Category Archives: The Great Swedish Tour of 2016

New Year: March 2017

It’s the last weekend in March again and in time honoured tradition that stretches back to this time last year, it’s a goal-setting, New Years Post.

Some Highlights

If we go right back twelve months, it’s been an up-and-down year. On the one hand, 7c+ fell, there was another fantsastic Font trip and the trip of a lifetime to Sweden to keep the birthday tradition alive. Meanwhile, there’s been a major drop in standards through a major drop in psyche and big gaps in between sessions.

Through all of this, it’s hard to look past the fact i’ve had a baby. On the 10th February, myself and my amazing, wonderful partner – who had accompanied me on the return leg of the Sweden trip no less – had our equally wonderful baby girl, Rosie. While that’s pretty late in the year to exaplain a drop in standards and psyche, any parent will tell you how trying pregnancy can be on your social life and spare time and there’s no way i’d trade Em and Rosie for any climb.

Hard to believe this little lady is 1 week old today. I am so in love ♡

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It has meant that expectations have needed to be tempered. It turns out Em was pregnant as far back as mid-May so even in Goteborg and Gavle, she was carrying our child. No wonder she wasn’t feeling well! And of course, once your ability wanes, it affects your psyche too. A list that was formerly inspiring became quickly deflating.

This hasn’t stopped me from hitting some high points and most notable of all have been my results in the indoor competition scene this winter. Whichever way you look at it, second in the Indy Aggregate is nothing to be sniffed at and second in their Massive Monday Series too is no weak achievement.

Those two trips really were two of the best as well. Font in April yielded the sit start to Carnage 7c and Divine Decadence 7b+ both of which old projects that i’m super stoked to get finished, especially on another great week with Simon. I love travelling with him and moving through Sweden with one of my best friends before meeting another of my best friends, Fredrik, then being united with my girlfriend was surely one of the best adventures i’ve ever had. Both will live long in the memory.

So before i’m too hard on myself, let’s have a look at how we’ve actually fared.

Last Season’s Goals:
  • SPA Assessment
  • Top Five in the Indy Aggregate
  • At least one 8a climb
  • Create a coaching philosophy
And how did it go?

We’ve already touched on a lot of these and the second goal was absolutely smashed – more through luck than judgment but nevertheless. That one is a huge big tick well done.

That pesky SPA Assessment continues to linger on but steps have been taken towards it and with the prospect of some paid coaching work, is now much more pressing. While i try and figure out the new direction my life is about to take, this is about to become much more urgent. I just need to continue onwards.

That 8a actually looks further away now than at the start of the season but again, we’ve mitigated that slightly in the opening paragraphs. As we’ve seen in recent years most notably with the economies of the world’s leading nations, growth and progress will not continue exponentially forever, there will always be a crash eventually and in a weird parallel metaphor, i think that’s what i’ve experienced. While i’m not worried, now it’s time to rebuild and come back even stronger. The goals below will hopefully reflect this.

As for the coaching philosophy, that has not quite materialised; largely as i’ve completely forgotten about it! I have, however, become heavily engaged in weekly coaching with a great group of kids and consolidated my teaching methods nicely. Perhaps that should’ve read “Coach regularly” as i feel in a much better place now to write such a philosophy.

So one outstanding win, one abject fail and two somewhere in between. To be honest, that’s a pretty good result, considering and shows some real intelligence when it comes to actually setting these goals. I’d forgotten until now the goals i’d actually set (maybe something to address there) and was fully expecting to flop. That is definitely not the case.

Complete them all with ease and they’re too easy. Fail absolutely and the whole thing becomes equally pointless. The point of this is to push the limits and in that, last season’s objectives seem pretty good.

2017 Spring/Summer Goals – short term

While i’d love to say get out there and start using this newly regained strength, the fact is my life is different and i need to adjust to it first. My first priority from now forever more is going to be to Rosie. Climbing is going to have to come further down the list.

That doesn’t mean i don’t want to still get out and achieve, just that i need to find out how to do that.

Meanwhile, the List needs revision; although not actually as much as i’d initially thought. Nevertheless, removing some of the lines that don’t actually suit me or inspire will help bring it back on task and adding some slightly easier stuff will give me something more realistic to go at. Most importantly of all, finding baby-friendly venues is going to be key; especially as she’s so small!

Then it’s just a case of ticking stuff off. I’m still keen to get hard ticks in but setting the bar too high will lead to failure of the not-so-good kind. 7c seems a realistic short term goal.

  • Find out how to climb with Rosie around
  • Go climbing and make the most of the chances
  • Reset the list and get rid of the dross
  • 7c outside – most likely Nazgul’s Traverse

2017 Spring/Summer goals – season long

If I’ve not at least had an SPA Assessment by the end of the summer, there needs to be a good explanation. This could be my future and continually putting it off simply isn’t good enough any more.

Meanwhile, it would be really nice to get another 7c+ done this season. My solitary climb at that grade to date is oft noted as hard for the grade so perhaps being a bit more savvy about what to go at may be key but certainly getting something new done will be a good achievement. More would obviously be better.

This will undoubtedly be best achieved by going climbing. Once i’ve sussed out the baby friendly crags, The List will be re-written and the ticks should hopefully begin to fall. Aiming for a top ten yearly average of around the 7b/+ mark would be a fair goal and would hopefully tempt me back outside. The new guide will help if it’s out before the season ends!

Meanwhile, the Birthday Tradition has become very dear to me. Seven years old now, i would be thrilled to be able to carry this on and to take my family would top it off beautifully. With Ireland on the cards and Rosie’s passport in the works, it seems a likely success but important enough to warrant inclusion.

I’d always said i’d never marry anyone who’d never been to Font (or watched the Italian Job) and while we called in on the way home from Sweden after a bit of a dog related epic, taking my daughter would make my year. It also serves nicely as an introduction to camping on the continent with the family: somewhere i know well, incredibly family friendly, it doesn’t really need much explanation. A trip is penned for September, it’s just a case of making it happen.

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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Away from the personal focus, my coaching seems to be developing nicely and keeping this going and growing could even lead to something really big. With options awaiting us regarding work and childcare, coaching could be a nice little addition so developing this is a must over the next six months ready for the winter season.

But most importantly of all is Em. It is critical to keep her in mind through all of this and not put other priorities ahead of her. Going climbing is hugely important to me but nowhere near as much as she is. Remembering that and not risking the relationship for any climb matters more than anything. Thankfully, she’s wonderful, understanding and keen to get out too. Between us, i think we’ll be okay.

  • SPA Assessment
  • Another 7c+
  • Top ten yearly average around 7b/+
  • Continue the birthday tradition
  • Get to Font
  • Start to develop the coaching into something more
  • Don’t jeopardise your relationship for climbing…

All of this needs to be put into context but i honestly think that this has been taken into account when setting these goals. They’re all realistic and if something crazy does happen (like simply not getting onto an SPA course or Rosie not allowing me out to play) then that will be understood in October.

Now all is left is to get out and get it done! Things only happen if you make them happen, even more so with a child in tow. The plan is set, next comes the action.

Happy New Year!

 

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.

Southbound

We said our goodbyes to our good friends on the Saturday morning, having packed the car, checked the map and concluded on a plan. It was going to be a long day – coast to coast of Sweden to Fredrik’s former home of Goteborg. Something in the region of eight hours.

It had been a fantastic week spent with one of my greatest friends and had thrilled me to introduce him and Karin to Emily. As much as we could’ve easily stayed much longer, it was time to move on. After we climbed into the car, i leaned across and softly said, “Let’s go home”

Of course it wasn’t quite as simple as that; apart from anything else, it’s a bloody long way! The plan was to spend a week getting back, stopping at some highlighted spots on the way; and it’s exactly this that i’ll rattle through in this post.

Forgive the fact that i’m going to blast through this portion of the trip. So much happened on the way back, i could easily write an entire post on each individual day. Sadly, that would be far too difficult and time consuming. Throw in the fact that they really weren’t climbing orientated days – and this is predominantly a climbing blog after all – and i’ll gloss over a lot of stuff.

I say non-climbing days but actually, the reason for choosing Goteborg was actually almost entirely climbing. As mentioned, Fredrik used to live there and it’s actually the venue for where we met back in 2011. As it was on the way, i was keen to head back for another night or two to have another blast at some old projects and show Em the island of Hono.

Sadly, after eventually finding a campsite, she was dogged by some ill health on the first morning. Thankfully, the weather was crap anyway and so, she slept it off a bit and i walked the dog and finished my book about Denmark before we found ourselves there.

Nevertheless, during the evening, the sun came to rise at around the same time as Em and we were able to head out to the island of Hono to experience this wonderful place and tick off a problem or two. I’d written in a blog post that it’s “the best place you’ve never heard of” and judging from her reaction, i think Emily would probably agree. Once there, i certainly realised what i meant!

That was Saturday and Sunday nights and Monday, we made the beautiful drive across the spectacular Oresund Bridge and, for the first time in over a week, out of Sweden. It had been a spectacular trip to a spectacular country but was now time to move on and first, to some of Em’s family.

They live just North of Kobenhavn and we were even lucky enough to stop in the great city on the way and check it out a little. It was only an hour but being as we had both been before, was enough to raise a large smile at times gone past and fond memories.

You could say it was a slightly mixed evening in one respect but in truth, even the lesser aspects of the night and subsequent morning were enjoyable. We were treated to some excellent food (pasta, sausages, burgers, what could be better?!) a heated political debate thanks to the Brexit, a phenomenal tour of the nearby Royal Palaces and an abject performance from the England football team that, for the second time in a week, had me heatedly shouting at a screen and apologising for my nation… Fantastic people whose generosity will always be remembered.

Tuesday was predominantly driving despite a slow start to walk the dog further and enjoy the view of the Storebaelt and Little Belt Bridges, with a couple of other breaks on the way. Eventually, we pulled up at a campsite mid-way between Kobenhavn and Amsterdam; tactically chosen thanks to the forgotten far North of Germany mentioned in a previous post. We sat by the sea, looking across at the next country, eating pasta and stuff on another exceptional Scandinavian campsite, and watched the sun slowly go down. It was another fantastic evening.

Wednesday yielded another driving-heavy day for nearly the entire day. The only stop we made in Germany was to use the facilities and it took an awfully long time to make it to Amsterdam. Thankfully, in Goteborg, i had met (thanks to Em’s keen eyes) fellow Land Rover owners. While they’re not necessarily the best vehicles to use for long overland trips, they do have the bonus of the camaraderie of other such enthusiasts… possibly from that feeling that they feel your pain. Normally in the backside.

Our other Landy owners were Dutch and pointed us in the direction of not only some useful places in the Netherlands and Belgium but also a campsite just outside Amsterdam. It’s somewhere we’d mentioned going previously so why not?! They even pointed us to a campsite just outside the city centre, close to a metro station at the end of the line: Gaasper camping.

We pretty much pitched up, pitched camp and sodded off into town… taking the dog. Admittedly, the poor girl had been in the car for more than a little while at this point but looking back, the sensory overload of Amsterdam in the evening (with her maiden trip on a train (hillarious) and her first and last effort on an escalator (even more so)) might have made up for more than a little of the travel.

Our 3rd capital in less than a week! #amsterdam #metro #waterloo #travel #city #exploring

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Amsterdam was excellent but we were there for nowhere near enough time. That said, we were never going to be and this was more a stop-off and scouting mission, to see if we liked it enough to come back. We both agreed we did.

The main focus of the “Low Countries” was Brugge. I’ve never hidden my somewhat-comic dislike of Belgium – normally summed up with the simple phrase “Fucking Belgium” – and i think this may have been what spurred Em on to finding something in this little country to take me to. Her destination was too convenient to ignore, looked like a very interesting place to go and probably inspired by the film In Bruges – which can be summed up with the simple phrase “Fucking Bruges”.

It was stunning too. A quick google search found us a convenient campsite and made me realise quite how easy travellers have life these days compared to when i started foreign ventures all those years ago. Learning from our Amsterdam adventure, we drove into town and eventually parked before wandering the city centre with Tess leading the way at the end of a taught lead.

After a while, being hindered with the hound took it’s toll on me but no matter, we’d planned for this and took her back to the car before heading out again to actually go into places and get a fantastic dinner in the square or local Flemish stew, chicken stew and the most awesome beer. All told, Belgium did very well. For once.

Finally, Friday morning arrived, we packed for the final time, throwing stuff loosely in the Landy, and waved goodbye to Europe proper before heading to Calais. Part of the appeal of Brugge (for me at least) was the proximity to the port and in a meagre three hours, following a brief, unplanned detour to the port of Dunkerque, we rocked up to head home.

It’s always tempting to recap on your trip at a time like this, looking back at the good and the bad but this is a dangerous time to do that. Until you’re at least across the channel, a lot can still happen. And as it turned out, we weren’t quite done yet….

 

Should I Stay Or Should I Go, The Clash

I awoke on the 24th June in the city of Gavle, at the Northern end of the East coast of Sweden to a sense of doom. My country had just taken the first steps toward distancing itself from the country and culture i have been experiencing for the past two weeks, as well as a futher five countries we are about to travel through on a journey back to a home i am no longer certain i wish to return to. It will turn it’s back on the many cultures and people i have been to see and encounter over the years, from the middle of Spain to the North of Italy and try to make it on her own.

Every culture is different and it is this difference that we should embrace, should learn from and indulge in. The Friday in question was a wonderful example and the closest thing Swedes have to a national day: Midsommer. After a short session climbing at the local crage Troje, myself and Emily had the great fortune to witness and partticipate in a traditional and normal Swedish Midsommer, with pickled herring, Swedish meatballs and various other delicacies.

We played traditional Swedish games, laughed among natives cursing at a mis-placed shot, had a quiz with a very Swedish theme. Our hosts pulled out all the stops to show us the way of their world so we could see and experience it for ourselves. And now my people are saying that we aren’t interested any more. That our way is good enough for us. That you can keep your “foreign” ways and we’ll keep to our obstinate little island all to ourselves. Or that is certainly how it feels.

I love my country. I feel the Great of Britain is mighty but 24 hours after reading the news i was still scared; scared of what the future has in store. Political and economic uncertainty are assured and it played on my mind long after this, not aided by a long drive on Saturday from Gavle to Goteborg, where we now find ourselves. Emily has a small stomach upset and i’ve asked Fredrik (who used to live here) about the local healthcare system. I fear soon, if the system continues in this method, that will not be an option.

The vote was almost exactly split, meaning for every vote to leave, there was one to remain, with a few exceptions totalling around 4% or around 1.2 million people. That’s slightly more than the population of Birmingham. But of course that is not how it comes across. “The people have spoken!” is the cry being touted. Yet my voice was not heard, the losing side and the statistics being ignored. I now find myself having to apologise for my people, while Euopeans look at us bewildered. I find myself being ashamed to be British – not easy away from her sheltered shores.

The weather seems to have matched my mood, although i am fully aware this is pure coincidence. Nevertheless, thunder storms to the West as we drove here and a turbulent wind twirling the world around in circles as we sit on a campsite in Goteborg. We have two nights here before heading South again and into Denmark again.

As time ticks on, the worries ease and the possibility that maybe it is not all bad. But i do fear the experiences such as these may have a time limit – two years from what i read. Two short years to make the most of this while we can. And perhaps that will not be the end, perhaps an accord can be reached where we can maintain the ability to learn from our neighbours and maintain peace throughout the continent. I can only hope.

This week, we will travel past Brussels. It’s tempting to stop on the way past and point out that yes, the people of Britain have spoken but by no means have they agreed. Please do not cast us aside to drift off into the sea. For we are all still people, people who make mistakes or misguided decisions. Half of our populous understand the value of the union. Please do not leave us at the mercy of those who do not.

Staying Put and Getting Battered

I could’ve waited for that! Four days and four “injuries” or sorts: let’s talk them through.

I got to Gavle pretty easy and found Fredrik and Karin’s new and lovely house – my new home for the next week, pretty much. The idea of not having to move every day or two for a little while was such a nice feeling. Waking on Monday morning and having some time to myself was also a welcome change! I’m not normally one for solitude but every now and again, it’s a nice change of pace.

So i rose slowly and got to writing; catching up with the latest fun and games and restructuring the entire Desintaions section – more than a little work! But before i could finish, a message popped up on my screen: “I’ll be home in thirty minutes, let go climbing!” It appears even being injured isn’t enough to slow down the insatiable Swede!

The week before, while Simon and myself were down South somewhere, I received a message from Fredrik, trying his 7c+ project, informing me he’d had a pulley pop in his finger. He’s since shown me the video and it’s a good noise! What that means in the short term is no climbing for my friend, sadly.

But he’s still keen to champion his local area and he took me to Oppala that Monday, to check out some local bouldering action. In typical Swedish fashion, there being so much rock for such a small population, we had the crag to ourselves. Other than the mosquitos…

There were, quite frankly, fucking loads of them, with swearing there for emphasis. It was horrendous and i employed an old technique of chalk up and set up away from the bottom of the boulder so a cloud of mossies don’t try and attack you while you sit for the start of the climb!

I got on three problems and promptly snapped off three different holds… Nothing major and i’m assured that the boulder we were on doesn’t get a lot of traffic and that the others in the area are much more solid. They were good lines too: Areten 6a+, Fula Gubben 7a and Onda Gubben 7a+, with the latter taking more than a few gos. What was crucial to this success was Fredrik offering some informal coaching for me; something which helped immensely! Turns out you don’t need to do a course to help your friends out after all and i was, and am, really grateful for his help.

The knock for this day? Topping out Fula Gubben my heel slipped off on the top out and my shin took a nasty bash. Add another fun scar to my already horrendous legs!

Tuesday was always going to be the highlight of the trip, as the day my love, Emily, was flying out to meet me. With several options including writing and sitting in the house in anticipation, i opted to head South and check out a crag nearby to Arlanda airport. Despite scouting out Kallbergahygget, i took recommendation from Fredrik and heading to Focksta – and what a recommendation! The most idyllic little spot you could imagine, six problems fell with the highlight being Deer Hunter 7a.

Tuesday’s “injury” was more subtle, when the finger tip on my right ring finger went through. Small yes, but sore and more would obviously be to come if my skin was that thin. Still, the rough edges did give fractionally more friction against the immaculate granite!

Then, true to form, i left it too late to get to the airport and had to blast it. I made it with five minutes to spare, it turns out, and got to watch Em walk out of the arrivals gate and into my arms at last. It was the most fantastic feeling.

Since then, we’ve been together, wandered around Gavle yesterday before heading out again last night, this time to Eskon. Another local crag really, a touch spread out and in need of some traffic to improve moving around. There are some superb lines though, including the excellent 7a whose name escapes me at the moment.

But the spot on my finger from the previous day suddenly, expectedly, got a lot worse and by the time i left was not only leaking profusely but was joined by another on my thumb. More worryingly, as i hit a lip with my right hand, a sharp shooting pain ran up my right tricep. I’m really hoping it’s nothing serious and doesn’t come back.

And now, sat here with much less time than i need really, it’s my birthday! Behind me is the love of my life and my faithful dog, in a house in the middle of Sweden.

This is seven years into the Spend My Birthday In A Different Country Every Year Tradition and i’m revelling in the fact it’s still going! Italy, Canada, France, Austria, Spain, Switzerland and now Sweden in a way that i could never have dreamed. Every year gets tougher but better and better. Almost can’t wait to see where i go next year!

But let’s get this one out of the way first. Off to Stockholm for a Non Climbing Day. Probably for the best – not looking forward to seeing what i manage to hurt today!

Reaching the Apex

Sweden, from her southern most tip up the coastline for MANY miles is literally littered with boulders. There is rock absolutely everywhere and the only reason for gaps with no established crags, after talking to Fredrik last night, is the lack of habitation.

Take this area for example. If you look on 27crags (a must for anyone climbing in Scandinavia by the way) then you’ll see a large cluster around Gavle. There’s then a large gap before another large cluster north around Sundsvall. The reason for this? No one lives there, confirmed by the fact he’s seen boulders there ready to be cleaned and climbed. In short, if you’re dead set on opening up areas and first ascents, Sweden is the place for you!

An overview of established bouldering sites in mid Sweden between Gavle and Sundsvall, owing to the lack of population rather than a lack of suitable rock. Image taken from 27crags.com
An overview of established bouldering sites in mid Sweden between Gavle and Sundsvall, owing to the lack of population rather than a lack of suitable rock. Image taken from 27crags.com

The nation’s capital is no exception and this is exactly where we found ourselves heading on Saturday afternoon. In fact, it transpires there’s a rather hefty guidebook for the Stockholm/Uppsala area and a good one at that! Not that we were heading there for climbing.

Simon had been in touch with a friend of his, also known as Fredrik so, in order to distinguish, i’ll call this new Fredrik from Stockholm FvW and my old friend from Gavle, FN. Anyway, FvW had offered to put us up for the night.

Despite my weak protestations to find a guidebook on Saturday night on the way there, we headed straight to meet FvW. There followed an enjoyable evening including beer, glances at football matches, burgers followed by burgers, some more beer and then, a little more beer.

That’s not to suggest this was your standard get-wasted-bar-crawl, not at all, i was in the company of connoisseurs! These boys love their beer, to the point of obsession and what i was privy to witness was much discussion at every bar and at the tables over the various breweries, brewers and brews available here in Stockholm, and further afield.

Sadly my love of beer is lacking; substantially in this case. I’ve never been a drinker and while i do enjoy the taste of a good pint, it’s not something i tend to linger over too much. Nor do i drink much of it and i was definitely the odd one out wandering the quality pubs of Stockholm’s old town.

What i do appreciate is the pub itself (and a quality burger) and this was a great introduction to another fantastic city in Europe with an excellent and enthusiastic host whose sense of humour alligned with my own beautifully. FvW was witty, funny and sarcastic and we both had a fantastic night.

Sadly though, our haste to arrive Saturday night meant that climbing was almost out of the question come Sunday morning. Granted we could’ve used 27crags but one problem the Swedes seem to have missed is the increased cost to foreigners in this regard and a book is much better. But now we had a choice between getting a guide and going climbing somewhere. We opted to shop.

A further walk through the city got us to the climbing centre and one of the friendliest i have ever encountered. While i can’t comment on the climbing (we didn’t even go and look) Klatter Verket is the most friendly and welcoming wall i’ve been with a small but selectively stocked shop – something i’ve been longing for on this entire trip! A guide for Stockholm-Uppsala obtained, and one for Vastervik, somewhat annoyingly, as well as a nice Sportiva t-shirt i’d been haggling after for some time. A nice retro style, white t-shirt with some nice little touches, i was soon to learn the perils of white outdoor clothing.

We left and wandered back, taking in Stockholm’s high point at the top of a “ski slope” of sorts. It was a beautiful view of the city and a nice walk, allowing us to see quite how close to wilderness this CAPITAL city lies, not to mention lying on the sea shore.

But then, on the walk down, i stood on a damp rock and my foot slipped out from under me. Normally i’m very good on my feet and rarely trip or fall but lately it’s been happening more. I’m blaming my boots for this! But then, as i came to ground, my arm instinctively went down to protect the fall and itself slipped on the wet rock. Next thing you know, there’s a deep graze (deep for a graze at least) running from my elbow to my wrist, leaking all down my arm.

It was a nothing trip, a bit pathetic really in my eyes, but sadly one of the peculiarities of me is that the smallest amount of blood loss can send me into shock very quickly. It’s not a problem, as i know it’s coming, and especially on this occasion when i only noticed how red my arm was much later. Next thing i knew, i was crouched on the floor, nauseated and feint, wondering whether my consciousness would remain.

It did and as i say, i felt more than a little pathetic. At one point, i felt the shock coming and thought “Oh really? For this?! For fuck’s sake!!” knowing it was just a little scratch. It is, however, a knarly looking scratch and unlike most climbing injuries, one that looks much worse than it is -possibly from the fact it wasn’t even vaguely a climbing injury!

Now back, we relaxed, i drank lots of water, we faffed and packed and soon headed off North, bound for Arlanda airport. Although not quite.

On Tuesday, i need to head to Arlanda to collect Emily. While this is encompassing a lot of my thought process and is undoubtedly the part i’ve most been looking forward to since leaving home what feels an age ago, i do still have time to kill beforehand. So, once we got to Arlanda, we kept going…

Not far away, about half an hour to a nearby crag that looked good and extensive in the newly acquired guidebook. After a trek on gravel tracks into the forest, seemingly into the middle of nowhere, we arrived at some beautiful granite blocs surrounded by trees and bracken.

We didn’t have time to climb, frustratingly but such is life. We did though, have time to scout out and appreciate the outstanding rock quality and stand out lines! It even occurred to me that this simple little crag might appeal to me more than Kjuge!

It wasn’t a lingering look though and soon, we were back at the flygplats to drop off Simon for his flight to, ironically, the UK (ironic as my companion is actually a Candian living in Kobenhavn). We said our goodbyes, probably slightly stressed from the week of travelling and exploration and parted company.

I’d just like to take a second to tell you about Simon. At this point in my life, and i’ve been doing it for a few years now, my friends are judged (sorry guys and gals) by whether they would get an invite to my wedding. Simon is in the top three. There is a reason we keep going away together, why i can seemingly socialise on a fairly intimate level with him, time and again. He is an outstanding human being, thoughtful and considerate and while he may occasionally stress me out or take us in a direction i don’t like, it is marginal and minuscule compared to both my own faults and his good qualities.

This type of trip is stressful. We were constantly hounded by the worst bits: finding our way, finding somewhere to stay, finding our feet and finding we have to move on again and on a single destination trip, these problems are restricted to a single time, this summer we’ve dealt with them time and again. The fact we didn’t fall out massively is a testament to my good friend and our great friendship. (I’ve also talked him into being a contributor on ChezdelaBloc now too, so you’ll get it from his own side too, hopefully!)

Two hours after leaving him at the airport, i arrived in Gavle at the house of one of my other great friends and his wonderful wife. Now the next stage of the trip is under way, and i cannot wait.

The rough journey taken to it's furthest point. Picture taken from Google maps
The rough journey taken to it’s furthest point. Picture taken from Google maps

The Tour Continues

Well that went quick! Quicker than a 26 year old Land Rover, overlanding through Sweden probably should at least!

I now find myself in Gavle, after an eventful few days of Swedish exploration. At the end of my last post, we were just about to leave Kjugekull and indeed, after a brief stop off in the nearby town of Bromolla, we headed north. Not that i really know where we were or where we went! Simon was, and is, a phenomenal navigator, making precious few mistakes and giving clear (if a little wordy) directions and as such, with him doing such a sterling effort and no need for me to look at a map, all i know is the colour of the tarmac in front of me!

Not that his hardest part was getting out of Kjuge! It’s worth noting there is VERY little in the area, with a couple of towns with worthwhile amenities but nothing much to speak of. My search for stickers for the Land Rover a miserable failure.

Something in the region of three or four hours got us up to Vastervik, which to our surprise (or mine at least) was significantly larger. After meandering the sprawl of the city, we drifted down to the shoreline and the campsite – a miniature village in it’s own right!

Simon had been debating whether we should camp or opt for one of their huts. In the end, i think the rain and possibly my mild pleading persuaded him and we went for it. After a nice conversation with a pretty girl behind the counter dubbed Flirty Mc Flirt Face, we found our cabin, complete with two bunks, a fridge, a table and chairs and true to form for Europe in my experience, a coffee maker but no kettle…

[This seems a common quirk in my experience, all across Europe. It appears that, at least in the places i have visited, being able to make coffee is crucial but boiling water on it’s own isn’t…]

It turned out we needn’t really have bothered getting the hut, with the nature of the site (and i will discuss this more on the Destinations page to come shortly). Along with the personal accommodation, there are also large “lounges” to share between the inhabitants, including a better cooker, better tables with chairs and a TV. If we had ended up in a wet tent, this would’ve been ample shelter – something worth noting if you’re heading here.

More crucially for this trip, there is also established bouldering right on the campsite. While we had no guidebook – more on that later – we were able to use 27crags and found some average and some excellent climbing right on the site! And so, on the Friday (i think) morning, we rose early, with afternoon rain looming on the weather forecast and headed straight out.

Vastervik is, no pun intended, vast. There are dozens of crags to go at and while they may not have the concentration of Kjugekull and be much more spread out, there is a hell of a lot to go at. We had some recommendations from Fredrik but even then, with our limited time constraints, we were forced to pick one and hope for the best. Our choice: Roda Vaggen.

It was a good shout: a long, slightly overhanging wall with plenty of straight ups on good, seemingly quarried granite. We started slow with some warm ups and then soon got stuck in, with me nailing off Full Contact 7b, all except the top out. I am, as those who know me, a proper wimp when it comes to being even vaguely high from the ground and this pushed my limits a little. Still, the crux was certainly behind me and the top out fickle, just high.

Again, with the forecast playing on our minds, we opted to sack it off from this little gem and head back to the site, to check out what was there with a potentially quick getaway back to the sanctuary of the hut. It turned out we needn’t have bothered!

The rain didn’t come until long after we had exhausted ourselves and the camp ground climbing was surprisingly good! It’s often the case with popular crags that quality of climbing is sacrificed for convenience of approach but in this case, the fact it was nearby was purely coincidental.

Granted the first blocs we came to were average at best but then, we dropped over the top and found Gollum 7a and ET 7a and the various other hard variations and link ups. While i’m not of the opinion that the grade makes the climbing, these are quality lines and worth checking out on a visit.

ET fell to us both with VERY different beta – Simon exclaiming we’d climbed different problems! and i don’t think he was wrong. But both were excellent moves and we were both very pleased with our exploits. Now exhausted, we headed back to the hut.

And sadly, that was the extent of our climbing in Vastervik. As above, the area is vast and there is surely more than enough to keep you occupied for at least a week/fortnight. Moreover, the rock quality is far closer to what you would expect from “granite” if that makes any sense, resembling more the rough textured blocs of the Alps. While Kjuge is still granite, it has a high sheen, probably washed smooth by the sea millennia ago, meaning the friction is really not great. If you were to offer me a boulder from either, I would opt for Vastervik every time.

[On a brief side note, i mentioned this to Fredrik and he was surprised. Swedish boulderers often consider, from what i can gather, Kjugekull to be their countries crowning crag and while i can’t deny it’s excellence in some regards, i honestly thought Vastervik and Goteborg are both better. Even Uppsala would hold it’s own, from the briefest of glances i had yesterday! and i suspect Swedes are sacrificing rock quality for easy walk in and concentration of problems.]

Needless to say, i was hooked on Vastervik and in a couple of years time, when it’s my turn for a visit again, i will most likely suggest we take a trip South for a week instead of here; i’d love to see more. Sadly, there wasn’t time and on Saturday morning, we woke, packed and cleaned and hurried off the site before being charged a further night. Destination: Stockholm.

 

The Great Swedish Tour of 2016

Over 1,000 miles. More than 24 hours of driving. Solo. Six countries in one day. It was a bit of an epic but at 3am on Tuesday morning, i eventually drifted down a major road in Kobenhavn (Copenhagen) to Simon’s building, to find him in his third floor flat.

It had dawned on me several times that day to ask “whose stupid idea was this after all?!” knowing full well the answer lies with he who questioned. But the worst was now over, the hardest part done and we were all set – after a meagre 5 hours sleep – to head off to explore the best bouldering Sweden had to offer.

The plan had originally been for seven of us to meet on the Finnish island of Aland but as is often the case with these sorts of trips, it had dwindled to nothingness. The backup plan has become The Great Swedish Tour of 2016, incorporating some of my best friends, some (hopefully) phenomenal venues and some quality climbing that i’m sure Sweden can provide in spades; largely because i’ve seen before that it can.

First on the list lay Kjugekull: a crag first brought to my attention by the 8a.nu 2008 annual, where it the back lay this little Swedish gem, ranking in the top ten most popular bouldering destinations that year. It wasn’t far from Simon’s house either, especially considering how far we’d already travelled at this point!

Tuesday afternoon we arrived at our accommodation: an AirBnB in Tosteberga. It’s an interesting concept that i’ve heard of a little (from Emily, among others) where you are invited to live in a strangers house for a reduced fee. Our host was fantastic, the house amazing and a wonderful opportunity to experience a more authentic way of local life. I’d thoroughly recommend it.

Sadly the weather was not as welcoming that first day, leaving us to potter the tiny village, see it’s lovely harbour and while away the remaining hours of daylight (there are lots of them here this time of year). It actually set the scene very well and we made the most of the poor conditions to scout out the local crag.

I must be honest and say i was expecting more. While a fantastic venue with plenty to do – enough to fill it’s own guidebook – it is more a crag than a venue proper and wouldn’t really warrant regard as a true international destination – not enough to keep said guidebook in print – leaving me to ponder it’s inclusion on that list all those years ago. Through the drizzle, i wondered how much we could get done in the short time we would stay.

The next day provided our answer, as we awoke to glorious sunshine and near perfect conditions. Once at the crag, we noticed two problems that a trip later (or earlier) in the year would’ve probably solved: slight amounts of heat and an excessive number of bugs. While writing this the following day, i am itching all across the elastic of my underwear at the back from mosquito bites and occasionally swatting a fly away from my face. But it did keep Tess occupied yesterday, perfecting her fly catching technique!

Sadly, i found the climbing also lacking slightly. The rock type, while granite, lacked the grip and quality i’ve become used to associating with it, having a slightly glassy feel that almost felt like excessive polish. We wondered if it was just that but inspected some rock not on a boulder problem and found the same thing. While the movement was good and some lines excellent, this is to date the only granite crag i have visited where you can’t really trust your feet that well.

That being said, the venue is outstanding! A large number of granite blocs in a Swedish forest with excelllent landings and fantastic scenery. Much like with Frankenjura, i’d say i’d recommend a visit to the area but mainly for the scenery and experience than for the climbing and it would probably only be worth stopping to climb if you were travelling past.

That is exactly what we’re doing and despite the continued dry ground, today we head off for Vastervik further to the North East. A day might not sound like much to spend at Kjugekull but if i’m honest, we dropped the grade substantially, climbed at most areas and didn’t really leave that much that would tempt me back. All told, a great little place and one i’m glad to have seen but not one to come back to. Most importantly, a great start to the Great Tour.