Monday, 23 June 2014

Back to School

Since my last post I've been through a bit of a schooling - both physical and mental; Finale is a hard but fair teacher.

To start with I was only managing a few routes a day in the 6a to 6b range and left feeling broken.

My skin hurt. My fingers hurt. My back hurt. My arms hurt. My feet hurt.

After a few days of this, I began to feel frustrated - I was desperate to get back to where I was before the injuries, illness and van building duties that kept me out of action since September.

I was throwing myself at the rock with gusto, but the climbing here is very technical; Finale rewards patience (and footwork) over enthusiasm.

The frustration ruined my crag psych, which spilled over to affect Clare as well - I wasn't a fun person to climb with.

I should have known better, I've been here before.

After a bit of "heated discussion" on the matter, on Tuesday I realised I was behaving like a child, and resolved to try harder to relax and enjoy where I am, instead of thinking of where I want to be and immediately things began to improve.

On Wednesday we went up to Falesia della Luna - a short crag with quite cruxy routes that didn't really suit my style - and onsighted six routes up to 6b.

After a rest day, Nic appeared in town for the weekend, so I headed up with him to Bric Scimarco - Superior for a Friday evening climb. Nic's non ti prioccupare attitude to climbing (and life in general) was just what I needed to help settle me down, and the sector proved to be an ideal place to show myself I wasn't doing too badly.

After warming up on a couple of long easy routes, I went for Tutti Questi Temerari Uccelli - a 32m 6c. It was more my usual style of climbing with a steep, powerful crux on good holds.

On my onsight attempt I lost composure, concentrated too much on my hands, cut loose, tried to campus, and failed.

Getting back on I tried the same sequence, but took the time to really place my feet well; I comfortably reached over to the jug at the end of the crux. There was a bit of climbing left, but nothing too difficult and as I clipped the chains I was a little annoyed: Just a bit more composure, or a bit more finger strength, and I'd have onsighted that!

By the time I reached the ground I was already in a better mindset; I read the route well and picked the right sequence for me at the crux, and in a few weeks time my composure will be better, my fingers stronger and my footwork tidier; in fact it was good that I didn't have the strength to campus - I wouldn't have learned anything from it.

I sent the route first redpoint, which left time for one more line. Nic went up Hyperzot (34m, 7a) and watching him climb I tossed up in my mind - have a go or take a sensible warm down?

Nic got to the chains and asked:

"What do you want me to do?"

"How was it?"

"Crux is tricky but I think the rest is quite climbable."

"OK, leave the draws in and I'll have a go."

Having already watching him climb it, I pumped Nic for the beta and went for the flash. The crux was high on the route with a rest immediately below, and I climbed everything up to it pretty cleanly.

I phsyched myself up and went for it - some crimpy moves round an arete, then a reach to a tufa blob at the back of a dihedral. I set my feet well and stretched over. As my left hand touched the rock, the fingers of my right hand popped off and I was in the air.

So close, yet this time I was not annoyed. I'd read the footwork correctly, kept my composure, and executed the moves well - I simply didn't have the strength to stick it.

That will come. Just like a route, project Get In Shape needs a little patience - and if there's one thing I have a lot of right now it's time.

After another rest day to let the fingers recover, we joined Nic and Simone at Placca dei Maleducati - another new crag for us, this time just down the road from our home base at Monte Cucco.

Clare and I started on some shorter lines to the left of the crag - these were quite dirty, technical and hard. One line - Via Centrale (6b) - defeated me and I had to pull on a draw to finish and clean the route.

Further along the routes became longer and better, but still with a very technical style - Nic tells me the alpine club take students here to learn footwork and I can see why.

Il Falcetto Picheitto E Il Mangiatore Di Mosche was a beautiful 20m 6a that made me think a bit at times, then next to it was K-pax (6b+, 20m). Simone had some difficulty working the crux, and as I tied in to have a go he said to me "let's see your style". I immediately felt under pressure to perform, to make a good impression on the locals.

Once I got under way however this fell away, and I climbed with much more freedom than I have to date. I nailed the crux, and apart from wasting energy stopping to clip just before reaching a good rest, I knew I was climbing well. I clipped the chains and let out a whoop of joy... the numbers did not matter - I was as proud of that onsight as I would have been on a steep 7a.

I may seek out some "harder" lines in my style again before I leave Finale, but for now I'm going to stick with the technical climbing - see if I can learn to climb these 6bs like a local.

First lesson learnt.

Crux of K-pax - photo by Nicola Ciancaglini
Then a super-strenous clip, two moves from a jug... D'OH! Photo by Nicola Ciancaglini.
Simone on the super-wild looking Les Couleurs d'un Autre Monde (6b)...

... and sending in style.

Bit of rest day fun...

Thursday, 12 June 2014

On the road at last!

It's a year and a half since we decided to quit the rat race and live on the road for a while. Having dinner in the Monte Cucco car park in Finale, watching the fireflies dance after a morning at the crag and an afternoon at the beach, it's hard not to feel smug. The hard work and sacrifices of the last 18 months are fading into memory now we're into the payoff. And what a payoff - we've hit the jackpot.

I finished working six weeks ago, and after a bit of time in Scotland seeing my family then down in the west country with Clare's, we popped back into London to get a fresh MOT for the van, get drunk one last time with old friends, and head for Dover.

With time on our hands, we avoided the toll roads and ambled down France on les routes national passing by Paris, Lyon and Grenoble to cross the alps at Briancon last friday afternoon. We went down to Turin to see Nic and Elo for the evening, then after a lazy morning and trip to an open air market for fresh fruit and veg we headed south for Liguria.

Clare hasn't been here before, and as soon as we left Savona on the coast road she was blown away by the scenery. We were sweltering and it would be too late for a climb, so we parked up at the first free spot and hit the beach, before heading up to the car park for the night.

Between work, van building and injury, neither of us have climbed for a long time so Sunday morning we looked for somewhere easy. One of the sectors at Monte Cucco seemed to fit the bill - the historic settore Della Torre. After a couple of 4b climbs to warmup I got on the first pitch of La Torre - a 5c first climbed in 1969 by Gianni Calcagno and Allesandro Grillo. Boy did I have to fight for the onsight... it may be much more polished than the day it was graded but if I needed a reminder of the old school style and grading in Finale, here it was.

Monday lunchtime (after a long lie and a slow breakfast), we decided we'd better find a north facing crag and went for La Goletta in Rian Cornei. It was a 20 minute uphill hike from the Ponte Cornei and despite the tree cover we were drenched in sweat by the time we arrived. It was worth the walk though - Goletta is a small but beautiful crag that deserves more traffic than it obviously gets. The bottom of the routes was dirty and vegetated, and the pockets filled with cobwebs, weeds and dead spiders. We didn't see a soul between parking the car and getting back to it.

The highlight of the crag was an overhanging groove called Alle Cinque Della Sera (6a+), of which the Tomassini guide book says:

"Whoever goes to climb at the Goletta cannot help noticing the corner masterpiece... sometimes you ask yourself whether it's worth taking a trip just to climb one route... in this case Fabio (Bigo) Peirpaoli and the Association Outdoor Liguria think it is."

I think they're right, and I'm glad I got on it while I wasn't fit enough to make it an unfair fight. Whilst not quite the old school grading of some of the earlier bolted crags it still packed a punch for the grade; it took a strong dose of determination and good tactics to bag the onsight. It's a line I won't forget for a while, for more than one reason.

Powerful moves between pockets up the groove led to an uncomfortably stretched bridging rest, before pulling over to a short vertical face climb to the chains. My first three attempts to get established on the slab resulted in a scrabbling retreat to the rest, before I finally saw the missing jigsaw piece. A couple of moves later I was somewhat precariously onto the slab and breathing heavily. There was a line of three pockets in front of my face; the middle one wasn't so positive so I took a double gaston position on the outer two to sort my feet and get pressed into the wall to recover.

My face was against the rock with the middle pocket just by my temple when from the corner of my eye I noticed there was a twig inside it... wait a minute... that wasn't there before... I pulled back to focus and realised it was a small arm complete with claw - I'd been resting with my head against a scorpion's front door and he was coming out to tell me I wasn't invited. So much for getting the heart rate down!

I didn't want to blow the onsight, and I knew I wasn't yet recovered enough to bolt for the top, so I leaned back and watched him - all the while wondering if the three open-backed pockets were connected and whether his family were in there. As it turned out, standing watching him was less scary than moving off - as soon as he was out of sight by my feet all I could think about was him scuttling out and up my leg to sting me, so it was with considerable joy and relief that I high-stepped onto the ledge above to clip the chains.

We got back to the beach in time to catch the last hour of sunshine. As we swum around cooling off we started laughing and I think it finally sunk in... WE MADE IT OUT!!!

For so long Monday has been a day to dread - the start of the working week. One day we may have to go back to that but for now it's just another day to climb and visit the beach. The hard work and sacrifices to get here were definitely worthwhile.

Deer in the highlands of Scotland

Summer in Ullapool... not quite the heat of the italian riviera

Beautiful beaches though

Church in Albertville.
French wheat fields

Crossing the Alps

Fruit market in Turin
This little fella climbed onto my shirt as we arrived at the crag...

And had finished transforming when we left.

Lo scorpione...

The beach we go to most afternoons, between Finale and Noli - free beach and usually free parking within a 5 minute walk.

A selfie... since all the kids are doing it these days...

View from the beach.

I had no idea there were scorpions here, but it turns out they may be quite common - found this one a day later on the toilet wall at Monte Cucco car park.