‘Always Up, Always Forward’: Veteran Climber Plucks 9a+ Gem

You could call Dani Fuertes a “lifer”. The Aragonese climber has spent the last 30 years quietly ascending difficult routes all over the northern hemisphere, from his native Pyrenees to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

Just a few days after his 42nd birthday, Fuertes authored another gem. On October 9, “Excelsior” (9a+) came together almost a decade and a half after he first envisioned it.

“BOOM,” he wrote on Facebook. “[The route’s name] comes from Latin and means ‘always up, always forward.'” After spending so much time over the years deciphering its sequences, he was delighted to clip the chains at last.


It’s Fuertes’ seventh route at the 9a+ threshold, along with one 9b and five other 9a+ routes, including one he repeated just days before “Excelsior”. Desnivel reported that Fuertes polished off Rodellar’s ​​”Las Meninas R2” (9a+) on October 6.

His climbing style: measured, calm, powerful. Watch him master “No Pain, No Gain” (9a+) below.


Key motivator: ‘process’

“Excelsior” follows the lip of a deep cave in Puebla de Alborton, Spain, about 175km south of Rodellar. Fuertes’ line tracks toward the headwall before the apex of the cave mouth, then punches straight up to the chains in the center of the wall.

Fuertes himself first started developing the cave in 2008. He described the route in a Q&A with Desnivel.

“The track is located in a school near my house, Foz de Zafrane. It will have about 40 metres that run through the characteristic arch of a large cave. It is a very technical and resistant route on rails, with a very marked block as in the middle of the route,” he said (auto-translated).

dani fuertes excelsior

Photos: Nacho Fuertes Olles @nachpower


Perhaps fittingly for a lifetime climber, Fuertes said he found the most satisfaction in “Excelsior” from the discovery process it demanded.

“The process is what motivates me the most: finding a lane, equipping it, spending time figuring it out, if possible, and finally chaining it up and being able to close the loop.

“When I equipped it, I did not have the level,” he explained. “But look, years later it has been possible!”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.