We recently had the chance to interview Robbie Phillips, who is a Scottish climber, climbing coach, traveler, route setter, writer and blogger. He has coached some of the biggest talent and we thought an interview was in order with this tremendous athlete.
Check out his amazing interview!
Editor: We’re so honored to speak with you and we do appreciate your time. We’re sure you’ve got some inspiring crags stories to share!
Thanks for speaking with us, Robbie.
Robbie Phillips: No worries :-) I am always happy to speak to others about my adventures with climbing!
Editor: You recently talked about climbing in Australia. What was that experience like for you?
Robbie Phillips: Australia was undoubtedly the best climbing trip I have ever had, not just in terms of the climbing I did, but in the people I met and the places I saw in that incredible country!
Climbing-wise though I don’t think I have been to a place on earth that boasts quite as much aesthetic quality to the climbing. The sandstone around Australia from the Arapiles and Grampians in Victoria, to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, all of it was just absolutely stunning and a pleasure to climb on. Everyday you get up, go to the crag and you just can’t help but be inspired to climb everything and anything you see… it’s all just so damn beautiful!!!
Editor: It sure is! You did a repeat of Off the Rocks (E8 6c), Nick Dixon’s 1995 test-piece at Back Bowden in Northumberland.
You also repeated two Mt. Arapiles classics, Lord of the Rings (31/F8b) and Punks in the Gym (32/8b+). In Queensland you tackled a number of 32/F8b+’s and got a very difficult first ascent by doing Haggisaurus Rex (33/F8c). You also ventured into the Blue Mountains where you re-did Tigercat (33/F8c).
What are your thoughts on these climbs, Robbie?
Robbie Phillips: “Off the Rocks” was only a few weeks ago this year. That was a really impressive piece of rock, very bold and very droppable at the crux where you risk ground fall at about 10m height. It is certainly a classic of Northumbrian climbing yet has had very few ascents mainly because of the bold nature of it… you wouldn’t want to fall off!
“Lord of the Rings” and “Punks in the Gym” were technically challenging but not really physically demanding. I did both of them in only a few goes, but I could see how they could cause a lot more issues perhaps with climbers less used to that style of climbing. I am not very strong and I definitely suit more weird technical styles better than powerful brute strength climbs. I would love to climb a 9a in that same style :D That would be perfect!!!
“Haggisaurus Rex” was a mad route in a freaky place called Coolum. That crag is like something out of Alice in Wonderland… everything is weird and upside down and back to front… nothing is what it seems which makes climbing there so bloody awesome!!! “Haggisaurus” was my addition to Australian climbing, currently Queensland’s hardest route and probably stands out as the weirdest route with the most insane moves out of any climb I have ever done! It certainly has the toughest crux (V10) out of any climb I’ve done personally.
Editor: You also did the ascent of Bellavista (F8c), Alex Huber’s 2001 route on Cima Ovest in the Dolomites.
That’s such a beautiful area. How did you feel about climbing there?
Robbie Phillips: Climbing in the Dolomites was such a privilege, that place has beauty that can’t be put into words… the valleys… the mountains… the towns… everything!!! It’s just so incredible! The lifestyle people live in the area as well… man I think I would love to live in a place like that one day J I am going back this summer for more climbing and I would like to check out Dave Macleod’s new route on the Cima Ovest as well as classic lines on the Cima Grande such as “Brandler Hasse” and on the Marmolada “The Fish”.
Editor: What is your favorite Northumberland crag?
Robbie Phillips: My favourite Northumbrian crag has to be Back Bowden Doors. Just because the routes there all have great features to climb on and there is a lot of exciting easier routes for soloing that can be really nice for a day out. It’s only an hour and a half from my house so probably the closest decent crag to me J
Editor: Can you please tell our American readers (and your future fans) a little about Bob Smith ascent of On the Rocks in the 80's and Nick Dixon’s Off the Rocks in the early 90's.
Robbie Phillips: I think that Bob Smith's ascent of “On the Rocks” back in the 80’s is a testament to him and their era of hard climbing… those guys had freakin’ huge balls!!! That route has some potential to do some pretty hefty damage if you don’t get it right.
Nick Dixon taking the line “Off the Rocks” back in 1995 again was a testament to how ballsy they where and far ahead they were at the time with this bold, technical style as even 20 years on, the route has had very few ascents!
Editor: You seem to have been really impressed with Bellavista (in the beautiful Dolomites) in so many ways. Can you share the role it played in people talking about you being both a sport and trad climber?
Robbie Phillips: Well “Bellavista” isn’t so much a trad climb; more of a really scary kind of pseudo trad/sport climb :P It’s hard to fit it into any discipline as the gear is mainly pegs which you can choose to either trust… or not? The belays are all bolted which makes everything after the first pitch kind of safe in a sense; you might just take the biggest fall of your life if you fall off!
“Bellavista” inspired me to challenge the mental side of my climbing more I would say. It is probably the reason why I am choosing to push myself more in this dimension :-)
Editor: Tell us about Neil McGeachy. You both climbed the “Deil’s Head” on the Arbroath sea cliffs on trad gear, a line that hasn’t been freed before and you head-pointed, it giving it E8 6b naming it “Deil Or No Deil”. (Love the name, BTW.)
Robbie Phillips: hahaha thanks :-) Neil is a big inspiration in my climbing; he was one of my mentors in climbing. For Neil and I, “Deil or no Deil” was a little team project for us, we had not seen much of each other in the last few years and I think the route was a great excuse to spend more time together and get back into climbing with each other again.
“Deil or No Deil” is a tough climb to grade as physically its not that hard, maybe f7a climbing? But if you fall off you might be screwed up a bit? Also the rock quality is bloody awful so it’s kind of a terrible idea to climb it hahaha I wouldn’t recommend trying to onsight this route to anyone… the best I would say would be to abseil down, check the holds, chalk it up and make sure everything is solid, then go for a lead? We did it on top rope a few times before committing and we waited for the best conditions!
What is your secret to hitting that re-set button after a day hard core climbing?
Yoga, meditation, music? More climbing, perhaps?
Robbie Phillips: emmmm… I like hanging out with my friends J but sometimes I do need a bit more relaxation, so sometimes I watch a movie or read National Geographic haha. Lately I have been doing an Open Uni course in science, so it’s been kind of therapeutic to study in fact! It’s challenging but I enjoy learning. I also like to read up on climbs for the future and scope out videos for beta on hard climbs I might like to try and flash… Lately I have been looking at a lot of stuff around the UK for this coming season. A few E8’s and E9’s dotted about the place…
Editor: Who gave you your first lesson and where did this take place?
Robbie Phillips: My first climbing lesson was probably from my other climbing mentor, Neill Busby at EICA: Ratho in Edinburgh. I have looked up to him since I was 15 and he is now one of my best friends.
Editor: Is there a certain outdoor project/projects that have always intrigued and challenged you?
What was the route and grade?
Robbie Phillips: I have nothing that I have tried and not completed which particularly intrigues me to return to. In fact there are only a few routes I have ever tried and not done… I don’t tend to try very hard stuff :-) I would say though that there are a few trad and alpine routes that I really want to do and intrigue me. The Nose on El Cap being one of them.
Grades don’t inspire me too much; I am more infatuated by personal challenge and the freedom to go climb anywhere on earth in beautiful places. I would like to do some big first ascents on some monolithic pieces of rock in some out-there locations! Maybe like the Bugaboos in Canada, or in some new areas in China and even Africa and the Middle East! Pretty much anything that can be climbed and is beautiful in a truly natural and wild location inspires me… oh yeah and it has to push me both mentally and physically! :-)
Editor: Who are your favorite climbers and why did you pick them?
I ask because each has a particular strength, like you do, which may resonate with fans.
Robbie Phillips: emmmm I don’t think I have a “favourite” climber, but I have lots who inspire me and would love to learn from. I’d say Hazel Findlay inspires me with her approach to life, travel and climbing. Alex Honnold is inspiring in his ability to keep things cool and collected whilst soloing some pretty outrageous stuff… also in that domain Hansjorg Auer and David Lama!
Though saying that, I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing my friends and those about me at the crag just pushing personal boundaries and seeing their own dreams come true. Everyone is the same really, it’s all just relative to our experience.
Editor: Where would you love to visit and climb around the globe?
Robbie Phillips: EVERYWHERE!!! Places I want to go in the next year or so would be China and Madagascar I think. I want to go to China for sport, trad and big wall and to Madagascar for big wall!
Editor: Here’s an important question that truly defines a climber.
Why do you climb?
What does it give you emotionally?
There is a spirituality to climbing that some athletes feel strongly, while for others, it is merely a physical pursuit.
When you’re in the midst of nature, there is a connection that you make with your surroundings and yourself that others may not sense.
Many experienced climbers whom I’ve interviewed, who are now in their 60s and 70s have learned to pick up on nature’s language quickly.
Does your heart feel the rock’s language?
Robbie Phillips: Climbing has changed for me a lot over the years. I’d say that when I was younger it was an obsession… maybe in between then it became a purely goal orientated and physical pursuit… and now I am probably in my most healthy state of mind with climbing.
I would say that yes, I am very connected with nature. The climbing lifestyle definitely lead me to this but I would say that I appreciate nature and the world around me in a far more balanced, all-round state now. I definitely can sit back, relax and take in the beauty of the world without being at a crag or on a rock :-)
I climb because I love it… I climb because it’s who I am and what comes natural to me. I would go so far as to say climbing is an extension of my soul, but I don’t pretend that its more than it is hahaha I mean, it’s just pulling yourself up a wall :-) People put waaaaay to much emphasis on the importance of climbing outside of their own experiences. They grow some sort of attachment to being really really good at climbing or being seen as a “climber”, but at the end of the day, who really cares? When I go climbing I am not solving world issues, it could even be viewed as a very hedonistic lifestyle… What I would say though is that climbing truly is a wondrous thing that for me is incredibly spiritual, physical, mental, and artistic. It allows me to experience freedom and enjoyment in a stressful chaotic world and I think it can offer so much to people personally. If you could spend your whole life doing something; climbing I would say would not be a bad thing :-)
Editor: What are your thoughts on the preservation of nature and climate change?
(I ask because it directly affects the climbing profession.)
Robbie Phillips: We as a human race need to be respectful of the world we live in and do our part to protect it. Climbers are generally more connected intrinsically with the environment than others because of the nature of our sport and lifestyle. I guess there is a lot of stuff we can’t control happening in the earth, but working together we have a stronger voice and can perhaps do some good in the world with the statements we make and the examples we set for the future.
Editor: Switching gears here for a minute…Let’s talk music and books…on rest days, what kinds of books do you read and what kind of music do you like to unwind to?
Robbie Phillips: I like fantasy novels :-) I can’t read anything serious unless it’s study material. Music, I listen to a lot of different stuff! Recently I have been really into a much more relaxed style of music from artists like Sufjan Stevens, Elliot Smith and Seabear. But in all honesty, I love all music! Well maybe not really heavy stuff :-) I like a lot of different styles from rock and hip hop to classical and indie.
Editor: Thanks for spending some time with us, Robbie. It was great to learn about your climbing history! Please come by and talk with us again, your fans love to hear from you.
Robbie Phillips: Thanks for interviewing me.:-) I wish you and your readers all the best with their climbing in 2015 and life in the bigger picture!
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of the Facebook Climbing Page 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
All images © of the designated photographer and used with Robbie's written permission.
Sponsors: Edelrid & Evolv
Official blog/website: www.robbiephillips.co.uk
Facebook: Robbie Phillips Athlete Page
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On the Cover: Robbie Phillips
Cover Date: February 15th, 2015