Sunday, 14 September 2014

J'aime la France

I must admit I am starting to fall in love with France. Its not that one off other side of the fence grass is greener sort of feeling that I had when I first travelled to Buoux at 16. It is the sort of love that just grows and grows. Over the years I have been to many places, most of the famous crags, Buoux, La Loup, The Tarn, Ceuse, Russan, Seynes, Peillon and on and on. All of which are truly amazing. Its not the usual haunts that are making it for me now though it is the more random and unheard of venues that are becoming a real pleasure. They take you away from the norm and into a new world, whilst venues like Ceuse are amazing they tend to absorb you and drag you into their world and sometimes you don't really see the beauty that is just around the corner or infact on the other side of the road.

Take every opportunity to rest up. Me and Cedric getting some shuteye.

This week we have been re-sampling the delights of the Gorges Du Tarn around 20 years on from my first visit with Ian Vickers and Naomi Guy. I went chuffing up some amazing climbs like Les Nouvelles Plantations Du Christ, Les Ailes Du Desir and the outstanding L’Odyssee De L’Espace, all a minimum of 50m they were pretty darn special. I even took a few moments at L'Odyssee belay. With a knee bar in I looked at the view, I took in the feeling of such a special climb before I clipped the belay, amazing. Every evening though we headed up and out of the gorge and away from the climbing to explore the high plains and villages. A stunning doss at the Pont Sublime one evening, another morning waking in the Gorge De La Jonte to count 24 vultures in one photo, a short walk along the GR6 with the dogs and an afternoon in Meyrueis all made for a more special visit. On wednesday evening we headed back to just north of Limouges to check on our horses as our friend who has been looking after them has hurt her leg quite badly. Hope you get well soon Becky. 

All looks good with Kate, Td and the ponies.

Not a bad view from a 20 acre field

The next afternoon we made the 1hr drive over to L’Angles-Sur-L’Anglin near Potiers, almost a pleasure to drive with so little traffic on the roads. Destination was Guignoterie, yet another old school crag with small pockets everywhere and almost vertical white limestone this was going to be a tough place to climb. The crag itself is only small, 100+ routes in a little sleepy backwater of France but as with all these crags it carries some history. Back in the 80’s it was frequented by the likes of Marc L’Menestrel and La Mouch. In fact it is apparently the home to the first 7b+ in the world to be climbed on-sight by BenoĆ®t Faure. Fissure Jaune is a wall and then crack, the white rock hiding the sequence to all, the only thing to read are the blackened feet as you try one finger then the next in a plethora of monos only to discover that its better with your thumb! 

The stunning L'Angles Sur L'Anglin

More fantastic photos of this wonderful village can be found here in all credit to Stephane Charbeau or here on

Checking out my Booster S

Thankfully I didn't fall, it was a pleasure to climb and imagine what it must have felt like over 20 years ago to on-sight on pitons! After that I climbed the only 8a of the crag, another excellent route with a tough and slappy crux, a really fun second half and a Gorges De Tarn style runout above the last bolt. The climbing was great but this wasn't what made the experience for me. It was the discovery of yet another stunning area in France. If you are ever near Potiers make sure you visit L’Angle Sur L’Anglain it truly is beautiful, yet another off the beaten track gem of a place and I cant wait to go back for some more.

Gorges Du Tarn tips.
Les Vignes is pants. La Malene is the place to hang out. Butchers, shop, pizza, water, toilets, free camper van parking next to the river and 3g make this the spot for an evening in the Tarn. There is not camping allowed near the climbing you could get fined.
If you are in a tent check out Camping Beldoire in Vignes.
Get the local guide. Whilst the Rockfax is great, there are more sectors to be had and less mistakes, more info and money towards the bolts when you buy local. In Rozier you can get the local Tarn, La Jonte and Cantobre guides for 50 euro.
Get a long rope, i rocked up with a 70 and had issues, 80 as a minimum.
Get your head in gear and prepared to got a long way above bolts.....10m was the most I found. The tarn is bolted for on-sight, not for doggers or clipsticks.
25 clips and some long draws and biggish balls will get you up most stuff.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Off the beaten track in France

So in a totally unplanned move we seem to be living in France. Well at least Kate, the horses, the dogs and a newly acquired Siamese kitten are. I am spending my time working in the UK with Scarpa, the GB Team and importing the wonderful shapes of Flathold into the UK and holidaying in France. You are probably imagining I have headed to the glory crags off Ceuse, the in vogue Verdon and Gorge De Loup or the hundreds of other jewels of Southern France. Instead i spent last week visiting the region of La Lot.

La Lot is a river to the South of the Dordogne, a stunningly beautiful region of rolling hills, valleys, rivers, lakes and more importantly not many people. The Medieval influences can be seen in many of the villages and hamlets and still retain much of their original magic, without the modern day influences of traffic and tourists that we struggle to escape here in such a cramped UK.

It has been a long-time since I have been on a road trip. The plan to visit un chartered territory, with only the local guide in hand. First up was St Gery, a crag i have wanted to visit for years aftr seeing an iconic Petzl poster of Dave Graham shaking out in a knee bar on the classic Bastion A La Mansion.

A pleasant walk in to St Gery

St Gery is a perfect place to visit with a van, as are all the crags around here. Every town has campervan parking it seems. Loo drops, toilet, hook ups and free camping. St Gery goes one better, its only yards to the cafe, boulangerie and super market and only 5 minutes to the crag itself.

A wonderful view back along the crag and La Lot
The Bastion Cave with a climber on a great 6c+
Dave Graham on the classic Bastion A La Mansion photo: Sam Bie

Next up was Autoire where the level upped as far as stunning villages go. The Cirque De Autoire provides a stunning view of another wonderful village, which when you walk through the streets the few houses there are seem to be a throw back to a bygone era. It is home to one of the best 7a’s i have climbed and a superb 8a that starts up a medieval castles wall high above the village. You could easily spend a week here, plenty of routes of all grades, tufas galore and if you are in need of a rest day there is plenty of kayaking around, the insane Rocamador village and the stunning Gouffre De Padirac to visit.
La Diable En Rit Encore 7a. A perfect tufa.

High on Reve Et Reveler 8a

Inside Castle De Anglais

Medieval door heel hook lowering!!

I had spotted another great looking crag in the guide which on the map is a Gouffre (cave or sink hole, similar to that of Gaping Gyll in the Dales). Roc A Dor is where the locals when the temps hit 40, it is always cooler climbing in a hole. Sadly it is not a well frequented crag and was more like climbing at Gordale at the start of the season where everything is a little dusty. The 6c was bit of a battle and when it came to an 8a i just opted to switch straight into red point mode with a brush in hand. Nevertheless it was well worth it and the 8a was as good as anything in Yorkshire.
6c Gouffre Climbing

On my last day i headed to an old school but very famous crag called Eaux Claires, home to the 1993 classic Hugh by Fred Rouling. Old school as in not steep, tiny pockets and monos, like a hard version of Buoux!! A quick scan of the guide I spotted one of the earliest 8a’s in France,  La Capallete climbed in 1983 is nails. I so schooled by it that i failed to do 3 of the moves….note to oneself, i must get better at half pad monos and pinkie pockets. Nevertheless i enjoyed the fact it was hard and will certainly be heading back. In fact I am writing the at Stanstead on my way back out. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Boulder Central Interview Part 2

So here you go part two of Jon Chittenden's interview with myself from Boulder Central. A little bit of chit chat about training, the future and why you should get involved in the comps.

A couple of weeks ago I headed for a morning session at the rightly named Awesome Walls in Sheffield. Climbing on such a big and fun wall made me giggle like a child on the best climbing frame in the world. It wasn't long before I started on the 7's and then it wasn't long until I was pumped out of my mind and falling off 7c. I wasn't too disheartened as I was having fun a great work out, even better today when I heard Ste Mac didn't fair much better.
Obviously I took my hard earned fitness to the rock this week. Monday at Ravenstor with Yann Genoux and I almost flashed the fun Call Of Nature. Climbing through the hard sections I just muffed my feet on the top wall and second go it all felt a pleasant journey. Next up was a trip to one of the best crags in the UK, Lower Pen Trwyn in North Wales. A quick red-point of Battle Of The Little Big Orme allowed me to tick another of Ste McClures 50 best 8a's of the list. Some pleasant young chaps were trying Over The Moon Direct so having already climbing this a few years ago I thought I would have a blast on Over The Moon as most of the clips were in. The arcing moon shaped crack is fairly notorious but it is something I have always wanted to climb. I battled my way again through the lower section again on the retro flash I guess, recovered well the rest and moved right to the crack. A quick fiddle around with the first jam, I chose the jam, spotted a cheeky heel toe and tussled to the top of the crack with a smile. A pleasing ascent of Over The Moon in a fun flash slash os styleeee. So much for training routes on the plastic. Cant wait to go back.

Monday, 9 June 2014

A little bit of luck

I always say that a little bit of luck goes a long way in all sports. Watching the Grand Prix from Canada yesterday I guess Hamilton feels a little unlucky to sustain some car damage that put him out so close to the end of the race and when he was going so well. Back in the day when I was competing Andy Earl and Mark Croxall always use the phrase "The Luck Of The Parry" when I pulled a climb out of the bag.
Does luck really exist or do you make your luck as Matthew Syed talks about in his inspirational book Bounce, The Myth Of Talent and The Power Of Practice.

This book I would highly recommend reading. Quality practice and repetition is the key I believe. The best climbers in the world aren't just that because they were born that way, they work hard at it. Ste Mac, Dave Macloed, Sharma, Ondra and Shauna Coxsey are all good because the train hard and try hard.

So what set me off today with this amble? I just came across an interview with Jon Chittenden that was filmed a while ago by the guys from Boulder Central, West Bromwich. I talk about many things including the highlights of one of my best years in terms of performances, 2007. I climbed 8B fast, in fact I was doing two a day sometimes and I became an Arco Rockmaster.

With Nalle and Jacky in Arco 2007. Photo Credit Alex Messanger

Topping Bloc 1 Arco 2007 Photo Credit Torsten Wenzler

This didn't come down to genes it basically came down to living literally in a climbing wall, Boulder UK Eating sleeping and breathing climbing with NO external influences and training hard. I won in Arco by one move over my good friend Nalle Hukkataival, a bit of luck you might say or was it that I chose to go wrong handed to get the higher hold :-), as we all know climbing is not just a sport for the biceps but sometimes the brain comes in handy too.

Shauna Coxsey now moves into a challenging and exciting two weeks, with the last two rounds of the Boulder World Cup to go in China and France. With all the hard work done all Shauna needs to do is keep smiling and enjoy the next few events. Hopefully some luck will shine.

Monday, 26 May 2014

A Kalymnian Omelette

Yet again it has been a while since I found myself on here. Its not that I don't want to write about the stuff I get up to but it seems to be even less common nowadays that I find myself with a moment to think let alone compose some thoughts. A wet bank holiday Monday seems to be a good place to get on the wagon again.

Last week I returned from Kalymnos and a 3 week trip. Kalymnos is a regular destination for me and I absolutely love it. There are always new people to meet, friends to make and obviously new areas to explore. The highlights of this years trip in no particular order were ET Cave (thanks Neil), St Photis (thanks Simon), watching the kneebar talents of Emilie from Canada, on sighting the amazing extension to Cigarillo-possibly the best 55m route in the Grande Grotte area, coaching another very psyched group with Adrian Berry from and having dinner at Pirates Bay.

Our workshop dates for 2015

To be honest though out of all that fun there were two things that stood out more than anything. A Kalymnian Omelette with added bacon from Sakis and bolting a new and very easy multi pitch route starting from the left side of Stankill and heading leftwards on some obvious ramplines into Panorama Left and making its way to the top of the crag in six pitches 3, 4b, 4b, 5b, 4b, 5b. The route is called Skywalk and will hopefully be a popular addition.

This one certainly won't be a soft touch ;-) Last years project.

Bolted ground up this years addition is a little bit easier than my project from last year. A 4pitch mega project above afternoon on which I managed to free the easiest of the 3 new pitches, the last one at a rather technical and pockety 8a. Sadly this year a couple of the small and delicate tufas remained wet so I will have to wait until next October to try again.

For the last 4 weeks I and probably a large and ever growing number of climbers in the UK have followed Shauna Coxsey and her quest for the IFSC Boulder World Cup title. With two golds out of 4 events and always on the podium the half way break gives everyone a well earned rest and an opportunity to train a little rather than just travel. Shauna will be back on our screens from Toronto this weekend. The tour then moves to Vail, a quick jaunt back to China and finally onto the last round in Laval France to finish off a mega busy and fast paced season. By the 29th of June no matter what happens it will certainly have been the most exciting series of competition I have witnessed since I saw first hand Mark Croxall win at Birmingham and Andrew Earl win in La Reunion. Bring on a World Champion summer for Team GB and a big thanks to all those that stood up at a time when we lost our funding to contribute to the peoples team.

My rest days at the moment are taken up in supporting Kate and our ponies in the quest to have 4 FEI (The Federation Equestre Internationale) qualified ponies by the end of this season. No mean feat when many people, even the top riders are pleased to have one or two that can stay sound all year and even more impressive when you consider that all ours are barefoot i.e. no horse shoes.

The life of  "The Crew" is not so easy!