Friday, 10 June 2016

British on tour!

From the road the Tennessee sector rises up above your head and appears to be a sheer blank wall of formidable and intimidating rock. Even when stood at its base, at the first glance upward it looks to be blank still and hard to imagine where the routes could possibly go.

Then as you eyes slowly begin to adjust to the vast expanse of yellow, orange and grey limestone, the features gradually start to appear. You begin to see lines of weakness that weave their way through the rock and rise up and up into the sky.

I have said this before but it is crazy to think that something like this has been so perfectly sculptured for climbing. The holds perfectly shaped. Immaculate pockets, crimps, jugs, pinches, undercuts, all that fit the shape of the aspiring climbers hand like a glove. This wall has it all and all in a perfect succession that end up yielding some of the finest selection of routes I have ever climbed. These walls have been purposely built for climbing.


My month in France was without doubt one of the quickest months of my life and I now find myself back at home and reflecting on what was undoubtedly a wild few weeks. For me this trip was all about testing the waters (forgive the pun) with my elbow and just trying to climb in whatever capacity my body allowed. I still felt strong but honestly had no idea how things would go once consistent climbing on a daily basis kicked in.
French life is such a breeze. There is nothing better than waking up, chilling in the sunshine over breakfast, heading to the local bakery for fresh, warm crossiants before a day of climbing with friends, on spectacular rock amongst utterly breath taking scenery.

I am so thankful for the way in which my injury held up and utterly amazed at what I managed to haul my a$$ up. I came back feeling fitter and stronger than ever before, which is even more bizarre in some ways, and I really cannot wait for the next trip. Wherever that will be...
I have thrown together a series of random diary notes and thoughts, jotted down during our rare rest days and the forced downtime while waiting for the numerous storms to pass over. Thanks to my buddy and travel partner Jon Clark for providing some pretty sweet photos as ever!

Théorème de Thalès, 7c
Crag essentials...
Pizza La Muse!
The Jonte has been calling us since we arrived. We see its huge cliffs standing watch over our campsite every morning we wake. From this distance it is hard to judge the scale of these cliffs but they are undoubtedly impressive. Even more impressive though is how old some of these routes are and how fearless the first ascentionists must have been back in the day.
Flicking through the guidebook the size starts to become a reality and our mouths water at the prospect of getting up there. One route in particular was on our list from the start.
El monstro del muesli!

JC scouting out the huge sectors that form The Jonte!
A 45 metre 8a with a cool name and rumoured to be a classic. When we eventually made the sweaty hike into the crag we were greeted by full blazing sun and scorching heat. Nice, but not conducive to pulling down hard! After a lengthy debate we made the choice of 'screw it, we're here now' and set off up the baking limestone with not much optimism.
45 sweaty minutes later and with almost a full bag of chalk gone, I made it to the chain in one piece! It was a fight, but a hugely memorable one. The view from the top was even more spectacular and I sat up there, slumped in my harness for a short while and breathed in the cool mountain breeze.

We have all been there before but those occasions when something ends up going your way after completely dismissing all expectations, are quite often the sweetest. Once back on the ground I looked up and realised the entire crag had come into the shade! Typical.

On-sighting was never my bag. I never practised it enough. Never went abroad. Was never fit enough, and always got ridiculously pumped. A few years ago now I adapted my climbing style and suddenly became hooked on the big pump fests. My eyes opened up to the fun game of on-sight climbing. The unknown aspect and thrill that climbing up a piece of rock, first go, with absolutely no prior knowledge of the moves ahead, can bring. One minute you can be shaking out in a nice relaxed rest, French blowing the chalk cooly from your finger tips. Then within a few seconds you will be fighting for your life on slopey non holds, searching frantically for something to grab, 10 metres above your last bolt. Staring at a monster fall.

Fight or flight mode in full effect. The choice is simple, press on or take the plunge. Your brain goes into overdrive, trying to work out the most efficient sequence. Your lungs are working at full capacity, your heart is skipping beats and the oncoming lactic-acid laps at the door to every fibre in your body.
Climbing in this style is a real rush for me. It may sound like a living nightmare but it is an exhilarating experience and seriously rewarding if you make it to the top on that first go, after such a hard fought battle.

"Priez pour nous"
Tonight is curry night. We all need it. My arms are feeling a little jaded after topping out a 60 metre 8b on the Tennessee sector earlier this afternoon. Yesterday was 30 degrees, sunny blue skies. Today is 8 degrees, gale force winds and torrential 'showers'. This morning was way too cold to climb so we wait only to try again in vain after lunch. Jon then gets lucky with a sweet on-sight of Mosaïk Man and the sun slowly begins to warm our bones. I decide to jump back on 'Le plaisir qui démonte Extension ' while there is a chance the weather window will hold. This is some route. A real beauty with a series of complex and fun boulder problems that link together up a gently steepening wall. The climbing this time around feels almost effortless and I pull past the final crux and can finally relax on jugs of joy.
Then, out of no where the skies turn black and within seconds I am blasted with huge golf ball sized rain drops. I have no option but to take sanctuary in the small cave two bolts from the top and wait for the 'shower' to pass. 10 minutes later the monsoon subsides and I sprint up the easy finish to the belay and then it is back to base to dry off!

There are still so many routes to go at here. So many hard lines that I would love to put some real effort into. It will be some time before I visit this place again but I'll be back one day for sure. For now I shall be hanging out in the UK for a while and hopefully jetting off again in the not to distant future.

Thanks to my partners Jon and Pete and finally a huge shout to my sponsors Mammut for allowing me the time and means to head out here.

Check out my destination article in the spring addition of CLIMB magazine for a more in-depth look into the Tarn and surrounding areas. AND if you have yet to visit, make it your next trip. You will not regret it!

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