Young guns: Joe Heeley

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 03/10/2016

The first in our mini-series profiling the young guns rocking the scene right now. 22-year-old Joe Heeley offers some beta for Eyes Wide Shut, the new E9 he's put up at Dovedale, some advice on how to get into new-routing, and talks about the mental side of climbing, how he trains, the role of social media at the top of the sport, and why the future of climbing could be indoors.

If you've recently been into the Foundry climbing shop, you might have been served by a personable and savvy young man called Joe; he loooks like he grew up cragging, and lives in blue jeans. When not selling climbing gear, he's probably training, climbing, or posting about training or climbing. He went to an idyllic school called Abbotsholme where instead of rounders and netball, the kids were taught multi-pitching at weekends and trad climbing or bouldering during the week. 

Joe's focused on bouldering for years: after taking a fall while roped climbing at school, he decided that if he was going to hit the floor, he'd like to know that from the outset. That mindset shifted recently when he met Kyle Rance, and discovered a passion for gardening crags on a rope while trying to piece together impossible moves that might not exist.

Handily, all that bouldering had resulted in a powerful style of climbing, and with a bit of training Joe found he could add stamina to match (oh to be 22). This powerful mix proved potent recently when he linked E9 moves on a blank wall at Dovedale and, after 10 or so headpoint sessions, managed to tick it on lead. More impressive FAs seem sure to follow.

A modern youth, fluent with all social media channels, as well as blogging, photography, and filming, he's already been snapped up for sponsorship by a host of brands. I'm sure there'll be plenty more headlines about him in the future; in the meantime you can watch Joe train, get jealous about his climbing and find out what he had for breakfast on his website, Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram feed.

JH: My climbing partner Kyle and I are constantly trawling through guidebooks, looking for lines and possibilities. Having grown up around Dovedale, I’ve always known about spaces, gaps and even potential for new crags there. There is far more down there than people realise. However, admittedly not much of it is of any great quality.

It took me 10 or 11 sessions to work Eyes Wide Shut. Given the drive from Sheffield and the walk in, each session would be a good few hours on a rope practicing and a whole session was spent just cleaning the route.

I need lots of practice and to feel in complete control before leading a route like this. I have a rule – I won't lead a route without going from the floor to the top five times without falling on a top-rope.

I also like to make sure everything is clean and try to imagine every possible scenario that could happen when on lead, and the outcomes. Where I can and can't fall, where to relax, where to focus. I just have to get to a point where it is so dialled in my head that I know I wont fall.

Eyes Wide Shut is split very definitively into two parts. The lower section has the hardest climbing but is the safest of the two sections. You begin on an incredibly thin, technical slab, with atrocious feet and poor undercuts for your hands. The crux move rightwards brings you to a series of shallow pockets and substantially more powerful climbing, still with atrocious feet.

The crux is safe-ish as I found out after dropping it quite a number of times before finally leading the route! I was glad to have a big spotter who took a lot of the impact out of the falls.

After the crux, falling isn’t really an option until you arrive at the first piece of gear at somewhere between seven and eight metres up. The placement is amazing but placing it is not the easiest and very pumpy. Following this, you make relatively big and powerful moves through a bulge before a final lunge to the juggy rest on Adjudicator. It's French 8a+ to this point.

At the jugs, you can get some good gear. After as much recovery as possible, you set off through some lovely techy but easy climbing, with two small RPs for protection. You eventually arrive at a large sidepull and here you prepare yourself for the second crux above.

After placing a final small brass offset you set off through a powerful series of undercuts and awful slopers. These lead to a final delicate set-up of really high feet leading to an explosive dyno to a jug. It’s worth noting that I probably only caught the top move 50% of the time on practice.

While on the lead I discovered that the final crucial gear placement wasn't as good as I thought. While setting my feet for the next move it fell out. At the time I did my best to ignore it and threw for the jug, fortunately catching it and pulling over to the relative safety of the slab.

It was only once I was on the slab that I had a rush of emotions and consciousness, realising what a situation I had got through. I’m fairly certain that the next closest piece of gear would not have held due to the fragile rock, meaning groundfall from 23-ish metres.

After stopping shaking and calming myself I put a sling on a final small tree and continued to the safety of the top. From here to the top it's somewhere between 7c and 8a. It definitely felt closer to 8a on the lead!

There is potential for new routes everywhere, even at the most popular crags. You just have the motivation to find them and the commitment to spend hours of your life trying something that might not even be possible!

Social media plays a massive role in being a sponsored climber but it doesn't detract from my experiences. I enjoy photography and like sharing my experiences. I think some people find social media makes them feel pressured but it doesn't seem to affect me in this way. I'm very grateful to be supported by sponsors in my climbing.


MENTAL PREPARATION: this can be a massive part of climbing but it's not too often discussed. Photos and videos of people training and getting stronger are in abundance but I thought I'd talk a little about the mental game. I know when a route is crossing from the boarder of just physical into mental when I find myself crimping my steering wheel. Even if I'm not actively thinking about the route this is always the first sign. It can be an almost inconceivably small change that makes the blurred line of physical and mental snap into clarity. This time the difference has been a matter of millimetres of a foot placement, choosing a worse edge for a better position. But now the mental game is in full focus and is in reality what holds me back from just sacking it up and leading it. But that's a good thing right? I don't want to be hasty and rush into a situation which puts me at the sharp end. So I won't. Practice makes permanent. As long as I'm sure I know what I'm going this practice is only going to help solidify and help to blur the line once more. And one day soon it will feel right. I can explain the feeling. It's almost like the butterfly's in your stomach just slow a little and the idea of leading just feels a bit more comfortable. Then it's go time....🔝 @fiveten_official @pitchclimbing @frictionlabs @monkeyfistclimbing @latticetraining Thanks @dale.comley for the company!! #climbing #bouldering #climberhands #crimp #mentalprep #project #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #climbbeyond #climbyourimpossible #brandofthebrave

A photo posted by Joe Heeley (@monkeytimefilms) on

There are some incredibly strong youths coming through, but I think less and less are going to be actually climbing outside. It's great for climbing that so many are interested, but I think going out to the Peak, and especially new-routing, is something that we will see few people doing. So many are just content going to the walls.

My biggest training tip is just climb as much as you can and try to do stuff that is too hard for you. I've only started training specifically relatively recently. I bouldered 8A without any specific training. You can definitely get strong by just climbing. You might surprise yourself and it will force you to progress rather than just doing loads of mileage on stuff you can already do.

I finished my degree in Outdoor Adventure Sports Leadership and Coaching and now am trying to get into the outdoor industry, looking particularly at equipment and clothing sales. I don't know whether I will ever become a truly professional climber. I really don't think I’m good enough for that. I'd much rather find a job that I love, and which gives me the opportunity to still pursue climbing as much or as little as I want. I’d just like to find the right balance.

I’m currently just trying to explore climbing and see what I can do. New routes motivate me more than repeating routes, so I guess I’ll just see what I find.

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A little confused as to how the future of climbing is supposedly indoors? No mention in the article?
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