Lee Cujes interview by Pinnacle Sports

Pinnacle Sports interviews me in 2006 for their website...

Where did you start to climb and at what age did it become more than the next sport on the list of things to try?

Lee: I started climbing in 1994. I was 17. Went to a climbing gym a few times (thanks Mum!) and was hooked, and started venturing outdoors. This was before climbing info was available on the internet. We had to work out everything ourselves, which meant rope was purchased from the hardware store, the same 8mm poly rope you use on your trailer. We made harnesses out of the same rope using a soldering iron. The exceedingly painful G-string configuration we came up with led to some seriously bruised kidneys. We used D-shackles to belay. Our first outdoor climbing was at the Daisy Hill State Forest quarry. I went back there a few years ago and was astounded by how chossy the walls were that we managed to get up. It's amazing none of us got badly injured, but I think when you don't know anything at all and don’t really have any confidence in your gear, you place a lot more emphasis on being absolutely sure of your safety. Beginners these days can get pretty cavalier which can lead to accidents.

Q2: I have no idea what your accomplishments have been lately so let’s start there. What have you been on?

Lee: Well, I started the year off by getting engaged in Thailand on New Years Day; also getting in a bunch of good climbing including my first 8a/29 (Just Call Me Helmet - second shot) and 7b+/26 flash (No Have). In March I managed a flying visit to Taipan Wall in the Grampians where I sent Anaconda and Venom (both 28, third shot) and World Party (27) as well as a stack of other great climbs. Taipan was great! Then my latest Easter trip was to the Blue Mountains where I did three 25's, a 26 and three 27's (all first or second shot) and had five attempts on Self Portrait (29), getting it down to one fall. Locally, I recently climbed all the routes and link-up's on Upper Slider Wall including Gareth's 27 Hybrid Vigour, and added The Forty Metre Mile (28) with Duncan Steel. A few weeks ago I did the first known free ascent of Ricochet at Serpent, proposing 27 for it.

Q3: What was the inspiration for pushing the grade this year? Was the idea to improve your onsight level?

Lee: Like a lot of people, I'm interested in simply improving my climbing. One aspect of that is climbing harder (which usually means harder grades). The inspiration for climbing harder has been that I've become really interested in training, and I've been keen to see whether training does pay off. Now that I think about it, that sounds back to front.

I'm certainly keen on onsighting and always have been. If I think I have a good shot on a route I will always try to go for the onsight. You've only ever got one chance at this, so why not go for it? I'm still looking forward to my first grade 26 onsight!

Q4: Climbing trad has been a great focus of yours at Frog Buttress last season, do you feel that trad has given you an edge on the latest ticks in the Blueies?

Lee: To be honest, I didn't really do a lot of true trad climbing last season, although I did tick some of the harder Frog routes (three 27's). These were done with the protection in place, whether placed by someone else on a previous attempt or by rapping in and pre-placing. I don't count this as trad climbing; it's sport climbing a trad route. Some people get very aggressive about ethics and tactics, but my focus is to climb the route. As long as you're honest with yourself and others, I don't see the problem. Also, the majority of the hard routes (27+) at Frog were originally yo-yo'd, meaning the gear was left in place from previous attempts. One day if I want to better my style, I can try doing them ground-up placing the gear. The thing climbing harder routes at Frog did do for me was provide a motivational boost. It boosted my self confidence, and allowed me to take myself seriously when thinking about climbing hard routes. As Duncan says, it's like unlocking a door. You tick one, and you can keep ticking them.

You asked about whether climbing trad helps with sport climbing. Probably not! The best thing for sport climbing is sport climbing, and the same goes for all other climbing disciplines.

Q5: What is involved in your training and prep for hard climbs? You seem to be ticking every trip you go on. What’s the secret?

Lee: No secrets! Self-evaluation is the key. I ask myself "why did I fall off that climb?" The answer might be because I got pumped and my hands opened up on a pretty big hold. Therefore I need to train my endurance. There are certain exercises or training drills you can do for endurance, so I schedule them in (see my article on training diaries). When the time comes to try the route again I can see whether the training paid off, and what else I might need to train.

Q6: Where do you see your climbing going over the next few months, are there any trips and goals we should look out for?

Lee: Well, I’ll be going out to Frog a bit more as the weather cools down. I was out there the weekend before last and did all the moves on the Trousers, so that’s now firmly in my mind to do. I must admit though, I’m one of the few climbers who don’t gush about Frog. I keep telling people – it’s not climbing. It’s something but it’s not climbing. Climbing is grabbing holds and pulling on them. You can do entire routes at Frog without ever grabbing a hold. I'm also proposing a name change from Frog Buttress to Mank Buttress. Hopefully it'll catch on - tell your friends.

This weekend coming I’m off to Nowra for a flying long-weekend visit. So that’ll be good. It’d be good to try a few things around the 27/8 mark. Apart from that, I’ve also got my hand in the development of a new crag. The first route is complete, and there’s scope for quite a few more. Hopefully people will enjoy them once they’re done.

Sounds good. Keep us updated.

Lee: Will do, thanks Chris.

Interview by Chris Trengove, Pinnacle Sports