In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set out on the Endurance to attempt to traverse the Antarctic continent. Years later he returned, having failed to achieve that goal. However, he writes that he and his crew returned rich in memories, having “suffered, starved and triumphed, grovelled down yet grasped at glory. Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.” I’m not so full of conceit that I consider my experience equal to his, but I think that the quote pretty well describes the run up to the trip, and especially the time since then.
About a year ago now I started to make travel and training plans for a trip to Flatanger, Norway. I’d heard great things about the place and the climbing, so I went for it. I found out everything I possibly could, I even contacted a certain strong Czech climber for some knowledge. Over the course of 10 months I dreamt about all the routes I’d heard about; devoured every video, picture and blog I could find; became obsessed to the exclusion of all other climbs. I just didn’t care about other climbs or other places. I think I went outside a handful of times over the winter, and it always felt like a waste of time; a trip to Margalef at Easter was an absolute disaster, cut short because I didn’t want to be there.
The trip came round surprisingly fast, but I’d prepared as well as I knew how, and I had my list. 10 routes from 8c-9a (plus everything else), all of which looked amazing, some looked like they would suit me more than others, and I was more motivated for some for various reasons. I knew I was probably fit enough to climb one of the 8c+’s, which was the main goal, but I didn’t know if I was strong enough or good enough.
Gavin, a good friend of mine, said it was like how Ceuse was 20 years ago, and that was enough to convince me. This doesn’t come close. The scenery is better: it’ll make you stand there, deep in thought, feeling at one with nature whist you probably just look like a gormless idiot. But it’s OK. Everyone else is doing the same thing. The rock is better, by far the best I’ve ever climbed on. It makes holds which are just a pleasure to use, world class boulder problems, and the routes follow proper lines. Norway is a bit more expensive, and there’s not hundreds of routes at every grade, and the weather can be a bit fickle, but you’ll come down off every single route, successful or not, with a smile on your face.
As soon I arrived I knew I wanted to do everything. On the first day I tried Eye of Odin and it didn’t go all that well. Gavin has admitted to me since then that, based on that first day, he thought that I might not do it. I expected that though, what I didn’t expect was for it to come together as fast as it did. 5 sessions later, after falling off the last move of the last boulder problem, I clipped the chain with a big grin on my face. This was made all the more rewarding because I was belayed by Gavin, who has been like a mentor, as well as a good friend, since I started climbing.Filming: Matt Hardy and James France; Edit: Matt Hardy
After quickly doing Muy Verdes with a bit of encouragement from Mikey, which is probably more like bottom end 8c if you don’t onsight it, a couple routes seemed like the next obvious choices. Either Nordic Flower, which Alan was trying and basically repeating every day, or Little Badder, Seb Bouin’s monster 9a. I thought Nordic Flower looked like it was worth a flash attempt up to the first belay so I decided to leave that for a day of good conditions and try Little Badder. They share the same 25m ~8b to start but it’s possible to jumar past this section and start directly on the 9a bit.
It was going quite well considering the conditions and the 9a-ness of the route. I thought that I was closeish to doing it in a couple sections, so with 5 weeks to go and conditions improving, maybe I would have a chance.
On around my fifth session on it, I jumared up the 10m or so of fixed static rope, clipped in direct, sent down the jumar and gri-gri, unclipped, then started to climb. Three moves later I looked down to do a foot swap on the lip of the small roof I’d just climbed round. ‘Oh, shit’, was all I said as I saw my rope going straight down to Alan. No chance to down climb. Jump off? No. Jump and try and catch the static line? Unlikely. Move.
‘Go on, you know you can do it’, were the words I heard from Alan, and were the words I needed to hear.
Foot swap. Shit, my left foot’s not on right. Can’t adjust. My left arm is getting pumped already. ‘No…’, as my right hand came just short of the next hold, a good hold. A move I’d never fallen on since deciding on the sequence.
‘I’m alright’, were my first words after I rolled onto my back. I’ve got away with this, somehow. Then I saw my wrist. Blueish and black, about three times as big as it should be and S-shaped. No… What about all the routes I haven’t done yet!? Odd, how annoyed I was that I wouldn’t be able to even try them. Briefly, that was my main concern.
I saw another climber, Silvio Reffo, walk over. ‘Good effort on Muy Verdes’ I said, having seen him do it, despite wet holds at the crux, just before I started jumaring. He was somewhat bemused. ‘Take my shoes off, please’. The left one feels a bit tighter than usual, and it feels like I’ve pulled a muscle in my groin, and maybe my achilles too.
Over the next hour I experienced first hand the very best of the climbing community. I was unconscious for the second. Alan, having broken my fall onto the steep slope, probably saving me from permanent injury and a long slide to the bottom, supported my body to keep me flat for two hours. A few days later he told me he couldn’t feel his legs for a while after. Matt and James, who were there to film Alan (and make us all laugh after failing miserably on something. James gave me a particularly good pep talk for the Eye – ‘make it your bitch’), called the emergency services and ran down to meet them. I remember Matt legging it back up the slope with the stretcher before practically collapsing himself. Silvio’s partner, who is medically trained, checked my blood circulation and gave me some painkillers. Another man, who didn’t say a word, just looked me in the eye, and I knew that he would do everything he could to help. And he bloody well did. I’m sorry that I can’t remember everything that everyone did to help me, and that I don’t even know who many of you are, but if you are one of those people and you happen to be reading this, then please get in contact because I would like to thank you.
I woke up in Trondheim hospital late that evening. I later found out that I had a fracture dislocation in my wrist, three fractures in my pelvis, which was fortunately stable but extremely painful, and a shattered heel. They said the latter was ‘in little bits’, and, having seen the x-ray now, I can confirm that they didn’t exaggerate. The wrist and the heel needed an operation, but they weren’t confident they could do much about the heel, and that they needed to wait two weeks for the swelling to go down before they could operate. I couldn’t fly home either – it turned out that my insurance wouldn’t cover repatriation costs, but I couldn’t have flown in any case, even in an air ambulance.
Three weeks later I was on my way home with my Mum, who had flown out to help me back. It seemed like the operation had gone quite well, but because of the language barrier I couldn’t really be certain. I knew that I wouldn’t be walking for a few months though.
Now, almost 2 months since the accident, I feel like I’m past the regret, the what-ifs, anger and depression, and I’m making good progress by doing A LOT of physio. My pelvis is healed, lots of stitches and a pin have been taken out, and I found out that the operation had gone extremely well. There’s still a lot of work to be done, first to get my foot back to a normal shape with a normal range of motion, then to start walking again and building back some some of the muscle which has wasted away. Climbing properly again seems a long way off, but I will climb again – there’s plenty routes still on the list.
Back when I was in Rodellar I was fortunate enough to meet Stefan Joller, The (other) Swiss Machine, whom I teamed up with for a couple weeks, during which many a heated pool game was had, which, by the way, became the main focus of the trip during that time. There had never been such a competition between a Brit and Swiss, one time it even resulted in an international competition, with Myself and Mark Busby representing the Brits. However, when our trips came to an end, the score was tied and a rematch was in order. So a couple weeks ago I made the journey out to Switzerland for the final battle.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any pool tables in Lucerne, so we had to make do with some climbing.
The plan was to get on some multipitch routes and have a bit more of an adventure, rather than going for performance. I was a complete beginner in this style, I didn’t even know what a prusik was, but Stefan was the perfect partner and showed me how to be as efficient as possible; still more squashed-snail-esque than Ueli Steck, but passable I guess. Well, no one died anyway.
We managed to get up a few without a hitch, albeit a little dehydrated and sunburnt, but during our second night in Ratikon we were rudely awakened by some rain, resulting in a quick
dash stumble in the dark to the car, sleeping bags in hand, to get a bit more kip before making a quick getaway along the sketchy dirt road, with our eyes peeled for rockfall we were quite surprised to see some of the locals in the middle of the road.
After navigating round these with by persuading them, with some some difficulty, to go the other way, or at least to pull into a passing place, we drove South to Ticino after stopping at a dark and damp sport climbing area called Motel where I opted to try a boulder problem called Whale Sandwich at the base instead. It was pretty simple but very fun; just squeeze! Something I haven’t done much of, so was reduced to a panting wreck after each attempt, but managed to reach a big jug where I presumed the hard climbing to end, but unfortunately also where the cobwebs and dirt began.
Chironico is the land of clean cut overhangs and positive crimps. Basically, the stuff of my dreams. The first day there I ran around like a kid in a candy shop, so excited to see what lurked in the darkness under each boulder. I’d had enough vitamin D, I wanted the cold wind to barge past and to wake up to a clear frosty morning. Summer hadn’t quite realised that it wasn’t wanted anymore though, but we made do by climbing in the evenings, and our motivation for being in one of the best bouldering areas in the world more than made up for the lack of friction. Skin was the only limiting factor, but nothing that a bit of gurning couldn’t fix.
I tried a couple things, Komilator first, which I knew nothing about except the name and that it was 8a in the guide. It required a bit of shoe faggotry, I found a way to make the heel stay, but not before I had almost trashed two right shoes so had to wear a left shoe on my right foot for it to work, and managed to pull up to the jugs at the top. I later found out that it has been chipped and is now 7c+ ish, and that I’m an idiot and used shit beta because in my desire to follow just the holds on the face, I assumed that you couldn’t use a big hold on the left, or a massive jug just above. I don’t think they made much difference to the difficulty though, not at my height anyway.
And yes, if you’re wondering, what started off as a nice easy multipitch trip where performance didn’t matter at all, it had now become a bouldering trip where performance was everything! With my goal for the winter being to boulder 8a I thought this a good time to give one a blast, so I tried Le Pilier, and after getting absolutely spanked in the afternoon heat, I waited for the sun to set to try it with cooler temps. After a bit of faffing around and using smartphone tactics to get beta/save skin I yanked my way up it the next day all square on feeling like Daniel Woods. It does sort of climb like that though, rather than me just being shit.
I loved Chironico. It’s made for me so I imagine I could do well there, so of course I’d like it. But going and doing long multipitch routes with great company in great surroundings gave a different sort of enjoyment, something probably a little closer to ‘normal’ fun which isn’t what I normally go for, being an improvement obsessed type. It was fun though, at the time, but the satisfaction isn’t very long lived, though sometimes its nice to go away and just bumble about for a bit.
Bumbling doesn’t make you stronger though. Now I’m back and living in Sheffield, and there shall be no more wandering round like a babbling bumbling buffoon, to paraphrase Ms McGonigall. Last time I checked bumbling wasn’t part of The Plan.
“One feels the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech in trying to describe things intangible” – Sir Ernest Shackleton
Iceland! What can I say about Iceland? Well, it’s… It’s raw. I think that was one of my first thoughts there. It’s old yet new, dynamic yet undisturbed, it’s Natures laboratory. The pictures do the place more justice than my words ever could, and even they fall far short of the mark. Just go there, and you’ll see (but avoid all the touristy crap. That’s not Iceland).
I’ll briefly summarize my trip so you can get back to ogling. The morning after flying into Reykjavik I got a bus to Landmannalauger in the central highlands via the moon. Yes, the moon. We drove across the moon in a bus. That’s not even the best bit, not even close. I was dropped off on a plain next to a braided river – some parts hot, too hot to bathe in, but you could bath in the confluence between the hot and cold parts quite comfortably – surrounded by colourful mountains – orange, golden, brown, even green! Oh, and there was a huge lava field looming over the campsite, just waiting to engulf us. And there was daylight, all the time. Though not always sunny…
After spending a couple days there doing shorter walks with Beth, Jo, and Taz, who I met on the plane, I set off on the Laugavegurrin hiking trail, a 3 or 4 four day hike to Thorsmork, past lava fields, snow fields, glaciers, fumeroles, mountains, waterfalls and some spectacular scenery. On the first day I was lucky enough to bump into a very nice group of Americans who made the next week a real pleasure! Thank you guys!
After a couple days walking in rain and wind, then another in beautiful sunshine we arrived in Thorsmork where we decided to continue to the coast via the Fimmvorduhals! Which is as cool as it sounds and goes something like this: You traverse Mount Valahnukar before crosser the Krossa river and head then with caution to the Strakagil ravine before reaching Kattarhryggir – a narrow crest with deep ravines plummeting down to either side. After making a steep, slippery climb you eventually reach the Plains of Morinsheidi! Then ascend to the Fimmvorduhals, the five cairn throat, via Heljarkombur and Brottafonn, between the glaciers Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajojull. If you survive all that then its a pleasant descent along the Skoga river passing no fewer than 23 waterfalls. Not a bad day, really.
After arriving in Skogar we went our separate ways; Dave, Nicole, Emily, Joel, Lexi, and Jed went back to Reykjavik to get their flight home, and I decided to hitch hike round the island, some 1300km, but there’s only really one road in Iceland so its actually very, very easy to hitch hike there. The main places I stopped at were: Skaftafell – touristy, wouldn’t recommend it; Jokulsarlon – very touristy and not that impressive but cool nontheless; Seydisfjordur and Eskifjordur in the east fjords, which was one of my favourite places and where I had a mini epic on a day walk; Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe when measured by discharge; Myvatn area including Hverir, a geothermal area, next to the richly coloured rhyolitic Namafjall, littered in boiling mud pots and fumeroles, which reek of sulphur, and also the Krafla volcanic area; Akureyri, a lovely town/city in the North; and Snaefellsnes Peninsula, where I stopped in Grundarfjordur and climbed Kirkjafell, before going on to Djupalonssandur and Arnastapi; finally finishing in Reykjavik where I did the famed, yet utterly terrible, golden circle – its been completely overrun by tourists and the attractions are far less impressive than a lot of the other stuff I saw in Iceland. Enjoy the photos!
They say time flies when you’re having fun. I don’t know about that so much, but I can honestly say that when you’re having the time of your life, doing what you love the most, time races past you faster than our Brad in a Tour de France time trial. Four months is a long time, but its so easy to let that time flicker away; make a list of venues and all of a sudden you’ve only got a handful of consecutive two week trips with a bit more on the end. Then when you add on travelling, rest days, short excursions to smaller areas, bad weather, and projects, all of a sudden you find your time quite limited, and once its gone you can’t get it back. Everything has to end though, but that just makes you appreciate them more.
Me and Will left England at the end of February, full of anticipation for the up and coming adventures. We had a plan; we had lists of venues and routes, we had sort of an idea when we’d be in each one and where we would stay. Not much was set in stone though – if we decided we wanted to head off somewhere else then we could – that’s the beauty of a road trip, you’re totally free, if you can afford the fuel. In this way especially, road trips are different to normal climbing trips. Yes, you’re there to climb, and the climbing is important, neither of us were afraid to admit that we were there to push our limits and try really bloody hard. It wasn’t to be an adventure holiday where you bumble about scaring yourself silly. We were there to try our best on boulders and sport climbs.
But, it’s not just about the climbing, and that’s an important thing to remember. When you’re travelling for a long time always trying to push your limit it would be so easy to burn out, so we made an effort to remind ourselves that its not the end of the world if we weren’t motivated to push it that day, because you can’t be motivated every single day, and if you had a bad day then that’s just what it was – a bad day. You can’t perform at your best 365 days a year, that just doesn’t happen. Something that I felt was equally important was to really try and enjoy the areas for what they were, and to appreciate the company of others instead of only thinking about the climbing – though I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t the focus of at least 90% of my thoughts…
The first stop was Fontainebleau. It was my first time in the forest, and obviously I’d heard a lot of good things about the place so my expectations were high. To sum it up, the climbing was as good as I could have hoped but the weather was less than ideal. Snow and rain seemed quite determined to stop us from climbing. But we were keen and made the most of it by running round looking for any dry rock – not a good idea to climb on damp sandstone, but if you pick your area right then you can often find enough dry to keep you busy. The thing for me which makes Font so good is the density of really high quality rock – its some of the best I’ve ever climbed on – almost as good as the County…
After sliding off some terrible font slopers in less than ideal conditions for a while it was time to get tied in and get pumped silly on jugs. It always amazes me how easy the moves are on most routes, even on Pata Negra I don’t think there was a boulder problem harder than 6c or 6c+, so I always wonder why anyone ever falls off. Until I try and link a few moves together, that is, and I’m painfully reminded of how useful oxygen is when it comes to respiration and how dangling off your fingers is not conducive to a constant supply of that most valuable element. Oh how I’d love to be 12 again!
St Leger, Buoux, Lourmarin, Chateauvert, Gorges du Loup, Gorges du Tarn and finally Rodellar. It felt like we were never in the same place for long, and since we were both horrendously unfit from all the bouldering, much of this time was embarrassingly bad grade wise. It was all preparation, I told myself, for the main event – Rodellar. There was progress though, the fitness which I missed so much did slowly come back. By focusing more on volume and onsights in the first month or so of the sport climbing portion of the trip I got into reasonable shape, though still not particularly good.
I only spent a week in Gorges du Loup, but it really was a brilliant experience. We were both fortunate to be invited by a friend, Peter Wuensche, to stay in his house there with a few other young British climbers. There weren’t any particularly significant ascents by anyone on the trip, but there were several personal bests which is much more important! What was more interesting was getting a glimpse at the future of British climbing, I expect good things from everyone on that trip in the next few years. Its an exciting time to be climbing in Britain.
It was interesting to say the least. To essentially start from scratch and work back through the grades, it felt like I was reliving the process of improvement through my climbing career so far, only in fast forward. The achievements were the same, and still represented improvement, even if they weren’t personal bests at the time. One example springs to mind: At Buoux I onsighted a 7b+ (sort of – in my hypoxic state I accidentally stood on a hidden bolt below a bulge which definitely helped), which is no where near a personal best for me, its something that I expect to do when I’m in reasonable shape. However, this one felt like a first, like a huge leap forward in the progression of my climbing. I tried really bloody hard. I should have fallen so many times but managed to scrape through, barely. The fact that it was a 7b+ didn’t mean anything at all, I was happy because it would have been so easy to give up, but I fought on even when I was convinced I was off, and that is such a rewarding experience.
It doesn’t matter where you are at in your climbing, 5a or 9a, you can always try your best and that’s something about climbing which I really like. I know from personal experience that the climbs I’m happiest with for the longest time are not necessarily the ones with the biggest number (though they are sometimes), but the ones where I had to push my self to my absolute limit. There’s something very satisfying about trying really hard, to the point where success or failure becomes quite secondary – how many routes have you clipped the chains of without much effort and been satisfied with? I bet the number is pretty small, and those ones are likely to be more adventurous routes with friends where technical difficulty is not such a big part of the experience.
I tried to carry that attitude of ‘try hard’ forward throughout the whole trip. This really worked, it took the pressure away from success or failure, so you ultimately perform better in the end. This really made the process of trying hard routes a lot easier, even on Pata Negra, I never left the ground worrying about the moves at the top or about whether I would clip the chain or not. Instead, I focused on each individual section of a route at a time, breaking it down to trick myself into thinking it was achievable. And, following some advice from Katherine Schirrmacher, I also tried to learn something new on each attempt, however subtle, as its often the little things which make the big difference.
Back to the trip though. For me, Rodellar really was the highlight, everything else was great and made the whole trip a much fuller experience. But Rodellar really does suit me perfectly, and I think that had a lot to do with my success and overall enjoyment of the area. Pata Negra was the big one for me there, but I did a few other things which I was quite pleased with, nothing that significant, but I felt like my base level increased by a grade or so. 8a+ 2nd go became the norm, even managed a couple in a day, and 8b’s were no longer drawn out battles. I didn’t really focus on onsighting this trip though, so nothing much to shout about there – can’t do everything I guess, unless you’re Ondra…
Not many people get the chance to go on a trip like the one I’ve just been on, so I feel pretty fortunate to have had the opportunity and I feel like I made the most of it, but everything has to end at some point. The gap year isn’t quite over yet though. I’m going to Iceland for month where I won’t actually be climbing, after that I’ll potter round the UK a bit before either going to Switzerland or back to Rodellar before starting University in Sheffield!
‘Its easy to be close, but it takes mental fortitude to clip the chains’ – Gavin Ellis
Climbing is unique in a way, you can always go back for another go, the rock will always be there, its always up for a fight, so long as you are. Whereas in other sports much more is fixed, you have to be ready there and then, if you fuck up then you can be left lamenting that screw up for the rest of your life, after all, you’ll never get a chance to compete in that race ever again. Redpointing, though, is a different kettle of fish, once you’ve done the moves then its possible, success will come given enough time. Its a question of how much time and effort you are willing (and able) to put in. Time is not unlimited though: the plane won’t wait for you, the season will end at some point because the Earth doesn’t give a crap if you’ve just fallen off the last move of some random piece of rock, so keeps spinning regardless, and when the window of success is small, which it often is as something gets closer to your limit, other factors begin to play a more significant role; stress, mental state, conditions, and physical condition all have to come into place at the right time to be able to succeed when something is truly at your limit. If you don’t stick with it, and be patient, then you’ll never get through that window.
I’ve been trying a route here in Rodellar, called Pata Negra, which I’ve had to stick with over the last month. The climbing on it is pretty cool: heel hooks left right and center, a knee here and there, a couple cut looses which always look cool and save lots of energy, even a bat hang if you’re front calves are up to the challenge but your forearms aren’t. It can be split into two main sections, separated by a massive rest. The first section is actually a few sections separated by bad rests, and boils down to 3 moves revolving around a lovely lump of sika – not quite the same as Northumberland. The second section also comes down to 3 moves, but on edges around the lip of the roof, a lovely proposition after 25m of almost roof.
At first progress came fast. There were significant gains each session, I made bigger and bigger links quite quickly, till I eventually managed to scream my way past the first crux before falling 3 moves from easy ground, my confidence grew with that progress. 8c isn’t that hard after all, I mean, its been onsighted. As Steve Mcclure says, an improvement curve can be plotted against time, slowly leveling off until eventually becoming flat, with success crossing that curve at some point – ideally just before the curve flattens out. In my ignorance I thought that maybe the curve would continue to rise steeply and that success would be assured in a matter of days. With that in mind I came down from that attempt happy as fucking Larry. Oh, how I was wrong.
I got a serious case of man flu. It rained, the route got wet. I fell left, right and center, but not very high. I fell in the middle a few times. Foot slips, frustration, excuses, and a bit of grunting eventually got me back up to those 3 moves at the top a few more times, but it felt like a long way off. 8c is hard. I thought about the route all the time, almost to the exclusion of everything else, it became the sole source of motivation for me, nothing else mattered, I just wanted to do it. I wasn’t going to give up now.
Then came the day when it all fell into place. It was perfect conditions: a properly good breeze, fairly cold but not so cold that you numb out. There was a good group of people at the crag, all motivated and trying hard, I even saw a strong Spaniard do Pata Negra quite easily – nothing like a bit of humbling to make you try hard. I felt good too, and that’s good for your confidence, even if its not essential to be in top physical condition. It was like it was meant to be: I cruised through the first crux, even had a second to think to myself, ‘I don’t need to scream’, I did anyway, and rested up really well too. Found myself at the final 3 moves; one down, next ones easyish, one more to go, to a jug as well. I hesitated though, my elbows were already up, and once your chicken winged, you’re fucked. Bollocks.
I was worried that I’d missed the window of opportunity because I felt like I’d gotten worse – the first crux felt shit hard all of a sudden. I managed to fall again 3 moves from easy ground, but felt no where near doing them. I was on the verge of sacking it off, doing some easier stuff and maybe coming back to it. My trip was drawing to a close, I could probably count the number of really good go’s I had left on both hands, the weather changed too – the lovely cold I’d been treated with was replaced by hot humidity with a light breeze at best. On top of that rain was forecast on the horizon. I could feel the window closing, if it hadn’t already snapped shut. I was worried that I would end up coming home empty handed and would spend the next two months lamenting my failure. This may have just postponed success, I’d like to hope that I would be capable of doing it upon my return here, however a part of me was worried that if I failed to do it this trip then I would develop a mental block, potentially halting future progression in climbing, and that I would actually return worse than I am now. I feel like I have just gotten lucky with my form this trip, it could have so easily gone the other way, but somehow I have managed to get fit here. This is time that separates the men from the boys, if you really dig in then you will probably get it done, but its so easy to give up, to go for some quick ticks to satisfy your ego, even though you’ll know, deep down, that you got second best.
After a bit of rest; where I regularly switched between nervous anxiety, calm acceptance, and demonic focus, and with some magic belaying by Micha I managed to get it done. I’ve been keeping a daily log which I guess is a bit diaryesque so I’ll include a bit of what I wrote here:
Its shocking how much one route can mean to you once you’ve invested time and effort into it; that effort and emotion builds and builds till it threatens to overwhelm you. You develop a relationship with it, personify the objective to help your mind cope, to somehow justify the investment, to make the fight easier. The process of trying it becomes an integral part of your life – in the time I’ve been trying it nothing else really matters, you get tunnel vision, long term thinking is thrown out the window, everything you do, you do for the route, as if in preparation for the fight. It becomes your motivation, your partner, and the very thing which frustrates you the most, threatening to drive you insane.
A lot has happened since my last post, but the main thing I’m interested in is progress. As I mentioned in my previous post this trip is a bit different from other trips I’ve been on, not just because of its length, because this one has involved training at the crag. In the past, I’ve had a trip planned for a while, and had goals for that trip, so I’d have trained accordingly, or at least have been fit at the outset from a subsequent trip. On this trip though, I’d had a couple months of just bouldering and strength training before heading out, this was followed by three more weeks bouldering in Fontainebleau, which you can read about here: http://wp.me/p2MxDj-3i This all meant that by the time we got around to sport climbing I had lost all my fitness from before Christmas. It was a pretty humbling experience; to know I am capable of climbing much harder than what I was on at the time, yet being unable to. I was reduced to lapping 6c+’s and 7a’s, getting ridiculously pumped on ground which used to feel pretty easy, just to try and build back up some resemblance of endurance.
My fitness started coming back faster than I could have hoped. After the first week I was back to being able to redpoint 8a and flash 7c, but was more consistent in the mid 7’s, which is probably a better indication of my fitness at the time. A week or so later I was able to lap some 7c’s but my aerobic endurance was still way down on what it was, I was getting equally pumped on all grades after a certain amount of time. It was like once I started climbing the timer started, and if it wasn’t a jug path by the time that timer ran out, then I’d be screaming like who-knows-what and desperately slapping even as my fingers were uncurling despite my best efforts to keep them closed. It gave me some of the best fights I’d ever had on a route, but I knew it would have to change if I was to have any chance of climbing the things I wanted to climb on this trip.
Almost a month into the sport climbing portion of the trip things were starting to look up. We were in Gorges du Tarn, which I visited previously a couple years ago with Martin Daley and Carl Kelsall. Tarn is a place of exceptional natural beauty, it also has more rock than you can shake a stick at, most of it undeveloped and world class. It was here that I began to feel like I could get on routes with some confidence, some vague sense that if I decided I wanted to do something, then I’d stand a pretty good chance of doing it, and knew that even if I got pumped then I’d be able to recover at least a little bit if I got to a rest. So fortunately I was able to climb quite a few of the routes up to 8b which I had been looking forward to trying. Plaisir qui Demonte, 8b, was at the top of the list of routes I wanted to do whilst in Tarn. It’s a big one. 55m on some of the most immaculate rock I’ve ever climbed on, with some of the nicest, skin friendly holds I’ve ever used off the board. Its one of those routes which, if you can keep the pump at bay, and get it back at the rests, then it feels easy, but if you can’t recover at those rests, then you won’t stand a chance. So not only was it a great route, but it was also an obvious indication to myself that I’d been able to get some kind of route fitness back over the last month.
We’re now in Rodellar, the ‘land of lactic’, and have been here a couple weeks. In many ways it is even more impressive than Gorges du Tarn; the rock is ridiculously steep, there are huge caves, roofs, and arches everywhere. I thought that there was a lot to do in Gorges du Tarn, but it doesn’t even come close to the amount here in Rodellar, after just a couple weeks in Tarn we had by no means ran out of routes to do, but we felt like we were running out of the best ones, the ones which you really have to do. After two weeks in Rodellar, and having climbed more than I did in the two weeks in Tarn, I’m getting the the feeling that I’m going to be coming back here for many years to come. We have another five weeks here, and it’s not nearly enough to do everything I want to do.
I feel like I’ve progressed even further since climbing in Gorges du Tarn. I don’t know if that’s just because the style might suit me more here, I suspect that has something to do with it, but so far I feel like I’m climbing well here. I haven’t done anything hugely significant, a handful of 8a-b, with a couple on the go, but I feel like I’m climbing better than ever. Climbing only on rock for four months can work wonders; I’ve never felt so comfortable or confident on rock, which means I can climb faster and more decisively, more efficiently. That could explain some of the perceived fitness gains over the last couple weeks.
So we have another 5 weeks or so here in Rodellar before heading back to blighty. Hopefully the progress will continue so that I stand a chance of climbing just half of what I’d like to. I’ll update this blog with pictures when I get some so that you can see just how impressive Rodellar and Tarn really are.
Since Fontainebleau time has flown by with a mix of different venues, some successes, failures, micro epics, bad weather, and all the lessons involved with relearning to sport climb after bouldering over the winter. Its been a slightly different kind of trip for both myself and Will: in the past we’d always train for a specific trip to one area, but since this trip is so long, 4 months, and since it started off with 3 weeks bouldering and the training involved for that beforehand, we were almost starting from scratch fitness wise, so we had to approach the crags a bit differently, and build up from the beginning.
First up was St Leger, which was only a brief and unplanned stop off, but it proved to be a worthwhile one, if not the most successful in terms of grades. I had been to St Leger for a week a couple years previously with Martin and Carl, and remembered it being amazing. It didn’t disappoint. The goal for this part of the trip was just to get a bit of fitness, so we forgot about performance, which is crucial in training, and set to doing laps. It was interesting to be able to climb without worrying about performance, though I did sometimes, and certainly got annoyed a my lack of fitness on some days, or got annoyed at myself for worrying about performance which resulted in a less effective training day. After a week in St Leger I felt like I’d gone from being at about 10% of my previous best fitness, to being at about 35%, but I was still not climbing as well as I’d like, and was not very relaxed. St Leger then, was an interesting and humbling experience, where, although there were some minor failings, which can all be accounted for, there was also significant gain, and those failings have, I think, developed me more as a climber, as I can now better handle failure and have learned how to benefit from every attempt, regardless of the outcome. It was this mindset of trying hard and persevering that I tried to carry forward to Buoux, the next stop on the trip.
Buoux is the birthplace of hard sport climbing, home of some of the most classic hard sport routes, some of which were the first of that difficulty in France and the World, and it has a reputation to match. We could have stayed here for months and not have even come close to climbing all the best routes here, largely because they’re all pretty hard. It was annoying, though, to be surrounded by some of the most historic hard routes in the world and to lack the fitness and power to do them. So I had to settle for some of the easier routes at Buoux, all of which were brilliant, some of which were a bit painful, one of which was the hardest fight I’ve ever had, and it certainly wasn’t my hardest route, I even screamed a bit, and I almost never do that. It was a good lesson in learning to try hard, and in how long you can actually hang on before you physically can’t – I find that many people, myself included, often ’let go’, because they think they should have fallen. Unfortunately, we could only stay for a few days, so we barely scratched the surface. I can’t wait to return when I’m at my best so that I at least stand a chance on routes like Le Rose, which I tried a bit but wouldn’t have been able to do it in the time I had, and Agincourt, Le Minimum, and so on.
We had arranged to meet some friends in Gorges du Loup on Easter Saturday, but before leaving Buoux we went to a little known crag called Lourmarin, which, in the words of Mark Busby, is like Terradets on steroids. We did a few routes here, and tried a route which we thought was supposed to be 8a, but misread the topo and ended up on what we think was an 8b+, one which I’m very keen to go back to as it was awesome climbing and suited me perfectly; power endurance on edges.
On the way to Gorges du Loup we stopped off briefly at Chateauvert to have a look at another 8b+ called, ‘Are you ready?’. We didn’t stay long, but discovered enough to realise that Chateauvert is a great wet weather venue and that Are you ready? is definitely one to go back to on another trip. It goes up an immaculate, gently overhanging wall, through a series of sculpted scoops and dishes, with involved and interesting climbing.
Gorges du Loup has been a return to normality, and fortunately time seems to have returned to its normal speed for the first time this trip. We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to stay in a house with friends for the week, which has been a pleasant change from camping, and its been great to climb with a bunch of mates; encouraging each other to success on our various routes. Gorges du Loup has been the first stop on the sport climbing portion of the trip where I’ve began to felt like I’m really getting into it, and now, as this portion of the trip draws to an end, I feel like my fitness is beginning to get up to a level where I can begin to approach climbs with a bit more confidence, and where I can think about trying some harder climbs, or do slightly easier climbs faster. So far then, it seems like training at the crag has been working: I started off getting boxed lapping 7a’s, in Loup I was lapping 7c’s and 8a’s, so hopefully in the next stage of the trip I can focus a bit more on performance. Next stop, Gorges du Tarn!
Apologies for the lack of pictures. I left my camera charger in Fontainebleau!