Monday, 31 January 2011

The Expedition Reports - 3 - The Crack

Its time for more Expedition Reports from Chad. This time, Alex takes on one of the most disgusting routes I can imagine...

So this dispatch is about a cool arch I got to climb. I’m typing it from the back of the jeep while we quest around the desert.

We stopped at the Sao Paulo [sp??] Arch a few days ago while we were driving just to see it as tourists. But when we parked underneath we discovered an amazing offwidth crack that split the whole formation from one side to the other. The whole team decided that we should give it a go, but we didn’t have any wide gear and no one else really seemed thrilled to climb a sandy offwidth. Tim was kind enough to go up top and drop a line down through the crack to give me a toprope belay and I set out up one side to check out the rock. My first attempt I chose the side with better rock that looked a little easier. I made it half way across the roof before my legs gave out and I collapsed from fatigue.

We broke for lunch for a while and then I tried it again from the other side, which involved a sandy boulder problem on friable face holds before gaining the crack. This time I gave the whole things the fight of my life, knowing that once I made it to the middle I would be back into familiar terrain. Jimmy was hanging in the middle of the arch shooting pictures, which always makes things a little more fun to have a friend hanging out next to you. And Mark and James were shouting up encouragement from below while I grunted and struggled across. The whole process took an hour and ten minutes of hanging from my legs and thrutching wildly. I broke off tons of holds and a certain points could hear sand pouring into my ears.

In some ways it was the most disgusting route of my life in terms of poor sandy rock and hard climbing. But it was also the most satisfying pitch of the trip for me. It was awesome to try my very hardest for so long and barely be able to squeak it out. I’ve deemed it the hardest offwidth in Chad. I don’t think there’s much competition. Alex Honnold

Friday, 28 January 2011


Morocco was always going to be a bit of a wild-card, even with the original sugar-coated plans. Yet as the departure date drew nearer and everything fell apart, we began to really doubt if we had made a sound decision – even the thought of remaining in England began to seem interesting.

Eventually, the statement of “even if the climbing sucks, ten days in Morocco cant really be that bad” was made, and on a cold new years eve morning, we boarded a plane bound for Agadir, joined by a load of pasty white fatties in search of some winter sun.

Being met in person by our hire car rep, watching him fill in all the paperwork by hand and pay him there and then in cash, reminded me that, despite the cheap flights to get here, we were not in Kansas anymore.

The car, as to be expected, was a tiny pice of shit, which contrary to popular belief, is actually worse than a big piece of shit, as with a big piece of shit, you can at least fit in your bulky luggage and several bouldering pads. Fortunately, there was just the two of us, so with a bit if rearranging, everything slotted in fairly well and we set off into the unknown.

Unknown may seem a little dramatic, especially when compared to some of my recent expeditions, but actually it described our trip to Tafrauote pretty well. We had no idea of the town, we had no idea of the rock, we had no idea where to sleep, and we had no idea if there would be other climbers. We brought gear for trad, sport and bouldering, because we didn’t know what to expect, and as it turned out, we used everything, every day.

As we moved away from Agadir the landscape quickly became rugged, wild and barren. Cliffs became larger and more regular, eventually turning into jagged brown mountains as we neared our destination. And then, just like snapping your fingers, as we turned the final corner into Tafraoute, huge round boulders appeared! Whole mountains covered in them; giant orange eggs, interspersed with the occasional embedded house, and lush majestic palm trees – the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Eat Natural

Just a quick one to say how happy I am with one of my new partners... Eat Natural.

Tasty treats in my climbing pack from now on! Yum yum :)

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Christmas comes but once a year - and that’s fine by me!

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas; in fact, I find it overindulgent, over expensive, and overrated. More than anything though, it’s the sickly pretence of the day that always puzzled me – we shower or families in lavish gifts, hand out a few awkward thankyou’s, smiles and hugs, only to later argue with said family over something completely trivial, because deep down we feel bitter and bored by the whole charade! Even wrapped in tinsel, does our affection on the 25th make up for the other 364 days of neglect...

Having said that, this Christmas I returned home for the first time in 5 years, and I genuinely had a lovely time. My family were angels, I didn’t eat too much of the wonderful food, and was even lucky enough to climb my oldest hard grit project on a crisp, snowy Boxing Day. It was awelcome surprise to feel so solid and in control on something which had once felt so hard. Infact, the last time I tried the route in question, there was on move entirely that i could not do – so big big changes are happening!

5 days at home really did seem like too little time – all thanks to the magic of the man in red (or should that be Jesus, I never really know). Wow, those are unexpected words from a notorious scrooge ;)

I’ll do my best to write a detailed description at somepoint soon, but as you might have realised from reading past blogs, I am a little bit behind the times, so will first try to catch up with tales of an unexpected Moroccan adventure...

Stay Tuned...

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Photo Shot...

The road back to Margalef seemed long and slow, but eventually we found the Refugi, and soon after sleep found us. With the last day dawning clear and blue, we had many options for places to climb, but settled on the easy choice of Laboratory as unfinished business is a strong lure. For those that don’t know the Laboratory I will give you a quick run down...

Its very short, less than 20m, and steep, very steep, except at either end where it becomes very very steep. It is predominantly climbing on pockets, which are usually fairly good, except from the ones that are not, and are always covered in chalk. This means that it is usually possible to get a good idea of the route before even leaving the floor, and so a pretty good place for onsighting.

The left hand end of the cliff is home to the famous roof routes of Darwin Dixit and Demencia Senil, but nestled in amongst its more well known brothers is a route called Photo Shot. At 8b, Photo Shot is the cheapest of the routes in this sector, but since I have been called a scrooge on more than one occasion; it seemed like a good place to start my onsight bidding.

There isn’t really much to say about the actual ascent... apart from it went pretty well. I luckily chose the right holds at the right time, and after a short time found myself at the top. Something that is worth mentioning however is the holds on the route! Unlike a lot of the other routes in Margalef, and this sector particularly, they are not too painful. A welcome surprise, and one to seek out...

Onsighting Photo Shot, 8b in the Margalef Laboratory

After lowering off Photo Shot, I felt pretty energized and half decided to jump on an amazing 8b+ (sorry, I forget the name) a little to the left. Eventually, I decided to leave it for another visit as you only ever get the chance once, and to spend my last remaining energy on Ley Innata. It was a very good call not to try the 8b+ because I turned out to be pretty tired, and after one of the biggest fights of the trip just to claim my quickdraws back, the only thing left was the drive back home.

Next time I will be back on the Grit!

Monday, 3 January 2011

The next day was much brighter. The clouds had gone, the sky was blue, everything was set for a great day. Driving baby car up the windy valley to El Balco de l'ermita, we were reminded at every turn at how much potential still remains in this incredible place. The day was spent onsighting and flashing some of the areas classic routes, including Laura (the best route I have climbed in Margalef) and El Vuite Art. As the sun set we joined friends in the bar for a birthday drink – a fine end to the day...

Good Morning Margalef...

Iker's Van

Caroline By The Reservoir

But this wasn’t really the end! It was my birthday, and on ones birthday, one must party... thats just the rule!

Barcelona, like a jewel in the sun...

After a good old “knees up” in MOOG, Thursday was spent relaxing in the city before joining Jaume to a video presentation in the nearby city of Vic. Fixe had kindly allowed Caro and I to gate-crash their party, and after a quick tour of the factory (which was uncannily similar to Wild Country’s back home) we sat down to watch David Palmada high step his way up some muddy desert choss. I dont have so much “aid” experience, but the impressions I get are as follows:

1. It is very very slow

2. It can be very very scary

3. It is super geeky – lots of fiddling in small, weird gear, equalising knobs etc etc

So basically, its like trad climbing... sort of... ;p

We were all tired from the night before and a long day, but just before leaving, someone uttered the famous last words “do you guys fancy a quick beer” – which for some reason was soon followed by a “yes” from my mouth. I should have known better...

We stayed in one of the most beautiful apartments I have ever seen, full of class, beauty, modern gadgets and ancient art. The apartment belonged to a friend of Jaume, Xavier, and the following morning we drove the short way to Savassona to meet him for a day of bouldering.

If you can read Spanish, there is more info here, or keep on reading below if you are a language dunce like me!

The Team in Savassona

One Of Many Projects

Savasaona is a beautiful tranquil spot 1 ½ hours north east of Barcelona, where ancient ruins and sandstone boulders sit peacefuly in a small forest. Xavier is Papa Local of the area and he gave me the best tour I could have wished for. I saw all the hard boulders, all the projects, managed to repeat a few of them and even establish my own FA – a lovely highball arete that had unfortunatley seen the destruction of Xaviers knee a short while before.

Finishing Off A Scary 7c+ (second ascent)

There are two problems in particular that really stood out to me and will have to wait for another day. The first, La Madame, is a short bulging boulder, begining with compression pinches and finishing with the most disgusting of mantles – a fine effort from Edu Marin! The second, Maria – Alba, is a 15m slabbly 9a from no other than the Machine himself, Ramon! Yes, you heard that right, 15m, slabby, 9a!!!

La Madame

I will be back...