Category Archives: Fontainebleau

Updates from my spiritual home, and my now annual visits

Time to Kill

Passport controls, borders, these things are always stressful. They rarely have a sense of humour (no offence to them), have a difficult job and the power to make your life unimaginably difficult. This potential disruption to your life plays on your mind.

And there’s the waiting. You sit in a queue, staring at the barricade in front of you, your mind wandering and wondering what might be about to transpire. Then, eventually, you get to the front, hand over the passports and they wave you straight through. That is exactly what happened to us through passport control, other than a slightly over-zealous chap stopping us to have a look at the Land Rover.

Passports done, scary bit over, we made it through to Check In, breathing a sigh of relief. I’d opted for a flexible ticket this time, giving us an eight-hour window to catch the ferry. All was good, we were so nearly home.

But then there was a pause. The chaps behind the desk spoke quietly to each other in French, then slid closed the window. My brow furrowed and i wondered what was going on.

After a while, they opened it again and i asked, “Qu’est qu’il y a une probleme?” to find out what was wrong. They replied in English:

“Your rabies vaccination. It is not three-weeks old, we cannot let you travel, you need to speak to our supervisor.”

Shit. This was a big problem and one i was definitely NOT aware of, despite visiting two vets in Sweden and Denmark, and corresponding with my friend back home. I’m going to put this as a quote so it stands out for you:

It transpires that the rabies vaccination must be THREE WEEKS OLD in order to travel back into the UK.

Shit. It was the 30th June at this stage and 21 days from her jab took us to the 8th July. Shit. The slightly unhelpful man at the port pointed us vaguely into Calais to find a “dog hotel” or kennel (the thought of which made me cringe) with the simple direction, “This is your only option.”

He was wrong. It transpired that my folks – more often than not the saviours when things go wrong – happened to be further down the French north coast to watch the Tour de France. Once again, they were my first phone call. And the second. Also the third, fourth, fifth and so on…

Eventually we developed a plan: we would meet up with them on Sunday afternoon, exchange Tess for my mum, who i would deliver back to Birmingham for her next adventure to Malta. Meanwhile, dad would remain in France with his own dog, and mine, until such time they could travel back to the UK. Meanwhile, we’d hope all went well.

This gave us 48 hours and as much as i like sailing to and from Calais, it is not somewhere i would like to stay for 48 hours. Dieppe is two or three hours down the coast and there wasn’t anything in between that grabbed our fancy in between. I looked at Em, my face suddenly filled with hope that she would like my next idea: “Shall we go to Font…?”

Well I didn't see this coming! After a small administrative problem at the port yesterday, involving the dog's passport (she's absolutely fine), we weren't allowed to take her back across the channel for another 8 days… With huge help from my folks, yet again, we're now sailing home tomorrow night, but with nothing better to do until then, the #greatswedishboulderingtour has ended up being concluded in #fontainebleau… On the bright side a) I got to show @emks93 the #forest for the first time! b) she got her first #font problem done! c) I got another day of #bouldering in, at one of my favourite venues anywhere #rocherauxsabots d) we're in fontainebleau… Lacking a guidebook, we struggled to get anything done really but I did have a good blast at this: #smash 7b. More importantly, Emily is quite taken with here so we'll soon be back. Silver linings to a complicated end to a stunning trip! #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion

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We’d said about going and didn’t really have anything else to do in the meantime. At four hours, it seemed a fickle distance to travel, compared to the dozens we’d already driven to get back from Gavle. Pretty quickly, we were on that old familiar route, Em free to sleep while i navigated from memory.

We headed straight to the pizzeria in Arbonne la Foret that i’d frequented back in April. A google search had shown they’d be closed but being hungry and the time cracking on, i figured it was worth a punt. Turns out it was a spot on call as not only were they open but also showing the Wales vs Belgium match! Ideal!

We sat, watched football and cheered on Cymru in front of half a dozen locals, drank beer and marvelled at the insanity of being here. Eventually, the match ended and he headed for another old familiar: the campsite La Musadiere.

Saturday morning, i headed back up to reception to check in, explaining in my poor French that we’d arrived at midnight and they were closed. “Oui!” came the reply, plus something about “dormir!” or sleeping.

One of the reasons for heading here was my intimate knowledge of the place. Needless to say, we were lacking in any sorts of guidebook but i’ve been more than enough to be able to show someone around and find something good. Last time, someone had asked me what my favourite crag in the forest was and i’d replied i didn’t have one but after a couple of days of reflection, and a subtle shift in the question, i changed my mind slightly. If i could only show someone one crag in Font, it would be Rocher aux Sabots. So that is exactly where we headed.

Not before we had a wander around Milly la Foret, touring the shpos in the middle of town and picking up some essentials – a bottle of Oasis for myself as a continual throwback to my childhood summers, some pastries and some sausages for the evening. Once again, it was wonderful to share somewhere close to my heart with the person closest to it.

Our session was good, all things considered, being not spectacular but we did manage to get some things done. Em had a bit of a climb and i pitched camp under the uber-dyno Smatch 7b. While success did not flow that well, it was a great way to spend the day, especially coupled with a brief walk in to Cul de Chien to see la plage sans la mer or the beach without the sea.

By the time we left Font the following afternoon, after a wander around the grounds of the chateau hand in hand, it certainly seemed that we had made the best of the short time we had to kill before trying to get home again. Emily left saying she could understand the appeal to the place and agreeing to come back in the near future – my biggest success to the entire trip in my eyes!

While our time in Font was nowhere near long enough, it was, after all, a last minute way to try and do something useful and i was incredibly glad to be heading to Dieppe. Four hours later, we were back on the French north coast, tickets adjusted and paid for, before meeting my folks to shuffle kit and deliver my faithful dog for her extended holiday.

We can go home now tess! Although without tess… She's waiting in France (with my father, don't worry) for her rabies injection to be 21 days old before she can come back. I'm gutted but she is in safe hands and will have a great week. This is the trip that just kept going. Our last night was in #dieppe and after dad left with the dogs, we went to watch the #france versus #Iceland #football match. The public support in this small seaside town was immense after after the French prevailed 5-2, the town went into utter chaos – it was exhilarating to see! The way the football has turned this country is nothing short of #incroyable Yet another story from one of the best trips I have ever had #greatswedishboulderingtour

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Most of the rest of the trip was exactly as you’d imagine: driving, but there was one last very memorable event before we boarded the ferry for home. This was the night of France’s European Championship match with lowly Iceland, who had dumped England out not long before and, even in this small port town, everyone was excited for what might be.

All day people had been driving the streets with flags hanging out of the windows of cars that were constantly blowing their horns. The people had been growing a sense of excitement and anticipation and, as has been usual all over the continent this summer, a large screen had been put up in the middle of a large field.

We arrived at half time, the score sitting at 4-0 to France. Iceland clawed the scoreline back to 5-2 by full time but, for the locals, it was the win that was crucial. We exited the security gates with throngs of people and were instantly into a barrage of people jubilant and excitable.

For large parts, the roads were at a standstill. The car horn reigned supreme through the night air, the sky lit in a strobe style from countless cars driving with hazard warning lights on. Flags flew from everywhere and people piled out of sunroofs and windows to race up and down the streets.

I remain convinced that the football had been long since forgotten by this stage. The match had finished long before and this was a nation releasing some stress. It was one relieving it’s own national tensions, being the target of various terrorist attacks in recent times, united by a common army of their national sporting heroes. And it was a thrill to witness; yet another phenomenal experience on a trip that simply refused to end.

Our own relief wouldn’t come until the car rolled off the ferry on England’s foggy shores and even then, several hours of travel remained. With the sun slowly rising, the journey to Birmingham was swift and easy, the short slog back to Wales similarly so. With that we could finally breath a slight sigh of relief that we were finally home.

That being said, full relaxation hasn’t been possible since then, as Tess has yet to return home. It should be in the next few days and then, finally, we’ll be able to look back properly on one of the greatest foreign excursions i have ever experienced.

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Done

After finishing the top out, i sat atop the boulder for a few moments and took in the moment. It wasn’t as long as last time though, lacking some of the passion and release of my success two years prior. Still, it was a good moment.

Often when you complete a long term project like this, you can have a sense of emptiness; a what next moment as it were. Not for me, this time, though. There was no feeling of needing another project, i’ve got plenty in the forest. This time i could just enjoy the moment and the feeling and that moment was a good feeling.

I walked off the top of the boulder, put my boots on and it was now my turn to wait. Simon had become engrossed in Carnage 7b+ as a project and he was getting pretty close. The crucial bit of that sentance being “turn” though – the previous day, he had dutifully sat and waited for me under Divine Decadence 7b+ and while, at this point, i’d only had two efforts at climbing something so far that day (one of them successful), i didn’t mind sitting and encouraging.

There were no words said about our plan and it’s a rare thing to find: someone who the balance just works with. Throughout the week, we hadn’t made any special effort to balance things out between us, it just happened and it’s a testament to how well we get along. I guess that’s why we keep heading out to places together! It’s been like this since we first met.

That said, after two hours, i was becoming a little bored. There were a lot of places i was very keen to visit this week, and many problems i wanted to have a bash at but due to circumstances (like getting sucked back into Carnage and spending three sessions there) we hadn’t managed it. With the trip so close to it’s end, i wanted to get one last thing in.

I tried my utmost not to show it but it must have seeped out a bit and he must have noticed. On one of his “enforced” rest breaks – i was making him wait longer between efforts – he looked at me and said, “One and a half more goes. Well, one decent go”

They often say you get the climb on your last go, although that’s normally because you stop trying after you’ve got it… And climbers have a tendency to have multiple “last gos”. In this case, though, it was that solitary last go that counted.

Quite typically for a successful last go, Simon made it look easy. Apparently, so did i on my send so it’s not uncommon and believe me, as easy as it might look, it’s more often than not utterly desperate when you’re on the wall. The fact it looks easy is just that it all comes together for that send.

He topped out and looked at me, obviously surprised. He’d been close a few times but i think we’d both resigned ourselves to the thought it wouldn’t go. There was even a part of me a little bit annoyed; that he hadn’t had to go through the turmoil that had befallen me. But that was fleeting, and i was and still am happy for my friend. It was a good tick! He came down, and as he took off his shoes, said, “i can see how you got so obsessed with that!”

With plenty of time remaining, i wanted to try and make the most of it and we hadn’t returned to the crag we’d scouted on that first day: Rocher d’Avon. With Simon happy to go anywhere, that is exactly where we took a beeline for now.

I could keep posting photos from my #fontainebleau trip for a long time, there are so many good ones, but this'll hopefully do it for now. This is from the last day at #rocherdavon on a sublime problem called #masterofpuppets 7b. It was such a great line, so iconic with some very unusual and excellent moves that I wanted it so badly. But we were spent by this point, after 6 days on. At one point @simoncfr (who gets photo credit for this great shot) dropped off, landed bum first and simply sat on the pad for a few minutes, exhausted. And that is exactly what you want at the end of a trip. A sign of a good one. And this trip was fucking amazing #fontbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_photos_of_instagram #meclimbing

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I wouldn’t say it was futile to visit but as soon as we started on Master of Puppets 7b – the most appealing line we’d found on that first day – we realised quite how exhausted a week of hard bouldering had been. This was day six and it had taken it’s toll more than we’d realised, which was a real shame as this line was immense! We toiled for a while but soon realised it was a lost cause; demonstrated by Simon dropping off, backside first, onto the pad and not moving for a good couple of minutes while the ache set in.

It was a good tired – a sign the week had been excellent and it really had. I’d already decided that on Sunday, after i’d dropped off Simon, i was heading straight to Calais to head back home, to see Emily for that little bit longer before she went off on her own adventure. While in the past i’ve tried to eek out every last hour possible, this week had been so good, there was no need to try any more.

But it wasn’t quite over yet: we had Norbert’s birthday party left to attend! I can’t speak for Simon on this one but for myself, on any other day, i’d have been really stoked (a party in French?! A chance to see life in another country and practice my language?! Sweet!) but i was so utterly exhausted, i just wanted to collapse in a heap. Speaking a foreign language takes quite a lot of effort for me, so after we’d arrived, the prospect of trying to talk to anyone – i refuse to just asking people to talk my own language – was enough to make my head droop in itself.

Last day and I'm done. We both are. It's been a fabulous week and a terrific last day: including a send of the sit start to Carnage at 7c. That was one of my goals for this year (a 7c abroad) so now I'm just aiming for another and it was so great to get this one done. It's made the week a complete and total success. After our respective glories at cuvier (Simon also ticked the stand start) we headed to #rocherdavon and here we're on #masterofpuppets 7b. We were both too broken after six days of hard sends but it was great to finish trying something new. There's always another #project at #fontainebleau #fontbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #meclimbing

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Nevertheless, we went and Simon was his usual sociable self, while i got chatting to a delightful girl, Caroline Sinno, a 5.10 sponsored climber no less. Still, chatting to Caroline wasn’t going to last all night and soon i felt like a lost little puppy, ready to collapse, while Si chatted away. It was almost an amazing night, if only i’d been closer to conscious…

It brought together a phenomenal week. If i were to pick a flaw in it, i’d say, yet again, we spent far more time than i’d have liked at the same old crags but that’s the nature of the beast with working projects – it’s a necessary evil and with this, the end definitely justified three sessions at Cuvier and two at Isatis.

The vibe all week was excellent, Simon once again showed why i like travelling and climbing so much with him and the conditions in the forest were, once again, perfect. We even had enough stories of issues being overcome, new friends being made, and all in all, it was the perfect week. There’s not a thing i’d change.

Sunday came, we rose earlier than expected and were able to pack up at a leisurely pace and leave the site, heading straight for la gare. Even at the end, i had another unusual experience, with a man and his wife looking intriguingly at the Land Rover and stopping to ask me about it. He was Australian, educated in England with a strong English accent but as soon as he learned where i was from, he took it as a sign to practice his Welsh! After a week of trying to get my head around French, i struggled through – it almost being a sign that it was time to go home.

After a fairly uneventful drive through the rest of the day, i finally got home at around 1am, to a fantastic yet subdued reception. It had been tough being away from Emily for a long week, so early after we had got together but it had been for the best; reminding us both how much we longed to be together. We only had a day before she flew off to America but we certainly made the most of it, rounding off the first trip of 2016. And it was certainly a good one!

Divine Intervention

On a week trip like this, in Font at least, Friday is earmarked as the day for taking Tess to the vet.It’s pretty straightforward these days and so far, touch wood, i’ve never had a problem with her. The vet in Milly la Foret is excellent, on the Avenue du General Leclerc (directions here) and they have only ever been incredibly quick and efficient. That being said, while they are quick at sorting out me and my dog, the wait to get in can take quite a while. And of course, this being France, they’re closed for lunch until 2pm.

So we took the HUGELY unusual step on Friday morning to head out to the crag BEFORE we went to the vet. While this may not seem that incredible, anyone who has seen me in the mornings will realise how uncommon it is, and how much i really don’t like mornings.

Now was time to go somewhere different but the same: back to Franchard Isatis to try and get something of some substance done. So far, while i’d managed a series of 7a ticks, there was nothing above 7b – and even that was a solitary and speculative tick of <em>Canonball</em>. I wanted something harder to go home with and <em>Divine Decadence</em> 7b+ was the next one to try.

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As we left the car, Simon had mentioned to me that we could probably do with some more chalk and, with the brown paper bag having a small hole in the corner, i picked up the large sample bag of Snap chalk to chuck in the chalk bag. Thanks to the hole, we threw the lot in. That ought to do it! we’ve got plenty now.

It was a severely stupid idea. Take my advice on this: when you’re working a hard project, don’t switch chalk half way through. With the new beta wired, i knew exactly what to do but when i threw my right hand onto the slopey dish, it simply slid off. It wasn’t the conditions, and it was obsessively brushed, it was just that my hand didn’t connect to the rock through the layer of chalk. It might just be me but i swear, i will never buy another bag of Snap chalk as long as i carry on climbing.

A young German climber arrived to try <em>Le Surplomb Statique</em> 6a and was in need of chalk. By the time we left him, he had filled his chalk bag up to overflowing…

In exchange, he offered his pad to save the harsh thump that had resulted in my brain rattling around my skull slightly. It made much difference and i owe him a vote of thanks for that!

So, with Simon resting, photographing and generally bumming around Isatis for the interim, i tried over and over on this little problem. At one point Si went to show our new German friend <em>Spongebob</em> and i’m sure they were probably hoping that when they came back, i’d have it done. Sadly, no such luck.

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Then, after about two hours of toil, the feet felt good, i hit and stuck the right sloper, moved a left foot up and stuck a toe hook around the arete, reached out left and hit the giant white sloper. My feet pinged but i shuffled my hand, chucked in a heel hook and a few moves later was pulling over the top.

It made what had already been an outstanding week an unmitigated success. I’d now got my 7b+ tick and another monkey off my back – even if i do now need to go and tick the sit, in a manner not too disimilar to Carnage

But that was a worry for Sunday. Now more pressing matters were at hand and we headed into Milly. After an hour, Tess was all good to get back into the UK and we wandered round for a bit of shopping. Milly is such a quaint little town that even for non-climbers, i would still recommend a visit. The iconic market shelter in the centre is highlighted on a brown “point of interest” sign from the motorway and is still used for it’s intended purpose today.

Gifts purchased, and a spot of lunch eaten and we picked up some sausages for dinner and headed back. Our decision to head out had been vindicated by the rain that began while we were in the vets, and continued while we wandered the shops and sat eating sandwiches and drinking beer but now it had stopped, we made a quick detour before heading back to the site, to have a wander around Rocher aux Sabots.

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Simon, being Canadian, hasn’t had chance to explore the forest as much as myself, for obvious geographical reasons, and this was one of those crags he’d not been – but surely needed to! Classics of every grade, secluded but still a suntrap, easy access but not roadside and not overly popular with non-climbers, as we wandered round, i said to Si that Sabots is probably my favourite crag in the forest.

We weren’t there to climb though, the lure of sausages high on our minds, so i showed Si around, pointing out some of the stand out lines and some of the projects. I had a look at Smash 7b, thinking how i’d really wanted to try this but it looked SO much bigger than i’d remembered. We glanced at Graviton 7a (which looks desperate) and Sale Gosse 7c (which also looks desperate) and then headed home, via a small group playing around l’Oblique 7a. If nothing else, it was worth a wander.

Dinner was again excellent, if a little simple. Fried French sausages in baguette with some fried onions, it tasted absolutely delicious. By this point, we’d put the tarp up to give us some shelter from the slight rain and again, i’d realised how invaluable these small pieces of equipment are. It is something everyone who goes camping should chuck in.

Saturday morning came and we found ourselves perched in the same spot – under the tarp, contemplating what to do with ourselves. The rain had dampened everything but had seemingly subsided, so we were wondering options. Simon’s suggestion was to go to Karma: the local climbing wall in Font but i was very much opposed. I understood his thought process – we were there to climb so climb we should – but i was loathed to go inside unless absolutely necessary and even more loathed to part with money for the pleasure. Still, it beat my other suggestions, which didn’t quite hit the spot either and it would give me a first chance of the week to sit and do some writing.

Now all week, at this point, Simon had been regularly checking the weather forecast while i had thought it pointless. I’d merely come up with plans for each contingency but Si seemed to want to know. At one point he even checked the forecast to see what it thought the weather was doing at the very moment for where we were. Now, the tables had turned and i got my phone out.

We needed to be at the train station on Sunday at 11 o’cock at the latest. I’d then need to leave at around 7 o’clock myself to catch my ferry home. The forecast for Sunday? To start raining at 11am and stop at around 8pm… And that was the time i’d earmarked to go and finish off Carnage assis

I didn’t even look up. “Let’s go to Cuvier. Now”

Simon understood and i think was quite keen to get on the selected project too. Once i explained, we were up and getting ready, packing stuff as best we could to speed up the next morning. After all, the longer we waited, the drier it would hopefully become.

Soon enough, we were parking up in the familiar spot. No wasting time on easy problems today, we went straight to the Place du Cuvier, straight to the project in question. As is usual, we weren’t alone and threw our pads down to add to the pile already there. It seemed a little bit of an odd way to warm up, given what was around me, but star jumps, waving arms and some Power Fingers were employed to get me going and then i was on.

There was a German guy who had met us at this very spot the previous year there also working the sit start diligently. I chalked up, cruised the first two moves and dropped going into the finger pocket/crimp. First go, can’t complain, chalk up again, be patient. I actually went and put my hoody on for some reason, even thinking as i did that i wasn’t really that cold…

Next thing you know, i’d stuck the first hard move, managed to get both hands up to the poor pair of crimpy slopers then was slapping onto the boss, thinking to myself how it wasn’t as good as i remembered… But i really didn’t want to drop it from here so gurned onwards to suddenly find myself topping out onto the top of the tall bloc.

Shouts of “Whoop!” and “Finally!” and even a “Six fucking years!” rang out from the top of the boulder, followed shortly by the familiar “We can go home now, Tess”. And as much as i was now firmly thinking about home, it did more crucially mean there was nothing else left for me on this boulder: Helicopter scaring the shit out of me so much i can barely bring myself to watch other people on it, Abatoir 7a being a bit too similar to be comfortable and Berezina 7c on the right not appealing at all, this was it, i was finally free of it’s alure. Granted, it had eaten up another three days of a week long trip but now it was done, it was time to move on. And that in itself made it all so worthwhile.

More Torment

I’m not very good at life. You know, the normal things in life, just organising myself, sorting myself out, showering, eating, that sort of thing. So when Thursday arrived and i received a message from Simon saying to meet him at La Taverne at midday, i was still late.

Eventually i rocked up, Simon and Kim sat outside enjoying the sunshine, two pads propped up against the wall from the day before. They’d had a pleasant evening and now we ate and passed the time putting the world to rights and talking about climate change and all the associated contributing factors.

Time cracked on and we left the cafe, dropping Kim back at the station to get back to Paris. After she’d left, i enquired with Simon as to whether he’d had chance to try Biceps Mou 7b+ – the reason we went to Cuvier – the day before and he said he hadn’t. With Carnage assis 7c now on my immediate radar too, we headed back.

It was hot that day. Later in the afternoon, after it had cooled slightly, i checked the temperature on my watch: 25 degrees C. Not exactly good sending conditions! But the block with Biceps Mou is tucked away a little, shaded from the beating sun, an ideal spot to have a play.

This was Simon’s objective and he worked it valiantly, sticking the first move quickly despite a very painful left starting hold, then shuffled limbs and the like to try and get through the next two difficult moves. Some other climbers came and joined us, also trying the neighbouring Pince Mi, Pince Moi 7b+ and Holey Moley 7a. Personally i had a quick go but wasn’t sold, and this wasn’t my thing – i wanted Carnage and trying this as well would just sap my energy levels.

So i sat and offered support, faffed on my phone and took photos while Simon gave it his best shot. He was doing well, to be fair, on a tough 7b+ but alas, after a couple of hours, he decided to sack it off and we moved on.

So here i was again: the Place du Cuvier, where i have spent more time over the last six years than probably any other crag in Europe (not including North Wales). Tuesday’s exploits had filled me with hope and now it was just a case of finishing it off.

However long later, i was explaining to Si how it’s so hard to stop and walk away. After one more failed attempt, as i stepped off the pads, he hurriedly pulled them from the base of the boulder and started packing up, exactly as i’d asked him to do. It hadn’t gone, had thwarted me yet again, six long years from that first effort where it had done exactly the same. I was going through that heartache yet again.

Welsh Simon had arrived by this point, thankfully without any further mechanical problems. He was passing, saw my very distinctive Land Rover and called by. He could empathise well, having been through this himself more than a few times. Then, as we packed up and walked out, through the trees i spotted an old line from 2011 that i’d not come across again, which was weird given how prominent it is! It’s a one move wonder dyno somewhere in the mid 6s that took us longer to find in the guide than for Canadian Simon to complete! But he did agree that it was a very worthwhile line and one that was definitely worth stopping for.

We did have a habit of being a little lazy on this trip, in terms of food and i’d like to just tell you a little about our pizzeria of choice – because it was fucking amazing. Not just amazing but fucking amazing. And here’s why:

Firstly, it’s a lone place in the hamlet of Arbonne la Foret. There’s not much else there, other than a sign offering potatoes for sale and an estate agent (god only knows why!) but it is in a fantastic spot: on the road between Milly la Foret and Fontainebleau. There’s a small roundabout in the village with Bois Rond and Drei Zinnen a short distance down one road, the Franchard crags and Trois Pignons crags on another and the third heading back towards the crags near Font itself. If you’re anything like me, you’ve passed it a hundred times and occasionally glanced thinking, “Hmm, that place looks interesting…” But never stopped.

It was mentioned to go there either last year or the year before but it was sadly closed – something i’m a bit gutted about looking back now! I think that’s what prompted us to go there. Although the fact we kept going back was something else.

Now the locals around the forest, as you would expect, are pretty clued in to what most people go there for and the business proprietors are no exception. You can buy chalk, brushes and other bits like that almost anywhere. This one was only an exception in that his stock was a lot more extensive than most places.

I got the impression that the proprietor here isn’t a climber but he’s certainly interested in it. He is incredibly friendly, spoke a little English and often came to chat to us while we ordered or waited for our food. And the pizza is good too, and reasonably priced, with menus in French and English to suit those of you who struggle with the language.

Granted the tables and chairs are a little bit garden-furniture like but after you’ve been living on the floor in the dirt, they’re plenty functional enough. More crucially, he has free WiFi (pronounced wee-fee in France by the way) and, continuing with his pleasant demeanour, even left it on for us after he had locked up for the night, allowing us to stay a little longer, finish our beer and upload some pictures. Trust me that this is not easy to find around the forest and having somewhere as nice and pleasant as this to go makes it all the better.

The name of the place: Pizzeria Croq Foret. Their website is here and we were told of a cheap bunkhouse style accomodation that was incredibly appealing! It’s now going on the Fontainebleau page in the Destinations tab above so if you ever need the info again, that’s where to find it. Or just get in touch with me. I’m not gonna forget that one in a hurry!

 

Another Day, Another Disaster

It seems a little extreme that i’ve written nearly 3000 words and we’re only up to Wednesday morning but that’s the sort of week it was – eventful, unexpected and amazing! And it was about to get amazing for Simon in a very different way.

When he had travelled down to meet me in Font, he’d done so by train with an American lady he had recently begun seeing, named Kim. Kim had been staying in Paris and was to come South to meet up with us, come for a climb for the day and then the two were to spend the night in Fontainebleau proper for some time without my incessant babbling and nonsense.

I’ve gotta be honest, at this point, and say i was immensely envious and gutted i didn’t think of inviting Em to do the same; especially as i was really starting to miss her by this point. Nevertheless, i was certainly pleased for them and was keen to meet Kim; Simon having spoken so highly of her. And i didn’t have to wait long either, as we rose slowly as usual, packed stuff for the day and headed straight to the station.

Simon was right to be smitten: Kim is lovely, charming, well spoken and friendly. It didn’t take long before the conversation flowed well and after a quick stop off at the supermarket, we headed out to Bas Cuvier as was the plan.

Straight off to the Place du Cuvier as a base, lose sight of the dog who went in search of stick throwers and was subsequently hounded herself for a change by a small boy intent on chasing her, and we found a little problem for Kim to get started on. It’s the biggest asset of Fontainebleau: there are always problems for someone to get on, always something quality at any grade. After a tiny bit of snippet coaching from myself, i left them to work the project and wandered off, ending up stood underneath Cortomaltese 6c+.

It is a BRUTAL 6c+, utterly, and spanks off so many people – myself included on every other trip to Font. Norbert was there that day, also at the Place du Cuvier (which seems to have renamed Bleau Job Square by a large wooden sign, seemingly as a reference to the hookers that frequent this particular crag) and called over to me to get my left foot higher. I tried it, made the ambitious slap up and BOOM! stuck the move! I made a meal of the topout, and am incredibly grateful to the nearby climber who shuffled the pad and offered a spot but ticked it off! It’s been years since i’ve been so stoked to get a V5.

I went back to see how the others were getting on, still working the same little project and so i let myself get distracted. Distracted by the obvious and probably inevitable, the one thing i did not want to try and part of the reason i did not want to be back at Cuvier: i went to try Carnage assis 7c.

When i ticked Carnage 7b+ in 2014, i thought that, as it had gone quite quickly and with relative ease, i should try the sit but resisted, not wanting more time under that same piece of rock if it didn’t go quick. When we were there last year, i again resisted for the same reasons (although being ill and asleep on a pad helped). This time around, i gave in.

It was going very well to be honest – the moves linking the sit start very easy compared to the problem proper and was on course to get it in a session. When my left foot started twisting in my old, stretched shoes, i reasoned if i got the Futuras from the car, it would relent and then, at least, i wouldn’t waste any more time here. So off i toddled back to the car park to get my other shoes.

Just as i closed the door of the Landy, i thought i’d heard my name being called. Now, i occasionally imagine this but i always check and this time, it was a friend from back home, also called Simon, who happened to be in Font and whom we happened to bump into the day previous at Isatis. That day, we’d regailed him proudly of the tale of our unexpected mechanical prowess. Now the tables had turned.

He’d driven into a small post and his radiator was, in a word, broken. Like really broken. Water was poured in and poured straight out through the enormous section that was missing from the rest of the radiator. What’s more, and we didn’t realise this at the time although i did spot it, the radiator had been pushed back away from the front bumper.

Simon was screwed – there was no way he could drive back to his campsite with it in this state, let alone back home. However, he did know a garage that had sorted him the year before. The only problem with that is it was about 20km away. He looked at me with hopeful eyes: “tow?”

I’ll be as honest now as i was with him that day and tell you i really didn’t want to. I didn’t want to tow anyone. I didn’t want to drive all that way and take up the rest of my day. And i really didn’t want to stop trying Carnage assis as i was so close!

But you can’t just help people when it suits you. To leave him would be to leave him stranded and friends just don’t do that. After a few more unsuccessful attempts, i packed up, arranged with Norbert to take Canadian Simon and Kim into Font that evening and set about attaching the two cars together.

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Simon had a towing bar, which had alleviated some of the worries of towing such a distance but there was an issue in how to attach it to the back of the Land Rover. For want of a simple shackle, we were almost stuffed! Thankfully, Welsh Simon’s bag of uber-cable ties came to the rescue and it seemed secure. Enough anyway. As a back up, we also attached the end of my tow rope, tied off, in case the cable ties failed.

And fail they did. Every single fucking roundabout. With Simon slowing more than me, the bar twisted around it’s housing and popped out, several cable ties breaking each time. After every roundabout, we were forced to stop and reattach the bar – and they were plenty of them.

It’s good that i seem to be (partially) born of an older generation. Most people these days do not know universal arm signals when driving, such as waving a straight arm up and down to signal to slow down but thanks to my dad, i do and thankfully, so did Simon. With him acting as the brakes and me acting as the accelerator, i quickly realised i could put my arm out of the open window and signal to him when we were to slow down or speed up. This soon saved us a lot of time and probably a lot of damage.

It took an hour to get to the garage, followed by a hotch-potch conversation of various languages and gestures, after which i took Simon back to his campsite and briefly enjoyed a beer. Then i left, intent on heading back to the site, feeding the dog and collecting the lantern and going straight back to Cuvier to finish this thing, once and for all.

But as i reached the site, tiredness kicked in and by the time the dog was fed and the sun was down, i was beat; my resolve dipping to the levels of energy i had left. Instead, i opted to be sensible (for a change) and cook some food.

Now, i am in the unusual position in life where i can recount the two best night’s sleep i have had. These were, for the record, a night in a multi storey car park in Tromso at number one and a night under a park bench in Western Germany. The reason for these? Necessity. On both occasions, i was exhausted and desperate for sleep in a lying-down position. On that Wednesday, i was so exhausted and hungry that it has now undoubtedly become one of the best meals of my life.

Granted i reckon it would’ve been pretty tasty regardless but it was only pasta bolognese – mince, chorizo and onion with a sauce. Nevertheless, after my nightly phone call to Em, i lay down in my tent, alone but for the dog, and smiled a little contented smile at just how good that meal had been. And just how good the week was being. And quite had good my life has recently turned out to be.

Mechanics and Mates

I woke on the Tuesday morning tempted to sack off the Landy repairs until later in the week. Very tempted. Three things stopped me: first and foremost that it was a terrible idea, wouldn’t do the car any good and the job needed doing so we should do it. Second, the weather forecast, for while Tuesday was dry and glorious sunshine, it wasn’t supposed to stay that way all week and having to faff under the bonnet in the pissing rain didn’t appeal. Thirdly, i’d mentioned to Simon that i’m really not conditioned for multiple days in a row at the moment and woke creaking and aching. Although that was also motivation not to get this job done…

So we sucked it up, and got the tools out. After all, this job isn’t a big one, i’d done it before and knew exactly what to do so we could quickly faff with spanners and head out in the afternoon. [For those of a mechanical bent, the problem was that the front section of the exhaust had slipped off the manifold. All we needed to do was slacken off the nuts to the middle section, push it back up into place and tighten everything back up. Or so i thought]

Bolts slack, i pushed the exhaust back into place and we started to tighten the nuts again. Just a quick test, i started the engine and we watched, disappointed and slightly perplexed, as the exhaust slowly slipped down again.

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All of a sudden, i had the same feeling of dread and fear that had engulfed me in that small park in Bayreuth, Germany three years previous. Our fix didn’t work and if we couldn’t find one that would, we were, to put it bluntly, fucked.

I phoned my dad for advice and was told to pack out the manifold with an old dog food tin. Lacking in options and needing a working vehicle, i set to the tin and mangled it with a Leatherman, cutting a section of thin metal to plug the gap. It took a while, Leatherman tools not being ideal for this job but eventually we had it in place and tightened everything up. Test: fail. Shit.

While i’d been cutting away though, Simon had spotted something i’d half noticed a little earlier: a bracket, half way down the vertical section of the exhaust. It was broken on one side, with a bolt in the engine block doing absolutely nothing. The side of the bracket still in tact, meanwhile, was lacking it’s bolt. I phoned home for more advice. Of course the bracket holds it up! The manifold clamp is nowhere near strong enough to hold it in place! Of course.

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So we pulled the bolt out and tried it in the other side. After ten to fifteen minutes of attempting to get the blasted thing started, we both agreed we needed a smaller bolt. Shit.

Thankfully, this wasn’t Southern Germany, this was Fontainebleau and my local knowledge was substantially better than anywhere else in Europe. For future reference, reader, if you ever need one, there is a hardware shop in Milly la Foret, next to the Intermarche. So, packing everything we might need for our days activities, that is now where we headed.

By this time, it was around 12:30 and we arrived to find the shop closed, but only until 2:00. What followed was an hour and a half of worry, cigarettes and pizza while we sat eagerly waiting the shutters to go up, while i pondered how bad this could potentially be. Thankfully, we had no need to worry.

Two o’clock came and we headed in, Simon asking for a fractionally smaller bolt while i searched around. We found one, were graciously offered it gratuit, and headed back to the car park to finish the job. Excited now at the prospect of our newfound mechanical expertise, the tools again came out, the new bolt fitted and on our test, the entire thing stayed exactly where it should. We’d done it! and were thrilled.

I phoned dad back to tell him. “Hey dad, we fixed it!”

“You fixed it?!” I will never forget the surprise in his voice. Or let him forget it either.

Suddenly buoyed by our success, we headed straight out to Franchard Isatis, listening intently to unimportant noises and creaks. Thankfully, we didn’t put up with it for long, Isatis not being a far drive, and pulled pads from the car. The objective for the day: Divine Decadence 7b+

It’s a climb we’d both tried on a previous trip and been close. There are two starts: a low start at 7b+ and a sitting start proper at 7c. Last time, i’d got it from a move higher than the low start (two moves in on the sit) but was perplexed at the feet for the first move. It had seemed a mystery until we came back home and saw a video, unlocking it all.

Now returned, i was itching to get it finished. We dropped the pads, quickly repeated Le Surplomb Statique 6a and got started. But it was as brutal as the last time i’d tried it! The foot just wouldn’t work.

After a look at 27crags, we got on Surplomb Gauge 7a and decreed it a superb line. Frustrated that Divine Decadence was proving nigh on impossible, we tried Surplomb Gauge assis 7b+ and were equally perplexed. Irritated at being thwarted on the starting move only of two separate problems, Simon sacked it but it hadn’t quite sapped my resolve quite yet.

I thought about it briefly and scoped out a lower foothold. There was a blindingly obvious one that i’d overlooked by using the video beta i’d arrived with. Let this be a lesson to us all! Sometimes video beta is the wrong beta for you…

I lowered down into position and the heel stuck, so i thrust my right arm up and stuck the crucial sloper. For fuck’s sake! i thought, why couldn’t i do that hours ago?!

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But by this time, i was spent. Considering we were pretty tired first thing in the morning, this was no surprise and so we left, me cursing my own ineptitude. Tomorrow, Simon’s “female friend” would be with us for the day and i would have the evening to myself. We’d agreed to go to Bas Cuvier for convenience and so Si could try Biceps Mou 7b+ so i was looking at it as a kind of rest day. This one would go in a couple of days.

But the day wasn’t quite done yet. Battered and beaten, we left but had the invitation from Norbert from the previous day. I’ll be honest and say there was a part of me that wanted to go purely to make a good contact in the forest but that was only a part: from the short time we’d met him, Norbert had come across super cool and you have to respect a man who will invite you to his house like that, just because you’re a fellow member of the climbing fraternity. So despite the tiredness, we headed over.

I am so glad we did! Norbert was indeed even cooler than the first time we’d met and the house was a true climbers house – i can think of one just like this in Sheffield but there are hundreds. A large house, with constantly changing inhabitants, all climbers, there was a fingerboard in the living room next to a pull up bar, not to mention the training den in the loft.

The people there were also super friendly – climbers all. In fact, the one Frenchman sat on the sofa after we arrived had recently won a national competition, although i forget his name. They were a typically international crew too; even without us, we had at least one Pole and one American in a group no bigger than half a dozen.

The conversation flowed (mostly in English) mostly focused on beta for projects and beer – the smallest details of projects discussed. We had our photos taken for the Wall of Visitors – where everyone who had been had been snapped and sat there proudly underneath the fingerboard. It was a truly surreal but utterly incredible experience.

The Wall of Visitors. Everyone who visits has their picture taken and goes on the wall. A fantastic idea!
The Wall of Visitors. Everyone who visits has their picture taken and goes on the wall. A fantastic idea!

We weren’t just offered a bed for that night, the gang was so friendly the invitation was left open. We were also invited to Norbert’s birthday party later in the week and left safe in the knowledge that if we ever found ourselves around Fontainebleau, we always had a place to stay.

You can say what you like about climbers but they are incredibly friendly. Throughout the years, i’ve met endless amounts of such people, some of which are now very close friends and it’s a great group to be associated with. Norbert is just one such example and a brilliant one at that.

Font Fun

So it seems a little ironic that after a post about Endless and Anxious waiting, it’s taken me an age to post anything about being away…

I said in my last post that i was worried about forgetting “that crucial ingredient between a good week away and a week of troubles and misery” but it turned out to be very much the former. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t entirely plain sailing but that made for the better.

We had car trouble, helped another friend with car trouble, had failures over and over and had some rain to contend with and yet, every problem was overcome with relative ease and it made the successes all the sweeter. The fact i didn’t get chance to write a thing while i was away is testament to how good a week it really was – i haven’t even got any retrospective posts to publish!

The hardest part was certainly being away from Em for such a long time. We’ve become so close in such a wonderful way so quickly, gelling like we were made for each other that she ran (or more like sprinted) around my mind for the entire week. Knowing this would prove to be the case before we went, on that last day, she looked at me and told me to go get stories. We certainly came back with plenty.

And so, now that i’m back and beginning to get settled, i’ll write a series of posts to document this trip as was; telling you the stories i was tasked with getting. One post would just be too long or lacking in detail and considering i’m now resting anyway, there’s not a lot going on to report on! Even Em has now gone on her own travels.

 

The whole thing had been riddled with stress and faff from a long time before i departed so finally getting on the road was a relief in itself. With Tess curled up in the car, we made good time heading south and got the ferry without issues, sailing through Paris entirely by memory. The problem was at the toll, i’d misplaced my wallet and was a touch paranoid i had somehow managed to leave it there. With it being Sunday, i was also super conscious of getting any food, having not eaten on Saturday either.

Not able to check in or go to the supermarket without a wallet, i opted to nip over to Rocher aux Sabots to let Tess out and find the blasted thing. Thankfully, it turned out Tess was just sat on it – a clever ploy to get to have a look around the crag. To be fair, i was keen to investigate conditions for later in the day so we had a walk in. It looked damp but either which way, it looked amazing – it was good to be back.

So, wallet found, food was purchased and camp was set. A quick nap that barely felt necessary and then off to collect Simon from the train station in Avon. We called in to Rocher d’Avon on a scouting mission, both agreeing to being too tired to bother getting the pads out.

It looked ace; a crag i really should’ve checked out before now! Le Danseur 7b looked awesome, Si took a shining to a highball crag who’s name escapes me, and i scoped out Freak of the Weak 7c+ and Basta 7a+ which both looked awesome but brutal. Then we wandered down and saw the immense prow of Master of Puppets 7b. It looked so good, but we were sans pads and knew that rest was needed, so headed back, intending to come back.

Bless him, my awakedness now waning, Si cooked dinner and we chewed the fat and caught up before eventually going to bed much later than i’d intended. Despite not touching chalk at all, it was a great first day and we were chomping at the bit to get out again.

Intent on visiting new places and trying new lines, and after a nice relaxed start, we packed up and headed out to Franchard Hautes Plaines. Only there was a problem: my trusty Land Rover suddenly sounded like an American muscle car. I popped the bonnet and instantly spotted the problem: the exhaust’s top section had slipped from the engine manifold once again. I quizzed Simon, who’d borrowed the “truck” to get pastries in the morning, and he hadn’t noticed a change in volume. It must have been the bumpy road around the campsite that had meant it had slipped. Memories of Germany and Austria came flooding back.

But i’d sorted this problem several times recently so they quickly drifted away. A week before i came away, i’d replaced the middle and rear sections of exhaust at work, with a little help, and knew that if we loosened off the join between sections, we could easily persuade it back up and into position. I also knew that i’d driven it plenty before in this state without too much damage or trouble and we were itching to get out. So with Franchard not being far from the site, i opted to earmark Tuesday morning to fix it and we headed out.

It turned out, looking back, to be very fortuitous to do so! We walked in and suddenly bumped into the impressive block containing Lapin ou Canard 7a and Ah! Plus Facile 7a+ and stopped to have a go. Almost straight away, two people appeared to join us. We asked, as is usual conversation, where they were staying and found out Norbert, the guy, lived locally and quickly invited us to the house to join him! After we had worked the problems and both myself and Norbert had ticked both lines, we exchanged numbers and agreed to meet up with them soon. Si then finished off Ah! Plus Facile with a third varying style, differing wildly from both mine own and Norbert’s beta. While he rested and kept trying, i quickly ran into the forest in search of the crag’s stand out line: Deux Faux Plis en Plats Reels 7c.

It looked so inviting, sat in the perfect setting, the line looking so good there was no way you wouldn’t want to try it. So we did! Not that we got very far though, as with battered bodies and thinning skin, we were forced to retreat, vowing to come back to this one too, as well as the nearby Pulp Friction 7a+. Psyched but exhausted, we packed up and headed back.

But then, just coming back into Franchard Isatis on the way back to the car, i spotted a block that i had to check out. We wandered over, captivated to find a double dyno called Canonball 7a/b (depending on who you listen to). The line of Spongebob 6c to the right looked equally inviting.

[NOTE: the nature of the forest being so vast, with such history, means it is documented in many places. As such, there is often discrepency between the grades of problems. It seems odd but grades of the same line can very wildly between different guidebooks, making reporting on ascents slightly tricky. For this trip (and hopefully beyond) i have taken grades from the reliable bleau.info website]

Canonball fell for myself, with a superb looking running start, the start proper being left for another day. Chuffed with our efforts, we headed back to the site, tired but happy and wiled away the evening with spirited debate. The next morning we’d make an easy fix on the car and head out to Isatis. Or at least, that was the plan.

The Endless and Anxious Wait

And so i wait; the endless and anxious wait before i set off on the road once more. It’s difficult to get across to people the stress i feel when i’m in this position – regardless of how many times i’ve been here and done this.

It’s my last day at work before leaving and as usual, i’m leaving straight from work. As soon as i am let loose the shackles of my contract for a week, i’m off, the car now packed and ready to go (ish, it needs a rearrange to stop everything rattling around and finding small nooks and crannies to settle in). There’s the usual worry that something crucial is missing, mixed with the knowledge that as long as i have my phone, keys and wallet that nothing can stop me. But that security is fleeting at best and soon replaced with the worry that i am missing that crucial ingredient between a good week away and a week of troubles and misery.

I’m driving out solo and that in itself is a source of discomfort. Will the car be okay? Again, i’ve done this plenty and god knows i’ve been in some bad situations and made it out okay many times. Even so, as above, this reassurance matters not and every small creak or unusual noise in the car for the past week has been amplified out of all context and led to me fretting that some terrible event will occur and leave me stranded somewhere, unable to make my ferry. Worse, it could leave me stranded in Northern France somewhere. My mind is eased slightly by the thought that my transport is an old Land Rover Defender and that it’s easily repaired if the worst should happen. Nevertheless, the mind worries more.

So an overnight trip it is, with only Tess for company before i collect Simon from the train station at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. Both of these are a source of more concern – what if Tess is ill or injured while we’re there? Will she be okay in the forest? And what if Simon doesn’t appear? All of these are not things that will likely occur but again, the logic of it doesn’t ease the pain. She’s been plenty before and loves it, Simon knows the score and is capable of looking after himself. I keep reminding myself of these, to try and ease the thoughts.

Oddly i never worry about me – about my own frailties. I know not why but it never bothers me; my worries are always about others and things i’ve done. And this is not new: i go through this every single trip. The new one on this trip is ma cherie, with the relationship still new and exciting and the thought of spending a week apart not a pleasant one. But this is the way it has to be, us both compelled by wanderlust and a desire to experience life. My conscious mind knows it’s not a problem but as ever, this is not the problem, for the demons in my mind speak the loudest.

So i sit and drink tea and ponder smoking another cigarette – despite the fact it’s been merely half an hour since my last. It’s not productive and doesn’t help, the routine of my allotted smoking breaks helping to give my life some structure. I try not to ponder whether my stove will work and instead search online at articles and videos of my destination and projects to come.

The biggest thing that helps is the familiarity to it all. There is nothing new here, i’ve done this many times before. The failings and tribulations of my past help to comfort my tortured mind: if i can get back from Austria in 2013, nothing will stop me! And once i’ve left, all will be well. All i can do now is wait…

Distractions

Well that was a quiet start to the New Year! And an unexpected one if i’m honest! Writing that last post, and with various trips penned and in the pipeline for year ahead, i thought i’d be chomping at the bit to get out and get climbing but, what with injuries and other distractions, i seemed to lose psyche for a week or two there.

Sometimes psyche and enthusiasm do take a bit of a hit – you simply can’t maintain a constant level of desperation to get out forever (or i can’t anyway). So i’ve not really done much in the last few weeks, as shown on my instagram feed and a series of old photos replacing anything new and exciting.

There are a couple of exceptional sessions though; mainly on Diesel Power 8a at the Cromlech Boulders, once in daylight on the way home and the other Tuesday gone. Neither were particularly anything to write home about – hence the lack of writing – merely to point out how hard this project is going to be.

It’s a unique problem really: the crimp handholds being reasonable, especially for the grade of climb! The crux seems to be entirely in the feet and keeping them on the smoothly polished holds using intense body tension that i seem to be lacking. Far too often, when trying to move anything at all, or even sometimes when simply trying to hold the position i find myself in, my feet will inexplicably part company with the rock, bringing me down to the pad with a thud.

Meanwhile, under the near-horizontal roof sits another bloc – one trodden by many thousands of feet to walk around and stand atop this roadside boulder; tourists wanting to summit something and get a feeling for the outdoors. The problem is that this rock underneath you is quite close behind and until you are reaching the exit moves, there is zero chance of cutting loose. It crossed my mind that if that boulder didn’t lie so close beneath you, this classic would probably be a full grade easier.

So you set up on any of the hard moves and pull on only to find your feet sliding off and you returning back to sit on the pad (assuming your pad hasn’t moved down the slope but thankfully, this seems fairly rare). It is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating and annoying problems i’ve ever encountered and one that will take some intense training, i fear.

Not to mention multiple sessions but the important bit of that is they need to be productive sessions and these last two really didn’t fit into that category. The daytime session taught me nothing i didn’t already know other than i’m still quite a way off from this project and that i was not in condition to be getting on something at the limit of my abilities. Such is the nature of roadside boulders though – they’re very tempting when you’ve not got much time… or inclination for that matter.

Such was the situation Pablo found himself in this week when he finished work late and headed into the Pass for a quick blast. Completely dark with cloud cover clouding any moon or star light, i noticed his lamp under Jerry’s Roof from quite a way away, slowing to see who was keen on my way past. When i noticed my good friend, i had to stop.

I watched as he tried Bus Stop 7b+ several times, this time making the first moves with relative ease before struggling after the crux, he moved onto Bus Stop RH 7c and i joined him before we both headed up to Diesel Power. To be fair though, while i struggled to make any gains, seeing how much Pablo struggled with any move at all did make me realise i’m a lot closer than recent sessions had led me to believe.

Considering my recent unintentional abstinence from climbing, partially to rest the two hip injuries i’d sustained in recent weeks, perhaps i’m being a bit hard on myself. With a Font trip looming, it had occurred that i might be out of shape when i get to the forest too and so, the smallest amount of rain convincing me that i was justified not going outside, i took a trip to the Indy on Sunday gone, with the express intention of seeing how well i’d do in a session.

Turns out it was quite well, and better than i was expecting! A flash on a 7b (albeit one that suited but it certainly didn’t feel hard!) and very close on a 7c filled me with enthusiasm. I had another session the following evening when i found myself there for some coaching that felt like i had no energy at all, granted but even then, said 7c still fell. Perhaps my hard ticklist for the forest may not be that ambitious after all?

So now, local projects have taken a back seat. A major back seat – imagine sticking them upstairs at the back of a double decker bus. Focus is now entirely making sure i’m in the best possible shape for the end of next week when i make the familiar drive through two of Europe’s busiest cities overnight. I’m so excited, especially to be climbing there with one of the few friends who would make the invite-to-my-wedding list [an imaginary list to distinguish my closest friends] who is also ticking around the same grade as myself.

It’s impossible to know how a trip is going to turn out but you always get a bit of an inkling and this one feels pretty good. The politics and troubles setting up have been and gone and now the path looks clear and my mind is just waiting to be there now. This, along with the other trips of the year, seem to have encompassed every ounce of thought in my head lately – to the extent that, to my eternal shame, i forgot my parent’s wedding anniversary this week. I feel terrible about it and hope that they can forgive me, being the ones that instilled the wanderlust that drives me so much of the year. Maybe one year, i’ll get to take them too; not so much for climbing but just to experience an area of the world so beautiful and magical. I hope so, as they took me to experience so many places in my life, it would be an honour to repay such kindness one day.

They have a lot to answer for in this aspect of my life, my parents. And i will forever be grateful for that.

Milestones: The Birthday Tradition

This is part five of a series of posts all about the turning points in my climbing career. From single moves to huge time spans, these are the events that shaped me into the climber and person i am today. 

I’ll be posting a new one every few days so keep an eye on the blog for the latest or, if not, they will appear in one beast of an article at the end of the series. Feel free to comment and let me know of some of your own highlights, i’d greatly enjoy hearing some of your own. 

The Birthday Tradition

The campsite of the inaugural birthday trip to Val Daone
The campsite of the inaugural birthday trip to Val Daone

In Spain, in September 2009, with Steffi and good friend Stu Goodfellow, we met two Italians. Now, if you’ve been on a climbing trip abroad, and met people, i would wager you’ve championed your home climbing areas while listen to others try and encourage you to visit theirs. It’s one of the nicest aspects to travelling like this. In this case, Super Paolo and his girlfriend Stef were from the North Eastern corner of Italy, and an area called Val Daone.

They convinced us (it wasn’t hard) to plan a trip to see them. The next question was when. Now, i can’t for the life of me remember how we came to the decision, and i think it took a lot of faffing with dates but somewhere down the line, we arranged to go for my 26th birthday, much to the dismay of my mother. (“But you won’t have anything to open on your birthday!” she remarked. My reply: “I’ll open the door of my tent to see a beautiful Alpine valley…”)

In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29
In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29

What began is a tradition that i have managed to keep going for the following six years and counting: to spend my birthday in a different country every year. To date, the list of birthday destinations reads Italy, Canada, France, Austria, Spain and Switzerland, with next year’s trip to Finland already in the pipeline.

It is now the highlight of my year and while everything else is very flexible, this summer fortnight is not. Finding places with suitable conditions in June is proving harder and harder, especially as flying to the Southern hemisphere where it’s mid-winter is currently out thanks to costs. I’m also running out of emergency i’ve-got-no-money-this-summer options, although Ireland still remains, as do a couple of others. Sooner or later, it’ll become “…in a foreign country” instead but for now, the tradition continues good and strong, with at least next year all good to go.

Turning 30 in Spain in the middle of June turned out to be a bit hotter than expected. Evening sessions were the way forward
Turning 30 in Spain in the middle of June turned out to be a bit hotter than expected. Evening sessions were the way forward