mercredi 20 novembre 2019

Climbing at Cabezón de Oro (Costa Blanca) and a review of the Levante North and South topos

I'd wanted to climb at Cabezón de Oro, near Alicante, for quite a long time. Tales of long routes on tufas had been logged in my internal hard drive and it was on my wish list of must-visit-crags.
My girls looking cool.

When we arrived, it was warm enough to sip mojitos outside in the evening.... 

...and eat pizzas! Unfortunately it didn't stay that way.

We stopped en route at Bellavista, in the Pyrenees, for a couple of days. Nice crag, but hot in the sun, hard grades and polished too. Still it was great to meet up again with Bob Stones and Sophie Gibbens, who are still enjoying life on the road in their van, two years on from when we met them at Peillon. We found a topo on-line. However, there's a new topo to Sadernes and Bellavista coming out very soon. We moved on quickly, driving south towards the Costa Blanca.

Two photos taken by Bob Stones.

Bellavista general view.

The climbing at Pena Alicante, the shady crag at Cabezón de Oro, turned out to be great for me but not so good for Elaine, unfortunately. The easier routes (6b+ to 7b) felt tough for their grades; they were also pretty polished, generally run out and always fingery (not good for Elaine's arthritis). In the 7c/7c+ bracket you get long tufa stamina fests (right up my street). I didn't try anything harder because I could see fingery cruxes on the blank bits in between the tufas. It was great to see the hard core team of Oli Brouss and Laurence Guyon again, showing us how to do it.
Looks like I'm getting a bollocking (again). )Photo: Laurence Guyon.)

One of the best 7c's I've ever done.

Sensacion de Pinzar starts just right of the tree and follows tufas for 40 metres up to the skyline. Wow!

View from the base of Sensacion de Pinzar.

Geraud Fanguin on the 6b+ part of Foarte Usoara (a brilliant 7a). 

Geraud on Clemencia, 8b. The superb Columneta (7c+/8a) starts up the black tufa just to the right.

Ruff finds another boyfriend (called Zen, and he was).

Who's training who?

Looking towards sector Sherpa (top right) from Pena Alicante.

We also climbed a couple of times at sector Sherpa, which is a steep 40 minute walk. The routes are long (40 metres) but there are virtually no tufas (therefore no knee bars), just finger edges (usually a long distance apart) ensuring that the moves are physical and your forearms get very pumped, typical power endurance stuff. The grades at Sherpa are well known to be tough, so be warned (the locals were proud to say that they are the toughest grades in the Alicante area).
That 7b+ was awesome.

Roberto Palmer warming up on the brilliant Arrecife de coral, 7a+.

Local climber Roberto Palmer on a project left of Los Motivados.

The long walk down from Sherpa, nice view though.

We also climbed at Rincon Bello, Cocentaina (again), La Cuepita (at Cortes de Pallas), Chulilla (again, and great to meet up with Twid and his mate Jon Wigg, as well as the super-strong Burnley team: Andy Mitchell, etc.) and Araya (again, great to meet up with Dave and Rhian as well).

We headed back home, much earlier than intended, due to the weather becoming cold and very windy. However we got caught up in the Catalan lorry drivers' blockade just before the frontier at La Jonquera. After three hours of total chaos, we decided to escape by driving over two roundabouts and headed south to find a small road that led back north and eventually became a forest track over the Pyrenees (luckily there was no snow). It was a nightmare. We felt like smugglers and it was a big relief to finally arrive in France and return to civilisation.

Elaine on Madrilles go home (6c) at Rincon Bello. (Photos: Nicole Carco.)

Unknown climber on the classic Lagrimas Negras (7b+) at Rincon Bello.
Andy Mitchell wearing my flower pot hat.
Great to see these two dudes, Twid and Jon Wigg.

A big effort on Jager (8a) at Rincon Bello. (Photo: Thierry Carco.)

We used the Levante North and South topos. First impressions are good: they're very colourful and have loads of fab action shots. However, I have to say that these guides would have had me pulling my hair out, if I had any! Who's crazy idea was it to have all the access satellite images lumped together? Followed by all of the crags info lumped together? Followed by all the topo diagrams lumped together? We found them totally frustrating to use, because we had to keep flipping back and forth and there's no colour coding to help. Furthermore, in the crag info section there is no cross referencing to tell you where the corresponding topos can be found (we ended up writing all of that on the relevant pages ourselves). Often the crags have different names in the info, satellite images and topo sections so, if you're not local, you can spend ages trying to find either. Also the info sections very often had utterly insufficient info to get you to the crag, satellite images alone are not helpful enough. Finally the topo diagram for Pena Alicante is best described as a joke (luckily we had a better one from Saltatela.Blogspot). Whilst I do appreciate that writing topo guidebooks is hard work (and it's easy to simply focus on the negative points) I think that future editions will need to be much more user-friendly. On a positive note: there are many new sectors in these topos, so there's plenty to go at, though they're not definitive guides. It's very important to bear in mind that contributions are made towards equipping from the sale of these two topos.

Topo diagram for Pena Alicante, pretty naff or what?

The much better topo for sector Sherpa.

samedi 16 novembre 2019

The punk has left the gym

We decided to start heading home from Spain last Monday. Driving up the AP7, approaching our destination for the night, I heard my mobile ping informing me that I had a message. We parked up and got ourselves sorted. Then I thought I'd better check my messages. It was from Andy Boorman, a climber friend from my early days back in North Wales. And it was bad news, really bad news. Our lovely friend Andy Pollitt had passed away.

Elaine and I have been stunned ever since and a deep sense of sadness seems to have settled upon us. I don't mean that we're maudling or feeling sorry for ourselves, far from it. It's just that losing Andy feels too close for comfort, I suppose. It makes us wonder how come somebody aged 56 can die so young? We are all reminded of the cliches about life being very short and that we should make the most of it. But specifically, in Andy's case, we also wonder if his years of apparent self-destruct (particularly regarding alcohol abuse) have taken their toll? Did that contribute to his life ending prematurely? On a personal level, I wish that I'd got around to replying to his message asking me if I'd seen his latest video podcast (I try to tell myself that poor reception in the mountains had meant that I just hadn't had the chance, but that's not good enough). I also wish that I'd heard my phone ring at the crag, just the other day (when I looked at my phone later on I noticed Andy had rung me though, sadly, he hadn't left a message). I hadn't got around to phoning him back. Now I can't. I won't ever be able to speak to him again.

I shall always remember climbing with my friends John, Brian and Huw at Forwyn, way back in the late '70's. There would often be a group of young kids with their teacher instructors, on the easier routes. One of those kids seemed keener, more enthusiastic, more motivated than the others, almost pushy in fact. Despite it being way to hard for him (at the time), my logbook shows that Andy seconded me on "Great Wall" in April '79. Inevitably, he had to sag onto the rope a few times but it didn't seem to matter to him. He arrived at the top with a massive grin and we became good friends. Of course, it wasn't long before he was able to lead that same climb himself (he also soloed it in 1982!). Then he just kept getting better and better.

We climbed together a few times during the next couple of years, but it was a chance encounter in early '83 that changed our lives. We saw him thumbing for a lift so we picked him up. At the time I was the assistant manager in Blacks Liverpool shop. They wanted to employ another person, preferably a young climber to help extend the climbing range. I told Andy about this, he expressed an interest in working for 3 months to save some money before going off to the Verdon in France, and then moving to Sheffield when he returned. Andy got the job and lived with us whilst there. It was great having Andy around for that time, his enthusiasm was infectious; after work we'd either be at Pex Hill (where I could usually burn him off) or scheming and talking about climbing. That's when we both started talking about "The Bells! The Bells!". Andy famously made the 2nd ascent in 1986 and I eventually made the 3rd ascent in 1990. We have both written about our experiences during our time clinging on that wall; it seems that we were both totally gripped and both of us came very close to blowing it. Despite that however, we both agreed that climbing "The Bells! The Bells!" was a major highpoint in both our climbing lives. I remember him phoning (from Ian Smith's office at "High") to congratulate me, which was a typically kind and thoughtful gesture.

Moving to Sheffield gave Andy the perfect chance to get much stronger (and further improve his climbing) by meeting up with some of the best climbers (possibly in the world) at that time. He became an iconic figure with his rockstar looks and lycra tights, as depicted in the Scarpa adverts of the time. From early on he started adding new routes of his own, originally at Forwyn, then during the Pen Trwyn boom years and, later on, at Gogarth and in The Peak. Many of his routes are simply outrageous, either for their sheer boldness or their quality, for example: "Skinhead Moonstomp", "Knockin' On Heavens Door", "The Hollow Man", "Thormen's Moth", "Chimes Of Freedom", "Over The Moon", to name just a few.

In the '90's he visited Australia several times and eventually moved there. His time there is very well documented in his autobiography "Punk in the gym". Most climbers know of his struggle and eventual success on climbing the route of the same name, as well as his immediate permanent step away from climbing, it has become folk lore to us. To most of us it seemed such an extreme thing to do, how could he just pack in at the top of his game? Why not use it as a stepping stone to climb harder? Surely he will miss climbing?

Initially, Andy was able to immerse himself very successfully in a career in Vertical Access work.
More recently it was wonderful to see that Andy hadn't just forgotten about climbing. He was obviously still very proud of his achievements and very happy to share his experiences with the climbing community, through his book, videos and podcasts, which have been very enthusiastically and critically acclaimed.

Over the years, he tried his best to tempt us to go to Australia. In fact we did recently come to an agreement: if we went, he'd take us to Taipan Wall and I could lead "Serpentine" and he'd second me. It would have been just like old times but, sadly, it's not to be.

Farewell my friend, I am so grateful for all the fun times we spent together and count myself so lucky to have crossed paths with you. You have a special place within my heart, I will always miss you but will cherish the memories. Love, Mike. RIP.

My thoughts are with his family and close friends.
Andy on an early visit to North Stack Wall c1982. 

Having a beer at our house, during his time at Blacks, 1983.

A photo of the Berghaus poster that Andy signed at one of his Pollitt Bureau lectures.

Kleinian Envy in Vivian Quarry, 1987.
Cover of the North Wales Limestone guidebook (1982 edition) written by Andy.
The 1987 edition, again written by Andy.

Andy having a beer with Elaine's brother Dave, in Melbourne, 2016.

vendredi 4 octobre 2019

Climbing at Blégiers, Le Seuil and Les Herbez in Les Alpes de Haute-Provence

Just got back from a short trip to a really beautiful part of France, only three hours drive away. It's now time to take a rest and grow some more skin before the next trip.

The crags of Haute Bléone (north east from Digne les Bains) and the Ubaye Valley (near Barcelonette) are located in the beautiful Alpes de Haute-Provence, and are well off the beaten track, despite being close to the ever-popular destinations of Céüse and Orpierre. However, unlike those crags, you can have the whole crag to yourself and there's definitely no queueing for routes. The climbing is fantastic, well bolted and not polished at all. We climbed at Blégiers, Le Seuil and Les Herbez.

We stayed in our van right underneath the cliff at Blégiers, and at the excellent Camping River (in Méolans-Revel) which is a small, family-run campsite that provides an ideal central location for all the Ubaye cliffs; it's surrounded by stunning scenery; it's very peaceful and quiet; it's very clean and the showers are perfect. Plus, you can eat tasty homemade pizza, drink wonderful coffee (made from freshly ground beans) and eat fresh croissants and baguettes for breakfast. It's paradise! Hosts, David and Claire Clark, gave us such a fabulous welcome we didn't want to leave. We can't wait to return. Thanks to Marie-Jo for recommending such a lovely, friendly campsite.
A nice latte before climbing in the "snug".

Relaxing in the afternoon sun at Camping River.

Fantastic pizzas! Yummy!

Et voila!

Claire working hard, meanwhile David keeps us entertained with some of his tales.

David with his Busby, recounting tales from his days outside Buckingham Palace with the Irish Guards.

Looking towards the accueil.

Large roomy plots (and bungalows too).

It was too hot in the sun at Blégiers. So early, cold starts were necessary and we finished by 2pm at the latest. The routes tend to be short and the rock is generally slick and compact. There are also a lot of chipped holds (though we only did one such route). I would definitely recommend the classics "Mestrême Dream" (7c+) and "C'est Suprême" (7b+). More info can be found in "Topo d'escalade Bléone - Durance" (2016).

Is that close enough?

Amazing sculptures at Blégiers.

Half human, half fish!

Sang et tas d'ame (6c) totally chipped but good fun.

C'est suprême (7b+).

Autumn is the perfect time for climbing in the Ubaye valley, the cliffs generally face south and there's usually a cool wind. The style is generally fingery with edges and small flakes, however the friction is usually very good as the rock is rough and grippy. At Le Seuil I would recommend "Le grimpeur égologique" (6b+), "Work less, live more" (6c), "Encore et encore" (7b), "Fromage râpé" (7b) and "Merguez et chipolata" (7b+).

Le Seuil.

View from Le Seuil.

La tecktonic des plaques (6c).

La cours contre la honté (7c+).
Equipée torchée (7c).

Whilst I would also recommend "Tete de linotte" (6b), "Corail" (6b+), "Orange a mere" (7b+), "Rencontre avec l'Escher" (7c) and "La rose et le mollusque" (7c) at Les Herbez. More info can be found in "Couennes en Ubaye" 2éme édition-2016. There was also an article on Les Herbez in Grimper magazine (number 190).

My girls looking good at Les Herbez.

Rencontre avec l'Escher (7c).

Such a great climb.....