mardi 18 juin 2019

"A Climbing Life", a beautiful film made by Mathieu Henneteau

Not much really happening down here. I can't find anyone to climb with midweek, everybody is either away on holiday, working or revising for exams.

The crags are drying out nicely and we've been keeping fit for Elaine's imminent early retirement and our return to Greece this summer. Mostly we've been going to Art Bloc, Jurassic Park and Cayenne.

That reminds me, I haven't mentioned on this blog the excellent video (A Climbing Life) that Mathieu Henneteau (of H2M Images) made for us last year, showing the beautiful scenery in the Gorges du Loup and my favourite climb at Jurassic park (La Queue du Diplodocu, 8a+). It was great fun working with Mathieu, the filming took 2 days (1 day at the cliff and 1 day at our house). I had to go up the climb 3 times and Mathieu did a really thorough job with the editing, which took several months. The end result is amazing and it's now been seen by thousands of people around the world (no doubt it will lead to more climbers at our quiet cliff, but never mind). Thanks for a brilliant job and a wonderful souvenir, Mathieu. Chapeau! Here's the link for the video:

Next week sees the arrival of my old climbing mate from the '80's; legend Phil Davidson. He's no longer one of the best climbers in the world but he's still cranking and having fun. I'm looking forward to showing him the crags and climbing with him again. Hopefully there'll be a "Loud and proud: Part 2" blog to follow soon.

samedi 30 mars 2019

Perfect Spring conditions in Rodellar

Ah, Rodellar. C'est le paradis.

Rodellar (tucked away at the end of the road in the Sierra de Guara National Park, in between Barbastro, Huesca and the Pyrenees in Aragon, Northern Spain) has to be one of the top places I've climbed anywhere in the world. Elaine and I had already been three times; twice in summer and once at Easter.

We've found summer too hot really, plus it's always very busy with climbers, canyoners and general tourists. Camp sites tend to be rammed and it's noisy when you're trying to get to sleep, the very friendly Spanish climbers (in the tent next door) have just come back from the bar and started cooking at 22h30 and they don't understand why you want to go to sleep at such an early hour. When you do get to the crag there's usually lots of crazy climbers' dogs running around all over your gear and intimidating your well-behaved, attached dog. Doesn't sound much fun, does it? But sometimes you just don't have a choice during school holidays so you just have to put up with it.

On the other hand, when we went at Easter it was much quieter and conditions were perfect for climbing. However, if it's been a wet winter, there will be lots of seepage, so best to go elsewhere.

Eddie and I made plans for a quick 2 week visit in March, without our lovely wives (Mandy was going to meet up with some of her family in Cypres and Elaine was busy working). I flew from Nice to Barcelona for next to nothing. Eddie picked me up and we stayed in one of Fina's (as in the climb called "Gracias Fina") excellent apartments at Valle Rodellar Apart Hotel, from where it's possible to walk to all the sectors. Once in Rodellar you don't need a car.

We were amazed how quiet the crags were and they were also totally dry. We were lucky to experience the best conditions (at this time of year) for a long time. The only problem was us! I'm almost 61 and Eddie's 57, so we're getting on a bit. The climbing at Rodellar is very steep and physical, the grades are tough (often total sandbags, eg "Ambicion Cero" at 7c+, "El Sepes" at 7c+/8a, plus all the routes that have lost holds at Surgencia that haven't been upgraded).

Anyway, we tried our best and had a fab time. Eddie did well to keep up with my 2 days on, 1 day off routine (though he refused to join me in a 4 days on stint at the end, well you just have to bite the bullet some times don't you?). Now, when will we be able to do it again, I wonder? There's so many king lines to do, I've got to go back again, some time......
Eddie and Gran Boveda.

Rodellar from Fina's terrace.

The climbing is very steep, lowering off El Sepes at Gran Boveda.

Sophie Milios Gibbens climbing "Bugs Bunny" (6a+) at El Camino.

Bob Stones climbing "Para mis amigos" (6a+) at El Camino.
Bob Stones climbing a technical 6a+ at Las Ventanas.

Laia from Lleida climbing her first Rodellar 7a (Vis a Vis at Las Ventanas). 

Eddie and the window of Mascun. Made in Mascun (7c+) climbs strenuously all the way across the cave.

El Delfin from the window of Mascun.

El Delfin, Las Ventanas.

See caption below.

Two views of the same section on the iconic El Delfin, 7c+.

John Lynch on the superb Acravita, 8a, Las Ventanas.

Strong, young climber on El Sepes (8a) at Gran Boveda.

Seriously strong climber almost on-sighting the seriously steep "No Bouchon Spirit" (7c+) at Las Ventanas.

The village from Gran Boveda.

lundi 4 mars 2019

Spring is in the air

Returning through the village, after another invigorating promenade up the hill with Ruff, and chatting to some of the friendly neighbours we have made over the years, has reminded me how glad I am that I'm still here, after the overdose I took last March. To be honest I don't often think about it now (although every so often Elaine will ask me how I'm doing). I'm now confident to say that the black dog is well and truly under control at the moment.

I'm feeling really good, despite not doing much outdoor climbing. We have been climbing indoors lots, mostly at Art Bloc in Nice (we prefer Art Bloc because the blocs closely resemble outdoor climbing). We've also had a wonderful week skiing in Tignes, where there was loads of snow and great conditions. However it was busy and expensive. It brought back happy memories from my first visit with fellow students from I M Marsh, way back in 1988. At that time Dunc, Jamesy and I called ourselves Team Pervert-Ski and we'd shout "Je t'adore" to all the pretty French ladies. Hardyman had us skiing backwards whilst pretending that our ski poles were machine guns and, on another occasion, he had us skiing without skis and the clips on our boots undone. It also sadly reminded me of the horrific off piste accident Dunc and I witnessed, whilst skiing down one of the gullies that Hardyman had already taken us down earlier on the Grande Motte. I often wonder what happened to that poor lady? We thought that she was dead when we got to her, but you never know.... Nowadays Elaine and I are happy to just ski on the pistes, and we both wear helmets too.

Remember I had toothache just before Christmas? After the operation I had in 2012 (to put right a mistake by my previous dentist during routine root canal treatment) I vowed that I'd never have another root canal. I'd had a massive filling in a molar, since it broke (I distinctly remember John Gaskins was round on our board in St Helens some time around 1993). This was the tooth that was causing the toothache and it needed to have a root canal or be taken out, as the filling was too big to replace. My new dentist is about 100 metres from our house, perfectly located for the number of visits neccessary. He persuaded me to go for another and it proved to be a piece of cake, with no problems. 

Having taken early retirement is proving to be wonderful. I really enjoy the leisurely start to each day, the routine of making proper coffee and eating a fresh croissant from the excellent local boulangerie (Le Moulin d'Honore). I'm especially not missing the early commute to school, sitting in mind-numbing queues of traffic along the inadequate road systems that lead to Sophia Antipolis. We had to go and have a blood test last Thursday, which involves getting up early and not eating any breakfast. It was a real shock to me how much traffic there was on the road at 7h30. I'd forgotten how mad it was on the roads at that time of day. Luckily it was only a one off for me, though it was business as usual for Elaine again this morning. Haha!

A couple of great days outside last week: Tuesday Mich from Nantes and I did "La Cerise sur le Gateau" at Aiglun. It was the first multipitch route I've done for over twenty years! Needless to say it was an amazing day on a very impressive crag tucked away in a seemingly wild place in the arriere pays. Thursday Seb (from Atout Roc) and I went to sector Jacob at La Turbie. He has been trying the excellent "Couenne pour Graou" (8a) and was really keen to try again, despite the crag being in the shade and the fact that it was foggy, cold and damp! Conditions on the crag were minging and Seb's route proved to be too wet. However I managed to fight my way up a very good route I hadn't done before called "Elephant Man" (7c). I thought that I was about to fall off every move and was really knackered at the top, but very happy indeed. Mind you I was already happy after still being able to manage one of the hardest warm-ups in the world ("Monte Queue", given 6c+/7a but feels more like 7a+/7b!!).

Next week Rodellar with Steady Eddie. I hope the excellent weather will hold......

jeudi 10 janvier 2019

Christmas in the Spanish Pyrenees and a review of Red Chili's Voltage (2017 model)

Retirement is so good. It's just a pity that Elaine is still working. So we were really looking forward to the Christmas holiday, climbing in the sun and, at last, using my Red Chili Voltage shoes on real rock, until I got agonizing toothache just a couple of days before she finished school. A couple of trips to the dentist, a course of antibiotics and several painkillers delayed our departure for a few days.

We eventually got away to Spain, where we climbed in the sun at Fosado and Oncins Paradise, near Ainsa in the Pyrenees. It was a good excuse to stay at our favourite campsite again (Camping Bielsa). However we were disappointed to find our next objective, Alquézar, completely engulfed in fog. So we moved on to Masriudoms, where it was desperately windy. So we came home early and went to the climbing walls (Art Bloc and Bloc Party) to do some more training.
Camping Bielsa, our favourite campsite.


Fosado was really nice, despite some chossy rock at the base of most routes, the climbing was very good and on generally good holds, including tufas. However there was nothing harder than 7c to try. We found it very hard to locate the crag on the first day as there was fog everywhere. However it was surreal to climb above a sea of cloud in the winter sun. Grades were spot on, not easy.
Luckily Fosado was above the fog the first day.

Elaine on "De las buenas la mejor", 7a+.

Alain from Toulouse on "No me seas Guevon", 7b.

Oncins Paradise was a bit disappointing. The long walk (45 mins) obviously puts a lot of people off going, so there was little chalk to follow and the routes felt very new and a bit snappy. Also the climbing is generally fingery and generally vertical in nature. The grades are tough. The setting was very beautiful though, so it's worth a visit.
Oncins Paradise.

Trying to get out of the sun at Oncins Paradise.

Art Bloc: Still as good as ever, we find the bouldering really fun and similar to climbing outdoors. Many thanks to the bloc setters, they do a great job.

Bloc Party: Getting better and improving all the time. Since the last comp there have been many more blocs to try, and the style has become much more varied. However there still need to be more blocs, especially reds and violets; there are lots of very easy and lots of very hard blocs. 

Red Chili Voltage (2017 model): These get a definite big thumbs up from me. I'd been using them indoors for a couple of weeks with very satisfying results, so I was excited at the prospect of trying them outdoors. On the crag they proved to be perfect, in fact they were the only climbing shoes I wore during the trip. They are extremely light, really versatile and provide a very snug, precise and sensitive fit. They are very well designed and, as you'd expect from a German company, they are really well made too. I like the two velcro strap fastenings, coupled with the two pull-on heel loops, which means they are easy to put on and take off quickly. The aggressive toe shape is perhaps the best that I've come across in 45 years of climbing; as a result the Voltage is fantastic when clawing on small edges on steep rock. At the same time they are very comfortable and cope easily with smears. I also like the lightweight stretchy material that's used under the velcro straps, which is a massive improvement on some other shoes. The heel fits snugly and precisely too, allowing radical heel-hooking with relative ease. The two part sole is made from Vibram XS Grip rubber, which is perfectly sticky enough and found on most climbing shoes these days. And there's more; the Voltage looks really cool too. Thanks Red Chili for letting me try them out.

To see a video of Stefan Glowacz introducing the 2019 model: