When he was 12, one of his first trad routes was an E6. Now 15, he's won the Junior GB Lead Championships and climbed an 8b and an 8b+ this autumn. All, apparently, fuelled by kebabs. Just how has Jim Pope got so good? Time to find out.
Elite kids in climbing are unsettling. We imagine rows of militant parent-belayers or mutant children suckling on calcium carbonate. We smooth down our whiskers and question the poor things lack of a social life. What will they turn out like? Won’t adulthood be such a bore after waddom at 12?
Jim Pope has made a name for himself as both a thoroughly nice, enthusiastic young man and an uncompromising wad. Growing up in Hackney, London, Jim began climbing indoors and quickly got into competition climbing. He worked hard at this for a few years, and this autumn won the Junior GB Lead Championships.
He’s also neatly managed to transplant his ability from indoor to out: sending several 8a’s on the British limestone and in 2012, aged 13, demonstrated both a cool head and an affinity for friction by climbing the gritstone trad routes Nosferatu (E5) and Life Assurance (E6).
After a full summer holiday competing with the GB Junior Team, Jim climbed the Raven Tor route Revelations (8b) this September, followed by the endurance testpiece Mecca - A Mid-Life Crisis (8b+), one of the first routes in Britain to be awarded the grade.
We caught up with Jim to ask what attracted him to a route named for its ability to break grown men, and how he fits climbing hard outside around school and the city.
You’re 15 and you've just climbed an 8b+ on the tricky British limestone. Did you imagine you would reach such a high standard when you started?
When I started climbing, the hardest route at my wall was 8a and I never even imagined climbing that! I don’t think anyone ever really puts limits on themselves, so I just wanted to keep pushing myself.
Do you think you would excel at any sport or activity? Could you switch your focus to high diving or is there something about climbing?
Definitely not! Before climbing, I tried lots of other sports and was shocking at all of them, especially football, and still am. It's making it pretty difficult for me to find four sports to do for my PE GCSE.
What’s an average Jim Pope day? How do you fit the training required to climb at this level around the full-time job of going to school?
For me, my day is pretty easy because everything is so close in London. It takes me five minutes to get to school from home and then ten minutes from home to the Castle Climbing Centre. I train four days a week and manage to get all my school work done in-between coming home from school and going climbing.
That’s a very tidy climbing life! How did you come to climb Mecca, was your approach as organised?
Not quite. Most of the time I’ve been at Raven Tor recently someone has been on the route, so I heard all the beta and just thought I’d have a go. I also wanted to try it because it has so much history; it’s a classic! When I actually climbed the route, I was really surprised because on my last four attempts I was falling off right at the bottom and then falling in the groove, so when I stuck the groove move for the first time, then topped the route it came as a bit of a shock.
When Mina Leslie-Wujastyk sent Mecca Extension, she reckoned a lot was down to people supporting her on the day. Who was your crag team?
On the day I was with friends from the Castle Climbing Centre: Ed, who belayed me and drove us up there, Shaun, who filmed and Jack and Berni who shouted encouragement. A big thanks to Raven Tor locals Jules and Stuart Littlefair for lending me their kneepad. Another friend Char Williams took me to Raven Tor the weekend before, to work it. Other people like coaches Leah Crane and Gav Symonds have really helped me get better at climbing outdoors by taking me out on rock often. This really helps to climb well outside; you have to be able to do it often. Another big thanks to my coaches at the Castle who are always very supportive.
Amazing support is all very well, but at the end of the day you’re the one on the rock, what are your personal three top tips to young climbers wanting to clip the chains on harder routes?
Warm up well, know the moves and what you need to do, and really, really want it. There’s no point trying it if you don’t want to do it. Also, it’s strange making the transition from indoors to outdoors. A lot of young climbers are climbing really hard indoors at the moment, but don’t be disappointed if you’re not climbing the same grades outside straight away – it will come!
You just mentioned you were attracted to Mecca as a ‘classic route’, and in your blog you write the same of Jerry Moffat’s route Revelations. Why is climbing history important to you?
I’ve always really enjoyed reading climbing biographies and autobiographies. I like the history of climbing and how it’s changed and evolved to what it is now. Mecca and Revelations were put up at the same time (in the 1980s) and still are really famous routes. Reading about them and then climbing them has inspired me to try and put up some of my own routes one day. I’m really looking forward to reading Steve McClures book.
Tell me about how you got into trad climbing.
I wouldn’t say I’m ‘into’ trad yet, I’ve only done a few routes! Although this winter I would really like to go and do some more in the Peak District. When I climbed Nosferatu and Life Assurance, I’d spent the summer doing a lot of sport and bouldering and wanted to try something different when the temps got too cold for the limestone.
Both those routes get quite hefty E numbers, had you done any grit climbing or trad at all before?
I hadn't done any trad, they were my first! I went to Burbage with my friends Simon Wadsworth and Leah Crane who were trying Nosferatu, so while I waited to try some easier stuff I had a go on top rope and managed to get to the top a few times in a row. I decided to try it on lead as the gear was quite easy to place, and I did it. I’d done a bit of bouldering on the grit at places like Stanage and Burbage, where I got used to climbing on the rock.
An atomic bomb has hit. All the rocks have been blown up, all the resin holds have melted. What's a 15-year-old climbing wad to do with his day?
I think I’d just go to Beyti, if it was still there: our local Turkish kebab shop.
Finally, do you think being small is a disadvantage. Have you actually just climbed a Jim Pope 8c?
I haven’t experienced being tall yet so I’m pretty used to being small and I don’t think it affects the grade. I think it helps sometimes: I’ve learnt to climb a lot more dynamically and learnt more technique and ways of getting around big moves. Hopefully one day I’ll still have that knowledge and have the height!
Not to mention the kebab power. Here’s to your future routes. Cheers Jim!