Sunday, 15 May 2011

Two Weeks of Climbing Bliss

Firstly, let me apologise for the long post but I have lots to tell from the last couple weeks of adventure. Rather than saying “I did was good” or “we went was nice”; I’m going to try and set the scene and the excitement I felt.

Switzerland is a truly stunning place and I was lucky enough to spend six days there recently. A friend of mine (Dave Gater) and I drove from Leeds to Switzerland in one stint, which took around twenty hours. It was exhausting but bucket loads of enthusiasm and a welcome from one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen as we entered Switzerland kept us going. The glorious rising sun seemed like a good omen.

Dave had spent several months in Switzerland last year on a euro-tour and was eager to show me the delights of Swizzy. We went straight to a place called Sobrio after the drive for a chill and some munch. It wasn’t an impromptu visit. It also happens to be home to one of the most mind boggling problems in the world; Nalle Huukatival’s Ninja Skills (Font 8b+). Without any sleep for nearly two days we bush whacked our way through the steep hillside foliage and eventually found the line. I could scarcely believe my eyes. As you stand below the huge chunk of granite, it towers over you and makes for quite an intimidating prospect. It can be thought of as several problems stacked on top of each other. The first is a desperate overhanging wall, spanning from an undercut to a crimpy rail and then pressing into a remarkable ramp feature. The next sequence climbs the ramp/prow with slopers and a big move. The final section takes you from the top of the ramp out small roof and to the glory of the finish. I was inspired, albeit barely able to keep my eyes open after such a journey.

After trying to absorb the enormity of Ninja Skills and working out all the moves in my head for the “beta bank”, it was back to the van for some kip. Ninja Skills wasn’t something to try this trip but has given me inspiration to make a journey back on day and give it a proper go. We clutched a couple of hours sleep in the sunshine before I woke.....“Dave, DAVE! It’s 3pm, we’ve been asleep two hours – let’s go! Come on, let’s go!!!”

I’m not sure that he was too impressed with my eagerness at that point. We collected our thoughts and mobilised ourselves. Passing Cresciano and Chironico was tough but I had been assured that the "secret" place we were heading was well worth waiting for....which it inevitably was.

Making our way through the convoluted mountain roads, with stunning alpine vistas, we eventually reached our final destination. Suitably knackered, we decided to get the pads, a few beers and some food to chill by an idyllic mountain river. It also happened to be the home of a beautiful 7c called Bachbloc. We set the pads down in front of this problem to commence relaxation. This didn’t work for me. The line was so enticing, I HAD to try it. Dave had done it before so gave the numbers. There are many sequences to this problem so I had to tweak his beta. To my surprise and immense delight, I cruised through the crux in a couple of attempts and found myself at the highball top out. A panicky scrap over the slabby top out and I was there, elated and surprised. Not bad for only two hours sleep in the last forty eight, severely low on energy and intoxicated with a couple of cans of 60 cent beer. (We were later informed by locals that the beer we were drinking is what the alcoholics drink in Swizzy; think a Swizzy Tennent’s Superbrew.)

Molunk 7c & Bachbloc 7c

It was a great start to the trip and the run of form seemed to continue. The next day was hot; really hot. We did a nice circuit of problems and I gave another stunning 7c a try - Molunk. Only a few pulls thrashed my skin. I gave it a few goes and had the moves worked out so waited for the cooler evening temp. Fortunately, it went first go and when in the shade. Cue big beaming smile.

The next day, Dave pointed me in the direction of another great Nalle problem, not far from Bachbloc. Side Effect I think was given 8a but has now settled at 7c+. It has a terrible landing but a platform had been built from drift wood to flatten it out. Without pulling on I sussed the moves. It involves a tough and long first move from a good jug to a small very crimpy sidepull. Once you lock your fingers into crimp mode you need to bring your right foot to your hand to gain the next hold. I latched the crimp on my first attempt and instantly felt the stinging bite of the hold. Ouch! I caved in and let go. After a simple tape job to two fingers in order to ease the pain, I pulled on again. I found myself breezing through the crux and into the brilliant top out moves. Second go...had to be happy with that. I was thrilled and relieved at the same time. When you travel great distances for such a short trip you can feel pressure to get a good tick and make the trip worthwhile. In reality, it’s all about getting the most out of your trip and not concentrating or pressurising yourself to climb something hard.

The next few days were full of lots of climbing in sweltering conditions, resting and then getting a couple of hours in the evening. However, the magical thing about this area is that you don’t know what is around the corner. No topo means that you explore the area and climb what you think looks good. One of these lines which grabbed me was an overhanging groove above a terrible landing. The holds looked good but I envisaged it would be more awkward than it looked. One day Dave and I started to build up an already existing platform from sticks. It worked really well so we relaxed for the day and tried the line later that evening. I worked the sequence and sent it in a few attempts. I still have no idea what it is called (if anything), how hard it is or who did it first. Do I care? No. That is what is so great; it’s all about the climbing and the incredible setting.

Other highlights were climbing an amazing highball arête with no name or grade (as far as I know). It was tricky and involved a scary little slap at the top. Black Mirror, a intimidating 10 metre slab was also a heart thumping highlight.

Un-named arete and Black Mirror (6b+)

Dave also had his sights on a dyno project he saw there on his last trip. I’m not a dyno freak but this really was a great looking jump with a high and committing top out. The jump itself is also a terrifying prospect, with a landing which severely slopes downhill. After a few half arsed attempts Dave launched from the starting jug and nearly caught the very slopey shelf. He was shocked. I was shocked. He gathered himself together, rested and attempted the dyno again. I was full of anticipation and almost certain of world class send. He nestled his fingers in the starting jug eyeing up the shelf hold. He pulled on and started to pull up with immense force. BANG! The entire starting hold exploded and Dave flew backwards, landing in a heap. The hold he pulled off must have weighed at least ten kilos, which narrowly missed his leg as he hit the ground. If it had caught him straight on it would have snapped his leg like a twig. We were both in disbelief. After realsing he wasn’t hurt, Dave was distrort. He was literally a couple of goes from establishing the area's hardest dyno. Not only that, it was a top quality line. Check out the vids below.

Towards the end of the trip I was physically and mentally very tired. Lack of sleep, too many beers and thrashing around on rocks had taken its toll. My finger tips were white and my lats ached like I’d been treated like a piece of tenderised beef. However, there was another line which had caught my eye; a Dave Graham line (I think) called Cellar Door (8a). It climbs the right side of a striking roof. The roof had been walled in many years ago to make a goat pen but climbing is still possible. The wall creates quite a problem for the landing. It would be high and “ballsy” anyway but the wall adds an extra danger factor. I usually shy away from such dangerous looking lines but the climbing looked superb and crimpy so I couldn’t resist. I was so tired I really didn’t expect any progress but I tried anyway. Sussing the top by eye I tried the hard lower section. After only a few tries I found myself through the crux and at the halfway jug. The crux involves taking a very bad sidepull crimp with your left hand and putting your heel next to your right hand in a jug. A stiff pull is required to latch the next small but good crimp then a very tension dependant move is needed to sort your feet out and reach the jug. Once at that point, I went into auto pilot, ploughing through and finding myself dangling from the top. Where did that come from? What an end to the trip.

Cellar Door 8a

The next day we were off back to Leeds. We had a short session, chilled with friends, packed our stuff and went for the mission home. Incredibly we did the whole thing in one stint again. That was one hell of a long day. As soon as we got home, we downloaded all the pics (around 500) for a slideshow.

I think next time I will go to Switzerland in better and cooler conditions. However, I can’t complain. We had clear sunny skies and sun-bathing temperatures every day. We were in an alpine paradise with some of the most spectacular rock this planet has to offer. The only thing I could have done with was more time – preferably a life time.

For those of you who are still reading; congratulations. I’ve probably waffled my way though and if I stumbled across this post myself; I would have probably given up by now. You might be disappointed to hear that Switzerland was only half of my holiday.

The next day after the mega enduro-euro drive, I repacked my bags and set off for the Lakes with my girlfriend, Charlotte. My mother and auntie inherited my grandfather’s cottage in Ravenglss so I am lucky enough to have access to a beautiful holiday home, literally on the beach and twenty minutes drive from St Bees. This was the view from the sitting room of my late granfather's cottage:

This was to be a more relaxed trip but as Charlotte is a climber too we no doubt had some climbing in mind. The first port of call was Samson Stones in upper Eskdale. I had never made the effort to go there, primarily due to the hour and half walk in. Lazy bastard! It was really worth the visit and has a decent circuit with some stand out problems. Event horizon (Font 6c+) is superb. Greg Chapman added a sitter to this a while ago. Stellar Dweller climbs out of a cave to join the stand up. It weighs in at a hefty 8a. I reckon it could be one of the best hard problems in the Lakes. I tried it briefly but it was too warm so I’m fully keen to get back there in better conditions. I did various problems up there but was blown away with how good Stargazer was, although one of the holds is very sharp. It involves an easy sit start into a razor sharp sidepull crimp, long move to a slopey pinch out left and a satisfying dyno to finish. The landing is a bit hairy so a spotter and a couple of pads are essential. You don’t want to break anything up there!

Charlotte and I also managed a day at the Lakes’ very own beach bouldering paradise – St Bees. She cruised through Hueco Crack in very impressive style. Round the corner from this is a superb 7c called Tim’s Crack. It suffers from a lot of seepage and in all my years of bouldering there I have never seen it (almost) dry. I don’t think it ever fully dries out and it felt very damp that day but better than it had ever been before. I remember seeing a vid of Dan Varian climbing it ages ago and being quite jealous that he’d found it in condition. I couldn’t remember any beta from his vid so I spent nearly an hour working it out. Climbing feet first, spinning round, hand jams, pockets and a highball top out all make this a very special problem. I think Dan said that it may be one of the best in the UK and I’m not sure I can argue with him there. After getting a sequence nailed, it actually went with not too much of a problem. A really special day for me, aside from being in a beautiful setting with my girlfriend!

We also went over to Borrowdale to meet Charlotte’s parents, who were staying in some posh hotel there. Her dad is a bit of a Northumbrian climbing legend so they went off doing something called “trad” and I went solo to the Bowderstone. I was very happy to see a familiar face, Tom Sugden. We were Bowderstone novices and struggled to work out what was what. I had been twice before but couldn’t really remember much. We did manage to both send a great problem on the ladder face, the sit start to Grand Opera right hand, at around 7c+. I knew what I wanted to try next, an awesome, very dynamic problem on the arse end...I mean back side....of the stone. XXXX (8a) uses good in cut sidepulls but very far apart. On my flash go I was only centimetres from the top. Several goes later I was very close. On one of my goes I hit my elbow pretty hard and gave myself a fairly good cut and bruise. I also had to dash off for lunch with Charlotte’s parents. I returned to the stone a few hours later, full of cake and thoroughly sluggish. Climbing over.

We returned a couple of days later. After a short warm up I managed to jump my way up XXXX in a few goes. Being a bit of a show pony, I decided to try and get some good angles of the moves so I could make a vid. What a mistake!! I could do all the moves pretty steadily so got a few angles. On my third or fourth take I must have misjudged the final dyno and smashed my elbow in exactly the same place as last time but probably ten times harder. I writhed around in agony for about ten minutes. After about half an hour my elbow had swollen to the size of a golf ball. All I could do was laze in the sun and eat chocolate. Charlotte and her Dad were off tradding so I waited for about two hours before I saw them. It was off to hospital for me. The nurse cleaned the wound and said I should maybe go for an x-ray in the next few days. Fortunately, it has settled quite a bit so I doubt I fractured it. Saying that, it still is very painful and I can’t put any pressure on it. At least it keeps my elbows off the table; something my mum had tried to do for years! Here's a vid of the smash and a crap edit of the angles I did manage to get before my collision.

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