Tag Archives: fontainebleau

Climbers and their Critics

I want to start this era with a quote from the great American figure Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Teddy Roosevelt

Given recent accomplishments that have appeared (quite rightly) at the top of the climbing news feeds, this seems particularly apt. However, as i’m currently learning with my studies, the critic has a place. The key is how the critic goes about it.

Second 9a

First, we need to give this some context and have a look at the story that grabbed the climbing headlines: rising French climber Charles Albert climbed No Kpote Only at Rocher Brule in Fontainebleau and has given it the grade of 9a. This is only the second boulder problem of this grade in the world, after Nalle Hukkataival climbed Burden of Dreams at Lappnor in Finland.

Below is a collection of some of the news reports from various sources across the world.

“But it’s barefoot!”

A lot of the focus of the internet commentary that inevitably ensued focused on the fact that Albert climbs barefoot; a rarity in the climbing fraternity at large, let alone among the elite. In truth, there would be similar comments if he differed from the norm in any other way too – if he climbed without chalk or had a disability for example – and this difference has led many to claim that he can’t use standard grading systems if he’s not going to participate in a standard way. One friend of mine last week even suggested a new grading system for barefoot ascents; something i personally think is more than a little unnecessary.

Another angle that people have looked from concerns Albert’s pedigree when it comes to hard boulder problems. While he has climbed five 8c problems – four of which in the forest and one in Rocklands – and two 8c+ problems – again both in Font – both of those V16s were first ascents, with both still awaiting a repeat. Even the magazines have been quick to point this out (see Climbing magazine link, paragraph three, above). It seems the community isn’t convinced of his ability to make such a bold statement.

Meanwhile, another intriguing question that has been posed is closely linked to how we grade boulder problems in the first place. Harder problems are obviously linked to effort and often, this comes from the number of sessions it takes to complete. Nalle spent around 60 climbing days (plus supplementary training including replica training) where Albert managed it in 20 (or so i’ve heard).

For many, grading new problems is as simple as that. Personally, i’m not as certain, and while it is a good gauge, Nalle himself states in The Lappnor Project that all the pieces need to fall into place at just the right time for a project at your limit to fall. Is it comprehensible that Albert found this perfect attempt earlier than Nalle with both finding the climbs equally as hard?

Either which way, the debate continues and the critics remain as vocal as ever:

The role of the critic in grounding the process

There are many examples of where critics have proven crucial to development. In academia, as i am learning now, once a paper is published it isn’t really taken as totally genuine unless it has peer review. In journals, responses to papers – and sometimes responses to these by the original author! – are included in the same journal. Unless someone has dissected what you’ve said, it seems it isn’t taken as seriously.

In terms of climbing, sometimes critics who have yet to even visit the climb can offer something to the community in a beneficial fashion. James Pearson learned this the hard way with Walk of Life, after suffering with over-grading with a few climbs in the past. Plenty saw fit to comment, passing judgement as they saw fit and the route was indeed downgraded substantially. It seems that in this case, the community at large was right to get involved and ground the decision.

Not that this made Pearson feel much better and following the furore of Walk of Life he moved to Austria, effectively shunned by the very same people who were calling him the next great climber not months before.

When critics go too far

Of course there comes a point where the critic can go too far; where they can believe they are equal in importance to the “doer of deeds” mentioned by Roosevelt. That is, after all, what started this piece off. The treatment James Pearson received certainly falls into this category.

Offering a distribution of importance between the doer and the critic will always remain impossible, although i would argue the climber (in this case) will always come out ahead: without the critic, the climber’s achievements remain but without the climber, the critic has no critique and fails to exist.

With the anonymity of the modern commentator, there is an ability to comment without risking one’s reputation in the same way as we would in face-to-face conversation. The term Keyboard Warrior is now standard fare, referring to people who don’t actually participate but are quick to judge; the very same that i’m sure Roosevelt was referring to in his original quote.

There is, of course, an irony in me creating a comment on the commentators and thus judging them. I guess the only real difference is the fact that i’m not passing judgement on an individual or a single achievement, more that i’m looking at a practice instead.

For all the criticism that Pearson and Albert have both received in making their bold statements at the time they did, one thing must be said: in researching this post, i have noticed that those repeating the routes are normally very praiseworthy of the initial climber, even if they do disagree with one aspect. And i think that must be remembered.

Criticism is important and the critic has their place in grounding anyone’s achievements. But they must always remember that their very existence relies entirely on the “doer of deeds” and as such, they should always show respect. Charles Albert will always have mine, both for his climb and for his bravery in the face of criticism.

Baby en Bleau: Part Two

Day Three

After the previous day, lengthy walk ins were off the table; in fact, our first port of call was to head in to Font and go shopping. I’d been trying to find a healthy blend of climbing and non-climbing activities for us to do and wandering around the town seemed a good option.

Our walk didn’t actually take us into the town proper but we did have a very pleasant and sunny walk around the gardens of the chateau. I’d only discovered them thanks to my friends Ben and Charlotte in 2014 or 2015, i forget and they are somewhere anyone visiting Font should go and explore.

The afternoon was then spent at Cul de Chien. We met Gabe and Marie, took only the large Petzl pad, cut out a lot of the unneeded crap and basked in the sunshine on la plage sans la mer as i like to call it.

More low-grade climbs succumbed, all thoroughly enjoyable and one rather terrifying top out, and while i went and glanced at l’Autre Toit it was not a sensible place to head. Instead, we made the short walk over to 91.1 to try another couple of projects from trips gone by.

Flipper sds 7a+ had been agonisingly close back in 2016 when i’d tried it last, had people on it this time and was there for the ticking. A few attempts brought the beta back, a fired up American completed the stand and then told me to fuck off when i suggested the sit start – not as bad as it sounds, but enough for it to stick in my mind – and i was on it, ready and determined.

But then i ran out of time again. One last go means three last gos and on the second, i slipped, dropping the first couple of moves and felt it would go on the next attempt until i looked at Em, shuffling her feet and looking at the way home. Then i glanced at my left hand and the large flap of skin hanging off my palm and knew i’d have to leave another one.

Day Four

By this point, i was pretty demoralised about the whole climbing thing. The goal had been a couple of 7as or 7a+ and hopefully a 7b during the week. So far, i’d managed none. With one climbing day to go and my standards evidently lacking, i was not feeling very good about myself.

Time for a change of tactics. If you can’t climb new and hard, just go for new and while ticking off easy stuff at somewhere i’ve been many times doesn’t do much for me, exploring a new crag certainly seemed like a productive use of the day! At least if i didn’t climb anything, i’d have somewhere else in the bank for the next trip.

Buoyed by this new strategy, i looked through the guidebook and selected JA Martin. While eating pizza on the previous evening, i’d noticed a signpost to local crags and smiled as i read through, audibly saying “been there” to almost every one. Suddenly i was keen to visit the missing ones.

The obligatory hour-and-a-half wait at the vets to allow Tess to come home killed early enthusiasm but after we were finally done, we headed off to investigate somewhere new. Gabe, Marie and Lorenzo were having a rest day so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

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Now that we're back, I'm facing the inevitable question: how was it? My answer so far has been that from a family perspective, it was great, showing my daughter around the forest, spending some relaxing time with @emks93 but from a#climbing point of view, it lacked. But last night I got chatting to a friend, @justwaltr who was in the #forest for the same week and it slowly dawned that actually, it was a fantastic experience. I've always dreamed of having a family who would come and join me in #Fontainebleau and if that means sacrificing some grades, it was totally worth it. #fontbouldering #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalade #climbing_is_my_passion

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Straight away i cheered right up, thrilled by the look of the awesome roof Le Surplomb Pete-Couilles and it’s variations, ranging from 5- to 6b. All fell pretty quickly and were thoroughly enjoyable. Vent Couvert (racourci) and (droite) both 6a+ followed, were both enjoyed, before i wandered off looking for a good 7 to try.

I couldn’t find one within sensible walking distance so instead finished the climbing week on Signature 6a and Bille en Tete 6b, satisfied with the day’s efforts, if not entirely happy with the week’s climbing.

Day Five

With pads buried at the bottom of all of our other stuff, climbing on the last day was simply too much a trial. Frankly, it wasn’t worth it and after four days of dragging poor Em around the forest, having a day doing more conventional touristy activities was the least we could do.

We took a quick trip into Milly la Foret, getting a souvenir for Rosie from a fantastic little boutique that i frequent often – i had no idea they spoke English there and had been conversing with them in my poor French for years! Actually, i’m really grateful for them allowing me to try and for being patient and welcoming to me. It is called Derriere la Fenetre and is in the main square near the market stand. Please visit on your next trip, an ideal place for gifts for those back home.

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Last night we ate out; nothing fancy, we were at a fabulous #pizzeria in Arbonne la Forêt that only came to my attention a couple of years ago and is now a regular haunt. I dare say anyone who's been to the #forest often will have driven past, I'd encourage anyone to stop by, lovely people. As well as free Wi-Fi, they've also got this really cool #signpost with a host of local crags (and @rockcityskatepark for reasons I forget) and I smiled as I realised I'd been to almost all of them. Almost all. That needs remedying so today we're off to JA Martin. Really psyched now! #Fontainebleau #font #fontbouldering #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #psyched

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After grabbing some food, we headed back to Fontainebleau, said a quick hello and goodbye to Gabe and Marie, wandered the town searching for a sticker and a pin (the latter of which we didn’t find so if anyone can send me one, i’ll be phenomenally grateful) and eventually headed off for Barbizon and a quick walk before our long drive home.

Barbizon is a lovely, tranquil village, steeped in art history and worth an afternoon of anyone’s time. It is also very close to some lovely walking which Tess was doubtless very glad of before being cooped up for such a long time.

After a pleasant walk finished under a mild shower, we bid farewell to the Forest, stopped briefly at the large Carrefour for supplies and then began our long journey home.

The Inevitable Question

Once home and back at work, i faced the inevitable question: how was Font? With a paltry list of ascents, i must admit, i was a tiny bit despondent. How was Font? In climbing terms, pretty shitty to be honest.

7a is what i regard as my bread and butter these days, rightly or wrongly. Any less than that and to be honest, it doesn’t even register. Whether i should be like that or not, that’s just how i think, given the standards i’ve achieved and currently operate at.

BUT, and this is the crucial thing, as a family trip, time away from home, time spent with the love of my life and my absolutely wonderful daughter, the perfect opportunity for Tess to get some time, experiences and stories, it was brilliant. I didn’t get any hard climbing done but i did get climbing done and, as i’ve said several times now, with an infant in tow, that’s an achievement in itself.

Em also reliably told me she really enjoyed being in the forest and is keen to go back. At first, after getting home, i was a bit head down, fed up, desperate to go again and perform as i know i can. Then i got chatting to Jam; the same friend who had been there when we were but who’s path we hadn’t managed to cross. We got chatting about things, about how it had gone and over the course of the 45 minute conversation, i realised that grades aren’t everything. That indeed the whole week was one big win.

Baby en Bleau: Part One

After our brief break in our scheduled posts to deal with New Years, we can now return to recent excursions and our family trip to Font! Planned months in advance, we had organised ourselves for four nights in the forest, Tess making her triumphant return to one of her favourite places, Em returning under much better circumstances than last time and Rosie making her debut at the world’s greatest bouldering venue.

I have, of course, been for a springtime week many years before and found this time of year totally reliable. Still, despite my staunchest protestations that it’s normally fine and t-shirt weather in the daytime, there was a worry from a certain someone that we were in for a chilly one. Turns out, she was right to worry.

From our home in North Wales, down through the Midlands and on to Dover, we battled through snowy roads and full on winter driving conditions such as i’ve never seen in England. Better still, once we were in Calais, it continued and didn’t relent over the next four hours as we continued down the motorway and past Paris. In fact, as far South as Melun there was snow covering the trees and verges by the side of the road and i was starting to think i would need to go buy a broom in order to climb anything at all.

Miraculously, it cleared at the last minute and we pulled into the familiar site at La Musadiere totally clear of snow. It was, though, bitterly cold and while i wasn’t that phased in terms of climbing conditions – i’ve climbed in sub-zero conditions plenty and the friction would be good – i was a bit worried about the effect it would have on our one-year-old daughter. I’ll let you imagine what her mother was thinking…

Day One

Having driven through the night, none of us had had a particularly restful night, not least myself having been restricted to an hour and a half of sleep on the ferry, so once we were unpacked and organised, we opted for a simple day. I’d noticed a nearby crag on the map that i’d not been to before; Chateauveau, so we opted to walk in and have a look.

As is typical for the forest, finding the correct path can be tricksome and after a period of bushwacking, we finally found some painted lines and then numbers on the rocks and began to find our way around. It wasn’t a large venue, nor did any of the lines seem especially outstanding but for it’s proximity, it was worth a look. A handful of problems were inspected but only a couple climbed: Chaleur and Triangle Rouge both 6a. By this time, we were all flagging and heading back for a nice early night.

Day Two

“Let’s walk in to the crag today” says me, thinking a walk and a climb would be a good combo! I’ll take the baby, the big pad and the climbing stuff, Em can take the other pad and the baby bag. Simple!

Simple idiot maybe.

That many pads, in Fontainebleau, was quite frankly absurd and unnecessary and meant that my poor, suffering better half slogged all the way from the campsite to 95.2 with far more weight than she needed to. Granted, i took more of the weight from her on the way back, estimating (probably over-estimating but not by much) to have about 30kg attached to me, but being as it was my stupid idea in the first place, i got what i deserved.

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First full day in the #forest with #babyatthecrag and we walked in to #ninetyfivepointtwo from the campsite; a long walk, when we had a stack of pads on our backs, a #baby on my front, a bag of #climbing crap and a changing bag but totally worth it! Rosie had an awesome time, playing and crawling in the sand, @emks93 took some awesome #climbing_pictures_of_instagram (including this one) but sadly I didn't quite get the #bouldering done that I was hoping for. While I got a stack of ticks for my #7+8 guide, I failed on a 7a that I thought would go (and very nearly did, my hand slapping the rock as my feet disappeared beneath me and I plummeted back to earth) and this: Miss KGB 7b. I'd tried it two years ago on my trip here with @simoncfr but even with new beta, it refused to relent. The disappointment was offset by having my #daughter, my trusty #dog and the love of my life join me on a beautiful day in #Fontainebleau. #fontbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_worldwide @parentsthatrock

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The original plan was to hit 95.2 first and then head down to Cul de Chien to meet up with a friend from work, also in the forest that week. Much as with our kit choices, i should’ve known better and we spent the day at the former. The consolation was the Jam never made it to Cul de Chien either.

The bright side was, well, the bright weather! 95.2 is, i believe, it’s altitude, being the highest point in the area and as such, the crag dries quickly and catches the nicer weather. While it wasn’t the t-shirt weather i had sold Em with, it was certainly much nicer and where we met Gabe, Marie and their little boy, Lorenzo. We would spend every day of the week catching up with them from here on.

Climbing wise, i stack of ticks for my 5+6 guide were collected before i decided to try some 7s and try a couple i’d left last time i was there. First on the list: Miss KGB 7b.

After our attempts last time, we’d returned home and found a video of someone completing it. Now, i was keen to try his beta but quickly realised this guy is about 7′ tall with a positive ape index! I tried relentlessly to use his beta before sacking it off in search for something easier.

Le Mur de la Fosse aux Ours only gets 7a and last time, i’d looked and thought it would go pretty quick. The moves suited me, and grade was certainly within my limit and there it was, marked clearly in my guide. Ideal!

I genuinely couldn’t be much closer. On my best attempt, as my hand reached to grab the top, my left foot pinged off, my palm slapped the rock loudly and i landed in a heap on the floor.

Not for the last time this week, i simply ran out of time. When you’re there with your climbing bum mates, you can push dinner back a bit, you can stay for a little bit longer, you can keep trying. Take a baby and that flexibility disappears. Push her dinnertime back and you screw up her bedtime, which while flexible, can’t be messed with too much. Aching to finish what i’d started, i did the agonising pad pack up leaving the problem unclimbed.



To be continued…

The Dream Is Coming True

I think it was on my last trip to the forest, myself and good friend Simon chilling on the campsite and, though i’m not entirely sure how this came about, i found myself talking to a nearby family with a young baby. They were English – unusual at La Musadiere – and their baby was tiny. With my current knowledge, i’d guess about four to six months.

It’s something i’d seen many times over the years: families from all over Europe descending on the forest with their youngsters, letting them roam and explore and enjoying the boulders at the same time. Despite most of my trips to Font occurring while i’ve been single, it is something i’ve often seen, admired and if i’m honest, pined for ever so slightly. Well, quite a lot actually.

Fast forward a few years to the present day and within a week, i’ll be arriving at the very same campsite, my almost-wife, my one-year-old daughter and my faithful and familiar hound, ready to turn that long held dream into a reality.

With every aspect of my life totally hectic at the moment (work, home life, even my climbing has been sudden and reactionary) this has totally crept up on me. Nevertheless, as the day of departure rapidly comes to the fore, it dawns on me that this is what i’ve always wanted and that it is actually going to happen.

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Less than a week to go and all I can think about is the first family trip to #Fontainebleau! It's crept up on me this time but as we pack and finalise details, I'm getting so excited! Last year I missed out on the usual spring trip – when Instagram feeds are flooded with #climbing_pictures_of_instagram of the #forest – thanks to the arrival of our first little one but it's been totally worth it. And the idea of taking her and @emks93 is so amazing, I nearly packed my clothes this morning… This picture is actually in #bascuvier of @simoncfr who sadly won't be joining me this time and it's a crag we definitely won't be going to. It's reputation will doubtless put many families off but more than that, I've spent more than enough of my life here, achieved plenty and need new pastures. As pleased as I am to have explored this crag so much, new people means new venues. I really can't wait. #fontbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion

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It is, admittedly, a slightly shorter trip than usual; required through expanded costs and worries about how various people will take to it, not to mention travel logistics being more than a touch harder. Meanwhile, i’m now thinking hard about where we’ll be heading each day. Somewhere like Cuvier, famed for it’s hookers and used discarded condoms around the car park is no longer a viable option. It could be, as the litter and problems stop a few yards from the car park, but with so many other places to head, it scarcely seems worth trying. Besides, i’m done at Cuvier for quite a while.

So i’m racking my brains. Some i know well and are obvious: Rocher aux Sabots or Cul de Chien are popular family-friendly destinations. Others that come to mind are definitely out: Bois Rond and Rocher d’Avon don’t really offer our crawling, sprawling youngster the ideal place to play. Then there are some that i’ve not really explored but do know of: Canche aux Merciers for example, where i remember bumping into a school group many years back. Granted they were much older but it did seem a suitable destination.

Tradition normally suggests that i spend a day at a venue i’ve not been before but this time, that seems risky. Without a glut of research – which i scarcely have time to do in half a busy week – i do run the risk of ending up somewhere that simply doesn’t work. With only four or five climbing days, that doesn’t sound very appealing. That being said, i’ll not be ruling it out and will be in the back of my mind if we encounter a wet day.

Wherever we head, it’ll be awesome. The local logistics aren’t an issue with my knowledge of the forest, and emergency facilities are well known – it’s been more than ten years since Terry’s infamous leg break when we tried to sleep in the waiting room of the hospital. I’m hoping (and assuming if i’m honest) that we won’t have any repeats of anything like that.

Other attractions are also swimming around my mind. The gardens around the palace? Ideal, great place to go and spend a few hours. Wandering the streets of Fontainebleau? Probably not a great idea. But where else to check out? I think this may come down to a more ad-lib approach.

Whatever we do though and wherever we go, we’ll still be away from our trials and tribulations back home, we’ll still be in Font and we’ll still doubtless have a great time. Cannot wait to be there.

Solstice: Goal Setting Time Again

A whole month since my last post just goes to highlight quite how little has been going on for me lately, although there have been a few notable climbing-related activities – most notably on the coaching front.

After a break from coaching over the summer (due to distractions like baby-related fussing and DIY) i’ve got back into it recently, slowly remembering what to do and culminating last weekend on attending the BMC Coaching Symposium in Manchester. It was a fantastic experience, from Kris Peters talking about strength and conditioning training to Udo Neumann and his movement workshops, with plenty more as well. It has relit the fire that had burned very brightly to begin with to progress as a coach rather than a climber and has led to some deeper thinking and understanding of climbing since then. I will look to write up some of these ideas and publish them soon.

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"We always think the questions that surround us are the most important" It's quite common to meet your #heroes in the #climbing world but it's pretty rare to meet someone who instantly becomes one. This is Udo Neumann: he's coached the German national team and is one of the front runners in current #coaching theory. Here he's giving the keynote speech at the @teambmc Coaching Symposium at the Depot in Manchester yesterday. His thinking on movement in coaching is amazing, his methods incredible and he has the personality to boot. Such an amazing guy, I hope, as with all the others presenting on this awesome weekend, that our paths cross again very soon #bouldering #climbing_is_my_passion

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Other than that, my focus has been on getting back to vaguely the levels of strength i held back in March on that cold day at Sheep Pen and my career-high tick of 7c+. As such, any advances on outside climbing (despite the potentially dry conditions) have been ignored in favour of indoor cranking and a focus on training. A six-month pass at the Indy has helped drag me down more often and the advent of the aggregate has given me some much needed structure.

Where the List had acted as an inspiration, once my strength had dropped a little, i found that even the easiest lines on there had become too dificult and actually, it was becoming more detrimental than helpful. The best way to get back on track: get strong again.

The main issue, that i am sure most climbers can empathise with, is a niggling feeling in my right arm, from my elbow to to midriff. At the moment, i’m persevering carefully and praying it isn’t anything too serious.

Of course, this all leads nicely to today’s significant date: it’s the mid-season solstice!

Some Highlights

First though, it would be unfair to mention some of the highlights from the last six months. After all, there have been some huge ones!

On the climbing front, the Great Swedish Bouldering Tour will certainly sit as one of the greatest trips of all time. While there wasn’t too much in the way of actual climbing, the number of crags and variety of climbing was unprecedented and will live long in the memory  – there is too much to think of quickly here.

Meanwhile, while the week in Scotland again yielded a meagre amount of time on rock proper, a taste of Torridon was enough to remind me that while you don’t have to get on a boat or a plane to get to Scotland, it does not reduce it’s appeal at all – we need to go back. Emily will not complain.

And of course, the biggest news of all: the onset of fatherhood come late February. I’m not sure what to say about it, other than i cannot wait. This is something i’ve wanted for many years and i’m thrilled that not only is it now actually going to happen, i’ve found the perfect person for it to happen with. Even if becoming a father meant an end to my climbing career, it would be worth it but i don’t think anyone would put money on that outcome happening. Far more likely is for me to have a willing and budding apprentice… Only time will tell what will happen but whatever that is, it’s going to be amazing.

Clocks Fall Back

This weekend, the clocks have gone back an hour, meaning several things: firstly, any ideas of daylight after-work sessions are now firmly out for the next few months and of course meaning we are now exactly half-way through the yearly cycle.

That means it’s time to review the last goals, find out how well (or poorly) i’ve done and set some more for the next season. Of course, with this being only the solstice and not the New Year, there are still some outstanding, which is ideal, giving me some continuity. So let’s start by looking at the goals set for Summer 2016

Last Season’s Goals:
  • Three 8a climbs
  • At least 7c abroad
  • More first ascents and a comprehensive topo
  • SPA Assessment
And how did it go?

Erm, yeah, not great, reading that little list! but not that bad either.

Three problems at 8a was always going to be an impossible ask but i knew that when i wrote it; it was more a case of trying to spur myself on. To be honest though, psyche levels fell dramatically mid-season and unless i’d maintained the improvment i’d seen over the previous 18 months, it was never going to happen.

Psyche levels wax and wane regularly with climbing and continually being completely keen to get out all the time is not sustainable. The trick with these things is to accept that sometimes, you just need a break from it all and running with that. Getting the news that i’m having a baby probably affected me too (not that i’d change that for the world but you know what i mean).

Likewise, even booking onto an SPA Assessment proved a step too far, although i think i underestimated quite how difficult a step this would be for me. The true fact is that once i’ve ticked that box, my rack and my ropes will doubtless be going deep into the back of the loft – such is my dislike of trad climbing. Don’t get me wrong, i see the appeal but for me, it is something i no longer wish to pursue and thankfully, these days i don’t have to. This one is going to be a much tougher task that i’d thought.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. 7c abroad did indeed go this season, with success on Carnage assis 7c of all things. It was slightly tactical but almost didn’t pay off and did cost me far more of my week than i had intended. Nevetheless, by picking the extended version of a line i know so intimately, i gave myself a real fighting chance and did indeed manage to tick off this particular milestone.

Meanwhile, a late-season surge on the boulders in Bryn Engan meant that more first ascents did arrive… sort of. To be honest, the problems on the Bryn Engan boulder were all probably climbed many moons ago but not recorded, meaning i’m not actually thinking they’re first ascents proper. Instead, i’m claiming first recorded ascent of five lines; the pick of the bunch being Awaiting Arthur’s Arrival 7a+ – a sligtly convoluted link up line but a good one nonetheless.

The comprehensive topo hasn’t happened though. Decent photographs are certainly needed, with time to actually create and edit something that will stand up to the rigours of the navigation of boulderers. Still, i’ve seen and heard of Prowess and the lines of the Mymbyr Boulder going in the new guide. To be honest, that’s far more of a coup than my own little scribblings!

So, about fifty per cent of the objectives done probably gives a fair assessment of my levels of success. Given the dip in psyche and ability during the latter half of the season, i’m not going to complain!

2016 Winter Goals

At the “turn of the year” i’d even set some Winter goals: train weaknesses, harness strengths and create a training plan. Hmm.

These are all worthy goals but i suspect possibly don’t quite go far enough. True they are excellent focal points but more is needed if i’m to get back to ticking the goals i’ve missed to date.

8a is still atainable, if i can find the right one. An SPA is again achieveable, despite it being winter. A topo will take a few days at a computer. Still, more things are needed and life has certainly changed substantially since that post in the latter days of March.

2016 Autumn/Winter Goals – short term

Get strong. Get back in training. Get the psyche back! That has to be the key and is already on the cards as i continue to tick off the problems at the Indy on my little sheet. My focus at the moment has to get to a point where the List is inspirational and not demoralising and if i can’t do that, it needs redrawing – it is currently detrimental.

Getting back into coaching is a must too. Granted, three sessions a week may have represented an incessent and unsustainable surge of enthusiasm – and possibly a hint that i was more single than i’d realised – but getting back in the wall with that different head on is now just as important to me as a climber.

  • Get strong and create that training plan.
  • Coach regularly
  • Keep on top of the aggregate
  • 7c outside – most likely Nazgul’s Traverse

2016 Autumn/Winter goals – season long

That SPA Assessment needs to happen; i’m gonna have to suck it up at some point, although don’t be surprised to see this one on my to-do list at the end of next March too.

Meanwhile, the aggregate remains a strong priority for me. I have mentioned in a previous post that my final standing of fourth last year may have been akin to Leicester winning the Premier league so a reasonable aim may be to finish top-5 this time around. This should do it, as long as i’m not too upset if it doesn’t happen.

As mentioned above, leaving 8a on there isn’t beyond the realms of possibility but reigning it in from three to one is probably wise given the dip i’ve had. I’ll come back just as strong, if i truly want to, but there’s no point getting carried away and if i do tick off one, i’m not going to suddenly stop because i’ve achieved that goal.

Finally, my coaching needs to develop a little more into a structured activity if i’m to continue heading in the direction i want it to. I’ve been reading lots about coaching in other sports and this is not bad thing. Next is to consolidate my thinking, come up with some tangible points and create a coaching philosophy. Do this, and i’ll be setting myself up nicely for the future.

  • SPA Assessment
  • Top Five in the Indy Aggregate
  • At least one 8a climb
  • Create a coaching philosophy

Awaiting Athur’s Arrival wasn’t just a route name plucked out of the back of my mind because it sounds good. At the back end of the coming season, my first offspring will be here and everything WILL change. While this isn’t necessarily the end, or indeed a bad thing at all, it does mean this is possibly my last chance to climb and train as i’ve known it in the past. It’s important to make the most of it – and enjoy it too!

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for all of us? Whatever you’re up to this Winter, have a great time and the Very Best of Psyche To You!

Merry Solstice!

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…?”

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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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.



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.


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.


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.


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.