Friday, 26 October 2007

Return of The Nipper- France

I should perhaps rename this blog “Things Wot I Done a Month Ago and Can’t be Arsed Blogging Until Now”, except it probably wouldn’t fit onto the Scottish Climbs blog aggregator very well and it’s a bit of a mouthful too. Anyway, France; Emma and I took a 19 day trip starting in the Brittany region, passing through Fontainebleau, Orpierre and Nimes before finishing at the Mediterranean village of Cassis east of Marseilles.

Fontainebleau was fun and relaxing despite the absence of a bouldering mat. But to be perfectly honest, you can go bouldering anytime at home and it’s not why I go to France. A seven hour car drive later and we arrived at Orpierre, not far from Sisteron. Having booked a static caravan at the campsite, we were expecting a grotty, cramped box. However, our residence for the next nine days was the complete opposite; a sumptuous and spacious mini-mansion complete with marble effect tiling in the bathroom, the only thing missing was a butler on call.

The Mansion at the Campsite

Usually, when I’ve got a sport climbing trip I train for it by going to Ratho, doing circuits and generally giving my forearms some form of punishment, all in the name of “getting fit”. This time round, I couldn’t be bothered doing all that and did little training, just some regular bouldering down Alien 2. I also felt it would be interesting to see how much difference all the stamina training actually does from its absence for this trip. I was pleasantly surprised by the results by the end of the trip.

I nearly despaired after the first day having struggled up a 7b+ and having to fight to get to the chain on a 7c. But as the week went on, I could feel my head and body getting back into gear for sustained sport routes. Discarding the staccato rhythms of trad climbing and settling into the slick, almost flowing motions required of steep continental limestone.

Sneaking a rest on a 7c (P.Black)

For Emma as well, Orpierre proved to be the best climbing trip she has been on as all the 4s and 5s were proper lines, well bolted and all of good quality. On previous trips to Europe it’s been a struggle to find such routes at crags. Routes at this level seem to be these scrappy little things tucked away to one side (well, the crags we go to anyway…).

A European sport trip is never complete without bumping into someone you know from the UK. Stepping into those shoes were Phil Black and Alison Martindale, of Raindogs fame, who had last seen me about five years ago running about Alien Rock dressed as Luke Skywalker, but that’s another story…Not forgetting some lads from the Lakes who knew the Sheffield Mafia back in the ‘80s and imparted some, err, “unsavoury” tales of a certain gritstone hero from that era (ask me at the wall or the pub; I know my mum reads this blog…).

The 7cs got easier as the week went on; plenty of wine, beer, pain au chocolates and croissants were consumed. We got up late, had lunch then went climbing only 15 minutes from the campsite. The sunsets lit the crag orange, I cruised a 7c+: it was a perfect holiday.

End of a Fantastic Day

And then I nearly cocked it all up.

I locked the only keys inside the hire car one night.

Frantic calls were made to the hire company the following morning and by lunch time a mechanic from somewhere appeared in a battered Peugeot. With a box of coathangers. An hour later almost no progress had been made other getting the driver door open a one inch gap (via some rubber airsacks and a hand pump) due to the design of this new model of a Fiat Punto. Everyone else on the campsite pitched in with ideas until finally the passenger door was opened with a set of tent-poles.

My relief was palpable as I had had visions of the car being towed away. With all our climbing kit still in the boot. Oh, I onsighted Game Over 8a, that evening too, but of course no-one at the camp-site will remember that little detail- I’ll always be the Scottish numpty who locked his keys in the car.

Game Over 8a (P.Black)

A silly schoolboy error saw me slip off an easy move at the second bolt on Bookaro Banzai 8a the next day. But instead of dogging on to the top, I lowered down, untied, retied and lead straight back up, past my highpoint (lowpoint, really) and the next 20 metres to the chain. Banzai has two distinct, powerful cruxes and cruxy routes aren’t my forte, however having already fallen off had relaxed me and removed the pressure. Consequentially, I seemed more willing to throw and slap for poor holds and only had a mild suggestion of a pump at the top. I felt like I could have climbed another 20 metres! Maybe a good tactic for my next sport climbing trip would be to deliberately fall off at the second bolt to ensure that perfect state of mind on hard onsights…

The last few days of the trip ended at Cassis: sun, sand and sea and plenty more wine before heading back to the muted grey skies of autumnal Scotland.

A great holiday, fantastic climbing and some stories to tell but I will not be remembering this trip for all these things. After nearly five years together, Emma and I are now engaged to be married. The girl who tamed me of my reckless climbing approach, who introduced me to whisky (an Englishwoman no less!) and the one that I dressed up as a ned couple is the one that I want to spend the rest of my life with. Many thanks to Caz and Diff for plying us with excessive amounts of alcohol that fateful night many years ago!

The Missus and I with a "pile of stones" in the background

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Return of the Nipper (Part 1)

Since my last post I’ve developed something of a writer’s block regarding my blog…no actually make that plain laziness. Compounding this little niggle was also some kind of motivational come-down after onsighting The Clown. Climbing E7 in this style has been a goal of mine for so long that I didn’t regard what I was going to do afterwards. I know that there are loads of E7s out there still waiting to be onsighted, but even now for me the distance between E6 and E7 still feels like a gap that I will only be able to step across occasionally.

So as it’s been nearly three months since I did The Clown, maybe I should have a quick run through what I’ve been up to:

Deep Water Soloing

Straight after The Clown, on the same trip, Andy and I carried on down the Welsh coast to Pembroke for the Deep Water Soloing Festival. Unfortunately it was pretty “moist” weather, to say the least. But this being Britain, everyone carried on stubbornly in the rain, the speed comp being particularly entertaining as a result. And despite nearly 9 hours of solid rain, the outdoor party continued on late into the night with the same spirit (well, only until the police turned up at 3am…).

A couple of weeks later, the Aberdeen DWS “festival” was on, so keen to get a bit more experience of this great sub sport, Emma and myself headed up. This time I managed to get more routes in before the rain started again, suitably fuelled by the burgers from the barbecue. Highlights of the day included War of Tears 7b with its heel hookery rock over funkiness but the lowpoint has to be getting stuck on the slimy top section of Hell and High Water 7a for 10 minute whilst the drizzle started.

War Without Tears 7b (photo: S.Stronach)

I’d really like to do more of this kind of climbing, as it seems to combine the best of climbing routes but without all the faff of ropes and quickdraws and nuts and cams and all that jazz whilst still retaining that element of boldness high up. So Mr Lines, how about a mass assault on the Red Tower next year?

. Red Meat 7a, DWS Maestro, Julian Lines watching (Photo: S.Stronach)

Developing a New Crag in Arrochar

In between flitting up and down the country to climb up cliffs and lob into the sea, I have also been visiting the Arrochar area with Tom Charles Edward, following up on a tip-off about an undeveloped crag from one of my spies (thanks Ian!). Coilessan Crag on the west bank of Loch Long, as mentioned elsewhere, really is the most glaringly undeveloped crag in the country. It can be seen as the distinctive prow high up on the hillside whilst looking southward from the Cobbler Car park at Arrochar. Less than an hour’s drive from Glasgow and a mere 45 minutes walk in brings you to a steep buttress scored through with many deep cracks just begging to be climbed.

. Coilessan Crag

The first line to fall so far is Ajare which takes the “slabbiest” but equally stunning line on the main crag, the vertical arête of the southern edge of the crag. I have to admit, though, to inspecting the line twice (because I forgot my brush the first time) before the first ascent, a bit of a departure from the whole ground-up onsight ethos that I favour. From my own experience, virgin mica-schist can be very lichenous with loose blocks and plate-like wafers and flakes also have a tendency to snap so a good clean is usually necessary.

. High up on Ajare (Photo: J.Watson)

The “interesting” bit of Ajare is the run out section in the middle; moving from a resting niche onto a wall and then back to the arête where some sequential moves lead to the pod/break; a long way from the last piece of gear with a real danger of smacking off the ledge below.

The first time I climbed this route, I used a small flake high up on the arête which I felt to be br6b, so this combined with the potential nastiness of a fall, it seemed logical to give the route E7 6b. Unfortunately, when Tom followed up afterwards he snapped the flake off but managed to find another sequence up this section- don’t worry potential onsighters, I am not giving anything away!

A week later, I repeated the route for the camera using the new sequence, and it actually felt easier although may possibly be harder to read….hence why I am now confused as to whether the route now warrants E6 or E7, especially considering the fact that I had pre-inspected the line and had full awareness of the terrain ahead. Nevertheless, a 3 star route with a mind-blowing top-out…

. The "interesting" bit of Ajare (photo: J.Watson)

Headpointing routes has never really interested me, but on this crag, I finally discovered the line that will really turn me to the Dark Side…take a 15 metre finger crack, tilt it at 40 degrees, throw a roof in the middle, make the crack flared at it’s steepest section and you’ve got some idea of how impressive (and desperate) this project looks. So far it’s taken me two days to clean it and another day of aiding up it (with about twenty bits of gear) to play with the moves. It’s going to be hard work but I am absolutely smitten. Unfortunately, it’s been a month since I was last on it and the weather is starting to turn so it could be next year before I am back on it.

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