Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tent Life

Jerome on La Cour des Grands 7c at Entraygues
What climbing do you know in the Haute Alps? Hopefully you’d have heard of Ceuse, the wonder cliff at the top of the hill, or Ailefroide with granite slabs in alpine meadows. However for those wanting to get away from these popular venues there are others. Small crags high up in the mountains hold sensational climbing in stunning settings.
Me on Deltaplane man Direct 8c+ at Entraygues
Driving from Gap to Briancon the first major area you get to is the conglomerate. The two areas are Mont Dauphin for lower grade climbers and Rue des Masques for higher grade climbers. My brother and I had a couple days here. The first was particularly memorable as we decided to sneak a climb in before the forecasted storms rolled in. The jungle conditions and dripping top slabs made the routes quite sporty. Safe to say we didn’t last long!
Hot potatoes are all good for a while but just a few miles up into the Queyras is a true gem, La Saume. Even before you’ve touched rock your visit will be unforgettable, the 6km of mountain track will be make sure of that. The brave will be rewarded however with long elegant lines on black and yellow limestone. The quality starts with Gazpatcho at 7a+ although make sure to limber up as it’s a strenuous one. Keep going through the 7’s until you reach Petit Danseuse at 8a a continuous pitch which is gripping right to the very end. Once these are done the central 50m black wall awaits. Here the routes are truely world class and the 50m 8b+ is one I’ll never forget. It relied less on power and more on keeping your cool right at the top. This was something I couldn’t do on my flash as I dropped it with the chains in front of my eyes! Just next to the big wall is ‘the cave’ which has a selection of good bouldery routes. Tiens bon la rampe 8a+ is my favourite as it’s such a striking line. First time I saw it I was like ‘wow that looks cool’.
Louis (board lord) on Saume sweet home at La Saume
For those who prefer shorter climbs the crag to visit is Entraygues. This is situated by a river high up and close to the Ecrins national park. The rock type is gneiss and it’s from 10m to 20m tall. We camped by the river which was a bit nerve-racking as it is the pasture of a huge bull. I didn’t feel quite safe sleeping in a bright red tent! The left hand side has routes from 6b to 8a then the right hand side has routes from 7c to 9a+! The 7c La Cour des Grands is the obvious line of weakness but still be sure to bring your shoulders for the crux. Then Le Brulot 8b is another next classic up the ladder and another one to bring some shoulders. The very highest level routes Deltaplane man direct and San Ku Kai both 8c+ are of top quality. I spent a long time trying Deltaplane man direct but the crux slap from a miserable pinch to a crimp shut me down session after session unfortunately.
Just down the valley from Entraygues is the crags of Tournoux and Grand Bois. These both have long technical routes with the best views I’ve ever had from a crag. Make sure to trek all the way to the top sector at Tournoux where the sectors La ruee vers l’or and Loups Hurlant await. La ruee vers l’or has lots of top notch 7’s to enjoy whereas Loups Hurlant the quality starts in the 8’s. At Grand Bois Les boeufs rouges is the sector to visit with epic long routes to go at. Diaclase is a must with burly crack climbing all the way up to the chains at 35m!  
Me on Deltaplane Man Direct 8c+ at Entraygues
The next valley along is the Fournel valley which has some wicked crags in. We spent most of our time trying the classic test-pieces at Roche des Brumes. There is an 8a, 8b, 8c and 9a which are all super classic. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the big one but the 8’s where all amazing. The 8c was called Une arquee pour le criquet and it is a strong contender for the best 8c in the world. Another crag is L’atelier which is a unique crag. It’s really smooth and the starts are all crimpy then you get some technical slab followed by water-worn pockets which require interesting tricks to climb. It’s a crag that tests lots of abilities. My favourite there was a 7c called King line which deserved it’s name because it traversed a beautiful wave of rock before blasting through the steepness to the top.
In summer, there isn’t many places to go where you can enjoy cool temperatures and European style routes. Spending a whole summer around Briancon was a perfect solution. The climbing was super varied and we didn’t even visit all the crags in the area so we might have to make another visit!  

Me on Une Arquee pour le criquet 8c at Roches des Brumes

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Spain Game II

Christmas is time for eating and drinking but not if you want to climb hard in Spain. The sun is low in the sky, the crags are cool, it’s the perfect time for pushing into the high numbers at crags like Oliana and Santa Linya. Here it’s all about the project; you see people on the same route for weeks. They make progress bit by bit, very occasionally sending. The likes of Jonathan Siegrist, Jacob Schubert and Seb Bouin are all visiting and the locals are often there like Edu Marin and Patxi Usobiaga although this year Chris Sharma didn’t make an appearance. It’s hard not to be inspired with all these climbers around and you realise that the way to mastery is letting go of climbing lots but instead focus on one route. Although this may lead to no sense of achievement or satisfaction the best love giving it everything and they are thrilled when they make tiny steps of progress.

I’ve visited this area many times and used the quality routes to push myself. My first 8b was in Margalef, my first 8b+ Siurana, my first 8c Oliana. My goal was to go for my first 8c+. I was searching for a beautiful route with athletic moves right at my limit. Last year I got shut down by an 8b with an 8c+ extension called Blomu but had loved the nature of it. Blomu climbs the left side of Cova Gran near Santa Linya which is thirty metres of perfect orange overhang. The difficulty escalates with the hardest moves being right at the top, the best type of route. After a couple days, I wasn’t sure if it was possible, there was a stopper move right at the chain of the 8b. The moment of realisation it was possible was when I found an awesome drop-knee knee-bar cheat beta for this stopper move. It was time to rest. Now I had all the beta down it was time for red-points. This is when all the nerves and anticipation creep in. No project is possible unless you truly climb freely, focusing only on the climbing and not about the chains. On my first two goes of the day I dropped the top crux, a desperate stab to a three-finger pocket. Normally two hard goes and my arms will be wearing out but as the sun was dipping behind the hill I wanted one last go. This was perfect, I didn’t have any expectations. I just wanted to go and give it hell. I got to the crux and did the next moves, I kept my head together and clipped the chains!

Going back to climbing without fear in your heart, sometimes it comes naturally. You just manage to get out of the right side of the bed in the morning. Maybe coffee helps, maybe it’s the right cereal, or perhaps it’s a low gravity day but climbing like this is special and comes once in a blue moon. I had just one of these days this trip. I’d been being shut down for the third year in a row on Rollito Sharma Extension 8c. This was a true nemesis and a top move felt ridiculous from the floor. However, this one day I climbed it with only a few sketchy moments. After this I felt confident. I went for the flash of an 8b Luke had sent a few days earlier called Codigo Norte. This was a route on the right side of Cova Gran which featured an intense section of about ten moves with a crux revolving about a mono. I fought hard and made it to the top of this one for my first 8b flash. Still brimming with confidence, I decided it would be a good idea to try Ruta de Sol 8b. Frances Bensley and Will Smith had succeeded on this route earlier in the trip and thought it was possible to flash. The moves felt hard but when I thought I was about to fall, my fingers didn’t uncurl. Many times, I should have been off but I still managed to battle through to get the flash. This was a dream as it was cool to actually do a route I’d deliberately not tried in order to do it first go.  

We also climbed lots at Oliana. This is a beautiful crag. Its about fifty metres long, sustained and slightly overhanging this makes for some hard routes. Early in the trip I did El Gran Blau 8b+. There was a direct start to it called Joe Blau 8c+ that I’d seen Jessica Pilz do last year and Jim tried it. Both said it was incredible. The first four clips are a hard boulder problem and you end up clipping the fourth draw when it is by your feet. I never took the fall but each time I felt like I was on some hard grit route. Next you have a nice jug rest to chill out. Then the meat comes and you must do about twenty sustained powerful moves which finished in a dyno to a big jug pocket which is the crux move of El Gran Blau. On an early go I got to the dyno move but could barely clip let alone stick this nails jump. Although after this I had the moment where you know it’s possible. After doing the hard climbing you still have an 8a+ to climb which finished in a sustained section of hard technical climbing. Bad feet, bad hands, run-outs and being pumped out of your mind isn’t a very pleasant combination. A few days later, on my second attempt of the day, I went to war. I got to the dyno boxed again but slightly less so and I managed to recover and do the dyno. Now anything less than the top would be a heartbreaker. I climbed quickly on the hard sections and rested lots. Despite this I felt my arms tiring after each stint of climbing. I was at the rest before the final slab. I went for it but nothing felt quite right, my legs and core were weak. Each foot feeling worse than the last, if one pops I’m off. My fingers sweating, mind racing. I can’t drop it here. Three more holds, two more holds, power scream as I stand up. Not cool when you are on a slab and grabbed the good holds. I’m shaking all over, but elated. The sketch was on point!

Blomu 8c+
The most valuable lesson I can take from this trip is to enjoy the process. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. If it’s hard there is doubt and worry but you must keep going. Sending the route is only half the fun!