Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sarah and Stefan's Fontainebleau ticklist

..ok, so this is a bit train-spotty, but here's our little diary for our bouldering trip.

when who area prob grade name

12/03 Sa St 95.2 b16 5B
Sa St 95.2 b18 3C
Sa St 95.2 b19 4C*
Sa St 95.2 b20 4B
Sa St 95.2 b21 3C
Sa St 95.2 b22 3B
Sa St 95.2 b23 4B
Sa St 95.2 b24 4B
Sa St 95.2 b25 4A
Sa St 95.2 b26 3C
Sa St 95.2 b27 4A
Sa St 95.2 b28 4C
Sa St 95.2 b29 4B
Sa St 95.2 b30 3C
Sa St 95.2 b31 3C
Sa St 95.2 b32 4B
Sa St 95.2 b33 4B
Sa St 95.2 b34 4C* L'Ectoplasme
Sa St 95.2 b35 5A
Sa St 95.2 b36 3C
Sa St 95.2 b37 3B
Sa St 95.2 b38 5A
Sa St 95.2 r37 5A*

13/03 Sa St 95.2 b1 4B
Sa St 95.2 b2 4B
Sa St 95.2 b3 4C
Sa St 95.2 b4 3C
Sa St 95.2 b5 4C
St 95.2 b6 4C
Sa St 95.2 b7 3B
Sa St 95.2 b8 5A*
Sa St 95.2 b10 4B
Sa St 95.2 b11 3C
Sa St 95.2 b12 4B
Sa St 95.2 b13 4C*
Sa St 95.2 b15 4B
Sa St 95.2 b17 4B
Sa St 95.2 r28 5A*

That kind of concludes the 95.2 blue circuit. We skipped number 9 as we could't quite work out the intended line, and number 14, a pointless 3 over a poor landing. Sarah declined number 6 as the crux was a massive span over a poor landing. We intended this to be our 'warm-up' circuit for this trip, but it was actually top quality. We also did two very nice problems from the red circuit as recommended by Will - will go back and try to do the whole thing. I had a couple of goes on red 47, but took the long fall twice from the top mantle. Awesome problem though - an unfeasibly long reach from a shitty one-handed undercut, and a slopey, swimming finish. Quintessential Font.

15/03 Sa St 95.2 r1 4A
Sa St 95.2 r2 4B
Sa St 95.2 r3 4C
Sa St 95.2 r4 4B
Sa St 95.2 r5 4C
Sa St 95.2 r6 4C
Sa St 95.2 r7 4B
Sa St 95.2 r1 4C
Sa St 95.2 r11 5B*
Sa St 95.2 r12 4B
Sa St 95.2 r13 4C
Sa St 95.2 r14 4B
Sa St 95.2 r15 4C*
Sa St 95.2 r16 5A
Sa St 95.2 w11 5C*
Sa St 95.2 w12 5C*
Sa St 95.2 w13 5B
Sa St 95.2 w15 5A
Sa St 95.2 w16 5B

Glorious sunshine day! Started on the reds, and with a few whites that took our fancy thrown in for good measure. We didn't manage to locate problems 8 and 9. Pick of the bunch probably red 11 with some good sloper slapping, and white 12, an infuriatingly technical slab. We're starting to know 95.2 now, probably one more day and then move on somewhere else.

16/03 Sa St 95.2 b17 4B
Sa St 95.2 b16 5B
Sa St 95.2 r17 5C*
Sa 95.2 w7 6A
Sa St 95.2 b16 5B
Sa St 95.2 w8b 6B+* La p'tit toit
St 95.2 r20 4C
Sa St 95.2 r23 5A
Sa St 95.2 w3 5C
St 95.2 w30 6A*
St 95.2 w31 5C

We were climbing tops off - very pleasant and sunny, car thermometer on +15C. Set about trying to finish the reds, but got distracted by the overhanging prow of off-circuit "La P'tit Toit", a traverse on slopers to a hard top-out. We'd seen a French team on it yesterday, failing miserably. We both got it, much to our own surprise. Some of the reds have been lost to the erosion cordons, and some of the remainders looked overgrown and with iffy landings - we carried on with the whites instead. It seems like most people just hover up on the top of the hill and ignore the boulders lower down. Had a couple of goes on "Le Kilo de Beurre", white 1. Need considerably bigger balls before committing to that top-out; proper high-ball. Feeling royally trashed.

18/03 Sa St BoisR o14 3A
Sa St BoisR o15 3A
Sa St BoisR b12 4C
Sa St BoisR b15 4B
Sa St BoisR r22 6A* Le meilleur des mondes
St BoisR r23 6A+* La theorie des nuages

Bois Rond - after some easy warm-ups, Sarah had her mind on "Le meilleur des mondes" which she'd not quite managed last time we were here. A fine problem indeed. This time she dispatched it without too much trouble. We then moved around the boulder to the overhang of "La theorie des nuages" which had had the better of me last September. It took some working to find the right sequence, but eventually it fell. Sarah came very close, to her credit - not her usual favoured style of problem. She'll have it on the next visit. We then tried our hands (and feet) at the technical wall of "Little Shakespeare" which proved too hard, although Sarah came close.

19/03 Sa St BoisR b2 5C*
Sa St BoisR b9 5A
Sa St BoisR b11 4B
Sa St BoisR b21 4C
St BoisR b30 5A
St BoisR b31 5B
Sa BoisR r7 6A* Little Shakespeare
Sa St BoisR r10 5C* Objectif grand angle
Sa St BoisR r21 5B

Second day on at Bois Rond, and Sarah had a very good day. Impressively, she finished "La theorie des nuages" on her fifth go, pulling through the sloping finish. She also tip-toed her way up the technical "Little Shakespeare" right at the end. I spent most of the day failing on "Constellation des Amoureux" making precious little progress. It was 19 degrees when we left the camp site in the morning, and just as we came back in the afternoon it started raining. Good job tomorrow is a rest day. Grades at Bois Rond felt very.. traditional. Current thinking is to head for Isatis next.

21/03 Sa St Isatis b9 5A
Sa St Isatis r17 5A
Sa St Isatis b18 4C
St Isatis w4 6C* Composition des Forces
St Isatis w10 6A Le Statique
Sa St Isatis w16 6B+* Buerre Marga
Sa Isatis w18 6B La Zip Zut
Sa St Isatis oc11a 6C* Little Karma

Franchard Isatis, top quality just outside the car. It was touch and go if we'd be able to climb given how heavy it'd been raining during the day and night (fortunately on a scheduled rest day), but the rock was dry. I'd not been able to touch "Little Karma" last year, but this time it went, second go, albeit with a somewhat undignified belly-flop finish. Very pleased with that. Sarah had her eyes on the most excellent, but deceptively tricky, "Buerre Marga" (still a sandbag at 6B+), which at first proved stubborn, but when she finally managed to work out the starting moves it went smoothly. I repeated it - with difficulty - for good measure. It really is great. We finished on "Composition des Forces", a recommendation from Will. To my own surprise, it went second go, and Sarah came exceedingly close - one for next visit. Another very good route, and for me, the best day so far.

22/03 Sa St Isatis b4 3C
Sa St Isatis r11 4B
Sa St Isatis r4 4C
Sa St Isatis r5 5A
Sa St Isatis r7 4C
St Isatis w8 6A
Sa Isatis w4 6C* Composition des Forces
St Isatis oc 6C+* Surplomb de la Coquille
St Isatis w19 6B* L'Envie des Betes
St Isatis r15 5A

More Isatis, and the sun's back in force. Sarah easily traipsed up "Composition Des Forces" first go, after which we went to seek out "Surplomb de la Coquille". Steep, and as it turned out - hard. In fact, it felt utterly impossible to start out with, but gradually the moves slotted into place, and after countless goes I managed to pull over. Sarah got most of the moves wired. Feeling rather spent, we had lunch and then ambled back down to find another of Will's recommendations, the undercut marbled wall and prow of "L'Envie des Betes". Technical, slappy and strong, this proved hard-won, especially for tired arms. In fact, every single move felt hard. Again, Sarah worked out how to do each move, but lacking a few inches every move of mine turned into three for her. She will undoubtedly finish it at a later visit. We seem to have taken a step up in terms of grades, which is always pleasing. Sarah considers "Buerre Marga" to be the highlight of the last two days, and for me it's probably "La Coquille", given how hard I had to work for it. Isatis is an amazing venue.
24/03 Sa St Isatis b1 3B
Sa St Isatis b6 3C
Sa St Isatis r1 4C
Sa St Isatis r3 5B
Sa St Isatis w1 6B* L'amoche doigt
St Isatis w40 6B* L'angle de serac

Sarah wanted another stab at "L'envie des Betes" and I had planned to try the arete of W40 and perhaps a wee look at "El Poussif", for me a major challenge at 7A+. We ended up on w1, "L'amoche doigt", an innocuous-looking slabby arete that turned out to be a matter of inches. I could reach the crucial hold, but Sarah could not, at least not using the sequence I used. It was unlocked for her by a local Bleausard who demonstrated a tiny change in foot placement, and it all went. We then went back to "L'envie des Betes", but the crux go-again move still eluded her. Some lunch, and we wandered up to the rather shapely arete of white 40. Time for the Katanas for this one - not much in terms of foot holds. It took a while to unlock the sequence, as usual for aretes. Balance is it. Eventually it came together with a long, insecure stretch for the top. Sarah tried the same sequence, and got desperately close; so close, in fact that her spotter had already started the top-out celebrations when she grabbed the top jugs - and peeled off. As did the skin on her fingers. Will had recommended a look at "El Poussif" and we chatted to a couple of Brits who'd eventually managed to crack it. I had a couple of goes, but this really felt beyond me in every way, at least trying their beta. I might come back later on and try a different method.

26/03 Sa St Sabots b24 4C
Sa St Sabots b25 3C
St Sabots r19 6A+ Les joyeuses de Noel

(rain stops play)

Rained off yesterday, and dodging showers today. The showers arrived with us in the morning, and turned into a proper downpour by lunch, when we gave up hiding under a surplomb. We went home, had lunch waiting for it to stop, which it did. We waited some more for things to dry out and headed back, and we managed three warm-ups before it started again. Disappointing, but our first day lost to rain for two weeks which by anyone's standards isn't bad going. Roche aux Sabots is another excellent venue, and the home for one of my main objectives for this trip, "Graviton", which I failed on last September. A lot. We also have a long list of recommendations from Will that we are itching to have a go at, as soon as it dries out.

27/03 Sa St Sabots b37 4A
Sa St Sabots b38 3C
Sa Sabots b36 4B*
Sa St Sabots r1 6A* Les saute-montagnes
Sa St Sabots r4 5B* Dalle de Cristal
Sa Sabots r19 6A+ Les joyeuses de Noel
Sa St Sabots r26 5A Le gout du jour
St Sabots r9 5B Little Crack

29/03 Sa St Sabots b37 4A
Sa St Sabots b38 3C
Sa Sabots b36 4B*
Sa St Sabots r3 6A* Le surplomb a coulisse
St Sabots oc33c 7A* Graviton
St Sabots oc33b 7A Gravillon

30/03 Sa St Sabots r7 4C* Le mur badaboum
Sa St Sabots r6 5C* Le porte a faux

(rain stops play)

31/03 Sa St Sabots b30 3B
Sa St Sabots b28 3C
Sa St Sabots r30 5B* La barquette de beurre
Sa St Sabots r27 5C* Crosse en l'air
St Sabots r28 6A+* Servis compris

Due to the weather, our schedule has gone to pot, but we've persisted between showers. We worked and, based on the original beta, failed miserably on Graviton. A bunch of Norwegians showed us a different method (wild heel hook up right) which finally saw me top out, which was one of my most coveted objectives of the trip. Sarah came exceedingly close and will carry on as soon as the weather will allow. I also took advantage of the number of pads and spotters about to do "Gravillon". On Sarah's birthday we resorted to covering the route with a tarp to protect it from the rain, but in the end we just had to concede defeat. We also spent some time on "l'angle de Jean-Luc", which feels super technical and hard - it's currently winning. 6B is laughably off the mark. We saw one of the Norwegians (Robert) cruise it effortlessly - twice, as it were, following Will's beta to the letter. We still couldn't do it. One of the French guys working it with us had been trying (and failing) it for 10 years solid, he claimed. Sarah's getting closer though. I spent (too much) time working "Jet Set", but getting absolutely nowhere from the take-off. I then tried the similar, but more amenable "Servis Compris" immediately to the left, which has roughly the same air miles, but off a better left-hand hold. I failed on that for a long time, too, until I eventually latched it. Apparently, not very good at dynos. There are some very good problems on the red circuit here, and trying to do reds 1, 2, 3 and 4 in succession is a bit of a shock to the system.

02/04 Sa St Sabots b2 4B
Sa St Sabots b3 4B
Sa St Sabots b4 4B
Sa St Sabots b5 4A
Sa St Sabots b6 4C
Sa St Sabots b7 4A
Sa St Sabots b8 3B
Sa St Sabots b9 4B

03/04 Sa St Sabots b10 3C
Sa St Sabots b11 3B
Sa St Sabots b13 3B
Sa St Sabots b14 4A
Sa St Sabots b15 4A
Sa St Sabots oc17b 6B* L'Inversee Satanique
Sa St Sabots oc17b 6C+* L'Inversee Satanique Directe
Sa St Sabots r29 6B* Le mur a Michaud
Sa Sabots oc33c 7A* Graviton
Sa Sabots oc33b 7A Gravillon

Another soaked day saw us abandoning play after a few easy, but nice, blue warm-up problems. The day after we met up with some guys from Bristol here for the Easter bank hol, and for a while it looked like the rain would come in again, but we ended up having a fab day, culminating with Sarah cruising "Graviton" first go, and then doing the same to "Gravillon", thus achieving her stated goal for the year - twice over - to boulder V6/Fb7A. There always seems to be a great party atmosphere around "Graviton" and "Smash", the big 7B dyno opposite, with lots of pads and willing spotters from all around the world. I carried on my to date fruitless work on "Jet Set", and came close on "Jeux de Toit" (7A+) after some useful beta from Jim. One to come back for with fresher arms. "Le mur a Michaud" (red 29) is a very nice problem.

04/04 Sa St Isatis b7 3C
Sa St Isatis r1 5A
Sa St Isatis r1 5A
Sa St Isatis r1 5B
St Isatis w1 6B* L'Envie des Betes
Sa Isatis r1 5A
St Isatis w4 6B* L'Angle de Serac
Sa St Chien b48 4B
Sa St Chien b49 3C
Sa St Chien b50 4B
Sa St Chien r2 ?
St Chien r3 ?
Sa St Chien r9 ?
St Chien r10 ?*
Sa St Chien r20 ?

Rained off at Isatis, but sat it out and drove over to Cul de Chien and ended up having a fantastic afternoon in the sun. Great sport was had on red problem 10, a sort of mini-Graviton with countless comedy falls from the top by the whole group. Before walking back, we attempted the great roof, but no one managed to do the crux. But what a route..

05/04 Sa St Cuis r1 4B
Sa St Cuis r2 4C
Sa St Cuis w3 4C
Sa Cuis w3b 5A*
Sa Cuis w45 4C
Sa St Cuis oc35a 6C*

Glorious blues, finally, and although tired after some three and a half days on, we couldn't not climb. Cuisiniere was the aim of the day, and an amazing playground it is, too. We started easy but soon got distracted onto a bis-version of white 3 - an innocuous-looking short slab of amenable grade. This is of course usually a big, red warning sign to steer well clear.. I couldn't touch it, but Sarah eventually managed to work it out and tip-toed her way to the top. One of the unique things with the forest - 7A one day, utterly humbled on a 5A warm-up slab on the next. We went looking for a problem called "Impasse du Hazard", but it turned out to be aptly named, and we declined to try it. Ian suggested a go on a 7B he'd done previously, "Pensees Cachees", which turned out to be a steep, undercut arete - butch stuff. We worked it for a good while, but never really got very far, and by now my arms were starting to ache rather worryingly. One of the problems both Sarah and I wanted a re-match with since the last trip was a nameless 6C on boulder 35 - a top-out swim on slopers that we'd got nowhere with before. This time we both made short work of it, and it felt like a tangible token of progress in our climbing. The rest of the day we worked various sit-starts to nearby problems but all of us were tired in arms, and worryingly thin-skinned on the finger tips. We retreated to a bar in Milly to say farewell to the Bristol boys and to celebrate a good couple of days of bouldering.
07/04 Sa St Cuvier b22 5B La Fissure
Sa St Cuvier b40 5B
Sa St Cuvier r21 6A* La Nescafe
Sa St Cuvier r22 6A* La Marie Rose
Sa St Cuvier r38 5C La Bicolore
Sa St Cuvier r25 5C L'Angle Rond
St Cuvier r39 5C La Clavicule
St Cuvier r24 5C* La Troisieme Arete

Rain overnight, and a wet morning saw us leave late for Bas Cuvier. Hot and humid. We both repeated first go both "Nescafe" and "Marie Rose", which had taken persistent work on the last trip. Will had warned us that the arete of red 24, to the left of "The Joker", would feel hard for the grade, and he was not wrong. Perhaps the grade would be appropriate if you're 6ft+, but for me it took an all-out jump to reach the crucial bulge, and for Sarah even this was not possible. I think that 6B is more realistic if you can reach with a jump, and more like 7A if you actually have to climb the blank middle section on nothings. Sarah had a rather frustrating time on it, but arrived at a plausible method for a future return. We then moved onto "Duroxmanie", a 6C+ towards the Rempart area that I'd got nowhere on on the last trip. It's a high, slightly overhanging patina shield on crimps and pinches to a slopey finish. I managed to do the whole problem to a point where I had both hands on the top, just needing to mantle it out, but pumped out and took the long fall. Twice. Hopefully it'll go next time. Sarah surprised both of us by cranking through all the strong-arm moves - a few more attempts and she'll get what would be a very credible tick.

09/04 Sa St Cuvier b8 4A La Poulet
Sa Cuvier r8 5C La Vire Authenac
Sa St Cuvier r7 5C* Les Frites
Sa Cuvier r24 5C* La Troisieme Arete
St Rempart oc8c 6C+* Duroxmanie

10/04 Sa St Sabots b40 4C
Sa St Sabots b41 3C
Sa Sabots r8 5B Beuf en Daube
Sa Sabots r9 5B Little Crack

Back to Cuvier, and I had my mind set on finishing off "Duroxmanie". Glorious day again to boot. We started on some 'easy' reds and blues - "Les Frites" in particular felt hopeless until a local Bleausard in typical style sauntered up it showing us how it's done. Easy when you know how. Gotta love Font. Sarah also did the neighbouring slab, equally cryptic, after which we went back for her to have a go at finishing off "La Troisieme Arete" that had eluded her the other day. She staticked it with an improbable sequence - at least 7A.. and so we wandered over to Rempart for another bash at "Duroxmanie". A crowd of Brit students were gathered there already, and it was a positive vibe - we sat down for a while and watched, and had some lunch. I felt strong as I pulled on, and it went without a hitch, first go. Very pleased with the tick. Sarah's turn, and she linked all moves to the top, but with arms too tired to commit to the top-out mantle. Definitely next time. We ambled back to the main area to have a look at "Cortomaltese", "Charcuterie" and a few others, but it was warm, and slopers slimey, so nothing was succeeded on, and everything felt hard. The following day we were supposed to meet up with Annabelle and John on their way back from a bolt-clipping trip down south, so we'd agreed to meet at Sabots, as it's convenient access from the motorway. Unfortunately, they called around lunch time saying their car had been broken into, so they wouldn't make it. I was feeling rather worse for wear, with every tendon in my arms and shoulders aching so I wasn't really climbing. Sarah carried on her work on "L'Angle a Jean-Luc", but no topping out yet.

11/04 Sa St Sabots b39 3C
Sa St Sabots b42 4A
Sa St Sabots b43 4A
Sa St Sabots b44 4A
Sa St Sabots b45 4C
Sa St Sabots b46 4B
Sa St Sabots b35 3C
Sa St Sabots b31 3B
Sa St Sabots b34 4A
Sa St Sabots b33 4B
Sa St Sabots b27 4C*

Mileage day at Sabots, trying to finish off the blue circuit on our third day on. Some real gems here, especially number 27 which felt high and scary especially for Sarah with a long stretch for the less than ideal top holds.

13/04 Sa St Cuvier o50 3C* La Prestat
Sa St Cuvier r29 5B* Le Reveil Matin

(Rain stops play)

The plan was to warm up, and then head up to Rempart for Sarah to do "Duroxmanie". Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas, and after the classic highball of "La Prestat" and a neighbouring challenging red, we had to head for the car. We had a look at "La Stalingrad" next to "La Prestat", which Will had suggested with a wry "..if you have the balls.". We clearly don't. Proper Bishop territory.

14/04 Sa S Isatis r23 4C
Sa St Isatis r24 5B
Sa St Isatis r25 4B
Sa St Isatis r27 4C
Sa St Isatis r28 5C
Sa St Isatis w40 6B* L'Angle de Serac
St Isatis oc51a 7A+* L'Angle Ben's
Sa St Isatis r33 5B
Sa St Isatis r32 5A
Sa Isatis r31 5B
Sa St Isatis r30 5B

Main task of the day was for Sarah to finish off her work on "L'Angle de Serac" which she'd got rained off the other day. Whilst warming up we ran into Paul and Beccy, a couple of climbers we know from Bristol. Sarah ticked off her project first go, and mostly for a laugh we shifted our attentions to the significantly harder right-hand side of the same arete, known as "L'Angle Ben's", weighing in at 7A+. The wall is so blank it looks like a slab of marble. With Paul, me and Sarah all working it we started to make some progress, and I finally managed to latch the top, with Paul soon after. Sarah was again to her frustration unable to use the same sequence, as she couldn't reach the crucial hold from the foot placements that me and Paul had used. She's working a different sequence and will be back for another bout before long.
15/04 Sa St Cuvier b1 5A Les Sans les Mains
Sa St Cuvier b2 4C
Sa St Cuvier b3 5A Le Surplomb Nord Ouest
Sa St Cuvier r2 5C La Goulotte Sans la Goulotte
Sa Rempart oc8c 6C+* Duroxmanie
Sa St Rempart oc18a 5C* L'Angle Allain
Sa St Rempart oc18a 6A* L'Angle Allain (left)
Sa St Rempart oc18b 7A* Laser
Sa St Cuvier r4 6A* Le Trou du Simon

Awesome day in the forest for Sarah - "Duroxmanie" falls first go, as does her old bugbear "L'Angle Allain", both left and right, and a quick dispatch of the technical 7A wall of "Laser" to the left. My dispatch of the same wall was somewhat less quick.. We then walked back to the car, did a team ascent of the magnificent party trick "Le Trou du Simon" and drove home via to Sabots as Sarah was "in tune with her balance" - maybe "Jean-Luc" would go too? She held the finishing rail and was about to move up, but her foot gave. Heartbreakingly close to ticking three projects in one day - but she goes home with another seventh grade route to her name, and a very credible tick in "Duroxmanie".
16/0 Sa St Aprmnt r34 5C* Le Science Friction
St Aprmnt bw10 6C La Lune (left)
St Aprmnt r8 5B Le Triste Portique
St Aprmnt s15 5A
St Aprmnt oc22c 6C (Zone B)

We met up with Paul and Beccy again, this time at Apremont where we'd never been before. The classic, and elegantly named "Le Science Friction" slab problem is the traditional start here, and every Font climber owes it to themselves to do it - it's a great introduction to the Art of Footwork. Sadly, Sarah managed to split an already sore finger tip on her successful attempt, which stopped play for her after the first route. Apremont is a big, sprawling maze of jumbled boulders. There's clearly a lot of potential here, but simply learning to navigate the place is a task in itself. Paul and I had a few token goes on the slab-dyno of "Medaille en Chocolate", but it was full on in the sun, and neither of us got anywhere at all on it.

18/04 Sa St PBois b20 4A Pour les Mains
Sa St PBois b21 4B Blockage
Sa St PBois b21b 4A Des blockages
Sa St PBois b22 4A Derapage
Sa St PBois r11 ?
Sa St PBois bl9 6A Remise a alure
Sa St FSabl r1 5C l'accroche doigt
Sa St FSabl r2 5B la reticence
Sa St FSabl r3 5B le passe plat
Sa St FSabl r4 5B la promptitude
Sa St FSabl r5 5C* la derobade
Sa St FSabl r6 5C morsure aux doigts
Sa St FSabl r7 5C* les racines
Sa St FSabl r8 5B* saccage au burin
Sa St FSabl r9 5B les chien assis
St FSabl r10 5B* l'arete de poisson

One problem on my list was "La Baleine" at Petit Bois. From pictures it looks stunning, and Will had heartily recommended it. Petit Bois is a little bit out of our way, and the trip was made worse by the fact that due to a loca bike race the most convenient roads were closed off, and we found ourselves being diverted around in circles. At Petit Bois we warmed up, and I had about a dozen goes on "La Baleine" - it truly is an amazing problem, but sadly it wasn't to be. I got to a matched position on the rail on the lip, but unable to find it in me to stick the slap for the top holds. Sarah declined to attempt it. Also had a look at "Big Jim", but after my beasting on "La Baleine", I didn't really fancy a highball number with the crux at the top. Petit Bois isn't a very popular crag, and as a result it's still a bit green from the winter. We decided to head back towards Franchard. Being a sunny spring weekend, the main crags would be heaving, but Paul and Beccy had recommended the red circuit at Franchard Sablons, the less popular neighbour of Isatis. We barely managed to find a parking space, yet Sablons was pretty much deserted, and we set about the red circuit, which in our guide has only 20 problems on it, primarily in the fifth grade. We did the first 10, and it's a very well balanced circuit, certainly no pushover. If you think the fifth grade is below you, you should have a go at doing this circuit - ego-bruising guaranteed.

19/04 Sa St FSabl r11 5B la traversee
Sa St FSabl r12 5A le nez
Sa St FSabl r13 4C l'accalmie
Sa St FSabl r14 4B mise en train
Sa St FSabl r15 5A coup de cannon
Sa St FSabl r16 6A* la dalle a clemont
Sa St FSabl r18 4A la dalle bleue
Sa FSabl r19 5C prise de tete
Sa St FSabl r20 6A* dalle funerarie
St FSabl oc28a 7A sale affaire

We carried on with the remainder of the red circuit, the latter half being more delicate and technical than the former. Ran into Neil of Maison Bleau fame, who was out furthering his quest of filming himself on every dyno in Font 7A or harder. He pointed us at a near-by boulder housing the problem "Sale Affaire" which he suggested might be 7A, rather than the 6B suggested by the guide, and a 7B. Sarah and I set about trying these with Neil offering beta advise and a strong pair of spotter's hands. "Sale Affaire" is a very nice problem, requiring some surprisingly subtle technique for something so powerful. From not really being able to even get my feet off the ground, I before long found myself at the top, using Neil's helpful beta. Sarah (perhaps to her own surprise, given the style of the problem) successfully managed to do it in two halves, but failed to link the whole thing. It will go next time. Although Franchard Sablons clearly isn't an "in" crag, it's awesome - pristine rock, solitude and although perhaps not the spread of classics like its famous neighbour, there are clearly enough test pieces for the intrepid forest explorer to seek out.

21/04 Sa St Isatis r26 4C
Sa St Isatis b18 3B
Sa St Isatis b17 3A
Sa St Isatis r29 5C
Sa St Isatis w40 6B* l'angle de serac
St Isatis oc51a 7A+* l'angle ben's
St Sabots rw7b 7A* jeux de toit
St Sabots rw23a 7A* jet set

It's mop-up time for Sarah, and we headed for Isatis to work one or more of "L'Angle Ben's", "L'Envie des Betes", "La Surplomb de la Coquille" and "Sale Affaire", with "..Ben's" highest on the wish list. We warmed up on "Serac" which now feels comfortably wired. For "..Ben's", Sarah still needed to work out her sequence, her feet popping off when stretching for the high rail crimp when using the foot placements I used. Also, the moves off the rail to the top needed attention. She got closer, now able to do the problem in two halves, but not quite linking the whole thing. We walked over to Sablons for Sarah to have another couple of goes on "Sale Affaire". After three quality goes she came within touching distance of the top holds, but the day had taken its toll, so we walked back to the car and drove to Sabots. I'd planned to have another go on "Jeux de Toit" which I'd got rained off some time back, and maybe another few goes at "Jet Set" after Will kindly had texted some advice. "Jeux de Toit" is a butch little overhang and a slopey arete top-out, with a cheeky high heel-toe wedge massively easing things. Other than that, no real mysteries other than bearing down. Although a bit scrabbly at the top, once you have the arete latched, it's all over. And so for "Jet Set", which I so far had gotten nowhere with, to my disappointment. Previously, I'd focused my attention on leaping up to the apex with my right hand, using a wide grip, as this seemed to be what most people tried. I found it desperately hard to get any power from my legs. Will suggested a narrow grip, and only left foot on, and leaping up with the left hand, slightly to the left of the apex. Small adjustments to my sequence, but a massive difference. On my third attempt I latched and held the top. So pleased was I that I nearly wobbled off the top whilst doing my customary top-out dance. Sarah had a handful of extraordinarily close goes on "..Jean-Luc", now repeatedly holding the top rail, but it wasn't to be, and she was a bit disappointed going home with all her projects still remaining projects, even though she'd made progress on all.
22/04 Sa Sabots b16 4C
Sa St Sabots b17 5B
Sa St Sabots b19 4B
Sa St Sabots r12 5B* l'angle a gilles
St Sabots r11 5C* l'arrache-moyeu
Sa Sabots r25 6C* l'angle a Jean-Luc
St Sabots rw23a 7A* jet set
Sa St Sabots rw7a 6C+* anglomaniaque

Back to Sabots, and this time it was siege tactics for Sarah on "..Jean-Luc". And suddenly, it all came together! A blind move of the left foot up from the half-moon edge to a smear and a finger nail pull with her right hand allowed her to shift her centre of gravity to the left in order to move up, and she was done. Everyone was clapping. A capital tick, and the 6C grade belies the extraordinary technical standard of this route. Kudos to Sarah for doing the time, and she was happy and relieved in equal measures. I kick myself I didn't have the camera out for the successful ascent. I repeated "Jet Set" to show myself it wasn't just a stroke of luck, and then Sarah and I set about the roof of "Anglomaniaque" to round off the day.
24/04 Sa St Isatis b31 3B
Sa St Isatis o? ? Orange left of blue 33
Sa St Isatis b32 3B
Sa St Isatis ? ? Arete left of blue 32
St Cuis ? 7A Bizarre Bizarre

Quick warm-up at Isatis, and Sarah set about "l'angle Ben's", next on her project hit list, fresh from her success on "...Jean-Luc". She soon found that her sequence needed tuning, and the temperature wasn't ideal. We wandered up to Cuisiniere and found a problem called "Beatle Juice" that we both had liked the look of from pictures in the guide books - a kind of cratered beach ball hovering in the air. It has a kind of not that interesting 6A from standing, but a much more fun-looking sitter weighing in at a for us mighty 7A+. Good holds it has, but distantly spaced. We spent some time working the sequence, one powerful move at a time. Uncertain if this will go, given the time we have left. After a while we walked up to the main bit and tried "Haute Tension", a 7B recommended by Will. A vertical wall with a long stretch from undercuts up to various nothings. Didn't really make much headway with this. I also tried the arete of "Bizarre Bizarre" (on the "Karma" boulder), which I managed to unlock successfully.
25/04 Sa St Canon sb1 5A+*
Sa St Canon sb2 4C
Sa St Canon sb3 5A
Sa St Canon sb4 5C*
Sa St Canon sb5 4C
Sa St Canon sb6 5B*
Sa St Canon sb7 4C
Sa St Canon sb8 5C
Sa St Canon sb9 5B
Sa St Canon sb10 4C
Sa St Canon sb11 5A
Sa St Canon sb12 5B*
Sa St Canon sb13 4C
Sa St Canon sb14 4C
Sa St Canon sb15 4B+*
Sa St Canon sb16 5B+
Sa St Canon r18 6A

Mileage day at a for us new crag, Rocher Canon, a bit further on from Cuvier. Another scorcher, weather-wise. Big, sprawling place, but quite nice for a chill-out day; a little bit polished in places, but not unbearably so. Quite a lot of circuits here, and we'd decided to seek out the 'Sky Blue', and it took us a good while to find it. This seemed to match what would have been called a red circuit in most other places, grades wise, with mainly fifth-grade problems. And very nice they were, too. Good slabs, with the easy-angled, 4B+ number 15 an amusing acquaintance. Maybe a clue was in the name "Dalle a Marbre" (Marble Slab)? Fun was also to be had on number 4, an undercut slab requiring a high heel and palm to get off the deck.

27/04 (Isatis, Cuisiniere) Ben's, Poussif, Beatle juice, La magnifique, Excalibur, La Mur Cordier..

A long, hard day, with little to show for it :). Sarah put in some more work on "..Ben's", and on one go actually got her fingers over the top jugs, but to her frustration didn't manage to latch on. At least a confirmation that she's got the sequence sorted; now we just need to find optimal conditions. The problem is so marginal that with the current heat wave, it's difficult to get many quality goes in during a climbing day. She was distraught. I had a few goes on "El Poussif", but it feels that this is not something I'd be able to complete on my own without help from some guru who can show me what to do. To top it off, one fall saw me grit-rash my lower left leg, knee to foot, so I suffered a temporary humour by-pass. We walked up to Cuisiniere to carry on playing on "Beatle Juice". We met an American guy, Zach, who is spending 6 months in Font whilst his dad is on an academic exchange working with the top French business school, which apparently (and conveniently) is located in the town of Fontainebleau. Zach showed us some beta on "Beatle Juice", and we also had a play on the neighbouring "Excalibur". A bit later we all walked over to the main bit of the crag to have a look at "La Magnifique", but this felt disproportionally hard, and both Sarah and I soon came to the conclusion that our fingers in their current state aren't up to sharp crimps like that at the moment. On the way out we had another look at "La Mur Cordier", but it still seems utterly improbable.

28/04 (Isatis, Cuisiniere, Sablons) Ben's, Beatle juice, Sale Affaire..

Sarah carried on working "..Ben's" whilst the temperatures allowed, but no top-out as of yet. The accumulated load over the trip is starting to take its toll, and we both feel fatigued, thin-skinned, and battle-worn. Sarah soon felt that this wasn't going to be the day, and that she might benefit from a light day, and with tomorrow's scheduled rest day, focus on maximising her chances after that. We wandered over to Cuisiniere for me to have another play on "Beatle Juice". This problem has caught both of our imagination, and one of the few we've seen so far where the sit start seem to really improve the problem. It's probably the most powerful problem we've attempted with five or six very strong moves in a row before things ease off. Curiously, the crux is not at all where one would be led to assume from inspection. It seemed to us that the crux ought to be the long stretches between poorish holds whilst still in the horizontal, but instead we found ourselves stumped on the move leading from the sit-start extension into the standing start 6A version - this whilst established on perhaps the two biggest hand-holds on the whole problem. No useable feet, and with a growing pump in the arms built up from the previous moves makes it harder than it looks. I came close, but didn't manage to link it this time. It feels as if it will go with some added rest day power in the arms. Sarah found it difficult to sit it out, itching to get on. As we walked back we decided to pop into Franchard Sablons for Sarah to have a quick look at one of her other remaining projects, "Sale Affaire". She had a couple of exploratory goes to fine-tune her sequence, but this will definitely require fully loaded arms for a summit push.

30/04 (Isatis, Cuisiniere, Sablons, Haute Plains) Ben's, Beatle juice, Sale Affaire, Coquille..

A similar pattern to our previous climbing day, although today we'd decided to try to catch slightly more optimal conditions, and we parked up at Isatis around 9:30am. Temperature a reasonable 13 degrees, and with a cloud cover, if things stayed this way, this could shape up to be a great day. Sarah ran around a now familiar warm-up circuit of blues around the "..Ben's" boulder, with an ascent of "..Serac" to finish off her warm-up routine, and to get into the arete-groove. Two false starts were followed by a super-smooth, perfect send, caught on video. Another awesome achievement, and she ups her grade again to V7/Fb7A+. My go next, and soon I was sat under the bulging overhang of "Beatle Juice" again. I should have this licked. Last time I repeatedly dispatched the horizontal bit, but failed when pumped to pull through the crux. I thought that with some rest day power, this would be a formality. It was not. Time after time I failed to latch and hold the three finger pocket, the first of the five hard moves. I must have stuck this ten times on the trot the day before yesterday. A small alteration in how the pocket was latched turned out to be the issue, and on my fifth go, I held it, but failed to do the crux pull. Sixth attempt was a false start, but on my seventh I topped out with a somewhat scrabbly mantle that made the camera woman nervous. Always curious to find that micro changes on a single hold can totally change the outcome, even on something big & butch. And so, the ball's back in Sarah's court, and we walk over to Sablons - we're starting to get quite familiar with the various crags in the Franchard gorge. "Sale Affaire" time. Although Sarah had dispatched "..Ben's" quicker and easier than she'd feared, she was worrying that psyching up again after such a high might be difficult. Moreover, her finger skin is still rather dodgy. At least the air was still cool, and she had a handful of goes, but still not really managing to grab the arete with her left. We sat down on the mats, had some lunch and a quick snooze to recover. We were actually about to pack up and go home when Maison Bleau-Neil appeared, funnily enough at the same problem we'd encountered him before. We chatted for a good while, and he suggested that Sarah had another go, which she did. This time, she latched, and held the arete and would probably have finished it off had she known how to do the top. Psyche was back, and she decided to have a good rest and a final go. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be this time, and we wandered up to Haute Plains to have a look at "Coquille" again - I'd found this hard in our first or second week here, and I was curious to see if it felt any easier now. Sarah had been keen to do this problem, but it had always been overshadowed by other things on her list. Unfortunately by now she was rather spent. I found it much easier this time.

01/05 (Sablons, Haute Plains) Sale Affaire, Some Random 7A crimper wall, Lapin ou Canard..

Got the going home blues. Sarah carried on working "Sale Affaire", and this time managing to get both hands on the top, but still no get. I worked a 7A wall a bit further down, but didn't really make much progress. Wandered around looking for "Lapin ou Canard", but helpfully there are TWO yellow circuits at HP, and we followed the wrong one at first. Eventually we found it, but wtf? Should know by now that grades are all over the place, but I got nowhere on this.

02/05 (Sablons, Haute Plains) Sale Affaire, Surplomb de la Coquille..

Last day! Sarah effortlessly cruising "Sale Affaire" on camera, declaring it a path. Walked up so that she could try "Coquille", but third day on etc it will have to wait until the next trip. And so the time has come to depart. Font really is an amazing, magic place, and it's been a privilege to spend such an extended period of time here, really getting into the Font way. Sarah's gone from having previously climbed a single V4 to solid V6 with a classic V7 as the icing on the cake. I wanted to climb the classics that had eluded me on the last trip, and to do ten seventh grade problems. I came close. The only question is - when can we go back?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Font update

Convenient internet access is hard to come by here, hence the rather sporadic updates from your intrepid Bleusard wannabes, but here goes. Our days follow a now familiar pattern: eat, sleep, climb, and when Sarah lets me, a rest day to recover muscularly, and dermatologically. Skin-wise, we've actually not done badly. Sarah had a small split in her right index finger yesterday, but apart from that we've been fine. We've managed to tick off quite a few of our projects, but also gained a few more, and still failing on a couple of stubborn ones. Both me and Sarah did "Graviton" and also "Gravillon", equalling my previous personal best, and sending Sarah's quite a few notches up. Both of us also succeeded on the amazing "Duroxmanie" - I'd gotten nowhere on this last September, and a very credible ascent for Sarah, as this is muscle beach territory. I shot a video of Sarah on her successful attempt. Sarah also managed to remove another thorn in her side from last trip, the classic line of "l'angle Allain", this time also doing the left side variation for good measure. We also managed the technical wall to the left, "Laser" - more Sarah's bag than mine, but eventually I wobbled my way up it, too. We've run into quite a few of the Bristol crew, which has been nice. In fact, when Sarah did "Gravition" it was a bit of a party atmosphere with Ian, Dean, Chris and Dave successfully grovelling over the top not long after Sarah. Always a big crowd gathered around "Graviton" and the neighbouring big dyno "Smash", with a good vibe, plenty of willing spotters and stacks of pads. Sarah is still working "L'angle a Jean-Luc", and she can't really get any closer without sending, but the last inch is proving irritatingly reluctant. Back at Isatis, Sarah went back to finish off "Angle de Serac", which she previously got rained off. This time it went first go. We'd run into Paul and Beccy from Bristol, and we then moved around the corner to try the considerably harder right-hand side of the arete, "L'angle Ben's". It's perfectly blank, and I've had a handful of plays on it before without really getting much off the ground. With me, Paul and Sarah working it, we somehow started to make some tangible progress, and suddenly I found myself crimping for dear life on the only hold on the whole route trying to psyche myself up for the slap for the top - and missed. A few goes later I stuck it, and this is my hardest problem to date. Paul topped out soon after, and Sarah - her diminutive altitude unfortunately playing to her disadvantage - was forced to explore a different way, unable to reach the crucial crimp from the foot holds that Paul and I had used. Last day with Paul and Beccy saw us for the first time at Apremont. Amazing as the place is, with a proper maze of boulders scattered over the largest area of all the Font crags, to make much headway here will probably require a significant investment in terms of time to learn to navigate the place. As our third day on it was intended as a chillout day, and we started as is traditional with an ascent of the ultra-classic, and most excellently named blank slab of "Le Science Friction". It's a kind of rite of passage for several generations of aspiring Bleusards. Sadly, some moron with a chisel has 'improved' some tiny flaws into useable holds which now has to be avoided at all costs to preserve the original experience. It's been done hands free, bare footed, backwards etc, but many strong, indoor-bred climbers accustomed to cranking heaps of grades harder are also frequently seen failing. Or flailing. Strength counts for precisely zero here. If you haven't done it, you owe it to yourself to try it, and keep trying it until you get it. This is an essential introduction to the footwork skills that make the locals look so bloody effortless around here. Unfortunately, Sarah managed to split a tip on her ascent, which forced her to abandon climbing for the day.

And so we're rapidly approaching the end of our stay in the forest, with barely two weeks to go. Climbing three days on, then resting one is our absolute max, and we still debate if the extra few days gained this way is worth the inevitable dip in performance on the third day. What has been nice this trip is to actually be able to spend some significant time working a few harder (for us) projects, rather than trying to cover the maximum amount of ground, like you probably would if you're here only for a week. We feel we have especially Sabots and Isatis pretty well covered, and we'll probably try to explore some of the lesser known areas a bit during our remaining time, but with a few excursions back to the handful of projects we're still working. I still have "Jet Set" to finish, and Sarah would be devastated to leave without sending "...Jean-Luc". Climbing-wise, both of us are now in the shape of our lives, and it will be interesting to see if this translates at all to the route climbing season back in Blighty once we get back.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Crimpy crimpy

Originally uploaded by hvs

Bouldering Font

Fontainebleau is a magic place for climbers. In fact, it's a rather improbable location for a climbing area, given how incredibly flat it is around here, with nothing but endless fields and lush forests as far as the eyes can see. However, the forests hide a wealth of large sandstone boulders which turns out to be an ideal playground for boulderers. Rarely too high to be uncomfortable, and more often than not with flat, sandy landings, and with an endless variety of moves. Someone called Fontainebleau a "laboratory of movement", and that epithet is apt - subtlety often gains you more than the brutishness that's rewarded in many other bouldering areas. Bouldering was kind of born here nearly 100 years ago, initially as a training "gym" for those destined for the alpine ranges, but it soon evolved into an activity for its own sake and merit. For reasons I can't quite understand myself, I'd actually never visited Font before last September when we came in a large group for a week and had a cracking time. We're making up for it this time around, hopefully. We're armed with a long list of recommendations from Will, a Font-veteran with near encyclopaedic knowledge of the forest, and some personal projects left over from last September.

Fortunately for me, rest-days present themselves naturally every third, or possibly forth day part due to muscle fatigue, but mostly due to your finger skin which wears off and starts bleeding if you don't take care. Sarah and I decided to start on a two days on, one day off schedule, and headed for an area somewhat cryptically known as '95.2', a bit of a joke referring to the maximum altitude above sea level. We'd been a bit worried that it might be cold for the first weeks, and we'd dressed up in thermal underwear, fleeces, hats, gloves and the essential downies which seemed appropriate seeing the iced-over car in the morning. However, once we reached the crag and started climbing in the sun, the temperature was soon in the teens and we had a delightful day ticking half of the problems on the easy blue circuit. Our plans were for the first few days just doing mileage to get re-acquainted with the medium, toughen up the finger skin that had now gone soft after a month of skiing and to familiarise ourselves with the area. However, it's hard not to have a go when you see something tasty and a bit harder, and I took two long lobs off the top mantle on the last of the reds, somewhat predictably.

We spent four climbing days at 95.2 working our way through all the blues and most of the reds and also a sprinkling of the whites, culminating with a tick of "La p'tit toit", an off-circuit problem given the ludicrous grade of 7A+ in the guide. Sadly, it's nothing like that hard (maybe 6B+), but a nice problem that we were nonetheless pleased to have completed. The sun was out in force, and we were climbing in t-shirts in the warm spring sunshine - the car thermometer showed +23. I'd not been to 95.2 before, but it proved to be a nice acquaintance with a good spread of problems and three very good circuits.

Next up was Bois Rond, where Sarah had a score to settle since last trip with "Le meilleur des mondes", a very nice 6A on the red circuit. She settled the score in fine style, and we wandered to the other side of the boulder for something rather less dainty and rather more butch, the overhang of "La theorie des nuages" (6A+), something I'd failed to get anywhere on last trip. Sarah and I worked it move for move and eventually I had a sequence that worked for me. Sarah doesn't normally go for these kinds of problems, but got exceedingly close. In fact, she got it fine the next day, to her credit - a very good tick. I spent most of the day trying another big overhang that to my frustration got the better of me. Sarah made quick work of the technical "Little Shakespeare" (6A) - I'd tried it the day before but decided that my finger skin would take no more punishment on the razor blades and Barclaycards that serves as "holds" on this blank slab. That was my excuse, anyway, preferring as I do not to dwell on my shoddy footwork.

The climbing in Font is really a rather large collection of disparate crags - collections of boulders - dotted around what is actually a quite wide-spread area. We decided to head for the Franchard gorge next, and the crag known as Isatis. We both had ambitions here, Sarah keen on trying "Beurre Marga", one of the finest problems in the forest, and a bit of a technical master piece, not to mention classic sand bag. Some of our friends even declined to attempt it last time, as the effort to get up it wasn't in their book justified by the grade tick. Some guides have it as low as 6A, but 6C is probably more realistic. It looks deceptively easy. It's got what looks as big ledges for your feet, and substantial runnels that although will need to be used as side pulls and gastons still look chunky. It's got an obvious "thank God" bucket for the finish. Yet, once you pull on, you soon realise that there is a lot more to this problem than one might initially think. In fact, just getting off the floor is a challenge, with the undercut starting pocket spitting your fingers out, and the side pull you use to stay up just isn't quite good enough to stop you from barn-dooring off. The "big" foot hold turns out to be awkwardly angled, and glassed over with a mixture of resin, chalk, sand and old boot rubber. Strength matters for nought here. I managed - eventually - to get up it last trip after spending almost half a day on it, and Sarah hadn't even bothered trying it that time. Sarah was unable to use my starting sequence due to her height, and instead had to work out a different way, which she initially found very frustrating. At the top, where I had done a kind of half dynamic cross-through and grab, she worked out a neat way of pinching with her left and casually reaching for the top in complete balance. A very good tick for her, and a near perfect problem. One of my targets was "Little Karma" (6C), a problem I couldn't even get started on last time. This is a long diagonal jump off a side-pull to a sloper that you need to match, and then "swimming" up a sequence of round holds. Will called it "a good intro to the harder top-outs in Font". I knew the theory - side pull, shitty foot, massive jump, wedge left big toe next to left hand, somehow bring left hand up to the same "hold" as the right, release toe and stay on during the swing, find something - anything - for the right toe, and let the fun begin. To my own surprise I managed to stick the jump second go, and found myself matched and ready to swim upwards. This is where your sharp footwork should allow you to stand up on smears and elegantly mantle your way to glory. Or alternatively, as in my case, an undignified belly-flop and a bit like a seal flapping my way to the top. But I'll take it. This problem is quite "morpho", as the boulderers say, meaning that unless you have a certain set of body dimensions it may be significantly harder, or even impossible. Even with me pushing Sarah on, she could not span between the starting side pull and the sloper, and this problem would probably be impossible for her. We moved on. I made a quick repeat of "Surplomb de la Statique" (6A) which I'd done previously (Sarah declined), and then tried a recommendation of Will's, "Composition des Forces" (6C), an undercut steep wall and long reach for a slopey finish. This problem seemed to suit me, and I topped out on my second attempt. Sarah was worn out, but quickly had the measure of all the moves, and held the finishing holds but unfortunately came off.

The next day, we carried on at Isatis - there is so much to go at here. Sarah was determined to finish it off "Composition des Forces", which she did, first go. We then decided to seek out a problem called "Surplomb de la Coquille" (6C+) that we'd had recommended from several people. An overhanging wall, but it seemed to have good holds on it to yard on - really, how hard can it be? Quite hard, as it turned out. The holds just turned out to be in the wrong places, making the crux lock-off and long reach up to a side pull absolutely hopeless. We'd run into Yorkshire legendary strong-woman Jenny Woodward, and she mentioned in passing the sequence she'd used, but somehow getting my foot up to *there* seemed improbable. Another Brit couple vaguely familiar from the Malham catwalk (Hester and Andy) joined us working this problem, but none of us appeared to make any worthwhile progress. Hester tried the high rock-over that Jenny had recommended, and with a small adjustment of where the foot went, she seemed to be able to hold the position better, although not enough for the long stretch. Hester and Andy walked off, and I tried copying her foot placement, and found that I could actually reach the lower end of the side pull, although failing to hold it. However, for the first time it felt as if it would go. I must have tried this problem 20 times by now, and my arms were aching. Even though the lower moves weren't too difficult, they were still powerful. Next attempt I managed to hold the side pull, reset to the good bit a bit higher up, and top out. Very pleased with that. Sarah had worked the problem with me giving her a little bit of a leg-up in the beginning to save her from having to pull through the lower strong moves on every go. Again, the long top stretch may prove to be significantly harder for her than for me.

Next on the hit list was "L'envie des Betes", an undercut prow given 6B, but probably would warrant 6C. Powerful stuff. From a high (shit) side pull for your left hand, and a small (shit) foot smear, boys can leap directly to a (shit) sloper on the blunt arete, and then get the right foot up on a reasonable little nubbin and leap again up to a good crimper about two feet further up. Left heel can now be positioned under the left hand in order to stop you barn-dooring off for the reach up left to a razor blade crimp. High-step left, loooong reach for another crimp up left, and it all eases off. If you're a girl, on the other hand, you won't be able to reach the best bit of the shit side pull, and you won't be able to leap for the shit sloper, nor will you be able to reach the go-again leap for the good crimp. Life is so unfair. Sarah found herself doing three extra moves for every single one of mine. We packed it in for the day, intending to come back the next for Sarah to carry on working "L'envie des Betes".

The next day we started warming up on some of the many excellent blues and reds we'd not yet done, but somehow got distracted onto "L'amoche doigt" the 6B arete of white 1. The sequence that took me to the top didn't work for Sarah, and after the problem frustrated her for a few attempts, a local Bleausard asked to have a go, and (obviously) cruised it effortlessly. As did Sarah, using his foot placements. Those cheeky Bleausards, eh! We moved onto "L'envie des Betes", but it wasn't to be this time. We walked further into the forest to seek out "L'angle de serac", a sharp, slabby arete (6B). The angles and surfaces on this block are so perfect it looks man-made. Chris (Bungle) tip-toed up it on the last trip, but at the time I didn't even bother trying. It was time to dig out my new pair of Katanas that only come out for special occasions. Six foot moves is all there is to it, one of which is a heel. But it took us a long time to work it out. Sarah latched the top jugs - at least that's what her spotter thought when he started celebrating a tenth of a second before she peeled the length of the slab and landed at his feet. She also peeled the skin off a couple of fingers on her left, so the tick will have to wait. Ego now drunk with success, I thought I'd just nip up and flash "El Poussif" (7A+) up the hill, but you know what they say about hubris. I couldn't touch it.

Irritatingly, the weather turned and the next day was a total wash-out, and the day after that some serious shower-dodging that saw us totalling three warm-up problems at Roche aux Sabots. Today more of the same - although it only stopped raining after lunch we at least managed a few hours. I really want to do "Graviton" (7A) which I'd failed (repeatedly) on last trip - unfortunately the top was sodden, so it will have to wait. We did "La Dalle de Cristal", a nice slab on the red circuit, and also the pretty butch first problem of the red circuit. Sarah also repeated the hardest grade 4 in the forest - I blame the showers that I - ahem - didn't have time to finish it. I tried "Jet Set", a 7A dyno that everyone says is a path - the liars. Sarah sensibly had a cup of tea instead. We then placed our mat under "L'angle de Jean-Luc", a slabbed, blunt arete, graded 6B+, although we had advanced warning that this is no ordinary 6B+. Will had kindly given us a whole A4 page of written beta, and we had a local Bleausard demo the problem for us. Although we still couldn't finish it before the rain set in again, this is one we both really want to come back to. Beautifully technical.

Although it's now raining rather heavily, we've still only lost one full climbing day to rain over the last two and a bit weeks. Not a bad tally, even if shower-dodging soon gets tedious even with the fastest drying rock. Sarah is now talking about restricting my rest days to make the most of the available weather - it's like skiing all over again!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Summer season starts here

Two manic days of unpacking the winter stuff and locating and packing camping + climbing stuff ensued. Our poor house sitter Vicky must have thought that a tornado had struck, and upended the whole house. We'd had a curry with Cath and Dave on the way home and ended up arriving back in Bristol around midnight. Sarah couldn't resist rifling through the last month's post, and discovered that we'd been slapped with a rather substantial parking fine that had rapidly escalated with a matching escalation in rhetoric - from bloody B&Q of all places. It was currently standing at £110 + legal fees, which seemed a bit harsh as we'd been in B&Q for legitimate reasons, purchasing some materials for building some bookshelves in the spare bedroom and lounge. Apparently, you may not stay any longer than 90 minutes in B&Q - and if you've ever shopped with Sarah, you know that this is bound to be tight. Sarah was fuming with frustration, and consequently couldn't sleep. Take note - never open the post on the night of arrival, as there inevitably will be some item of bad news ready to spoil your night's rest.

The next day we had a million and one little admin tasks to see to, the extra one being the B&Q issue. However, Sarah straightened that one out by a phone call and a subsequent trip out to Filton branch with a print-out of a bank statement. Apparently, they're plagued by students using their car park. We're plagued by the fact that our car insurance will run out half-way through this leg of our trip, and this needs sorting before we go. Our rode-side assistance scheme has European cover, but only for so many days. Oh, and washing. Packing for two months on the road. We took over the newly refurbished lounge as our gear central, and with everything laid out on the floor it seemed implausible that all of that stuff would actually fit in our rather modestly sized car. The boulder mat alone swallows most of the boot space. Add therma-rests, sleeping bags, tent, camping gear and our winter duvet - we camp in style & comfort - ropes, two foldable chairs (wedding present, much appreciated), a cool box, stoves, slow-cooker (top idea from Kate) and we're talking a snug fit. Yet fitted it did, and we made our Dover mid-day sailing with time to spare.

After about four hours of French open roads, this time robustly instructing the sat-nav to avoid the Paris Peripherique, which is almost as bad as the London orbital, we made it to our camp site in Boulancourt, where we have hired a static caravan for the first bit - happy not having to pitch the tent in the dark and rather chilly evening. We seem to have scored on the accommodation front so far, from the lovely, brand-new apartment in Andermatt to the spacious hytte in Rjukan, and now a well-equipped, roomy and price-wise very reasonable static here. Only drawback seems to be that the floors are absolutely freezing. I will need to invest in a pair of cosy slippers.

We've planned to hang around here and boulder for about four weeks, and then head south to Provence to clip bolts for the next four. However, our plans are flexible, and given that we had similar ideas when we were traveling around in the States a few years back, yet never managed to go anywhere beyond the bouldering Mecca of Bishop, who knows - we might not leave Font if we're going well.

Our days in the UK were totally manic, and we didn't seem to manage much sleep, so we took a long morning without an alarm set, went shopping and simply chilling, flicking through guide books over a glass of Bordeaux and forming a plan whilst the slow cooker is making us dinner.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On belay

Originally uploaded by hvs

Sarah on Nye Vemorkfoss

Originally uploaded by hvs
Sarah's first ice climb

Me and Hardangervidda

Originally uploaded by hvs

Monday, March 08, 2010

Meet the Vipers

Originally uploaded by hvs


Originally uploaded by hvs
beautiful day for x-country

Look at those Vipers..

Originally uploaded by hvs
sooo many new toys

Sarah vs the ice axe

Originally uploaded by hvs
..and the axe won

Vemork Brufoss East

Originally uploaded by hvs
Sarah climbing steep ice

Ice ice baby

Oslo Torp Airport isn't really anywhere near Oslo at all, despite what Ryan Air somewhat fraudulently might want to claim - however, as a stop for us heading for Telemark and the ice climbing Mecca of Rjukan it's the nearest airport. Or 'airstrip' might be a better word for it. It's tiny, and the plane after landing has to do a three-point turn, and go back whence it came to head for the shack which serves as a terminal building. Still. We picked up a rather snazzy 1.0 VW Polo Diesel, which at least was 'Winterised' - meaning it had snow tires, bum warmers, a scraper with integrated brush and the traction control disable button disabled. The amounts of snow here means we're grateful for any winterisation the car might provide. The sat-nav says it's about 180km, but having driven in Norway before I know how much the roads bend, and in the snow conditions, this could have been an arduous drive, but was actually surprisingly ok.

Rjukan is a very narrow gorge cutting a swathe through the Telemark mountains. I won't bore you with its claim to fame from the war - I'm sure you've all seen the film. Rjukan was 'discovered' as an ice destination for non-locals some years back. Partly due to the damming of the river, and partly an accident of nature, both sides of the gorge are essentially one frozen waterfall after another - literally hundreds - of different sizes and shapes. Combined with the fact that Norwegian winters are long and cold, and that the sun rarely reaches the ice due to the depth, shape and orientation of the gorge, this place is pretty much ideal for ice climbing, with very stable and predictable conditions. UK guide book powerhouse Rockfax recently brought out a guide to the place, which in equal measures opened the eyes of the UK climbing community, and pissed off the locals.

Neither me, nor Sarah has ever ice climbed before, and this trip should actually have taken place last Easter, but at the time the ice had actually started to go due to unseasonably warm spring weather - probably due to climate change stemming from all the UK climbers flying here, lining Ryan Air's coffers. Sarah gave me four guided days as my 40th birthday present. We're staying in a traditional Norwegian 'hytte' - mountain holiday hut, apparently a reconstruction of the workers' accommodation from when the dam was built. There's quite a few of them here, all in different pastel colours - our's is blue. It's rather spacious for our needs, it has another three beds, but was actually the cheapest option (not that that means much in Norway, with the pound to the krone ratio as it is).

The idea was to climb Monday and Tuesday, and then have Wednesday and Thursday free to do something else, or recover, and then climb again on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, our designated guide had sustained an injury whilst skiing the week before, and we had to move the Saturday session to the Thursday, which in retrospect was probably a better plan anyway. We'd failed to notice that there is a very nice ski centre just up the road - had we known we'd probably brought the skis with us that are now occupying space on the floor of Cath and Dave's spare room.

We met Andreas at the office of Rjukan Adventure on Monday morning to tool up - I'd brought a pair of crampon-compatible boots I had stashed away in my man drawer, and we'd also brought various climbing paraphernalia that might come handy - harnesses, belay devices, screw-gates, a few slings and a pair of tiblocks. Sarah borrowed a pair of boots, and we fitted crampons and chose tools - Sarah a pair of Petzl/Charlet Quarks, and I picked a rather tasty pair of Black Diamond Vipers. We drove up the gorge for about 5 minutes and walked down to the bottom of Nye Vemorkfoss, a three-pitch tasty little number. There were two parties on it already, and the Brits to the right had laced it like a sports route. Andreas muttered something about the freak-show being back in town. This 'foss' (waterfall) was on the right side of vertical all the way, and Andreas set off and set about excavating a belay bolt behind the ice at the first stance. As Sarah and I set off on the first easy pitch it became clear that there are advantages to being first, seeing the amount of ice that each climber dislodges pretty much continuously. As the belayer, compared to rock climbing it's much more vital to stand in the right place. I managed to rip my Arc'teryx Gore-Tex trousers twice, one per leg, with my crampons pretty much on the off. Joy. I wasn't sure what I had expected out of ice climbing. In theory, it ought to be easy. Not being restricted to existing holds, as a climber of many years I should find it a path. In practice, it's different. Swinging the tools - although very satisfying - soon tires triceps and forearms, and apparently my left arm is much weaker than my right in that I found getting solid placements off the left much harder. Second pitch was longer and slightly more sustained. What makes Rjukan so good for ice (it never sees the sun) also makes for cold hands when belaying. Three pitches saw us walking off the top around 3pm and the route had been what seemed to me to be a great introduction to waterfall ice. The next day followed a similar pattern - but this time on the sunny side of the gorge, just above the town itself. Four pitches, the two first very long, and slightly steeper than what we'd done before. Andreas demonstrating how best to use ice screws on belays, and also, somewhat disturbingly, showing how they occasionally melt free and may need replacing.

Wednesday was our rest day, and we drove up to the ski centre at Gaustablikk some 20 mins down the road. Half a dozen lifts, and a very large mountain to the side which looked ideal for touring and off-pisting. Shame we hadn't brought our kit. We were keen on some cross country anyway, so we drove on to Kvitåvatn next door where Andreas had recommended we rent cross country kit. We were met by a friendly man speaking a curious mixture of Danish and Norwegian, and when he heard Sarah speaking English he switched to a flawless English. Turns out that he was from Norfolk, but living and working in Norway for the last 25 years. Married to a Danish lady. Like most places in Norway there were oodles of prepared cross country tracks of varying degree of length and difficulty. Trevor recommended we started with the 10k green, and if we wanted more we could tackle the reds, either 6, 10 or 15k after lunch. The day was perfect for it - 5 below, blue skies, searing sun, no wind. We did the green, as Trevor had suggested, and had lunch in the snow. We then carried on with the red 10k and were rewarded with breathtaking views of Gaustatoppen and the remote expanse of the Hardangervidda, the central highland plateau. Although I cross-country skied a lot as a child, I haven't done it in anger for decades, and I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is, and even small down hills are exhilarating. For Sarah, this was probably her third time, but having done plenty of touring she seemed to have it licked. It was a very nice day out.

Next up was more ice, and we dedicated Thursday to some actual instruction at Krokan, home of stacks of short, steep single-pitch routes. This time I'd been given a pair of Nomics. Andreas quickly soloed up and set up a top rope. The first two days had felt comparatively straight-forward, but this was a different kettle of fish. I was first up, and the ice was rather beaten out, so I tried to re-use other people's placements rather than banging in my tools. My arms were burning when I reached the top, and it had felt utterly desperate. 'NOW CLIMB DOWN!' shouted Andreas from the bottom. He must be joking, clearly. I reversed about 4 metres, and then slumped, spent, onto the rope. Sarah managed up and down. Andreas patiently explained the basics: top tool and feet should form a balanced triangle. Arm straight. Look for next placement. Stand up, remove, and place the next tool. Straight arm, feet up onto the same horizontal line. Kind of obvious, when explained. I tried again. Felt better, but still pumped silly from the previous attempt. Couldn't get around the top bulge for ages, axes glancing off the ice uselessly. When I eventually pulled over, Andreas shouted 'REMOVE YOUR CRAMPONS!. CLIMB DOWN!'. To my own surprise, I actually managed to reverse the route without crampons.

We had some lunch. Andreas then gave me two ice screws, and said that he'd give me a shout when to place them. Getting a screw in whilst hanging from one arm on steep ice turned out to be a rather pumpy affair. My first attempt went in only half its length due to the ice being uneven, so I had to unscrew it and move it. My left arm wasn't happy, but I managed it and carried on. Andreas later pointed out that in that situation you just clear the ice with your tool instead. Placing one higher up was even harder. Sarah was up next, without the benefit of crampons. She was swearing at her "spazzy" left arm, refusing to get the tool in, and also refusing to wind the screw in. One small slip, and she boshed her head against the blunt end (thankfully) of one of her ice tools - a nice gash resulted. Andreas shouted - 'IF THERE IS BLOOD SPLATTERED ON THE ICE YOU CAN HANG ON THE ROPE, OTHERWISE CLIMB ON'. A hard task master. I had one more go to take down the rope, and suddenly it all started to come together (on my 8th attempt). Hook the tool, straight arm, legs up, stand up, next tool. Almost easy :) - I could get used to this thing.

Next day was our last climbing day with Andreas, and the plan was to tackle some 'proper', steeper classics, perhaps Sabotorfossen. However, come the morning there was quite a bit of snow in the air, and a bone-jarringly cold -13 which apart from anything else would make the ice brittle as bone china. Andreas seemed unperturbed, and suggested we tried to reel off 'Host', 'Vemork Brufoss East' and 'Vemork Brufoss West'. We abbed off the road railings to the base of 'Host', and my fingers were already hurting with the cold. Andreas ran the two pitches into one, and Sarah set off first. Due to the brittle ice, Andreas had to work for it, and actually placed some gear for once. Sarah did not have a good time, with tools shattering the ice, requiring eight or more swings to get a solid fix. Adding to that some twists in the double-ropes didn't help, and several times she had to creep under or over my strand to untangle herself. Thanks to her, my path was more unencumbered, and I could focus on the climbing. It was a really good route, and suddenly I felt I was on a proper ice climb. When I pulled over, my arms still felt fresh.

Brufoss West was unfortunately heaving with climbers of varying degree of ability ('bloody freak show', Andreas said), and we walked across to East instead. Worryingly, I couldn't see the ice from the top, but the instruction was to ab to the bottom and climb up. As I abbed down I was confronted with 70m of frozen waterfall, rather steep in places and with runnels, massive icicles, the works. Very steep to the right, marginally less steep to the left. I quickly decided to award myself the luxury of the easiest line. I soon got absorbed in the flow of the climbing - not a single person in sight, a neverending sheet of ice, and the chunk-chunk of solid placements. It was as these things go a pretty memorable climbing experience, and I was cheesily pleased with myself and how I'd climbed the pitch. Pulling over, my smile dimmed somewhat when I was greeted by Andreas complaining about me having dodged the meat of the pitch, the vertical ice runnel to the right. Sarah abbed down and set about the 'proper' way. Andreas ran off to take some photos of Sarah off the bridge, and when he came back he said that she was doing well, but looking a bit tired. When she pulled over, she was smiling, but looking slightly worn. In retrospect, I think that ice climbing favours the brute-force and ignorance approach of a man, rather than the technical subtlety and foot wizardry of a woman, and Sarah occasionally found it difficult to get her tools to stick. As I'd gone left, Andreas sent me down the rope again to do the right-hand variation. Another 70m.. The ice architecture was spectacular - organ pipes, and very steep, but in the back of the runnel some good hooks, and some bridging - awesome. Sarah dropped down to try the left variation.

And so for the last day - we'd said that if the weather looked nice we'd return to Gaustablikk to do some more x-country, and it'd dawned clear and very cold. We packed our sacks and headed back up to pick up some kit - and this time we'd attempt the long loop around the main mountain peak, nearly all of it above the tree line, 23km in all. Trevor pointed to a map and warned us about a particularly steep downhill where to make things worse an avalanche had slid over to the right. He suggested we might want to take our skis off and walk rather than to zig-zag down in the powder to the left like some people did. Toothpick-narrow x-country skis, powder and steep down hill is a somewhat sub-optimal combination. We picked up the track and it was glorious. The first 5 or 6k was a steady, but never arduous gentle climb working our way up the contour lines of the mountain. As we reached the steep downhill Trevor had mentioned, there was never any question and we removed our skis and walked down - at the bottom of the hill we decided to have a cuppa and enjoy the scenery, and it turned out to be a choice spot for people watching. Quite a few folks out and about, and some were ballsier than others and a few people actually attempted the drop on skis, but as long as we sat there no one managed to remain standing. One lady dusting her self off exclaimed that such down hills were 'special interest only', which made us smile. We set off, an as we came around the mountain we were hit by a rather persistent wind which made conversation hard - and unfortunately it would seem we'd have to do most of the remainder with the wind in our faces, which took a bit of the enjoyment out of it. Some long downs took us out of the wind and back onto the frozen lake, and we found a secluded spot in the sun to finish our thermos and our packed lunch and thaw up a bit.

And so all that remained was to get back, pack up and head back to blighty. Some friendly Brits in the hytte next door had kindly donated four bottles of Tuborg on their departure the night before, which will certainly earn them some good karma points. With the Norwegian prices, we'd not bothered with any alcohol what so ever for the whole week, and probably as a consequence, those beers must rank as some of the best ever.

Anyway - ice climbing, in summary - I loved it, whilst Sarah remains less convinced. I would certainly like to do it again. As an ice climbing destination, at least from as far as I can tell, the Rjukan hype seems to be true, and the best climbing is to be had in March, whereas all foreigners seems to insist in coming in December or January - the two coldest, darkest, most miserable months. As mentioned, it is worth noting that there is an excellent ski area here with awesome touring and off-piste options for a few days if you want a break, and endless x-country tracks. Norway's spectacular scenery is hard to beat.

Friday, March 05, 2010

End of a fantastic month.

The last few days in Andermatt past in a blur - on the tuesday we'd planned to do a tour from the Guspis valley up to two conspicuous rock towers, and down the other side down to a dam to pick up the Hospental summer road, but as we booted up (in knee deep again, where does this stuff come from?) to the col, we could see that our objective was totally enveloped in cloud, so we decided to carry on up left and do some of the colouirs on the other side like we'd done before. Question was, skins or carry on booting? It'd taken us no more than 10 mins last time, but now there were no tracks and deep snow. We opted for the booting, but soon wished we'd skinned, as breaking trail in thigh deep powder soon got tedious, not to mention sweaty. Two unhinged Swedes on teles were already eyeing up the steepest part of the drop when we got to the top - they'd skinned up, and overtaken us. They dropped in, but actually seemed to have quite a miserable time - crusty hard-pack, heavy from the morning's sun exposure. We traversed to the right, into the colouir we'd followed previously, now seemingly gloriously untracked again. However, it was one of those feelings - "if it looks too perfect..". We took all the precautions we could, and I was first. It was harder skiing this time, with the snow heavy, but from what we could gather, a lot better than that which the telemarkers got. Crossing over to the less steep part, it was perfect, with the bit in the shade proper fluffy powder. Where previously we'd donned skins and gone back upwards, we carried on down towards the Vermigel and the long, tedious pole-out along avalanche alley. The afternoon was spent pottering around in the main bowl.

On the Wednesday the weather was stunning, and although we were tired, it was just too good for another rest day, Sarah said. We did a couple of runs and then pulled into the avalanche rescue training area - pretty cool, just punch in the number of burials, and the number of minutes, and get searching and probing. We have Barryvox Pulse transceivers, digital and capable of giving both estimated distance and direction, and also the ability to mark and ignore already located signals. Compared to the analog models that only gives to an estimated distance, it's a lot easier. Both me and Sarah found a single burial within 4 minutes, and three within 15 - the time after which survival becomes more hypothetical. Of course - on nice and flat ground, sun beating down, and no lives actually at stake, it's rather different from the real thing, but training is essential.

We then channelled our 'inner Angus' and sat ourselves down on the sun deck and had a long lunch in the sun.

We were back at Oberalppass Thursday to attempt one of the tours that Krister had recommeded, with 1000m of ascent. Unfortunately, once at the usual col, the weather had drawn in again, and we were umming and aahing what to do. We decided to carry on a bit further, and ripped the skins off the skis and put them on our backs, and scrambled up along the exposed ridge. Visibility was poor. When we came to the next col the plan was to drop down left, and then carry on up to another SAC hut, but we could see not much at all. We dropped down right instead, and skied down towards Andermatt - what turned out to be a lovely run in improving conditions.

And so, our last day was upon us - with crazy snowfall during the night and morning we weren't in a hurry, until suddenly the heavens cleared, and we had ourselves a rare combination of clear skies, fresh powder and barely any people. We had possibly our best day's skiing - kick-ass runs down an untouched Felsental, and the main powder bowl.

Now all that remained was the packing and cleaning. Strange how quick a month flies.

On Saturday morning we ferried all our kit down to the station and headed for Zurich airport and onwards back to Blighty. Our good friends Cath and Dave had kindly allowed us to leave our car on their drive for the month, and Dave came to pick us up from the airport. We had a nice dinner at theirs, and Sarah and I quickly re-jigged our packing from skiing to ice climbing - we had a total of 14 hours on UK soil, and without Cath and Dave's kind help it would have been much more of a painful experience to turn around. We'd really missed them - we have skied a lot with them, but as they're now new parents, they passed on the snow for this season. We've actually seen Cath and Dave quite frequently as a consequence of this trip, and baby Jessica is growing visibly between visits. We drove from Cath and Dave's up to a hotel near Stanstead where we were on the 6:30am Ryan Air (yes, I know..) flight to Torp, Oslo the next morning.

In summary, Andermatt was great. We'll definitely be back.