Saturday, 25 June 2011

Big, Scary, Monsters

The 4th pitch roof of La Cardaire

The next project is underway, and has already begun gathering speed. I have started to become more and more intrigued by the world of hard multi-pitch and big walls and over the last few months have started to make my first visits to this world.

The eventual idea is to create something very long, very hard, and very scary, but this final phase is still quite a long way off in the future. Now is the time to begin developing the necessary skills, by attempting and repeating certain existing routes, some classic, some obscure, in the style of the separate components of the master plan.

The first of the training routes fell a few months ago, in the form of La Cardaire, a semi-traditional, 4 pitch wall in St Guilhem. The 160m route is capped by a big roof at the very top, and was first climbed as an route at A2, 6b, using only pitons for protection. The route has aged a little, and in doing so the pitons are perhaps not as proud as they once were, but standards have also improved, and the route now goes free at 7a,7b,7c,8a.

The 3rd pitch and questionable 2nd belay!!!

I took a mini trad rack with me during my on-sight of the route with good friend Nico, but It was not really necessary. There is enough fixed gear in the wall to climb in relative comfort, granted some of it very old and far apart, but still enough. Take a few slings for belay on the trees, and get ready for some exposure through the final roof!!!

The next part of the project was something a little harder, a 3 pitch route in La Jonte called Les Chemins De Katmandou. Bolted by Laurent Triay and climbed by Sharma in 2002, the route packs quite a punch in its relatively short height of 100m. A 50m 8b leads to a 20m 7c+ and finally a 30m 8b+ up the bulging headwall. The climbing on the 1st pitch is great and is worth doing in its own right, but the climbing on the 3rd pitch is simply exquisite – a contender for the best route I have climbed on limestone!

Caroline following the 3rd pitch

The 3rd pitch is very dynamic; long move after long move on perfectly sculpted pockets. After the first day on the route, I was not so hopeful about my chances of climbing it quickly. I was struggling to do some of the moves on the headwall and didn’t quite see how I would be able to link it all together, especially after the addition of the first 2 hard pitches.

Caro and I returned a few days later, and thing could hardly have been more different. After warming up, I climbed the 8b pitch on my 1st try, and the 8b+ pitch on my 2nd, after a slight refinement of the method for the crux. Caroline also made great progress on the route, despite several very long moves on the 3rd pitch. We will head back soon for her to make a try from the floor and probably shoot some pictures in the process.

Looking up the 1st pitch of Katmandou towards the 3rd pitch headwall!

It’s strange how your performance can change so drastically from day to day, something I must try to remember in the future when routes feel too hard for me. I am happy to have got it done so quickly, and excited to begin the next part of the project... Newfoundland

I thought I would have them for Chad, I was certain I would have them for Pembroke, but for one reason or another the Helium Friends just kept me waiting. Everything was frustratingly close, all the components were ready in boxes in Llanberis just waiting to be put together, but this is the really slow and complicated part and with orders for 10’s of thousands, the guys and girls in the factory certainally had their work cut out.

Finally, this morning I collected a box from the local post office and got my hands on a set. They look pretty, and feel light, so a great start... Next month I will be on expedition and will have my first chance to try them out for real.

One final thing – also in the box was a set of Astro Quickdraws, and praise the Lord, they are finally coming paired in Silver and Red, rather than the usual single colour. It is such a small detail but one I feel makes a big difference – no longer will I be grabbing the wrong end whilst clipping from a pumped panic. Burs from bolts and skinny ropes do not play well together!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Sun, sea, speed boats and secret beaches – my last weekend in Sardinia.

2am was not a happy hour for waking up, and was even less happy when I walked out of my door to pouring rain and a flat battery in my car. With my brain still cloudy from sleep, I struggled to think how I would fix this problem and still catch my soon to depart flight, from Munich, two hours drive away.

The garage was closed, I had no jump leads, and the airport shuttle had already left... things were not looking good. The €300 taxi fare seemed like the only option as OAMTC would likely take too long, but then just as I was about to bite the bullet, around the corner came a bright yellow car and all my problems were solved.

The man clipped on the jumper box, my car sprang to life, and I set off to Munich with the rain still falling hard, focusing on not stalling the car and repeating the same epic all over again. I arrived in time, caught my plane, and was stood in glorious Sardinian sunshine by 8am. Next stop Maddalena

Friday was spent driving around Maddalena and Caprera with my host from Villa Olivia, Davide. Davide was born and raised on the tiny island, and after an early career as a mountain guide, he returned to run a beautiful B&B overlooking a tranquil secluded beach. Davides love for the island and its climbing is evident in his enthusiastic approach to his work. In a few hours he had shown me several incredible looking projects that almost tempted me to break my rest day, but my sore skin sent an obvious reminder every time it touched rock, and so I made do with planning the next few days over a cold beer on the beach.

The official reason for my trip was to guide the winners of a recent TNF competition. They arrived on Friday evening after a little delay with flights, and we headed to a typical Sardinian restaurant for a feast of pizza, pasta and seafood. By the time we had finished eating and caught the ferry back to Maddalena, it was the wrong side of midnight, and I was not looking forward to my 7am alarm, which would be followed by a very, very busy day.

The next 24 hours went something like this. Amazing Sardinian breakfast and coffee, drive to the harbour, pack and board the cute little rubber boat, then sail to a nearby island for the first bouldering, getting the shock of your life when the cute little thing took off like a rocket. After discovering the first amazing boulders of the day and climbing a few great new problems, we departed for the next island, not happy to hear the warning of rough seas.

Davide warned me that things were going to be exciting. The seas were two levels above what they would normally take clients out in, but because I was a “strong man” he felt things would work out. The little boat can only sail through swell this big if it keeps moving fast, this way the boat can bounce over the tops of the waves, rather than the waves pouring over the top of the boat. We were lucky to have a fantastic capitan who seemed to possess a sixth sense for the movement of the ocean, but even with Mario’s expertise, things got a little hairy!

With Mario at the wheel, my two clients took the back which left me and Davide to balance on the front. With the help of a rope from the nose of the boat we tried to brace ourselves against the speed and changes in direction, yet stay bouncy in or legs to compensate for the sudden rise and fall as we crossed waves of various size and shape. This was terrifying at first, but became quite fun once the initial shock had passed, later turning into a pure endurance exercise as the minutes passed by. It was imperative to keep focus, as every time you thought of taking a sneaky break and relaxing, a rouge wave would rock the boat nearly sending you overboard.

The first crossing took around 35 min and brought us to the main island for the day, a truly beautiful place. We spent a few hours climbing on the boulders by the beach before later moving inland to explore a little deeper. Wow, just WOW, this place is really jaw dropping, and during my brief exploration of a few 100m of coast line, I saw some of the best, hardest projects I have ever seen. Think or formations like castle hill, but made of granite, and you are on the right track. I will certainly be back in the future...

Our bodies were exhausted, minds were tired and skin was sore. If my bed had been there, I would have happily fallen into it, but we still had a long way to go. Another channel crossing took us the wrong way to Corsica, which meant visiting another new place, eating great food, but an even longer journey home, in the dark!

The difference in the dark was like night and day (Boom boom)! No longer could you see the waves coming towards you, it became an effort of anticipation. The minutes ticked slowly by as we raced across the black water, occasionally becoming fully airbourne from a bigger than average swell. After 10 minutes I felt finished and struggled to see how I could keep this up for much longer, but time continued to pass, and I continued to stand. 20 minutes and things were still the same, I began to think how similar this was to climbing long endurance routes. You feel like death and can’t imagine how to continue upwards, but as long as you don’t give up and keep battling slowly forwards, it’s amazing how far you can go. Until at some magical moment, you arrive in the port, battered and broken but finished... until the next time.

The following day took us to explore some of the projects I found on the first day in the relaxed and tranquil forests on Caprera Warming up was hard after the activities of the day before, but my body eventually began to feel like it was supposed to, and I got on with the main events. Two top class boulders were climbed, beginning in glorious juggy huecos under a roof, and climbing out two steep arĂȘtes on slopers. The second line in particular was three stars of anyone’s money, and was one of the rare boulders that actually requires a knee-bar.

After succeeding on the standard start, I set about making an extension into it, beginning in my first problem and climbing tiring moves through the hueco filled roof to reach the beginning of problem two. Four tries falling off the same move finally brought success on my fifth attempt, making for one of the best boulders I have done and possibly the hardest on the island.

For my last few hours on the island, David took me to see his “monsters”, an amazing project on amazing rock, that actually turned out to be three lines in one. I cleaned and tried the lines for a short while, but despite managing to climb the various starting sections, couldn’t figure out a way to breach the top slopey section shared by all 3 problems. 25degrees is certainly not ideal conditions for bad granite slopers, so I guess it will have to wait a while for my return later this year...