Friday, 31 July 2015

Learning my lessons in Céüse.

What can I say about Céüse?

Is it the best sport climbing crag in the world? Well I haven't seen all the competitors for the title, but it's often said that climbing is a masochistic sport, and on that basis it must stand head and shoulders above anywhere else I've been.

No place has abused and frustrated me, satisfied me, then left me begging for more the way Céüse has. Jill described her as bi-polar but that's just part of the game; like any good dominatrix she has to keep you guessing.

Nothing is given easily here. From the 45 minute hike to the crag with 400m of ascent (often in 30+ degree heat), to the bouldery cruxes and the technical top-outs it's all hard work.

Forget the stamina draining jugfests of Rodellar, the tendon shredding pockets of Margalef, and the psychological torture of a technical, run-out Finalese slab... Céüse takes all of these, parcels them up, and serves them as an entrée. If there's a weakness in your climbing she will expose it and then, if you are willing, your correction will begin.

In Chulilla, my first ever 8a redpoint went down with just four days projecting; here I took six weeks to send a 7c+ that is considered easy. In Siurana I came to expect to onsight 7a; here it's taken two months to onsight my first 6c+. On one 6c+ I had to pull on a draw to get past the crux, and come back to figure it out later. But as long as you can put your ego to the side, the high 6s and low 7s you're falling off are all astonishingly good lines - everything I´ve got on here is worth three stars.

A couple of weeks ago I nearly went home due to physical and mental fatigue, but when it came down to it I couldn't leave - I'll have to go back to the real world and make some money soon, but until then Céüse has me firmly under her spell.

Alex Megos resting on the steepness of (I think) La part du diable (8c) on the Biographie wall.
The holds got a bit smaller.

Jonathan Shen on the techy vertical start of Lapinerie (7b) at Demi lune
Matthieu Lapalus on the steep bouldery start of Bibendum (7b+)

Spring cleaning the vans and ourselves by the Lac de Pelleautier

Gorgeous sunsets from the top of Céüse plateau.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Putting things into perspective.

I'm on my way back into the hostpital in Grenoble, to see my good friend Nicola.

He was clipped into a belay station on a multi-pitch climb in Briancon when a large block fell from the anchor above, just missing his head and smashing his right arm and leg badly. He lost a lot of blood, and was still in intensive care when I got up here, but thankfully he's now stable and on a ward.

Suddenly the things that have been stressing me lately seem so insignificant. Nic's mother expressed a hope that this would convince us all to stop putting ourselves in danger by climbing, but this was a freak accident - the block could as easily have been a careless driver in London or a mugger in Turin.

Life is fragile, and sometimes something out of our control threatens to take it away; far better to live your life doing the things you love until that day comes along, than to worry about it's arrival.

It's going to be a long road to recovery, but I have some special memories of climbing with Nic and I look forward to the day we get out on the rock together again... venga a muerte with the rehab Nic, see you soon at the crag!

Down in Portland in the early days

Cranking out the steep stuff in Rodellar

A bit of Southern Sandstone bouldering

At the top of Bric Pianarella in Finale, after a superb day multi-pitching on Joe Falchetto... the realisation of a dream for Nic

Calm before the storm in Valle Dell'Orco

Psyched after the storm in Valle Dell'Orco :D

Monday, 13 July 2015

Mind games part 2 - The Sending Window

After my day of contemplation at Lac du Pelleautier, I decided to go down to Gap for a change of scenery, visit the laundrette, and find a decent 3G signal to play internet poker. I wanted to get projecting out of my mind for a while, let my body recover, and wait for cooler weather.

I didn't have to wait long - after 3 rest days the temperatures were forecast to drop by around 7 degrees for two days. I headed back up to Sigoyer on the evening of the third rest day feeling pretty psyched.

Gerd was back for a quick visit and he also had unfinished business with Makach Walou, so we headed up to Berlin at lunchtime to eat, rest and get ready for good conditions. Around 4pm the temperature started dropping rapidly. I knew I should probably wait a little longer, but I was itching to see what shape I was in, so I jumped on.

The holds were a little greasy, but I got as far as the crux feeling good. I gave everything a good clean and Gerd got on - sending for his warm up and looking really solid all the way. He followed that by closing out the cruxy Queue de Rat (7b+), a strong day coming back so recently from injury.

I had another two burns, falling on the same move each time. I came down in a state of confusion. I'd been through that crux before but now, in perfect conditions, I was dropping it every time. Was I not as well rested as I felt, or had I just developed a total mental block around that move?

As I voiced my frustration, a French chap who had sent the route earlier came over to ask how I was taking the crux hold. He told me he was using it differently; I decided to stick with my beta for the next attempt and then try his method if I fell. I did fall once more, but as soon as I tried the new beta I knew it should be the last time.

It was getting dark and I was tired, but in my excitement I tried to squeeze in one more effort. This time I didn't get as far as the crux, but it didn't matter... I fairly bounced down the hill that evening, knowing I had one more day of weather window and some crucial new beta.

I headed up with Will Oates the next afternoon, he wasn't so psyched for spending the whole day at Berlin so we decided to warm up elsewhere and come back when the conditions were at their best; after food and a good rest we headed round to Demi-Lune and I got on a bouldery 6c called Bonnye and Clyde to warm up. I ticked it first redpoint, and although I'd failed the onsight, it gave me a boost because I'd pulled on much smaller holds than I would find on Makach and the injured left arm felt good.

I could feel the nervous excitement building, it really was on now. I had to find a way to lower my expectations. There was a strong Spanish climber on the route as we approached Berlin - he got the onsight, and came off without cleaning the holds. It was perfect - I told myself "there's probably been three or four folk on here already and the crux will need a clean - you're not going to send, just get up there and try out the new beta". It worked, and I felt pretty calm as I tied in and pulled on.

After somewhere in the region of 60 or 70 attempts, I've never had a route so well dialled - the climb to the crux went like clockwork and with the new beta I pulled through it almost effortlessly. There's a half-decent rest at the next clip, but I felt good so I didn't hang around long. The next 5 moves flowed as smoothly as I'd ever done them off the rope and I was into a huge jug with a couple of meters of easy climbing to go. I could almost hear Jill's voice saying "after that jug, just don't forget how to climb!". I took a deep breath and didn't forget.

I've never felt so emotional after a sport climb. It wasn't a first at the grade, but it was the longest and hardest project I've been on. I learned a lot about my climbing in the process and I had to dig in when injury and common sense were telling me it was getting too much; I hope that experience will stand me in good stead when I'm getting shut down in future.

Later that evening, whilst falling off an onsight attempt of the stunning 100 Patates (7b) I heard Ali yelling in delight as she closed out her long term project of La Petite Illusion (7a+), and then Will flashed 100 Patates to round of a rather splendid couple of days at the crag.

So long Makach Walou, it's been fun and perhaps one day I'll come back to use you as a warmup; but for now, at last, I'm free to move around and enjoy everything else Céüse has to offer :)

Jill focused on nailing the crux... she crushed Makach early and left me in her wake.

Kat working the top moves - this balancy sequence was one of the most satisfying pieces of rock I've climbed.
Gerd pulling through the crux.

Ali also showed great determination to keep projecting and send La Petite Illusion.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Mind Games

My logbook might say Super Cantina Marina (8a), but Makach Walou (7c+) has been physically and mentally the hardest project I've worked to date by far.

It started well - doing all the moves on my first attempt - but I knew it needed a level of power endurance I didn't have. It was my first day in Céüse though, and as I was planning to stay a while I figured working it would be a good way to get fit.

After two weeks of solid projecting I'd linked all the sections, and one-hung the route. A week later I made it through the top crux, twice. The first time my arms gave out; the second I fluffed my footwork for the very last hard move. Little did I know then, how that mistake would come to haunt me.

I took another couple of rest days and came back expecting to send, but pulling back on I felt sluggish and couldn't recover fully on the rests. A month of marching up from 1400m to 1800m and projecting hard was taking it's toll. I was back to falling at the crux again, but was it physical, or had it become a mental problem? There was clearly a bit of both, but it was hard to say which was the most significant.

This put me in a bit of a dilemma... the weather was getting hotter and I knew the crag would only get busier - I wanted to get the popular line done before it got too bad. I was stuck between the need to rest and the desire to send.

To complicate matters, I began to feel depressed again. It was nothing major, but then I went to a party in Sigoyer and had a few too many drinks, triggering several days of severe anxiety which messed with my guts - interfering with my ability to recover and re-fuel my body. I had been running up to the crag when I first arrived, now I was plodding and it didn't feel good.

I gave away the beer and wine I had in the van, and decided to get on some other walls for a change of scenery. I had a go at some steep, juggy routes - Bibendum (7b+) was a lot of fun but didn't quite go before another rest day, and then down at Cascade I got on Super Mickey (7b). Big lock offs, huge jugs, and an even bigger grin characterise the line. On the first redpoint attempt I linked all the way to the top crux, but fell off the dyno. I stuck it next go off the rope, but immediately felt a pain in my left forearm. Shit.

I could crimp on holds with my ring finger, but I couldn't hang them - pretty important on the pockets here. It also felt very similar to an injury I had before which turned chronic... should I even try to climb through? I'd had a good trip, maybe it was time to head back to the UK, look for work and rest my weary body?

I slept on it, but looking up at the rock over my morning coffee I knew I had to stay and take a chance.

The temperatures were climbing all over Europe, and Céüse was no exception. Resting up in the car park for a few days I was sweltering. Hiking back up for another go yesterday, I must have sweated out more water than I carried up. With a tape strap at either end my forearm actually felt OK, but the rock was so greasy I fell off before the third bolt. After a good brushing I had another go, making it to the crux, but I'd had to work so hard to stay on the lower section there was little in the tank to get through it. I ate dinner and took a long rest to go for an evening send, but by the time I got on the breeze had died away and conditions felt just as bad as before. I trudged down the hill feeling pretty dejected.

It felt like there are just too many stars that need to align before I can send this route. Physically and mentally I need to get it right, and the weather has to play it's part. The send is so much further away than it was a fortnight ago that my head says I should give it up, but my heart says I've put too much in to let it go.

I needed a sense of perspective - it's only a couple of weeks since I happily proclaimed (whilst staring at the stars after good food and good wine in good company), that if I won the lottery tomorrow I'd still want to be exactly where I was. So this afternoon I drove down to the Lac du Pelleautier, and after a bath and some sun lounging swam the length of it and back.

From google maps, it looks like I did about 1.5km, and although I wasn't breaking any speed records I surprised myself by finishing quite strongly. In the process I reminded myself that there are other sports out there, and that I'm pretty lucky to be in the position, for now, of being able to wake up every morning in the alps and decide which one to do.

I feel a lot happier tonight, and mentally more rested. I'm ready to enjoy what the area has to offer for a few days and wait for the weather to break. In the meantime, my body can rest a bit too... perhaps I can get those stars all aligned. :)

Update: you can read part 2 and watch the video here

Antoine sending Makach Walou.

Matt on the bouldery start of Bibendum, on his way to a quick send.

Kat lowering off Bibendum... it is quite steep!

Super Mickey is full of big lock offs...

... hanging out on jugs at the knee bar...

... more big lock-offs...

... sticking the dyno that could have ended my trip. I must go back and send this, once Makach Walou is safely in the bag! Photos by Jill Sompel.

Unknown climber on L'errance d'une passion (7c) at Berlin.

Evening sunshine at Lac du Pelleautier.