Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Ceuse 2016

I turned 18, finished school, and had two months of summer ahead of me. A perfect time for a climbing trip. I didn’t own a car so this limited my options, but for me the obvious destination was Ceuse in the South of France. This was my fourth trip but would be by far the longest time I had spent out there. We travelled down by train and arrived at Gap at midnight. Gap is a big town so I thought it reasonable that there would be taxi’s running to the early hours of the morning. There were no taxis. Stuck we headed for the only open restaurant a Chinese and asked about taxis then hotels. It soon became clear we weren’t going to get to the campsite until the Chinese man pulled out his car keys and offered us a lift. What a stroke of luck.

Rosanna 8a
Tom on Vagabond 7c
From the last trip I tried an 8c called Dures Limites so naturally one of my main goals was to finish off this route. I tried it on the first day and could do all the moves like before but wasn’t anywhere near linking the crux 15 moves of power endurance at half height and also the top crux felt extremely low percentage with the top being by far the hardest moves on the route. I kept chipping away at it over the next week each day having a couple more goes. Slowly I got stronger on it, the moves started feeling easier and easier. My first serious day of redpoints I fell on the crux section each time.

Many people think that if you try a route enough you’ll do it. This is a myth, as at the start you may see dramatic improvement on the route but as this improvement tails off seeing gains is harder and harder. For Dures Limites I knew I could do it if I kept improving so I was nervous before the next session. The crux went and I fell from the top heartbreaker three times, still I was psyched out of my mind to get there three times. I took a rest day and went back for it. All the training is worth it for the feeling of being strong and light on a route that is at your max difficulty. I warmed up on it then on the next go sent it. This was the hardest route of my life.

My other goal was to onsight 8a+. The best training for onsighting is practising it so over the next few days that’s what I did. I was waiting for a perfect day of climbing and I was doing everything I could to create that perfect day. I knew I was close to the ability I need when I flashed Le Poinconnceur de Lilas 8a+ on Demi Lune, this route was intensely technical with a hard crux. The two 8a+’s I’d set my eyes on where both classics Encore and Face de Rat. Encore seemed very possible as I watched my brother cruise up it a couple weeks ago. So after much preparation I decided I’d go for it. I crimped my way through the bottom holds appearing just as I needed them and reach a rest before a final bulge, this was it. I puffed like a marathon runner and squeezed the life out of each hold until I was at the chains. My first 8a+ onsight! Next up was Face de Rat this one was longer but had a rest all day slab in the middle. I made this rest and above all the big pockets disappeared and turned to tiny looking crimps. I decided on a sequence through then and went for it. This wasn’t super hard and a scraped my way through.

Flying off Mirage 7c+
To finish the trip, I had a devil to put to rest. Last time I dropped the top slab of Le Chirurgein de Crepuscule 8b which is a 35m wall with an intense crux at 15m then sustainedly technical from 20m to 35m. I tried it again and found the crux really hard. I then went to fall on it twice. This was really frustrating as I could do this before. Suddenly the clouds rolled over the top of Ceuse so I went for a quick attempt and stuck the crux moves. Suddenly clouds broke and it started pouring it down, I climbed to the slab and once again dropped as it was dripping with water. When it dried out I fired it out first attempt of the day. This was one of the best 8b’s I’d ever done! Just next to this was my final challenge La Femme Blanche 8a+. This route had a big stigma of being scary and technically difficult. I had the beta given to me and managed to flash it. This route was like a pumpy 7c then a crimpy crux and a 7c slab above it. I climbed this on my last day and it was absolutely incredible to finish on this route.

After four trips to Ceuse I’ve grown to love this crag but it’s the first place where I feel like I’m running out of routes. I’ve done most of the good 8’s and only have the harder ones to do like Mr Hyde, Le Part du Diable and Chronique. However I’m sure I will return to this crag if I get stronger as these routes are incredible and I saw people trying Realization which is an all-time dream and looks like one of the best routes in the world although one of the hardest. So I’m very excited to return.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Magic Wood

After Ceuse it was time for the second part of the trip. Magic Wood! This was my first time visiting this famous bouldering venue. I’d heard stories of bad landings, soft grades and the best bouldering in Europe. I got there and it didn’t disappoint there was everything I hoped for and more.

There were bad landings, one of the first problems we tried was called Pirannha which was a 7c/+. This one had a track record of breaking people but I thought the landing looked flat. Soon Ed was getting close to the crux deadpoint but he came off awkwardly and twisted his ankle, there I was thinking the landing was solid. I kept trying but being extra careful now, eventually I managed the deadpoint and tried it from the start which adds about six moves of easier climbing and did it straight away! Some problems however just have god awful landings like Hohenrausch 7b+ but after first sight at this climb I knew I wanted to do it. It’s a perfect smooth wall split with edges and they get smaller as you get higher. The last move was the crux and it was high above the slanted landing and death pit to make matters worse it was very dynamic. I tried a few times and got to the end and chickened out. I persuaded myself that James would stop me dying and went for the last move. I stuck it then pulled over the top. My heart was beating pretty fast by then.

Jack's Broken Heart, the crux move
We had the new guide book which had downgraded loads of problems to a slash grade which seemed stupid for example Pirannha was 7c/+. I wish they would just make up their minds. One of these problems was Jack’s Broken Heart 8a/+. This problem I’d seen in loads of videos and always thought it looked incredible and would really suit me. The line was a row of flat rails that traversed a steep lip. I tried the problem on my first day and found I could do all the moves but linking them felt miles beyond me. On one of the last days we went back for Jack’s and I knew all the moves so just tried from the start, I power screamed my head off and managed to pull it out of the bag. Another stupid slash grade problem was The Bomb is Explosion 7c+/8a. This wasn’t a great line neither was it a cool sequence it was just one very very hard move which for me gives a quality problem. The day we went to try it was a wash out even the Roof of Darkness was wet so this must have been the only dry boulder. The move is pull-on through a heel on and slap for a jug. The problem wasn’t very complicated. After a few goes to recruit the biceps I stuck the jug and climbed to the top. This is probably the hardest move I’ve ever done.

The bouldering was world class no doubt about that. Two problems stood out for me Blown Away 7b and Swizz Beats 7c+. Blown Away we did to finish a day climbing and the sun had set so we needed to use the flood light. Angels couldn’t have made a better line, it was a rail across this massive over hang that was athletic, pumpy and with a scary top-out. We all climbed it and agreed it was an all-time great. Swizz Beats was significantly harder, it wasn’t the best line but the moves on it blew every other climb out of the water. You had to squeeze with every part of your body to stay on the start with toe-hooks being the key then it finished with a technical slab climb. I tried this for a couple sessions but couldn’t quite do the first two moves although it felt like five moves because of the foot sequence. One day when I went up I just tried the problem from the start first time and sent it which was a bit of a miracle.

Spending only ten days here was plenty of time and I’m super keen to get back here again and push my bouldering more. I tried some problems that I didn’t send like Massive Attack 8a+, Steppenwolf 8b and Left Hand of Darkness 8a/8a+. I think it’s important to try things that stop you to motivated you to get stronger so that’s the goal now.