Numerous dark horses roam in the climbing community, people with impressive achievements, contributing to the development of climbing, who have chosen to stay away from the limelight.
Conveniently hidden in the authentic underground of the climbing world, one of those exceptional climbers is David Gambús.
I met David in the land of the Catalans back in 2014 in a town called Lleida (Lerida). At the time he was already 4 years in his career as a coach and also working as a sports climbing guide in the pre-Pyrenees. We developed a lasting friendship and this spring after a winter in the Alps I approached him because I wanted to start training for climbing.
Training was something that hardly crossed my vagabond mind before but this year I was ready to try it after a knee injury and a winter away from my favourite game. Out of shape but motivated to get strong, I needed a professional to guide me through the process. Luckily, David had just finalized his Chinese coaching contract and was back in Europe to start a new chapter. The timing was right and we spent one week in Mallorca as part of the assessment for the creation of my personalised training programme. During this time we had long friendly conversations that inspired me to write his climbing story.
Every climber has a unique path of development. I meet a lot of people from the rock tribe and often ask them how they started and what shaped their personal climbing journey. Here is the story of David’s unique and impressive experience.
Born in a French hippie commune from a Catalan father and a Basque mother David grew up in Vitoria (the administrative capital of the Basque Country). He started climbing at the age of 14 at the Zutikan Climbing Club, the same club attended by the Pou brothers. His coach was Iban Larrion.
After three years of dedication to the art of climbing, David makes the youth final in the Spanish National Cup, after 2 more years he climbs his first 8c, White Zombie, Baltzola, Basque Country.
My friend talks about his early years’ climbing experiences with ease while we are driving on a rainy day in Mallorca. Those wet days are always special as they are so rare. They offer perfect conditions for slowing down and diving deeper into somebody’s personal story.
In the initial years, David’s mother was the one supporting his climbing passion, driving to competitions and taking him outside. During that time the talented boy builds strong bonds not only with his coaches but also with his climbing partners. Generally speaking, competitions in climbing lack the tension of most sports and although it is nice to win, what I hear from him does not resemble obsessive achievement seeking and ill ambition but generally a period of motivation and hard work, fun times outside and meaningful connections.
These initial years would later shape David’s choice to pursue a degree in Sports Science as a way of understanding training and applying it to his climbing life.
David is now finishing university. Having climbed his first 8c+ Honky Mix, Araotz, Basque Country, (2005) just a year after the first 8c and reaching 4th place in Copa de España he decides to move to Lleida in order to be in the epicentre of the outdoor climbing community. At the time (2007) Sharma and Andrada are also based there putting Catalunya on the worlds’ map of sports climbing by manifesting futuristic lines with their drills and bodies.
For David the Lleida years culminate in climbing his first 9a (8c+) Esclatamasters, Perles, Alt Urgell, Catalunya – 2010, bolting Ni Blog Ni Facebook 8c+, El Alliner, Alt Urgell, Catalunya and starting his professional career as a coach with the Catalan Youth Team.
Image source: https://www.desnivel.com/
Credit: Victor Montilla
The way David thinks about routes, projects, and grades is quite free of pretence. I remember admiring his climbing style back in 2014, ticking 8a-s with precision and efficiency. Going to the most incognito crags in Catalunya, finding hidden gems to bolt and hanging out with other local dark horses. Just the fact he lived 15 minutes from Oliana and kept away from the crag for years tells a lot about his under-the-radar character and for some reason, I have a lot of respect for people like him. Humble existence is the essence of realness.
We talk about projecting and it turns out he rarely works a route for more than 5 days. Most of the high graded sends caught him by surprise. David sticks to the onsight grade as a main indicator of performance and tries to be all rounded in the sports climbing world of diverse styles. For him, it’s important to have a similar level on overhangs and slabs. Specialising in one style is not what he does.
Along with coaching the Catalan Youth Team, ticking the Frankenjura guidebook and trying every kind of German beer under the blue sky David’s bolting obsession grows. His biggest canvas – two amazing secret crags near Col de Nargo. During the Oliana Years, David bolts close to total of 200 routes the majority in Spain and some in Datca, Turkey.
Image source: https://www.feec.cat/
Credit: Ivan Torres from woguclimbing.com
From 2010 to this day David has been coaching professionally for the Catalan, Spanish, and Chinese climbing federations. In the Spanish national team, he was responsible for the youth and para climbing teams. Looking at his past, he has actually managed to make a proper career out of his passion and studies which is quite rare and challenging in our community, especially in the years before climbing’s acceptance in the Olympic world of competitions.
He has now changed for a more independent lifestyle, making a base in Alt Urgell and Andorra and advancing his dream to freelance as a coach and route setter, manage his own climbing gym and run climbing trips and training camps. A natural evolution after years of efforts and experience.
Here are some snappy questions and answers I thought it would be fun to ask as a conclusion to the story:
1. The most significant achievement in your climbing career?
~ Bolting El Coniller
2. Influential people in climbing that had a great impact on your journey?
~ Kongi – because of his sound climbing philosophy/lifestyle, more than 30 years in the community. A weekend warrior with an 8c+ under his belt, part of the competition climbing scene, continuing to be active despite his injuries. A true mentor who introduced me to performance climbing and bolting.
~ Dany Andrada – immense contribution to the climbing community and the development of Catalunya as a major climbing destination. He combines supernatural psyche and humbleness.
3. Best friends & climbing partners
~ Kongi, Herman, Aimar, Patxi.
4. The most sketchy moment in climbing?
~ Breaking my sacrum in 2007 after being dropped to the ground.
5. The closest you have ever come to quitting climbing and why?
~ Coaching too much and climbing too little.
7. Your outlook on competition climbing
~ There is nothing wrong with making competitive sports out of outdoor adventure activities. It has its negative and positive sides. I would rather have an outdoor climbing lifestyle than a competition career. The best would be a kind and balanced mixed between the two.
8. Your outlook on dirt-bagging and vagabonding?
~ I embrace the lifestyle and enjoy almost all aspects of it.
9. Main reasons for dedicating your life to climbing:
~ The special connection with nature, the constant challenge, the privilege to be free, travel to places and live the van-life.
10. Favourite climbing areas?
Coniller, (Spain), Datça, (Turkey), Frankenjura, (Germany), Briançon, (France)
11. Favorite competition to set?
12. Other passions?
~ Fishing, Skiing & drinking beer!
13. Plans for the future apart from enjoying life?
~ Building and running my own gym. Setting, climbing, bolting and organising climbing holidays and training camps in Catalunya. Sharing my experience.
1999 – Starts to climb
2002 – First Final in Youth, Copa de Espana *
2004 – First Final in Senior, Copa de Espana*
2004 – First 8c, White Zombie, Baltzola, Basque Country
2005 – First 8c+, Honky Mix, Araotz, Basque Country
2005 – Basque Country Champion in Senior
2006 – 4th place in Copa de España
2010 – First 9a, Esclatamasters, Perles, Alt Urgell, Catalunya
2010 – 2017 – Coaching the Youth Catalan Team (12-19)
2012/2013/2017 – La Pobla de Segur – Teaching TD2 and TD3 classes for mountain guides.
2014 – Climbing guide at Climb Catalynia
2017 – 2018 Coaching the Youth and Paraclimbing Spanish National Teams
2018 – 2019 Coaching the National Chinese Team
First Image Source: https://www.desnivel.com
Credit: Pete O’Donovan