Friday, 18 May 2012

Let the Odyssey begin...

Day 4 of the Hotaches Oydssey and there is a definite theme developing… COLD.  We began in Bowden and it was cold, moved to Great Whanney and it was really cold, then south west to Gogarth where, guess what… cold!  I realise we are in the UK so my expectations are low, but it’s May for goodness sake, ou est le soleil?


I signed up for this trip because of the opportunity of visiting lots and lots of cliffs I have never (but really should have) visited before, in a pretty short time frame, and so far we have been doing just that.  The only problem seems to be the weather, which was always to be expected yet somehow slipped my mind until the last moment.  We have been scanning the forecast and driving accordingly in the hope of maximizing our dry climbing time, yet by the laws of the sod, we have more managed the opposite.  Still, some great climbing has been done, and some even greater falls taken – for an example you can check out the little video below.

The highlight for me so far has been Crisis Zone, a magnificent E7 at Great Whanney.  In stark comparison to the routes of Bowden the day before, you can actually fall off this route (from certain points) and so can allow yourself to try hard and go close to your limit.  The route finishes in a crazy position, with a steep boulder problem around an arĂȘte and thank god flutings to the top.  After cleaning the thick green lichen from an ab-rope, I was able to climb the route on my first attempt, battling a horrible flash pump in the process, the result of poor warming up in the arctic conditions.  With the gear left in-place, the rest of the team took turns to play.  It was interesting to see how different people utilize their different strengths, and how once the gear is set and tested, “BIG” routes like this become just another sport climb.


On the whole I think Caro and Hansjorg are still quite unsure about what exactly “the point” is with UK Trad, but from time to time, just for a moment, I see their eyes light up and smiles spread across their face as something clicks into place.  Tomorrow is a new day, and the whole country is waiting.  I’m excited for so many possibilities, my only hope is everyone stays safe!


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Road To Kalymnos

Wednesday 26th September will see the start of the first annual The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival, an event that has been in preperation for a long, long time, and one that I have been lucky enough to play a (very small) part in.

The festival runs for 5 days, over the course of which participants can enjoy competitions, presentations, and of course parties.  With its stable climate and KM's of unclimbed rock, Kalymnos is a great place to hold a festival of this kind, and I am sure it will be a blast.

Take a look below for the official flyer from the event, and check out the full program over at the official website.  Looking forward to see you all there...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Aria - The Clue Is In The Name!

Guest post from Caro!

Merci x First meeting with Aria - love at first sight on wet tufas

An unusual approach!

Aria, the 3rd target of our Sardinian holiday dedicated to multipitch (and to days waiting in the rain), is presented to us by Pietro Dal Pra. For who doesn't know the character, Pietro is now the "shoe tester" La Sportiva, to whom I say thank you for the best climbing shoes in the world. He is also the 5 stars belayer of Adam in his mad lines, Wogu and Tough Enough; finally, he is the one who first freed Hotel Supramonte, and also repeated Silbergeier more than 10 years ago. A legend of climbing indeed. Well, Pietro decided to take us to his baby, ARIA, and play the role of "climber-sitter" as he says himself.

Aria, therefore, in theory, is quite a normal route: 7c / 7a / 6c+ / 6c+ / 6c+ / 8a+ / 8a+ / 7a+ / 7b+ / 7a. 10 pitches, 350m, and seriously overhanging – with just 2 pitches in the 8’s, we could do in the day if we fight well... Except that, after further clarification, Aria has a small a-typical side : it can be done with 6 quickdraws!!!!! AAAAAARRRRGGGGG

6 quickdraws, in pitches of 45m, do your calculus - it's at least 7 m between two points! Minimum, I mean, because if the first two spits are a little closer (and I am glad, nothing worse than the climber falling on the belayer), it means of course that the other spits will be spaced more than 7m!

No fear (well, for James maybe, me, at my very best, I will do one or two pitch leading eh), here we go! 1 hour by boat, half an hour walking through a forgotten path, there it is. WOW, Aria is the only way up the whole face of Monte Plumare, directly above the sea. First class!

 I confirm I am terrified, as even in the very first 7c you can fall 20m to the ground, but as Pietro says, "When it's easy, you're not supposed to fall." Pietro climbs with us – partly for support and encouragement, partly because he is worried we may need to be rescued. I take my first lead of the day in the 4th pitch - 6c +. Oh my god, it is terrifying and feels like the hardest 6c+ I ever made! So yes, exposure adds a bit to the grade, especially when it's wet AND breaky!!

We arrive at the foot of the first 8a + ... completely wet! Not a single colo is dry, it rained hard five days ago and you can see the results! That said James has not had his last word, and as a good (crazy) trad climber, he goes for it. Despite the flowing water, he almost makes the pitch, only forced to stop at a high spit due to wet shoes / hands / chalk – perhaps all the wet weather in England is good practice for something! Pietro is in charge of the belaying, as providing a dynamic belay whilst clipped in direct is not just an easy job, yet vital to avoid serious injury with such big fall potential! My turn... it's really a frog party, absolutely soaked! Damn, it will not even be possible today ...

James still carries on in the 2nd 8a +, that he ticks on sight, then we all lower back down to the floor via a complicated series of steep rappels.
Content Caroline
No tick, but tea and chocolate in the evening bivouac at the foot of the wall makes up for it. Pietro tells the mythical stories from the opening of the route: gound up of course, he took 25m falls, then wincing on hooks to place a spit 8m above the other, with a field of tuffas for landing! A huge wild pig comes to eat just next to us... I fall asleep dreaming of wet tuffas falling on my head ...

Too bad, we'll be back, promise!!

Aria, second round!

After a few weeks of crossing my fingers to scare the God of rain (it seems that if I concentrate well, I'm getting there), we are back to Aria, again with Pietro who will perfectly repeat his “climber-sitter” role. Thanks to him I now know how to haul if James has a problem, and make a prussic to protect me on the rappels – its not much, but its a good base, especially considering I went in five routes already without knowing it!!

This time we are also joined by Riky Felderer and Pietro Porro, fresh in from Italy with hopes of capturing Aria in all her glory. Minor detail ... we do not even see Aria on the approach! A thick fog soaking everything it touches is hanging above the ocean. I begin to fear the worst... But at 6am the next morning ... the sun appears above a sea of ​​clouds! It looks like something from another, far forgotten world.

James seems in a bad shape (perhaps the pressure, or the 800kg of 5 star meat we ate in Sardinia?)! He gratifys us with 5 trips into the bushes before finally embarking on the first 7c, ultra expo - 45m, 6 points, and a little breaky rock at the top... The fog has made the rock uncomfortably slippery, in case the pitch was not already hard enough, but he makes it!

I pull myself together to lead the easy pitches, 7a, 6c +, 6c +, but when you squeeze the holds as in an 8 to anticipate a rock break and a 20m fall they feel anything but easy, and when I get to the top of the first 5 lengths I am destroyed! Ricky and Pietro jumar before us, lost in the air. I am surprised how a simple presence on top of you can be reassuring, when lost in the methods, 200m above the ground!
The End of the 2nd 8a+

Coming up, a big 8a+, a second 8a+, then 7a+, 7b+, 7a. James won't make a single mistake, with still a big fight, a zip and catch in extremis in the first 8a+, a perfect pitch that finishes in a magic chimney between two colos. Unfortunately, I break a hold just after the crux, so it is back to the belay, 5 minutes rest, and a great big fight to the top.

The second 8a+ goes more according to plan but we are really starting to feel the hours of effort behind us. The three last pitches will require more fighting. The first 7a+ is especially tough, reminding us that even the easy pitches should not be underestimated. 5 years since its last visit, all traces of chalk have gone, and the once clean holds are just a memory. With the last spit below your feet, and the next one too far away to even see, you must tread very carefully, searching out the best options to avoid any traps.

James will lead the hard pitches, and I will second on top rope. Every pitch brings a good fight, more fatigue, but more excitement as we creep closer to our goal. The top of Aria is definitely a highlight, with stunning views East into the wild, untouched Supramonte, and North along the beautiful Azure coast. Pietro follows us all the way and its evident from the smile on his face how special this place is to him, and how happy he is for someone to enjoy one of his proudest creations.
Aria has given us so much more that I ever expected - superb climbing, incredible stories, two days that will forever remain in my memory!

Hats off to Pietro for his commitment setting up Aria, just thinking about him drilling that far above the last spit, I'm still terrified for him.

Thank you Pietro for giving us the key.