Saturday, 25 December 2010

Hola mi Amigos,

My god it feels good to lie down. After 6 hours on the road, preceded by many days of cold, hard climbing and too little sleep, I am pooped (to put it politely). We left Francia on Monday for the (slightly) warmer climate of Spain and the plentiful, painful pockets of Margalef.

The first day was dank and cold, but first day psyche dragged Caro and I out of the refugi at around 11am to a deserted Laboratory , where we began the ongoing battle against numb fingers. Warming up was a relative term; 6b, 7b, 8b – numb, numb, numb. The clouds were persistent all day long, not once allowing the sun to shine on the cliff, but slowly (very slowly) feelings began to return and as a few other brave souls appeared at the crag, I felt ready to move on to the business of the day.

“Il Ley Innata”, product of an Animal and repeated only by a machine, was recommended to me by Iker Pou as a nice route to try that would suit a boulderer. It is worth mentioning at this point that Iker is a complete monster – arguably the best all-rounder in the world and no stranger to hard moves on small holds. This year he repeated Demencia Senil, returning to make this pretty special video, climbing the route 12 times in the process!!!

A few weeks previously I had watched a video of Ramon climbing “Ley”, happily chilling on holds, feet cutting left right and centre, and generally making it look like 7b. After this visual stimulation and the tip-off from Iker, I wandered over to the base of the route expecting... well... I don’t really know what I was expecting... but I do know I got a shock!

La ley innata Ramon Julian from Ramon Julian on Vimeo.

“My God, this is steep” was the first thing that came to mind, closely followed by “hmmmmm, those don’t quite look like the jugs from the video...” The first few moves were hard, but I optimistically told myself I was still warming up, gurning, gritting my teeth and slowly moving upwards the inviting 1/3rd height jug.

Well, the jug turns out not to be so juggy, more a “mono stack” and a painful one at that! This was pretty much the theme for the whole route – its hard, fu%@ing hard, fu%@ing hard and fu%@ing painful, and that is exactly what one should expect from an 8c+/9a in the Laboratory.

Once I got my head around that things started to go smoother. I began to work out a sequence for me (surprise surprise, Ramons 1.59m method doesn’t quite fit) and by the end of the day I had made a few nice (small) links. I felt physically weak on the route, testament to a lack of bouldering for far too long. The positive side of this is progress should come quickly with a little directed effort. I’ll train power a little over the winter and play again in the spring.

More to come soon...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Expedition Reports - 3 - The Wine Bottle

Many moons ago I tried to climb a sandstone sea stack off the South Devon Coast. The rock was terrible, the protection was hammered in 6" nails, and I got shut down hard. The route was graded E1, but for anyone who has climbed on any of our fair Isle's more adventurous cliffs, grades don't really mean so much when the rock is disappearing under your hands and feet.

I have climbed a bit of choss since that day, and become more acquainted with its peculiarities. I like the creative process of trying to protect a pitch where the rock is barely solid enough to allow upward movement - it brings together all the things I have learnt about trad and wraps them in up in one complex, ugly, but undeniably alluring bow.

The second route we climbed in the Ennedi was like the sea stack on steroids!

Here is my partner in crimes eye witness account of the adventure. Take it away Mark!


Today was a day that I will never forget. A few hours ago James and I stood on the summit of the Wine Bottle, one of the coolest towers I’ve ever climbed. The summit was tiny, about the size of two dinner tables, but what made it especially sweet was how deep we had to dig to get up there.

Two days ago we were randomly questing across the desert, trying to find our next objective. It was actually kind of hard, not because we couldn’t find anything, but rather because there was so much to choose from. We came around a corner and there was the Wine Bottle. Just as the name implies, it’s shaped like a bottle: fat down low, then it abruptly narrows down into a slender 100 foot “neck,” topped with a bulging spout.

There was pretty much no discussion – it was such a stunning objective that everyone took it for granted that we had to climb it. There was one little problem, namely that the neck looked super sketchy: steep, loose, chossy and distinctly lacking in cracks or any obvious lines. I circumnavigated the tower, studying it from every angle, and finally decided on what I thought would be a good line.

Honnold was not inspired by the choss factor, so James and I geared up. James took the first pitch up to the base of the stalk. It looked short and easy but ended up being a 60m rope stretcher on bad rock with very little in the way of good gear. When I joined James on the ledge, we shared a look, and it went without saying that I was fully in for it.

There was a line of holds, but as I soon found out, the rock was dangerously loose and virtually every hand and foothold was removable. After ten feet of free climbing I resorted to aid. Thirty feet above the ledge I slung a “chicken head” and gently eased my weight onto it. As I was placing my next piece, the chicken head blew, but miraculously the sling still hung onto some barely adhered left over chunk of sandstone. Scared silly, I drilled a bolt, only to discover that the rock was so loose I couldn’t get it to tighten down. After it fell out, I pounded a piton into the hole, then decided I’d had enough.

Now it was James’ turn and I was interested to see what this master trad climber could make of the pitch. He free climbed to my highpoint and made a few tentative moves above, then decided to take a hang on the manky pin and think things over. For a brief moment it looked like he would bail too, but then James dug deep and set off again. He pulled some hard moves above the bad bolt and I knew that he was committed – it was too hard to downclimb.

Ten feet higher he set a couple shaky pieces, hung off them, and placed another sketchy drilled piton. After equalizing the pin with the bad gear, James free climbed out around a corner into a shallow groove. As he worked his way upwards, a steady stream of loose rocks rined down onto the ledge. More bad gear and hard climbing followed, but James somehow kept his cool and eventually reached a solid crack, which he jammed to the summit. When he topped out, his yell of triumph reverberated across the desert.

I managed to follow James lead, barely, and soon we were sharing a high five and gawking at our surreal surroundings. The Ennedi Desert stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction, and it really sunk in just how far in the middle of nowhere we were. Unclimbed spires stretched to the distant horizon, and we could only marvel at how many other classic first ascents like this one still lay out there waiting… (The Wine Bottle 5.11+, A0 R/X 90m)

Mark Synnott

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Caroline Climbs Guerre D'usure - 8C

There are more Expedition reports on the way soon, but first I wanted to share the news of Caroline’s ascent of Guerre D’usure. Guerre is a very technical, resistance 8c at Claret in the South of France and is her 6th route of the grade.

An initial “easy” wall leads to a boulder problem through the mid-height roof. After a small shake and chalk on a positive finger edge, roughly 20 intense moves find you again at good holds and the belay. Caro made the route look deceptively easy on her 4th try. Hopefully we should have some nice pictures soon...

To see the line, here is a picture of Luis Vera I shamelessly stole from

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Expedition Reports - 2

The Second of our Expedition reports came direct from my pen. The drive was long, so very very long, and after 4 days we were all eager to know what we had come so far for... our first taste

After finishing our rather long drive, and getting our first glimpse of rock, we pulled into an amazingly shady spot on the back side of a giant brown rocky castle. Piero obviously knew of this spot from previous journeys as he came directly here, no detours or backtracks, simply straight to the point.

Having a guide in this place is essential and Piero’s endless knowledge is worth its weight in gold. This place is like a maze- a giant, spread out, incredibly open maze, that looks the same in every location, has perilous traps waiting to catch the unweary, and is hotter than hell for all hours of daylight. After eating a feast of tomato plus tuna our eagerness got the better and we ran from camp like giggling school kids to make a group free solo of our new local cliff.

The next few events past something like this: Shoes on, chalk up, break a hold, crumble a foot, look scary, climb down, begin to cry! OK, so the crying part may be an exaggeration, but the rock was really shitty, genuine choss. We salvaged the day by scrambling up loose gullies to bag the summit which was a f***** stunning place. By the looks the the cairn on top had been enjoyed by brave people unknown, at some point in the past.

This place is stunning, perfect vistas for 360 degrees and the most beautiful sunsets/rises one could ever with to see. At the end of the day Piero drove us to the first area he thought had potential which did not disappoint. After walking for less than 5 minutes I saw the best line of the trip so far: A line that was instantly obvious was become my focus for the near future. The rock on the upper half looked like it could be fairly solid, but to get here requires climbing over two steep roofs made from rock resembling wheat-a-bix!

With 3.5 days drive to the nearest city the consequence of any injury out here doesn’t seem to fun, and so before Europe, I told myself that self preservation would be the order of the game. Unfortunately, part of being a trad climber is convincing yourself that the rewards justify the risks, and by the time we return to camp the wheels had already been set in motion,

Some days things just work, and sometimes they don’t, but fortunately today was one of the former. Written beta about the route is neither necessary or needed as the video and stills will speak thousand of words. What I will say is that the quality fo the climbing was wholly unexpected, and combined with the location and the formation, made for a phenomenal first taste. First route of the trip. First ascent of the tower. First rock climb in the ennedi!

So, so, psyched :)

James Pearson

Check out for more shots...

All Pictures copyright Jimmy Chin, Tim Kemple, Renan Ozturk (Camp 4 Collective)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Chad - The Expedition Reports...

Hello to you all,

I've been a little quiet recently, and for once I have a very good reason... For the last 3 weeks I have been in the middle of the Ennedi desert, amidst a sea of sand and sandstone towers, in north eastern Chad! The expedition was part of The North Face's annual expedition program, which every year sends teams of its athletes to some of the most random and remote places in he world, in search of something magic.

This adventure in particular was the brainchild of Mark Synnott and had been lurking in the dark depths of his mind for the last 10 or so years. Based on some stunning pictures from a photostream on flickr and some information from local hero Piero, who has been guiding out of the Sahara for almost 40 years, Mark decided now was the time to drop the clutch and head off on an adventure.

The team consisted of Mark and myself, Alex Honnold, Tim Kemple, Renan Ozturk and Jimmy Chin. The information available online regarding travelling in Chad is varied to say the least and not one of the team knew what to expect. Ideas ranged from kidnap and torture, to a beach holiday without the ocean - and so it was with a large amount of uncertainty that we boarded the plane from Paris to N'djamena...

The result was an expedition to never forget! Lost among an endless expanse of desert towers, in what felt like the most remote place on earth, yet almost always in view of other humans, we battled through the sand climbing some of the most memorable and iconic routes of our lives. The scenery and sunsets were enough to make believe you were on another planet.

The guys from Camp 4 worked their magic, and by their own admission captured some of the best stills and video they have ever shot. In a place where dropping a camera would likely capture a cover-shot this may not come as so much of a shock, but some of the crane shots and time-lapses are more than just eye-candy - they are works of art.

All will be released in good time, after each of the guys takes a well earned rest with their families for Christmas. The 4 day jeep ride home was the straw that broke the camels back and we all boarded or planes home feeling completely worked, half dead, but ultimately content. Although I am desperate to see the finished piece, I can forgive the guys a little time to wind down and relax before the madness resumes in 2011. In the meantime I am going to release a selection of the expedition blog you might not have seen from along with some simply beautiful stills.

Here is dispatch 1, courtesy of Alex, who managed to hold his bowls together long enough to type a few words like only he can...

Coming on this expedition to Chad was kind of unnerving. Nothing was really known and all the information I found on the internet made it clear that Chad was not a good place to visit. The whole team met up in Paris, which is always a good start. The only problem was that I had horrible food poisoning and spent the majority of my travel and flights sitting on the toilet vomiting or curled up in agony. Not such a good start for me. But amazingly we all made it to N'djamena without a hitch. Our outfitter met us inside customs and helped us chaperone all our oversized bags out of the airport. We spent the first night in a hotel in the city, then packed up our jeeps the next morning and set out for the desert. And that pretty much brings us up to present. We've driven for 2 days across Chad. We've seen a lot of camels, a lot of nomads, a TON of sand. Let's just say we're all a bit dusty. Everything has gone perfectly. Good food, good company, everyone is in good spirits. Tomorrow we should make it to the Ennedi, where we will hopefully find some decent climbing. Our outfitter is a climber himself so he has a lot of good ideas for things we should climb. Lines that he's scoped over 15 years of visiting the desert. We're all thinking of folks back home. But psyched that this is going as smoothly as it has, and pretty optimistic about doing some amazing new routes. Alex Honnold