Friday, 31 August 2007

Back at Last!

Well our trip home ended up being extended due to good weather and great Rock conditions - Now we're home and wrecked and have begun sifting through all the pictures before posting a load up here
So many stories!

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Dave MacLeod

I’ve always had a link to probably the most inspiring of the climbing sites on the web at the right of my blog… Dave MacLeod’s Blog. Well recently it’s been buzzing with news of his planned first ascent on live TV for the BBC. He’s got at least 3 new lines inspected and cleaned in Hells Lum in preparation for the big day ranging from E8 to a choppy E10.

Probably 6 years ago at this stage I had the luck to climb with this guy at an international meet held in Fairhead to promote new routing in Ireland and really showcase Irelands potential for hard trad climbing. Both Dave MacLeod and Cubby attended and as luck would have it … so did I. At the Time Dave was just beginning to make headlines over in Ireland. In a weird quirk I ended up sharing a dorm with both himself and Cubby (3 Daves), neither of which I knew anything about other than the fact that they were sound blokes and as keen as myself to climb at Fairhead. At the time although I had climbed some mid E-grades at my local crag I was basically a fat, weak HVS climber. During the course of the weekend I watched Dave Lead the Classic E5 of the Crag – Wall of Prey. This was the first time I had seen anyone climb an E5 and it stuck in my brain. Next he methodically abbed and inspected the line next to it – Above and beyond, E6 - before deciding it needed more cleaning than he had time to put into it and decided to try some other lines. It was great to see someone using a sensible approach to these lines and I think it left a mark on my climbing to this day.

Before the end of the visit Dave explored some of the impressive boulders at the base of the crag and I joined him – Curious. The first instinctive reaction of the Irish climbers with their Trad-or-Dead ethos would be to mock such ‘pebbling’ below the immaculate, multi-pitch cliffs – but in the company of a proven climber I guess I sensed I could get away with a bit of bouldering. Dave was sound – we had no pads so just took turns spotting and climbing – Dave sent some quality crimpy lines and I even made it up one or two aswell – what was obvious straight away was his love of the sport, something that he puts across very well on his blog. Since then I’ve grown as a climber and even returned to the head and climbed E6 myself – adopting a very similar approach to Dave’s during that meet. Without being reckless, inspecting the line and weighing the risks.

More recently I’ve taken inspiration from Dave’s training tips, articles and advice – He really does know his stuff and has an impressive string of ascents to prove what he says works. Since dedicating myself to loosing weight, running and finger boarding religiously I’ve seen huge gains even since February! 7b to 8a in 5 months! And I’m not stopping there… It’s just the beginning. I’m going back to the Emerald Isle for a couple of weeks and hope to visit and climb on all the Trad Crags that I learned to climb on years ago and I’m sure I’ll end up wanting some new line or other (there being at least half a dozen E6’s and 7’s permanently lodged in my brain, ripe for the reaping) I’m sure I’ll be giddy with excitement at leading some awesome route and will have to weight up the odds – hopefully realising where I’m at and where I want to be in a month, a year, 2 years... Whether or not I commit to any big leads will depend on how much within my current ability the route actually is. Thoughts that I’m sure MacLeod will be thinking this weekend before his live Climb Broadcast. All I can say is Best of Luck man!!

The Aran Islands, Co. Galway, West of Ireland

Heres a couple of Pictures from Kev’s recent trip to the Aran Islands – here pictured climbing a new variation to the Roof, E4 6a. This is a bit of a novelty route… the original line climbs a 6m crack that splits the centre of this diving board roof 70m above the Atlantic ocean. The line is protected by pre-placed slings draped down the crack from above and has a wild finishing sequence at the lip. It’s basically an 8m sports route that you do for the pictures! Here Kev pioneers a lip traverse variation using the same style of protection… Fun, fun, fun! For any climbers out there in Internet land, the Aran Islands had over 9 miles of cliff coastline and only less than 100 recorded lines… I put up about 30 or so a few years back during a productive summers new routing… but there be some mega lines there ripe for the taking!! Now that I can climb I cant wait to go back!

5.10 Anasazi Verde Review

Well I said ages ago that I’d write something about these once I had given them a going over – well I’ve used them in anger now and heres the verdict… There is no perfect shoe but these come as close as I’ve ever seen. I originally bought them for a planned trip to Fairhead when I was planning on needing a decent edging shoe but have been wearing them mostly on sports limestone. When it comes to Edging they are fantastic! The heel is snug, the fit is tight but comfortable and the rubber is stickier than shit on a blanket! The only failing I’ve noticed so far is for foot smearing – maybe it’s because I’ve sized them quite tight or maybe it’s because they’re still very new, but either way I’ve found myself reverting to my 5.10 Anasazi Velcros (Onyx) for routes requiring broad smears as they feel more flexible and worn in. A big thumbs up for the Verdes though – Cant wait to try them on Dalkey Granite or Head Dolerite!

Salute to the MSR

I’ve been using MSR stoves ever since I began climbing and camping around at crags. I love em! Heres my trusty dragonfly – not the quietest wee beastie around but will boil your water using anything even remotely flammable – I’ve always run mine on unleaded petrol.

I’ve had this in the alps, at altitude, in thunder storms, on beaches… hell, I’ve even driven over it accidentally two years ago while driving the length of France and it still works without a bother… MSR, I Salute you!

Rock Update

Well I’ve not been idle since sending the final solution last Tuesday. Sticking to a one day on, one day off approach meant the next days climbing was Thursday and we hit Dinbren. Dinbren in Clwyd is a strange crag… we’ve been visiting the place on and off for the last two years but until recently I had only ever climbed a handful of routes up to 7b. It tests me… Its like you have to go there and stare down the routes before they let you lead them. It felt like I was banging my head off a wall – I just could not make any progress on the steep, crimpy, powerful lines. The climbs here are all overhanging – usually beginning with some form of roof and often finishing with a bulge or capping roof. The Limestone is compact and all the routes utilise a variety of undercuts, edges and pinches to contort a path upwards – there are very few holds resembling our understanding of a jug. All this goes towards explaining why we usually have the entire crag to ourselves! It’s the Anti-Dave of crags and probably just what I need to be working.
After the confidence boost from France I decided to keep working Dinbren until either I broke through the barrier or it broke me – either way I’d be stronger next time I went to France. Thursday we went there with the goal of proving to myself that the 8a was not a fluke – I had two in mind – One was a John Dunne addition from 2002 called Highway and took a direct line up a clean overhang to a protruding bulge that is tackled on small slopey pockets. The other 8a is a 3 star line that has seen a lot of attention lately from one of the guidebook writers, Lee – Elite syncopations blasts a powerful path up some steep ground to join and finish up a 7b+ after the 3rd bolt.
Thursday I jump on Highway to begin working the moves and see if it’s a go’er. The first 6m or so are basically a stiff little boulder problem finishing with a deadpoint from a two finger tip crimp to a sharp inverted pocket with your right before moving up to a jug, a bolt and a little rest before the long, precise crux sequence through the steepening ground. This took some working out – try after try I was being spit off – first trying to catch a poor undercut without swinging off, then trying to move off the shallow two-finger pocket on the bulge, then trying to stick the sharp half-pad mono, then the deadpoint from the mono to the “Bassa” – that’s what I’ve ended up nicknaming the nasty sharp mono-and-a-half divot with the sadistically placed rock-tooth! I always end up growling “Yeh Bassa!” (or words sounding quite similar) when I stab my right middle and ring finger tips onto it’s tooth and weight it before hiking my feet up awkwardly under the bulge and launching for the grit-style sloper with my left! Thwack!! A font-style top out later and you’re at the chains. After my first inspection on Thursday I had unearthed a sequence fairly quickly that worked for me but had serious doubts if I could string it together without falls – it was complicated, and Steep! We finish the day off with a load of easier routes in the 7’s and Head home to regrow some skin.

After a days rest we found ourselves back at Dinbren again on Saturday. This time the curiosity gets the better of me and I jump on the other 8a, Elite syncopations. Totally not my style. I spend what seem like hours working out the moves and making sure I’ve tried every possible sequence and found every single nubbin and edge on the route. I get to the top and lower off and we go and do some miles on other lines before I come back for round two and work the line some more. After the second session I am sure I’ve not missed anything and know whats needed. The route is basically a 2 move desperate to get off the ground and then a 7b+ to the chains. But what a powerful 2 moves they are! I can do the moves but they come with a high risk of injury as they are dynamic and involve deadpointing through a roof to a crimpy pocket from a knee level undercut, bearing down on the pocket and basically doing a one-armer from it to a pinch above the second bolt – after that it’s fine to the chains. Right – I can do this but it’s not a route that will crack simply by spending time on it – I can train that kind of specific strength at home on the board and come back to it ready… that’s made my mind up for me anyway – Highway, the John Dunne 8a is my current project…
Monday and we’re back. This time we waste no time and after clearing a wild rose bust from the starting holds I find myself linking huge sections of the route 1st attempt while putting the draws on. I get to the top and come down – the “Bassa” has already made a nice little incision across my two finger tips but not quite cut through the tough layer of skin yet… we go off and do some 6c’s and 7a’s that Caroline really enjoys (Caroline has the extra difficulty of having to overcome the often reach dependant nature of some of the routes – but she’s adapting to it much like meself – moving through the myriad of emotions from depression, anger, determination, to joy once you crack a move!). It’s time to give the 8a it’s first real redpoint effort. I tie in and blast through the boulder problem, shake out at the rest hold and move under the bulge… Crimp, high gaston, thumb-sprag as an intermediate, onto the wide pinch, toehook in the rest jug locks me into position and I can reach up to the undercut in control, feet up, clip, left over the bulge to the two-finger, adjust feet, mono, adjust feet, stab to “Bassa” (Ouch!), feet under the bulge and slap! Some airtime follows…
That was the last hold and the end of the difficulties – I didn’t get it, but it’s all of a sudden very close to being in the bag! Next Day! Unfortunately the mono and the “Bassa” left their mark and I’ve a flapper – How ironic after just blogging about skincare! Haa! Time for some TLC before my next redpoint attempt but the relief of knowing that there are two more 8a’s that I can do is indescribable – At least it wasn’t fluke – and more importantly I’ve some more short term goals before looking at the crags 3 8b’s…

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Lots of Climbing

Since getting back from France we've been doing more hard climbing than i reckon i have ever done before. We're climbing every second day and it seems to be working quite well. In addition to the climbing we're still doing our usual running every day and trying to get done all the other stuff that seems to crop up. One of the main improvements i've noticed is in the condition of my tips... normally after any amount of sustained cranking (especially in Clwyd with it's tiny crimps and steep, compacted limestone) my skin is blown after a couple of days. Well while training on the board at home i began to apply something i've known for years but never did anything about... Have a read...

Dave's Tips for Climbing Skin Care
1 - Get the chalk off your mits as soon as possible once you've finished your climbing! Whether its at a wall or out at a crag - Wash your hands! If i'm out at a crag i'll use a stream or the left overs from the days supply of bottled water. Using some sand or grit mixed in it helps too. At home i use any kind of soapy hand scrub. The idea being you're skin needs moisture to heal and regrow - chalk is there to DE-MOISTURISE your skin and it does it very well. if you can get it off your hands asap - you;ll start healing quicker

2 - File or sand off any lumps, tears, flappers. use whatever you got - even a abrasive piece of stone

3 - Moisturise. During Summer thats easy - aftersun works just as well on your tips as it does on your sunburn. ClimbOn cream i've found is great too for the drive home or in the evening time when you've finished cooking and dont have to do anything dexterous and can just let it soak in.

(if you've an extreme flapper and want it to heal as fast as possible - full a cup with water - and Cary it around with you all day with the offending digit submerged in the water - it works)
A bit of a weird post this – Before going to France I got a Mail from the usual suspect, Neal, something along the lines of “… so whats the plan for this trip? Going to go for loads of onsights or try something different and work something hard for a change?”. By the second day in the tarn after some 7b onsights those words were bouncing around my head like alarm bells! The Git! It wasn’t until we got back to North Wales that I eventually listened and hey presto – I ticked an awesome route and opened the gates for loads more like it – I have finally begun to learn how to redpoint and am supprised as to how rewarding it feels. Anyway – not the point of this post – Neal, the git, aka the usual suspect – he trained, by himself mostly, for a good year before heading south and sending his first 8a+. He took the initiative and got some rewards and all the while was sewing seeds of similar goals in my mind through conversations or emails – whatever! He’s a legend!

Got me to thinking about how much we’ve bounced off each others motivation over the years – it’s been cool. Before I went to Uni a friend introduced me to rock climbing out in Dalkey Quarry. One Day while out on our usual pilgrimage to the sunny side of the quarry be happened across this skinny half naked climber guy – catching some rays while waiting for his mates to arrive – he showed us how to do some impossible looking move at the beginning of a bouldery HVS (Ex-Ivy Wall), we try it, don’t have the co-ordination, fail and move on … that was McQuaid (Still hasn’t got a tan to this day!). A few weeks later I go to buy my first ever harness and rock shoes from the great outdoors in Dublin and who sells me them but… Neal. At this stage, me being an impressionable youth, he seems to know his stuff – he even knows about E2’s!!

Later that year I join DCU and straight away, it’s climbing club – who’s there only Neal and Rob and Andy – these 3 guys had been fueling each others climbing for the past year since they all joined the club together. Before long I was trying to keep up with the guys on rock and then there was 4 people bouncing off each others flow – it was a fairly rapid learning curve – I can still remember Andy’s face when I dogged my first E1 – He literally jumped up with Rack in hand and ran over to do it! Within a year of ever seeing rock I had soloed E4 6b and the lads had all been over to Spain and lead 7a! The guys were always stronger than me indoors and I was always a case of “no brains no headaches” outdoors so we were a good match.

Then for my first real taste of climbing Neal drove me around Europe for what seemed like years in 2003. Neal drove us to Ceuse, Verdon, Ailfroide, Font, Switzerland and Frankenjura. We hooked up with some Brilliant people and climbed our brains out. I don’t think we ever really came back… Now He’s still getting me in gear from feckin New Zealand! Legend! Now theres the little matter of trying to beat him to 8b… before we get the finger out and REALLY train :)

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Suicide Crack - E3 6a

Some pictures from one of the Trad lines we did yesterday - This little gem is a 3 star classic - and provides a great little test of finger stamina and footwork, Plus it's protected by perfect wires all the way (providing of course you can hang around to place them :))

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The Final Solution at the End of the World - My first 8a

Day one – Wednesday
Still desperate to keep the momentum from the holiday we hit the local crags in search of something hard to project. An isolated 8a with few repeats and a lot of history takes my eye and we go and check it out. Originally the line was graded E7 6c and was the hardest line in the Valley back in 1988. It took a direct line up a steep, blank wall past one peg and two home made bolts before traversing right into the easy finishing crack of a neighbouring E5. Then in 2002 Nick Dixon (of Indian Face Fame) stuck one final bolt in the overhung, capping, headwall – straightened the line out and gave the crag it’s only 8a. Typically he graded it accurately but modestly added low in the grade (sandbagger!). Online opinions on the route’s grade vary from 8a+ to 7c+ but no-one debated it’s quality or difficulty. I dog and frigg my way to the top and decide to never go near it again – there were whole sections that I could not imagine climbing cleanly – or at all! We pack up and head to Dinbren for some 7b’s to refresh our memory of how fingery the climbing here really is.

Caroline and Rocky at Worlds End

Day two – Friday
While I was working the 8a on Wednesday Caroline’s eye was caught by a neighbouring E5 so we headed back that direction to try it out. I manage to onsight it and Caroline seconds it, all the while thinking about leading it herself. Then the strangest thing happens – while abbing down from the E5, the 8a takes my eye again and I do the stupidest thing – I want to try it again! This time I lead up to the 3rd bolt with only one fall and no frigging! Wow! I thought that section was impossible! Then the bizarre moves below the overlap keep spitting me off before finally I give in and pull on the draw to frigg to the next bolt and work the previously impossible finishing sequence on powerful, painful finger locks and pinches – eventually after many attempts a sequence emerges through the expletives that proves to work time and time again – I now had the route cut into two doable sections separated by the impossible middle move. Hmmm… time to pack up again…. We’ll see…

Caroline Redpointing at Ruthin

Day three – Sunday
Today we had two objectives – Caroline was kinda sceptical of her 7a+ and 7b leads in France so wanted to do another route here in the UK to confirm it – 30 minutes later Caroline had redpointed another 7a – Summer Time Blues – Ruthin. Wow… that was quick. Now onto “Worlds End” crag again for another attempt at the 8a. I ab down the route, putting the draws in and brushing the holds and then tie in and go for my first redpoint attempt – I shock myself by sketching my way up to the final bolt, clipping it and then setting off into the redpoint crux sequence through the overhang – I lock the left hand on the crimp, reach up and sink the pinkie finger lock and squeeze with the thumb catch – paste both feet on the choosen blank patches and snatch my left hand up to the open pinch – I’m on – I’m off – totally pumped – shaking, out of breath – that was sooooo close but soooo hard!! Two more redpoint attempts that day and I was falling off ever so slightly lower each attempt. By the end of the day my fingers were reduced to shreds but I was surprised at how a previously impossible sequence could open up after a bit of practice. On the drive home I realised I had lead the original route, Rudolph Hess, E7 6c cleanly 3 times that day – get those thoughts outa your head slacker! The Jobs not done and anyway that’s a dead route – the big link’s 8a and that’s what you’re trying!!

The Final Solution, 8a

Day Four – Tuesday
After a days recovery of my fingers and their tips are still looking and feeling paper thin. The begin to sweat even at the thought of the route… the day begins overcast and theres even the odd bit of rain but we hedge our bets and go out for another batch of attempts. I put the draws in on abseil and then tie in for the lead – this time I wear the new Anazasi Verdes (previously trying the route in the velcros) and cruise through all the impossible sections right up to the overhang sequence, reach up to the finger lock but it doesn’t fit right and the thumb catch wasn’t much help either, I slap for the pinch but I’m already falling. No gasps, no roars, just slumping onto the rope and lowering off to the ground. Whats going on? What will this take? For Feck’s Sake!! I sit and mope for a while than Caroline stands up and puts her GriGri on the rope, “Right, It’s time – C’mon” she says. Eh… I’m still pumped but I’ve learned to listen. I tie in and execute the lover Brittish 6c moves like clockwork, crimp, lay away, palm, foot, intermediate, crimp, deadpoint, flatty etc… Then im at the impossible move below the overhang – this felt easy last try but I struggle this time and brush my specs off the rope as I contort myself into staying on – they almost fall off my face but hang on one ear as I reach up to the opposition hold with the thumb hook on the lip of the roof – I don’t need to see the holds at this stage, the moves are ingrained. Undercut, crimp, clip, fix specs… Now the crux – my right pinkie slots into the finger lock like the perfectly sized wire – thumb on the catch, it’s solid, I let out a burst as I stick the left pinch and cut loose on the overhang before sucking it in and getting my feet back on, now just two more stabs up the wannabe crack with the right hand and I can grab the finishing hold – another burst as I stab outa the pinkie lock to a slopey undercut in the vague crack – it’s just a transitory hold, on again, this time I’m shouting as i latch the finger lock, twist the hips, match feet and step the right out onto the face to the marked edge, Jug! Clip! 8a, 5.13b Done! We round the day off with an E5 6b onsight and a classic E3 6a finger crack… What a day!

Malham & Kinsley

Ok, now we’ve been back from the hols for over a week now and I’m no longer two weeks behind in my ramblings…. Im just one week behind! Anywho… The Tuesday after we got back to the UK we were keen to keep the momentum from the holiday so we took on the 80min drive to check out two of the UK’s most impressive crags: Malham and Kinsley. Malaham is truly awe-inspiring and it really IS in a fantastic location. We parked up and walked in to take a look around. The main climbing is divided into two tiers and has a huge concentration of hard lines up to 9a+. The only two downsides to this crag, as we found out, are the piles of tourists that flock in to look at the cove and the fact that according to a local “Malham is a sweaty hell hole in the sun”. Right…. We did a full tour of the place but never racked up to lead anything. Afterall this was just an investigation. After a lovely sunny picnic ontop we walked back along the limestone pavement at the top (Creepily similar to the Burren in Ireland) and back to the car – we couldn’t be dealing with the tourists but we did get a great vibe from the place. Luckily Kinsley is just around the corner – like the dark side of the force – Kinsley has a VERY different character to Malham and needless to say theres no tourists attracted to the place. It is a hulk of a lump of rock, plopped by the roadside, always in shade and always overhanging. Tis a dark place! We walked in and jumped on some routes – did a 6b+ and a 7c (with a fall at the start) before packing up and heading home. Kinsley has some great lines that I would love to try but they were all taken up by topropers, projecting their first 8a’s and obviously training hard for them by hauling up every logo in the catalogue. After being climbing on beautiful friendly rock in the quiet peaceful heaven of the tarn it was too much to come back to a dark, tweaky, polished, dirty crag full of egos and beta police. I’m sure we’ll be back there but not just yet.

Saturday, 4 August 2007


Now, about my progress over the past two years… Lets recap: Last trip to the Tarn I was struggling to onsight 7a’s and I really had to work a 7b. Infact I think I only managed to onsight one 7a on the very last day of our hols. Basically I was fat and weak and wanted to climb hard but couldn’t. This trip was a shock!

First day I began with a few 6a’s and a 5c to try and get Caroline up and running with the sports climbing. After these routes I fancied trying a sweet looking 7b – it went onsight. Hmmmm….. better check it wasn’t a fluke…. Another 7b just 3 doors down looked mean and not my style – steep enough to pump you silly but not too overhanging to mean a jug fest – it had crimps… 10 mins later I was lowering off that after another onsight! Something must be working in my training – I was in shock! After 6 7b onsights and a load of 7a+’s and 7a’s all onsight I decided to try some routes that would spit me off and get me working again. Not wanting to climb anything that was in anyway questionable I intentionally avoided trying – the worlds most over graded sports route at 8a (I had tried this route last visit when Al and Neal were trying it and could make it past the final bolt!) – it’s since been knocked down to 7b+/7c.

I wanted to test myself on routes that had some serious street cred. First hard route that most people think of when they hear Tarn is “Little Big Boss” 8a at le grand toit – so that’s what I try. I think it was at about the 20m mark that I began to think I had bitten off more than I could chew. This is a classic 8a, 30m long and just very steep. Although I was surprising myself on all styles of 7b, when it came to trying to climb hard lines nearer my current limit I realised that I would have to be more selective. All the moves on this route were fine but I’d need more stamina than I currently had in the tank to lead it clean. Saying that, there was some wild moves up on the looming headwall with some serious airtime potential – got to the top and lowered off having had to dig deep and really focus for the first time ever. This was interesting….

Not disheartened we hit the road for sector Dromadaire, home of the Famous la Bomba 8a+. When we got there the crag was empty and in full sun – not ideal so I jump on a curious looking 7c called geometrie dans l’espace. 20m of steep cranking deposits you at one of those ‘Orrible overhang to slab transitions on slopers and with no footholds – some repeated 5/6m whingers eventually saw me stick the slap to the distant hot sloper and sketch my feet up the rubber worn vertical smears. Another lesson learned – conditions matter stupid!!

High up on "le bug de l’an debile", 7c

The next hard line I try was le bug de l’an debile, 7c, in the Foetus sector. Caroline picked this one for me to have a go at. An immaculate face climb on resin bolts capped with an overhanging prow. It’s funny – I had always assumed my style of route was something a bit steep and powerful and not too sustained at all – oh, and big holds far apart were a pre-requisite. I had always placed vertical sports climbs in the impossible, not to be tried, compartment of my mental guidebooks. I was wrong. I cruised up the technical face and only fell off near the top where the wall steepened and the holds ran out. I hung around for a bit choosing to ignore to line of chalked up jugs leading left to the neighbouring 7a, up a bolt and back across right to the next bolt on the 7c above the blank section. That’s not right… I eventually think I’ve figured a way around the blockage by using my full span to reach a pathetic ripple on the blankness by undercutting the top of the last jug with my left. From this position of facial intimacy with the unchalked and probably untouched limestone I moved my feet up (feeling a bit daft – must have looked pathetic, totally spread out flat against this blank face) and then swung my left hand up towards a distant potential hold. The problem being that once I let go of the undercut I was beginning to peel off – only my left foot was having any effect in slowing my fall off backwards, and the right hand ripple was useless other than as a balancing aid. A few tries later I stuck a crimp on a sloper and sketched up to the jugs above and on to the chains. A local then informs us that the 7c takes the cheat loop around the blank section – they didn’t know what the direct sequence was graded. Hmmmm…

Before packing up Caroline suggests the neighbouring 8a+, Peur aux tafioles. Very similar style, beautiful (but harder) face climbing up to a juggy (comparatively) overhang. Again, made it to the top with a few falls and had my preconceptions about hard routes blown apart – I could do these!

Next route was another 8a, this time a well known one in sector de que fas aqui called moules frites. It was early in the day and the sun was on the crag but I didn’t expect more than to just try the moves – after 7 clips I had onsighted to the final crux before finally falling off a warm, chalked mono dimple – figured the crux out and made it past the scary slopers, through the tiny overlap and to the chains – at this stage of the trip my skin was holding out but wearing quite quickly when I was on hard routes so I decided to come back another day and give the route a redpoint attempt – this one suited me down to the ground.

Moules Frites, 8a

While exploring another crag, L’amphi, I nearly onsighted another classic 7c with a reputation for a desperate crux through a overhang – L’homme presse. The crux was beautiful; featuring the most ergonomically formed slopey pinch hold EVER! It was too small I though for me but again I was proved wrong. Left hand squeeze, right hand out to a vert crimp for balance as you bring your feet up under the roof and then a wild chuck across yourself with your right hand to a two-finger pocket. Swing around for a bit as your momentum throws your right leg about then paste it back on and heave towards a jug – 7a climbing to the top completes the 30m pitch. I fell off the two finger pocket on the onsight and in an uncharistisally motivated move, got lowered to the ground, pulled the rope and went for the route again, this time cruising it to the chains! 7c in the bag. Now that took the pressure off! I could try the 8a again

This time we went to the 8a when it was in shade but something else took my eye – a neighbouring 7c, arachnide, had the draws in and I do love a good onsight… a quick word with the Greek lad who owned the draws and I was tying in for an onsight attempt – face climbing on crimps… Who’d a thought!?! I made it past the low crux and through the top crux, latching my right hand on the good hold after all the hard climbing before my left foot skidded of an edge and send me flying onto the second last bolt! Came down, did it clean – another 7c in the bag and a whole new direction for my climbing – vertical and slightly overhanging faces. And that was pretty much it for the trip – time up, time to drive back to North Wales and train for the winter – no time, skin or energy to try the 8a again but it’s not going anywhere and trying it opened my eyes. A great trip - my first ever climbing trip in a way...

Thursday, 2 August 2007


After seeing these guys play live in an open air concert under the trees on the banks of the Tarn all I can say is WOW! These guys rock and they enjoy doing it! If anyone out there like cool music and is open to new things try these guys out – had a drink with them after the gig and got one of their albums signed by the band and they are the genuine deal – legends and they rock! We stumbled on the gig by accident – we were out for a stroll after dinner on night and half way up a hill we could hear this kind of Jazz flute echoing around the gorge walls - then came the bongos played with gusto (the due transcends!) and we were hooked, hotfooted it down the hill and straight up to the stage. We didn’t budge for the next 2 hours as these guys funked away.

Pinkfloyd meets Manu Chao meets St. Germain – curious? Thought you would be…

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Le Tarn

While in and around the Tarn we based ourselves in the village of Le Rozier. This little village marks the point at which the Jaunte joins the Tarn rivers and their respective gorges meet. What does this mean? Well it means that theres more bolted rock around you than you’re likely to find anywhere in the UK! For years the climbing in La Jaunte overshadowed it’s neighbouring gorge. La Jaunte is home to huge multipitch sports and traditional climbs all over its grand rock faces – it was very much THE crag to climb at for years. Then the locals began to pass their climbing eyes over the masses of roadside, steep, featured crags that line the tarn river and a whole new age of hard, modern style sports climbing was brought to the region. Don’t go to tarn expecting a huge pristine ceuse-like expanse of perfect limestone. The climbing in the Tarn is spread out among dozens of sizable outcrops – each with a unique character, aspect, conditions and style of climbing. No wonder its become so popular! There is literally something here for everybody. Aside from the climbing the main attraction seems to be the kayaking rides along the river – classic! Lunch break on a quiet stretch of river - Caroline sporting the latest fashion

Bon jour!
Then this 11km stretch of the Tarn is the most … interesting…

11km of kayaking through rapids full of nasty pointed rocks looming out of the boiling froth like the flesh ripping fangs of some ancient wild beast is not the most ideal way to spend a rest day but it was fun all the same. We only capsized one time and I’ll take the blame for it. Brilliant experience – totally recommended!Also of interest in and around Le Rozier are the numerous trail walks up the sides of the gorges and onto the Moors. Another rest day and another adventure – this time we took on the Tour Noir. Set out from Le Rozier up la Jaunte before zigzagging steeply up the gorge, through forest, eventually arriving at the Hermitage of St. Michael. We got the picture that thisis not one of the more popular treks due to the unused path and untouched ruins. Truly impressive – arriving at the top of the rock, as a group of Rare Griffin Vultures glide noiselessly past… They’re HUGE! Close enough to see their feathers catching the thermal drafts as they glided by. Apparently they have been reintroduced into the area and are now unique in Europe to the two gorges – awesome! And they’re thriving here due to the sheep farms on the highland moors above the gorges – hey, a birds gotta eat! I forgot to mention, we first stumbled across this spot two years ago while out for a morning run – without knowing about it we just ran through the forrest – although we had only set out for a 50 min run we just kept on going up through the forest – it was very special. This time we knew where we were headed and had planned a route back down to take in some more natural sites. A combination of tiredness and heat resulted in jelly legs and the giggles before stumbling back to the town and diving into the river at out favourite spot. Now is a good time to mention our typical daily routine. Get up, go for a 8 mile run, back to campsite, shower and stroll through village for baguettes and croissants – by the end of our visit the bakers family knew me well enough to have the craic, classic – free goodies!

And then back to the campsite for a leisurely breakfast. All ready for a few hours climbing while our secret beach comes into the sun. Then we would typically go climbing for a while somewhere shady if possible and retreat to the beach on the river for some rays and lunch (baguette, cherry tomatoes and whatever local cheese the shopkeeper recommended that day).

... For the record i DID eventually get a tan...

Half a dozen swims and naps later we’d pack up and go try routes that had just come into shade in the more south facing sectors. Before returning to the campsite for an early dinner and some TLC for out skin before the next days climbing. Evenings are great for just exploring the surroundings of the village – beautiful! Another advantage of staying in Le Rozier is that it catches the most Sun and stays lighter for longer than the campsites in the gorge itself.

When it comes natural

Caroline is a weird one. Since the first time we ever met at a climbing wall years ago she has always shown some serious potential for climbing but always seemed reluctant to apply it. Over the years I’ve realised that she’s afraid of being sucked into climbing and forgetting about her running, and also there’s the little matter of Caroline’s extremely low threshold for Muppets – and lets face it, theres plenty of them who climb! Over the past year or two Caroline has put climbing on the back burner for a number of reasons – college, work, exams, assignments, running training.

Since around February I began to apply myself to some regular, easy training on the board at home and without any pressure Caroline began to hang aswell while doing knee-lifts (kidding herself that she was actually training for running, Haa!). It’s amazing the affect this has had – it’s gradually become part of our routines and we’ve just got on with it and forgot about it. Meanwhile our fingers have been loaded and rested, loaded and rested – gradually getting stronger. And if you can hang on easier – you’re confidence on the rock rockets!

This trip we ended up in the Gorge du Tarn again. It couldn’t have been a better location for what we needed. Firstly we needed a holiday and some Sun (something like over 60 consecutive days of Rain back home!), secondly the Tarn offered a great chance to measure progress over the previous two years of life-induced climbing inactivity.

Caroline on the 7a+

Our last visit here marked Caroline’s first ever sports climb and by the end of the trip caroline had lead 6b+ and nearly onsighted a 6c – but never tried a route more than once (much like meself! Doh!). Two years later we arrived in beautiful 35 degree heat and we had to shake the rust off Caroline’s leading head. First route was a warm up 6a+. I lead it and to be honest it felt hard for the grade! Caroline was next up – it didn’t go well – the whole process of moving above the bolt was going to take some practice again. Anyway – back on the horse again and next route up was a 5c which Caroline romped up and really enjoyed – and that was that – Caroline’s leading head was in gear.

The next day I lead a 7a+ and before I was lowered off Caroline shouts up that she wanted to try it on lead… Eh? Grand! Two distinct crux sequences, one at the second bolt with a long move to an edge and then a rest below a small roof near the top and a stiff sequence on shallow pockets over the lip to the chains. Caroline leads up it and makes it to the chains after a few falls, working a sequence through the roof. The next day she lead it first try cleanly to the chains – Caroline’s first 7a+. Chuffed!

Caroline on her second redpoint attempt on Toutes des Chiennes, 7b

I was seriously impressed! (plus there was the little alarm bell somewhere in the back of my brain shouting “Get the finger out! She’s catching up!!”). The next day while walking away from a crag I stop and turn around to see Caroline stood, staring up at a 7b I had lead the day before… it was next on the list. This one was different. I remember the reachy, pumpy crux moves off slopey sidepulls through a bulging wall. I was confident that Caroline could do every individual move but to link them all cleanly on lead would be a major ask considering Caroline’s limited experience. 3rd attempt on lead and Caroline was clipping the Chains after a successful Redpoint! Buuuhhh?? 7b!!

Chuffed at the chains - not many make it to 7b at all - never mind so quickly!

We tried to work out just how many leads Caroline had ever done and it’s coming out as less than 20 sports leads EVER! With results like this from just some casual hanging and no climbing during the past year I’m getting freaked! Well the end result of these routes is that Caroline is seriously motivated for some training and some winter redpoint trips back into Europe mainland to push her limits … 7c, 8a?


Having been the length of France nearly two years ago and avoiding Paris like the plague I felt I had some making up to do so i had planned to swing into the capital and surprise Caroline with a trip up the Eiffel tower en route to our climbing spot.
I had always been warned about the nightmare traffic in and around Paris but decided to tackle it and see how it measured up to the stories… Grand job, very hectic but well signposted and not nearly half as bad as people make out – a great lunch break and Caroline was blown away by the city and the sights. Who'd have thunk i was a closet smoothie :)

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

2720 miles is a long way to go…

We left North Wales Saturday morning with a packed car ready for 2 weeks of no rain and we were prepared to travel to find it! First stop on the way was at the Welsh track and field championships being held in Cwmbran, near Newport, south Wales. Caroline was competing in the 1500m and 3000m events. A quick 3rd place in the 1500m and 2nd in the 3000m and we were back on the road again, this time heading for Dover and our ferry to Boulogne-sur-Mer. As the ferry was first thing on Sunday morning we had two options - Normally we just crash in the car to save money but seeing as how Caroline had just ran two races we decided to fork out for a bed for the night in nearby Folkestone to get us started on the right foot for the trip. The week before going we booked a 3 star hotel and presumed we were sorted – Man were we wrong! We rocked up to the hotel eventually around 11pm after driving around Folkestone trying to find it … turns out Folkestone is a bit of a dive – I don’t really like seafront scummy nightclubs spewing out throves of drunken, loud, flabby, yobby… well yobs! Anyway the hotel was like … well picture Faulty towers only now age the set by about 30 years without any maintenance. The night porter was sound, but the room was a grim – this place got 3 stars?!! Anywho… a quick and costly 6 hours sleep and we were up and back in the car without breakfast and 15 mins later waiting to board our Speedferries boat bound for the promised land… France!
1 hr later we were driving on the wrong side of the road and doing 90 on the peage towards Paris. A nice little surprise for Caroline was pulling up in Paris and taking a trip up the Eiffel Tower. After Lunch we were back in the saddle and bound for St. Leger du Ventoux. By 8pm it was clear that we were going to have to stop for the night somewhere and after the dive we slept in the night before I though it would be worth it to try again and get a proper nights sleep somewhere. This time we went for the guaranteed option of staying in an Ibis Hotel – they only get 2 stars but are everywhere, all have the same facilities and layout and are clean and just generally brilliant! We found one in Avallon, just south of Auxerre. It was Class, big room with a lovely view out over farmland and a hot shower! The next morning we got up late and had a lovely breakfast and were back on the road – this time totally refreshed and making great progress towards out destination. It’s now Monday. We eventually turn off the A7 at Bollene and arrive at Vaison-la-Romaine. South and west of Gap and Ceuse – I just locate everywhere in relation to the best crag in the world. This place kinda turned us off straight away. At this point I should point out that this was not intended to be a climbing trip, but a holiday – we had both had a rough year with stress and pressure and we just needed to catch some rays and relax away from everything. This place didn’t seem to offer anything but the crag and a touristy town thriving on German tourists flocking to see the Roman ruins in the area. We did a quick reassessment of our options and before long we were driving almost due west towards the Gorge du Tarn and Le Rozier. I was being pulled towards Ceuse but in all honesty it is definitely more of a crag to go to if you are fit and want to prove it – we were not. Back in the same campsite that we had stayed in two years ago with Neal and the Gang, we were home. 11 nights later we packed up and left after 9 days of beautiful sunshine, this time taking a direct route via Paris to Boulogne-sur-Mer and out ferry to Dover.
Back in the UK we had to detour via Cardiff in Wales for the first BUPA great Cardiff Run, a 10km event that Caroline had been given a free entry into the Elite womens event. Job done, back on the road and arrive back, through mental traffic, in North Wales. Phew!