may not be this exact model).

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