dimanche 14 décembre 2014

Climbing in Yangshuo

During our year off work we decided to go and see Elaine's brother Dave and his wife Jenny in Shanghai. We got half price tickets from Air France during a promotion early in the year for 1040 euros in total. We also decided to combine the visit with climbing in Yangshuo.

After an 11 hour flight from Paris we went straight to Jenny's parents place in the ancient town of Xin Chang, where BaBa had prepared us our first Chinese meal which included spring rolls, dumplings and chicken and green beans in ginger. Afterwards BaBa took Dave and I on his small motorbike down to the local market (yes there were 3 of us on the bike and none of us wore helmets!). Dave was only too keen to point out the delicacies, eg. pigs' noses, chickens' feet, ducks' heads (including beaks), pigs' intestines, skinned frogs, turtles and so many different types of fish!

That evening BaBa and MaMa prepared a massive meal of at least 10 different dishes and we were introduced to the older and most important members of the family. The food was amazing though the "Yellow Wine" was absolutely disgusting. That night we tried to get over our jet lag with stuffed bellies.

Next day we moved to Dave and Jenny's apartment in the new part of Pu Dong about 45 minutes drive away. We noticed straight away a massive increase in traffic noise and tooting horns as well as a marked decrease in air quality. I suppose it's understandable as 23.5 million people live in Shanghai!

It was with relief that we finally left the city on the 4th day and took a flight to Guilin and then a taxi on to Yangshuo. We had booked a room in a small hotel opposite the world famous Moon Hill cliff about 6 km south of Yangshuo, which proved to be a very smart move as it was much quieter and cleaner than in Yangshuo town.
The view from our balcony

Pu Yue Ju, our lovely hotel 

Next morning we hiked up the steps for 30 mins to arrive at the cliff, which consists of an arch with lots of stalactites hanging down offering steep climbing on good holds. Whilst our initial impression was that it was pretty small, compared to the crags we climb on in Europe, it looked as though we'd have lots of fun nonetheless. However on closer inspection we noticed that all the first and many of the second bolts had been removed. That was definitely a bad thing as it meant I'd have to climb higher before clipping the rope in for safety. So we started off with an easy 6a on the right and then Elaine would clip the rope into the lowest bolt of the next route as she lowered down and that way we'd be able to top rope the starts. We did three nice warm ups and then I decided to go for it on Over the Moon (Todd Skinner's famous 7b+) despite the absence of the 1st and 2nd bolts. The climbing up to the 3rd bolt at 8 metres was precarious at about 6b+. After that it really steepened up but the holds were great and there were plenty of knee bar rests (plus all the bolts were in). Unfortunately half way up the climb two park officials arrived and told us to stop climbing. Each time I clipped a bolt they shouted "Hello, come down, no climbing". They didn't understand that I had to get to the chain in order to come down. Eventually I lowered down, stripped the draws and then we had to pack in. We didn't climb there again and I didn't get to do Red Dragon (8a/8a+) which was my main objective for the trip. I was absolutely gutted!
Moon Hill and the view towards our hotel. Over the Moon climbs up the right side of the arch (photo by Elaine)

Raul from Andalucia on Seb Grieve's Honky Tonk (7c) at Lei Pi Shan

After that we had to climb at lots of other crags, sometimes walking or using a bicycle to get there. At this point, I have to say that we were generally disappointed with most of the places we climbed and we did find ourselves counting down the days until we could escape. Most crags were very over rated and only had a handful of climbs. Most climbs were super polished. Lei Pi Shan and White Mountain were the most polished, despite (or because of) having some really great climbs. It was utterly frustrating to fall off 7a's and 7b's because your feet zipped off the glassy footholds. I completely lost my normal confidence and dared not try anything hard. Another irritating factor was the topo. "Yangshuo Rock Climbs" has to be the worst climbing guide we have ever had the misfortune to use (even worse than the Alpes Maritimes topo and that's saying something!). We found the maps, directions and hand drawn topos totally inaccurate and the route descriptions were full of unhelpful American hype.
The Stone Dog, 6a+ at White Mountain (photo by Elaine)

Merry Christmas, 6c at White Mountain (photo by Elaine)

Korea No. 1, 8a at White Mountain (photo by Elaine)

Eventually we returned to the noise and smog of Shanghai. Dave and Jenny gave us a great tour taking in the incredible views of the sky scrapers and then we boarded the plane to Paris. We'd had a great adventure and we were actually a bit sad to leave. However, during the flight down to Nice I sat next to a window and watched the sunrise. As we headed south we flew past les Alpes, Le Lac St Croix, over the Gorges du Blavet and over the Esterel, over Ile St Margeurite and Cap d'Antibes. It was a beautiful morning, the sky was clear and blue. It reminded me how lucky we are to live in such a lovely part of the world and it was great to be back home!
The weary climbers returning from White Mountain

Jenny and Dave

Brother and sister are very alike

Yesterday we looked at some 14 week old border collie puppies. We chose a tricoloured female who we've called Ruff (because Scamp used to ruff when she barked). We are going back to pick her up next Saturday after our short visit to Liverpool. Her first adventure will be in Sicily. Bring it on!
So beautiful! 3 females left to chose from. Ruff is on the right.

mardi 18 novembre 2014

A story of 3 BC's

I'd just like to start with a small apology. True, we've just had a great time in sunny Spain and I've got some great shots of the Northern Lights from when we saw them at Hofn in Iceland. However, I think the main theme is going to be about dogs, more specifically I'm going to write about the three dogs that have shared their lives with us (hence the apology, because some people might think I'm going on again). We'll see how it all pans out.......

Firstly: The Northern Lights photos. We met a lovely couple from Singapore who were much better prepared with DSLR cameras and tripods to take delay shutter images than us. Here are some of Yuru's photos. They're pretty amazing aren't they?

It was very cold and driving conditions were hazardous! (photos by Yuru Boon)

Secondly: We ended up at Chulilla after a misty humid day at Llaberia. Weather was mostly great, the climbing was as usual very fingery but fantastic and we met up with lots of friends. Vicki Hau and Eddy Young (from Dorset) shared their superb doss spot with us, thanks guys! Once again, local experts Dave and Rhian Cross gave us useful route info and provided quality humour too. Jean Claude and Michele were an amazing retired couple from Grenoble who stopped a couple of nights with us before heading off to Calpe. Finally we hooked up with Ben Farley and Caryl (not forgetting Marvin the monkey and Paul van diesel) from Liverpool, who are also on a year off travelling and gave us plenty to laugh about during the last few days. It was fantastic to see you all and share great times together. Hopefully we'll see you all again some time soon.

Local experts Dave and Rhian Cross

Jean Claude and Michele from Grenoble

Scousers Caryl and Ben Farley

Ben on-sighting Las Franceses, 7b+

Caryl cooling down at the end of the day on a 6b

TC meets Marvin (Marvin is a "she" by the way) (photo by Elaine)

Thirdly: The nitty gritty. Here goes.

I remember my grandparents having a friendly enough bull terrier called Bundle when I was very young. We even had a dog too, a mongrel called Kim who used to go everywhere with me before she unexpectedly disappeared when I was about 12 (I later found out that she had been put down for biting somebody). After that I definitely didn't like dogs at all. It was simple really. My parents became obsessed with breeding and showing wire haired dachshunds. They had loads, none of which were house trained so the smell was disgusting. I couldn't wait to leave home and get away, which I did when I was 16.

Many care free years passed by and my life with Elaine was blissfully free of dogs (though we often came across farmers working with their amazing sheep dogs when we were climbing here, there and everywhere). However things changed in early 1989. Tony and Jill Flanagan had a lovely border collie called Nell. She was caught short by the local black labrador and soon Tony and Jill were looking for caring people to take Nell's lovely collie cross puppies. We didn't really hesitate and we took a female who we called Del. Del very quickly was seen at all the crags we were going to, mostly Gogarth at the time. We still have a laugh when we recall Darren Hawkins crying out to his then girl friend Del Goodey at Parisella's Cave, "Del, there's a dog named after you!". Unfortunately, our little world collapsed (for the first time) at Tremadoc in early June. Elaine had just led a climb called Merlin Direct. Afterwards I had to go back to the car park and (despite Elaine trying to stop her) Del followed and was struck by a car as she ran across the road. She died in our arms a few minutes later. Obviously we were completely gutted and returned home feeling very sad.
Hey Del, there's a dog named after you!

A couple of days later, Rosie Harris was on the phone telling us about an advert in a newspaper for border collie pups in Timperly. We chose Veronica, as she was then called, a beautiful black and white merle female with one blue eye and one brown eye. Not surprisingly we called her Merlin.

That summer was amazing. We spent many weeks down in the south west and Merlin went everywhere (apart from Lundy when she stayed with a very caring woman who ran a kennel in Ilfracombe). I remember Elaine insisting on attaching Merlin to a rucksack at the bottom of Sacre Couer before she set off on the sharp end of the rope. We just got back to her in time as the tide was coming in very quickly! It rained on the way back to our Ford Escort van and we all got soaked. Back at the tent we stripped off our wet clothes. As I lent forward to pick up some dry ones a warm wet tongue quickly licked my arse. When I turned round alarmed, Merlin was licking her lips!

We had a particularly great time with Chris Craggs, Sherri Davy and Colin Binks at the Count House in Bosigran. Colin and Merlin used to run around the whole place for hours, tiring each other out and having great fun whilst we dozed after climbing.

Merlin became an almost permanent fixture at the "in vogue" Malham Cove and provided much light hearted relief from the stresses of red pointing projects. She'd run at full pelt along the catwalk through TPM's legs, in order to hassle the tourists into throwing her a stick or she'd spend ages just standing in the beck, barking and wagging her tail whilst people threw stones into the water! I remember Tom Herbert telling us that his friend who took him to the Cove on his first visit said, "That dog is always here, it must live here".

On another occasion Steve Petro and Lisa Gnade were over from the US. They took Merlin to Kilnsey whilst we spent the day at work. At the crag Chris Gore promptly said to them, "You must be staying at Mike and Elaine's because that's Merlin".

When we moved over to France Merlin was already ten years old but the warmer and drier climate gave her renewed vitality. She was very soon a favourite with lots of the local climbers and on non-climbing days we'd go out "scamping" and discovering the local area for hours.

However in the summer of 2002, Merlin really started to slow down and we'd sadly have to leave her at home more often than not. By Christmas she had developed cancer in her spleen, which ruptured causing the cancer to spread into her lymphatic system and intestines. In the end she could hardly walk and I'd have to pick her up to take her out to go to the toilet. We had to make the awful decision to have her put to sleep. That night, whilst we were putting up the tree and decorations, she had a burst of energy and kept bringing us a tennis ball. We were in tears because we knew what was going to happen the next morning. But by the morning it was obviously the humane thing to do. We arrived at the vets and we lay her on the table. As the vet connected her to the drip we stroked and caressed her and soothed her with loving words as we watched her pupils dilate and her body become limp. Afterwards all three of us were hugging each other and the tears were in full flow. We returned home and spent a very sad Christmas on our own in a very quiet house. Our little world had collapsed for the second time after almost 14 fun filled glorious years with Merlin.
Merlin at the Count House waiting to play with Binksy (photo by Chris Craggs)

Merlin in her element, running free in Watlose dry valley above Malham

Merlin smiling as usual

At some point during the Christmas holiday I was out trying to climb at Castillon with Marie-Jo (Elaine was stuck at home because she'd damaged a knee very seriously and was on crutches). Marie-Jo's cat had recently passed away and we were both feeling very sad and we were trying to cheer each other up as best as we could. She suggested we get another dog. Later Marie-Jo found a website and Elaine got working on the case. She found a farmer near Ceuse who had 2 female pups. We went up to see them and (to cut a very long story short) we started the next chapter of our lives with Scamp (named because we used to take Merlin out "scamping").

I've written lots about our time with Scamp in my recent blogs and about our little world collapsing for a third time in September, after less than 12 years together. We are still very much missing Scamp but we keep finding her hairs everywhere, which makes us chuckle and remember all the good times with her.
Baby Scamp sleeping after a hard day

How cute can I make myself look?

When the time is right we'll get another border collie for sure. In the meantime TC (our Ultimate Travel Dog) goes everywhere with us!

dimanche 26 octobre 2014

Tourists in Iceland

We've just got back from a really great trip to Iceland, the small island where everything is on a massive scale. If you like mountain and volcanic scenery it is simply stunning. We spent a week travelling in the south of the island. Our original plan was to travel around the whole island but we decided to take things slower and not to spend all the time driving.

Elaine did the usual research before we left. It was perfect timing on her part because we had generally good weather (though of course it was cold) and there was a new moon, so it was great for seeing the Northern Lights (unfortunately we didn't have a good enough camera to take any photos, doooh!).

Iceland itself we soon learnt was very expensive (especially buying food in super markets and eating out in restaurants) and the blokes are very weird as they don't crack onto you when you speak to them and don't show any emotion. We thought they were all just being miserable but we were assured they are just "shy". Also they all pretty much look the same! It took us a while to work out that we couldn't buy beer and wine in the super market. We had to go to the "Vinbudin", where the staff treat you as if you're after something really dodgy, eg buying porn movies or trying to score some drugs (not that I have experience of either! Honest!)

Highlights of all the places we visited were:

the plate tectonic boundary at Pingvellir and the bridge between two continents;
the geysir Strokkur and the hot springs;
countless impressive waterfalls such as Gullfoss;
the smoking hot springs at Gunnuhver;
the dormant volcanoe craters of  Kenio;
the ice lagoon at Jokulsarlon;
the enormous Vatnajokull glacier;
the Eyjafjallajokull volcanoe;
expansive glacier outwash plans such as the awe inspiring Skeidararsandur
and of course seeing the Northern Lights doing their thing. Simply amazing.

We have both decided that we'd love to go back. Twice. Once in summer to discover the interior and walk up some volcanoes and once in the depths of winter to see the glaciers at their best and also the frozen waterfalls. But we'll save it for a couple of years probably.

We had a few days either side of our flights in Liverpool (which allowed us to get our border collie fix by staying with Ewan and Brenna again AND also a couple of cracking sessions at the Climbing Hangar). It was also great to meet up with my 3 sisters as well as catching up with some old friends from so long ago, namely Dave and Sue Wooliscroft and Mike and Rosie Harris.

Next stop: a short 3 week trip to somewhere in Spain on Wednesday (after we've had our last jabs for the China trip). All's going great and according to plan.