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 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 (, an amazing 7b arĂȘte at Buthiers Tennis, and Pierre, Feuille, Cizeaux ( 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 arĂȘtes.

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.