It’s always the beta

After several failed attempts to climb an 8a sport climb last year I decided to sack off roped climbing for the winter to focus on bouldering. More strength and power would make everything feel easier and I was excited to find out what a full-on foray into the world of bouldering would do for me.

Maybe I got a bit stronger. I certainly enjoyed myself and learned a lot. I’d previously done hardly any outdoor bouldering at all.

I also got injured. This may have been predictable. Having never previously had any finger injuries I’ve now had 3 (of varying levels of severity) during 2015. This has forced me to learn about rehabilitating and managing finger injuries, but it has mostly not stopped me from actually climbing.

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Anstey’s Cove. I can think of worse places to have a project.

And so in April I returned to sport climbing. Things were going well and after a few weekend trips I felt on good form. I was eager to find out how The Cider Soak, the classic 8a at Anstey’s Cove which I’d been projecting last year, would feel.

I sieged the route last year and made detailed notes about my sequence. I re-read them and jumped on. Perhaps it would now feel really easy with all that bouldering power? Er, no.

What actually happened is that I got very frustrated and tunnel vision set in. I was convinced that I’d worked the beta to perfection last year, and now just needed to execute. But getting on a route which I hadn’t touched for 6 months meant that there were actually all sorts of subtle movements and body positionings which had slipped from my mind. It felt like backward progress, and I left the crag that weekend ready to give up.

The steepness of Ferocity Wall

The compact steepness of Ferocity Wall

I’d been meaning to re-read Dave MacLeod’s book, 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes, for a while, and something made me pick it back up in the week that followed. Its no-nonsense straight talk was exactly the inspiration I needed. As I thought about the route I realised that there were various moves which I was doing inefficiently, or places where I could try an alternative sequence. I studied some videos and returned the next weekend in a better mental state, excited to try various tweaks to my beta rather than doggedly failing the same way.

My first go up the route revealed that these tweaks would work, so I got psyched to try a redpoint. As I tied on, I knew it’d be my best chance of the weekend. I was warmed up but not yet tired. We’d not rushed to the crag so the rock was in the cool evening shade, and most other climbers had left for the day meaning no distractions. Time to focus, but I tried not to put too much pressure on myself either. If it didn’t go this weekend, there’d be another weekend. It doesn’t matter. Enjoy the process.

It went. I wouldn’t say easily – I still had to try – but fairly smoothly. The beta and the preparation had come together, and I was ecstatic. I’ve never worked on a single route over such a long period of time (on and off for almost a year) and the joy of success was all the more potent for it. I remember feeling privileged to experience that feeling; it’s unattainable without putting a huge amount of work into something and seeing the fruits of your labour.

More important than the fleeting euphoria, I learned something: the beta can always be improved. You can always climb a route more efficiently. It’s easy to blame strength or endurance or conditions. These factors are important. But even when I thought I had my sequence dialled there were new opportunities to refine my technique and efficiency.

Bursting with positivity, I headed to Céüse for the first time in mid July. I was on form and ready to crush. Ha!

Harriet on Dietetic Line 7b

Harriet on Dietetic Line 7b

Céüse is a good place to go for a reality check about your climbing ability. The grades are tough, everybody will be climbing harder than you and nothing is a give away. I was prepared for “hard” grades, but this felt like a different scale entirely.

Will on Makash Walou 7c+

Will on Makach Walou 7c+

I think I should have done more easier routes to begin with, to familiarise myself with the style. Instead I relatively quickly got involved with a 7c+ project, Makach Walou, which Ciro and then Will had done battle with.

Lake time beneath the crag

Lake time beneath the crag

The moves came together easily enough and I felt confident that as I built up my crag fitness the route would yield without too much drama. But as the trip continued I racked up more and more unsuccessful attempts. I started to get frustrated, to the point where I was considering having just one more go and then taking the clips out, yay or nay. I felt I was wasting time on one route when there was so much more to climb.

Glyn on Petit Tom 8a. Thanks Ben Rueck for the photo.

Glyn on Petit Tom 8a. Thanks Ben Rueck for the photo.

At the crag we’d made friends with Mayan Smith-Gobat and Ben Rueck, who could be spotted from a mile away covered head to toe in Adidas stripes. On the day that my motivation was waning, Mayan joined our group since Ben was resting. She was also working on Makach Walou, despite having done it years ago, as she is in the process of recovering from shoulder surgery. So we teamed up.

Mayan told me she had a different sequence for the top section, where I’d been falling, so I was interested to try it with her. At this stage I was restricting myself to one attempt per day, so I had my attempt using my known sequence and fell again at the same spot. I then tried Mayan’s sequence and it was much easier for me. I abandoned my one-go-per-day rule and ticked the route on the next attempt, despite feeling a bit tired.

Harriet taking a monster wanger from Blocage Violent 7b+

Harriet taking a monster wanger from Blocage Violent 7b+

Again it was the beta. I’d got my original sequence from Will and had been using it uncritically. But he’s quite a bit taller than me and what perhaps worked well for him was very reachy and tenuous for me, meaning I couldn’t do it when pumped. I should have realised this of my own accord but once again I got tunnel vision until Mayan gave me a fresh perspective. One day I’ll learn!

Rest days are the best days... except for climbing days which are better than rest days

Rest days are the best days… except for climbing days which are better than rest days. But anyway, rest days are nice.

Céüse was hard work but rewarding. By the end of the trip I felt a lot more comfortable with the style and even managed to get up a few of the warm-ups without falls! I could happily have stayed another month so I know I’ll be going back again.

Trying to do a fast redpoint of Berlin 7c on my last day. I didn't quite manage. Thanks Ben Rueck for the photo.

Trying to do a fast redpoint of Berlin 7c on my last day. I didn’t quite manage. Thanks Ben Rueck for the photo.

Now, despite having written over 1,100 words about egocentric grade-chasing, I am actually rather keen to get scared and do some trad climbing! Hopefully our British summer weather will oblige…

A bit of mountain trad with Glyn and Luke in April... more of this sort of thing please!

A golden bit of mountain trad with Glyn and Luke in April… more of this sort of thing please!

Bouldering in Annot

The final hurrah of my winter of bouldering was to be 10 days over Easter, cranking and eating pastries in Fontainebleau. We arrived on a rainy, grey Saturday morning after driving through the night (there was only space for the roof box on the 2:20 AM Eurotunnel!) and spent the rest of the day sleeping before getting some supplies from the most horrifically large supermarket you can imagine. We took at a walk at Cul de Chien, touched some wet holds and retired miserably for dinner.

The next morning we rose late (no rush, it was still raining), had a lazy breakfast and wondered what to do. The forecast ahead looked bleak and we desperately wanted to do some actual climbing. Time to get creative.

Since we had no ropes or gear we had to constrain ourselves to bouldering options. We tossed around the obvious names. Magic Wood? Too wet. Albarracín? Too far. But Sadie had heard of a place called Annot in South France. It’s not a well-known destination so we didn’t know what to expect, but a brief glance at the forecast (full sun for the next week) made the decision for us. We packed the car and settled in for an 8 hour drive south.

The gamble paid off. Following directions from the free topo, we turned up a dirt track just along the road outside the town. The track twists its way up a pine-laden mountainside and the sector you visit more or less depends on which hairpin bend you stop at. It’s just about drivable in a normal car but there are lots of potholes and bumps which makes the process of getting up and down quite a pain in the arse. It takes about 15-30 minutes depending on the sector.

Cartondulé

Sadie's hands are not really this big, it's a wide-angle lens

Sadie trying hard at Paf le chien

The rock is sandstone, but coarser than Font which makes for good friction but rapid skin loss when sliding off slopers. Some of the rock is great quality, other bits are quite crumbly. Annot suffers a little from low traffic, which means that some problems are dirty and unclimbable in their current state. Others are fine.

L’ex grosse lunule

The grading system is weird. It uses the “B” system which apparently has origins in the Peak District at some point. Clearly I’m too young to understand, but we found that they roughly corresponded to “soft V grades”, so a B6 felt about V4-5 perhaps. We didn’t spent too much time worrying about this.

I have no idea what we were doing but it was my birthday, woop!

It’s not Font, but there is plenty to get on with and some real gems if you put the effort in to seek them out. You have to work a bit harder, but the reward in our case was sunshine and tranquillity (we were sharing the forest with not more than 10 others).

Panoramix, what a position!

Panoramix, what a position!

Here’s where we climbed:

    • Paf le Chien: We fell off some good harder things including Paf le chien itself and Cartondulé. A lot of the easier stuff was a bit dirty though.
    • Madness: Clean and good rock, easy access being not far up the track and close  to the parking spot. Highlights were Bacalauréat (super fun dyno), Le gymnasium and L’ex grosse lunule.
    • La Crete: My favourite spot, featuring a great problem right next to a beautiful view of the valley. The problem is aptly named Panoramix. Another excellent line was Toit du cul du loup.
    • Requiem for Block: Difficult to find as it’s buried in the woods. There are some cool looking harder things here but we weren’t pulling too hard as it was the fourth day on! On the walk in we stumbled upon Place Vendome which looks good but lacking in warm-ups.
Fantastic onsight of Toit du cul du loup by Sadie, I have no idea how she held that crimp!

Brilliant onsight of Toit du cul du loup by Sadie, I couldn’t hold that crimp but a bit more reach got me through!

After four days in Annot the forecast was looking better in Font so we decided to spend a rest day driving back north. In the end it was a double rest day as the weather gods turned their backs on us once again. But we did finally spend a very nice dry day climbing at Isatis before returning home.

Zof needs to grow some skin...

Zof needs to grow some skin…

After doing so much bouldering this winter I am now nursing some sore fingers (doh) but feeling super psyched to get back on a rope and climb some longer things!

Sector Requiem for Block

Sector Requiem for Block

Sector Requiem for Block

Sector Requiem for Block

Ice climbing in Cogne

I’ve just returned from a week in Cogne in the Italian Alps, on my first proper ice climbing trip. I’ve been trying to gain the skills needed to get into winter climbing for a few years now (doing some winter walking in Wales in 2013 and an ice climbing course near Madrid in January 2014), so it was great to finally bring it all together this season.

Before the trip I had the chance to practise a bit in North Wales. I spent a weekend in January doing some dry tooling in the slate quarries, which was a good way to get a feel for climbing with axes. A couple of weeks later the winter conditions in Wales got pretty decent and I spent another weekend doing some actual winter climbing around Clogwyn Du.

Monkey-bar Kid M6+ in the Dinorwig Quarry

Monkey-bar Kid M6+ in the Dinorwig Quarry

Kuba climbing Slate o' the Art M5+ at Clogwyn Mannod, in atmospheric conditions

Kuba climbing Slate o’ the Art M5+ at Clogwyn Mannod, in atmospheric conditions

Clogwyn Du Right Hand Branch III 3/4

Clogwyn Du Right Hand Branch III 3/4

My companions for the trip were some chaps from The Castle: Jake, Toby and Kuba. Jake and Toby had done plenty of ice climbing before, whereas Kuba and I were a bit newer to it all. During the week we all swapped around with partners which kept things interesting, and enabled Kuba and I to learn quickly from the other two.

Jake on a rest day walk

Jake on a rest day walk

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to climb with more experienced friends on my first trip. This gave me the confidence to fairly quickly move on to harder routes and lead some WI5 pitches by the end of the week.

Toby gearing up for E Tutto Relativo WI4

Toby gearing up for E Tutto Relativo WI4

On the first day we all got warmed up on E Tutto Relativo. I climbed with Toby and he lead the crux pitch, which was a relief since it was running with water which made my fingers completely numb…

Jake leading the steep (and wet!) second pitch of E Tutto Relativo, belayed by Kuba

Jake leading the steep (and wet!) second pitch of E Tutto Relativo, belayed by Kuba

On the second day Kuba and I took on the classic Lillaz Gulley while Jake and Toby went for Lau Bij. This was good fun once we finally got on it; compounded navigational errors initially lead to us spending ages wading through deep powder. The less said about that the better!

Kuba wading through one of the snow pitches on Lillaz Gulley

Kuba wading through one of the snow pitches on Lillaz Gulley

The third day was pretty productive. Jake and I ticked off both Tuborg and Il Candelabro del Coyote. I was keen to lead something a bit harder so took the crux pitch of Tuborg by the vertical left hand ice pillar. It was a bit thin at the bottom and I felt quite nervous stepping on, but I eventually topped out after subjecting Jake to a rather long belay session!

Leading the first pitch of Tuborg WI4+

Leading the first pitch of Tuborg WI4+

Jake following the first pitch of Il Candelabro del Coyote WI4+ (Stella Artice WI5 seen on the other side of the valley)

Jake following the first pitch of Il Candelabro del Coyote WI4+ (Stella Artice WI5 seen on the other side of the valley)

Jake leading the funky second pitch of Il Candelabro del Coyote WI4+

Jake leading the funky second pitch of Il Candelabro del Coyote WI4+

On this third day I’d borrowed a test pair of Black Diamond crampons in a mono-point configuration. Before this I’d been climbing in my Grivel walking crampons which can only be used with dual points and are not really designed for climbing. The difference was huge; I was able to trust my feet way more. I couldn’t face going back to the Grivel ones so on our rest day I got myself a shiny pair of Petzl Lynx’s from the local climbing shop, a decision I did not regret!

Crampon upgrade...

Crampon upgrade…

Following the rest day Jake and Toby wanted to get on their big route, the mega-classic Repentence! We all grimaced when the alarm sounded at 5.30 but it paid off. Kuba and I ticked off Patri de Droite (amazing long crux pitch) followed by Patri de Gauche, while Jake and Toby got Repentence done. Toby took a huge whipper onto a screw which sounded pretty exciting but the screw held and he didn’t get hurt fortunately.

Kuba on Patri

Kuba on Patri

Me getting started on the top pitch of Patri de Droite

Me getting started on the top pitch of Patri de Droite WI4+

Kuba leading Patri de Gauce WI4

Kuba leading Patri de Gauche WI4

Looking back at the Patri routes on a nice sunny afternoon, job done!

Looking back at the Patri routes on a nice sunny afternoon, job done!

The next day Toby and I got on Stella Artice. I lead the WI5 crux pitch which meant that I’d achieved my goal for the week. Happy days!

Stella Artice WI5

Stella Artice WI5

The final day was pretty special. We’d been looking up at this amazing ice pillar the whole week, which hosts a route called Hard Ice In The Rock Direct. Apparently it doesn’t form up all that often, and the crux pitch gets the hair-raising grade of WI6. I’d been trying to persuade Jake that we should do it, although admittedly he didn’t take much persuading. I lead the first pitch, 60 metres at about WI4+, then Jake lead the crux which I found pretty pumpy even on second! Solid effort. We swung leads on a couple of easy pitches, then I lead the final pitch which at about WI5. It wasn’t hooked out at all so it was really nice to get to climb on some pristine ice.

Me on the 60m first pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct

Me on the 60m first pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct

Jake on the WI6 crux pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct!

Jake on the WI6 crux pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct!

Me on the top pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct

Me on the top pitch of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct

Success!

Success!

We stayed in a self-catered apartment at Les Nigritelles in Lillaz, which was clean, modern, and had everything we needed. Its location meant that we didn’t need to do any driving when climbing in Valeille Rive which I’m sure helped us to get on routes before other parties. And check out the view!

Our view from the apartment balcony. You can make out Lillaz Gulley on the left and the pillar of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct more centrally

Our awesome view from the apartment balcony. You can make out Lillaz Gulley on the left and the pillar of Hard Ice In The Rock Direct more centrally

Xmas and New Year in Albarracín

This year my girlfriend, Emily, decided that she wanted to go home to Melbourne to spend a sunny xmas and new year with her family and friends over there. So when my friend Brett announced that he was heading to the Spanish bouldering destination Albarracín I didn’t take much persuading.

View from a rest day walk. Not shit.

View from a rest day walk. Not shit.

This was right up my street because I had decided that after returning from Turkey I would dedicate myself to bouldering for the winter. Doing my first 8a sport climb was one of my goals for 2014 – I got close but I didn’t quite achieve it. On the 8a’s I’ve tried I think often I’m doing moves which are too close to my limit – that’s what makes them hard. It’s possible, but I need to battle through lots of moves which are close to my limit. Or get stronger, which is why I’ve decided to boulder all winter.

I’ve never properly sunk my teeth into bouldering before. I use it for training at the climbing wall, but when I climb outside I usually prefer routes. So by explicitly deciding not to do routes for a while I was excited to see what would happen if I fully committed to bouldering, inside and outside.

Albarracín is a pretty, old town located in a valley in the province of Teruel (somewhere in the middle of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia).

The central part of the town is actually very attractive and has a lot of history and culture. For this reason the town is popular with normal tourists and not just climbers. It’s quite common as a climber to find yourself in little-known places where the only outsiders who visit are other climbers. It’s not the case in Albarracín, where there are many tourists who probably have a lot more money to spend than the climbers. This perhaps underlies some of the access issues which have come up in the past and have flared up again recently. That said, we didn’t actually have any problems in reality.

The climbing itself is found in the pine forest about 4 KM from the town. Unfortunately it’s a bit far to walk to and from every day (particularly with bouldering pads) and there’s no accommodation next to the climbing, so you kind of need a car. But it would probably be easy to hitch to and fro so long as you’re not trying to do it with 3 pads in tow.

Me hanging out at Arrastradero

Unlike Font, all of the climbing sectors at Albarracín are located within walking distance of each other. This is really nice and means that it’s possible to hit multiple sectors in a day if the fancy takes you.

Brett on xmas day

The sectors we spent most of our time at were Techos (which means “roofs” – a not-so-subtle hint about the predominant style of climbing here), La Fuente and Arrastradero. We also dabbled in the Parking and Tierra Media sectors, but there are several more to go at. I have to return!

Michelle on xmas day

Michelle on xmas day (the light was mostly poor so when the sun popped out in this moment we forced her to pose!)

Having not done a lot of outdoor bouldering before I didn’t really have expectations about what I’d be able to achieve during the trip. So I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to tick a 7B roof climb called Eclipse, in Techos.

Unfortunately I managed to get a finger injury in the process, so the victory was somewhat bittersweet. Having practised the moves the previous day I came along fresh with the intention of having a good angry go on it. I warmed up on some easier climbs and then waited my turn since the problem already had pads underneath and other people were trying. As I watched I reminded myself of the beta and got quite psyched. I pulled on and just went for it, fully expecting to fall at the first hard move.

Working the moves on Eclipse

Me working the moves on Eclipse

But I didn’t fall. What did happen, however was that I felt a sudden explosion of tinglyness in my right ring finger. Facing a split-second decision about whether to drop off or continue I thankfully decided, against my better judgement, to carry on. After a bit of a battle I managed to top out. I tentatively prodded my finger knowing that it was injured but still desperately hoping it was just some odd feeling that would subside any moment. But no, I was injured and I didn’t do any more hard climbing for the rest of the trip. This was actually not a disaster since we had New Year coming up, and I was due to leave soon after that anyway.

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I believe that my mistake was that I didn’t warm up enough. Doing some easy routes was not enough warm up to start pulling hard on a route like this. I should have tried the individual moves in isolation first in order to warm up my fingers but I got too psyched and just went for it. A lesson for the future! Fortunately my finger seems to be healing quite quickly so I think it’s just a strained tendon rather than something more serious like a rupture.

Me on A Ciegas

Me on A Ciegas

Another highlight route for me was A Ciegas, also at Techos. Brett had researched this one before the trip and we actually had a play on it on our very first day. We realised it was pretty hard, but came back another day where I didn’t seem to make much progress at all. Finally we came back on a third day and thanks to some beta which Brett had spotted in a video I was finally able to unlock the crux.

Fred on A Ciegas

Fred on A Ciegas

Two things made this climb stand out for me. One was the line: it goes straight up a steep overhanging arete which is just begging to be climbed when you see it. Secondly, the technicality. It was not just a case of jumping on and pulling hard; the beta was very specific in the end and heel hooks were crucial for me. A Ciegas staunchly resisted giving away its secrets but eventually I unlocked a sequence which worked and the battle I’d had made that all the more satisfying.

Jean-Pierre on A Ciegas

Jean-Pierre on A Ciegas

A Ciegas has a complementary route named A Oscuras, which traverses in from the left before going into the shared crux. After unlocking A Ciegas I was also able to do A Oscuras. I think it’s a little bit easier but getting two 7A+ ticks in a session felt pretty satisfying regardless!

Jean-Pierre at Tierra Media

Chris at Tierra Media

Rory (“Gloria”) at Tierra Media

Aside from the climbing, what made this whole trip special for me was the number of amazing people who we met. Bouldering seems more social in that respect. It felt like every couple of days we made some new awesome friends and I left Albarracín feeling warm and fuzzy, smiling from ear to ear. This was especially good for the New Year: having injured my finger I was determined to party hard and I’m happy to say I achieved my goal! Needless to say we didn’t do any climbing on the 1st of January…

Buena gente at La Taba, the coolest/tastiest bar-restaurant in town - highly recommended!

Buena gente at La Taba, the coolest/tastiest bar-restaurant in town – highly recommended!

Dancing en la plaza at New Year

Dancing en la plaza at New Year

Unfortunately the end of my trip was slightly marred by a train travel screw-up which involved me getting stranded overnight in Barcelona and then having to buy an expensive flight back to London the next day. For a few days this rather overshadowed the good feelings I had as I left, but now the grumpiness has worn off my lasting memory is still overwhelmingly positive. I really enjoyed going on a bouldering trip and I fully intend to do more in the future!

Overland to Athens and Turkey

Geyikbayiri in Turkey is a place I always assumed I’d visit. I’d heard about the fabulous rock formations and the hundreds of quality lines. But given I try to avoid flying in order to keep my carbon footprint down, and given it’s quite a long way from my home in London, it had been consigned to the pile of “one day, as part of some epic trip, when I have unlimited time and freedom”.

So when Glyn Hudson phoned me up, excitedly proposing that we go there, I was initially a bit sceptical. There are many great climbing areas much closer to home, but Glyn had won a competition to get a place on the Petzl Roctrip, which was to travel through eastern Europe, finishing in Turkey. Glyn’s prize was to be flown out there for a week. But having a similar desire to avoid flying, he wondered about making the journey overland. Friends who are willing to undertake multi-day overland adventures to reach a destination equally accessible via a quick hop on a short-haul flight are few and far between, and Glyn’s list of such people contained only one person: me.

I agreed, of course. I knew it would be an epic adventure and a chance that wouldn’t come along again in a hurry. So I accepted that my time to visit Turkey had now come.

The plan emerges: Turkey via land and sea, with a week’s stop in Athens

There are basically two ways to reach Turkey overland by public transport.

The first involves pure train travel through Germany, on into eastern Europe, and finally on to Istanbul (visit The Man in Seat 61 for all the gorey details). Once in Istanbul, we’d need to undertake an overnight coach journey to get to the south of the country where Geyikbayiri is located.

The second route takes trains to Bari in southern Italy, and then ferries directly to the south of Turkey using Greece and its islands as stepping stones.

Our chosen route to reach Geyikbayiri

Our chosen route to reach Geyikbayiri

Either way involves at least 4 full days of travel, so we were keen to find a way to break the journey up a bit. I’d heard about the new Athens Climbing Guidebook, published only this year. Athens is surrounded by loads of quality crags, but has remained relatively unknown in the international climbing community, in part due to the absence of a comprehensive English-language guidebook.

Local climbers Antonis, Andreas and Giorgos set out to change this, launching a crowd-funding campaign to finance their work. They did an outstanding job and have produced a comprehensive, clear and useful book, packed with fantastic photos and an individual description for each and every route.

We went to have a look!

Overland to Athens in 3 days, 2 nights

The journey came off without a hitch. One thing I love about overland transport is that the transition from Home to Away comes slowly and gradually. Rather than being violently shoved from one city, culture and climate to another you ease into the trip. You arrive with a feeling of achievement and excitement rather than with an abrupt jolt, stepping sleepily off the plane into another soulless airport.

We took a morning Eurostar to Paris, where we had a bit of time to walk around in the sun and sample the wares from a boulangerie.

Passing time in Paris

Passing time in Paris

After lunch we boarded a TGV to Milan, and upon checking in to our hostel adjacent to Milano Centrale station, we sampled a local bar before getting some sleep.

Milano Centrale: a very impressive station

Milano Centrale: a very impressive station

An early train the next morning took us down the western side of Italy to Bari, where we dawdled through the cobbled streets of the old town, took a dip in the warm ocean, and enjoyed a hand made pizza in a wood-fired oven.

Arriving in Bari

Arriving in Bari

The pretty old town of Bari

The pretty old town of Bari

A dip in the sea

A dip in the sea (testing out my new waterproof camera!)

Cactus display in Bari's old town

Cactus display in Bari’s old town

In the evening we boarded our boat to Patras, on the Western side of Greece.

Boarding the ferry to Greece

Boarding the ferry to Greece

It was a long one so we enjoyed a long sleep and a lazy breakfast the following morning, sunning ourselves on deck as we glided past Greek coastline and scattered islands.

Breakfast on the deck

Breakfast on the deck

Arriving around 1 PM, we shared a taxi to the town centre and boarded a coach to Kiato. In Kiato it was a short interchange onto a modern suburban railway taking us into Athens itself.

After picking up a hire car (fairly essential for Athens climbing, as the crags are dotted around) we checked into a campsite in Kifissia on the outskirks of the city. This turned out to be a good choice – the site was green and leafy with wifi and hot showers. It was close enough to the highway that we could get around easily, but not so close that we had to listen to traffic noise all night.

Mavrosouvola: a huge cavern with tufa dreadlocks

Looking at the guidebook, the crag which had stood out to us particularly strongly was the giant cavern of Mavrosouvola. Not having much in the way of tufa climbing back in the UK, we are drawn to these magnificent formations.

It did not disappoint and we lapped up the easier routes to try to build up some fitness for the rest of the trip.

Unusual climbing on an ancient marble quarry

The following day we sampled something a bit more unusual. It had never occurred to me that a marble crag might be a thing that existed. But if it does exist, of course it must be in Greece! In fact, Spilia Daveli is an ancient marble quarry which is said to have supplied stone for the building of the Acropoplis. And you can climb there!

The brilliant white rock certainly gives a unique experience. Onsighting is particularly hard because the holds are not particularly easy to spot, and any chalk left over from previous ascents blends in easily. That said, Glyn did some great onsights which I managed to flash thanks to his beta.

Unfortunately for us, not all of the routes are fully bolted. As we didn’t have any trad gear with us on the trip, we had to give these ones a miss.

Spilia Daveli, ancient marble quarry

Spilia Daveli, ancient marble quarry

Spooky old chapel next to the crag

Spooky old chapel next to the crag

Glyn onsighting

Glyn onsighting Gerakina 7b+ at Damari, which is round the corner from the main Spilia Daveli crag

Dragonfly at Spilia Daveli

Dragonfly at Spilia Daveli

Decent view upon leaving the crag!

More immaculate tufa climbing at Vrachokipos

The following Sunday we were able to meet some locals, including Giorgos and Andreas who worked on the guidebook, at another great crag named Vrachokipos. This was a welcome change as we had spent the week climbing on our own, but today the crag was packed with friendly people; beta and route recommendations came thick and fast.

A project emerges

For better or for worse, I had involved myself with a serious project at Mavrosouvala in the previous days. Aintes, if I could achieve it, would be my first route at 8a. I’d got to the “obsession” stage of redpointing and so I tried to take it fairly easy at Vrachokipos in order to conserve energy for some final attempts the following day. It was my last chance as we’d resume our journey to Turkey that night.

Usually when redpointing, I know when I’m about to be successful. Everything just comes together and it seems like victory is inevitable. I had this feeling while in an awkward knee-bar rest prior to the last hard section. I knew I’d do it this time. I was sure. But I was wrong: the moment I left the rest, I felt my muscles collapsing. As I desperately stabbed into the finger pocket I knew it was over and I left empty handed.

I don’t regret trying, it was a beautiful route, long and hard. I remember watching a video from Dave McLoed some time ago, where he said that if you know for sure that you’ll be able to achieve something you’re not really pushing yourself. Failure is part of the process, it provides verification that you’re really trying hard. In the end I “knew” I’d succeed, but actually I failed. I’m not sure what that means per McLoed’s rules but I was definitely trying hard!

Trying to send Aintes 8a

Trying to send Aintes 8a

One downside of having this project is there were quite a few crags around Athens which we didn’t make it to. There were quite a few other places which looked really good in the guidebook, so I’d be psyched to go back some time and check them out.

Onwards to Turkey

There are no direct ferries from Greece to Turkey, so it was with a deep sigh of resignation that we accepted we’d probably need to spend a day on one of Greece’s sun-baked islands in the Mediterranean. Perhaps we’d engage in a bit of swimming, purely as a form of “active rest” of course. And perhaps sample the local cuisine, strictly for research purposes, naturally.

There are a few possibilities but the route we chose took an overnight ferry to Rhodes, which is pretty close to Turkey. After a day out in Rhodes we then took an hour’s ferry ride to Marmaris in the early evening. We then had about a 5 hour drive in a hire car to Geyikbayiri.

Another possibility would have been to stop on the island of Kos and then take an onward ferry to Bodrum. Bodrum is further from Geyikbayiri, but from there it’s possible to take an overnight bus to Antalya if you wish to arrive purely by public transport.

Making dinner as we set sail from Athens to Rhodes

Making dinner as we set sail from Athens to Rhodes

Lads on tour! Ready for a swim in the sea

Lads on tour! Ready for a swim in the sea

The sea in Rhodes was amazingly clear

The sea in Rhodes was amazingly clear

Obligatory underwater selfie

Obligatory underwater selfie

Meal in Rhodes with Ed, who we met as we got off the ferry

Meal in Rhodes with Ed, who we met as we got off the ferry

Arriving in Marmaris to the sight of probably the most pimping boat I have ever seen

Arriving in Marmaris to the sight of probably the most pimping boat I have ever seen

Geyikbayiri: too hot, but amazing rock

We got to Geyikbayiri early in October and settled in to the JoSiTo campsite, which was friendly and well-equipped. Despite being “in the mountains” to some degree, the weather was much hotter than we’d experienced in Athens, so it was necessary to climb in the shade. This meant that we only visited the north-facing crag of Trebanna. It’s certainly a great crag and we had plenty to go at, but we’d have liked to have been able to check out some of the other crags too. It also suffers from being the rainy-day and hot-day option, so there’s a fair bit of polish from all the traffic.

I’ve never seen rock like they have in Geyikbayiri. Some places have tufas, but this place has giant columns of rock which you can walk around. It often makes for very three dimensional, pumpy climbing.

Geyikbayiri, overlooked by a pretty good looking mountain

Geyikbayiri, overlooked by a pretty cool mountain

Glyn getting involved

Glyn getting involved

Walking amongst the rock formations

Walking amongst the rock formations

The Roctrip arrives

The Petzl Roctrip arrived in Geyikbayiri a few days after us. Immediately the crag became significantly more crowded and hectic. Uber-wads cranking on the sharp end of bright orange Petzl ropes became a common sight!

Daila Ojeda with a shiny Petzl rope. I tried to practise my Spanish on her which wasn't wildly successful. She did teach me the word for battery though (la pila) - thanks Daila!

Daila Ojeda with a shiny Petzl rope. I tried to practise my Spanish with her which wasn’t wildly successful. She did teach me the word for “battery” though (la pila) – thanks Daila!

A busy day at Trebanna

A busy day at Trebanna

Up-and-coming hard climbing at Citdibi

One nearby crag that the Roctrip was trying to draw attention to is Citdibi, about a 45 minute drive from Geyikbayiri. This was a welcome change from Trebanna, and an incredibly impressive wall.

Citdibi has a lot going for it. Being much higher in the mountains than Geyikbayiri, it has cooler conditions. The huge wall overhangs quite a bit, so even though it rained pretty hard while we were there, the rock we were climbing was bone dry.

On the downside, it’s a fairly new area so there was still a fair bit of loose rock and dustiness. That’ll clean up in time, it just needs more people to climb there.

The other problem I experienced is that the climbing is really quite hard. All the best-looking lines were 8a and upwards. They did look amazing, but too hard for me to have a casual go. Obviously this “problem” depends on how hard you climb, but I found it a bit frustrating that all the really good lines seemed too hard for me.

There’s loads of potential for development at Citdibi, which I’m sure will happen over the coming years, so if you’re in the area I’d recommend a visit.

Walking up to Citdibi. We couldn't find the proper path on first day here, but the forest was pretty nice.

Walking up to Citdibi. We couldn’t find the proper path on first day here, but the forest was pretty nice.

The main "Kanyon" sector provides an incredible viewing platform which lets you spectate climbers when they're about 30m up!

The main “Kanyon” sector provides an incredible viewing platform which lets you spectate climbers when they’re about 30m up!

Onwards to Olympos

We moved with the Roctrip to the seaside venue of Olympos. It’s a funny place; my understanding is that during high summer it functions as a kind of hippy version of Magaluf. Visitors come in droves for sun, sea, sand and stupid quantities of alcohol. But there is some climbing too, leading to a slightly odd scenario where the tourist businesses try to cater for this secondary and quite different market too.

Initially we stayed in Kadir’s Tree Houses, as this was the chosen location of the Roctrip. This place is presumably so named because it sounds more quaint than “Kadir’s Wooden Shacks With Rusty Nails Poking Out the Walls”. Whereas in Magaluf you can presumably retreat from the nightclub to your lodgings once you’ve had enough (I’ve never actually been), the same cannot be said of Kadir’s. The loud music went on every night until about 3 AM, and because everything is made out of wood there was little respite in our room. Even my earplugs barely helped. Perhaps the loud music can be put down to the “Roctrip effect”, but judging by the reviews on Tripadvisor it’s par for the course here.

The climbing itself was rather good, though not plentiful enough that I’d ever want to return. I did some quality routes on the Cennet sector, which features face-climbing with pockets, a welcome antidote when we were becoming weary of tufas. I intended to try out some other crags including the Deep Water Soloing venue, but…

Then we were poisoned

One night we came back late and they had stopped serving dinner. We asked if they could possibly sort us out and a minute later two plates emerged from the kitchen. Relieved, we devoured our meals.

Several hours later as we lay in bed trying desperately to ignore the throbbing beats of the party, Glyn began to feel sick. Thus began an awful night of puking (for Glyn) and diarrhoea (for us both), and we spent the entire next day bedridden feeling totally weak. When I eventually managed to get up and have a shower, it felt so exhausted that I immediately had to lie down again.

I can’t conclusively draw a link between the food we had and the ensuing illness, but the correlation seems pretty suspicious. We’d had enough, so relocated ourselves to a place called Deep Green Bungalows, which was better in just about every way. It was cleaner and quieter, the food was better and the owner was friendly and eager to help.

Whilst after the second night of resting I began to feel a little better (though not perfect) and did a bit more climbing, Glyn was in bed literally until we left. It was a pretty rubbish end to an otherwise great trip. In the following days I spoke to lots of other people who had either felt ill themselves, or knew someone who was feeling ill; surely not a coincidence.

Back to London

When it was time to leave we were glad to do so. Despite our interesting and involved outbound journey, we’d decided due to time constraints to fly back. It felt like a bit of a cop-out for me, especially as I usually try to avoid flying anywhere, but I suppose the convenience won in this case. That said, arriving in Luton airport at 1 AM with our body clocks on 3 AM did not in any sense feel like a victory.

Food highlights

I don’t want to finish the post on a negative. Overall it was a great trip, despite the ending. So let’s talk about food!

I love sampling different food on climbing trips. Often it’s not the “national dishes” which bring the most pleasure but the simple joys such as eating succulent local oranges in Chulilla, or buying fresh croissants in France. Here are some of the tasty things we ate on this trip.

We couldn't find gas for our stove in Athens, so we made amazing salads. In this case, we also ate the bowl, which was made of bread and came from the local bakery!

We couldn’t find gas for our stove in Athens, so we made amazing salads. In this instance, we also ate the bowl, which was made of bread and came from the local bakery!

There were plenty of tasty salad ingredients available

There were plenty of tasty salad ingredients available in Athens

Rest day veggie burger at Avocado Athens - one of the best I've ever had!

Rest day veggie burger at Avocado Athens – one of the best I’ve ever had!

I spent the whole time in Athens trying to find a fig tree which actually had figs on it. One the last day I was finally successfully, which was an intensely happy moment as you can see.

I spent the whole time in Athens trying to find a fig tree which actually had figs on it. One the last day I was finally successful, which was an intensely happy moment as you can see.

Turkey had pomegranates. Bloody loads of them. The green ones are sweet, the red ones are sour.

Turkey had pomegranates. Bloody loads of them! The green ones are sweet, the red ones are sour.

There were also lots of persimmons in Turkey. Sweet and delicious.

There were also lots of persimmons in Turkey. Sweet and delicious.

A traditional meal of barbecued trout in Geyikbayiri

A traditional meal of barbecued trout in Geyikbayiri

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Gözleme is a kind of Turkish pancake snack, filled with meat, cheese, spinach, tahini, etc. It’s yummy.

Turkish tea being poured. Very much a national institution, this was available everywhere we went, always served in the same shaped glass cups.

Turkish tea being poured. Very much a national institution, this was available everywhere we went, always served in the same shaped glass cups.

Glyn’s posts about the trip

Becoming a gnarly alpinist

Last Sunday I returned from my first foray into Alpine climbing and mountaineering. I had always assumed that I’d enter this world at some point, but had no particular intentions about when. Earlier in the year the opportunity came up, so I decided that my time had come. Time to (try to) be a gnarly alpinist!

I have lots of reflections about this trip. It was an intense experience with some ups and downs, but I’m glad I did it and I learned a lot.

We hired James Thacker for some guiding at the start, in order to learn some of the skills such as moving together and glacier travel / crevasse rescue that are needed for safe travel in the Alps. I was very impressed by James’ constant attentiveness and his ability to keep a good eye on all of us at the same time. It felt like we were really learning things rather than just being dragged up to a summit, which was important as our aim was to gain skills which we could then use independently later in the trip. James wrote a nice blog post about our time with him.

In the run up to the trip I read Alpine Mountaineering by Bruce Goodlad. This is a great book which gives lots of useful context and advice for a Brit who is looking to go to the Alps for the first time. It is a little more aimed at walkers/scramblers than climbers, but I still found it very helpful. However I was a little upset when the author at one point stated that “with the advent of cheap short-haul flights, a weekend trip to the Alps is a reasonable proposition”, while later in the book he notes that the melting of the glaciers due to climate change is a big and visible problem. I was pretty surprised by the lack of recognition of the connection between these two things.

On that note, travelling to the Alps (in our case Chamonix) by train is very much a reasonable proposition. I did this via a 17:30-ish Eurostar, connecting with a night train from Paris Austerlitz to Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, arriving 8:45 in the morning. This got me much closer to the action than a flight to Geneva which requires an airport transfer. You can take an onward train or bus to get to Chamonix itself for about 9:40.

Unfortunately when I arrived it was raining, and this was very much a constant theme during the trip. From what I hear the weather in the Alps this summer has generally been quite disappointing and this was certainly the case during our visit. When it stopped raining I pitched my tent at Les Arolles (cheap and good facilities – full of climbers), then managed a quick hike from the valley to try to get warmed up.

Hiking through the forest near Chamonix. I found wild blueberries and strawberries, yum.

Hiking through the forest near Chamonix. I found wild blueberries and strawberries, yum.

A couple of days later the four of us had all arrived and we began our guiding with James. Given the generally bad weather we were actually really lucky to have 4 quite reasonable days with him. This was a relief as we obviously didn’t want to have invested in the guiding only the end up standing in the valley getting rained on.

The first day wasn’t looking too good high up so we headed into the Aiguilles Rouges which is the slightly lower altitude range on the other side of the valley from the “big stuff” of the Mont Blanc massif. We did a rock ridge traverse of the Aiguilles de Crouches, which was a good opportunity to learn about moving together on the rope.

The Aiguilles de Crouches. Photo by James Thacker.

Descending some snow fields from the Aiguille Crouches

Descending some snow fields from the Aiguilles de Crouches

The following day the weather perked up so we drove through the tunnel to Courmayeur in Italy and took a lift up to the Torino Hut at about 3,400m. We spent the day mainly learning about glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques nearby, which was something that had featured high on our list of things to learn about. It was the first time I’d been at such a high altitude and the effects were quite obvious. As soon as I tried to walk at all quickly I’d get very out of breath and start panting heavily. I could feel the lactic acid building extremely quickly.

James showing us how we'd pull someone out of a crevasse

James showing us how we’d pull someone out of a crevasse

The next two days we had agreed that we’d go down to a 2:1 ratio with James in order to try to bring together the skills we’d learned on the previous two days. After having spent the night in the valley we again went up to the Torino hut and Khalid and Harriet went off with James to tackle the Aiguille d’Entreves.

This left me and my climbing partner Sadie to go and do something independently. We decided to have a go at a rock route named Lifting du Roi on the Roi de Siam, which James had recommended to us. It was great fun with fantastic views but not particularly challenging climbing. We didn’t actually make it all the way to the top, abseiling down after a very fine corner crack, as we’d run out of time. This was definitely a noticeable theme throughout the trip: to get stuff done you really have to be very fast, which takes some practise!

Sadie questing up the Roi de Siam

Sadie questing up the Roi de Siam

Panorama of the view from the climb, lovely!

Panorama of the view from the climb, lovely!

Corner crack pitch on the Roi du Siam

Corner crack pitch on the Roi de Siam

Eventually we got back near to the Torino Hut by around 7 PM. The other three were all staying the night in the hut, but Sadie and I had decided to have a go at camping on the glacier. It was harder work than just paying for a hut stay, but we learned a lot about the logistics of doing this, and it was quite fun.

The first thing we realised was that we needed some sort of shovel in order to create a flat platform on the snow. Fortunately we managed to borrow one from a friendly Spanish couple who were also camping nearby. When we got into the tent we started to get cold very quickly, and we raced to get our sleeping mats down as fast as possible – turns out tent fabric isn’t a great insulator!

After a tasty meal of pasta, pesto and cheese (mmm, healthy!) we had a poor but not terrible night of sleep. We both kept waking up and I was getting a little creeped out by some of the strange noises outside – despite having probed the area I was having visions of a massive crevasse opening during the night and swallowing us whole. Fortunately this did not happen.

In the tent, melting snow to drink like proper gnarly alpinists!

In the tent, melting snow to drink like proper gnarly alpinists!

We were up early at 3.30 AM the next morning to pack up the tent and meet James. He then took us on the South East ridge of the Tour Ronde. This was good mixed snow/rock ridge which we climbed moving together in crampons. It was my first experience of climbing rock in crampons but I didn’t find it too bad. On the whole though I felt pretty wasted from the early start and the previous day, so had to try quite hard to keep up. It was fantastic to be on the mountain as the first rays of light were breaching the horizon though, and we topped out by about 8.30 AM.

On the summit of the Tour Ronde

On the summit of the Tour Ronde

Madonna-hugging on the summit of the Tour Ronde. Photo by James Thacker.

After this we thanked James and continued the trip on our own. The following day brought a return of the bad weather which was not altogether a problem as it gave us a much-needed rest day. After that, Sadie and I decided to join some other friends, Adam and Bart, on a trip up to the Envers Hut next to the Mer de Glace.

I like trains

I like trains

We took the rack-and-pinion train from Chamonix to Montenvers, and then hiked up to the hut. This involves descending some ladders onto the glacier, walking up the glacier, then ascending some more ladders and walking a steep path to the hut. From afar I found the Mer de Glace quite a depressing example of climate change; it’s quite clear the extent to which it has receded, leaving lots of moraine behind. This is reiterated by a sign on the way down which shows the height the glacier used to be in 1820. However up close there is much more ice than can be seen from a distance, since a lot of the ice is covered by rocks and pebbles. Being a “dry” (not snow-covered) glacier the water ice seemed to glow in a fascinating way and the features were clear to see. We crossed lots of streams of water flowing, and occasionally came across moulins, where a stream plummets into a gaping hole down to the depths of the glacier. Needless to say we did not get too close to these!

A moulin on the Mer de Glace

A moulin on the Mer de Glace

Adam on the Mer de Glace, just before you ascend the ladders off the glacier

Adam on the Mer de Glace, just before you ascend the ladders off the glacier

I found the walk quite tough. I was probably tired, and I also had a sore knee which didn’t help, but we were carrying a lot of weight from our food. (I also had a terrible Grivel bag which made my shoulders sore.) Talking to Adam and Bart I picked up quite a few useful tips to keep food weight down:

    • Take a sheet of tin foil rather than a pan lid
    • Don’t bother with a kettle, a pan will do
    • Instant coffee rather than an aeropress (I might have to work up to this one… but perhaps there’s middle ground in a Turkish style brew where you have no filter and just let the grains settle to the bottom of the cup)
    • Dried bananas (or dried fruit generally) – note that “banana chips” are actually deep fried in fat, you want the brown ugly looking ones for the real deal which are dehydrated
    • Powdered soup
    • Stock cubes = lots of flavour for very little weight
    • Don’t bring a glass jar full of pulped tomatoes (we actually did this) – take tomato soup powder instead
    • Get rid of as much packaging as possible
    • Smash (powdered mash potato)
    • Milk powder rather than fresh milk
    • General rule: think really hard about anything which has high water content

When we eventually arrived at the hut we went off to do a shorter route very close by, called Le Piège. This was good fun, and Sadie did an impressive lead of the fierce crack climbing at the start (which I fell off on second!) Unfortunately on the last abseil our ropes wouldn’t pull. This lead to me prussiking/climbing up 60m to retrieve them just as it started getting dark. Again we were showing our inexperience, as Adam and Bart pointed out that we should have paid more attention to where the rope was running over the edge at the start of the abseil.

Looking down on the Envers Hut

Looking down on the Envers Hut

Selfie on Le Piège

Selfie on Le Piège

The following day it rained all day so we sat in the hut playing cards and scrabble, reading, and generally going slightly insane. Frustrating.

Going a bit crazy waiting for the weather to improve

Going a bit crazy waiting for the weather to improve

On the third day it looked better so we set out to tackle our real objective, Guy Anne L’insolite. This was a long and excellent route, and definitely a good challenge. Despite not being as fast as we might have liked (again this comes down to experience and practise) I think we would just about have made it to the top if it had not started raining after the 10th pitch. We started abseiling and the heavens opened. It took several hours and we got soaking wet and very miserable. Our wet ropes seemed to get tangled even more readily than normal and my camera passed away in a puddle of water which accumulated in our bag on the descent. Adam very kindly waited for us at the bottom which was appreciated as we were feeling more than a little sorry for ourselves by the time we got to the ground!

Sadie on the awesome diagonal crack on Guy Anne L'Insolite. Photo by Adam Brown.

Sadie on the awesome diagonal crack on Guy Anne L’insolite. Photo by Adam Brown.

The next morning we needed to return to the valley and it was more of the same. Rain. We tried to leave the hut when it had eased a bit, but it soon un-eased and we proceeded to get wet, again. Coming down the glacier we saw loads of rock fall, and ascending the ladders was actually quite serious as by this point there was – no exaggeration – a waterfall coming down the rock face. Coupled with a very strong wind this persuaded me to concentrate quite hard on holding on!

The forecast for the following day looked dry in the morning with the weather crapping out later on, so in a concerted effort to not get rained on we rose early and took the first lift up to the Plan des Aiguilles for an attempt on Papillons Arete. Unfortunately we misjudged this one as on arrival we could see the rock was gopping wet, and following the unusual conditions for the time of year, there was even a sprinkling of snow at this low altitude. Being North-facing (something we hadn’t considered), it was not going to dry out first thing in the morning. So Sadie and I decided to hike to Montenvers instead, both of us being intensely keen to not get rained on yet again.

It was an enjoyable little hike and we didn’t get wet, but given the €30 lift fee, it felt like a very expensive walk! The cost of everything in Chamonix definitely left a slightly sour taste in our mouths, but you can’t really avoid paying the high lift fees if you want to get stuff done. Perhaps it wouldn’t have felt so bad if we hadn’t felt like we were constantly battling the weather but the cost associated with a trip like this would make me think twice about returning to Chamonix vs finding somewhere cheaper to visit instead. That said, the great think about Chamonix is the amazing granite rock climbing, and the sheer variety of things to do within a relatively small area. So I guess that’s why everyone wants to go there and hence it’s very expensive! (Also there’s a rather big mountain called Mont Blanc in the vicinity…)

At this point Sadie and Adam had had enough, so decided to head off to Orco instead. I had a couple of days left before driving back to the UK with Khalid and Harriet. After a day sitting in the tent in constant rain, it finally looked like our last day would bring some good weather. We decided to head up to the Aiguille du Midi lift station and tackle the mega-classic Cosmiques Arete. I was pleased for the opportunity to get up there as it hadn’t previously happened during the trip, and the Aiguille du Midi is such an iconic starting point for many objectives in Chamonix, so I was keen to see it for myself. I was less pleased to hand over another €55 for the lift pass though!

A temperature inversion meant that the first lift took us from an overcast valley into a beautiful clear mountain morning, and we proceeded down the famous snow arete and round to the start of our route.

The snow arete down from the Midi station

The snow arete down from the Midi station. Photo by Khalid Qasrawi.

The Cosmiques Arete is definitely a good outing, but our enjoyment was crushed by other guided parties on the route. At the first abseil a French guide with too many clients started lowering his clients over the top of us. We responded by making a concerted effort to get well ahead of him, and did so quite easily. Unfortunately we ended up queueing to get through the first tricky section of rock climbing – this time it was a guided party in front of us who were holding up proceedings, which had lead to other parties in front having to wait. All this meant that the French guide eventually caught up with us, and then proceeded to make our experience miserable for the rest of the route. This all culminated in a massive mess of several parties climbing on top of each other towards the end of the route. I got very frustrated and all I could think about was getting out of there. I was no longer enjoying myself and it also made the situation ripe for an accident.

The three of us on the Cosmiques Arete

This experience would certainly make me think twice about doing such a popular mountaineering route in the future, at least during a busy time of year. The behaviour of other parties ruined our day and next time I’d rather do something a bit harder or more obscure in order to have some breathing room. Still, we were lucky to get a final day of good weather so I shouldn’t complain too much.

In the end this trip felt like an education in what the Alps are all about. With the weather, expense and busyness there were some ups and downs, but it’s certainly an amazing place to visit, and I hope to go back in years to come. I developed a good sense for how Chamonix works and the geography of its surrounding mountains. I want to go back to Chamonix, but I’d also be keen to consider other Alpine destinations which might be a bit cheaper and quieter in the future.

Font and Pembroke

This post is a little overdue, but I’ve recently had two mini-adventures which have taken me outside my usual comfort zone of bolt clipping.

The first was a trip to Fontainebleau at Easter. I generally only boulder indoors for training, but going to Font for Easter sounded fun and we were lucky with some really good weather apart from on the Monday.

It was only my second trip to Font. On my first we had bad weather for 2 out of 3 of the days, so it felt like my first proper encounter with the famous sandstone boulders. Naturally I had fun falling off lots of things, no matter how “easy” the grade was! But my expectations of myself were low, so I enjoyed simply having a go at stuff without being too concerned about grades.

The best day was probably Sunday, when we decided to try to do as much of the Apremont Centre blue circuit as we could. I got to problem number 31, and definitely felt pretty worked as we walked back to the car!

Unfortunately Colin got a finger injury on the first day and couldn’t climb, but this did mean he took a load of good pictures:

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The photos above are all copyright Colin Rouse

More recently I managed to get some climbing in at the UK trad paradise of Pembroke.

This was stage one of my “try to climb more trad this year” plan and I had great fun getting scared trying to put on my trad head.

Adam managed to persuade me to try the notoriously classic and tough Pleasure Dome E3 5c, which resulted in me taking a rather spectacular wanger, certainly my biggest trad fall to date. Fortunately I had placed a bomber nut so I wasn’t in mortal danger, but I have to admit that I came off at least in part because I was scared to commit to the move and hence have to place gear from the next holds! (Still working on that trad head…)

Pleased that my nut held after I fell off the crux!

Another very memorable route was the rather esoteric Preposterous Tales E2 5b. It traverses into and through a sea cave and then up through a blowhole. (Which fortunately was not blowing on the day we did it!)

Inspecting the "top out"

Inspecting the “top out”

Adam enjoying the first pitch (the crux, as you enter the cave)

Adam enjoying the first pitch (the crux, as you enter the cave)

Most of the difficulty on this route comes from route-finding rather than the moves. I spent a long while on pitch two debating with myself where I was supposed to go. I eventually figured it out though.

Approaching the first belay stance

Approaching the first belay stance

The holds are probably permanently wet – at least they were when we did it – but they’re big enough that this doesn’t matter too much. We initially attempted a headtorch-free ascent but gave up on that idea pretty quickly!

Pitch 3, up into the light!

Pitch 3, up into the light!

Adam celebrating his exit while I'm still freezing my ass off below :)

Adam celebrating his exit while I’m still freezing my ass off below :)

It was great to get back into a bit of trad climbing, and it was my first time in Pembroke. I was suitably impressed and will be returning!