Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What I done on my holidays

We haul our numerous bags off the cable car and head hopefully up the slope past the dam to a jumble of rocks beneath the cliffs where the best bivis are said to be. We assume they'll all be full due to the jammed car park below but we have the pick of them and settle into the grandest, with some planks as flooring and a steep roof that should really appeal more to the boulderer in me but registers more as shade from the sun which is apparently much hotter than normal at that height. That first day Jeff takes myself and James up a nearby 7 pitch route, Via Fellici, a warm up but still the longest route I've climbed at that point. The climbing is lovely, despite the heat, and I surprise myself by taking the lead on a fantastic 5c hand crack, vaguely testing my very basic jamming skills. Jeff does the harder pitches, particularly a steeper 6a pitch which leaves me and James shaking our heads a little. At the top I am introduced to the vagaries of finding descents in the mountains, the suck-it-and-see of rappelling. A good day but easy under the tutelage of Jeff. Me and James sleep out under stunning star filled skies.

The Saturday we are up early for a hefty enough trek across the valley to the foot of Albignia. We are climbing Tempi Moderni, 11 pitches in the shade on more impeccable granite, and me and James get to see how well we work as a pairing. James is considerably more experienced in the mountains than me,  deliberately winding up Gina by occasionally referring to the climbing derisively as sporto. He is meticulous in his approach to staying safe and not taking short cuts. I am a little more reckless, impatient to try and keep moving quickly, to try and emulate the ridiculous fluidity with which Gina and Jeff move off up the wall. Having said that I found myself loving the systems of effective rope-work and develop my own to "improve" efficiency.

It doesn't help that the route is crowded with numerous parties and us effectively at the back. The climbing itself is lovely, a mix of 4s and low 5s, occasionally magnificent and only briefly scary.  At the top of the route me and James opt to try for the peak, Punto Albignia, which involves a couple of hundred metres of scrambling followed by 4 or 5 pitches of easier climbing to the top. Unfortunately we are no longer in the shade and our water is very low. After the scramble James starts off up the remaining pitches with a glint in his eye, only to run straight into a 4 pitch queue of climbers who seem to be waiting on erosion to bring the peak down to them. I've no doubt James would have waited all night to bag the peak, but I am sun-addled and dehydrated and I suggest descent which James graciously agrees to. Descent to the bivi takes about 2 and a half hours of stumbling and cairn spotting. Dinner is risotto aux bag and is delicious enough to consider importing.

Sunday dawns bright but the cloudless skies are getting boring. After much deliberation the night before we are to try Schildenkrote, a 13 pitch route which is set to be in the sun all the live long day. In addition it has several pitches of 5c/6a, depending on the guide, and I am nervous. On the not-early-enough walk in I baulk at the idea of climbing myself inevitably into sun stroke and Gina wisely suggests we start off up later in the day, so we are back at the base after midday. We are expecting the sun to have left the face after a couple of pitches but accept that it will be very much at its peak on the first and possibly hardest pitch. I start off up the steepening slab already wet with sweat, the slab's features fading with height, reassuring knobbles becoming vague dimples becoming total slab friction climbing. I did the pitch in a bit of a daze and could offer little advice to James following me up, use your feet, I say.

Each pitch is a model of its kind, the blank slabs, the perfect cracks, the flake ladders. The increasing height is merely a background hum that I only become conscious of when I am trying to distract myself from the aching calves and pinched feet of some stances. We simulclimb 4 pitches of 4s with just the perfect amount of flakes to keep it interesting. The 9th pitch is an absolutely perfect 5b slab crack and in my tiredness I ascend it without giving it nearly the reverence it deserves. Above I see Jeff set off up the penultimate pitch, an exposed 5c+ as close to vertical as we've encountered and my mind says flat out no. After quick discussion I hitch on to their second rope and for the final 2 pitches our 2 parties of 2 become a party of 4. By the top pitch my right arm is cramping just taking in the rope. After 6 1/2 hours of climbing we summit, me totally psyched and babbling nonsensically at the others whose more experienced heads are possibly less blown by the situation. It is easily one of my finest climbing experiences. One long rappel and we scree scramble down to the path as darkness falls. Dinner and bed and more bloody stars.

We descend into the valley in the morning, spent, and enjoy all the stuff that tastes better for having gone without.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

friction's nob

Returned from a ski trip to find what appears to be a rash of activity in Wicklow, 25 + problems added in a week. It was interesting to see what others saw when they visited Tonduff with bouldering hats firmly on, I always felt that the first boulder set heights which the rest of the valley never lived up to. Then again I've often felt out of kilter with what others see as good bouldering spots, a prime example being Doolin, but I've had guiltily negative thoughts in the past about the Gap, the Scalp, Glenmalure etc. This from a man who rates Three Rock as one of his favourite bouldering spots.

Part of it is that I've been lucky enough be a boulderer in Ireland when the sport was in its infancy, and to be party to the exploration of some amazing places like Glenmac and Mall Hill. This means I still have high expectations of any new venue. Also I am a friction snob, I find it difficult to see past dirty, scrittly rock. And by dirty I don't mean an earth covered handhold, I can be as enviro-mental as the next Ped. By dirty I mean that under-the-surface dirt of lichen and millenia of damp, that you could take a sandblaster to and never clean. Another element is that I am more than a friction snob, I am kind of an aesthetic snob as well. I have an almost feng shui reaction to some boulders or problems, eg "Away from the numbers" leaves me cold as a line. Overly featured blocs can also make me turn my nose up and keep looking. Stupid really, but then when was the sport of bouldering ever a highly rational process.

I am also wary of falling for the first ascent fever that comes on when I find a couple of clean looking rocks. Suddenly every shitty, scrabbly shit-start-out-of-a-puddle eliminate is a line, so where there are really 2 lines, your hand scribbled topo shows 20. Part of this is simply enthusiasm, and part might be an unconscious bigging up of your "discovery". However increasingly i think part of it also stems from this second guessing of oneself after having explored an area and mentally crossed it off only for others to come along and see potential you never did. And sometimes they are right about the potential, so doubt creeps in. There's a cycle there, explore a place, write it off then after a few years you see some photos and think maybe and decide you need a return visit to really know, no, no, it is shit, rinse repeat.

Despite many hours spent searching country-wide for rock, there is always stuff that's new to me appearing. The grit in Fermanagh, the Mournes mountain top boulders, amazing stuff. And there's hopes of more undiscovered stuff out there. Rumours of some purple sandstone in the hills around Delphi had me in there on repeat trips, trudging solo into beautiful spots but just being deflated at the small sized boulders of perfectly formed rock, teasers, and still the doubts and what-ifs remain.

Also one thing I am increasingly sure of is that there was always more people out there looking than I thought, and who knows how many people have done the same unnamed problems in remote valleys, one line wonder boulders that you've walked an hour to get to. The wonderful pointlessness of it all.

Anyway good to hear people are still finding stuff, its led me down the waxing path, jealous here in my armchair.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Friday night went on a lot later than it would normally, in the pub till close then continued in the hut, with the last lads hitting the hay at about 6. It mightn’t have helped that two young ladies found their way back with us, along with a dashing young Mexican named Julio who accompanied them gamely. The phrase cock-block was thrown around liberally and young Julio was lucky to escape uninjured, though everyone subsequently strongly denied any interest in the ladies.

Some very strong lads from England were over for the meet and seemed to have set their sights on every unclimbed line in Wicklow. Their industry should have put us to shame and they were gone before we awoke on Saturday. Tim lost out in the Russian roulette that is heavy drinking for us old men, and we awoke to the sharp sound of him choking up his dinner in the bathroom. In the past I would approach a meet as a drinking session, as there was more novelty in drinking in that setting than climbing in it. Unfortunately now I’m from Brighton, the deep dark unclimbable hole. Perhaps I should have planned to change my drinking style accordingly but I didn’t. As it happens I think conditions would have pissed me off if I had made an effort to be in fit shape to climb effectively.

We got into glendo for a decent length if low intensity session. Nothing of particular note was climbed, started in the ruins and finished on chillax via BBE, black art and squamish. The usual banter was had, with meat flashes all round. I was happy to do the guts of chillax but Shane got it for the first time and its one of the few problems I’ll get proxy pleasure from someone else getting. Tim got Black Arts which was commendable considering he seemed to get dizzy sitting up. Watched second half of match in pub, the better half in terms of tries scored. The rest of the evening was very laid back, drinking in the hut. A bunch of us headed up to Zef’s boulder for a mildly drunken lamp session. The dark and drink made the climbing a little unnerving but it was a good way to close out the evening. The frictionsnob strongly approves of such perfect granite.

The smaller group freed us up from any sense of obligation to go to Glendo on Sunday and we headed to Lough Dan instead (while the English lads waded into the bog of Glenmac). The impressively hot sun meant that we were never going to have amazing conditions but a good solid day was had nonetheless. Heads were a lot clearer and we nearly all made short work of Shadow, with the top out bringing out disdain and disco leg in equal measure. I forget every time the unforgiving sharpness of Lough Dan granite. We moved lakewards along the hillside, three kings boulder’s lovely arĂȘte got a lot attention then down to karma by which time the lazy river and the heat had brought us to a near standstill. Kudos to young Dave who came on the meet having never climbed outdoors before and who brought nothing to eat for the weekend but 4 packs of Toffee Pops, like a young Ped perhaps, high praise indeed.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I drove to Font this year, the first of many road trips hopefully. Did a night boat over and slept in Mcdonalds car park waiting for the lads to land, an extension perhaps of a McShit with lies. The Ka held up nicely, taking 4 average sized humans pretty well, though the boot really isn't up to much. Bit of nip in her as well, even fully laden.

First couple of days were quite wet and everywhere was out except 95.2, and even there you had limited stuff to climb. Still, was pleased to get up the red squeeze arete one day ( couldn't last time) and then do a standing campus version of the problem at the ridge-end another. Pottered on bits and pieces in between. Sunday was the saviour though and we all reduced ourselves to aching old men and women in a full day at Isatis. I don't think anyone pushed the boat out difficulty-wise which was quite refreshing, very occasionally we 'd have ten of us trying one problem ( eg the lovely 6b side of l'angle ben), there was a nice sense of wandering and being happy trying whatever someone was working. I personally renewed my acquaintance with beurre margarine, it's a lovely one to come back to because at 6b the assumption is you don't have to be too strong to do it, just totally dialled in to the right technique*. Having said that I should probably not go back to Isatis next trip round, just for some variety.

On balance I think we managed to entertain ourselves pretty well despite the worst font trip weather for years. It helped greatly that we had a table tennis table in the basement of our gite and the usual easy access to beer and pastries. We were a little distant from the boulders but I didn't find that a huge issue, in better conditions we could have been climbing in petit bois or elephant in under 20 minutes. The group, though large, ebbed and flowed nicely with car occupants changing around a bit. Also we all looked after ourselves individually for cooking which if nothing else meant that there was plenty of selection when one was in vulture mode, me and bray made a particularly formidable team when it came to chicken carcasses. Kitchen got hectic at times but it's defo the catering style i'm happiest with. Only one trip to decathlon/carrefour despite the shit weather, and watched the shitter half of a rugby match.

New route to airport has now been established, via melun and n104 mostly, takes a bit of navigation but it avoids the peripherique and I suspect we could have done from gite to Mcdonalds in 2 hrs 15mns once we have it wired, which is pretty good considering we were 20 minutes south of Font town.

I was a victim of fashion profiling at the port, the car got searched i think because I was wearing a hoody, maybe they thought I was too old for it. They also asked me was I a competition climber, which gave me a good laugh. I had about 15 bottles of wine in the boot but they didn't care, your man couldn't even tell me what the limit was.

*right foot on obvious ramp, using tiny ridge on it. Right hand in hook hold, left hand high. Step off ground and shift left hand to better hold, specific sweet spot. Bring left foot through awkwardly, twisting heel outwards then shift right foot onto horizontal ledge. Without moving body, pop right hand to next vertical groove, right at limit of extension. Weight right foot, shift rightwards and upwards.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

floodlit climbing

headed up to the sandstone hopefully on a clear blue day and ended up touring damp crags. brighton seems to maintain quite the micro climate and is little indicator of what's going on weather wise north of the downs. Last week there were days when there was a temperature difference of 5 'C in the space of 10 miles. Anyway ended up joining a climbing wall angrily, evolution wall, it seemed to make sense at the time but I'll hopefully never climb there again as its a stone's throw from the sandstone.

After being very pleased finding the little beach wall it promptly turned too cold to use for the last week which was quite frustrating. Got down again this evening for a session, it was a little deflating. Much as I am talking myself down now I know I'm still gonna be deeply pissed when I can't get off the ground on familiar lines.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

outdoors-ish, real rock-ish

I've managed to find a bit of beach-side sandstone to train on. it's a man-made little bouldering wall, part of a cafe on the beach dominated mostly by sandy volleyball courts. the wall has lots of jugs for the kids but the base wall is a nicely featured compact sand with a smattering of pockets and crimps to make it interesting if you read between the lines. it made me realise how rarely in the past i've enjoyed the features on a man-made wall. it's a god-send considering font is in three weeks. already been twice, i went this morning so there were a few kids in their bare feet being watched hawkishly by their parents whilst this red-hooded paedo cleaned out little pockets with a toothbrush. go home freak.

i also went to a local route climbing wall to meet up with a local club. they were all nice folks, i'm not sure that we were the same demographic, will probably meet up again. the wall was grand, like ucd before the facelift.

was close to building my own little board, went as far as to check out plywood sheets in the local woodies equivalent but ultimately decided against it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

K2 Crawley

My nails grow longer, my skin more lady like. We had nearly two weeks of mostly blue skies here and I was too intent on saving money to get the train, by the end of it I had mostly stopped feeling that guilty niggle that whatever I was doing was a waste of perfect conditions.

Today it was damp out and at the end of my patience I headed off on the train to an indoor wall up the way. A farcical £11.50 in, it was the lobby of a sports centre, mostly routes with maybe a ucd sized bouldering section. Fifty yards away was the centre cafe which seemed to be pumping that delicious/obnoxious chip fat scent at me the whole time, like having dec breathing on me. Stayed there for the guts of 4 hours, did what I could to feel like a climber again despite having to share the bouldering section with kids parties half the time, fortunately they weren't the "here, mister" type. Good to do something again but am going to get the train up to sandstone next good weather I get, before I turn into a properly bitter ex-boulderer.