Roger Cox: Robbie Phillips vs Project Fear

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Over a crackly line from the Dolomites, Scottish climber Robbie Phillips is enthusing about the previous day’s ascent of Cima Grande – the largest of the three monoliths that make up the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, or “three peaks of Lavaredo”.

“It was a really big day yesterday,” he says. “We left at five in the morning and didn’t get back until five in the evening. It was just all day on a massive big face, but we did the route, which was excellent.”

Looking not unlike the spines on the back of a giant Stegosaurus, the Tre Cime present a serious challenge even to experienced climbers. For Phillips, though, Cima Grande was little more than an interlude – something to fill in time between more significant ascents.

So far this summer, in a sustained Alpine campaign, the 25 year-old Edinburgher has ticked off two of his three major targets and at some point in the next couple of weeks, based on current form, he looks like a decent bet to tick off the third.

First in his crosshairs was Silbergeier on IV Kirchlispitze in Switzerland – a route first climbed in 1993 by the legendary Austrian Beat Kammerlander. Almost perfectly vertical, and with only the tiniest of holds, it requires phenomenal finger strength and footwork.

“It’s one of those routes that you’ve gotta go and do,” says Phillips. “It’s only had a handful of ascents, so I made the decision to go and try and climb it. We went there and got bad weather in the first week but the second week we got on it. It took me a week on the wall just working at it, but yeah, then I went and did it, so that was the first one ticked off.”

Next up: Project Fear, a route on the notorious North Face of Cima Ovest, next door to Cima Grande, put up last year by leading Scottish climber Dave MacLeod.

“My goal was to go and make the second ascent,” says Phillips. “It was just a cool idea I had in my mind, because doing a Scottish first ascent in the Dolomites was a first and I thought, ‘Man, if I can do the second ascent – two ascents by Scots…’ I thought that’d be a really good thing to do.”

On the first day everything looked good. “We got up there and realised straight away that it was possible for me. We had another day working the route, just to make sure, and then decided to have a rest day.” The weather was the best Phillips had seen in the Dolomites so the mood was positive. “But then, the night before we were going to try it, a big thunderstorm hit,” he says.

“Last year I’d experienced that before on a wall and because it’s so steep you can still climb even though it’s raining, at least the first section, and on the top section as long as it stops raining you can probably break through.

“We were lucky because it stopped raining. There was a lot of humidity, so it was very slippy on the wall, but that day, irrespective of anything, I went and did it and managed to climb it, so that was the second ascent.”

For non-climbers, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between routes that are difficult, routes that are very difficult and routes that are downright terrifying. The North Face of the Eiger, though, has become a cliche – a byword for badass. So it should come as no surprise to learn that this is where Phillips is heading next.

“The plan is to do an ascent of Paciencia, which is the hardest climb on the Eiger,” he says. “The first ascent was by a guy called Ueli Steck – he’s done the Eiger a lot, so he knows it inside out. But this route is called Patience because it took him five years to do it, five years to get the conditions right. It’s quite a big undertaking.”

Again, this is a route recently climbed by Dave MacLeod. Is Phillips consciously following in his footsteps?

“Dave MacLeod has been a massive influence on my climbing,” he says. “He has put up a lot of really hard routes and I’m keen to go and repeat them because it’s kind of... you know, he’s set the level, and now everyone else wants to follow on and try and achieve that.

“And I suppose the next step for me would be to go on and set the next level, set the next bar. But the only way you know where that next bar is, is by doing what people have done previously and then trying to up it.”

If the weather plays ball, Phillips hopes to make his ascent of Paciencia in the next couple of weeks. To follow his progress, visit www.robbiephillips.co.uk