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.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Magic Wood

After Ceuse it was time for the second part of the trip. Magic Wood! This was my first time visiting this famous bouldering venue. I’d heard stories of bad landings, soft grades and the best bouldering in Europe. I got there and it didn’t disappoint there was everything I hoped for and more.

There were bad landings, one of the first problems we tried was called Pirannha which was a 7c/+. This one had a track record of breaking people but I thought the landing looked flat. Soon Ed was getting close to the crux deadpoint but he came off awkwardly and twisted his ankle, there I was thinking the landing was solid. I kept trying but being extra careful now, eventually I managed the deadpoint and tried it from the start which adds about six moves of easier climbing and did it straight away! Some problems however just have god awful landings like Hohenrausch 7b+ but after first sight at this climb I knew I wanted to do it. It’s a perfect smooth wall split with edges and they get smaller as you get higher. The last move was the crux and it was high above the slanted landing and death pit to make matters worse it was very dynamic. I tried a few times and got to the end and chickened out. I persuaded myself that James would stop me dying and went for the last move. I stuck it then pulled over the top. My heart was beating pretty fast by then.

Jack's Broken Heart, the crux move
We had the new guide book which had downgraded loads of problems to a slash grade which seemed stupid for example Pirannha was 7c/+. I wish they would just make up their minds. One of these problems was Jack’s Broken Heart 8a/+. This problem I’d seen in loads of videos and always thought it looked incredible and would really suit me. The line was a row of flat rails that traversed a steep lip. I tried the problem on my first day and found I could do all the moves but linking them felt miles beyond me. On one of the last days we went back for Jack’s and I knew all the moves so just tried from the start, I power screamed my head off and managed to pull it out of the bag. Another stupid slash grade problem was The Bomb is Explosion 7c+/8a. This wasn’t a great line neither was it a cool sequence it was just one very very hard move which for me gives a quality problem. The day we went to try it was a wash out even the Roof of Darkness was wet so this must have been the only dry boulder. The move is pull-on through a heel on and slap for a jug. The problem wasn’t very complicated. After a few goes to recruit the biceps I stuck the jug and climbed to the top. This is probably the hardest move I’ve ever done.

The bouldering was world class no doubt about that. Two problems stood out for me Blown Away 7b and Swizz Beats 7c+. Blown Away we did to finish a day climbing and the sun had set so we needed to use the flood light. Angels couldn’t have made a better line, it was a rail across this massive over hang that was athletic, pumpy and with a scary top-out. We all climbed it and agreed it was an all-time great. Swizz Beats was significantly harder, it wasn’t the best line but the moves on it blew every other climb out of the water. You had to squeeze with every part of your body to stay on the start with toe-hooks being the key then it finished with a technical slab climb. I tried this for a couple sessions but couldn’t quite do the first two moves although it felt like five moves because of the foot sequence. One day when I went up I just tried the problem from the start first time and sent it which was a bit of a miracle.

Spending only ten days here was plenty of time and I’m super keen to get back here again and push my bouldering more. I tried some problems that I didn’t send like Massive Attack 8a+, Steppenwolf 8b and Left Hand of Darkness 8a/8a+. I think it’s important to try things that stop you to motivated you to get stronger so that’s the goal now.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

No place like Spain

Cronica 8b
Imagine the most beautiful walls of orange and blue limestone looking over rolling Spanish countryside. It looks pretty good. Not to mention the walls hold some of the best climbing in the World on them. This place is Siurana, a climber’s paradise. This was my fourth visit to this area and each time I’ve found it more incredible than the last.

What impressed me most was how individual all the routes where. Nothing was the same and each route I did felt very unique and memorable. The first route I went for was Migranya 8b at a sector called L’Olla. This was a pure power endurance festival of pump. After struggling to do the fourth move. I was wondering if this route would be possible for me. I went from the ground and gave it my all sticking the move and sending the route. Also on L’Olla, next to Migranya is Cronica 8b which is a pure power route. Although right next to Migranya it has a significantly different feel with big slaps, long locks and a dyno to finish the crux. All the time spent on the training board paid off on this one and I sent it on my second go.
El Mon de Sofia 8b+

El Mon de Sofia 8b+
Now it was time to find some harder projects. There really was only one place to go; El Pati. I think this is the best cliff in the world with quality route going from 7a to 9b and a good route to go at every grade between. I’d done one of the 8b+’s on the wall and now it was time for the next one. It was called El mon de Sofia, it had got a reputation for being quite stiff. The route followed a smooth bulging wall into a vertical blue streak at the top where some very technical moves guarded the chains. The same day I headed to Campi qui pugui on the other side of Siurana. This wall is one of the older school venues and the routes are classic, hard and thin. Here I tried Renegoide 8b+. Which require ice cool focus for six clips to make no mistakes on the ultra-technical vertical start.  
El Mon De Sofia 8b+

Siurana isn’t the only world class area nearby just down the road is Margalef. It’s crazy to have two of the best climbing areas in the world so close. When Siurana is crimps, corners and cracks Margalef is the antithesis being the capital of pocket pulling. We spent a few days here and I mainly focused on flashing stuff and I climbed many great routes. A highlight was Artisans 7c+ which was the finest leaning wall on pockets, pure perfection! I also tried L’Espidiamos 8c briefly and this has inspired me to get stronger so I can send it next time.

Telemaster 8a
 Now with the projects I had to create the right conditions to send them. This trip I’ve learnt lots about projecting and being able to create a record-breaking ascent. Most of the work is done before hard training to become strong enough to do it. Although 
when the moment comes you need everything to go right. For El mon de Sofia I rested in the morning and kept myself active so by the evening I was full of energy, light and super motivated. The first go I fell from the crux move a massive slap to a crimp. I really liked this move as it wasn’t technical, you could lock it out it was just generating the power and the co-ordination to stick the hold. On the next try I stuck it and climbed the rest of the technical top with laser precision. For Renegoide I tried it in the morning and it was too hot and I discovered a bee’s nest on the route. This caused me to have to wait again until the evening to try it, another great lesson as I had to resist the urge not to climb other routes. The evening came and I put the draws in the top off the route, discovering yet another bee’s nest at the top of the route which seemed to have sprung out of nowhere. Now was time for an attempt. I climbed all the hard bit smoothly and efficiently. The best bit was executing such a technical sequence so well. However, it wasn’t over I rested and some of the bees started flying around my head. I prayed for them not to turn from curious to aggressive. Thankfully I recovered and climbed to the top of the route!

Telemaster 8a
Some places I go and I enjoyed it but don’t feel that motivated to go back to and some places I climb my hardest at but still am not that motivated to return but this area has got me hooked. Each time I return home I can only start wishing for another opportunity to return to climb on these special cliffs. I wonder what my next visit will bring?

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Monkeys in France know how to Dance

The Beautiful Wall of Seynes
Going climbing isn't just about pushing yourself hard but sometimes is about learning new things and techniques. These five days climbing seem to have lead to one of the steepest learning curves I've ever experienced. This revelation occurred mainly at Seynes but we also climbed a couple days at Russan. Seynes is a beautiful cliff, 40m tall with a lower half covered in the biggest tufas in the world and an upper wall full of crimps. I started my quest with Le tube naturale 6c+. I pulled onto slippery tufas and tried squeezing my way up between two tufas an arm span apart. It wasn't until I was truly pumped did it occur to me to maybe chimney up it!
 I'm going to focus on three routes. The first, El Dinosaure, was culture shock into tufas, the second, Shakara, was the learning process and the third, Les Maitres Des Colles was putting it all into practise.

Le 32 Metres 8a+. It's not all tufas!
One line stuck me from my first sight of the crag. El Dinosaure 8a+, where the upper wall is mainly crimps it is broken by one perfect tufa. It looked like the spine of a T-rex and getting up it looked like a harder fight than a velociraptor. I went for the onsight, as soon as I reached the top wall, I was swinging sides of the tufa and trying desperately to get knee-bars but pulling through was the only real solution. While I rested, the tufa reared it's head at me. It challenged me to see if I was strong enough, technical enough. Did I have the grit? After pulling through one more clip my arms were shaking and I was squeezing the tufa with legs. Sweating just to stay on. I was really riding El Dinosaure now. The next hold was a pocket, I tried desperately to reach it but slipped off! Panting I sat on the rope and thought what could have been. I learnt the sequence and lowered off. When it came to my second go everything seemed easier, the moves came easily and I was able to appreciate the quality of the route without it being an all out fight.  

Squeezing hard on Le Maitre Des Colles 8a
On the first day I had chickened out of this climb as it looked more like a wrestling match than a climb. It was called Shakara 7c. Once again I went for the onsight. I climbed smoothly up the tufa then it started to become round and I put up some kneebars. To move I had to thrust up my knee then slap up with me hands. I was squeezing this big round blob, my chest getting tired and my calf screaming for me to get onto some proper climbing. I gritted my teeth, took the pain and climbed to the top. After this I realises the effort that took. Shakara felt like a 40m packed into half that height.

Now was the final day and it was starting to cool down, a local recommended Les Maitre des colles 8a. I'd looked at this but it looked like the pinnacle of slippery tufas. It started juggy then the sides smoothed out and I was getting ready to commit onto the smooth sides. I smeared up, my body perfectly poised between slipping and barndooring. Gritstone aretes eat your heart out at least they have grip! I made it to a solid hold and breathed deep. I needed to hold it together as I climbed past the last slopey monster. I clipped the chains over the moon! That was one of the best performances I've ever had on an onsight and it was all down to the practise. Like they say practise makes perfect.

Pinch!!!!! El Dinosaure 8a+

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The Spain Game

Over the past few months I have been waiting, anticipating, preparing for one thing, going back to Spain. Catalonia is the centre for sport climbing in the world and every aspiring sport climber has come to face the challenge of the areas hardest routes. Last time I had gone was two years ago and the hardest I had climbed was 8b+ but could I do one better? 8c?

The first two days were a shock but I'd expected that. I was just getting into it. On the third day things clicked. We travelled to Oliana, which is a really futuristic crag with endurance routes up to 50 metres! The route I tried was called China Crisis, about 35m of slightly leaning wall guarded at the bottom by two fierce boulder problems.  On my second try I climbed shakily with my arms almost giving in on every move. I was at the last clip but I fell going to a crimp, 35m of climbing  and I'd have to start from the bottom again. Next go I climbed well and efficiently reaching where I fell the go before and easily doing the moves. Yes I got it! In the evening I tried Fish Eye but got shut down by a move at the top which was pretty gutting! However next to China Crisis was an 8c called T-1 full equip.
The next day was going back to an old enemy. Rollito Sharma 8b+, this route was the opposite to China Crisis. It was about 20 metres long and really hard the whole way up it. On all the goes that day I made it to the crux but wasn't anywhere near doing it as I was just too pumped.

Ok now it was back to Oliana, to try T-1 full equip. My first go I did all the moves but up high was some desperate moves on tiny holds. Next go was a little better and I managed to do the boulders at the start where the second felt about 7B. I also managed to find a better sequence on the top although it was still hard. I wanted to do something that day so I sent La Marroncita 8b second go. With the sun dying and the air chilling off I decided to give it an all out attempt. The Spanish have a phrase a muerte which means to climb until death giving it everything and holding nothing back. I was going to go a muerte. I wasn't surprised when I got through the boulders at the bottom but I wasn't very pumped at all. I set up for the first hard crimp sequence and it went! Now I was panicking the next one wasn't as hard maybe I could do this, I slowed myself down and chilled out. I knew I could do it. Moves where previously I had slapped I now grabbed static and before I knew it I was clipping the chains! My first 8c! I was over the moon.

I didn't want to stop there though, I still had Rollito Sharma and I wanted to try to climb 8a+ first go. The next day we went to Terradets. The climbing is unreal there. A 35m leaning wall dripping with tufas situated in a gorge full of 600m walls. I started by climbing 8b which was one I'd left unfinished from the first two days. When it felt loads easier it might have been foreshadowing a great day. Next I flashed an 8a Luke had tried a couple days ago. I was just getting going next came an 8a onsight where I fought like a savage through the final crux. A friendly Spanish man was trying a 8a+ and I watched him to get the beta then I would try to flash it. I managed to get through the boulder problem start now I thought maybe I could do it. I climbed into a big pocket and pulled onto two bad crimps above it. I was stuck with a heel in the hole, above my head a huge spike! Just out of reach to get it comfortably, I jumped and felt my feet swing out wildly but the spike was good enough for me to control the swing and I stuck it. From there I was in and I climbed to the top of my first 8a+ flash!

Now the only thing left was Rollito Sharma and I took a rest day to recover. This was going to be my last chance. I was lucky the moves felt easier and I knew I had a good chance of doing it. My first go from the start I stuck the crux move but was too shocked to keep myself together and get to the end of the crux. Right I just needed to keep my head together. The next time I got through the crux but only just and now I had a brief rest. I thought that I might not be able to do the crux again so I was really nervous for the final hard move, probably the hardest move on the route. I set up and jumped for the next hold. I held it and had the power to match in to the pocket. I got the bat hang rest which was super comfy because of my Evolv Shamans and felt psyched that I was going to do it! I clipped the chains after probably doing one of the hardest routes I'd ever done.

The last few days I took easy and just enjoyed the climbing still I managed to flash Mon Dieu another 8a+ at Oliana and I dropped the last move on a 8a+ onsight so maybe that'll be the next goal!