Sunday, 12 August 2018

In the woods somewhere

Getting the onsight of Infiziert 9+.
It seems in recent years the vibe of sport climbing has turned to long, orange, tufa-crusted climbs in holiday destinations like Spain or a Greek island. I think maybe we’ve gone soft as back in the 80’s it was all short, hard and nasty. The epitome of this style is the German forest of Frankenjura an hour north of Nuremburg. The likes of Wolfgang Gullich and Sebastian Schwertner climbed the initial desperates then Marcus Bock and Alex Megos raised the bar to provide some of the hardest climbs in the world. Therefore, I decided see what it was all about and myself and Rob McTague travelled there for a month at the start of June.

Infiziert 9+
With two guidebooks with each containing thousands of routes the difficulty for Rob and I arose in choosing a crag. The first main area to head to is the Unteres Püttlachtal area which has two major crags: Bärenschluchtwände and Püttlachtaler Wand as well as many other minor crags. On Bärenschluchtwände there is the famous ‘Göttner Gedenkweg’ 8, ‘Hercules’ 9/9+ and ‘Rauchende Bolts’ 9. The third route’s name translates to smoking bolts and this occurs because the falls are so big! Another great route name was ‘Queeel disch, du Sauuu’ 10/+ which translates to squeal you pig and probably describes a sausage finger climber pulling on the pinky mono at the top! 

Even clipping is hard on Frankenjura routes!
Next is the Krottenseer forest which is an open coniferous forest on a hill so often gets a fresh breeze. The best crags here are Krottenseer turm, Kanzelfels and Rabenfels. The first has two legendary 9’s with ‘Chasin’ the Train’ and ‘Hitch Hike the Plane’ as well as ‘Ira Technocratie’ 10- and ‘Wallstreet’ 11-. My experience with ‘Wallstreet’ was a tough one as I climbed the crux on the second session then naively thought ‘ok this will go next time’ and got my hopes up. I then must have fallen on the same move close to fifteen times and the climbs basic nature allowed me no room of tricking my way through. Leaving it was disappointing but it’ll again be at the top of my list when I return. The Kanzelfels is a crag deep in the woods with a darker nature and features some unique climbing for Frankenjura. It is mainly crimpy and even features some knee-knocking slabs. Classic routes there are ‘Maximator’ 9-, ‘Nosferatu’ 9 and ‘Fred Feuerstein’ 10+. The last is apparently a ‘king line’ and on arrival I saw people doing 6-foot spans on it, so I tactically avoided getting my 5-foot span involved.

Getting my wings out on the small pockets on Kelu 10
A further major area is the Wiesenttal valley which winds from Plankenfelds down to Behringersmühle and firstly appears sparse of climbing but there are many top-quality crags hidden in the trees. For example, we visited: Zwergerschloss, Galawand and Mader Gedenkwand. A few classic routes are ‘Plan B’ 10,   ‘Härte Neun’ 9 and ‘Stalingrad’ 9-. This trio all feature steep athletic climbing and ‘Härte Neun’ is the wildest of all with a crux involving taking a cut with your feet swinging a million miles from the rock.

The final area we often visited was the Kleinziegenfelder Tal which has crags like Holzgauer Wand, Rolandfels and Toni Scmid Gedekenkwand. These crags have an abundance of sustained power endurance climbs up to twenty metres with classics like ‘Nimue’ 9-/9, ‘Nikita’ 10-, ‘Infiziert’ 9+ and ‘Mambo Cavallero’ 9-. The first time we visited the Holzgauer Wand a local had brought a banjo and proceeded to play the crustiest music while his friends accompanied him by tapping on tupperwares and blowing over bottles. We experienced similar friendliness at Rolandfels with a woman offering me her knee-bar pad for a flash attempt on ‘Respektios’ and a couple guys peer-pressuring me into trying ‘Kelu’.    

This generous, laid-back nature was embodied by our hosts Christian and Roly at Bed and Boulder. They helped us sort out our car disaster and Christian showed us around his boulders in the local area when we were stranded. These were beautiful, secluded spots with nice rock and movement. I even did a first ascent called ‘The Kane’ after Harry Kane scored the last-minute winner in the World Cup. The combination of history, self-less people, varied rock and challenging climbs will for sure make this a popular destination for years to come. Although my recommendation comes with a warning that every route here will make you work, no matter if it is five grades below your best it’ll still push you however this surely helps the improvement and is more fun!

Trying to get my finger out of the mono on Queeel Disch, du Sauuu 10/+ 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tent Life

Jerome on La Cour des Grands 7c at Entraygues
What climbing do you know in the Haute Alps? Hopefully you’d have heard of Ceuse, the wonder cliff at the top of the hill, or Ailefroide with granite slabs in alpine meadows. However for those wanting to get away from these popular venues there are others. Small crags high up in the mountains hold sensational climbing in stunning settings.
Me on Deltaplane man Direct 8c+ at Entraygues
Driving from Gap to Briancon the first major area you get to is the conglomerate. The two areas are Mont Dauphin for lower grade climbers and Rue des Masques for higher grade climbers. My brother and I had a couple days here. The first was particularly memorable as we decided to sneak a climb in before the forecasted storms rolled in. The jungle conditions and dripping top slabs made the routes quite sporty. Safe to say we didn’t last long!
Hot potatoes are all good for a while but just a few miles up into the Queyras is a true gem, La Saume. Even before you’ve touched rock your visit will be unforgettable, the 6km of mountain track will be make sure of that. The brave will be rewarded however with long elegant lines on black and yellow limestone. The quality starts with Gazpatcho at 7a+ although make sure to limber up as it’s a strenuous one. Keep going through the 7’s until you reach Petit Danseuse at 8a a continuous pitch which is gripping right to the very end. Once these are done the central 50m black wall awaits. Here the routes are truely world class and the 50m 8b+ is one I’ll never forget. It relied less on power and more on keeping your cool right at the top. This was something I couldn’t do on my flash as I dropped it with the chains in front of my eyes! Just next to the big wall is ‘the cave’ which has a selection of good bouldery routes. Tiens bon la rampe 8a+ is my favourite as it’s such a striking line. First time I saw it I was like ‘wow that looks cool’.
Louis (board lord) on Saume sweet home at La Saume
For those who prefer shorter climbs the crag to visit is Entraygues. This is situated by a river high up and close to the Ecrins national park. The rock type is gneiss and it’s from 10m to 20m tall. We camped by the river which was a bit nerve-racking as it is the pasture of a huge bull. I didn’t feel quite safe sleeping in a bright red tent! The left hand side has routes from 6b to 8a then the right hand side has routes from 7c to 9a+! The 7c La Cour des Grands is the obvious line of weakness but still be sure to bring your shoulders for the crux. Then Le Brulot 8b is another next classic up the ladder and another one to bring some shoulders. The very highest level routes Deltaplane man direct and San Ku Kai both 8c+ are of top quality. I spent a long time trying Deltaplane man direct but the crux slap from a miserable pinch to a crimp shut me down session after session unfortunately.
Just down the valley from Entraygues is the crags of Tournoux and Grand Bois. These both have long technical routes with the best views I’ve ever had from a crag. Make sure to trek all the way to the top sector at Tournoux where the sectors La ruee vers l’or and Loups Hurlant await. La ruee vers l’or has lots of top notch 7’s to enjoy whereas Loups Hurlant the quality starts in the 8’s. At Grand Bois Les boeufs rouges is the sector to visit with epic long routes to go at. Diaclase is a must with burly crack climbing all the way up to the chains at 35m!  
Me on Deltaplane Man Direct 8c+ at Entraygues
The next valley along is the Fournel valley which has some wicked crags in. We spent most of our time trying the classic test-pieces at Roche des Brumes. There is an 8a, 8b, 8c and 9a which are all super classic. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the big one but the 8’s where all amazing. The 8c was called Une arquee pour le criquet and it is a strong contender for the best 8c in the world. Another crag is L’atelier which is a unique crag. It’s really smooth and the starts are all crimpy then you get some technical slab followed by water-worn pockets which require interesting tricks to climb. It’s a crag that tests lots of abilities. My favourite there was a 7c called King line which deserved it’s name because it traversed a beautiful wave of rock before blasting through the steepness to the top.
In summer, there isn’t many places to go where you can enjoy cool temperatures and European style routes. Spending a whole summer around Briancon was a perfect solution. The climbing was super varied and we didn’t even visit all the crags in the area so we might have to make another visit!  

Me on Une Arquee pour le criquet 8c at Roches des Brumes

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Spain Game II

Christmas is time for eating and drinking but not if you want to climb hard in Spain. The sun is low in the sky, the crags are cool, it’s the perfect time for pushing into the high numbers at crags like Oliana and Santa Linya. Here it’s all about the project; you see people on the same route for weeks. They make progress bit by bit, very occasionally sending. The likes of Jonathan Siegrist, Jacob Schubert and Seb Bouin are all visiting and the locals are often there like Edu Marin and Patxi Usobiaga although this year Chris Sharma didn’t make an appearance. It’s hard not to be inspired with all these climbers around and you realise that the way to mastery is letting go of climbing lots but instead focus on one route. Although this may lead to no sense of achievement or satisfaction the best love giving it everything and they are thrilled when they make tiny steps of progress.

I’ve visited this area many times and used the quality routes to push myself. My first 8b was in Margalef, my first 8b+ Siurana, my first 8c Oliana. My goal was to go for my first 8c+. I was searching for a beautiful route with athletic moves right at my limit. Last year I got shut down by an 8b with an 8c+ extension called Blomu but had loved the nature of it. Blomu climbs the left side of Cova Gran near Santa Linya which is thirty metres of perfect orange overhang. The difficulty escalates with the hardest moves being right at the top, the best type of route. After a couple days, I wasn’t sure if it was possible, there was a stopper move right at the chain of the 8b. The moment of realisation it was possible was when I found an awesome drop-knee knee-bar cheat beta for this stopper move. It was time to rest. Now I had all the beta down it was time for red-points. This is when all the nerves and anticipation creep in. No project is possible unless you truly climb freely, focusing only on the climbing and not about the chains. On my first two goes of the day I dropped the top crux, a desperate stab to a three-finger pocket. Normally two hard goes and my arms will be wearing out but as the sun was dipping behind the hill I wanted one last go. This was perfect, I didn’t have any expectations. I just wanted to go and give it hell. I got to the crux and did the next moves, I kept my head together and clipped the chains!

Going back to climbing without fear in your heart, sometimes it comes naturally. You just manage to get out of the right side of the bed in the morning. Maybe coffee helps, maybe it’s the right cereal, or perhaps it’s a low gravity day but climbing like this is special and comes once in a blue moon. I had just one of these days this trip. I’d been being shut down for the third year in a row on Rollito Sharma Extension 8c. This was a true nemesis and a top move felt ridiculous from the floor. However, this one day I climbed it with only a few sketchy moments. After this I felt confident. I went for the flash of an 8b Luke had sent a few days earlier called Codigo Norte. This was a route on the right side of Cova Gran which featured an intense section of about ten moves with a crux revolving about a mono. I fought hard and made it to the top of this one for my first 8b flash. Still brimming with confidence, I decided it would be a good idea to try Ruta de Sol 8b. Frances Bensley and Will Smith had succeeded on this route earlier in the trip and thought it was possible to flash. The moves felt hard but when I thought I was about to fall, my fingers didn’t uncurl. Many times, I should have been off but I still managed to battle through to get the flash. This was a dream as it was cool to actually do a route I’d deliberately not tried in order to do it first go.  

We also climbed lots at Oliana. This is a beautiful crag. Its about fifty metres long, sustained and slightly overhanging this makes for some hard routes. Early in the trip I did El Gran Blau 8b+. There was a direct start to it called Joe Blau 8c+ that I’d seen Jessica Pilz do last year and Jim tried it. Both said it was incredible. The first four clips are a hard boulder problem and you end up clipping the fourth draw when it is by your feet. I never took the fall but each time I felt like I was on some hard grit route. Next you have a nice jug rest to chill out. Then the meat comes and you must do about twenty sustained powerful moves which finished in a dyno to a big jug pocket which is the crux move of El Gran Blau. On an early go I got to the dyno move but could barely clip let alone stick this nails jump. Although after this I had the moment where you know it’s possible. After doing the hard climbing you still have an 8a+ to climb which finished in a sustained section of hard technical climbing. Bad feet, bad hands, run-outs and being pumped out of your mind isn’t a very pleasant combination. A few days later, on my second attempt of the day, I went to war. I got to the dyno boxed again but slightly less so and I managed to recover and do the dyno. Now anything less than the top would be a heartbreaker. I climbed quickly on the hard sections and rested lots. Despite this I felt my arms tiring after each stint of climbing. I was at the rest before the final slab. I went for it but nothing felt quite right, my legs and core were weak. Each foot feeling worse than the last, if one pops I’m off. My fingers sweating, mind racing. I can’t drop it here. Three more holds, two more holds, power scream as I stand up. Not cool when you are on a slab and grabbed the good holds. I’m shaking all over, but elated. The sketch was on point!

Blomu 8c+
The most valuable lesson I can take from this trip is to enjoy the process. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. If it’s hard there is doubt and worry but you must keep going. Sending the route is only half the fun! 

Friday, 9 December 2016

Moving to Manchester

Corridors of Power 7C+
Well basically everything changed. I lived in a village of a couple hundred, now I live in a city of a half million. I studied in a school of 800, now I study with 80,000 around me. I’m living in student halls and not at home. Surely this must have affected my climbing? Well yes it has.

Studying physics can’t be done all the time, it’s too intense. This caused climbing to turn more into a relaxation from the work, a time to chill out, let my mind wander and body do all the work. I think climbing is great for this as you can’t think about anything else when you try your hardest. I’ve also met lots of other climbers on my course. I love climbing with them as it gives me the balance of working hard to achieve goals and just enjoying climbing because it’s the best. It’s weird how most the climbers I’ve met have been doing physics, maybe it’s because we are all niche people but climbing no longer is that niche what with the Olympics and all that. Perhaps it’s because we like solving problems, well after many years of climbing the tricks to things come quickly. I think it because we need to get out our heads and it’s a perfect way to do that.

Flick of the Wrist 7C+
Moving to Manchester has opened the door for me in terms to crag access. I can now visit all the best crags in England, apart from Anstey’s Cove, for the weekend. Routes I’ve always dreamed about doing are now a few hours away. All I needed was someone equally keen, so I hooked up with Chris Shephard. We visited North Wales to climb at Llanberis, Parisellas and Devils Gorge. All three venues where great days each with a different style and feel.

The main crag we visited was Malham which has many famous routes like, Raindogs, Predator, Bat Route, Rainshadow. I wanted to hit the ground running but doing Bat Route and Unjustified in a weekend came as a happy surprise. The next visit I tried the project to the right of Cry Freedom. This was originally bolted by Aaron Tonks and had thrown of attempts from a few talented climbers over the years. I tried it with Ted Kingsnorth, who is one of the most psyched climbers I’ve ever met! The route is about an 8b until a high rest on Cry Freedom. Then you blast out right onto a steep wall to do a 7B boulder before reaching the chains. I fell on the top multiple times, each time I was nowhere near fresh enough to do the crux. A week later fortune favoured us and the crag was in the best condition it had been all season. I fell again at the top on my first two attempts. On the third I rested a lot more, I’m not sure why I didn’t do this on previous attempts but it is always good to make it harder for yourself. This go I had the beans and battled through the crux to clip the chains. Although it wasn’t a massively long project the fact that it had never been climbed before gave it an aura to me. Hence it was without a doubt one of the high points of my climbing career and one of the biggest buzzes I’ve had from climbing. 

I should maybe mention the bouldering side of things. I’ve had opportunity to push myself, with a lot of hard boulders close by. I’ve climbed the ones with beautiful moves, ones with savage moves and ones with lots of moves. Each one has been enjoyable in its own way. I’ll pick the problem which I was happiest to do. This was New Noise 8A at Tanygrisiau boulders. The setting is incredible, beautiful mountains scared by black slate quarries. The place is made even more rugged and raw by how the landscape has been ruined by industry. The climbing there mimics the setting especially New Noise, being brutal yet oddly beautiful. The problem boils down to one basic power move. It works everything: the core, the fingers and the arms. Nothing can be weak and it was awesome to have everything work well enough to stick it.

Something for Nothing 8c
New Noise 8A

I wondered when I left for university if I would be more or less motivated. I know now for sure it’s more. I’m going to Spain over Christmas and I’ve never been so excited for a trip. I’ve got projects to get back on next year in both bouldering and sport.  

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Ceuse 2016

I turned 18, finished school, and had two months of summer ahead of me. A perfect time for a climbing trip. I didn’t own a car so this limited my options, but for me the obvious destination was Ceuse in the South of France. This was my fourth trip but would be by far the longest time I had spent out there. We travelled down by train and arrived at Gap at midnight. Gap is a big town so I thought it reasonable that there would be taxi’s running to the early hours of the morning. There were no taxis. Stuck we headed for the only open restaurant a Chinese and asked about taxis then hotels. It soon became clear we weren’t going to get to the campsite until the Chinese man pulled out his car keys and offered us a lift. What a stroke of luck.

Rosanna 8a
Tom on Vagabond 7c
From the last trip I tried an 8c called Dures Limites so naturally one of my main goals was to finish off this route. I tried it on the first day and could do all the moves like before but wasn’t anywhere near linking the crux 15 moves of power endurance at half height and also the top crux felt extremely low percentage with the top being by far the hardest moves on the route. I kept chipping away at it over the next week each day having a couple more goes. Slowly I got stronger on it, the moves started feeling easier and easier. My first serious day of redpoints I fell on the crux section each time.

Many people think that if you try a route enough you’ll do it. This is a myth, as at the start you may see dramatic improvement on the route but as this improvement tails off seeing gains is harder and harder. For Dures Limites I knew I could do it if I kept improving so I was nervous before the next session. The crux went and I fell from the top heartbreaker three times, still I was psyched out of my mind to get there three times. I took a rest day and went back for it. All the training is worth it for the feeling of being strong and light on a route that is at your max difficulty. I warmed up on it then on the next go sent it. This was the hardest route of my life.

My other goal was to onsight 8a+. The best training for onsighting is practising it so over the next few days that’s what I did. I was waiting for a perfect day of climbing and I was doing everything I could to create that perfect day. I knew I was close to the ability I need when I flashed Le Poinconnceur de Lilas 8a+ on Demi Lune, this route was intensely technical with a hard crux. The two 8a+’s I’d set my eyes on where both classics Encore and Face de Rat. Encore seemed very possible as I watched my brother cruise up it a couple weeks ago. So after much preparation I decided I’d go for it. I crimped my way through the bottom holds appearing just as I needed them and reach a rest before a final bulge, this was it. I puffed like a marathon runner and squeezed the life out of each hold until I was at the chains. My first 8a+ onsight! Next up was Face de Rat this one was longer but had a rest all day slab in the middle. I made this rest and above all the big pockets disappeared and turned to tiny looking crimps. I decided on a sequence through then and went for it. This wasn’t super hard and a scraped my way through.

Flying off Mirage 7c+
To finish the trip, I had a devil to put to rest. Last time I dropped the top slab of Le Chirurgein de Crepuscule 8b which is a 35m wall with an intense crux at 15m then sustainedly technical from 20m to 35m. I tried it again and found the crux really hard. I then went to fall on it twice. This was really frustrating as I could do this before. Suddenly the clouds rolled over the top of Ceuse so I went for a quick attempt and stuck the crux moves. Suddenly clouds broke and it started pouring it down, I climbed to the slab and once again dropped as it was dripping with water. When it dried out I fired it out first attempt of the day. This was one of the best 8b’s I’d ever done! Just next to this was my final challenge La Femme Blanche 8a+. This route had a big stigma of being scary and technically difficult. I had the beta given to me and managed to flash it. This route was like a pumpy 7c then a crimpy crux and a 7c slab above it. I climbed this on my last day and it was absolutely incredible to finish on this route.

After four trips to Ceuse I’ve grown to love this crag but it’s the first place where I feel like I’m running out of routes. I’ve done most of the good 8’s and only have the harder ones to do like Mr Hyde, Le Part du Diable and Chronique. However I’m sure I will return to this crag if I get stronger as these routes are incredible and I saw people trying Realization which is an all-time dream and looks like one of the best routes in the world although one of the hardest. So I’m very excited to return.