US climber, Paige Claassen, recently came Downunder intent on climbing one of Taipan Wall’s most iconic lines, the Groove Train (33). Her trip was a success (despite climbing bans in the Grampians being in effect, Taipan Wall is one of the few world-class areas that remains open), and she managed to snag the first female ascent of what most repeaters think is one of the best routes in the world. Paige has climbed as hard as 35, with her ascent of Algorithm (5.14d) last year, so we were curious to hear her thoughts on Groove Train and also the access issues currently affecting the Grampians.
Can you give us your thoughts on climbing Groove Train (33)?
Groove Train is a 5-star route by any standard. It’s been at the very top of my dream list, and I’m beyond happy to have completed it. My send burn felt exactly how I hoped it would – those few moments where you stick a midway crux and then click into flow state climbing to the top. I had so much fun climbing on this line.
Where does it sit in the pantheon of amazing routes that you had done?
I feel fortunate to have climbed on a lot of incredible routes around the world, and Groove Train certainly sits among the best. I’ve looked forward to trying this route for the better part of my adult climbing career and it 100% lived up to expectations. For that reason, combined with the incredible rock quality and movement, it might be my favourite route I’ve ever climbed.
How long did it take you to send the route?
I sent Groovy on my second day of the trip and worked the upper Groove Train for a further four days after that. I would say about eight attempts in total.
Apparently you found the lower long-move-crux on Groovy (the first grade-28 part of which the extension is the grade-33 Groove Train) to be the “hardest”, is that true?
Well, not quite, although it is the move I was most worried about. I had to try the Groovy move about six or eight times before I stuck it. But after learning the movement, I never fell there again. What I find interesting is that no one talks about the other gigantic moves on that climb, namely the first move and the last move protecting the chains. The single hardest move on Groove Train is definitely the big Groove Train move. It requires a similar span to the Groovy move, plus contact strength and power, rather than simply momentum.
You said that the route Groove Trail has occupied some part of your mind for eight years now, why is that? Why do some routes call you so strongly? How do those thoughts germinate and develop?
I think I first saw one of Simon Carter’s photos of Groove Train back in 2010 when Ethan Pringle sent it. It looked beautiful, with long moves and spicy run-outs, which I like. I asked Ethan if he thought my arms were long enough, and it seemed like they might just be. That’s when it went on the life list. Each year, I’d plan to go to the Grampians and something would get in the way, but this year I knew I finally had to make it happen.
I’m a bit picky when choosing projects. Like most people, I enjoy beautiful lines with fun movement, but I also like routes that aren’t easy ticks. Groove Train doesn’t seem like it gets repeated super often, and I knew the reaches would be a big challenge for me, even with my long arms. In my mind, it was the perfect project.
We’ve read your reflections on excuses not necessarily being bad, did you come up against any excuses when you were working Groove Train?
Ha, you’ve done your research. But I’ll have to clarify, I hate excuses, but when you’re getting yourself in a dark downward spiral, it might help internally to give yourself an external reason why things aren’t going well.
As for Groove Train excuses, I was still having a lot of fun on the route and wasn’t near that dark downward spiral. So, no excuses. I knew I just needed to do it.
You have famously climbed very hard routes training in what people might think to be less than optimal conditions (training for Necessary Evil [5.14c/33] by doing only one hour a night after working 14-hour days on a grape farm in Namibia) how did you prepare for Groove Train?
I had ideal conditions to prepare for Groove Train. I took a bouldering trip to Hueco in February to build a power base, then trained in the gym for six weeks in Colorado. I mostly boulder in the gym, because power is my biggest weakness, but I also campused a bit because I knew Groove Train had some serious lock-offs on crimps. Then I took a trip to Smith Rock for two weeks just before I travelled to The Grampians, because I wanted to get my head in the right place for the run-outs, which seemed pretty effective. Smith helped me re-up my endurance right before the trip as well.
Do you have any advice (or perhaps just some killer beta) for anyone else who wants to get on Groove Train?
Go get on it! If you can physically reach the holds, you can do it. Oddly, it’s not so much about power, more about learning the right momentum. On the Groovy move, instead of unwinding from a match, I let my right hand dangle straight down in the air before hucking it out to the scoop. I think that method is better for people whose reach might be near max on that move. Then when you get to the Groovy chain, just keep going. The upper style is so different from the bottom.
The other day you flashed Serpentine (29) – a ‘cranberry coloured-pink point’ – can you tell us about that?
I was lucky to join Kerrin Gale on the Serpentine ledge, and she had the route all beautifully geared up. She gave me perfect beta, and I had watched her climb through the hard sections really gracefully, so I didn’t really have to sort much out for myself. You could think of my Serpentine ascent as the style in which people climb Mt. Everest these days (but I did carry all my trash out with me). I’m not sure I’ve ever had so much fun climbing a route, I enjoyed every move, and was really happy to get to climb it with Kerrin. The cranberry part is because Kerrin’s pants were cranberry red, not pink.
You said that your husband put his goals on hold to support you on Groove Train, how important is your relationship to your successes?
It’s definitely a big part! I actually had trouble finding a partner for this trip, because I knew the route would be quite intimidating with the big run-outs (I actually thought the crux was at the top of one of the run-outs, which it’s not), so I wanted a partner I knew and trusted. At the last minute, Arjan changed his schedule so he could join me. He was excited to boulder in the Grampians, but many of his objectives were closed by the time we arrived. And I think ultimately he knew that this was my dream trip and route, so he made it his priority and was super supportive. He filmed and photographed the route, so he had his own sort of project going on. We make a great team and have so much fun together, which is key.
What else do you have your eye on whilst you’re here in Oz?
We’re headed back to South Africa for some work obligations, so unfortunately I won’t be able to try anything else, although there really is so much to do. I’ll have to make a return trip!
Have you got a handle on the Australian fauna yet?
If by ‘handle’ you mean naming a few of the kangaroos at the Happy Wanderer and watching a video about ‘5 gross koala facts’, then yes.
View this post on Instagram
We’ve been slinging around the phrase “best in the world” quite readily here in the Grampians. Because it just kind of is. Yesterday I had the pleasure of a sport-version flash of the infamous Serpentine. I’d say it was a cranberry colored pink-point on @weebitwindy ‘s gear + all her beautiful beta. I had the time of my life and experienced the most pleasant pump of my life. I was also wise enough to jump off the top from the non-existent anchor before Kerrin could pan out toooo much victory slack, so I only whipped halfway down the wall, not the whole way. Spicy times down under! Thanks for getting me up there, Kerrin, and for getting the try hard juices flowing up on the ledge. Now come back and take it down!
Have you managed to pick up on any of the current access issues in the Grampians and do you have any thoughts on access in the Grampians?
Wow, the access obstacles here are so much more complex than I first thought. I’d been reading every article that came out leading up to the trip, so that we could be sure to adhere to the rules. It’s devastating for climbers, particularly because the blame seems so unwarranted. As a user group, climbers are quite respectful of our natural playgrounds, we really care about protecting our wild places. The only upside is that issues of this scale seem to bring communities together. While there seem to be many approaches to the access issues, I did get the sense that the local community is also banding together to find a resolution. Climber’s posts online are helpful because they inform those of us travelling to the area about how to act. So on that note, keep the information flowing!
With access becoming a bigger issue all around the world, what do you think are the responsibilities of climbers, both punter and pro alike?
I think our responsibilities are pretty obvious – to have as little impact as we can. By brushing our chalk off, packing out trash (whether it’s ours or not), and staying on trails, we can minimise our impact. I also think we have a responsibility to share what we’ve learned with new climbers, regarding both safety and ethics. As climbing explodes and the traditional form of mentorship declines, new climbers are basically making up the rules as they go, unless informed (kindly) about the proper ethics. Not singling people out as punters when they don’t know what they’re doing is a good start. We all had to learn at some point, so let someone know when they’re doing the wrong thing at the cliff, rather than watching and laughing from afar. We all have a responsibility to be open to learning about evolving ethics as access issues become more pertinent.
You have supported a lot of different charities, how do you choose a charity to support and then how do you go about it?
In 2016, I started a nonprofit called SAEF (Southern Africa Education Fund) because I saw an unmet need in the small village where my husband’s family farms. SAEF builds classrooms for a school in Southern Namibia, which serves 800 children at a school built for 350. I think finding a cause you’re passionate about is a really important way to positively contribute to our world as it becomes more and more crowded. The more people choose to make a positive contribution, the better off we’re going to be!