Saturday, 26 December 2009

Yesterday (well a few weeks ago now but it was yesterday when I began to write) I turned 24.

In recent years, birthdays have become less and less important and I have gotten used to letting them slip by without a song or a dance. Up until a few days ago I had assumed this year would be the same, but assumptions have a developed a recent habit of biting me firmly in the ass, and my 24th year would turn out to be anything but mundane!

Im sure most of you already know this, but Fontainebleau is rather conveniently situated not too far from the grand city of gay Pari, providing excellent activities for rest day or restless night alike. My birthday was on a Tuesday, so the sensible thing seemed like a little night out with the boys (Adam and Keith) on the weekend before. After quickly checking the listings of the various clubs, we stumbled upon something we hardly believed – Laurent Garnier was playing an all night set at the Rex Club as a Christmas gift to Paris. Amazing!!!

Acording to the website, tickets were sold out, but Keith assured me that we would still go, as there was not a club on earth he couldn’t get into if he put his mind to it! We hopped on board the train from Font, and were whisked off to Paris in no time at all. Arriving at the club it was bitterly cold. Adam and I stood on the street whilst Keith went inside, prepared to drop his A-Game if the situation called. Fortunately, the website was misleading and there were still a few tickets left, which quickly became the property of 3 very excited Englishmen.

To cut a long and quite blurry story short, this was most probably the best night out of my life (I am struggling to remember any others that surpass it). Laurent played an incredible set - varied to the maximus, and the company inside the club was rather pleasant to say the least. What more could a guy want? We left the club at around 8am, and were in bed back in font for 10. As I fell asleep, a wide smile spread across my face as I remembered little snippets from the last 12 hours.

The first day climbing in the forest on this trip was not quite the Renaissance I hoped it would be. After not climbing here for over 2 years, I felt like I would come back and float. My projects would all feel easy, my hands and feet would stick to the smooth features, movement would feel effortless; basically I would be just like Tyler. The reality however, was quite different. I felt heavy and sluggish, my movement felt uncoordinated, and my skin felt slippery. When I struggled to climb some of the warm ups, I was forced to re-evaluate my aims and settled to just climbing lots of c’s in an attempt to feel the flow.

Day 2 brought a slight improvement but I still felt like my biceps had halved and my weight doubled. I was pleased with my prize of La Chose, a classic tick from “The Real Thing” but compared with my true goal of Karma, it didn’t really cut the mustard.

Day 3, and things started to improve. We went to Rocher de Bouligny to look at Geko and battled to warm up through the freezing temperatures. The holds on the stand start looked simply terrible and I wondered how any human could possibly climb this problem. Keith had a few tries to explain the beta, but unfortunately split his tip along the first joint, unsurprisingly in the same place as old war wounds from last year’s siege.

After a few burns, I was starting to feel the problem, but was repeatedly spat off one of the upper moves – a slap from a small undercut and terrible sloper to a reasonable sloping dimple. I was trying to place my right heel on a tiny but positive sidepull but The position felt awkward and consequently I was falling. Keith assured me that he used a slightly higher heel hook and encouraged me to try it, but after looking at the proposed hold, and finding it looked significantly shittier than my chosen one, I shunned his advice and fell off some more. Eventually I gave in and tried the higher slopey heel and you guessed it, it stuck solid and I topped out. Ladies and gentlemen, if your thinking of a masterclass, look no further than our very own technical genius, Unclesomebody!

The Gek - thanks to Adam Lincoln

Day 4 dawned the coldest and clearest so far, but not before I bagged Amok at the end of the last. This is a truly special problem and one definitely worth seeking out – see BTT for relevant beta! I hardly slept a wink the night before due to lots of confusion running around my head so didn’t expect too much of a performance from my little head. The weather was simply too good to stay indoors, so I packed up my gear and an extra jacket with ideas of just relaxing at the rocks. Once everyone else began to climb, it didnt take long for the psyche to take hold and pull me into the game. I spent the first few hours repeating problems from previous trips (which fortunately felt easier than I had remembered) as well as adding in a few variations/lower starts/ linkups.

Later on in the day, I made the small hike with Adam over to Immoteph, which is a beautiful compression prow, tucked away from the hustle, bustle and polish of Cuisiniere proper. This problem is simply awesome and well worth seeking out. After a few tries working out the beta and falling on the same move, I readjusted my sequence and topped out in gorgeous rosy light, a nice end to the day, all things considered.

Immoteph - thanks to Adam Lincoln

The snow came, making climbing nigh on impossible, so what better way to spend our time than “party in Paris”. The Rex club began to feel like a second home, and I wondered if the bar staff were talking about the strange English guy with nothing better to do than party all night, every night the club was open?

The time eventually came to leave for home (well home for now) and on Saturday afternoon we began the long drive back to Innsbruck. I was sad to leave Font for quite a few reasons, but am sure I will return again in the not so distant future – there is simply too much unfinished business...

Friday, 18 December 2009

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur, with a lot going on in a relatively short period of time.

I left Innsbruck for a hectic week of sponsor related activities, but not before having one final day trying my project in the Zillertal. Armed with a hand-warmer in my chalkbag, I hoped that I might be able to find just enough to get me through the top crux. Unfortunately the rock was colder than I had ever felt before, and even the comforting heat from my chalk bag failed to hold off the unbeatable numbness. 2 moves from the top, with all feeling lost, I barn-doored off the technical crux and once again found myself dangling in space.

Dundee was the first place on my tour, for the 2nd stop of the North Face Speaker Series in the UK. The talk seemed to go down pretty well, and I got a lot of questions/autograph requests at the end, which tends to be a positive sign.

With spirits high, I headed down to the opposite end of the country for my 2nd North Face event, an open Coaching clinic at The Climbing Academy in Bristol. The climbing academy is a great venue and one I would certainly be more than happy to have as my local venue. Set out in a similar way to the Climbing Works in Sheffield, TCA has various colour coded problems, well set and suitable for all levels of climbers, as well as a dedicated circuit board, campus board, fingerboards, stretching area, cafe, treatment room etc etc! The Open Coaching clinics they hold run from around 2pm until 9pm and are a very informal affair where users of the wall can come and ask the coach of the day for advice on any aspect of their climbing. The atmosphere on the day was great, and I particularly enjoyed helping out with the youth squad who had a couple of very talented young members. Keep up the good work guys.

After a few days hanging out in Bristol, It was time to head off into the sunset again for the annual North Face Athlete Summit in San Francisco. The Athlete Summit is a chance for all of TNF's athletes to get together, talk about the past year and future plans, as well as learning what’s going on behind closed doors. The highlight of the trip for me was the final party, which took place on what looked like an old Mississippi river steamer (just obviously without the steam) which sailed around the San Francisco Bay, pumping out quality dubby-breaky-electropop thanks to Ana Sia.

TNF athlete summit, another snippet from renan ozturk on Vimeo.



The party finished way too early, but for the 4 or so hours it did go on for I had great fun dancing with the usual suspects with one important addition to the team - Yuji Hirayama. Before this trip I had loads of respect for Yuji, based solely on his climbing achievements, but after meeting him that respect has gone through the roof. Not only is he a genuinely lovely guy, he dresses fly and can dance like a daemon. Yuji is my new hero and when I grow up I want to be just like him ;)


The Legend That Is...

Right now I’m in Fontainebleau, France where life is good. When I have a little more time, I’ll let you know what’s been going down...

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Route climbing seems to becoming more and more out of focus, which is a shame as it was originally the main reason I came to Austria. The main reason is its getting too cold, and even if you can find people as crazy as you who want to do routes in this weather, when you get on the rock your fingers become almost instantly numb. After warming up, things improve a little but there comes a point in difficulty that just seems impossible to overcome. When the holds become just a little too small, and the moves become just a little to hard, and you step just a little outside your comfort zone then BOOM – suddenly you have frozen candles where fingers once were.

Perhaps I should have considered this time of year a little more carefully when making my original decision about moving. The trouble is, when things are way off in the future, you either don’t think of that time as important, or simply cant accurately imagine what it will be like. Until you are living in that specific moment, how you will feel, and what you will do are relative mysteries; well they are to me anyway. You just have to do the best you can when the time comes.

Whilst racking my brain to think of ways to keep my endurance without climbing routes every day, I remembered reading something a few years ago that some old school hero (possibly Jibe) wad said about pull-ups and their equivalent route grades. Now I don’t remember much, and there is a chance that what little I do remember is wildly incorrect, but I think the statement was “30 pull-ups on a small campus rung is equivalent to F8b+”. The thought process that followed was something like; I have a small campus edge under my fingerboard, and surely climbing an 8b+ whenever the mood takes me will be good endurance training, why not give it a shot?

The man who started it all!

So the first time I tried, it felt like the living end. The first 3 pull-ups felt good, only 10 sets of these and it’s in the bag. At about 10 pullups I hit the wall, and it wasn’t many more before all I could do was hang limply from straight arms. Before pulling on I had thought “it will be ok, whenever i get tired ill just shake out one arm and then continue” and for some bizarre reason it didn’t hit me that dead-hanging one arm is tough at the best of times ( I certainly can’t hang there comfortably) so why on earth would I be able to do it when my arms are too tired to do pull-ups!

It was over, at a number so low no one needs to know what it was. I was genuinely shocked at how hard it was, how such a simple, relatively easy movement, could become so impossibly difficult after doing a few of them back to back. But if there is one good thing about trying something new, and failing hard, its that the only way is (hopefully) up. The next day I tried again, and was marginally better, and a few days later I tried once more. Every time I tried, it felt a little easier, until I was getting close to the magic number. Finally 30 came, and the next time I did one more, then a few more , and before I knew it, I was heading towards the next mile stone.

In probably 6 or 7 sessions, I have seen almost a 200% improvement in my max reps which I find quite shocking, I wonder how long it will be before this progression begins to slow and eventually plateau, and also what the maximum amount will finally be (depending on if I can stay motivated and my elbows don’t explode). Most importantly, I wonder what (if any) impact this will have on my climbing.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Over the last week or so I have got to see a selection of Austria’s hardest and finest boulder problems and been lucky enough to climb a few of them, even getting in a first ascent for an added little bonus.

Sundance Sit is quite simply stunning. By far the best boulder I have seen in Austria and definitely up there with the best I have climbed – anywhere!
I first tried the problem at the end of a busy day in Ginzling. I fell at the crux on my flash go, and after working the moves for a few minutes I still could not get past this point on the link. The problem felt really hard, and I didn’t think I had a chance at doing it, especially since the easier top section felt desperate in its own right.


Sundance Sit - Photo from www.chalkjunki.at

Three days later I returned, ready for a battle. After warming up elsewhere, I sat down and fired off the problem first try, well at least to the no hands knee bar which you can reach the finishing jug from. Then for some reason I tried adjusting my knee, off popped my foot and down went I! What an idiot. Another message sent by climbing to remind me to always focus, respect the rock and don’t think it’s in the bag until you are stood on top. Fortunately my next try found me back in the kneebar, this time with my full attention which happily resulted in topping out for real. Its always nice to come back to a problem that felt desperate, only to find it not too bad; much better that way than the other way round, wouldn’t you agree?


Emi slapping The Faginator

On the same day I tried Ground Zero and Sundance Sit for the first time, I alsp put up a new problem on the Incubator boulder. Starting just to the left of the Incubator, the Faginator starts from undercuts on the back wall and climbs out and left (with a real faggy sequence) to reach the left arête. Its a nice little problem, not much to look at but fun to climb and certainly puts up a bit of a fight. You climb most of the problem from a series of baggy toe locks and requires a good amount of core tension to stay on the rock, and also control your laughter when watching someone fall off and backwards roll down the pads. Being on the Incubator boulder, a lot of the holds were mysteriously soggy so its hard to know how difficult it is to climb the problem, rather than how difficult it is not to slip off the holds (which was quite a high level of difficulty).

Emi on The Faginator

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Despite the cold and the damp, Keith, Emi and I made the short treck to the Zillartal in the hope of finding dry rock. The higher we climbed, the whiter the ground became and my hopes started to fade. Emi on the other hand was confident that we would find something climbable, and since he was the only local among us, I gave him all my faith.

The initial choice came down to 2 options, the Sundergrund or the Zillergrund. The former was the safer bet in terms of dry rock as the boulders were more in the open, however the walk in was long and probably very soggy from all the snow. The latter is almost roadside, except the boulders are in the forrest so more likely to be damp. Decisions decisions...

We decided to check out some lines in the Zillergrund first, the idea being that if they are dry, we climb, and if not, we move on, having wasted little time with a long wet hike. The first few blocks we checked out were unfortunately a little moist to the touch, but just as hope had almost gone, Emi remembered a different line he had tried a few years ago.

He described Mother Firestarter as one of the best 8a’s in the Zillertal, which imediatley got me psyched and on first contact with the boulder it didn’t disappoint. Big Boulder, tall steep face, one line of friendly holds, cant really ask for more. Emi talked Keith and I through the sequence which was as I imagined it would be with the exception of the starting few moves. These, it turned out, were best solved via a crazy cross around the arête, then falling into an upside down backhand sloper, before extending out into the face edges. Wild!

Warming up was proving to be tricky. With no other problems around, it took the form of deadhanging and pull-ups on what other individual holds you could find. Keith and Emi moved on to trying the problem and i was just about to join them when Keith said he thought I could flash it. Another 10 minutes dead hanging and watching the show, and I felt ready to give it a burn. The first two holds were fortunately jugs, but led right away into the aforementioned strange sequence. I was pleased to find these few moves ok, but as I continued upwards on reasonable edges and gastons, contact with the rock became ever harder to keep. With two moves to go, I was almost certain I would slip, and as I placed my foot on a terrible smear and looked up at the final hold I did consider stepping off. An interesting character once said “Until you give up, success is always on the cards.”, and it is so true but something I forget too often. But not today. I pushed with my foot, threw out my arm, my fingers found the edge, my foot stayed on, I was at the top. Success!

Its nice to feel like I am getting back in the game. I had begun to worry that my, as yet, unsuccessful attempt to morph into a sport climber had also had major negative impact on the other aspects of my climbing. Whilst I’m definitely not playing my bouldering A game, I can now see a path to follow when before there was none. Incidentally, I am also closer to my sport projects than ever before, so perhaps the year will be a success after all?

Friday, 6 November 2009

The cold weather has arrived making route climbing even more difficult than I was finding it before. Whilst single moves on the harder routes are now feeling a little easier because of the better friction, I have been really struggling with numb fingers when trying to string more than a few of these moves together.

I have been getting out quite a bit with Gerhard and Emi to places like Schwarze Wand and Dolby Surround, and whilst managing to get a lot of individual moves and bolt-to-bolt sections done, I have failed to clip the chains on a single successful redpoint of anything notable.

One man’s fear is another man’s fantasy, and so whilst the cold may not be beneficial for routes, it does mean that the bouldering season is on its way back. Over the last few weeks I have taken a few short trips to Switzerland and Italy in order to dust the cobwebs off and find out just how much of a punt a year of ropes had made me.


Amber - A lovely photo of a lovely little bloc in Ticino - courtesy of Emi Moosburger


The answer was quite surprising. In terms of single move power, I don’t feel much worse than at my past peaks, however, when it comes to power endurance I am way off the pace. With all the stamina work I have been doing over the last year I would have put money on it being the other way around, but once again climbing continues to confuse me.

As soon as the moves drop below about 50% of maximum then I feel ok and can link a good few of them together, yet once I am actually pulling or squeezing my tank feels almost immediately empty. I really noticed this on a problem called Frogger in Ticino which is a steep 10 move problem I had first climbed about 2 years ago. I originally climbed Frogger on my second try (after my foot slipped on the 1st move on my flash go) and at the time felt that it was pretty soft for the grade. This time however, it took many tries and much grunting to get to the top, feeling instead that it was rather stiff – yet another indicator of the subjectivity of grades.

Yesterday I went to try one of my route projects up in the Zillertal. On the drive up the valley, the temperature gage in the car was losing a digit every minute or so, finally settling at a nice round zero as we arrived at the crag. To shorten what could be a lengthy and boring story, I fell a couple of times about 3 moves from the top due to fingers closely resembling icicles. After the main section of hard climbing you arrive at a mediocre rest where it is possible to recover a little before the last technical boulder problem. The problem was as each shake brought new life to my forearms, my fingers died a little – a frustrating little catch 22 that seemed destined to always end in the same way.

Perhaps hand warmers in my chalk bag might help?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Time flies when you’re having fun, drags by when you’re waiting for the call, and merges together into one fuzzy haze when you’re busy buys busy – well what do you expect, it is relative after all!

If would hardly believe almost a month has passed since my last post if the proof wasn’t there in black and white. I feel a little ashamed for not writing even a single syllable this whole time and am currently trying to work out why I have been so rubbish of late.

And there you have it, looking at my calendar and slotting in activities for individual dates leaves me with a hell of a lot of blank space, and blank spaces tend not to lend themselves to interesting blogs.

Blank space occurs when I don’t leave the house, which is something that has been happening quite a lot recently for reasons the smart ones among you may have already guessed. Keith has been working day and night to finish 2 films (as any of you who read his Blog will know) and has barely left his room in weeks, and since he is the only one who can drive out here, by proxy I too have become a hermit. Its not as bad is it sounds though. Occasionally, between bringing Keith cups of tea and being locked back out of his room, I have been lucky enough to catch a fleeting glance the masterpiece in progress. One time, I swear I saw the whole of Tylers left bicep, but I guess that was just too much as Keith now demands I leave his tea at the door. Oh well... It was worth it!

Conveniently however, as our house arrest began, a beautiful gift was sent from above (in terms of latitude) in the shape of a Beastmaker 2000 . I recently discovered that at some point over the last year someone had robbed me of all my finger strength. Im not sure how they did it, or why they chose me (surely Gaskins or Graham would have been a better choice?) but It was gone none the less, meaning not only had I evolved into a mediocre sport climber, but a poor excuse for a boulderer as well! Things needed to change, and so since its install I’ve been plodding away with 2 sessions a day on the beast and an happy to report a gentle improvement.

The few days out at the cliffs have been pretty good, as have the days in the gym, although I should point out that “good” is a very versatile word and can be used to describe lots of occurrences. In this case I am using it for both “ticking projects” and getting “pumped out of my mind and burnt off by teenage girls” – all you have to do is work out the order.

One particularly positive day was spent trying Dolby Surround, a great bouldery route at the top of the Zillertal. I had tried the route at the beginning of the summer but couldn’t manage one of the moves at the start of the boulder problem – a long lock off a diagonal right hand gaston, so when recently went back with Gerhard Hörhager and Emanuel Mooseburger I didn’t have high particularly high expectations. After watching Emi and Gerhard do the move, I was a little worried about trying it and looking like a complete punter but thankfully, to my surprise, the route felt a lot easier and the Gaston move was no longer a problem.

After the warm up inspection I had one redpoint attempt (with no expectation of topping out because the route in its entirety is really hard) to see how far I could get and made it passed the Gaston move which I was really pleased about. From this point there are still 8 hard moves (and one clip) before a reasonable (1 ½ pad, 6 finger) edge where you can shake and hopefully climb the last easier boulder to the top. Whether or not the route will go down this season I don’t know (especially as its probably covered in snow now) but its nice to think that its no longer impossible.

Here is a Video of Adam Ondra trying the route (starts at around 7 min), the gaston move is 2 moves before he falls. http://www.vimeo.com/6747749

If you aint got 4 wheels then 2 will have to do! I have to be honest, I had started to get a little disillusioned with Mountain Biking. I’d owned the bike since about June, taken it out for 2 proper rides and as a result, spent about the same amount of money fixing and tweaking it as it cost me in the first place. Add to that the gash on the back of my leg, which was infected for over a month and cost me another 100euro in medical expenses, and I was starting to ask whats the point?

Keith has some intel on trails on the other side of town that were supposed to be fast and flowwy, with big drops and jumps, so I decided to give it another shot. I met some other riders at the Bus stop who kindly offered to show me around and spent the rest of the day riding long fast woodland runs, with the bonus of not even having to push back to the top. I got back home complete with a giant grin and took back all the bad things Id said. I’d had fun, my bike was fine, I was fine, what a great sport.

The next day I headed out again and met a different bunch of guys waiting for the Bus. Again they let me tag along, but these guys were a little more advanced than yesterday, which was great for me. Once you have seen someone ride a certain terrain, then that terrain instantly appears more approachable. If there wheels can make it over at that speed, yours can too, and very quickly you are riding steeper, bumpier and faster than ever before. Sure there is lots of skill involved, which definitely makes the unwanted less likely to happen and gives you more chance of correcting it when it does. But if you can; let go of the preconceptions, come off the brakes and let the amazing machine do what its designed to do.

The same elated feelings from the day before came flooding back as I sat in the Bus on the way back up, looking out at the snow capped mountains. Something that should not be there caught the corner of my eye. A second later and I still couldn’t quite work it out, it looked distinctly the bridge of my forks was slightly offset, it two pieces, but that’s not how it’s meant to be. Sure enough I had somehow managed to break my forks, and that was the end of that.

As I write this I'm currently waiting on a call from the Austrian dealer to tell me what the damage (financially speaking) will be. I really have no Idea,, just that there's no way on earth I can afford to buy new lowers at the RRP of ~£250! My fingers are crossed for another one of those gifts from above...

P.S I just saw Cedar has posted another PsicoBlog over at Vertical Carnival so if you haven't already seen it then you should check it out.

Friday, 25 September 2009

For the remainder of the trip the blue skies graced us only briefly with their presence. Most mornings were damp from thunderstorms during the previous night, some of which were so bad that Em declared she thought she was going to die, when one of the bolts exploded a little too close for comfort. This left the rock a little out of prime condition until mid to late afternoon, but no-one complained too much as it was the perfect excuse for a lay start.

After a few days we decided to venture to less familiar territory and explore Cala Sa Nau. This slightly lesser known area is actually home to two incredible features of which both played a major role in the rest of the trip. The first is the Hupolup Kempf cave – a rather intimidating place with a selection of the islands hardest and highest routes. The second is the Cala Sa Nau beach bar, which is a significantly less intimidating place, full of some of the islands friendliest and nicest people.

Hupolup Kempf Is described in the guide as “Showing the way of things to come... Prepare for some serious air-time!” and was first climbed at by Klem Loscot and Chris Sharma during 2003. Whilst the full cliff is not as “tall” as the actual top of Porto Colom, the hard sections of the main routes all climb a completely horizontal roof, way, way up in the air and are a little intimidating to say the least. Climbing that sort of terrain at that sort of height is scary enough on jugs, but throw in some small holds and some heel hooks for good measure and you have a recipe for a bit of spice.

Vadage was the first route to go down and was a pleasant introduction to the cliff. The upper crux is at a similar level to the roof of the harder routes and so gives you a bit of an idea of what to expect. After a brief look at The Weather Man, and a long drop to the ocean when I got too scared, a thunderstorm put an end to the antics and we retreated to the bar for some well earned Sangria. We returned a few days later to tick the route and Tim shot some amazing pictures as the sun just started to set.

The bar at Cala Sa Nau is a great place to hang out after a day’s climbing and had some of the tastiest food I ate on the Island, especially the calamari and the goats cheese salad. They also hold fairly regular parties there and we were lucky enough to catch two of the electro and funky house varieties. One of the best things about these parties is due to local restrictions, the music can’t go on much past 12am, but to make up for this the party normally starts in the afternoon. I really like this way – you get your full quota of dancing, yet still get a good enough sleep to feel fresh the next day. Next time you are on the Island, pay them a visit and you won’t be disappointed.

Matt agrees that Cala Sa Nau is the place to be!

We took a little break from Cala Sa Nau to check out Balam at Cala Llombards. This massive roof is fortunately only 8 or 9 meters above the waves, meaning the 10m+ of upside down, heel toe, bobble slapping action is not too intimidating. I had tried this route on my last trip, but not faired too well, getting super pumped as I struggled to find the right holds in the upside down labyrinth. Miguel originally graded this 7c and so I figured I was just having a bad day, but on speaking with Miguel later that night he told me “When I climb this I try many times. I climb and feel the holds, tap tap tap with the chalk, fall in, then try again. When you know where is the right holds, it’s easy, but if not, it’s very difficult. I try so many times, eventually I know all the good holds and when I climb I think it’s not so bad, maybe 8a/+ but I think others will find it easier so I write 7c”.

It seemed like the key to this route would be in watching someone with the beta, or taking part in a group attempt, so the good holds get chalked leading to (hopefully) an eventual ascent. Alex, Matt and Cedar seemed like good company for this and we systematically set out in turn from the back of the cave, aiming for the light.

The dream team...

It looked like once you reached an obvious jug at the lip the main difficulties would be over but after both Alex and I failed after reaching this point it was clear there was a sting in the tail. The sea was getting pretty rough, making swimming to the exit a little worrying but I got psyched and chalked up for what I thought might be THE go. Through the roof everything felt great and I arrived at the lip surprised at how fresh I felt. Maybe it was the over confidence that made me careless. I pulled too hard on one of the bobbles in an attempt to skip some holds, my left hand gave, and I hit the ocean square on my back, shortly after the piece of broken rock.

Under the water I knew something was wrong. My chest felt all wrong and as I kicked back to the surface, panic took over, and visions of being tossed about in heavy seas unable to breath filled my mind. With what I feared might be my last breath I shouted (well, mumbled/garbled) “help” as I broke the surface and immediately swam for the rope with all I had left. In only a second or so my head had cleared enough to know what had happened. The wind had been knocked out of me, but I could still force a breath if I tried really hard and so wasn’t going to die anytime soon. I reached the rope and signalled to my friends that all was OK. Feeling like a bit of a wimp, I hung on to the knots as the waves crashed over, waiting for the strength to climb out.

Everything in my torso felt tight, a strange un-placeable feeling unlike any other injury I can remember. I was surprised at how the sea could cause this from such little height, and thankful that the hold had broken hear and not at Cala Sa Nau. I sat on the side to watch Alex try again. He seemed a little more nervous, just like the rest of the team, but pushed on and after another couple of falls from the top wall he topped out.

I was torn; I wanted to climb the route, but I didn’t want to hurt any worse. Back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t know what I would do until I was putting my shoes back on and chalking my palms. It felt like someone had stolen some of the magic of Psicobloc and I began to worry that if I left today still feeling like this, I may never get it back. I needed to crush this daemon before it crushed me.

Play safe children!

I felt worried the whole way, paranoid a hold would break. Because I was worried, I found it hard to control the panic, and the panic made me get pumped faster, which in turn made me panic more. It’s a vicious circle I know all too well from previous adventures, and as I arrived at the jug on the lip I felt pretty spent. A few scrunched shakes allowed for a few breaths before pushing on into the groove. Suddenly the climbing changed from thuggy horizontal jugs, to techy vertical slopers. Alex was shouting beta at the top of his lungs, I knew what to do but just couldn’t imagine myself doing it. Fighting the urge to quit (which is a strange kind of urge, wouldn’t you agree?) I grabbed a hold I didn’t think I could pull on, and stood up on footholds that seemed way too high. All I could think of was the relatively comfy position I thought was coming next – stood up tall with a fingerlock/undercut in your right hand. As I started to fall, I pushed more with my legs, slapped with my hand and miraculously I stayed on.

One more tricky move found me on the home stretch, and I cautiously followed the positive edges to the top of the wall, watching the little daemon on my shoulder grow smaller and smaller. He is still there, but I can only hear him if I listen well. Whilst it was a ball-ache at the time, I can look back on the breakage as a positive event – one that I feel better for. It forced me to realise just how serious this game can be, without actually being in a super cereal situation. Whilst Psicobloc may seem like a perfect game, we must never stop respecting it – just like the other disciplines of climbing.

Where better to test your head after a bit of a scare than at one of the hardest and highest roofs on the island. Back to Cala Sa Nau we went, with eyes on the prize of Hupolup Itself. I was really nervous, and Alex confessed to me he felt the same which made me feel a little happier in a strange sort of way - maybe there is still strength in numbers even if the individual numbers feel weak?

The day was overcast at best and descending into the shadows of the cave did nothing to brighten the mood. The easy option at times like these is definitely to run away, but just like before a run, you need man up and get on with it. I put on my boots, filled up my chalk and started climbing. At the rest before the roof I felt ok, but the thought of questing out into horizontal blankness wasn’t that appealing. I decided to just feel the first hold, which turned out to be pretty good, so I reached for the next and before I knew it, I was halfway through the roof looking at a big slap. The fear took hold and I let go... Splash

I needed that first fall to remind me all would most likely be cool. On the next go I made it 2 moves further but dropped from an awkward cross handed position. By this point, Alex was also trying the roof moves which gave me a little more encouragement and some ideas for the next try. Arriving at the roof for go number three, I messed up the sequence a little but still made it to the cross position. I adjusted my feet, un-crossed my arms and began to stare at the unknown. I knew it would be a big slap, crossing over yourself from an undercut sidepull to a slopey pocket way above your head. The wild nature meant failure could cause an uncontrolled fall, but giving up would cause failure indefinitely.

The hold on the lip was shit, I tried to adjust, adjusted some more and then splash. Tim shouts down from his ab line that I had missed the hold by one hand width. It’s comforting to know the bad hold is not the one to use, but also frustrating to have to do it all again. I tell Alex all I know and he sets off. He slaps the lip and spends what seems like an age adjusting his left hand. Everyone holds their breath; he does an awkward looking match before reaching a good looking hold he can shake on. A few more spicy moves find him at a jug where as long as you can stay chilled, it’s in the bag – not a problem for Mr Cool!

Mr Cool

Alex comes down from the summit and I tag his fist. All that remains is to emulate, which suddenly seems a little harder than before as Alex tells me “the only hard move is matching the lip, all the rest are piss in comparison”. I smile at his honest good will, whilst kind of wishing I hadn’t heard him. Thankfully The hold on the lip is fairly good, and a marginal bicycle makes it even better. I make it to the “thank God” jug and after a prolonged shake and a few words with myself to calm down, eventually to the top.

With everyone’s projects in the bag (Matt also bagged “The Weather Man” after a massive lob of the top jugs!) what better way to celebrate than at the end of season party at the bar on the beach. Good friends, groovy tunes and great Sangria.

Cala Sa Nau beach scene :)

Emily and Matt - Stepin' Up!

My time in Mallorca is over again, so now is probably a good time to repeat something I wrote a year ago, after my very first trip... The week has been nothing but a pleasure and has introduced me to the wonders of psicobloc which I can see playing a big part in my future climbing!

Cedar after yet another all-nighter...

Monday, 21 September 2009

10 days in heaven pass all too quickly and as I write this post I am sat in the departure lounge of Palma International waiting for my flight to the UK. Time in Mallorca is always good, but this trip has been extra memorable and I really am sorry to leave.

I arrived in the evening on the 12th and coincidentally bumped into Alex Honnold, outside the airport exit, who also happened to be waiting on a lift from Cedar. Alex informed me the last time he had waited for Cedar, he sat on the road for 4 hours, and after we failed to connect to Cedars cell, I began to wonder if today would be the same?

We need not have worried, as around 15 min later we were collected by Tim Kemple and the rest of the team who whisked us off to the other side of the island with tales of what they had been up to for the last few days. As could be expected, all the beds in the house had been taken but the couch looked comfy and so I wasn’t disappointed. After eating dinner and deciding on the venue for the following day everyone called it a night and I sank on to the cushions, content at the prospect of a good sleep and a fully rested body, ready for a big day at Diablo.

As the lights went out and I closed my eyes, a high pitched hum sounded in my ear. At first I tried to find the culprit but had no luck and closed my eyes again hoping it was a one off. The sound returned again and again and it was clear there were going to be some issues. Unlike the bedrooms which were fairly well sealed, the lounge was a big open space that was now full of mosquitoes and since I was the only living mammal in there, I became target numero uno! I tried to cover up with a sleeping bag but it was so hot I had to give up. Then I decided just to man up and take the bites, but being wide awake at this point meant I could hear every little hum and the paranoia would not let me drift off to sleep. Eventually I found some trousers and a jumper, covered my feet and hands with socks and wrapped my head in a T-shirt which must have been quite a strange sight for anyone nipping to the loo in the night. Finally I slept, not well but sleep none the less.

One problem Diablo seemed to have was the lower half of the crag always being wet. I have climbed there on a few different trips over the last year, but every time it has felt greasier than a Vaseline factory! Last year I had fallen off the last moves of The Smoking Barrels (after the jump) and hoped that this trip might be a good opportunity to finish it off. After climbing in to the low caves, I was amazed at how good the rock felt compared to the past and spent the next few hours like a kid in a candy store climbing some of the routes I had not done before, finishing the day off with Loskot. What a nice way to start the trip.

Cala Varques was the venue for day 2, and we were treated to more blue skies and dry rock. After warming up in the Metrosexual cave, I wandered over to Snatch, a route I had climbed on the last trip and wanted to get on film. After waiting for the thumbs up from Tim, I suited up and set off. Snatch climbs a super smooth porcelain like wall for around 10 moves to a good hold where it is possible to either traverse rightwards into Strangers in Paradise for an easier option or continue up the wall through the top bulge. If you have it in you, I highly recommend the top bulge as the moves are some of the best I have done on the island.

Eventually you find yourself at a good flat hold where it is possible to have a quick shake before doing the last few moves to the top. However straight up is very blank and so on my previous ascent I was at a bit of a loss of where to go. There are potential options left and right, so I traversed right a few moves and then up but couldn’t help thinking I might have missed something. This time, things were different, and I had enough left in the tank to feel around for the tiny holds straight above me. It was a little precarious, but really completes the experience of the route and I was extra psyched to have got it all on film.

The next day the weather changed, and the blue skies were replaced with dark clouds and thunder. Thankfully, we still managed to climb, and although the conditions got a little worse, they were still better than previous trips so the sending could continue...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Being back in Brucklyn means getting back to business, and Keith and I wasted no time in slotting back into a daily routine that is now becoming familiar. A few blogs ago, I mentioned that there is now no such thing as a rest day, and for now that trend is continuing and I feel pretty good for it. Running is still something that I despise – solely for the discomfort it causes me whilst practicing, but I am persevering and in some masochistic way I am beginning to look forward to the next one. You see, Keith and I are almost as unfit as each other, but twice as stubborn and neither will give up until the day’s goal has been achieved. We could run slower, or for less time, and for sure this would slowly improve our fitness. But the actual percentage of time from our day spent running is so small, it seems like a cop out to go any less than all in.
One genuinely great thing about running is the feeling of elation when its over. At the end of every run, it has become customary to completely submerge oneself in the icy water that flows through town, and your aching legs, painful heart and hot, fuzzy head are immediately replaced with a fresh tingly feeling all over your body. I often find myself wishing I could bottle this feeling and sip it on the actual run, but for now memories will have to do.

Fingerboarding has also found its way back into our daily routine and I am shocked, no, disgusted at how weak I have become. I used to pride myself on my finger strength and always considered myself lucky at how little I felt I needed to train to maintain a good level. Well not anymore it seems. Almost a year away from bouldering has definitely taken its toll and exercises that were undemanding in the past, are now seriously taxing, and in some cases impossible. Fortunately I think Fingerboarding (if done right) is one of the most un-intensive types of training you can do and I should be able to work in at least a session or two ever other day into my current schedule. I hope that within a couple of months I will be back to my old levels, just in time for the bouldering season.

Thankfully “real” climbing is going ok and I am getting close to one of my projects that a few sessions ago felt completely unfeasible. I still feel like I am getting pumped way too quickly, especially if I do even a single move that is close to my limit (usually if I get a sequence or body position completely wrong), but I also feel like I am able to recover on smaller and smaller holds, and if not recover, at least not get any more pumped allowing for a chalk and a breather. Last night I made it through the crux with one move left to a jug, but dry fired off the two small handholds a split second before going for the move. When I got there, I was surprised to not feel very tired, which was a lot different to previous attempts where swollen forearms made it impossible to lock the positions. My next attempt, just as daylight disappeared, saw a return to pumpsville, which begs the question, what made that one time so different?

The proj is going to have to go on the back burner for a few weeks because tomorrow I am off back to Mallorca to join some of my US TNF friends for 10 days of psicobloc. You can keep track of the groups comings and goings at http://verticalcarnival.blogspot.com where Cedar Wright will be posting regular updates and videos of all the action. After that its back to the UK for a week or so for an event with Blacks and TNF UK at Plas y Brenin before coming back to IBK at the beginning of October, just in time for the “sendin” temps.

My running shoes and shorts are packed in my bag, now if only I can track down a fingerboard...

Monday, 7 September 2009

Both Keith and I have been friends with Neil from Maisonbleau for a long time, and so the day after my epic ride at the Nordpark, we hopped in the car for 9 glorious hours and drove to Font for his wedding party the following weekend. This allowed us a little time for climbing in the magical forest which I was looking forward to for a number of reasons. Not only is the bouldering in Font some of the best in the world and always a great pleasure to climb on, but it would also give me a bit of an idea about how I am fairing in terms of bouldering strength after more than a year away.

The obvious floor in this plan which you may have spotted is it is the middle of summer, and 30 degree temps are not normally associated with slopey fonty slopers. However, Neil and Keith both assured me that it was possible to climb in the heat as long as you choose your problems wisely and are smart with your skin. Stick to the shady crags, try dynos, roofs or traverses, and avoid anything small, slopey or sharp.

Armed with all the above info I set of on my quest, and to cut a long story short, I would have to say it was a general success. I climbed a whole host of new (for me) problems from 7a to 7c+ mostly at areas I had never visited before, and also tried a couple of cool problems that were a little too tough on the day, but will be waiting for future trips. Highlights included Ligne Blanche (http://bleau.info/tennis/1030.html), an amazing 7b arête at Buthiers Tennis, and Pierre, Feuille, Cizeaux (http://bleau.info/sablibum/10021.html) a rather highball 7b+ prow at Puiselet Sablibum which is well worth seeking out for all of you who like a little bit spice with your slopey overhung arêtes.

On the morning of the big day, Neil was his normal chilled self and even found time to nip out for couple of hours on the rocks. We headed to Roche aux Sabots with a few friends, to join the other hordes of sweaty brits making use of the bank holiday weekend. The boulders were busy, but thankfully I managed to find a little P&Q over near Sale Gosse which is surprisingly a problem I have never tried, despite numerous visits to the area over the last several years. After warming my fingers on the upper moves, and convincing myself that the left hand mono would not do me any harm, I had a few burns from a sitter and topped out on my third try.

Content with climbing a classic Moony problem, and completing my silly little goal of an 8a in the forest before going back to IBK, I moved on to my next focus for the day – simply to eat as much tasty food as my little belly can take.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

I woke to find a slightly damp ground that had obviously been drying for a few hours, which filled me with hope that the forecast rain had come and passed. Just like winter lift passes; I had the option of buying a full day or afternoon ticket. I figured I would make around 4 or 5 runs before getting too tired so waited until just after midday to leave the house. Whilst getting ready, I ummmd and aahhhd about what protection I should take, and was very undecided about wearing my Alpine Stars Protection jacket, figuring it might possibly be overkill for what would be a fun day exploring a new run. I wasn’t sure how full body armour was viewed in the cool kids in the MTB world. Would wearing it give me away as a punter before I even got my leg over, or was the space age gladiator look “in” this season?

Normally for me, fashion is everything – I simply can’t leave the house without spending a few hours in front of the mirror, and making sure I’m dressed in the latest Mark McCarthy. However, reason thankfully took a firm hold, and figuring it would perhaps turn the odds back in my favour, dressed myself in plastic and padding from head to toe.

The journey up to the Seegrube mountain station was very enjoyable. From the congress centre in the middle of town, you and your bike are taken to the Hungerberg station, 300m above the clean streets of IBK. From here, you change to a cable-car which whisks you a further 1000m to the Seegrube, allowing you to view almost the entire singletrail – well you can normally but today the trail was invisible, shrouded in thick wet mist!


The fancy new Hungerberg train...

Out of the cable-car, and down the loose gravel road to the start of the run the heavens opened. I stopped at the entry point to check out as far as I could see, and was immediately unsure if I was in the right place. Rather than the fast, well-packed trails leading into sweeping berms I had expected to see, I was faced with steep, loose, rocky steps into steeper and looser right angle bends. Figuring maybe this was just the initial section that leads to the main meat, I cautiously set off. With my arse over the back wheel, I uncomfortably began to ride/slide down the mountain, feeling like I was riding a psychotic mule who was hell bent on throwing me off. He didn’t have to wait long, and after hitting the floor from my first tumble of the day I was incredibly glad for the armour I had almost left at home.

I remembered advice from MTB friends about speed being your friend, and tried to put this into practice, but inevitably, the faster I rode, the harder I hit the floor when I next lost either my balance or the traction under my wheels. Maybe it was just me, but the trail seemed too continuously rough to ride at any sort of speed – and even If I made it through one of the sections, the 90 degree bends every 10 meters, with no burms, soon saw me back on the floor.
After losing count of how many times I went down, I began to see the day as more of an endurance exercise. I had to get to the bottom of the hill and there was only one way to do this (excluding escaping onto the fire road which intersected the single trail at regular intervals, but this was just not cricket!). The trail was now so slippery and steep (did I already mention it was steep?) that it was harder to push the bike down than to ride it. One section at a time was how I tried to focus, and after a while I started to feel like I was improving slightly, only falling once or twice a minute, rather than every few seconds.

Occasionally I came across some north shore’esc structures that I stopped at, checked out from every angle before deciding to attempt them or not. After taking a bit of a smash on the first when I didn’t realise the wet wood would be as slippery as ice, I smartly decided to leave a couple of the more dangerous ones for another day. Out of the ones I did attempt, the ratio of success to failure was about 1:1 and fortunately any injury sustained was minor at worst.
Finally, the epic was almost at an end and I found myself at the final section of the course. A 15ft tabletop led you quickly into a big step up to a wooden platform known as house 2.0. A slight right turn then led you off the other side, over a biggish drop and gap to a steep wooden landing and easy left back onto the trail. I eyed this up a few times and knew this was something I could have ridden back in’t day but was now unsure because of how much energy had been used and how beet up I felt thanks to the last 4km of epic. I decided to leave it and rode out over another section of easy north shore, but then for some reason turned back and clambered up onto the platform with ideas of only riding the drop-off.


House 2.0

Because the platform was quite short, I was a little worried about having enough speed to clear the gap. Paranoid about not going far enough, I idiotically pulled up too hard on the bars as I rode off the lip, putting me on the landing heavily on the back wheel. With no control over direction, I ploughed straight off the ramp, across the trail and into the trees.

Something must have caught on my foot, pulling it off the peddle and bending it backwards, which if nothing else served as an effective brake. Pain shot up my leg, and I scolded myself for being such a tit. As I hobbled around, an uncomfortable few seconds passed when I was unsure if it was broken before realising it was nothing too serious and breathing a big, if a little pain filled sigh of relief.

I rolled the rest of the way to the bike wash at the bottom to give my trusty steed a bit of TLC. On the way down It felt like I had been stung by nettles on the back of my right calf, but I hadn’t bothered to check. It was only as I washed my bike, and took off my shin guards that I saw the blood dripping down my leg. I washed off the bloody muddy mixture with the hose and the cause of the injury was immediately clear, 10 or so punctures in a neat curve, complete with oily residue. It seemed strange to me that there was no pain, and I decided to take advantage of this fact and try to clean the worst of the grease out of the wounds. Turning the nozzle of the hose to create a narrow jet, I pointed it at the worst hole and pulled the trigger. The wound ballooned as it filled with water and the pain came instantly. Summoning the cold face (read Hal Iggulden’s excellent books about Genghis Kahn) I kept the jet there till the water was clear before moving onto the next hole and repeating the process.

The ride back into the city was fun but soggy and eventually I arrived back at the apartment and ran a nice warm bath. Whist soaking , I contemplated the mixed emotions I had felt that day and smiled to myself at how similar they were to feelings felt from climbing and many other sports so many times before. Firstly there was the excitement, then the nerves, then the worry, quickly followed by the “this is shit, what am I doing, I’m going to sell my bike”. Soon after, once you become used to the discomfort, you actually start to enjoy the test, or at least appreciate how it will make you stronger in the long run. Then you get the relief when its almost over, the never again feeling, and finally, a few hours later, the “I can’t wait for the next time”.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

One other recent change has been my return to Mountain Biking. When I was younger, around 13 to 16, I rode quite a lot but as climbing came into my life, my blinkers came down and biking amongst other things was placed to one side. Now I have finally realised that I can’t climb every day (my body just aint built like that) and doing other sports is not a bad thing, quite the contrary in fact. Not only do new sports improve and develop your skill set, but they spread your focus just a little, making you less likely to grow stale from your main obsession.

With lots of ski lifts, and even more steep hills, Innsbruck seemed like the perfect place to re-kindle my puppy love of Freeride and DH. I got really lucky with a fantastic deal on a bike, and it was immediately clear that technology had moved on quite a bit since my last bike. With almost double my previous travel at the front and back, and a whole host of other fancy new things I felt like I would be able to ride off anything without a worry. These delusions of grandeur continued as I watched a host of the latest mountain biking films and found myself thinking the humungous drops, gaps and other gnarly terrain “didn’t look too bad!”

You see, one of my character traits (I refrain from using the word strength or weakness here) is my desire to be as good as I can, as fast as I can; in other words, my impatience to go through the learning process. If I see someone doing something, then I immediately imagine I should be able to do the same or similar if I just try hard enough. Even though I know deep down the amount of years it takes to achieve a moderate, let alone excellent performance level, in my minds eye I can still see myself there, and this can sometimes present a problem.

Generally I think that pushing yourself is a very productive and positive way to live your life. It certainly beats lazing it out, watching yourself grow old and fat; and the more people that push themselves towards excellence, the more excellent the human race will become as a whole, which is surely a good thing? However, real life is not always as simple as the hypothetical version, and more often than not, other necessary responsibilities prevent these sorts of actions.
My problem, if you can call it that, is that I am paid to climb; not to bike, not to ski, not to lecture on black-hole thermodynamics or to sell the latest in women’s frilly lingerie, but to climb rocks to the best of my ability. This relies heavily on having a working body, and I should always have this as one of my top priorities when practicing other potentially dangerous sports, which often leaves me in a bit of a pickle...

Standing at the top of a roll in I have the proverbial devil and angel on my shoulders. I know what I need to do and I can see the drop being ridden in my mind’s eye. I play it back over and over, trying to figure out all the possible points it could go wrong and what I can do to avoid them. I think I can probably stick it, but there is certainly a chance it could go wrong and maybe I’m not skilled enough to get out of any sticky situations that could occur. If I don’t try, how will I ever improve, but is that alone a good enough reason for stacking it hard? I would be proud of myself for succeeding, but what’s worse, a dent in my pride or in my body?

All I can do is weigh up the odds and make a calculated decision, or failing that listen for that little voice inside, hoping that he’s screaming loud enough for me to hear.

Tomorrow I am going to take my bike to the top of a big hill to ride the Nordketten Singletrail, which is described on their website as “one of Europe’s steepest, longest and
most difficult mountain bike descents”. The trail is 4.9 km long and from what I can gather it’s really steep; it pretty much follows the natural slope of the mountain, right underneath the gondola. Various sections of North Shore dot the way and I am pretty excited about these, having never ridden anything like it before. I just really hope the forecast rain doesn’t come as I imagine things could get a little slippery, making those all important odds even harder to predict 

Monday, 24 August 2009

It’s been 10 days since I arrived in Innsbruck and boy has it been busy. I want to spend my time in Austria exploring my potential by mainly working on my weakness, which is sport climbing. I hope that if I can improve my endurance to a “respectable” level, projects will become significantly more attainable when I move back to the UK and my beloved, early next year.

Keith and I quickly set up a few ground rules to make sure our new regime would be as successful as possible. These include the concepts of “there is no such thing as a rest day” and “river tickets for unsatisfactory performance”. To explain in a little more detail, every day must be spent doing something active and beneficial to the goal. This is normally climbing, but when sore skin etc does not allow, then running, mountain biking, break dancing etc can take its place. In any of these activities, if your performance is less than satisfactory then you must get fully submerged in the (glacial fed) rivers running through the various valleys before returning home. The level you deem satisfactory will increase in-line with your standards in each discipline and is always set a little on the stern side.

I have now visited quite a few areas and climbed some amazing routes. Days normally involve warming up then flashing/onsighting, before redpointing any quick projects and moving on to trying long term goals. I think this is quite an effective way to spend my days as I am working on improving many different aspects of climbing, and in doing so I hope not becoming too shit at any aspect either. Having said that, I definitely feel weaker in a bouldering sense than I have in the past. Moves on some of the harder routes are actually really tough, to the extent that there are a couple of routes I am yet to climb from bolt to bolt. I guess this could partly be due to conditions, with temperatures rising some days to the upper 30’s. But this is more than likely and easy excuse, and come November I think I will be dropping back into Boulder mode with serious gusto.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

I feel like almost every time I start a blog, I have to apologise for how shit I have been at writing since my last post. I have been uncomfortable with this repetitiveness for a little while now and so whilst on my last road trip, possibly somewhere in the south of France, I decided that even if I couldn't get regular Internet access, I would still write a new post every day and then post the relevent sectins at my earliest opportunity.

Internet turned out to be a rare luxury, or perhaps I was just too lazy to find it, but either way I began to develop quite a back catalogue of blog posts just waiting for the chance to be set free. The trials and tribulations of Ceuse, being locked in an exclusive gentlemans club in Chamonix, and my first taste of my amazing new home cliffs in Austria were all in there, in glorious techni-emotive detail, but then disaster struck.

Perhaps such perfectly constructed prose was never meant to be read, or maybe I am just an incompetent idiot, but fate dealt a vicious blow and my words disappeared forever. Whilst moving and resizing the partitions on my laptop hard drive to make room for a new operating system, I accidentally formatted the drive to leave nothing but an empty space.

I did think about trying to re-write the posts,but somehow the the act felt like it would be trying to pull something back from the memories that were meant to stay just that. What I did decide to do was to write a few short articles about my summer vacations (because there is now more than one) that will be published along with photos on the Wild Country website over the next month or so.

Anyway, The last few weeks have been spent in Mallorca with Emily and a collection of other wonderful people. Firstly was Em's Father Bob and his partner Dale, who we accompanied on their boat for a weeks sailing on the south coast. Just when the relaxing, sun bathing, good food and wine started to become too much, it was time for the next leg of our trip to begin - DWS dirtbag style!

Well that was the plan, but we were kindly invited to stay with my friend Neus and her boyfriend Lorenz in there gorgeous apartment in Palma. I first met Neus almost 1 year ago on the Red Bull Psicobloc trip and we immediately clicked. Since the trip, she has opened up her own Tattoo Studio which allows her to practice her love of creative graphic design in a very interesting way, a love which is super evident when you take a look at the walls of her apartment. So if your are in Porto Pollenca, and feel like a Tattoo,stop in and say hi.

Neus and Lorenz were incredible hosts and really pulled out all the stops, even lending us a cool car to drive to the crags in. If I had a pound for every time I said this, I would be a moderately wealthy gent, but one of the best things about traveling is spending time with loads of different people, seeing how they look at the world and just enjoying time.

I hope that when friends come to stay with me, they will leave with the same feelings as I did after leaving Neus and Lorenz. But in leaving a situation, you inevitably move towards a new one, and we (now teamed up with Jo Staden) were heading towards a small and tranquil woodland near Cala sa Nau where we had leftout tent and other belongings a few days before.
Unfortunately, after a long and tiring day at the crag, on returning to the camp our tent was no longer there! Darkness and tiredness did not help with the confusion but I knew the one thing that needed to be done was give Em's brother Robin (who also happened to be on the island) the lift to his new hotel we had promised earlier. The time was approaching 10pm, and the journey should take around 2 hours, so Emily set off in the hire car (Nips) while Jo and I tried to find a place for us to doss for the night.

2 hours turned to 3, 3 turned to 4, and still there was no sign of Emily. My phone was out of battery so I couldn't call her and I began to get a little worried, feeling particularly helpless as all I could do was wait. At 2am, a little light walked into camp, carrying a big box of pizza,and all in the world was right again. Well, almost...

We still had no tent, and the paranoia about who or what took it made sleep difficult to find and short lived when you did. Waking a little after first light, we re-packed Nips with all our worldly belongings and headed off to find the breakfast and coffee we hoped would make us feel human again.

After a morning at Diablo, which was unproductive to say the least, we decided to cut our losses and drive to Robins hotel for a chilled afternoon and an early night, sleeping on his floor. With such a simple plan, its hard to imagine where things could go wrong but midnight found us wandering the streets of ???? slightly drunk and in search of a good time.

If we found them at all ,the good times were shortlived at best and soon domestic bliss came crashing down all around us. At first Em, Jo and I tried to be mediators, but as the hours passed by and light started to show on the horizon we grudgingly accepted defeat and went to sit in the car, just waiting for it all to be over. By 8am,things were still looking bleak, and with no sleep in the bank, we cut our losses and drove to S'Horta for our pre-arranged appointment with wonderful person number 5.

Like Neus, I had first met the legend that is Miguel on the Red Bull trip last year and I remember any time spent with him being both amusing and informative,and often ending in nakedness. I had caught up with miguel a few times already this trip,but this time he had arranged to meet us to try to track down our tent.

We arrived in S'horta at around 9.30am feeling similar to a lot of "mornings after the night before" back home but without any of the good memories. The sun was hot, and the shade cast by some trees over the town square looked very inviting so became our psudo-beds for the next hour. When Miguel arrived at 10.30, he had already been to the Guardia Civil and the Policia Local but neither knew anything. He then took us to speak to a boy scout camp that was fairly close to where we had pitched, but again, nothing.

With the hope of a logical explanation fading rapidly, it seemed almost certain that the tent had been stolen a day or so before we returned. Off again we trotted again to the Guardia to report it missing, and Miguel again came to the rescue, acting as translator between myself and the officer, as my Spanish is less than perfect to say the least. The process seemed to take an age, which was not helped by the re-curing nauseous feeling that insisted on rearing its ugly head at regular intervalsbut eventually we finished and headed off with Miguel to look at some of the islands bouldering and a few places he thought might be nice for Em and Jo to sleep.

After an amazing lunch in a very traditional Mallorcan restaurant, we organized the bomb site which was the back of Nips, and took a quick look at the picturesque bouldering area he had brought us to, in a pine forest overlooking the sea. The area was really peaceful, a perfect place for a chilled days climbing and a great place to sleep. Unfortunately my time in Mallorca had come to an end and I would soon be leaving Em and Jo to fend for themselves. After gathering my things there was just time for a quick kiss and a cuddle before Miguel's last good deed of the day in driving me to the airport.

Tonight I arrive in Innsbruck Austria which will most likely be my home for the next 6 months. During this time I hope to achieve many things, one of which will be to re-invent myself as a sport climber, or at least a sport climber of sorts. An improvement in my fitness would only be a good thing and would certainly help with the trad projects I have back in the UK for spring/summer 2010!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Our legs were feeling fresh(er) and our skin was thick – time to return to the battle field. The walk in had certainly not got any easier during our two day vacation but slow and steady wins the race and we arrived at the crag at a respectable hour, not too much out of breath. Cascade is usually the first port of call as the morning sun is yet to turn the corner and the shade is a welcome relief. Well not today; the air temp was so cold that people were belaying in gloves and down jackets and numb fingers were all around. We quickly fled for warmer climbates.

I was pretty keen to get back on Bah Bah and was feeling quietly confident. I felt like the individual sections were reasonably straight forward and that the starting 3 bolts would not tire me for the crux and remaining tricky section. The first few hours were spent belaying Emily as she knocked off her ticklist, and as she began to tire, I decided it was time for a look-see.

After spending a while refining my sequence and linking the upper sections a few times I ate lunch and went back to belaying Em until I felt ready for a redpoint. The sun had moved on and I was cold from my rest. I guessed the first try on the route would end prematurely due to numb fingers, which it did, after just entering the crux. Not to worry, this was to be expected, next go will be much better...

Once my fingers were warm again and my forearms felt good I set off again. What followed can only be described as a shambles; a shocking display of climbing ability, or more precisely lack of! My feet were slipping, I missed holds on my first slap attempts only to scrabble around and get them on my next go. Safe to say I fell at the start of the crux and to make matters worse, realised Arnaud Petit had been watching. Arnaud kindly offered beta on the route, which I think will be useful. I say “think” because I couldn’t actually try it out. My body felt like lead and I could no longer even make the individual moves. Dirt me...

I don’t really understand how ones performance can change so dramatically in such a short period. Is it physical, mental, spiritual, I don’t know but guess it’s a mix of them all? We began the long walk home which allowed lots of time to think about those very things. We have one day left at Ceuse, my skin hurts and I feel tired. However, my bag is still stashed at the top of the hill, I have not given up hope, bring out the garlic!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

My friend Neil of Maisonbleau fame is currently holidaying near the Verdon, so on our first rest day, Em and I decided to drive to meet him for some fun in the sun. Neil had seen pics online of some DWS in the verdon which he was going to check out by “pedalo” and as we hopped on board, the thought about wet skin and rough rock not mixing failed to cross my mind.

The rest day turned out not to be so restful. The almost virgin limestone was pretty sharp and rough and by the end of the day my skin was not looking good. It was great fun however, and something I would definitely recommend. We climbed around 5 routes on two different buttresses in the first 400m of river but if you peddled further, who knows what you might find?



The water is warm and deep, just watch out for clueless tourists peddling right underneath you! For anyone interested, the beta is simple. Drive to the north east point of the lake at the base of the Verdon. A obvious road bridge will cross the water at the mouth of the gorge, park here, hire a boat and go exploring.



A further rest day was needed after our DWS adventure and the time was passed in the Gorges de la Méouge swimming hole (near Laragne Monteglin). This natural beauty consists of sandy beaches, shallow swimming pools and waterfalls and is a perfect place to pretend your a kid again. Once the relapse is over, the adult in you couldn’t pick a more pleasant spot for reading a book in the afternoon sun.

Monday, 13 July 2009

We had a lazy start today, arriving at the cliff at 4pm, just as a huge thunderstorm developed. The gentle breeze turned into a gale, and Em and I were quickly chilled to the bone. Earlier, in the 30 degree campsite, I had shrugged off Emily’s advice to take a sweater, a choice I was now regretting. I really wanted to try Bah Bah Black Sheep, and so sheepishly asked Em if I could climb in her hoodie in exchange for my waterproof shell.

What a sight! Me swinging around getting blown all over the place wearing a skin tight girls hoodie, and Emily lovingly shivering away below on belay duty in multiple multicoloured shells. I went bolt to bolt as quick as I could and happily found the moves not to bad, linking the route in a few sections.

The route is a strange affair, with very varied climbing and an unusual crux. There are two points I think may prove difficult on a redpoint; the jump after the crux moves, and a dynamic lock at the end of all the hard climbing. We only have a few days left in Ceuse before moving north to Chamonix so I’m not getting my hopes up too much, just enjoying climbing in a new area.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

I opened my last post talking about slackness but I feel my blog activity of late has redefined the word. As you may already know, throughout April and May I was part of The North Face Summit Series Road trip and since time was incredibly short, I didn’t feel a pressing need to complete my personal blog, especially since we were already writing a daily account for the trip. Unfortunatley, this habit carried over once I returned home, days turned into weeks, weeks to months, and here we are, a long long way down the line with very little said.

The truth is you haven’t really missed much. I have been trying to maintain/improve upon the stamina I found during the roadtrip, which has mainly involved tedious circuits down the wall. But gains feel minimal and slow coming, and motivation is often hard to come by. Giving up and going bouldering or trad shuffling is certainly a tempting alternative but if I can break through this wall I hope the grass will be a lot greener on the other side.

To celebrate Emily finishing Bar school, we are currently on our first climbing trip together in two years. Six days in and we are camping at Ceuse which is wonderful. Believe it or not, this is my first time at the crag and it is certainly living up to expectations, both the routes and the walk in.

Long walks are most definitely not my thing, and on the first day I was really feeling the pain; especially after leaving the car keys in my sack at the top of the hill and having to do the entire thing twice!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Slack is just one of many words you could use to describe my blogging activity of late, there are others, particularly ones from France, but I feel slack gets the point across without being too harsh. As usual, there are no real excuses, but I will give some anyway because a) it makes me feel a little better about being slack, and b) it gives me something to write about in what has otherwise been a pretty uneventful time.

In short, I have been super busy with numerous different projects and since multitasking is definitely not one of my strong points, I have found it difficult to fit them all around one another. Writing a blog dropped right to the bottom of my pile of priorities, it became a do it tomorrow task and as the famous saying goes, tomorrow never comes.



Apart from my usual activities of climbing, training, lectures and personal work, I have recently been organising a lot of the logistics for an upcoming North Face trip I am running. The Summit Series road Trip runs from the 1st of April until the 10th of May and will take us through 14 countries to the finish at Melloblocco in Italy. Along the way we plan to climb a selection of the best, classic Fr8a’s in Europe as well as holding lots of slideshows, masterclasses and other events during our rest days.



The schedule is manic, and pretty much works out at one climbing day, one event day, one climbing day, one event day, all the way to Mello. I would never have imagined the amount of work that is needed to organise something like this. In the past my trips have always been fairly spontaneous, you know the date you leave, and after that, everything just sort of happens, but for this, simply because of the very tight schedule we need to keep if we are to complete it as planned; we need to have every day planned to perfection. Hundreds of emails have gone back and forth between many different people, and whole days just seem to vanish into a blur of forwarding, Cc’s and attachments!

When I have been able to justify time away from the computer, it’s been a tough decision between time on the rock, and time training. Obviously the rock is where I would like to be every day, but especially in the UK, days out at the crag can seem like frustrating wastes of time and money if the weather is bad. I love being outside, and in a perfect world, I would climb outside every day, but since climbing is more than just a pastime, I need to be both realistic and professional and make decisions that I feel are best for my personal progression.

Training certainly helps me progress and since it is not weather dependent it often seems like the right choice. However It is surprisingly easy so get sucked into a circular cycle of training for training sake, and at times I have had to check with myself that there is a specific aim to work towards. Without an aim or a goal, is there really a point? Possibly I guess, maybe the aim is simply to get really strong and ripped? But if that was my goal, I’d probably just take up body building. At least then I’d get to cover myself in baby oil and wear a shiny thong....



Last time I wrote about French Duke at Earl Crag. It took me a while to return to for round two on the route, much longer than I had originally planned and unfortunately the weeks between seemed to have caused a significant drop in the skin-rock friction coefficient. Despite feeling much stronger than my previous session, I failed to reach my high point and after 3 or 4 attempts I decided to cut my losses and try something else.

Paul from Hotaches was out with me getting some footage for their next DVD and so rather than just calling it a day we drove to Ilkley to try to film a little circuit. It was a fun afternoon with a lot of climbing and by the time we had finished, I felt tired and a little beat up but very content. We filmed a few problems including Desperate Dan with the direct start, Baby Spice, Ring Piece and finally Cindy Crawford. I was trying to highball CC but was stopped by a powerful lock out to the arête a few moves from the top. You are pretty high at this point, and committing to hard moves when you know you are not firing on all cylinders is difficult to do.

The difference between success and failure on the grit is very slim and 9 times out of 10 comes down solely to conditions. After climbing lots on Gritstone over the last 6 years, It seems to me that to find success, you need a healthy dose of either luck or patience. Planning in advance is almost impossible, you just need to be in the right place, at the right time, and the magic will happen.

Embracing, rather than fighting the warming weather, I began to make a few trips to Wales to climb in Parisella’s cave. This seemed like a good trade off all-round as it was still real rock, yet the problems are all powerful and often endurance orientated so would also work as training.
After re-acquainting myself with the place, I recently had a pretty good session climbing a nice set of problems both old and new (to me). The highlight of the day was split between climbing The Wire, and Bell Pig, two very different problems but both pleasantly satisfying. One of the best things about the cave is the almost never ending opportunities for links, when you complete a problem, there is almost always something you can climb into or out from it. I would like to spend a little more time in there when I get back from the trip, and if my endurance is as good as I hope it will be when the roadtrip is over, maybe I can do something really long and hard.



I have climbed quite a lot over the last week and my body is feeling tired for it so I think it will be wise to take a rest up until the roadtrip begins. (un)fortunately, I still have many jobs to do for the organisation so its safe to say I wont be sat around twiddling my thumbs!

Friday, 6 March 2009

A few months ago Jordan Buys made the first ascent of the project arête right of Mind Bomb at Earl Crag in Yorkshire. Dubbed The French Juke, Jordans solution to this often tried last great revolved around guppies and twin clamping heel hooks; not exactly a simple sequence, so props to Mr Buys for working it out.

To cut a medium story short; after wandering over to look at the line one day whilst bouldering at Earl, I decided it looked like a good contender for a flash attempt, and not only that, thought you could place the gear on lead, rather than pre-placing it. I returned the Sunday before last with ideas of doing just that.

After warming up by climbing up and down the start of the route and hanging around trying to fiddle in various bits of small kit, I felt happy that I had the gear placed as good as I could be without placing it from an ab-rope. I was even happier to find that it was actually pretty good, which made me more confident about giving it a good flash attempt.

It was a very windy day and I was really struggling to stay warm. My fingers would turn numb all too quickly when on the rock, making it nigh-on impossible to hold anything but jugs. As the day progressed, it got a little more bearable, but unfortunately never ideal and by the time I had climbed into the crux my fingers no longer belonged to me and I just managed to reverse back to the ground.

On my second attempt, I decided to try another sequence, which was a bad idea and the Duke promptly spat me off. After milliseconds of uncertainty, the gear held true, time for round three. I returned back to Jordans sequence but was having real trouble making the guppy feel good. I guess due to its unusual nature, there is a good way to hold this hold but it may need a bit of practice to find it. However, it may just be that I am too weak/crap to use it! Unless I headpoint it, we will never really know. Anyway, I took the guppy, worked both my feet up and could just about start the next move when I was suddenly airborne again.

Attempt number four, sequence number three. This sequence was not really planned; it just sort of came to be and took me to my current highpoint of just tickling the top slopers. I locked off, reached up, came up short, locked a little deeper, reached up again and I was off. Frustrating but also encouraging.

The light was fading and that was enough for the day. As I climbed up to retrieve the gear I realised how absolutely shattered I felt, which made me feel a little happier about my final sequence. I hope that when I return, I have the umpf to lock to the top sloper from where I hope the next couple of moves will be ok.

Fingers crossed