Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Tarn 2.0

Alongside discussing beta; injuries and the weather must rank as the top most talked about topics amongst climbers. I would hazard a guess that this is the same for most other countries climbing populus, and not just the British.
So with that in mind and seeing as my last two posts have started with an injury based theme I thought this one could start with the weather. Just to keep things interesting and balanced.

It's raining. Torrentially.
But we are not letting it dampen our spirits too much as we are all delighted to be back in this beautiful part of the world. The Gorges du Tarn.
I climbed for years hearing about this so called French climbing 'paradise' and of people coming out here time and time again. My brief trip last August made me see just why it gets this glowing reputation.


So here we are. Back again and with a sizeable more chunk of time to play with. Unfortunately for all The Tarn's beauty and appeal, it does rain here too. One minute it could be shorts and shades, the next down jackets and scarves. A game that we are all to familiar with. Right now its full on waterproofs.

However the climbing is something special and the thought of jumping on the next route jotted down on the ticklist the following day, keeps the fires burning and psyche flowing.

© Jon Clark
To be honest I am emmensely grateful that I am even out here and with the ability to actually be able to climb anything at all. There was a point a few weeks back when I was seriously beggining to doubt if my injury would heal up in time and if the whole trip would be a waste of time.
Thankfully as our leaving date got ever closer my elbow started to show rapid signs of improvement and I was able to increase the levels of my rehab and training. Even on the journey down here I was still apprehensive of just what I would be able to do and how I'd hold up. However after just a couple days of climbing I managed a route that even just a couple of weeks ago, was more than I could have ever hoped for.

It has now been over a week, climbing most days, and I am very much beggining to get back into the groove of things again. There is so much to do, the vast potential blows your mind. You'll be sat around during the evenings pondering and planning the next climbing day, thinking you have it all figured out. Then suddenly someone will remind you of another world class sector and you'll find yourself rearranging plans all over again. A rather nice predicament to be in though.

It is hard to say if it will be possible to tick all of my main goals out here, that I set myself at the start of the year. I am just happy to be climbing and thankful for the time to enjoy myself. Despite the rain!
Stayed tuned.


Monday, 18 April 2016

Countdown

The countdown is firmly on now for our return trip to France next month. The ferry is booked for the 28th April, the tick lists are currently being written up and the excitement amongst us all is building. We'll be spending the whole of May mainly in The Tarn and potentially checking out somewhere new on the drive back north, towards the end of the month.


My elbow rehab really seems to have taken a big step in the right direction these last couple of weeks. It is certainly feeling stronger all the time and I can now climb, for the most part, with virtually no discomfort at all. I am still uncertain and apprehensive, but it is extremely pleasing to see almost daily improvements.

The tricky part has been NOT to over do things. It has all been a huge 'learning curve' in lots of different ways. I'm used to big, tough and intense sessions. So the hard bit has been having to force myself to stop, even when everything feels fine. A very fine balance. On the one hand you want to gradually up the intensity, but on the other you are cautious of pushing things too far. Finding that middle ground, that seems to constantly be shifting, is tough work!

Cantobre dreaming!

So the plan for this trip is to just take each day as it comes and gradually test the waters. I confess to not having a huge clue as to where my performance levels are at currently. I still feel strong but from a fitness/endurance perspecitive I may be lagging behind a little.

We will be basing ourselves further up the gorge this time so commuting to the crag will be down to
the bare minimum, meaning we can focus on the climbing even more. One thing Jon and myself are quite keen for this time though is heading to check out the big multi pitch stuff in the Gorge du Jonte. While we drove up through this gorge a few times last year we didn't have the time to climb here. It will certainly provide something a little different, and the crags look mega!

Guess who's back in the saddle?!?

Friday, 11 March 2016

Changes



Since the start of the year there have quite a few different changes in my life. I have kept it fairly quiet but the year itself didn't get off to the best of starts when a sudden and unexplained elbow injury raised its niggling and nagging head.
Everything was in place to start a period of organised training and psyche was extremely high to see the benefits of a solid structured program that would hopefully yield some decent results come our trip to The Tarn in May.
I’ll try not to bore you with all the details and prevent turning this blog into one of those usual in-depth ‘injury moaning’ stories that seem to constantly flash across our screens these days.

It was only a few days after Christmas and I suddenly noticed a strange discomfort in my left elbow/arm while doing a few routes at the wall.
At first I figured it being nothing but it quickly became apparent something was definitely not quite right. Particularly after discovering the Joint would grind and click when flexed.
At one point things did seem to be improving but then the niggle would randomly ‘flare’ up again.


Training quickly had to be put on the back burner and toned down. The annoying thing is that I still have no idea what the exact problem is, or how it even happened! I am assuming it is probably a number of things that have caused the Problem and it is probably down to the effects that intense climbing, nearly full time, can start to have on the body. I have been to a number of physio sessions and finally have a scan booked in for next week which might hopefully begin to shed some light.


At first the Situation was ridiculously hard to accept.. Having not had the experience of one of these potential long term type of injuries before and the ways in which to deal with them, made it even worse. Not being able to do what you love and what your life revolves around is, quite simply, depressing.
I’ve busted my ribs and back in the last few years but while those injuries were at the time a million times more painful and debilitating it was at least obvious what the problem was and you could rest safe in the knowledge that they would heal within a given time frame.
My elbow, while no where near as painful has turned into some thing much more serious.


All of this has meant that I have had to unfortunately pull out of CWIF this weekend. I am pretty gutted to be missing out on the 10th year, especially after my performance last year in reaching the semi finals for the first time. I'm sure it will be a cracking weekend and with a field that is looking stronger than ever it will certainly be interesting to see who comes out on top...

CWIF 2015
© DomWorrall

However things have not been altogether bad news. Last month I was offered a rather exciting  position with my main sponsor Mammut. A position that has the potential for some great opportunities and involve doing some ‘proper work'! It was something that I could hardly refuse and so far it has all been going extremely well and I'm psyched to see how things develop.

So while the injury has meant I am unable to go full steam on the climbing and training front at this exact moment in time, I have been able to keep myself from going totally insane by immersing myself into this new role.

Enjoy the weekend ya'll! Spring might even make another appearance if we're lucky...



Sunday, 10 January 2016

Staying on track, looking ahead.

I am a little late to the usual yearly roundup. The one that everyone dishes out as another year draws to a close and a brand new one dawns, but I can firmly say that 2015 was another stellar year for myself. I was able to achieve huge personal milestones and really start to see the results of lots of hard work and commitment begin to pay off.

© JonClark
We went on a bunch of fantastic trips and adventures, which as I’ve mentioned countless times now, really opened my eyes to the vast potential out there and just how much fun you can have with the right people who are just as psyched as yourself.

I spent the last few weeks of the year taking some down time, chilling out and enjoying giving my body a bit of rest, as much as I could manage anyway without boredom setting in. I always look forward to the Christmas and holiday period and with the year I had just had it made everything all the more pleasant being able to relax and look back, safe in the knowledge of everything we had achieved.

© JonClark
2016 promises to be another big year if everything works out and goes to plan. We have some truly great trips and ideas lined up, not to mention various pieces of unfinished business to take care of.
I cannot wait to get started! Until then it is time to train, prepare well and get strong.
After speaking briefly last year with one of the UK's leading performance coaches I was told that if I wanted to continue to push my limits and perhaps go on to stepping my climbing up to the next level then I may need to sacrifice some time outside in order to dedicate time into knuckling down to some serious training.

© TimGlasby
Anyone that knows me will know how much I love being outside. For me that is what it is all about. So at first the prospect of choosing to train rather than head out onto real rock was a little off putting. However I am actually looking forward to the whole idea and currently enjoying the change up.
I make no claims whatsoever about being a training guru and I totally confess to not knowing for sure if I am on the right track with things, but I can see the benefits it will hopefully yield and to be fair it is not like we are missing out on anything too spectacular right now! Maybe in Europe, but as far as this country goes, nothing much is happening at all.
So in some ways, however depressing it is, the winter we are currently experiencing has hardly been an issue. It has enabled me, up to this point, to focus in on some structured training and not feel guilty and sad about missing out on quality days in the great outdoors. If we do ever see the return of those crispy blue skies then I will most likely be out that door in a flash! Until then I shall be wrecking myself on pieces of wood and plastic.

Just where exactly my limits may lie and if I will ever truly be able to reach them, I cannot say, but that is what makes the whole thing so exciting. I know that I can continue to improve and grow as a climber and the desire to do so is greater than ever before.

© JonClark

Thursday, 5 November 2015

A good place

I am in a pretty good place right now. Looking outside at one of those typical damp and grey November days, I am unusually content and relaxed. The last few weeks have seen me investing my time and throwing my energy into another hard Peak sport route. Devolution. Last weekend saw the conclusion of this mini saga and we are still living off the psyche that a completed project brings.

For those not entirely clued up on their Raven Tor trivia, Devolution climbs the lower crux section of the mega classic, rarely repeated, Jerry Moffatt route 'Evolution', before scamping off rightwards via some delicate crimping into the headwall of Chimes of Freedom.
It is of course a cop out in many ways but still provides some seriously hard climbing and if Evo itself is considered 8c+ these days then this has surely got to be 8c in its own right. Either way, it is still pretty stiff! I figured on giving it a bash as the meat of the route is still the lower section of Evo and it would provide a good stepping stone to trying this afterwards.


It started to get a little frustrating at times, as redpointing does. I kept blowing the big lock-off move to the break but it was mostly due to my finger splitting open which meant my attempts were always limited. I had to have quite a few days off from climbing to make sure my skin was in the best shape it could be for the next session. Forced down time is seriously not my thing.

I am not sure what is worse. Falling off after doing 30+ moves or falling after about 3. On the one hand doing a tonne of moves and hard climbing is great for improving and maintaining fitness but then you fall over and over and your heart breaks.
Doing 3 moves and falling just gets you angry, in a whole different way. It feels sometimes as if you are just going backwards and you start to think you are getting weaker. This is all in the head of course but that is half the battle. Head games. Jedi mind tricks so to speak.


I have climbed Chimes literally hundreds of times. To the point where I could do the thing in my sleep, with a cold and dosed up on calpol. Baby Chimes was my first 8a and the full line is probably one of my favourite routes in the area.
I always knew that once at this point, from the ground it would be totally fine from here on in, but I also always knew that it would probably be rather nerve-racking climbing my way to the belay. After finally pulling through the start and making that breakthrough, to blow it on some silly moves done a million times before was not even worth thinking about.

However the mind is a hard thing to control. The minute I left the resting jugs on the headwall I felt a jibbering wreck! My brain was going berzerk, already in the future, trying to project me into post send glory. It felt almost impossible to switch off, relax and focus on the moves ahead. A simple moment of madness. A silly foot misplacement on the last move almost could have had me off. Thankfully it mattered not and the job was sealed. But it sure gave us a fright.

Now this one is out of the way I am psyched to get stuck into the main event. Who knows if it will go this year, as the season is rapidly drawing to a close. Hopefully there are a few weeks yet so at least if nothing else I will be able to lay the ground work for a full blown attack at it next spring.

Anyway I'm off to build a bonfire and make a pot of chili.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Autumn Phase


It has been a great Autumn so far in the UK, particularly from a climbing perspective with generally settled conditions and DRY crags in abundance! As our summer adventures in Europe began to come to a close towards the end of August, I had a number of projects in mind back home.

One thing I was really keen for was to make a few trips up to Malham. Unfortunately we kept on getting unlucky with the crag basking in the sunshine all day. All very nice but not conducive to the best climbing conditions on the catwalk! However this led us to retreating to the shady sanctum of Goredale and a quick and rather unexpected send of the mighty ‘Supercool’. It has some of the best climbing in Yorkshire with some of the best most compact limestone around. AND all in a rather impressive setting. I really hope to be able to try the other two jewels in Yorkshires triple crown sometime next year and complete the saga.

Supercool
©JonClark

First on the list back home in the Peak was another Chee Dale cornice offering. I do love it down the dale, despite having now done a majority of the routes that the place has to offer, I always love heading back and spending some time under the canopy of trees, surrounded by quality rock and being apart of that whole scene.

Barney Ragin’. An old project of Jon Fullwood’s that he ended up gifting to Caff around 5 years ago. I remember being there the day he did it, looking on and never once imagining I’d be good enough to try myself. What baffles me more is that this was back in 2010! In some ways it seems like 5 minutes ago but in others a lifetime seems to have passed by. My climbing has certainly come a long way in this time and it definitely seemed like another case of things coming full circle once again as I contemplated jumping on it.

©JonClark

Anyway it was another line that did not disappoint. A couple of moves rightwards out of R n P and you immediately find yourself smack bang at the crux. One powerful pull into high undercuts that require tension and beans before a gazillion intricate foot placements deposit you half way along the Butterflies traverse and a moment of respite. A couple of quick shakes and you are straight into the crux of Butterflies itself. Tic tacking, piano playing on tiny edges with delicate footwork eventually leads you to the belay. Job done. A fantastic addition to Peak Lime!



The temps have really dropped this week. There is that nippy chill in the air during the mornings and the nights are closing in faster every day. As the trees begin to rapidly change to their vibrant autumn colours and leaves scatter about, the down jackets are firmly back out along with the flask of hot tea! Autumn is great. I love it. But the thought of what may lurk in the dark winter months ahead is a little disheartening. 
I’m hoping that what remains of the limestone season will be a good one and we can get a couple more projects done before the winter sets in and training commences for next years plans and objectives.

BLCC's

Something rather different for me a couple of weekends ago now was entering the British Lead Climbing Championships for the very first time. Now I really cannot say for certain what it was that made me randomly psyched to register and compete alongside all those strong n young comp climbing wads but sure enough I found myself at Awesome Walls in Sheffield early on the 4th October and pinning my comp number to the back of my vest.
It had been over 5 years since my last lead climbing competition and I had no real expectations other than to enjoy trying something different for a change and catch up with friends I rarely get to see.
Safe to say I got pumped much quicker than I imagined! It is crazy the pressure you feel when competing in lead, I had totally forgotten how this can affect the way you climb.

 
 ©Ladoza/Borodajkewycz

It would be a lie to say that in the end I was not slightly disappointed with my performance and coming away with a 12th place finish. But it was a cool day out, we had fun, and it was great to see so many strong youths battling it out. In particular Jim Pope, who dominated throughout the weekend and showed the rest of us what this game is all about. That lad has got skills!


Back outside, check out the quick edit below of a cool boulder problem I was pleased to tick last week. It felt good to change up the gears, and once again engage the body into what I like to call 'boulder try hard mode'!

Whatever you are all up to, be it grit or lime, have a good sending season!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

A return to France. The Tarn.

Where to begin?
I've been pretty fortunate so far this year in that I have finally started to pursue and take my climbing further afield. Away from the comforts and the increasingly tedious and often boring nature of the UK.

The Gorges du Tarn. Every climber has heard of this French stomping ground. Situated just outside of Millau in the Midi-Pyrenees, lies a beautiful deep gorge, carved out by the ages with towering rock faces as far as the eye can see.
When I arrived home from Spain my original plan was to head back out during the autumn to catch some much needed cooler temps. However plans end up changing like the wind and I got asked by my very good friends, Jon and Pete Clark, if we fancied a couple of weeks in the Tarn. These guys have got this place totally dialled up, having both made around six or seven trips in the past. They would do all the driving and organising and basically chauffeur me around for the entire time. How could I refuse! It was an easy decision to make.

I said yes within an instant. The idea of a jolly in the sun even got my Dad tempted and so for the first time he decided to join us on a euro adventure. Four Brits on tour!

Even though my experience of foreign climbing destinations is still rather limited, I've got to say that I think this place has the most amount of rock that I have ever seen! Route styles range from short bouldery gnarl to huge 100 metre+ outings, with grades across the entire spectrum. The adage of there being something for everyone could not be more true for this place. 
One thing to bear in mind though, is that this is France. It's old school in parts and certainly not a place for cheap Spanish holiday grades that is for sure. They make you work hard for your route of choice out here!

First day psyche on 'Rasta Vaut Rien' (8a+)


Driving up through the gorge on our first day, our eyes hardly knew where to look first. Akin to memories of the first time we ever drove up the Llanberis Pass. 'Like a kid in a candy shop' I remember it well. Seeing the Cromlech for the first time was out of this world. The itch and fire to start climbing increasing with every turn in the road, as another huge sector would come into view. Our faces pressed up against the car windows, straining to see but unable to take it all in.
Huge blank walls flanking us on both sides. Steep prows and towers standing tall and casting enormous shadows. The river flowing below us, kayakers gently making their way down in the sunshine. I kind of knew what to expect after hearing so much about the place and seeing all the photos/videos, but to see the place in the flesh was breath taking.


What makes the whole thing even more spectacular is that the big established crags suddenly seem to come into view out of no where. You spend a good amount of time twisting, turning, winding and weaving your way up from Millau, past farms, fields, the odd 'village' and tiny pockets of civilisation and then BAM. You turn a corner and you are there. Paradise. Neck ache from craning your head up against the car windows is something that you just have to accept! 
The one thing that was so blindly obvious from the start was how much cooler it was down here than the 2 weeks prior in Rodellar. You could actually breathe, and walk about without verging on collasping in a heap!



Sunrise. The stunning, soaring arete of 'Tennessee'

Being the only one of us all who would be climbing meant I was free to climb from route to route, and pick any crag I fancied for the day. It was definitely a bit of luxury and I am super grateful for the all the guys time, belays, commitment and effort they gave me. But it did mean we had to be careful not to constantly go full burn the entire time! 
In between belaying Pete would disappear daily off up one of the gorges for a couple of hours and bosh out the odd 100 mile on his road bike! The guys dedication, commitment and psyche astounds me. It is hugely motivating when someone like that is so passionate about their goals and what they want to do.

 The daily crag commute with the obligatory patisserie stop off.

Rest days were needed and luckily there was always something to do in town. Side streets full of little shops, cafes and bakeries to discover. Old buildings to walk around and explore. Millau is an historic place that is always bustling with life and colour, a hive of activity, with a weekly market that blew us away. Such a variety of food from all over. Stalls laden with local fresh fruit n produce, beautiful, straight out of the oven baguettes and enough pastries and cakes that left you not knowing what to try first. The mind boggled! 
We would then retire back to the campsite and doss around in the sunshine, chat late into the evening before hitting the sack, already fired up and champing at the bit for the morning to come round and with it, a new climbing day. Life could not have been simplier.




One afternoon we joined JC and Pete for a hike up to the top of Gorge du Jonte. Home of the majestic vultures! The lads had already trekked to see these huge beasts a few days before and we figured it was an opportunity not to be missed. Seeing these creatures up close at 3000 feet, circling above your head and hearing the wind whip up all around you, was breathtaking and a pretty special way to end a day. These birds are always made out to be nasty, dirty and evil things and while they may be scavengers there is no doubt that they are magnificent creatures and with their 8 foot wingspan they truly are a sight to behold.




We visited such a huge range of crags and climbed such an abundance of fantastic routes, that I am sure it would eventually bore you to death to read about them all. 
Every day was a good day but one of the stand out days was the session I power screamed my way up one of the areas hardcore pocket pulling test pieces. No surprises that this line resides at the aptly named sector 'Gullich'! The steep and fierce 'Le Spectre de l'ottokar', clocks in at around 8b+ and stands proud, jutting out high above the winding river below. A route that would fit like a glove in the forests of the Frankenjura. 
It still amazes me how some of these routes are so perfectly formed. Each pocket immaculately shaped for a human hand and fingers. And not just shaped, but positioned in such a way that it creates one exact sequence of moves. I find it all rather bizarre but it really is like these cliff faces were always made to be climbed, but somehow it has just taken centuries for the human race to realise.



It was full pedal to the metal, all out screaming on every move throughout the crux sequence. A very memorable experience and to managed to get it done on my 2nd try made the success even sweeter!
Afterwards we trekked slightly higher up the gorge for the classic 7a and mega popular route 'Le Trésor du Zèbre'. For anyone visiting the Tarn, this route is a must! It is probably one of my most favourite routes I have EVER done, an absolute gem of a line on some of the biggest and craziest holds you can think of. A huge diagonal traversing pitch across pristine rock, with truly breathtaking scenery all around. One of the best positions you could wish for and the swing after stripping the draws is rather spectacular too!


Early morning sessions pay off with on onsight of 'Hoy me Voy' (8a)



I could probably write an entire blog about Cantobre alone. The ancient, fortified medieval village itself sits atop a rocky outcrop in the middle of the Dourbie valley and looks out across at the streaky, rainbow limestone cliff. It truly is a fantastic place, full of history that spans the ages. Stone Age man once roamed about these parts, the Celts have been here, the Romans, Saracens, the list goes on. It is perhaps more well known however for being a bastion of the Knights Templar. Everyone seems to have wanted a piece of the pie at some point! These days however its occupants and visitors are slightly different.
The cliff is something akin to Ceuse, albeit on a much smaller scale. A multi-coloured swooping wave of compact rock, carved out through the ages with routes left, right and centre that range from 7a to 8c! It is a climbers playground and I quickly found it to be totally my style. It was plain to see straight away why JC had been ranting on about this place for so long and urging us to make the trip.




The general style here is big moves, powerful lock offs, and pockets, pockets, pockets galore, before many of the lines ease off as the crag begins to slab out at about half height. You have to be prepared to go big on some of these but with the safe knowledge that you'll soon reach a bucket of joy ahead.

We made a vague plan to return on our final day before starting the long drive back home. As the crag virtually gets full sun throughout the summer period we crossed our fingers the night before in the hope some cloud would roll in. And boy did it come good!


We awoke the next day to perfect cloud cover, and an incredible mild breeze made for some of the best climbing conditions I've ever experienced. Thankfully we were able to make it count. A quick stop for bread and we made the easy, quiet drive up through the Dourbie.
Within the first hour an onsight of the classic 8a of the crag 'Les Dernières Plantations du Christ' was in the bag and then the true prize of the day was my surprise first 8a+ onsight, 'Torticolis'. What a beauty! Big all out leaps between pockets and a head wall to rival climbing in Ceuse made for one very unforgettable climb. It was one of my best and favourite days of rock climbing I have ever had and the perfect way to round off a fantastic 2 weeks.
We celebrated back at camp with a brew and one final pain aux raisin before bidding Millau au revoir, and then began the journey home.


I seriously cannot thank Pete and Jon enough for all the driving they did and for showing us a such a good time! Not to mention all the sick photos! It is a trip that will sit long in the memory and I already cannot wait to make another journey out here next spring for some unfinished business and to sample more of what this wonderful part of the world has to offer.

Here's to our next adventure together chaps! Wherever that may be... :)