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 Arnac.com – 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...