Even by Alex Megos' standards he has had an amazing 2015 and we're only half-way through it. It kicked it off in late January with the third ascent of Lucid Dreaming (V15/8C), his hardest problem to date, and the headlines continued as he visited Japan and Australia. 'World domination tour' and 'sendathon' were some of the words used in the climbing media to describe his past few months.
Now back home in the Frankenjura, and having had time to catch his breath, Ray Wood asked Alex a few questions about his time away.
Can you pick one highlight that has meant the most to you so far in 2015?
Picking only one highlight is a very easy decision for me. It would be Lucid Dreaming (V15) in the Buttermilks in Bishop. That boulder problem was my longest project so far taking 11 days and involved a huge mental and physical effort to do it. But every day was totally worth it.
Travelling and climbing day-in and day-out for nearly six months may sound glamorous but anyone who has been on the road for a long time knows it isn't always perfect. How do you stay motivated to keep trying so hard and is there a downside?
For sure I am living the dream by doing what I love for a living. But that doesn’t mean there are no downsides to that life. Climbing is what I love and I'm very happy and thankful to be able to do it all year round as my work. But still it changes the perspective a bit when you have to consider it as a job. That’s what most people sometimes forget.
A lack of motivation or an injury can become a whole new level of concern. The key for me to stay motivated is down to the people I’m with while I'm traveling and climbing. Partners are very important to keep up your motivation and help you to get over the bad times. And of course you can't take everything too seriously. Fun is still and will always be the most important part of what I’m doing. You mustn't forget that, even when you're having the worst downs.
Is climbing all the time enough to maintain power and strength or do you have to sometimes say: 'Today I have to train.'?
To maintain strength of course I have to train as well. And I have to train even more to build up more strength, which is - as always - the main goal! ; - ) I usually periodise my climbing. There are periods when I am on a trip, which normally means I just go climbing. And then there are periods when I do my training. The hard part for me at the moment is to figure out a good balance and find the time to actually do the training as I could easily fall into 'all year round climbing mode'. Especially since I could always travel to a destination in the world where the conditions are good. So at some point you have to focus and not go on a few trips in order to be able to train.
Which hard routes are on your list to try? Does La Dura Dura (9b+) interest you or does the thought of having to spend a lot of time on it put you off?
I generally never have a list of routes I want to do. Normally my approach is to have an idea of what I would like to do, then go there and have a look. I would never decide I want to do a route before seeing it. To be inspired by a route I generally have to see it for real, or even better, try it. La Dura Dura is at the moment not something I’m too interested in. I still don’t feel ready or feel the need to try a route over a very long period of time. I’d rather do routes within a few days at the moment.
Having spent 11 days to climb Lucid Dreaming (8C/V15) in late January and then fast forward two months to taking less than two hours to complete Orochi in Japan - also originally given 8C - do you find the hardest bouldering grades vary from one country to another or do they not get the traffic for a consensus to be reached?
Good question. Yes indeed it seems very strange that the difficulty of problems graded the same can vary so much that the one takes you two hours and the other one takes you 11 days. I think I’m not in the position to say that the grade 8C contains multiple grades depending on the first ascentionist, the type of rock, the time it was first climbed and so on.
However, I do think that in bouldering the personal sensation of difficulty varies a lot. In my opinion it's because of the fact that hard bouldering gets so specific and style dependent, that small differences in height, finger size, span, flexibility, skin, temps, etc. can make a huge difference and lead to the impression that one problem is a lot easier/harder than the other one.
Surely even Alex Megos has rest days, doesn't he? Do you read much and if so what is on the 'shelf' at the moment?
Yes, even I do rest days. For example when I’m travelling from one side of the world to the other it's hard to fit in some training as the journey normally takes 24 hours. I really enjoy reading but I haven’t had the time to read that much lately. My last book was the biography of Jerry Moffatt. Great book! And I hope that my next book will be Ben Moon's Statement.
Is your Frankenjura route, Geocache (9 something), at six days and 40+ tries, still the longest you've ever spent trying any sport climb? Can you compare Geocache in difficulty to any of the routes you've done since then?
Yes Geocache is still my longest route climbing project I ever had. I think in terms of difficulty Geocache is not harder than any other routes of the same grade. It's just a bit strange.
When I interviewed you for Climb magazine in July 2013 you hadn't yet climbed Action Direct (9a) and talked about lacking confidence; seemingly surprised at your own ability. Now you've done Action four times, climbed 9a+ in 1.5 hours and left a trail of headlines behind you around the world. Surely, that has given you far greater self-belief and perhaps you've not found your limit yet?
Well, I hope I haven’t found my limit yet! I still want and will progress a lot in climbing! There is still a lot to improve and learn so I’ll do my best to find my limit.
You joined Instagram (@alexandermegos) on 16th January at the start of your trip to Bishop this year and it's quickly become popular with nearly 12,000 followers. In the age of social media how do you feel about being so in the public eye?
I mostly see social media as part of my work rather than personal entertainment. Sometimes it’s a necessary evil but it's simply the easiest and fastest way to reach many people and share your achievements. I think if I wasn't be a professional climber I probably wouldn’t keep Facebook and Instagram up-to-date.
Are you superstitious? Is it true you have a lucky chalk bag and yellow t-shirt?
I do have a yellow lucky chalk bag and yes I do have 5 yellow t-shirts because yellow is my favourite colour. I wouldn’t say I’m superstitious but my lucky chalk bag definitely makes me climb harder!
If you had to recommend an inspirational destination to a rock climber looking for that once in a life-time trip where would it be and why?
I think it'd be Australia's Taipan Wall. Maybe it's just because I’ve been there recently but there's no doubt it’s an incredible wall and maybe even the best on earth? In my opinion it definitely has some of the best routes on this planet.