Friday, 18 July 2014

Hottest time of the year - to climb or not to climb, that is the question

It has been almost a month since I last posted a blog and, to be perfectly honest, it's probably been roughly the same amount of time since I climbed on rock. I do miss it. I miss my exhausting weekends, heading out into the Peak District for eight hour days on the grit, stopping off at a pub on the way home for a traditional Sunday lunch and a pint of real ale, before heading home and collapsing on the sofa in front of a great film. This is my idea of an exceptional weekend. 

However, the summer months tend to put a stop to this, for me. Not previously one for avoiding grit stone just because it's a bit warm, I seem to have developed an aversion over recent years. Before you say the word "limestone" - I'm not a huge fan of hanging out with 100 other people at a tiny crag that seems to suck in the sun's heat, reflected from a stream running almost side-by-side. You know where I mean. The thought of pulling on tiny crimps with sweaty, soft skin sends shivers down my spine, and not the cold kind. The same goes for palm shredding grit stone too; those tiny crystals feeling sharp as razor blades stabbing into the body's largest organ like a cactus. It's the sweat. The midges. The closed, humid air. The sunburn. The sliding. The failure on climbs you know should be easy.

And there, in that last sentence, is the allusion to summer climbers' most overused excuse for braving the warm grit stone. Climbing throughout the summer will make everything much easier come the colder temps. Bullshit. It will be easier anyway - there's no need for me to expend a ridiculous amount of skin sliding off an enormous sloper when I can wait two months and hang it with ease. I'd rather wait. Maybe that's me getting a little old; I feel like a grumpy old man writing this blog. Life's too short to do something you don't want to do, just because some magazine editorial tells you not to retreat to the confines of indoor walls during the summer months, but enjoy the countryside in all it's summertime glory. Thankfully, I can do that from the comfort of a picnic blanket, or a beer garden bench, or right over there, next to the boulder, on the path, watching others sliding off that enormous sloper and feeling smug as I walk on by.

I'll take my indoor walls, with their whirring fans blasting cool air into my face while I imagine myself as Michael Jackson in Earth Song. You see that big, white rectangular object in reception? It's called a fridge and it dispenses ice cold drinks as and when I want one. Recline on a sofa for ten minutes to cool off between bouts on the wall? Don't mind if I do. And when I do come off the wall, all pumped to hell and struggling to close my fists, I can look down at my veiny forearms and not see a hundred black midges, using me as a giant, walking blood bag, gorging themselves at my expense. I prefer not to look like I've got measles the day after a good climbing session.

Having said all of that, I cannot wait for the cooler temperatures to prevail so I can once again contend with real rock climbs. For all its amenities, indoor climbing can get dull fast, sapping motivation at the same rate as those midges sapping blood supply. I am one of those people that loves training, though, it has to be said. I like the feeling of pushing myself to my limits - especially when it comes to pure power training. Put 20kg on my back and tell me to do five pullups off a half pad crimp and I'm a happy chappy. That's a bit weird, isn't it? Well, sod it. It's true. You know that old adage from the summer climbers, that blather about climbs feeling easier come the cold temps if only you brave the warm, well they'll also feel easier in the cold because I've spent the two warmest months of the year training my ass off. 

I love climbing on grit stone and feeling strong. I don't love it as much when a sheen of sweat on my hands makes everything super hard. Like a wine connoisseur who buys a bottle of Merlot and stores it away until it's ready, I will bide my time. And, when it's time to pop that cork, my motivation and strength will be all the better for it. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cliffhanger 2014... the festival is back in Millhouses Park

Sheffield's Cliffhanger festival opens its gates in Millhouses park this weekend (June 21st-22nd). Having occupied Graves Park for the past two years (one really hot year and one really wet), it once again returns to the much-loved and skinniest park on Abbeydale Road.

Unfortunately, the premier climbing attraction for the festival, the British Bouldering Championships, will not be taking place in the park itself. However, it is happening at the best indoor bouldering venue this side of Mars, The Climbing Works, which is situated only a stone's throw down the road. 

With the weather looking as glorious as it does for the weekend, I'd highly recommend still visiting Cliffhanger, as you can grab a cold drink and plonk yourself in front of a massive screen being set up to show the competition. However, if you enjoy being as close to the action as possible, so you can taste the sweat dripping from the climbers (gross!), then grab a couple of tickets and head to The Climbing Works. All proceeds are going to Climbers Against Cancer, so the ticketing is simply to ensure 1,000 people don't show up at the Works expecting to be able to get in. Plus it's a good way to raise funds for a superb cause - cancer research. I don't know if there are any tickets still available, but visit the BMC website to find out. Scratch that last bit - a recent email from the BMC's Walls & Comps officer, Rob Adie, tells me that tickets are available on the door.

Of course, it's not only climbing that makes Cliffhanger so special. It's Britain's largest outdoors festival for outdoors people for a reason - there's tons going on! Do you like cycling? Get yourself to Cliffhanger. Oh so Parkour's your thing, huh? Get yourself to Cliffhanger. Running? Cliffhanger. Literally anything outdoors... go to Cliffhanger. Like falling off high stuff? Cliffhanger. It's a pretty simple solution to what to do with your weekend. For more details on that visit the Cliffhanger website.

Have I said the word Cliffhanger enough?

Anyway, if this isn't enough verbiage to get you along, check out my write up of last year's excellent festival.

Hopefully see you there!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Sport climbing holiday in Montserrat

Montserrat mountain range
The long, spindly arms of fauna tear at my skin as I push through the tight, naturally overgrown avenue, teetering on the edge of a near vertical plunge into a world of hurt, the only saving force being the rubber on my shoes sticking to the pebble rock surface penetrating the brown and red soil. I battle on, hearing the odd rustle from a lizard escaping my trajectory, the squark of a bright green parakeet trailing his comrades through the deep blue skies, passing sporadic clouds that occasionally hide the sun's rays. After the better part of an hour, we reach a red wall, large, rounded pebbles scattered across it's surface, gaping pockets, ledges and cracks. This is what we came to Montserrat for, the rock climbing, and the walk in is worth every scratch, bruise and blister. This is exactly what I was looking for when I wanted to go on holiday. 

Montserrat, an hour north of Barcelona, is a well-known tourist destination, with tens of thousands of site-seers arriving by coach throughout the day. The tourists see maybe 1% of the mountain, going from coach to cable car to tour guide through the small village of Montserrat, nestled into a corner of the mountain - a beautiful corner at that. The village receives around 2.5million visitors a year and it's easy to see why. The views are truly amazing. Of course, we went and saw the jaw-dropping church, ate gelato and wandered the winding paths of the monk trail to the best viewing points, but this is not why we went to Montserrat.

The cable car up to Montserrat village
Montserrat Village
One of the greatest things about rock climbing is it takes you to places the tourists don't see. It takes you to places that you wouldn't otherwise go. Having said that, we still probably only explored another 3% of the mountain and its sport routes, but the sheer amount of climbing here is enormous - more than we could look at in six days. 

We had no intention of sitting below one hard climb day after day, putting in our all to ascend it. Rock climbing in new areas is about exploration and that was exactly the agenda. See a route you like, try to climb it and move on. Onsights and flashes were the name of the game, as me and Leigh-Anne took it in turns to ascend various lines, limited only by the length of our rope and our boulderers' endurance. Each day brought a new area, fighting through different avenues of the forest covering the giant rock towers penetrating the earth and reaching towards the heavens. To many, Montserrat is a religious place, and if I was a religious man I'd want to shake God's hand for having the vision to create such a beautiful rock climbing destination.

Pooped but loving it after another long day's climbing
The rock itself is a conglomerate of pebbles and limestone, I believe (I'm no geologist). Some of the walls look as though they are entirely made of pebbles and what holds them together is beyond my understanding. It's safe to say, climbing on them can be as much of an exploration as getting to the wall in the first place. You reach for what looks a good hold, only to find a sloping, slippery pebble surface with a tiny crimp at the back. You clip from here, wheezing and burning, make another foot movement and notice a big pocket a few measly inches higher, swamped with relief, matched only by fatigue. It was fantastic fun to walk up to a wall thinking it was covered in holds, only to pull on and find everything you thought looked good from the floor is actually rubbish and then having to fumble around trying to find body positions that work.

Success matched with fatigue - where's el vino!
With long, 10-12 hour days of climbing, you need somewhere comfortable to retire when the sun begins to fade, when a glass of local Cupatge is calling your name and carne waiting to be devoured. For this, I cannot recommend highly enough Mas Del Puig in Castellbell i el Villar. Having been in the Puig family since the 17th century, this stunning converted farmhouse is now home to Ramon Puig. While he and his wife occupy the main house, his adult son and his family reside in one of the annexes, and several other areas of the building have been converted into beautiful apartments with magnificent views of the mountain. We took the smallest of the apartments and it was a delight from the moment we walked through the front door. A well equipped little kitchen leads into a very comfortable living room, decked in furniture created by Ramon's enterprising wife (she also sells home-made, hand-made soaps). This is adjoined by a bathroom with all the usual amenities and a large bedroom elevated by a single step, comfortable and spacious. The icing on the cake was a balcony from which you could eat your dinner and stare off into the beautiful mountainous landscape, supping on a beer and relaxing into the reclining, canvas sun lounges. If you've still got a little energy to burn off, there's also a swimming pool in which to submerge and soothe those sore muscles.

The view of the valley from Montserrat mountain
If you want a sport climbing destination no where near as well trodden as somewhere like Siurana, but with routes ranging from 4 through to 8c+ in grade, I would highly recommend Montserrat. To get the most from it, however, get into the Indiana Jones spirit and try to get about. While you could, like on any trip, spend your time walking the same path, to the same route to get that illusive "hardest ever" send, you really should be seeing as much of the mountain as you can. That's where the fun lies. It is not crowded at all and most of the people we came across were locals, all very friendly and willing to point you in the right direction should you take a wrong turn. A guide book is essential and, because we couldn't find an English guide (there are some, apparently), we made do with the Spanish version of Montserrat Carasur for our days there. There are a few different guides, however, depending on your tastes. See more here. The area is renowned for its multi-pitch sport routes, but there are fantastic single pitches all over the place, so do a little research and find what suits you. There's even more scope if you've got a trad rack with you and a daring head.

That's all I'm going to say on that but if, having read this, you're thinking of a trip to Montserrat and have any questions, deposit them below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Adam Ondra in the Peak District

The weekend just gone was another busy climbing one. Not just a case of vertical moving and shaking on my behalf, but also visiting the Outside shop in Hathersage, to hear from "the world's greatest climber", as La Sportiva and Neil Gresham liked to introduce Adam Ondra.

Adam Ondra and Neil Gresham at Outside in Hathersage
Now, the only reason I put that in quotation marks is because some of you out there, in the internet, would grunt at such a notion as the world's greatest climber. After all, what's Adam ever done on grit? Or snow? Or ice? Or whatever... Well, the first of those questions he answered this weekend (I'll come onto that). The others, as far as I'm aware, he's never touched. I think it's fair to say he's the world's best sport climber - having onsighted more than 25 8c and harder routes (including one 9a) among other achievements (I'll come onto that as well).

However, his passion for climbing doesn't end at sport climbing, it seems, as Neil waxed lyrical of Adam's knowledge of Peak District grit routes. Indeed, he came over here wanting to repeat some of the classics. In the end, he repeated Master's Edge (E7 6b), Balance It Is (E7 6c) and Messiah (E6/7 6c). I believe he onsighted all three, in particularly damp and greasy conditions. That morning, he'd had 4 attempts at Hubble (8c+/9a) at Raven Tor as well, coming agonisingly close to latching the last hard move, he told us. It was raining when we headed out to Hathersage in the morning so I was surprised to hear anyone was out climbing - let alone trying to climb one of the hardest sport routes in the country. It was warm when we left, as well, so I can only imagine how rubbish conditions were when Adam finally got on the grit stone in the afternoon. 

We went climbing inside. Lame, I know.

Come the evening and it was time for Adam's presentation, preceded by Neil Gresham talking about 70s & 80s climbing icons and fashion. Lycra featured heavily. Most amusing was when a picture of Ron Fawcett popped up on screen and Neil began talking about the similarities between him and Adam, pushing boundaries and standing head and shoulders above other climbers of their time. Underlining this was the striking physical similarities, both lithe and sporting a head full of curly hair. Unfortunately, no one questioned whether Adam was planning on growing a mustache anytime soon.

Ron Fawcett... or is it Adam Ondra in 10 years? - Credit John Beatty
Adam's talk started with his entry into the world of rock climbing (at a very young age, being as his parents are both climbers themselves) through to when he started climbing hard (also very young) and then climbing the hardest routes in the world (still young). The man is only 21 years old! He first climbed a 6a aged 6, moving onto onsighting 7b+ aged 8, onsighting 7c+ aged 9, onsighting 8a aged 10, and... well... you get the point. Hardly even a teenager (12 or 13... not sure) he climbed his first 9a. He's also won world cups in Lead & Bouldering (being the only person to do so... ever). To cut a long story short (his autobiograhpy in 30 years will be a huge tome of climbing achievements, I'm sure), he's also established the world's hardest routes - La Dura Dura (9b+), Vasil Vasil (9b+), and Change (9b+) to name just three.

There was footage from his hardest boulder problem, Terranova (8C+), and Vasil Vasil, which I named above. These are two of the hardest bits of rock climbing in the world - nice things to have for a slideshow on your life. While everyone knows who Adam Ondra is and his slideshow was photo after photo of him climbing things that no one else could climb, there was no rock star drama or attitude and, indeed, the overriding impression I got was someone who simply loved rock climbing. It just so happens that he's the best at it too.

Back to the land of mere mortals, come Sunday, psyched from Adam's presentation, I went out to climb on the grit. Apparently, I was too psyched (NB: see 'daft'). I warmed up on a 7A boulder problem called Mini Beak, at Rivelin, which I've done several times before. I then didn't climb for around an hour or so (spotting duties), before going over to try Master Kush (7C+) without warming up again. I failed miserably, obviously. It was now midday, warm and we were in a wood a day after it rained. I was basically swimming around, it was that humid. So we went somewhere with a little more breeze, Burbage South. Following chips at Fox House, I took it relatively easy, climbing a couple of 6s and failing on some 7s, before calling it a day. Rather unsuccessful in terms of completing climbs, but enjoyable nonetheless.

That was it. Another climbing weekend gone. I felt so rotten and fatigued on Sunday night and all-day Monday that I thought I had gained an illness over the weekend as well, but it seems dehydration and exhaustion will play funny tricks on you. Remember kids... drink lots of water. I'll leave you with that little lesson.    

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Bouldering trip to St. Bees Head

I can hear the waves lapping at the coastline. Fulmars, herring gulls and guillemots float through the air above, emitting squawks and squabbling over the sight of a fish or the dominance of a perch. The sun beats down on my back and warms my muscles. A breeze dances between the boulders, blown in from the Irish sea, and soothes my sore hands. It is peaceful here.

As far as bouldering settings go, you can't get much better than St. Bees Head in Cumbria. On beautiful, clear days like those experienced over the recent bank holiday weekend, it is the most stunning venue in which to indulge in a passion for grappling with powerful boulder problems. This was my first trip to St. Bees and it exceeded my expectations as a seaside climbing arena in many ways.

Leigh-Anne enjoying the views at the top of St Bees Head

The first time you climb over the fences, designed to keep the general populace of weekend walkers and bird watchers from danger, and descend over the cliff edge towards the ocean, using ropes and steps carved out of rock and mud, it can be a little overwhelming. Packs of food, water, climbing shoes, chalk, guidebooks and a bouldering pad weigh heavily on your shoulders and legs when the only thing keeping you from a 100ft plunge is your grip on a fisherman's old rope, lashed to rusting bolts and chains screwed and glued into rocks that feel precariously loose on weather beaten and crumbling cliff faces.

This is not a climbing destination for those prone to attacks of anxiety or fear of heights. A sure foot and strong nerve is needed to reach the boulders worth your attention. But be assured, your efforts are rewarded with a good day's climbing on world class boulder problems. 

The descent is not the only concern, as merely moving between sectors such as Apiary Wall to Fisherman's Steps can be a balancing act in itself. Early in the morning, when the sun has yet to breach the clifftop and shade still covers the rock platform at its base, a sheet of moisture and slime covers the ground and makes every step precarious. Make a wrong move and you'll be upended, as I was on several occasions, rubbing sore arms and legs after crashing into the floor. Practice makes perfect, it seems, as I slowly made my way through a jumble of boulders known as the Old Buoys Club, looking much like Bambi on ice, only to be overtaken by an overweight fisherman wearing army boots and hauling seven or eight rods and a bucket of bait, carrying himself across the seaweed and barnacle covered patinas with the confidence and grace of a ballerina.

As I said, though, it's all worth it when you're standing on top of a conquered sandstone boulder problem, comforted by the experience of figuring out a sequence of moves and then executing them with precision, dragging your body across a series of hand and footholds. It's a strange old sport.

Squeezing juice out of the left hand start hold on Headbanger at Apiary Wall, St Bees Head

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in St. Bees. It was a fantastic trip for a number of reasons, but chief among them being the climbing and, importantly, my successes. Indeed, I don't think I tried many boulders that I did not complete, which is a nice feeling in itself. But then again, there were many harder (and easier) lines that I neglected to even touch, with time, energy and skin being finite. 

For those interested, my tick list is as follows:

  • The Arete (6C), Fisherman's Steps - Climbed the tall person's way, hence the 6C grade. To watch how it should be done, see Leah Crane in action.
  • Headbanger LH (7A), Apiary Wall - There are two versions to this steep and powerful problem, both with the same crux… the first move. This version leads into an easier 6Bish top section, whereas…
  • Headbanger RH (7B), Apiary Wall - This version leads into more precarious and powerful climbing, gaining the hueco on the right and climbing into a pocketed pinch and an edge just below the top.
  • Problem 4 Bloc L (6A+), Apiary Wall - Looks rubbish but climbs better than it looks, thankfully. 
  • Slopey Arete (6C+/7A), Apiary Wall - Some say 6C+, some say 7A. I'm inclined towards the former, especially if you compare it with Headbanger LH, which is much harder.
  • Problem 5 Bloc K (6B), Apiary Wall - Nice sit down start moves into a heart flutter of an odd-mantle into the scoop. Worth doing.
  • Problem 4 Bloc M (6B+), Apiary Wall - A little bit boring, as it's shuffling along the lip, but worth doing to warm the forearms… if you're a proper boulderer you'll get a mild pump.
  • Phat Arete (6C), Apiary Wall - Another one that climbs better than it looks. Two powerful moves get you into jugs, from which you can top out or…
  • Phat Ramp (6C+/7A), Apiary Wall - Traverse right on slopers and poor feet, through the groove, before reaching the top. It's hard if you power through after reaching the jugs at the end of Phat Arete, instead of stopping for a cup o' tea.
  • Apiary Arete (6A+), Apiary Wall - A classic for good reason. Hard if you can't lock it off, as the footholds at the start are rather poor.
  • Problem 1 Bloc L (4+), Apiary Wall - Try calling that 4+ when the lower wall is covered in slime. 4+ it aint.
  • Problem 2 Bloc L (5+), Apiary Wall - A nice problem worthy of getting the climbing shoes on for a warm up.
  • The Rail (6C+), Apiary Wall - The bottom of the wall was wet, so I avoided putting my feet on it, and the Rail, when I finally reached it, was slimy. I slipped my way up and VERY precariously rocked over the top. Terrified, I was.
  • Bow Wow Prow (7B), Fisherman's Steps - A superb problem that initially looks like a fridge-hugger and actually climbs like a roof arete with a dyno finish. Felt hard - the hardest problem I climbed on the trip.
  • Fisherman's Dyno (6A+), Fisherman's Steps - A lovely problem, with a powerful campus start followed by a nice rock over and jugs to a high finish. 

Of course, there are a few problems I did not try and would like to in future - chiefly Hueco Crack (7A), which was recommended to me by more than one person. Unfortunately, this was wet and slimy all weekend, and a fear of snapping off holds as well as spending too much time waiting and trying to dry it kept me from dwelling beneath this fine line. Another would be The Dark Side of the Moon (7C) which was crustacean covered for most of our stay - finally being cleaned by some patient soul on our last day, but I hadn't noticed until the end of that day, when energy and psyche had long since departed.

I would recommend all of the above boulder problems, however. I could not find a single bad line between them. That's not to say the entirety of St. Bees offers superb climbing, though. There are thousands of boulders strewn along this stretch of coastline, some chossy, some tiny, some hit twice a day by the tide, some grim and slimy, some providing a home to the tiny creatures of the sea. Even established areas can be hard to reach and not worth it (in my view) but this is down to your personal preference. We spent hours walking (and attempting to walk) to certain areas and find certain boulder problems but we eventually had to call it quits and stick to what we could reach relatively easily. That's not to say any of it is easy to reach. It's not like getting to Trackside at Curbar. But there are some areas (Apiary Wall and Fisherman's Steps) that are far easier to find than others. Maybe you can put that down to my map and route reading ability. But paths are hidden and some non-existent. Add to that the constantly changing coastline, with landslides and rockfalls, as well as the powerful ocean changing the configuration of the boulder field at whim. All I can add is go with exploration and adventure in mind and you'll have a grand old time. I did.

If you are planning a trip, here's a few hints and tips:

Where to stay

We stayed at the Seacote caravan park in St. Bees. A tent bigger than one man will cost £18 a night, but the facilities are excellent. From here you can drive to Sandwith (pronounced Sanith, in case you're interested) within 10 minutes by car. Or you can walk to the different bouldering areas.

The Seacote Caravan Park, St Bees, Cumbria

Where to park

Tarn Flatt Hall farm in Sandwith has kindly given access to a small parking area not too far from the bouldering - saving an additional 30-40 minute walk in. Make sure you pay £2! The box is just inside the main gate, next to the front door. 

Access to the crag

As described above, it's not for the faint hearted. I would not take children or dogs. Saying that, we saw more than one person at Apiary with a four-legged friend. Also, please take heed of the bird restrictions. Full details can be found on the Fell and Rock Climbing Club website. I won't go into detail, you can read approaches and access in the guide book.

Guide book

There is a brilliant, free guide to the St. Bees Head bouldering on the LakesBloc website. The website also has loads of other useful info.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Four days... yes, FOUR days... on real stone. I am blessed.

Finally, in what feels an age, I've managed to have a good few days climbing on real stone in the UK. Since the start of 2014 it's all been a bit sporadic; a day here, a day there. Weather, illnesses, work, and more have all conspired to whittle away at motivation and time in roughly equal measure.

However, the recent trip to Fontainebleau, followed by a spate of good (if a tad warm) weather in and around the Peak District, has helped to bolster the dwindled motivation. Therefore, four days on the stone have been procured since Font. FOUR! I know, crazy. I know what some of you are thinking... students, part-time workers, part-time climbers... 'four aint that many... haha!' Well, it's a lot to me! And others... family people, commuters... 'what I would give for four in ten days on real stone!'. You have my sympathies.

Anyway... the four days went like this: two days bouldering on limestone at an undisclosed location (due to access peculiarities... it's not banned, but it's not actively encouraged with guidebooks either), one day sport climbing on limestone at Horseshoe Quarry (plus a little bouldering at Tom's Cave) and one day on grit stone at The Roaches in Staffordshire.

It's been a good four days too... with lots of ticks metaphorically going in the book (I've never actually ticked problems off in my guidebook). 

All feels a bit cloak and dagger, but I'll start with the undisclosed location. I made my first trip here after work one day, a few days after the Font trip, having heard about it before but never been. I'd been told of nice, long traverses with too many holds, where you can make up sequences and train power endurance. So I was keen. The first trip started with making stuff up as I went along, and repeating a few bits and pieces Leigh-Anne and friends had conceived. We then moved to a steeper area with more established problems, where I began working a 7A+. I had hoped to make short work of it, but the fingery nature of the problem (and all limestone problems) thwarted my efforts. I quickly ran out of energy and shifted onto the easier 6C variation, climbing it first try.

When we returned (yesterday) I had that 7A+ very much in mind. A sole objective for the trip, having just two hours after work once again. I warmed up, then sat underneath it and immediately greased off the sidepull, the soft skin on my hands rolling on the sharp holds. Try again and much the same. Heart sank. The other end of the crag was shaded, so I continued warming up, keeping the muscles going, waiting for the sun to descend. I did a 6A+, some pullups, touched some holds, spotted, and waited. Patience wearing thin, I tried another 7A+ problem and completed it 3rd try. Confidence boosted, I got back on the main objective. Half an hour and a 5 degree drop in temperature (yes, it fell that fast) and the holds felt completely different. Three or four tries later (I forget exactly how many), I made it past the huge lock-off on a two finger pocket and latched the crimp above. That's the crux - the rest went without too much difficulty. 

I tried a 7B+ but the sharp crimp was biting my skin and, with a bank holiday weekend trip to St. Bees coming up, I decided to Save The Tips (new charitable organisation?). To wear down the arms, I repeated two 6C+s in double quick time and made a dash for the car, the sun now almost completely gone from the sky. 

The sport climbing excursion to Horseshoe was a few days ago. It was mostly to teach and learn, rekindle the lost skills and memory for sorting out a belay and stripping a route of quick draws. A trip to Montserrat, near Barcelona, is nearing and so a few more days on the rope will be necessary. Anyway, nothing of any difficulty was ascended, being a day after the epic at The Roaches n' all. 

Speaking of which, The Roaches! Love that place. We went for a friend's birthday and never found the friend, so just climbed all day. Brilliant. I had no objectives and just went with it. Firstly the Greener Traverse down (6A) and up (6B+) was dispatched to warm the muscles. Then to the upper tier, where short work was made of Calcutta Traverse (6A) followed by the Black Hole extension (7A). We then wandered over to the Too Drunk boulder, where I dispatched its namesake problem (7A) and Not Drunk Enough (6C+). Then back to the main section of the upper tier, where Nadin's Traverse (7A) fell after some work and then Cooper's Traverse (6B). Then The Rippler (6A) and it's sit variation (7A). 

All this work necessitated a tea cake break, so after a short walk we made our way to the Roaches Cafe. Noticing the clouds quickly turning black and ominously blanketing the sky, we made a dash up the road to the Newstones/Baldstones crag. A re-warm up on the classic foursome of The Grinding Sloper (6A), Varicose (6A+), Wall and Mono (6A) and Square Cut Face (6A) was just completed when the rain started - light but definitely raining. I wanted to show Leigh-Anne the Baldstone's Traverse (7A+), so we started walking. I got distracted by Sly Stallone (6B+) and jumped on that before moving on. 

The rain started in earnest while walking across the Moor, so I had no hope of actually getting on the Traverse. We arrived and it was bone dry - temporarily. We threw the mats in the mud and I got to work. First go got me through the crux I had so struggled with when I was younger. I was surprised. Unfortunately, my surprise quickly turned to annoyance when I realised I hadn't left enough room for my big, fat hands. So I came off, reassured that it wouldn't take too much effort. The rain was getting heavier. The next go I forgot the sequence towards the end, where a little power is required, and I came off. Next go, I missed the jug at the end (a 5+ move) and came off again, a bit aghast and bewildered. I sat down, cursing my luck, with the rain lashing, drops hitting the holds, soaking my shoes and mat. Sod it. I chalked my hands and made one final push. I made it through to the last hard move again, almost dropped it, but just about kept my tired body on the wall. I eyed up the 5+ move, the memory flash of failing it just minutes before quickly wiped away, and latched it, ending an excellent day totally wiped out.

While there is nothing amazingly hard in that list of boulder problems, it was all amazing fun. And hopefully good training for St. Bees this weekend. Bring on the sandstone!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

April bouldering trip to the Forest of Fontainebleau

There are different kinds of Fontainebleau trips - although this is true for any climbing trip. If, like the average climber, you only have a finite amount of time in that place, you can approach your week or two weeks in one of a few different ways. You may be like a kid in a candy store, jumping on every boulder problem you lay your eyes on and tearing through your skin in two days, spending the rest of the trip managing what thin tips you have left. You may have a single, hard boulder problem in mind, and return to it day after day to piece it together bit by bit, until you either send it or go home disappointed, with a tick list as short as a gnat's arm. Or you may, like me and fellow Font-trippers Leigh-Anne and Mike on this latest trip, work a handful of different problems every day, ensuring they are satisfyingly hard but easy enough to climb relatively quickly.

Our lovely Gite in Poligny
We only had a week - 6 days worth of climbing after you factor in the travel. That's not a great deal of time, really. And if you spend two days travelling, you want to see a lot of the place you are travelling to. We visited 10 different Fontainebleau areas during those six days. And I climbed 19 different boulder problems, all of which were brilliant. That might not sound like a lot to some, but it felt like a lot of climbing to me, especially after factoring in all the effort put into those I didn't complete. Some of them were flashes and some took a few hours to work out. One or two I had to return to the following day, finding them after a hard day's slog and only having the energy to work the moves. However, what was important was that I came away with a real sense of accomplishment and a deep desire to return to the Forest.

Coming toe-curlingly close to latching Smatch (7B) on the last day
Normally after Font trips I come home with spent tips - a few of them harbouring flappers - and elbows that throb with repetitive strain aches. However, the 20+ degree heat we endured, and the 95%+ humidity, meant that lots of patience was needed during the week. It also meant that it wasn't worth putting in the effort on really hard projects, other than to find them for next time. I tried La Gaule (7C) for 15 minutes but after each move my hands were slipping from the relatively good fridge hugging holds, leaving dark brown sweaty stains on the rock as I crumbled to the floor. Therefore the majority of the week we spent in the 7A-7B range, ensuring quick sends and completing projects I had tried when I was younger.

Hanging around in Fontainebleau
Some of the highlights include:

  • Hibernatus stand (7B) - Dame Jouanne. Starting with the left hand side pull and right hand pocket, stab at the slopping jug. The 8A version (matched left side-pull) is one to go back for.
  • Uzbek (7A) - Dame Jouanne. Given 7B in some guides, but the internet consensus seems to be on 7A. I'd agree with the latter, having climbed it 2nd go, after fumbling footwork on the first go.
  • Zen (7A) - Roche Aux Sabots. One I'd been keen to try for a while. It's a lot of moves (for a boulder problem) leading through a roof, into a techy arete. Very hard for the grade - felt more like 7A+, especially compared with Bioethique right next to it.
  • Plastikman (7A) - Franchard Isatis. I really struggled with the last move here, but the bottom felt bomber with a solid knee-bar (which destroyed the skin on my knee). Hard one for me.
  • Extorsion De Fond (7A+) - La Canche Aux Merciers. Some say 7B but I think more 7A+ as it only took 2 goes. My kind of thing, though, being a bit of a powerful one move wonder.
  • Beatle Juice (7A+) - Franchard Cuisiniere. I tried this when I was younger and really struggled, so it was nice to go back and finish it. See the video below (apologies for the footage quality).

  • Science Friction (6A) - Apremont. A hot and sweaty send of this classic slab. Still 6A in my book, at least it is with a stiff pair of shoes. Climbed it many times now.
  • Vin Rouge (7A) - Isatis Centre. Felt quite easy to me, but I do like a good dyno. It's not a very long one, but coordination is king, as you're jumping off smears and two large undercuts.
  • Surplomb Gauche (7A) - Isatis Centre. Another toughy for me, being as the top out is a true Fontainebleau scramble, if you finish left (no foot jugs!). My only tip, don't wear shorts! Ouch! Did the 6A+ to the right as well, which is well worth it. Start low though, on the good slopers. Starting high on the pocket and jug makes it 5B.
  • Voiture A Beas (6A) - Isatis Centre. This is a lot more fun than the book has you believing. The top out is quite scary in the warm, with hands sliding precariously off the good, sloping edge.
  • L'Oblique (7A) - Roche Aux Sabots. It was raining this day but this boulder was miraculously dry. All the moisture in the air meant it was a little touch and go for the top out, but a good climb. Also did the 6C+ traverse underneath and the hardest 6A+ in Fontainebleau (Rien De Bon), which took more goes that L'Oblique.
Mike on Deux Faux Plis En Plats Reel and some guy pouting in the foreground
And that was it for me. I did a few easier bits and pieces. I tried a few harder ones, including Magic Bus (a 7B+ roof) and Deux Faux Plis En Plats Reel (a short and powerful 7C), but I found the heat difficult to overcome.

I was mighty impressed with my comrades for the trip. Leigh-Anne has been battling illness for several months now, but still managed to push into 6C territory, with a couple of sends in the grade, including No Mojo, at Roche Aux Sabots, and La Nez, at Canche Aux Merciers. She also made a very impressive flash ascent of one of the tallest boulders in Fontainebleau, Dalle A Poly at L'Elephant. She completed her entire tick list for the trip, with an impressive 19 sends to her name.

Leigh-Anne cruising another great 6A at Franchard Cuisiniere
Mike also had the Font trip of his life, pushing his grade into new territory and ticking off a few boulders that thwarted me, including Fleur De Rhum (7A+) at Apremont and La Coquille Stand (6C) at Hautes Plaines.

For those of you planning your own trips, I would highly recommend all of the above boulders. We had meticulously picked and chosen our problems for the week, so as to get the most from it, and each and every one had great movement and was a joy to climb. 

Psyched for the next trip now!

Second blog with lots of great photos from Mike coming soon!