March 27, 2009

The North Face 2009 Summit Series Road Trip – a Celebration of Climbing

A Journey of exploration – The North Face are proud to
introduce the 2009 Summit Series Road Trip – a unique spring festival of
climbing. The first event of it's kind, this 40 day road trip will combine
expert performance from the world's best athletes on famous rock climbs
throughout Europe with 'approach' days bring climbing into the local
communities.

The Summit Series Road Trip will be hosted by The North Face
athletes James Pearson and Gaz Parry. 
Beginning on 1st April 2009 with a Climbing Festival at the Castle
Climbing Wall in London, UK it will then cover a distance of over 11000 km,
ending on May 10th in MelloBlocco, Italy. 
In each country there will be a mixture of challenging climbing,
slideshows, master classes, demonstrations along with press and store
appearances; with 20 ‘summit’ days in classic venues climbing 20 of the best
Fr8a routes in Europe, and 20 ‘approach’ days talking to young climbers, the
public and the press. 

The motivation of the road trip is to inspire and to
encourage – to enable people to ‘discover’ climbing through listening to,
talking with and learning from some of the best climbers in the world.  Involving local schools and climbing groups
the aim is to influence young people in particular – encouraging them to live
the philosophy behind The North Face – to ‘never stop exploring’.

This will be a unique opportunity to meet, to listen to and
to climb with two outstanding and inspirational athletes.  They will be joined in different locations by
some of the world’s most renowned and respected climbers and alpinists
including Cedar Wright, Daniel Woods, Matt Segal, Simone Moro, Emilio Previtali
and Hervé Barmasse.

For James, “Thinking about the road trip fills me with both
joy and dread.  There will be some
amazing moments; we will meet incredible people, we will visit stunning places
and we will do some challenging climbs. 
But there will also be some epic times, in particular the long drives
through the night with far too little sleep. 
One thing is for sure, it will be an experience I will never forget ….”.

The North Face extends an open invitation to be a part of
the journey.  Seize the challenge and
join James and his companions at some point along the Summit Series Road Trip;
it will be an experience to never forget.

March 27, 2009

Where are we going?

Our trip is taking us through many countries and to many crags. I've created this map so you can see where we are going and if we're coming to a destination near you then come along and say hi.

A simple version of the map is below, but for a much more detailed version click here.

CommunityWalk Map – Summit Series Road Trip

April 1, 2009

T minus 2 hours

The trip was due to start on April 1st, a date
that could perhaps have been questioned. The 31st was spent
acquiring and then beautifying what is going to be our home for the month. It’s
a large camper that was delivered to us brand new with barely any miles to
show. A new camper van, an open road, and lots of climbing lay ahead of us. All
we had to do was get packed and hit the road.

As the 31st of March drew to a close James and I
started to pack the RV with all our belongings. We did one big load and filled
the RV with as many bags as we could. For some reason no matter how many times
I’ve been away I always manage to overpack for every trip. How many pairs of
socks and undies can one man need?!?! We ran back upstairs to get the final few
bags which were filled with cameras, video cameras, and laptops… but when we
got back down to the RV Inspector Pearson noticed something wasn’t right. It
was difficult to see at midnight, but James had noticed the window on the side
of the van had been pried open. The result? A broken window and a missing
rucsac. Blimey, we hadn’t even driven a single mile and already we’d hit a
setback. We opened the door to have a look at what had been stolen and it was
only my rucsac that had gone, solely due to the fact that it was the only one
which would fit out of the window! All the others were so large they were
immovable! Over-packing does have some advantages after all.

This has happened to me a bunch of times before and so when
it happens I’m not upset or despondent, I calmly try to remember every single
thing that in my bag. Whilst doing this I realised I’d lost all my climbing
equipment, harness, shoes, gri-gri, jumars, chalkbags, the lot! What on earth
would a bunch of scaly kids from Manchester want with that gear? After
compiling my mental list I turned to stage 2, trying to recover the bag. I went
into Clint Eastwood mode ( a la Gran Torino) and told James to stand by whilst
I scoured the neighbourhood. I was sure that they would have run a few hundred meters
with it and then opened it, realised it was worthless to them, and then ditched
it somewhere. I had little luck for 15 minutes but then I checked a dark
alleyway nearby… In a small corner that was behind a brick wall I could see
only darkness, but it struck me as the type of place to stash something. I
ventured forth into the darkness with my hand out in front of me and then all
of a sudden… fabric! WOW! My rucsac! I pulled it out into the light and James
couldn’t believe it. There it was, but unfortunately it had a long slice down
one side of it, where the thieves must have cut it open. Luckily for me they’d
taken a few pieces of clothing but left all the climbing gear. I continued to
search in case I found the clothes (no doubt ditched somewhere else) but came
up empty. Meanwhile James had devised an ingenious method of fastening the
window shut which you can see here;

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After repacking the RV we were ready to set off, cogitating
that it would be easier to drive in central London in the middle of night
rather than in morning rush hour. James took the first shift and got us out of
Manchester and onto the motorway. I was absolutely shattered and tried to get
an hour of sleep but James stepped it up a level and combined 2 cans of red
bull, 1 Boost bar, and pounding techno music to fuel him on the drive. He did a
good stint and before London I took over and slid the RV into Covent Garden. At
4am we finally found a few hours of sleep before getting woken up by sunshine and the hustle
& bustle of central London.

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Gaz, Gus, and Dave arrived early and the trip was finally
kicked into first gear for our press event at The North Face store. The team
was now assembled and the zero hour had arrived. From here things are only
going to get more hectic, more fun, and more interesting…

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posted by keith a.k.a unclesomebody

April 3, 2009

Embarkation

James and I awoke in Covent Garden to the inquisitive
glances of the many passing people. A big RV parked in Covent Garden with the
words “Never Stop Exploring” on the side makes for an interesting view, or so
it seems. Perhaps it was just the handsome men inside the RV.

Dave was on photo duty and the theme for the day was cheese.
James and Gaz were doing some serious posing down which attracted many glances
from impressed and bemused commuters. People were coming up to me whilst I was
filming and asking me what The North Face Summit Series Roadtrip was all about,
which gave me a good opportunity to start up a conversation with the better
looking female denizen of London. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to convince any
of them to give up their day jobs and join in the fun, but I’m sure I planted
that seed of exploration.

Once Gaz and James had belayed each other up the side of the
van several times (it’s a mighty 3m tall) we filed into the RV and set off to
The Castle climbing wall.

We arrived to a blank canvas of a wall so “The J” and “Big
G” armed themselves with drills and set to work. A few hours later the
competition was ready to start up and the concept was explained to onlookers.
In the red corner we had The J spearheading the team and in the blue corner we
had Big G doing his thing. Not quite a Rumble in the Jungle, but certainly a bit of Hassle in the Castle!

_MG_6216 Castle 
Photos courtesty of D. Simmonite

They each had a team of people comprised of as many of
the entrants that they could convince to join their team and the winner would
be the team who managed to ascend the most boulder problems. This was the fun
side to the comp but there was still the serious side of it, with a winner
takes all 1st place being awarded a superb TNF Minibus tent. The
competition went really well with people receiving lots of coaching from Gaz
and James, and the men ended up being closer than expected. Three people
managed all of the problems and so we went to a super-final. Whilst James and
Gaz had set tricksome problems for the comp, I set a much more basic and
powerful one for the super-final. After all, it had to separate the men from
the boys. It did just that and Richard Williams was crowned victor whilst the women's comp was comprehensively won by Saoirse Harris.

As for the overall team result, it was something of a
whitewash. One bucket was filled with scorecards and the other bucket only had
a few on it. The winner was outright and in this instance it was Big G. He’d
divided his time between coaching people on the problems whilst also running
around getting people to join his team. His recruitment skills were clearly up
there with his climbing and coaching skills.

Overall everyone had a great time and The Castle did an
amazing job of hosting, organising, and promoting the event.  It was a great start to the trip and as the
staff headed to the pub we hit the road for another few hours of driving…

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posted by keith

April 4, 2009

Sun, Sea, and Sexy Ladies

With the memories of the Castle drifting
away with the bumps and curves of the M3 we headed for Lulworth. Keith and
James took the drive in turns and I headed for my bunk and my fantastic new and
cosy Hightail sleeping bag. By 1.30am we had pulled over only 30 miles from our
destination to bed down for the night and join the numerous big trucks at what
looked like a truckers convention.

8am and it was the old guard first rise,
age and weak bladders being the key to an early start. Dave and myself headed
for a brew while the youngsters got their beauty sleep……..sadly 5.5hrs sleep
doesn’t make a miracle happen.

After a quick run around the kiddies playground,
100 pushups and a 5mile run each we were back on the road. We pulled into the
picturesque Lulworth village just as the sun was breaking through the early
haze. Lulworth Cove and Stair Hole, where our intended climb can be found, were
formed around 10,000 years ago and is still growing today as the wind, tide, and
rain continually erode behind the thin band of Portland Stone. It is now the
home to some of the hardest and steepest sport routes on the south coast of
England.

 

Lulworth-Cove

Sacks packed and a bounce in our step we
headed out for our first classic 8a of the trip.  I scrambled to the base of the route and
almost as expected it was damp. Its pretty common down here to start a day like
this but as the sun was shining I knew it would dry out soon. I opted to warm
up on Mark Of The Beast belayed by our “random chap along for the ride” Yann
Genoux of The Arch fame.  Unexpectedly there was also a bit of a surprise on the beach which gave us something to enjoy;

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James opted to abseil down Adrenochrome,
chalk the holds and work out the moves. With a quick belay he shot up it like a
rat up a drain pipe pausing on a bolt to work out the crux and shouting beta as
he went.

_MG_6569 Blog

Next it was my turn, Adrenochrome has
always been high on my list of to do UK sport climbs and I wasn’t let down.
With a huff and a puff I managed to flash the route and on topping out it
really dawned on me what an opportunity this next 40 days are going to be
like. Fourteen European countries to visit and
around 20 classic 8a’s to do, this is going to be a dream trip.

A quick stop on the way back to the RV for some delicious ice cream and a bit of chilling in the sun before hitting the road for our final destination of the day, Manchester. 

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 posted by Gaz

April 5, 2009

Day Off… But not for us

Friday found us up north in the home of The Smiths and the
greatest football team in the world. With only a masterclass planned for mid
afternoon we all wanted to make good use of the free morning to do the many
chores that were still on our to do list. Unfortunately, it seems the world of
PR never sleeps. James was awoken with a voicemail alerting him to an interview
which had been set up with Manchester TV and the Manchester Evening News for
later in the morning. James being ever professional he commanded his eyes to
open and forced himself to get out of bed. 

We arrived at the wall to be greeted by Kate from Brazen
along with Simon from MEN. After a quick rockstar photo shoot, James and Gaz set to work equipping them with
harnesses/shoes and got on with the mini masterclass session.

_MG_6838 TNF Summit Road Trip MCC

We had a good
chat and he seemed to understand the motivation behind the things that he was
hearing. We explained the climbing basics, the type of people who tend to do
it, and how it was much more that just a sport to a lot of people. Most
climbers regard it as something that defines them as people rather than just
another part of their lives. Climbing tends to overtake everything and soon
becomes your whole life… much like ivy or any other invasive plant. Simon initially
said he had a fear of heights but it turned out not to be a problem and ended
up doing a selection of routes with a smile on his face. Interestingly he said
that it was something he didn’t think he’d enjoy but after a small sample he
was motivated to come back for more. He listened well and picked up the
climbing fairly quickly.

MTV bailed on us thanks to ladies days at Ascot which came
as a great surprise disappointment, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Manchester
climbing centre (MCC) had originally planned to organise masterclass sessions
with local schools but it transpired that today was a school holiday. Although
letters had been sent to all the schools in the vicinity only the keenest
students ended up arriving. This wasn’t a bad thing for us or them as the ratio
of students to trainers was much lower. One kid in particular stood out, the
one who turned up! Luke was super motivated and eager to learn. He had a technical
ability rarely seen in youngsters. Unlike most with a climbing style like that
of an ape, swinging around on jugs, Luke used his feet and his momentum very
effectively. Luke took onboard all the advice he was given and adapted to it
very quickly. His innate understanding was very good and he was so impressive
that we suggested he join the local climbing academy which will hopefully
further his development.

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We left Manchester going northbound on the m65, destination
Malham Cove. On the way up Gaz was telling us tales about the nice pubs in Malham,
so our first port of call was The Buck Inn for a quick pint, feeling like it
would be a perfect refresher for our tired souls. Unfortunately the experience
was far from pleasant. After having one round we went back outside into the RV
to eat something and were soon greeted by an irate landlord who wanted to make
it perfectly clear that we couldn’t stay the night parked in front of his pub.
We explained to him that we were just stopping for an hour and that we’d be
moving on shortly, after taking some pics of our RV in front of his pub. He
seemed pleased with the free publicity and headed back inside. As far as we
were concerned all was cool and so we continued with the few tasks at hand until
approximately 10pm when a now even angrier landlord came storming out,
proceeding to shout and bang on the van demanding that we leave. We tried the
softly, softly approach, telling him we’d be moving in 10 minutes, but he
wanted none of it and probably awakened local residents by shouting at the top
of his voice that we would be awakening the locals. His parting words as he
stormed back into the pub were “get the f**k out of here”, which we felt were
totally out of order. Being parked on a public road with absolutely no parking
restrictions we were under no obligation to move but since this man had
appeared to have lost his temper we did our best to diffuse the situation by
driving down the road.

In our opinion the experience we had at The Buck Inn was
that the cider was chilled and so was the welcome. All of us felt that it was
without a doubt the worst experience we’ve had at any public house, which means
a lot when you consider that Simmonite was also on board. Our advice is to
avoid The Buck Inn unless dehydration is about to send you 6ft under.

posted by Keith and James

April 6, 2009

Bye, Bye, Blighty… Hello Margrethe II

Finally a day without either climbing or any other masterclass/PR/lecture
obligations. All we had to do was make sure we made it to the port of Harwich
by 5pm. We set off early with plenty of time and made swift time as the M1 was
fairly free flowing for a change. A quick stop via PC World to replace an
already lost laptop charger and before we knew it we were in Harwich.

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After boarding the ferry we weren’t about to let our day
slide away without doing something funny or interesting. Our first problem was
finding a way to get out of the car deck;

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Afterwards we hit the top deck to enjoy our first moment of
doing nothing but chilling in the sun;

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As soon as we entered the cabin I suddenly came up with a
potentially funny concept. I don’t want to give too much away but suffice to
say that Big G and [insert name] pulled off their roles with much aplomb.
Perhaps there will be a small glimpse of what took place in the first of our
weekly video blog updates.

My next bright idea was to get up super early to film what I
imagined would be an awesome sunrise over The North Sea. We asked the crew for
information regarding sunrise time along with our bearing so we could plan our
position on the ship. At 5am the alarm starting ringing and we all started
moaning. I was very tempted to stay in bed but I had this wonderful image of a
perfectly round glowing orange sun rising slowly over the sea casting golden
light onto the surface of the water. It all looked so good in my mind so I manned
up and dragged the other boys out of bed. We headed out onto the deck and it
was still pitch black, with nothing visible apart from the odd oil rig on the
horizon. We were assured that the sun would rise at 5:30am but it was clear to
me we wouldn’t be seeing any sun anytime soon. We huddled down inside the door
and Gaz took the opportunity to K.I.M out.

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We waited and waited for the sun to rise and when it
eventually did appear it was nothing like I had imagined. No golden globe on
the horizon, no beautiful reflections on the surface of the water, just an
early morning sea mist. There was something happening in the distance and the
sky was getting lighter but the footage was a write off. Disappointed and
desperate to get back to bed we all sacked it back to the cabin and got in
another couple of hours.

Overall, all of us are feeling fairly pooped already. When
we were originally looking at the trip outline everything seemed to fit in
nicely like a completed jigsaw. Now that we’re on the road and having to be at
each place at a certain time things are looking far more complicated. Various
things are taking far longer than we planned for so we’ve yet to just have any
time to sit and chill out. Looking onward to the rest of the trip things are
beginning to become far more real. We’ve got so many places to visit and so
much to do that trying to foresee a moment where we’ll simply be able to chill
out in the RV is looking very unlikely.

 

April 8, 2009

Intermediates

Unfortunately many hours of driving makes for less than
interesting blog posts. We arrived in Denmark only to then drive across it and
enter into Sweden. We did our very best to try and see one pig in Denmark, it
being the home of Danish bacon, but we failed miserably. As we entered into
Sweden we decided to have a little sweepstakes whereby the first person who
spotted an Ikea would be crowned winner. We drove and drove northwards towards
Gothenburg getting increasingly dismayed by the lack of Ikea’s. For some reason
we expected to see those big blue buildings all over Sweden but it’s proven to
be far less popular over here than it is in the UK. Eventually as we entered
Gothenburg Gaz nearly jumped out of his seat with a scream of delight as he
spotted the first (and only) Ikea.

About 10km before arriving at Hyltebergen we pulled over
into a picturesque rest area for dinner. The sun was setting as Emily cooked up
a storm and James erected his… slack…. line, courtesy of Rock and Rapid
Adventures. Being a Gibbon slackline it went up in under 60 seconds, which was
totally rad because James then decided that only those who could walk it’s
entire length were entitled to some tasty dark chocolate. Thankfully I made it across
with what can be described as appalling style. Gaz did it with style and grace
and James simply made a run for it. After we tucked in to our reward we set off
towards the crag, whereupon we met an old seaman.

Unfortunately the only interesting pictures we have from
today are the ones taken from the van whilst driving down the motorways of
Denmark and Sweden… Make of them what you will.

 

Bridge wide

Entering sweden

IMG_0096

 Bastad 

Vagkok

April 9, 2009

A little less complication, a little more abstraction…

We awoke in yet another new country and we had rocks to
find. The menu for the day involved the Swedish classic of Abstrakt, located in
the imposing crag of Hyltebergen. Abstrakt was one of the first 8a’s in Sweden,
first ascended in 1991 by Henrik Sennelov, and is regarded as one of the most
classic ones to try and do. It’s a superb looking wall of very nice granite and
it doesn’t take much to get psyched for it. Jens Larssen (of 8a infamy) came to
meet us and gave us the lowdown on the route, which he described as both very
technical and hard for the grade. James wasn’t filled with confidence but he
set off and went bolt to bolt figuring out the beta.

Gaz had his binoculars out inspecting the route and between
the two of them they got it all sussed. Gaz unlocked the top tricky section
whilst James unlocked the crux using an overly powerful sequence, and between
them they thought had it all figured out.

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Gaz set off on his
flash go, inspired by what Jens had said about no one having ever
flashed/onsighted a route of this grade in Sweden. Unfortunately, the overly
powerful sequence wasn’t the way this route wanted to be climbed and Gaz ended
up slumped on the rope. It only took him another couple of minutes to refine
the sequence involving heelhooks, small footholds, and a deep lock. He then
went bolt to bolt swiftly and came back down to the ground for a rest. After a
surprisingly brief chill out Gaz then set off again and cruised upwards hitting
all the footholds and handholds perfectly, even finding a rest position mid
crux. 

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James was up next and now that the easiest possible sequence
was sussed out it was execution time. Unfortunately a long rest has left his
fingers cold and when he reached the first crux a momentary lapse of
concentration saw him slip off. Immediately coming to the floor and re-warming
up his fingers he went for another go. This time it looked like a completely
different route, as if all the holds (hands and feet) has been transformed into
jugs. A vertical walk in the park!

IMG_0618-edit_resize

With both of them having crushed the route of the day it was
time for me to have a go. My first time on a rope in nearly 4 years left me a
little perplexed. I went up and followed the same ritual of going bolt to bolt
but the difference was that I was getting super pumped even doing this. It was
both amusing and dismaying in pretty equal proportions. I came down to the ground
and knew I had a chance if I could climb efficiently and quickly. I set off and
fired through the crux, then shakily up the layback middle section. Arriving at the
tricky top section I couldn’t feel my fingers and my forearms were bigger than Fred
Nicole’s, which left me sailing back down to ground. I wasn’t too surprised at
the pump level but I was quite pleased that I’d managed to get that far. Clearly
overpowering moves can only get you so far… Once you hit the wall of pump
there is nothing you can do and I’d hit it with the speed of a bullet train.

The warm up/down for the day was a 6c called Mefisto.
Normally easier routes are all the same, which is boring, but this route is
anything but boring. It’s absolutely wonderful. A long pinch feature that worms
it way up through a bulging wall with some of the most glorious pinches I’ve
ever seen. It’s certainly worth seeking out this route if you come to this
area.

After finishing climbing for the day we went to the
headquarters of 8a.nu (Jens’ apartment) then out for a few drinks in
Gothenburg. Unfortunately it being a Tuesday night the blond haired and blue
eyed sights we were hoping to see weren’t out and about…

 

April 10, 2009

Dunderdone!

One of the worst things about being new to foreign lands is
being taken for the proverbial ride by seasoned locals.  This morning, I feel we were well and truly
shafted by a little old lady in what I can best describe as Gothenburg’s answer
to the good old greasy spoon.

What we lost out on the breakfast, we won back on lunch,
proving beyond doubt that both karma, and physics, are on the right track.  Ikea’s meatballs are a credit to this fine
country and at less than €1.50 a pop, did our wallets no harm either.  Delicious, nutritious and very easy to cook,
a couple of bags of these frozen wonders found their way into our trolley and
will make for perfectly simple meals when team Chef has to go home.  Whilst dashing around the rest of the store
looking for Tupperware (how rock and roll…) and a big pan, we came across a
curious thing in one of the bedrooms walls; infamy at last!

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Free and easy WiFi was proving difficult to find and as we walked
and drove from place to place attempting to find a stable signal, the hours
slipped by unnoticed until it was almost too late.  Our slideshow was finished only ten minutes
before hitting centre stage, and the video we planned to show as the grand
finale was still being edited in the van. 
Gaz and I talked with our fingers crossed; silently hoping that Keith
would do the deed and deliver the footage before our closing speech.

I find the audience reaction you will receive for a lecture
incredibly hard to judge.  In the UK, I
recently gave two identical talks, at the same venue, on the same day, with the
two audiences reacting very differently from one another.  When you add to this mix a healthy dose of
language and cultural differences, it really could go any way; you just have to
suck it and see! 

Keith came up with the goods less than 1 minute before Gaz
went running out to get him, and on the whole it seemed like our talk went
well, with the laughs coming in all the right places and a lot of positive
feedback afterwards.  For the first attempt
of the trip, I was pretty pleased and I am sure it will just get better from
here on in.  The most memorable moment of
the night was being introduced to the first ascentionist of Abstrakt, Henrik Sennelov; it was
great to chat with him about the climbing around Gothenburg and also to thank
him first hand for such a great route to climb.

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Before signing off, I just want to thank everyone that
helped make this event happen, especially all the guys at Fjall Sport.  Nice one chaps, catch you later…

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 written by James

[Ed - Apologies for the lack
of pictures, but it’s now 6am and we’ve been driving since 11pm... they will be
uploaded in the morning when we wake up at 9am to drive for another 4 hours.
Rock’n’Roll isn’t dead... but we are!]

April 11, 2009

Webisode 1

After many up's and down's here is the first weeks video clip
showing some of things we've been up to. I've been blighted by very a
irregular internet connection which has made editing and uploading very
difficult. However, nothing can stand in the way of pure psyche and
determination, so internet was tracked down, editing was done, and here
is the final product.

I hope you enjoy it and stick around as each week there will be another little something something for you…

You can view it in High Definition by climbing on the Vimeo logo and watching it on their page.

Summit Series Road Trip – Webisode 1 from pascal brown on Vimeo.

April 12, 2009

The Nightrain

We arrived in Copenhagen without any problems and our first
stop was naturally the little mermaid statue. I’d seen it before but the rest
of the team wanted to see what all the fuss was about. How disappointed they
were. It’s not particularly impressive as a single piece of art but it never
fails to draw a big crowd of people. The tourists flock here in droves and
today was just the same. Someone (it depends who you ask!) came up with a funny
little idea and we set about filming it. I won’t reveal too much right now, but
this picture might give you a little something to mull over;

IMG_0692 blog edit

Finding a small bronze statue had been easy, but finding the
climbing wall proved rather difficult. We had an address and we had sat nav,
but we were still left stumped. James and I jumped out to continue the search
on foot (which ended in us looking confused) whilst Gaz and Em drove around
some more. We all returned to our rendez-vous location and were stumped until I
had the bright idea to ask a couple of girls on bicycles. Being in Denmark they
spoke perfect English and they knew just what we were looking and it’s
location! One of them tried to explain but it was so simple it was complicated.
We were only a few hundred yards away but access was complicated so what was
the eventual result? She jumped back on her bike and led the way for us! A very
nice gesture I thought.

Once we arrived things weren’t a lot clearer. Most, if not
all, walls in the UK are privately owned companies but there is a trend in
mainland Europe to have community run walls. Each day a different member is
responsible for opening/closing the wall and perhaps the general cleanliness.
What this means is that a community of climbers can have a big wall without unnecessary
cost. Small streams culminate in mighty rivers… There weren’t many people in
the wall but one of them did know that there was a TNF event today. Luckily we
got the contact details of Jan, the chap organising it, and he did a great job
of rallying around to find a projector and screen with very short notice for
the lecture.  The wall wasn’t too busy
for two reasons; 1. The weather was gorgeous and 2. It was a bank holiday
weekend in Denmark so everyone had fled the city! However, it’s certainly not
all about numbers as being with a small group of people is often more rewarding
for both parties. The dream team split up with James taking the beginners and
Gaz taking the more advanced climbers. It was all going swimmingly and James
had just used his magic to get one girl up her hardest ever boulder problem.
She was clearly made up, but only a few minutes later her good run ended when
she fell off and dislocated her ankle! A short visit to the hospital and then
she, somewhat surprisingly, reappeared for the lecture with a smile on her face.
Clearly her psyche wasn’t at all injured.

After finishing up at the climbing wall we set off on our
next quest – the seeking out of internet. Luckily I have a good friend who
lives in Copenhagen and so after sweet talking him with promises of free food
he let us all head over and chill out at his flat whilst we showered, ate, and
caught up with the world wide web. Whilst we may be travelling around Europe
sampling wonderful crags and wonderful routes there are more things to see/do
than that. I can’t claim to be able to review every Michelin starred restaurant
in Europe (or even 1) but when I find a good thing I want to share it. For
dinner we ate what Pearson declared “the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten”.
Unknown to him I’d previously eaten the same sandwich and I’d also made that
same declaration, so if you’re ever in Copenhagen and have the choice between
visiting the little mermaid statue or eating this same sandwich then the answer
should be perfectly clear. Pizza Sandwich. The name is deceiving as it’s only
the bread, which is baked fresh on site, which has anything to do with pizza.
The rest is perfectly seasoned roast beef, cheese, olive oil pesto, lush
tomatoes, and of course the incredible bread. Always warm and the perfect
combination of soft on the inside with a slightly harder outer layer. A great
sandwich which can be enjoyed at this location (to be updated in 24 hours!).

Whilst enjoying this wonderful spread we were suddenly
brought back down to earth. Steve had asked me earlier where we were going next
and I’d casually replied Eindhoven. I didn’t know how far it was but I’d
assumed it would be the standard few hours drive. I looked it up and suddenly
we all had a strong taste of dismay in our mouths.

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None of us could quite believe it was actually 800km away
and the night was already getting late. We had to be in Eindhoven in approx 14
hours, whilst also finding some time to sleep/eat/pee along the way. We wrapped
things up and hurriedly started packing up. It’s not a lot of fun to realise
that you want to go to bed but instead have to jump in the hot seat and drive.
I decided to take the first stint and also made an executive decision regarding
my intake of caffiene. Whilst I’ve given up caffiene, I decided that tonight
was the night when I really did need a zap so Emily sorted us out with coffee
and off we went. We plugged in the address to the sat nav, had another round of
dismay, and left Copenhagen just before midnight. Then plan was for me to do a
couple of hours then hand over to trucker Gaz who would add his tally, after
which we would sleep for a while then James would do the morning shift. After
about an hour Gaz noticed something a little strange with the sat nav. There was
a symbol of a boat shown, something which I’d never seen before, and worryingly
it was in 50 miles. We didn’t really know what it meant, but it didn’t take a
couple of geniuses to guess that the sat nav was taking us to a port from which
we were meant to be getting a ferry. We arrived at 2am expected to hunker down
for the night and wait for the first ferry of the morning but amazingly there
was one leaving in 15 minutes! What beautiful efficiency!

Whilst we’d been driving I’d asked James to write a blog
entry and he’d got straight on it. Unfortunately some of us were more tired
than others and he’d only lasted about 10 minutes before falling asleep with one
hand on the keyboard!

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A quick power nap on the ferry and 50 minutes later we were
at the other side, which we afterwards realised was Germany. I felt rejuvenated
and so quested on into the night. Gaz was a perfect co-driver as he not only
stayed awake, but regaled me with stories of old. The night dragged on and the
kilometres continued to fall, with only 1 pit stop for fuel in this random deserted
little town which was home to this;

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I’d hit the wall and broken through it several times, but
just after 5ish the final wall came at me with unrelenting force, so I passed
the buck to Gaz who took over without any fuss. He did the final 80km and we
finally pulled in to a service station for a few hours sleep. As we pulled down
the blinds the sun was already rising and before I knew it I was awoken by the
rumble of the engine as James had arisen early and was getting back on it.
Several more hours of driving later we arrived at Neoliet with a whole 30 mins to
spare before things were due to start. The staff at Neoliet and CJ Agencies
were a well oiled team of people and things were very well organised. It was almost
the antithesis of the previous days affair. We seem to have a strange nack for
arriving at places either on school or public holidays and today was no
exception, as it was a bank holiday here too. The staff seemed to think the turnout
would be good so we waited until the kids were to arrive and they did, in
droves. James took about 25 kids under his wing and started to show them the
utility value of being able to do a figure 4 and something called “full body
dynamic movement” (he claims it’s a both a trademark and copyrighted). Gaz took
care of the older youth and the adults, giving them plenty of guidance on the
lead wall with physical as well as mental advice. I’m always interested to see
just how much people get out these masterclasses. Not only do they learn some
of the ways of efficient movement, but they get a confidence and motivational boost
as well. The kids were especially made up with James’ performance, so clearly his
skills transcend language as some of them didn’t even speak English!

After Neoliet laid down a mighty feast it was time for Gaz
and James to do their lecture whilst I was stuck in the office trying to
quickly edit some fresh footage for them. It’s now become our way of operating whereby
my editing finishes rendering a matter of minutes before they need it. I’d like
to think we’re somehow in tune, but in reality I think luck is simply on our
side. The lecture didn’t exactly go smoothly, as earlier James had been
fiddling with his powerpoint and when he wanted to play a few videos they had
all mysteriously disappeared. None the less, the gathered throng were pleased
with what they saw and heard, which culminated in a little preview of next week’s
wepisode. Needless to say it had them giggling, so keep your eyes out for that
one.

After all this there was nothing to do but drive. It’s the
same old story every night, with us having to drive several more hours to our
next locations. Luckily tonight’s drive was much shorter, being only a 2 hour
stint to Brussels where we were fortunate enough to have Sara, who’d kindly
made dinner and provided beds! After the previous night of only 3 hours sleep
we were all destroyed, so after munching we all did our best to achieve the
impossible – over 8 hours of sleep!

 

April 13, 2009

Home from Home

Today marked a turning point in the trip!  Up until now, we have all been feeling tired
but today is the first time we changed our plans because of it.  Crag visits have previously been early
morning affairs.  This was to maximise
time on the route and to utilise the rest of the day for travelling between our
chartered destinations.  However, after
the recent epic drive and general lack of sleep, we decided on a mid afternoon
start, which we justified to ourselves by the romantic thought of evening light
on the route.

This allowed us to sleep in to 9:16am after which we arose
and took a quick tourist visit around Brussels. The highlight was without doubt
the delicious waffles that we all enjoyed, and the biggest disappointment was a
small statue of a pissing boy (with what seemed like every tourist wanted to
see!). Keith made us do some hardcore posing down and of course we obliged,
outside my friend Phillip’s house;

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The pissing boy;

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Once again, and just like in Copenhagen, the most famous things
are certainly not the best. The grand square was FAR more impressive than the pissing boy, though it’s ambiance was slightly ruined by the thousands of tourists. Without doubt
the best thing was the waffles and fries. The Belgians really know what they’re doing
when it comes to fries and waffles.

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The only notable crag in Belgium is Freyr and I have heard
varying tales of its quality. Keeping an open mind, we arrived at the parking lot
and made the short hike to the viewpoint for our first look at what Freyr had
to offer. The crag was stunning. We were faced with huge, beautiful limestone
walls, featureless in some places, with a river running alongside down through
the valley.  The winding path to the base
of the valley was long and often quite treacherous. It made us hope that there
may be another way to get back to the van, steep hills not being ‘our thing’.

The style of limestone and rock formation at Freyr is almost
identical to Peak District limestone, except on a larger, much grander scale
and a little less polished.  We had
chosen to try a route called God Save The Queen (which seemed like an
appropriate name due to the similarities I just mentioned) but had very little
information about it apart from a few pictures we had seen on the internet.

As we wandered along the base of the cliff, we said hi to
two local Guys who had obviously read about our visit from the map and schedule
on this very blog.  They seemed pretty
psyched for us to be visiting their local crag and chatted to us for a few
moments about the area and the route, providing us with key information as to
where it actually started.

The route was very difficult to read as the dry ground (a
manmade walkway) only kicked out 3 feet from the base of the crag. After
stripping down to my undies, i waded out knee deep to get a better look; but
quickly had to retreat as my feet starting to go numb with the icy water.

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Gaz stepped up to the plate first and made a gallant effort
at onsighting the route, putting in the clips. After spending almost half an
hour on the first 15 metres, a foot slip from a polished hold saw him airborne
all too close to easy ground.  I now had
a good idea of where the route went, and if anything it made me less confident
than before.  The initial traverse had me
especially worried and looked like there was deck out potential from the 2nd
bolt from very insecure slab moves.

I warmed up a little on the neighbouring 6c by going up 1/3
of the way then climbing back down taking the clips out, which was maybe a bad
move as the climbing felt rather hard. 
White limestone such as this is very hard to read and easy routes can
often feel the living end due to a bad sequence or approach.  (Un)Fortunatley with Gaz shouting move by move
beta up ttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt
(sorry for that, i just fell asleep) to me I had no such excuses when the time
came to try GSTQ; failure would simply be on me.

Gaz’s beta worked almost flawlessly, and I sketched and
shook my way to the belay for my first flash of the trip.  Despite holds that on first acquaintance seem
rather grim, the route climbs very well and is really enjoyable.  When the hands are tiny, the feet are good,
and vice versa making for a very varied route. 

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The climbing is never “comfortable”, you feel like you could pop off at
any moment despite not physically being that tired!  Yet another style of route
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(and again…) we have experienced on this crazy trip.

Gaz got back on and cruised the route as the sun was
beginning to set.  All that remained was
the long and steep walk out which turned out to be just as awful as I had imagined,
although not as awful as it was for Keith who had to do it twice as he left Gaz’s
camera at the bottom! 

The beer and fries from the restaurant at the top were
incredibly welcome and for a few hours we almost forgot about our
schedule.  As the clock struck 10pm,
reality hit home and we began another long and late drive to yet another
country.

[ed – once again it’s nearly 2am and internet issues are
causing problems with the photos, so exercise the mother of all virtues and I’ll
get them uploaded when I wake up tomorrow - now uploaded - enjoy!]

April 14, 2009

Frolics in Fontainebleau

 

In between Belgium and Spain is France, which is home to the
best bouldering area in the world, Fontainebleau. It made a very convenient pit
stop on our drive south and we pulled in to Maisonbleau to say hi to the folks
who run it.

Given that all we seem to think about it food and climbing,
the first appointment of the day was with some fresh pain au chocolat. Without
a doubt the best pain au chocolat are made in France. Each country has it’s own
speciality and Frances is most definitely the pain au choc. Once we were
suitably filled we headed out in to the forest in search of everyday climbers
exploring their own limits. Whatever level you climb there is always a
challenge and surmounting that challenge is the only reward any climber needs,
but today we had a little extra something for them.

We arrived at a packed Isatis car park and loaded up with
North Face goodies, then began scouring the forest for worthy recipients of our
gifts. It didn’t take long to find lots of people who were pushing themselves
on the sandstone boulders. We came across French, British, Italian, Brazilian,
Dutch, Spanish, and German climbers who’d all come to Fontainebleau in search
of high quality bouldering. The diversity was pretty amazing considering we
were only in one area and we hadn’t walked for more than 10 minutes!   

The plan was to give away various caps, mini-duffle bags,
and (de) stress balls. Gaz and James didn’t make it too difficult to earn a
prize, giving them to those who were topping out, those who were failing but
trying very hard, those who were good looking, and those who just wanted to get
involved. Everyone was really psyched as it’s not every day two strange looking
men start handing out gifts in the forest! Once everything was given away and
everyone was satisfied we headed to another crag for a spot of bouldering. It
was great to see everyday people pushing their limits and hopefully the little
gifts would remind them to never stop exploring.

I’d wanted to finish off an amazing problem called UBIK
Assis which I’d nearly done earlier in the year. Whilst warming up it became
clear that conditions were exactly prime but it was really nice to be out
climbing with good friends and on great rock. The forest does have a special
ambiance and all of us were revelling in it. After warming up I decided to get
involved, whilst Gaz and James decided to do just the opposite. I guess they’re
in dedicated route climbing mode so a 7 move 8B probably isn’t the best rest day activity
for them.

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I tried hard though and made it through the crux a couple of
times but the final holds just weren’t quite grippy enough and I wasn’t
overstrong enough. The result was very close but no cigar. Oh well, we’ll be
coming back through font in a few weeks and I’ll probably get it done then. The
good thing is that not climbing for a couple of weeks makes no difference to
basic strength!

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We returned to Maisonbleau to enjoy the feast which Neil had
prepared for us. We’re so lucky in that at least one of us knows someone in
nearly every location we’re going to which means we have a place to eat,
shower, and enjoy an hour or two of home comforts. At 11pm we said our goodbyes
and started driving South, next stop Bilbao, Spain.

April 15, 2009

Driving South

Arising somewhere in France, Gaz took the helm and continued
the drive southwards. The only agenda for the day was to arrive at Baltzola
before falling asleep. Whilst to some people a 7 hour drive might seem like a
long day, to us it now seems like a form of relaxation, at least for those of
us not in the driving seat.

A number of fuel stops later we’d broken through the border
and were heading towards Bilbao. It was approaching dinner time so we detoured
from the motorway and headed into San Sebastian. We were blown away by the
sheer numbers on the streets, the beaches, the terraces, along with every other
nook and cranny. We wanted to get ourselves on the beach for a quick sunning sessions
and a bite to eat, but parking a huge RV proved impossible and so we let fate
decide our course. We took random lefts, rights, and straight ahead’s.

Sometimes the hardest thing in life is to know which bridge
to cross and which to burn.

Where we ended up was approaching perfect. We left the lows
of the beach behind and ended up high above the sea, looking down at a
beautiful coastline with an orange sun setting majestically over the hills. It’s
much like I had imagined it should be when we were on the ferry from the UK to
Denmark. To our left we could see snow peaked mountains in the distance and to our right was the Ocean and sandy beaches. It really doesn't get more picturesque! As we basked in the last light of the day we enjoyed a delicious
dinner and the setting sun provided a perfect backdrop for setting the slack
line up, with the intention obviously being to impress some of the local Spanish
chicas. Unfortunately they were more amazed by our cabbage than our slacklining
skills.

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One of the most pleasurable parts of this trip is going to
new places and seeing before unseen things. Not only do we see new crags nearly
every day, but the places in between the crags are often more magnificent.  Our random find for a dinner spot was truly
spectacular and it reminded me of how many amazing things there are to be seen
around the world. For me, travelling, exploring and discovering all this beauty
around the world is a real privilege.

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Another couple of hours of driving and we bedded down near
where we thought Baltzola cave was… which was pretty much guesswork since we
had no topo, no guidebook, no knowledge, and no local to show us the way!

April 16, 2009

Baltzola; Big, Burly, Bueno

After another night of not enough sleep the alarm brought us
all back to reality. However, the alarm wasn’t alone in it’s noise making as
the RV was acting like a big tin can with all the rain pouring down. Opening
the blinds did little to instill confidence as visibility was barely more than
5 metres. The weather is always a huge factor in rock climbing as it’s
generally regarded as being impossible (or completely foolish) to climb on wet
rock. With only 1 day in each location we’ve been incredibly lucky that no
venue has been a washout, but today things didn’t look so good. Instantly we
started brainstorming about alternate plans and what we should do, but before
any rash decisions we’re made we drove down to the tourist office in Dima.

First things first, a guidebook. Unfortunately the woman who
worked there (who spoke excellent English which is always helpful to us Brits)
didn’t have a guidebook, but she did know the location of the cave. Gaz worked
his incredible charm and managed to convince her that it would be a good idea
to let Gaz use her computer to try to find something online. The first thing he
did was to check facebook. This is what Gaz does under normal circumstances,
but at a time like this it seemed an insane use of time. We were proved wrong
when Gaz got in touch with Stu Littlefair who’d been to Baltzola before and
after waiting for what seemed like an eternity we had a response! This was what
we were given by Stu in order to find the cave and then the route;

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Whilst all this was going on the tourist office lady was
running around to try and find a guidebook, which amazingly materialized 5
minutes later. Our luck really is impressive! We found the Baltzola section,
took photos of every page (as this copy wasn’t for sale) and headed back out towards
the cave. It was a good thing we hadn’t tried to find it on our own as we’d
spent the night in the wrong place. We arrived at the parking and the
clouds/mist were lifting which started to give us a bit of hope. There was
nothing to do but enjoy a cup of tea and assess the situation. Gaz’s tea must
have had a little something extra in it (not just copious amounts of sugar) as
he was overtaken with psyche and commanded us to get up there.

On the march in we met some locals which came as a great
relief when we set eyes upon the cave. Gigantic is an understatement. Whilst
not the tallest, or widest, overhanging section of rock in the world it is
still an incredible cave, with 3 independent entrances.  It’s difficult to look up and take in it’s
sheer size. Your head end’s up spinning your body around so you can look out at
the end of the routes.

the view from inside one of the entrances (the dark scary one!);

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The routes here are mainly long, with some falling in to
the super long category. The route for the day was supposed to be Illuminatis,
8a, but a local told us that a hold had broken so now it was slightly harder.
Coupled with the fact that it was so dark in the cave that it was difficult to
see the holds another route was chosen, Black Kongi, 8a+. This is one of the supposed shorter routes in the cave, tackling only a small section of what it would be possible to link. This small section is still a decent length route and is only a tiny part of what you can see in the picture at the bottom. The scale really doesn't translate well in any of the pictures!

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The sky was still
very grey but this route was on the outer part of one of the cave entrances so
route finding wouldn’t require a headtorch. Upon first inspection it looked
fine with lots of juggy tufa’s hanging all over the place. The ground behind
the route is on a slope and so you can walk up to look at nearly all the holds,
which lulled James into a false sense of security. As we inspected all the
holds, clips, rest positions, etc, everything seemed easy and the route looked
quite short. I even quipped that it would just be a longish boulder problem.
How wrong I was, with James and I realising this from rather different
viewpoints. I suddenly realised what a monster this route was when I went to
set up a wide shot for the video camera. Now I could see just how steep and
just how long this route was. James realised the same thing when he went to the
very bottom and tied in. He set off but didn’t get too far before getting
somewhat confused by the slopey tufas and awkward positions. He came to the
ground dismayed and immediately declared that this route was a no go for him.

Gaz opted out of trying to flash it, deciding it would be
wiser to go bolt to bolt and then have a good redpoint go. He set off and
before long was finding holds and rest positions that previously hadn’t seemed
there. It helped a little that another local had come up to shout beta for
every section! The route is comprised of a series of slopey tufas (along with
the rare hidden jug) up to an uncomfortable knee bar rest, from where a v6
boulder problem remains. Once he’d worked it all out he headed back to the very
muddy earth and took a rest. Meanwhile James had been down to inspect
Illuminatis and seemed to have a meta-sequence all figured out. Before he could
get his pounce on Gaz tied in and was getting adrenalized. He set off, climbing
swiftly and smoothly knowing every hold placement and every foot position. It’s
amazing just how quickly he (and other top climbers) can figure something out
and then climb it with a high level of efficiency. He reached the kneebar rest,
milked it for all it was worth and then headed out into the top boulder
problem. A precarious foot stab to a jug nearly caused heartbreak but he power squealed
his way through to reach the final hold (a bolt on!) and clip the chains.

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So now it was James’ turn on Illuminatis. The sky had
cleared a little and we were briefly treated to a bit of sun and blue sky. This
had the wonderful bi-product of casting some much needed light on Illuminatis.
Not only did this help with the route finding but it meant I could see
something more than a blurry shadowy figure in my camera. He went up, refined
his meta-sequence, confirmed his send sequence and then came back down. The
route isn’t long, in fact it’s probably one of the shortest routes in Baltzola.
A fingery, gently overhanging wall, leads to a full on roof section and an
amazing last move. An all out cutloose throw/jump to a slopey pod in the middle
of the roof, from where the chains hung awaiting a victor. James tied on,
psyched up, and set off, despatching the lower all without any fuss. Before the
roof section is a jug from where it might be possible to rest a little and
depump a little, if you’re fit enough to be able to rest there. James seemed to
be on the cusp of this resting ability, not really gaining much back but not
getting more pumped either. After some deep breaths he tackled the roof section
and reached the final move. It’s a real make or break move and is easily the
most dropable move on the whole route. He dug deep and crushed it, latching the
slopey pod and seizing the moment.

Of course Gaz couldn’t resist having a go when the moves in
the roof were clearly so good. His flash go saw him getting incredibly close, a
small heel slip before the resting jugs causing him to fall off. He quickly
pulled back on, worked the moves to the end, and came down for a quick rest. By
this point we were so hungry (having forgotten to take the food bad to the
crag) that a long rest was out of the question. He set off, cruised the lower
wall, rested for a while on the jugs looking as cool as a cat on ice eating a
double chocolate magnum, then despatched the roof section.

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All in all, a very successful day. After waking up to rain
and crazy idea’s about driving for hours to another crag we’d climbed in
Baltzola and done more than the single 8a for the day. Although we were
starving we were all psyched and left feeling like we’d turned a potentially
awful day into a great one.

Baltzola is not a crag for beginner as the warm up’s go 6c,
7c, then 8a’s and up. To get the most of it it seems that you need to have a
massive amount of stamina and be climbing in the 8c range. It’s a truly mighty
cave and it’s potential is not even nearly fully realised. There are projects
there in the 9a+/b range and unbolted lines that seem possible when you look at
them in small sections, but rapidly become ridiculous when all the small parts
come together to form a whole. This whirlwind trip continues to impress, with
another very impressive crag added to my mental database of climbing locations!

a small part of the cave; 

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April 17, 2009

Meeting in Matrice

A cemetery would not usually be
high on peoples list of sleeping venues, but last night it ticked all the boxes
we needed; flat, quiet and easy access. 
We slept soundly and woke at around 8.30am to the sight of a huge heron
chilling out in the field next door, before deciding to spread its massive
wings and take flight. 

Manzanares El Real is a small
town on the doorstep of La Pedriza, one of the premiere granite climbing areas
in Spain.  This granite area is home to
some of the toughest slabby sport routes in the world and more recently has
started to spawn some fairly tasty boulder problems, with many, many more still
to be developed.  We had arranged to meet
with Dario, the editor of Desnivel, for a spot of climbing but unfortunately
the weather had other ideas and we had to settle for a chat over lunch instead.  We all have to suffer for our art.

We made it into Madrid for around
5pm, ready to start the evening’s event after experiencing, and overcoming,
some minor computer issues.  First up was
Gaz and I’s masterclass for valued customers and select members of the Espacio
Accion climbing club.  We split the
students into two groups based on ability and separated up to do our individual
introductions and talk about past experiences. 
I quickly realised I had drawn the proverbial short straw in the ability
stakes, as a couple of my students had climbed up to 8b!

It is always much more difficult
to coach experienced climbers compared to novices/improvers, and you certainly
don’t expect to see any drastic improvements in a single session like you would
by showing a beginner how to drop knee. 
However, we can all improve on our technique, and so this is what I
focused on, taking climbing right back to basics and working on perfecting the
fundamentals.

After the masterclass, we dashed
straight into our lecture which was due to be translated live, a new experience
for us.  Beforehand, we had tried to slim
down the content and simplify the language to make it flow smoother whilst
being translated.  Despite getting laughs
in all the right places, it did seem a little disjointed and is something we
will try to improve on for next time.  As
well as constantly learning more about yourself as a climber, this trip is a
great opportunity to develop and practice new skills, like working quickly and
thinking on your feet. 

Manoeuvring and parking the van
in and around Madrid without a crash, a ticket, or a break in was a feat in
itself.  After getting lucky and finding
a perfectly usable street that was closed for roadworks, we left the van and
joined the party in a local bar for food and drinks.  The grub was good and the beer freely flowing
but unfortunately we couldn’t stay too late as another 6 hours of tarmac
beckoned [Ed – what James means is that
he allowed us to go in for all of 10 minutes with the sole purpose being to eat as many snacks as we
possibly could before he commanded us to leave!]
.  This was probably a blessing in disguise as
after a couple of long and tiring weeks on the road, two beers hit me hard [Ed - He didn't drive!].

 

April 18, 2009

Something Bigger

Once again our late night driving had deposited us somewhere
near to Margalef and James’ morning stint got us in to the town at about 10am.
I was sleeping in the van during the morning journey but when I woke up, pulled
up the blind, and looked outside I was dismayed by what I saw. Valleys
unfolding in every direction each filled with more majestic orange and black
rock outcrops. When you come from England it can be a real eye opener seeing
something like this. I’ve travelled a fair bit, from California to Mongolia and
I’m now coming to realise why Spain is the capital of the sport climbing world.

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We were once again winging it though, with no guidebook, no
info, and no idea where we even needed to park in order to find the rocks.
James’ foray into town to find a guidebook was a failure but Gaz was again seized
by overpsyche and we headed back into the vertical maze of Margalef. We found the
Refugi and there in front of us lay the guidebook. Only one thing stood in
between us and walking out with the guide, cold hard cash. Between the 4 of us
we didn’t have a single cent and the nearest bank was laughingly described as
being in some other valley. Clearly we had a problem, which was further
aggravated when the chap running the refuge said he was closing in 5 minutes.
Gaz turned on the charm and convinced the man to give us the guidebook now with
the promise that we’d return later to pay him. Result one.

Back down at the RV, Emily had cooked up her trademark
amazing scrambled eggs (challengers should apply here) and we enjoyed a
peaceful moment out in the sun, perched next to the valley river. By the time
we were finished we had a destination chosen and we zoomed up the rocky valley.
We passed buttress after buttress of awesome rock and eventually landed at the
parking lot, overshadowed on all sides by our choice of crag.

We had a mini epic locating our route of the day, after
looking up at huge 40m overhangs that were supposed to be 7a but clearly looked
the living end. Once we’d got our internal GPS working we realised the 7a’s
were way over to the right and the routes we were looking at were at least 9a
(or undone projects), but we located our 8a and it looked amazing. An initial roof
section led to a long overhanging section which eventually rounded out to
something not too far away from vertical. Gaz and James appeared to cruise the
7c warm up next to it, but then both declared they were pumped out of their
minds. The crag was busy and amongst seeing numerous women climbing in the 8’s
we bumped into Danny Andrada, who was working several incredibly hard looking
projects.

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Once Gaz had depumped he set off on the 8a, after getting
the beta from a team of Spaniards who didn’t quite manage it but showed us all
the moves. Having some knowledge of the moves enabled him to climb quickly through
the first half, almost as if he was redpointing. The upper section was a little
bit more challenging, and once through the crux he had to maintain a high level
of concentration to climb the head wall, via a series of shallow pockets and
the obligatory mono. He clipped the chains to enjoy his second 8a flash of the
trip, and whilst coming down he was muttering something about a spiritual
experience (clearly the pump had got the better of him).

James’ go was nearly as successful but he arrived at the
crux and decided to miss out the crucial pocket, instead crossing over into a
nothing hold (a foothold I think), and was so committed to the movement that he
couldn’t reverse to change his sequence. A small mistake like that turned a probably
8a flash into a failure, which reminded me how much of a fine line treads between
success and failure in climbing. He pulled back on without much rest and
climbed smoothly to the top, confirming, in my mind at least, that it was more
than likely an 8a he could (should) have flashed. Once he came down he had to
take a ticket for the route as there were a number of people who wanted to try
it. Whilst waiting around for the others to have their go’s he decided that he’d
rather go down and belay Emily on some other routes, so we wrapped things up
and descended from the crag.

Margalef is a very impressive place and if you’re looking
for a new sport climbing destination then it should be very high on your
potential list. The scenery is amazing, the routes are wonderful, and the whole
vibe is peaceful. There is something there for everyone, from super easy slabs
to 50m 9a overhangs, to full on project roofs that jut out into nothingness. So
far this is the only place I’d consider coming back to, which is something
considering I’m a pretty dedicated boulderer. By the end of the day I had
visions of getting fit and spending glorious day after day climbing the seemingly
endless supply of wonderful routes.

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Before leaving town we made peace with our man at the Refugi
and then began the obligatory night drive, thankful that it was only a couple
of hours this time…

April 20, 2009

Bro’s and Ho’s

Early in the morning I woke up and enjoyed a magnificent
dawn and eventual sunrise come up over the mountains in the distance, a view
that Gaz will be seeing more of in the future, as we were in Cubelles so he
could sign the papers finalising his purchase of some land. He is now the owner
of a small piece of Spain, on which he will no doubt build his empire…

The next stop was Barcelona which was a short 2 hour drive
down the road and before we knew it we’d arrived at the Pueblo Espanol,
Barcelona’s outdoor architectural museum, next door to the art museum.

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We were scheduled to meet Evasion Magazine
along with Oscar from TNF for a spot of lunch. This was a moment that James was
especially looking forward to, as he loves nothing more than a free swanky
lunch. We weren’t disappointed and all of us enjoyed a very fine plate of grub.

The previous night James had phoned a friend of his in
Mallorca, trying to convince her to come and join us for a part of the journey.
We were psyched for this as the sausage ratio wasn’t acceptable but Neus was
reticent to commit to the trip. It’s always easy to make an excuse and not do
something, but a couple of hours later she called us back and gave us her flight
details! It didn’t matter too much that James had told a few white lies about
there being a bus full of ripped, handsome, and intelligent gentlemen for her
to hang out with… He’ll say anything to get a girl through the door…

Towards the end of meal Neus arrived and joined us for her
first stop on the tour, a masterclass and slideshow and La Salle climbing wall.

We arrived at 6pm for the 5pm masterclass thanks to
horrendous traffic in Barcelona no doubt caused by an unseasonable torrential
downpour. It was passed off as fashionably late, and I’m beginning to think
that Gaz and James are beginning to believe their rockstar status too much. All
the parody rockstar photos we’ve been doing could well have begun going to
their heads! The climbing wall was packed, which I’m sure James and Gaz would
have you believe was because of their rockstar status, but in actuality it was
(at least) partly due to it being a small wall. After the huge numbers at the
Madrid masterclass I’m sure this came as a nice change. Smaller groups mean
more personal tweaking of each individuals strengths and weaknesses which
inevitably leads to more rapid improvement.

Whilst they made dreams come true I was dealing with a
nightmare of capturing and speed editing footage to comply with the demands of the
two prima donnas who want everything, right now.

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Whilst editing is normally a
time consuming process, one that should be enjoyed like a fine malt whiskey, I
was effectively getting my street drink on the go with a bottle of buckfast. There
is always a positive slant on everything though and whilst I was locked in
editing hell I was reminding myself that great pressures create great diamonds.
Unfortunately 1 hour isn’t enough for diamonds to be formed so when it came
time for them to come running down to me I only had a lump of coal to give
them, which isn’t always a bad thing. Imagine if you wanted to have a fire! The
video was enjoyed by the crowd and a certain part of it got a lot of laughs, so
all being well you’ll be able to see it within 24 hours.

The next day was something we hadn’t yet experienced, a
relatively easy day – practically a day off – and Emily was due to fly out at
11am so there was nought else to do but live it up in BCN. The OG plan was for
Julio, from TNF, to take us out on the town – as we’d asked him to find us a
party when we saw him in Madrid. Unfortunately, a last minute alteration to his
night meant he couldn’t party with us, but he did organise a back-up plan, in
the form of Jaume. Before Julio left us he warned us about Jaume – saying he
was a party animal and most definitely DANGEROUS. We explained to Julio that
all of us were christened with Danger as our middle name so it wouldn’t be a
problem. 

Neus and Danger

Neus and jaume

Soon enough the danger of Jaume became all too obvious, when he
explained to us the Spanish tradition dedicated to one of their finest saints,
Sanny Larry. It boils down as an excuse to drink, and comes in the form of a
phrase you recite (in Spanish) and then down your drink, otherwise your mother
is a whore (so the saying goes). The game is played in pairs which worked in
our favour as Jaume was working against a 1:3 ratio as he was playing it
against all of us so it gave us a small advantage.

James Pearson Masterclass La Salle 079

The night moved on, from restaurant to bar, then from the bar
to a club called El Moog. As we walked in Gaz suddenly realised he’d been here
before, remembering something about being in a wire mesh (turned out to be the
DJ and not Gaz). We partied on and the first to bail were Gaz and Kate who
called it an early night at 4am. The younger crew stayed on, partying hard, and
domination was had. When 6:30am came around it was James and I who were still
going strong if you can call it that. The others were either tired or looking
worse for wear and so we called it a night (even though it was still a little
early – in terms of the normal BCN party). Dawn was already beginning and the
birds tweeting as we lay our heads down for a couple of hours of beauty sleep.

At 8:30 it was rise and shine. The most leisurely day so
far, with the only requirement being a 450km drive. Easy money. But no one
wants the easy life – where’s the challenge. Whilst dropping off Neus and Emily
at the airport we quested around to try and find some flights in the next hour
or two going to mallorca. Neus had offered to drive us around for the day and
had some spare hours, so why not squeeze in another 8a? We found a wide choice
of flights that would deposit us in Mallorca in a couple of hours and return us
before midnight, leaving us with a 4 hour drive to finish off the day with. We’d
budgeted for around €100 a person for this crazy jaunt, which we thought would
be enough, but it turns out that trying to buy flights on the day isn’t cheap.
Nowadays the airlines would rather have empty seats thanks to the high cost of
fuel – or so we were told! The cheapest flights we found were about €260 each
which was way too much for a day of fun in the sun, so we kissed goodbye to
Neus and got back onboard the bus.

Now that all the girls were gone our finely balanced bro-ho ratio was all ruined. It had only been perfectly balanced for a mere 12 hours
but what a 12 hours it was. The brightest stars burn for the shortest time…
so with an infinitely bad bro-ho ratio we headed on. If the bro-ho ratio has
left you confused then I suggest this informational video for your perusal;

With a whole day ahead of us and only a 4 hour drive, we
headed to the beach for a little chilling out. Whilst James and Gaz took a nap
on the bus (lightweights) I was busy trying to capture, edit, and sort through
lots of footage.

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After a short jaunt on the beach to enjoy the view we began a
leisuresly drive to the Gorge du tarn via a brief stop in Montpellier to pick
up Mark, making the sausage ratio even worse (although if something is
infinitely bad then it can’t get any worse!).

 

Apologies for the lack
of blog update yesterday but we arrived at Gorge du Tarn and realised that none
of us had phone reception which meant no internet.

 

April 21, 2009

Gorge-us

In keeping with our 20 day tradition of drive late, wake
early, we arose once again to see magnificent rocks all around us. Whilst
arriving in a new destination at night can seem a little underwhelming, the
first impression in the morning is no doubt magnified by the extra wait.

I was bowled over by the imposing nature of what I could see
on both sides of the gorge du tarn. Beautiful orange/grey/white walls stand
proud, lining the valley with a lifetime’s worth of potential routes. The route
for the day was picked from a list of suitors and Bar-bitturique was deemed the
greatest (judged by those who use 8a.nu to rate climbs). Gaz went up to check
it out and came back down declaring that it was certainly not the 20m that it
was listed as in the guidebook.

When we all arrived up there we realised what he meant. It’s
clearly a boulder problem on a rope to a marginal rest then a few steady moves
to the chains.

James just about making use of the marginal rest

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It had chalk on it already which made it somewhat easier to
see which holds to use and gave James and Big G something to ponder over
regarding the sequence. They’ve been taking it in turns to go first and today
it was James who was leading the assault. He had the sequence locked in and
dialled 0800-Power as he set off. The boulder problem start revolves around
9/10 moves which lead you to a flat hold above the bulge on a near vertical
wall, from where the romp to the top is easy and unsustained. He cruised
through 9 moves and then there was a moment where I thought he was about to
drop it, but a slap to the flat hold saw him claiming his first 8a on sight of
the trip.

DSC_0101

Big G was up next and was clearly feeling powered out after
the night partying in BCN. He wasn’t up to his usual standards and it took him
a couple of goes to put the route to rest. So far on this trip Gaz has been a
machine, sending every route either flash or 1st go, so we were all
concerned when it took him more than 1 go. Luckily I think a good night’s sleep
will see him back to his usual crushing form!

Whilst they were trying it I was busy filming, but in the
back of my mind I thought I should give it a go, since it was very short and
could be a great opportunity to try and flash a semi hard route (for me at least!).
Both G and J were convinced I could flash it, which didn’t fill me with
confidence, only pressure to perform. They gave me the sequence more times than
I care to remember and as I set off I was turning it all off ready to just pull
as hard as necessary. I made it through to the same place where James had made
a semi shaky slap, but I’d already used up all my shaky slaps, so I had nothing
left to give and I fell going to the flat hold. My fingers were far too cold
after a ridiculously ineffective warmup and further to that I had ripped a
large flapper out of my ring finger. It was a close call and I’m sure that a
better warm up would have seen me clipping the chains to a soundtrack of 80’s
power ballads.

Within minutes the skies had turned grey and rain was
looking imminent. We’d been warned that the forecast for the afternoon was
rain, so we’d been lucky that the early start had paid off. As the clouds began
to unleash we headed back to the RV for a spot of lunch and another long drive
to the next destination. The original plan was for the next stop to be Ceuse,
but after hearing reports of very cold conditions we changed our destination to
the super classic crag of Buoux, home to perhaps the most classic 8a in the
whole world… Reve de Papillon!

The new webisode will appear in a few hours when we have an internet connection that isn't via my mobile phone!

April 21, 2009

Webisode 2

We've been trapsing around for nearly 24 hours trying to find a decent enough internet connection to upload this new webisode, and at one point I nearly gave up hope. But it's darkest just before dawn and Gaz manned up to call his friend Louise at Mountaingirl who was kind enough to hook us up with a good enough connection to get it dunderdone!

So here it is… enjoy it. As always, click through to vimeo to watch it in HD!


Webisode 2 from unclesomebody on Vimeo.

April 22, 2009

How Apt

We arrived in Apt late
at night with stomachs full of excitement but devoid of food. That’s one
drawback of all this travelling, we don’t often get to stop and eat regularly
so we end up eating snicks and snacks throughout the day, which means that come
late evening we’re starving. Tonight was the same and we cruised around Apt
looking for something to eat. Asking the locals provided no help and we were
hit with a reminder of what it’s like to be in France once again. At home we’re
used to being able to get pretty much anything at pretty much anytime, so not
having that is a change. In the entire town there wasn’t a single place serving
food!

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Waking up in the
morning we were all in psyche mode. It’s not everyday you get to come to such a
historic crag, where your heroes once climbed what were the hardest routes in
the world. Buoux was home to the first 8a and 8b in France, along with
Agincourt, the first 8c in the world and first climbed by Ben Moon. The first
8a, Reve de Papillon, was bolted and climbed by the Le Menestrel brothers and
was our goal for the day.  It’s a fairly
compact route, divided into a boulder problem start to a good resting jug and
then a moderate top section. Gaz had climbed the route before, but watching him
trying to remember beta was like watching a goldfish trying to remember what it
ate for dinner yesterday. He basically relied on general routefinding skills to
decide what sequence to use, then set off.

Having done a route
before can make for a psychological boost in my opinion, thus making it more
likely for an easy repeat. With his best tights on, Big G made Reve de Papillon
look every bit as excellent as I’d always imagined. He reached the half height jug
and whilst hanging there recovering he suddenly discovered an unknown (to us!)
rest;

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Once rested he shot up
to the top and bagged a good retro flash of the route. On the way down he
marked up the holds and explained a very detailed sequence of moves to James,
who was doing his best to mimic each and every move. When Gaz eventually
reached the ground, James had all the beta and there was nothing left but to
tie on and see if the beta would work.

At the end of the
initial traverse section James’ feet cut loose right in the middle of a hand
movement and suddenly all his weight fell onto the pocket his right hand was
in. It looked like that would be the end of his flash attempt, but by utilising
some cat like reflexes his left hand instinctively hit a random hold and he
managed to just about grip on. Shaken but not finished he pushed on, and after
a very shaky slap managed to reach the jug for a well deserved shake out. He
regained his composure and released the pump, after which he followed in Gaz’s
footsteps to cruise easily to the top. He clipped the chains marking his second
8a flash of the trip whilst also ticking off one of the most famous and classic
routes in the world.  

We headed down to the
café at the bottom of the crag for the boys to have a celebratory beer and also
as an excuse to relive some of the moments from Buoux 8c. The place was fairly
deserted since it’s not exactly tourist season but thi gave us an opportunity
to meet Amelie and Emilie. Amelie owns/runs the café/hotel and after we told
her what route we’d climbed she casually mentioned that her sisters husband had
bolted and climbed a lot of hard stuff at Buoux. Clearly we asked who this was
and it was none other than Antoine Le Menestrel!

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Once again, luck was
on our side as when we were getting ready to leave the heavens opened and the crag
was drenched. Had James or Gaz not climbed it first go then we may well have
still been up there getting cold, wet, and eggy. The weather was one of the
major concerns for this trip as it could have potentially ruined the entire
concept of travelling around Europe to climb the best 8a routes. However, now
that we’re exactly half way through we can report that the good weather is
travelling with us and we’ve got our fingers crossed that it stays that way.

[pics will be forthcoming in the morning - it's 3:30am and we've just finished driving, the mobile data connection is pathetically slow and so I'm going to bed!]

April 23, 2009

Santana Cham

Finally another day which was supposed to be mainly chilling
out, and we all were desperate for a few hours of downtime. It feels as though
the trip has stepped up a gear now with barely an hour passing that we’re not
climbing, filming, or driving. Several days have seen us only eating one meal
due to a lack of time to stop and eat! However, I’m not complaining, this trip
is an amazing opportunity and all of us are constantly reiterating to each
other how cool it’s turned out to be.

We’d come to Chamonix for the boys to do a lecture and
slideshow but somewhere along the line it had fallen through and so the only
appointments of the day were with a couple of journalists. Instead of using
this day to relax and enjoy the sights of Chamonix we’d instead come up with a
concept for what (I hope) will be a very funny addition to the video. We’re
currently working with a long list of ideas to spruce up the video, some of
which are so far out there that I doubt they’ll see the light of day even if we
do film them. The concept that your eyeballs will gaze upon are pretty much
guaranteed to get your laughing gears in motion, but I can't guarantee that it will be tasteful enough for the internet, so you'll have to wait for the directors cut on DVD. All being well it should be available at some point in the near future from your local special interest stores.

In the afternoon in between finding props and meeting with
the journo we found some time to hit the local crag. Gaz and James are always
psyched to find new bits of rock but when we turned up they dropped straight
into this completely natural pose which I think communicates what they thought;

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Once we’d found a stable internet connection to upload the
webisode from we turned our attention to storyboarding the nights concept.
Coming up with funny things is easy when you’re with the right people, and in
our case the sum of our comedy parts is MUCH greater than individual parts. We
had the concept, we had the vision, now we just needed the props. It wasn’t too
hard to find what we needed, phone calls were made, and times were set. What
resulted was a combination of fun,debauchery,madness,big pimpin, a realignment
of the bro-ho ratio, and an individual’s confession of the night being the
weirdest thing they’ve ever done.

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After the heart rates subsided, we were left with only one
thing to do, spend hours driving into the night. Leaving at 1am, with a 4.5
hour drive to Voralpsee, we made it a couple of hours before crashing hard, the
final act of the night being the setting of an alarm for 7:30am at which point the driving commences again!

April 25, 2009

Event Horizon

As the eager readers may have noticed, there was a distinct
lack of a blog post yesterday. This was due to some rather unexpected
circumstances, which you’ll read about below. I want to offer my sincere
apologies for ruining your day, but I hope that this post will make up for it.
This could end up being a very long post, as lots has happened, but I’ll try to
communicate it as succinctly as possible (well, perhaps not as succinctly as
possible…).

On Wednesday morning we woke up in a random location (as
normal) and Gaz took the captains seat to drive us the few hours to Voralpsee.
Everything was going well, but at about 50km from the crag I heard a strange
noise. It wasn’t the strange noise (or smell) of Gaz or James’ morning display
of masculine stupidity, but something that was perhaps more serious. To
understand more fully how we’d arrived at this point it’s worth explaining the
back story. Early on in the trip I heard a noise from the engine that I wasn’t
convinced was normal, and I mentioned to Gaz that I thought there might be
something amiss with the turbo. He responded by saying that the noise wasn’t
audible if you turned the stereo up, so he did just that and drove on. It
definitely didn’t seem like a serious noise, but something that I logged in my
mind. Now fast forward to Wednesday morning at about 10am. We’d already been
driving for a few hours when the noise suddenly became a little worse, which
caused us the great problem of being audible over the music. Within the space
of a few km the noise had become louder and rougher, so we did the only
sensible thing and pulled over at the next junction.

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The RV had no power and clearly something was wrong with the
turbo. Being top class mechanics we opened up the hood and stuck in our heads,
only to see a bunch of black hoses connecting various bit of metal. Not much
help there. I guessed that the turbo had broken internally and was hopeful that
the broken blades hadn’t done any damage further into the engine. We didn’t
start it up again and James made the call to Fiat Assistance, who called
European Assitance, who called someone else, etc. Whilst James was doing that
Gaz was setting some different wheels in motion. When the proverbial fecal
matter hits the fan you can rely on Gaz to have the phone number of a girl who
can help us out. James got off the phone explaining that a tow truck was coming
in approximately 90 mins, whilst Gaz got off the phone explaining that we had a
local strong (and pretty) girl by the name of Nina Caprez coming to pick us up.

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So far during this trip Big G has climbed each and every 8a
we’ve been to, and a broken down van wasn’t about to stop him questing to
Voralpsee to add Alaska Kid to his ticklist. The team had some hard and fast
decisions to make so we huddled up and broke out the plan. Gaz and I would
leave with Nina whilst James and Mark would stay with the van until assistance arrived.
It wasn’t an ideal plan but James is our Dad on this trip so he had to take the
responsible role whilst Gaz and I jetted off with Nina to deal with the more
fun side of this trip.

We were flying fast and light, although we’d brought some
warm clothes since Nina had warned us that it would be cold up there and to
expect some snow. How much we’d underestimated what we were getting into would
be revealed until we were questing in to the crag.  In the car park there was perhaps 20cm of
snow, but most of it had melted. It didn’t look too bad but things only got
worse as we got further in.

Below the crag of Voralpsee is a majestic lake which sits in
a basin nested amongst tree and snow covered mountains. It’s exceptionally picturesque
and in summer I think it would be a stunning location to go rock climbing, but
on Wednesday the lake was about 50 percent covered in ice and nearly everything else
was covered in snow. The Voralpsee season doesn’t really start this early, but
being foolhardy (or brave) we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. The snow was
initially ankle deep which was annoying as our feet were getting wet, but not a
huge problem. I stopped to film Nina and Gaz walking along the side of the lake
in the snow and it turned out to be a good decision. As they were walking I
suddenly saw Nina fall waist deep into the snow, her feet actually going
through to the water of the lake! One step further it was Gaz’s turn and echoing
around the basin were his shouts of frustration blended together with my
laughter. Trying to walk sideways up the bank proved impossible as the snow was
too deep so they bravely pushed on, constantly falling through the snow before
eventually arriving at solid(ish) ground. As funny as it was for me watching
this I wasn’t looking forward to actually following them through it, so I was
hugely relieved when Nina pointed out the path we should have been on, located
slightly higher amongst the trees. I caught them up fairly rapidly, getting
nearly as saturated in the process, but we were all having a real adventure so
there was no frustration, only enjoyment. It was a nice change to have a mini
epic like this to reach a crag when the past few weeks have mainly involved
5-10 minute walks along well defined paths. A change is always as good as a
rest, so in a rather strange sense this was quite welcome.

When we eventually arrived at the slightly overhanging wall
Gaz and I were shocked by it’s apparent meatiness. This wall is home to plenty
of hard routes, with only a couple of them being in the 7th grade.
The others are all 8th or even 9th grade routes, so it’s
not a wall for punts like myself. Nina is the unclesomebody proclaimed Queen of
this wall, having climbed every route except for Speed, which is 8c+/9a! Alaska
Kid was Nina’s first 8a which she’d done 5 years ago and this would be her
first time on it again, so she was keen to see how it would feel. Gaz had visited Voralpsee many, many years ago and could remember little apart from how incredibly hard a 7c+ had felt when he did it. He was expecting Alaska Kid to feel half a grade harder but Nina assured him it was easier than the 7c+ he'd already done!

The warm up was the 7c route next to Alaska Kid, which Gaz
fell off and Nina cruised. Uh oh. Gaz hasn’t fallen off a warm up this whole
trip so this came as a real surprise to me. What also came as a surprise to me
was how amazingly Nina was climbing, but this wasn’t even the main show. After
reaching the top Gaz climbed over to the chains of Alaska Kid and came down the
route, inspecting all the holds, trying some of the moves, and brushing the
slightly dusty limestone. As Gaz was abbing down he’d actually become confused
as to how one climbs this piece of wall as he couldn’t see any holds. Only
after realising that the non holds he was looking at were the actual holds did
it dawn on him that this may well be the greatest challenge of the trip thus
far. Nina tried to encourage him through his dismay by telling him it was much
easier to climb upwards than look downwards, which is generally a very true
philosophy. Once down to the ground Nina stepped up to the plate and set off.
Also surprisingly, she fell off after missing out several holds and using what
can only be described as less than non holds. Gaz proclaimed that he’d buy me
drinks for life if I could do this route, which at first might seem like a huge
insult but it’s not. It was simply a way for him to communicate to me just how
tricky this route was!

Gaz’s first redpoint was an impressive affair. He was really
trying hard, conjuring up strange reverse guppy rests next to cross through
palm smear ones. It was all very technical and if you’re ever in a masterclass
with him you should ask him about the rests on this route!

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After resting as much as he could he set off, reaching the
top crux looking pumped stupid. His power breathing was coming out and it
looked to be over but an amazing moment of contact strength saw him push on for
another move. He’d clipped the bolt and the chains were less than a couple of
meters away, which is only a small percentage of the route when you consider it’s
nearly 30m long. He matched a hold that can only be described as barely big
enough for 4 fingers and slipped in a deep drop knee. His elbows were above his
head and he only had one move to do to a decent finger jug. This was it, go big
or go home. With absolutely nothing left in the tank he tried to summon up the
reserves but it turned out that those were empty too and he fell off staring
the hold in the face. Just to indicate how hard he’d been trying he couldn’t
pull up the rope after he fell off due to popeye forearms!

Nina was up next and what I witnessed next was one of the
most dismaying things I’ve ever seen in climbing. To say she cruised it would
be an understatement.

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It was pretty much a masterclass in how to climb efficiently
and smoothly, using nothing but the required strength and resting exactly the
right amount at the appropriate places.

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I knew Nina was a very good climber but seeing it was
something else and I actually felt really inspired. I’m not an amazing rock
climber, but I’ve tried and managed to do several 8B boulders, but seeing Nina
climb made me look at my own climbing and realise just how much of a punt I am!
As with anything, finding your weaknesses or shortcomings is the first step and
the second step is doing something about it. I’ve had step 1 delivered to me on
a plate and step 2 will begin as soon as possible!

I wasn’t the only one who’d been privy to the masterclass
and Gaz knew what he had to do. Basically do the same thing as he’d done but
arrive at that move with something, anything, left in the tank. The sun was
going down and this would probably be his last go of the day so he did what all
good climbers do and pulled it out of the bag. It was a fine ascent, beginning
with a lack of vision to see the holds and culminating in clipping the chains
on only his 2nd go. A quick high five and we were out of there! The
worst part of the day was probably putting back on very wet, cold socks and
shoes but the thought of a hot shower pushed us through.

One of the many advantages of not having the RV is that we
have nowhere to sleep so kind people can offer us a home for the night, and
since Nina was doing such a fine job of hosting us she extended the invitation
to a fondue and a warm house. It made a refreshing change to get out of the can
and into a comfortable sofa, a hot shower, and a cosy environment that didn’t
comprise of cheaply made fittings that constantly break.

James had been busy working his magic too, getting the van
to a garage, explaining to them the urgency of our plight, and then even had
time to sort out a hire car, an Alfa Romeo 159 estate! There must have been something to the leather seats as upon entering the vehicle Gaz and I fell straight into business
mode;

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We were now without a home but at least we had transport.
The garage had told James that the new turbo may arrive in 1 day or in 7 days,
which wasn’t a whole lot of use. We’ve got a tight schedule and we’re going to
get it done come hell or high water. This is pretty much what we decided during
the evening, making a vow that nothing would get in our way of completing this
trip, even if it meant ditching the van and most of our gear, sleeping in the
car, and living on bread for the next leg of the tour. In fact, it was a nice
moment of solidarity. 

Whilst we may have been in a super nice environment, the
hard work followed us, so whilst Gaz was in bed before midnight James and I
stayed up far too late editing another video for a possible French TV airing.
It’s not a video that will be uploaded to the blog but it is being shown at the
lectures, so if you want to see it you should either come to a lecture, come to
Melloblocco (which is building up to be a show you will NEVER forget – in the
best possible sense), or wait for the DVD. Without giving too much away it
inevitably involved tights, shades, and much hilarity.

We woke up in the morning feeling super tired (no change
there) but very grateful for a night in a real bed. The day was to be a chilled
affair with nothing organised except for a slideshow/lecture at the Minimum
climbing wall in Zurich. We made the most of the downtime and soaked up some
rays on the terrace, which overlooked a beautiful Swiss valley (aren’t they
all?), until it came time to head to the climbing gym.

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Before arriving at an unknown gym we’re always unsure of
what to expect. Within seconds of seeing Minimum I knew it was a good gym. The
combination of nice holds, nice angles, slackline, fussball table, amazing
minimal techno, campus board and free wifi made it pretty much ideal. The guys
who run the gym were super cool and all in all it was looking to be a great
event. Whilst Gaz and James sat down to work up a new slideshow I decided to do
a spot of bouldering. The problems were generally very good and the only ones I
thought weren’t very good were the ones I couldn’t fathom due to their complex world
cup style! Another weakness identified, another goal set!

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Soon enough Gaz and James couldn’t resist the urge to come
and try to burn me off. At first I thought I was going to be the champ for the
day but in the end they both did what they set out to do and schooled me on a
couple of problems! Nina arrived to show us some more problems and I only
become more dismayed when she showed me what problems she’d done.

After a couple hours of climbing it was slideshow time and
everyone moved from the wall into the bar area. I’m not really experienced in
lectures/slideshows so I’m never sure how they’ve gone. Clearly it’s good when
people laugh or get the sometimes subtle jokes that they are presented with,
but after the lecture the response was terrific. Everyone was really psyched
and it set the tone for the rest of the night. The climbing wall closed its
climbing surfaces and opened its dancing ones. The wonderful minimal pounded
out and we began to party the night away. We didn’t know where our heads would
eventually come to rest as without a van we’re entirely dependent on nice
people. Luckily Switzerland is full of them, so we had more than one offer!
Balz was kind enough to offer his home but we soon realised that this party was
going to go on and on, so Minimum stepped in and told us that we could stay
there. Perfect! A party scene until the legs became too tired or the eyelids
droopy and then straight to be with no commute! It doesn’t get any better.

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As the hours became smaller and then larger we had a small
revelation. So far in this trip we’ve tried to be as responsible as possible,
always taking the sensible option when presented with a number of choices. Tonight
things changed. We’ve decided that we’re now on a route of maximum rather than
minimum. We had the opportunity to party so why not take it and enjoy it? The
next day only involved driving to 4 hours to the Pfalz and climbing another
amazing 8a route… what’s so difficult about that?  

The Event Horizon has been reached, and once you reach it
there is no going back either through choice, luck, or persistence.

April 26, 2009

To Destruction

The previous post didn’t quite indicate just how the party
evolved or ended, which is because it rolled way over into the next day.

Nina and the folks at Minimum had promised us a party but
there are different degrees of party. Some people like to party, some people
like to PARTY, and some people LOVE to P! A! R! T! Y! It’s impossible to know
what you’re walking into when a party is on the cards but we’re always prepared
for whatever may come our way.

The previous day I’d been telling Nina that we’d see to it
that she was duly rewarded for her assistance in rescuing our trip. I’d asked
her what we could possibly do to show her our appreciation, to which she
replied with a far too humble “nothing”. At this point James was off dealing
with the broken down vehicle so I came up with a plan that he was sure to go
along with. I told Nina that she should ask James to repay the favour by first
providing her with champagne and secondly to show her the time of her life with
a striptease from the two big men of the trip. She went along with the plan and
James, being the most obliging man I know, of course agreed. Gaz was easy to get on board as he seems to do almost anything when the camera gets turned on… a true professional!

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This was fairly early on in the night, and afterwards the
party was pushed forward by a 4/4 beat, with everyone pulling out their best
dance moves. It wasn’t a party of great numbers but those who were there were
super friendly and super psyched. This was a very rare moment of hedonism for
us whilst being on this trip. We were all determined to enjoy the night rather
than think about how little sleep we’d get or how much driving we’d have to do
the following day.

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Now that we were in a car we’d been calling forward to
people we know in order to try and score a place to sleep and everybody we
asked was kind enough to say yes. However, there was one problem with our Alfa,
and that was the size. We’d already left most of our stuff behind in the RV but
we still weren’t sorted. Leather seats and cruise control don’t make up for
things like a kettle and the ability to walk around whilst driving (which is both
dangerous and illegal so we never do it!).

To rectify this situation James arose at 7am and boosted off
to the hire car office, demanding better service, bigger cars, and a couple of
blonde floozies. He managed 2 out of the 3 and vowed that the 3rd
would be complete before the trip was out. He returned to the climbing wall
with our new ride, which was neither pimping, large enough, or fast. Our new
ride was an Opel Zafira!

It was now approximately 9am and we’d all had about 3 hours
sleep so we began to brainstorm (badly) about the plan for the day. We had to
get to Pfalz, which was 4 hours away, and climb the classic route Magnetfinger.
Normally this would be an easy day but without the RV it was difficult to plan
where we’d end up staying. Then someone came up with the bright idea of phoning
the garage to check if a miracle had occurred and they’d managed to receive the
new turbo and fit it. Someone must be keeping an eye out for us as the
unbelievable had occurred and the mechanic said it would all be ready for 5pm.
This was amazing news but it left us with a serious conundrum. How could we
pick up the RV at 5pm and also go the pfalz to climb? At this point an
injection of caffeine helped to get the brainstorming into gear and we came up
with this genius plan. We’d hang out in Zurich, taking it easy and resting our
weary bodies, collect the RV at 5pm, then head straight to the Pfalz. What this
meant was that our schedule would be a day behind but this was not in any way
acceptable, so stage 2 of the plan dropped onto the table. We’d arrive at Pfalz
late at night, sleep for a few cherished hours, then arise at dawn to get on
the route. Once James and Gaz had done the deed we’d leave for Frankenjura,
which was only a 4 hour drive, then tick the second route of the day; Slimline.
After that was dispensed with we’d drive on for another hour to do a lecture
and slideshow, followed by the first leg of our drive to Poland. Without a
doubt this was a grand plan which could seriously break us, but this is what we
decided we must do to get the trip back on schedule. There were many variables
that could easily destroy the plan but we were pumped up and ready to take on
the challenge. Dare to Dream…

This manic plan had one positive, which was a free day to
chill in Zurich. Naturally everyone had their own plan for the day, with James
needing to take care of business, Gaz needing to catch up on some of his
beloved Yoga, and me to take some pictures;

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Time passed all too quickly and before we knew it we were
heading south to pick up the much missed RV. The guys at the garage did a
sterling job to replace the turbo in such a short time, also finding time to
drop it down on 24’s, add in several plasma screens, a 10000W sound system, and
even a hot tub instead of the shower. We doing big pimping, we spending G’s. BIG
PIMPIN, thanks TNF.

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We reloaded the van, put the kettle on, and got back on the
road to Pfalz. Being back in the van was like returning home after a long trip
away. The slowness, the cheap build quality, the gas guzzling, the instability,
and the lack of leather were all forgotten about. We had a kettle, we had the
ability to walk around, we had beds, we had all of our gear, we had it all. We
felt on top of the world again. Ten minutes later it was all forgotten as we
settled into the slow lane for the arduous drive to our next destination. The
ETA was around 1am and this was the first of the many variables with potential
to go wrong over the next 24 hours! To Destruction!  

April 27, 2009

Day of Destruction

The first of the possible disasters was
avoided when we arrived at Pfalz at approximately 2am. At least we managed the
first of our objectives, and at this point we were taking them one at a time.

The next objective was brought to our
attention by the 7am alarm call. As the beep beep beep brought us to reality we
all wanted nothing more than to stay in bed. James understood the urgency of
our situation so he fell out of bed and put a certain track on, one that was
sure to get us up and pumping. As the first bars of Queen’s Breakthrough came
out of the speakers I jumped out of bed, ditched my sleeping bag and proceeded
to spend the next couple of minutes dancing around the bus. Once the track
ended we all fell back on to the seats, thoroughly exhausted. Nothing to do but
push on…

We quested to the crag, only having a vague
guidebook description so it took a little while to find the rocks and then the
route was immediately obvious. Magnetfinger is a short arête with a boulder
problem crux that leads into some juggy moves to the chains. It seemed very
familiar to me and it was then that I realized it’s like a harder version of
Kraite Arete at High Rocks in the UK (with the rock being much better in the
Pfalz). All of us were feeling very tired and very hungry, but Gaz and James
pushed through unlocking the crux and then dispatching it one after the other.
Magnetfinger is a route graded 9+ which is more of a 7c+ than an 8a. Now, the
original idea of this trip was to climb the best 8a’s, but after asking around
for a route in the Pfalz all the responses we received had Magnetfinger at the
top of the list. There is little point in sacrificing a high quality route for
a poor one that happens to be half a grade harder, which was the main reason we
settled on Magnetfinger. It also helped that this route was first ascended by
Wolfgang Gullich, which provided extra motivation as I think he is a hero to
many climbers throughout the world.

The deadline for leaving the crag was 11am
if we were going to make it on to the next stop in time, so we didn’t too badly
by leaving at 11.30am. At this point we were already feeling destroyed, but the
next leg was the 4 hour drive to the Frankenjura, which presented the
opportunity for 2 of us to sleep whilst the 3rd drove. Before we
knew it we were driving on the gravel road leading to Slimline, the super
classic line next to Action Direct. Slimline is also one of Wolfgang’s routes,
which he did in 1991, the same year he did Action Direct. This was a day of
ticking Wolfgang’s classics, which was pretty cool. Slimline is a short route,
only 4 clips long, with a boulder problem crux at the start on pockets which
leads to steadier moves to the top. James and Gaz were quite worried about
doing Slimline for a number of reasons. Firstly they thought it was going to be
hard for the grade as it’s a 10- which is more like 8a+, but I assured them
that they’d have no problems as I’d been on it several years ago and done the
moves. Secondly, they were both on the verge of falling asleep and were barely
able to walk from the lack of calories. Gaz went first and whilst he was
working the moves James actually fell asleep for a split second, his head
hitting the rope as it fell forward. I was starting to get a little worried
that the boys were hitting a wall, one which they may not be able to
breakthrough. Gaz declared that he didn’t think he would be able to do this
route today and this was quite a shock to me. Gaz is a very talented climber
and has that magic ability to pull things out of the bag even when it seems
unlikely, so to hear him declare it not possible today was a genuine shock.
James was looking like a train wreck, shaking before he even pulled on to the
route. He went up Slimline from bolt to bolt, doing the moves by the skin of
the teeth. He tried to imitate what it would be like to clip the second draw on
the lead, but he couldn’t actually hang on to the left hand 2 finger pocket
with 1 hand, meaning he couldn’t actually clip the rope on the lead! James came
down and declared he wasn’t even doing to bother with having a redpoint
attempt. I wasn’t willing to accept this and decided I had to step up to the
plate, not in the role of a climber, but in the role of Mr Motivator. I’m a
firm believer in P.M.A. (positive mental attitude) and it’s power to make the
impossible possible. I’ve known James for a long time, since the beginning of
both our climbing careers, so I’ve got a major advantage when it comes to
trying to motivate him and help him to get the best from himself.  I told him that his performance was simply
not acceptable and neither was his attitude. I knew he could do this route and
all I needed to do was make him believe it too. If I could do that I knew he
could deliver the goods on the sharp end. After a pep talk or two I told him
that he needed to have a redpoint go to warm up again then have another go
afterwards to actually send it. He eventually
conceded and dug deep within his soul to find
the energy to tie on. He set off, made it to the second clip with the clip he
hadn’t been able to do on the dog, but psyche powered him up and he clipped it
without a problem. He cruised the next few moves getting to the final undercut
before falling off due to his power reserves hitting zero! It was an
unbelievably good attempt, going from zero to hero just by using a bit of PMA.
I knew that he had it in him to do this route and by trying super hard he’d
proved it to himself.

It was so great that it inspired Gaz to get
back on the route, where he managed to do the moves by utilizing his back 2 in
all of the pockets due to his sausage fingers being way too fat. He was able to
do the moves like this but it required him to really squeeze his fingers in and
that was proving difficult on the redpoint. By now both Gaz and James were
really getting tired. It was about 5pm and we had to leave at 5:30pm in order
to arrive at the lecture on time, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time.

I reverted back into Mr Motivator mode and
this time I knew James had the self belief to make it happen, so he set off. He
was really having to try hard on the moves, but he kept going, fighting each
move whilst getting higher and higher. He reached his previous high point but
it was clear that he had something left in the tank and this time he hit the
undercut then reached up to the jugs, pulling over to clip the chains much to
his relief. This was probably the greatest ascent of the trip for many reasons.
It was probably the hardest route of the trip so far, it was the second route
of the day, it was initially dismissed by both the guys as being too much for
them at this point of the day, but James really reached very, very deep into
the bottom of his hat and pulled it out. Just to show quite how much he’d used
his mental toughness, I asked him to pull on again so I could record some of
the moves and he genuinely couldn’t hang some of the positions. He’d given
everything to get to the top and afterwards he had nothing left. It was
inspirational stuff.

Gaz had to stop, his body shaking, his head
hurting, and his 100% record broken. This was the first route he hadn’t done,
and in my opinion was due to bad circumstances rather than his inability to do it.
I think that with a full night’s sleep and a rest day he would have crushed
this route despite having to use his back 2 fingers in the holds!

The day was going well thus far and we were
in the car at 5:35pm, making our way to the local climbing wall in Forcheim. As
we drove to the wall we passed many of Frankenjura’s famous crags and thanks to
the beautiful weather they were well populated. The same can’t be said for the
climbing wall, which made for an intimate lecture. We may have amazing luck
when it comes to conditions, but it’s not so amazing when it comes to
organizing dates. The lecture coincided with one of Frankenjura’s biggest beer
festivals, so taking that into account it was rather impressive that the
audience was a cosy 10 people. 

During the lecture I wanted to get some
work done but my body demanded sleep and I fell asleep on the sofa. That’s
pretty much the state we’re now in. James is getting fully involved with micro
sleep cycles, catching 5 minutes here and there whenever he gets the chance.

The final step of the day was to begin the
drive to Poland and that’s exactly what we did. Gaz pushed on for nearly an
hour before all of us got our earliest night yet, falling asleep before
midnight with an alarm set for a leisurely 9am! Wonderful!

[apologies
for the lack of pictures but we're now in the middle of nowhere
somewhere in Poland and our internet connection is woeful - hopefully
tomorrow will be better for internet]

April 28, 2009

Stereotypes

As you can probably guess, we woke up and continued the long
drive to Poland. We were taking shifts, which broke the journey down into very
manageable chunks. The sights and sounds of the autobahn gave us little to
report, with the only break being a strange meal of cabbage and meat in a
service station somewhere along the way.The only major cause of celebration was our breaking of the 10000km mark on this trip!

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Eventually we reached the border and entered Poland! None of
us have been to Poland before so we were all rather excited to be here. If each
country had a stereotype so far, then the one we expected in Poland was
beautiful girls. Within 100m of crossing the border Gaz declared his
disappointment at the lack of totty lined up along the streets. I’m not sure
what he was expected, but our initial sightings were few and far between. The
other thing we didn’t see much of was Motorway, which we later found out was
due to their being only one motorway in Poland and it’s length is rather
diminutive.

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in due course we arrived Wroclaw where Michal (the TNF
country manager) came to meet us. It was a warm reception and it made navigating
to the climbing wall in Wroclaw much easier! If only every place we visited
offered such a service! Once at the climbing wall the plan became clear. They
wanted James or Gaz to open a new section of their wall before giving the
lecture/slideshow, and Gaz was kind enough to offer James’ services. Ever the
showman, he satisfied the crowds by cruising to the top and then took an
almighty whipper to speed up his descent.

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The lecture was a very well organised and well attended
affair, with over 75 people showing up despite the great Sunday afternoon park
lounging weather! There was a DJ on tap who provided a soundtrack to the evening
and even a couple of girls from an energy drink company (who unfortunately left
5 mins into the lecture!). The slideshow was well received by everyone, with
Gaz and James following it up with a poster signing session.

Once things at the wall were wrapped up we boarded the bus
and headed to the rocks! This time we weren’t alone, we had an entourage of
approximately 5 cars who were all coming to either hang out, photograph, or
film the next day’s climbing. It was cool to see so many psyched people and
after driving down a sketchy forest track we settled down for a night’s rest.
No alarm set for the morning as the start time was 10am, which was most definitely a lie in for us!

[Ed - all being well there should be another webisode in the next 24 hours so stay tuned!]

April 29, 2009

Into the Unknown

Even though our guide wasn’t due to arrive until 10am and we
were desperately tired, our bodies are currently programmed into rising earlier
so at 8am I was up and working on getting up to date with the footage. Gaz and
James were up at roughly the same time and we enjoyed a relaxed morning of
banter whilst waiting for the locals to come a knockin. It’s great to wake up
in beautiful surroundings with the sun shining as it makes each day seem a
whole lot better when you feel the warmth of the sun first thing in the morning.
So far on this trip we’ve either woken up somewhere stunningly beautiful, or by
the side of a major highway! Take the rough with the smooth…

Eventually they came out and we set off up to the rocks of
Sokoliki. As I wrote previously, none of us have visited Poland before, but
this lack of knowledge extends even further as we had no idea what the rocks
would be like. We didn’t know if they were big, small, crags, outcrops, towers,
rough, smooth, etc. We were quite excited to be checking out a completely
unknown place and went in with no expectations. So far, the Polish leg had been
the most well organised so even if the rocks weren’t superb it wouldn’t have
mattered as we’d had a good time in Poland. Although deep down we were all
hoping for something amazing, both for climbing and for filming.

The locals were keen to show us a new route that was
awaiting a second ascent, especially since it is the hardest route in the area.
I think all locals are proud of their hardest route, as it represents the
hardest of what their compatriots have done. I’ve seen it all over the world, a
local showing a visitor the hardest/proudest line (often intertwined), even though
the visitor may have no inclination/ability to climb it!

Our first sighting of rock revealed to us that we were in
area with strange outcrops popping up from the hillside. The rock was a very
rough granite and it didn’t look particularly good on the skin. Coupled with
the fact that it was rather warm and there wasn’t much wind, the boys were
hoping for something a little on the easy side! Unfortunately for them the
first route (names something to do with Count Dracula – we didn’t quite
understand the translation!) we looked at was the new, unrepeated, one and it
was a gently overhanging wall, with small slopey dishes, and only 4 bolts long.
Shorter routes mean harder moves and on a day like today it was probably best
to avoid hard moves on small sharp slopers, so we continued the tour to the see
the next option.

Unfortunately option 2 was a completely eliminate route,
avoiding both a corner to it’s right and a rest ledge to it’s left. Option 3
wasn’t much better and so there was no choice but to return to the first and
hardest option.

There was a lot of interest in James and Gaz’s performance
on this route, for a couple of reasons. As stated above it’s the hardest route
in the area and so people are naturally inclined to show interest if someone
else is going to try it. Secondly, there was a fair bit of excitement regarding
the fact that James and Gaz had come to Sokoliki. It was most definitely the
case that today was the most photographers and cameramen I’ve seen during this
trip. In fact, at one point, I was struggling to find a perch in a nearby tree
due to a number of other people stealing prime position! The early bird always
gets the worm…

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They started working the route and James actually came very
close to flashing it. Gaz had all the beta but the difficulty was with the
conditions. After doing a certain number of moves the chalk on the tips would
be gone and sweat would come through rendering any sort of grip non existent.
Initially they were both finding it virtually impossible to chalk up the right
hand throughout the route but as they refined their movement it became possible
to chalk up both hands in a certain position.

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By this point they were taking it in turns to have redpoint
attempts, both greasing off unexpectedly amidst the crux moves. The locals had
begun to talk (unbeknown to us at the time) saying that they didn’t think
either of the boys would do it as the route was just too hard. I’ve seen them
both climbing and know them both so if I was a betting man I would have gladly
offered long odds that they would both do it. It was clearly only a matter of
time and speed before one or both of them would do it.

Gaz’s ascent came first, along with power screams and
shrieks. He’d managed to fight the grease and push through, much to the
appreciation (and perhaps dismay) of the locals. To put into context what was
going on you can imagine going to climb on Gritstone or in Fontainebleau during
mid summer with only a small breeze giving you any hope of climbing. The
conditions were not very good, so it was most definitely pulled out of the bag
by Gaz just before his skin gave out.

James was only an attempt behind and he cruised up the route
without too much fuss, once again pleasing and shocking the locals. They’d come
for a show and they’d got it! James and Gaz were super pleased not to have to
pull on again, but being the slave driver that I am I forced them to redo a
couple of the moves for the camera, now that I had access to the tree! Once
this torture was over we headed back down to camp for a little suprise. Michal
had decided it was time to eat and what better way to eat than with a sausage
fest.

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We cooked up some sausages and enjoyed a nice moment around
the fire. These moments of downtime and so precious but also so enjoyable. The
harder you work the more you seem to enjoy the quiet moments, so each time we
have the opportunity to sit around in beautiful locations with friends we
really appreciate it. The rest didn’t last too long, as we had a short drive
over the border into the Czech Republic…

 

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April 29, 2009

The SSRT so far…

Before embarking on this trip each of us had an idea of how it would go and how we'd end up. This is a mini interview showing just where we're up to at the moment.


The SSRT so far… from unclesomebody on Vimeo.

The real webisode is being rendered and will be uploaded soon!

Big thanks to Hudysport for letting us use their office for a decent net connection!

April 30, 2009

Webisode 3

Thanks to the people of LokalBlok for letting us use their internet connection, here is the third installment of the webisodes. It features Alaska Kid in Voralpsee, Barr-bitturique in Gorge du Tarn, and Reve du Papillon in Buoux. Lookout for James' exceptional recovery after practically falling off…

There isn't going to be a blog post for today/yesterday because it's currently nearly 2am and we're only half way through a 5 hour drive to Austria. Once tomorrow arrives there will be a blog describing our overall Czech experience.

In the meantime, enjoy this video.


Untitled from unclesomebody on Vimeo.

May 1, 2009

Czech it out

This is a long blog post as there is a lot
to say. Our little adventure in Czech was a revelation as you’ll read in a
moment. If you want the ultra short cliff notes version then this is it; Czech
is amazing, go climbing there. The long version is below…

The Czech Republic might not be everyone’s
first idea of a place to go sport climbing, but this is largely due to
ignorance rather than an actual lack of quality sport climbing. We didn’t know
too much about what we were in for, and the only information we’d been given
was the town name of Decin, and a further smaller village called Dolni Zleb. We
knew that there were apparently amazing sandstone routes in this area, but
anything more than this was either imagination or fantasy.

The lack of information regarding climbing
in the Czech republic became immediately clear when we tried to reach the town
in the midst of the climbing. We’d been given the town name of Dolni Zleb and
we did the only thing we’ve done thus far, enter it into the sat nav system.
However, the system may be very good but it’s certainly not infallible and
eyebrows were raised when we were instructed to turn off onto a dirt covered
road through a forest. We thought it might actually be possible a small village
or hamlet could be located at the end of this road, so we pushed on thinking
that if it wasn’t there we’d at least have an adventure. The directions became
more dubious when the road suddenly had a barrier across it, and a sign
indicated it was a forest road. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) the barrier was
raised which once again could indicated that a super small village existed at
the end of the dirt road. We put it to a vote and 2/3 of us were brave
(foolish) enough to vote YEAH so we continued into the depths of the forest. It
would be one thing to attempt this road in a normal size car, but attempting it
in a 7.5m long, 7 berth, camper van is probably verging on stupid. The road was
going further and further downhill, with all our thoughts turning to the hope
that there would be a turning spot somewhere because reversing this route would
be impossible. Then the road became much steeper and much narrower. Far too
narrow for our breadth and the only possible option was to turn it around and
try to get out of here. We were somewhere in the Czech Republic, in the middle
of a forest, in the middle of the night and potentially about to get very
stuck. After a complex series of forward/back maneuvered James managed to get
the RV turned around and we were heading back out of the forest looking for
another route on the sat nav. Once we were back on a real road we found another
mode of attack! There was a road that ran along the side of the Elb river which
looked like it reached the village of Dolni Zleb. Thirty minutes later we were
by the river and making good speed along this road. It was exceptionally narrow
and James did an incredible job of not hitting either the trees on one side or
the barrier on the other. The next issue came in the form of a railway bridge
that was 3.5m, with our van being 3.4m. Technically possible on flat ground,
but it was uphill with a 90 degree bend into and out of it. Once again another
hurdle, but with a bit of teamwork we made it through, again confirming James’
driving abilities. We kept going, getting closer and closer to Dolni Zleb.  Further narrow sections were maneuvered
through until we only had 2km to go. All of a sudden the road dipped down, then
turning through a 90 degree bend into another railway bridge. This time the
laws of Physics weren’t on our side as it was only 2.5m tall, giving us zero
chance of getting under it without transforming into a convertible. By a small
miracle there was a turning spot just before the bridge and so we did the only
thing we could, spinning it round and heading back to Decin. The journey back
along the road wasn’t quite as smooth as the one in, and out of nowhere we
heard a grinding noise down the side of the van. Oh no. We didn’t stop to check
it as there was nothing we could do anyway, so we pushed on, getting tired and
frustrated with this mini epic. Then there was the matter of reversing the 3.5m
railway bridge. As any climber will know, doing a move forwards and backwards
can present 2 different worlds of difficulty. Sometimes it’s so easy to do a
move upwards, but reversing it back down can be either difficult or even
impossible. The railway bridge followed suit and as james turned into it a
small grinding noise came from the top left. Oh no. I jumped out and sure
enough we’d touched the corner of the arch. I got into my best air traffic
control mode, gesticulating wildly as James followed my technical instructions.
Ten minutes later we were back through it and all without any more damage which
was a small success. By this point we were sick and tired of trying to make it
to Dolni Zleb so we found an empty car park in Decin and fell asleep in under
30 seconds. .

Thanks to a Karol at Hudysport, we were put
in touch with Ondra, who came out to meet us in the morning and immediately understanding
why we’d had trouble attempting our final push into Dolni Zleb. Luckily for us
he had a smaller car and we jumped in as he drove us to the crag. We’d made it
to Dolni Zleb and the daytime drive in revealed to us a valley lined with
amazing looking sandstone faces and towers. Ondra explained that on one side there
existed long routes whilst on the side we were on the routes were slightly
shorter and also in the shade. Both of these facts were welcome news as it was
a little hot and we were a little tired.

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The walk in was all uphill and rather humid,
but as we got closer and closer we only grew more excited. When we suddenly
pushed through the trees and saw the full glory of the sandstone routes we were
blown away. The rock looked amazing and the lines even more impressive. I
didn’t think anything like this existed in Europe! We were shown an array or
routes, eventually making the hard decision to climb Skruti Beh. It wasn’t a
hard decision in the sense of not being psyched, but a hard decision because of
the sheer choice of amazing lines. It was becoming immediately clear that one
day here would be FAR from enough. The line we settled on was a proud wall,
overhanging all the way to the end and followed a direct line up a 30m face
(utilizing only 6 bolts!).

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James at the second bolt

The locals had given us a tidbit of
information, but not giving anything away regarding the climbing as they wanted
James to onsight it! I’m sure he wanted that too! What they did say was the
following “If you get to the second clip and are feeling a little pumped be
careful clipping. If you fumble the clip you will hit the ground, so it’s
better to jump off and not try to clip”. You might be wandering about just how
high this second clip is to warrant such a warning… it’s placed at about 12 metres,
so a potential ground fall is of some concern. Gaz reckoned it was something in
the region of E5 or E6 to get to the second bolt, so this should give you a
clue as to the style of bolting in the area.

All the routes here are bolted from the
ground up, for no reason other than tradition. That’s what they’ve always done
and that’s what they may well always do. It’s always interesting to hear about
how different things are in different climbing areas, and hearing Ondra
describe this style of bolting with such passion indicated to me that the
locals are actually very proud of it. They do this by climbing up until they
find a place to sit on a skyhook then start drilling. They glue it in (using
giant bolts!) then head back down and wait 30 minutes for the glue to set. Then
they set off again and try to place the next bolt, continuing to the top.
Although this style continues to be the only way to bolt a route people are
getting with the times and using battery powered drills rather than hand
drills. Using this method a strong local (aren’t they all!?!) can bolt and
climb an 8a route in a day, which is quite an amazing feat when you see the
routes.

Getting back to the route at hand, James
set off with a little trepidation but reached the second bolt without a problem.
He placed the draw, clipped it, and moved on. He made it to the third bolt but
a combination of over gripping and humid conditions saw him spat off. After
falling off the usual process of going bolt to bolt was slightly more difficult
thanks to the spacing of the bolts. They aren’t all placed dangerously, with
the second bolt on Skruti Beh being the exception rather than the rule. James
pulled back on and climbed between bolt to bolt, passing some amazing sandstone
features, including holds that were barely 5mm thick but 5cm deep! He made it
all the way to the top, unlocking the sequence and enjoying all of the
climbing.

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Once he lowered down it was Gaz’s time to
shine. He’d seen James clip the second bolt with juice to spare so his mind was
at ease and so was his climbing. He cruised up past the second, then clipped
the third, and tried to push on but the flash pump took over and he fell off.
He did the same thing as James and climbed bolt to bolt , then lowered down for
a rest. James was up first for his redpoint go and dispensed with it easily,
cruising through the small slopers at the crux even in the heat of the day. Gaz
followed suit on his first redpoint go, but got alarmingly pumped just a few
moves from the mid height rest jugs. His mind seemed to shut down and his
climbing suddenly changed from smooth to frantic. It was a testament to his
skills that he managed to fight through those couple of moves and reach the
rest jugs. It was another testament to his fitness that he recovered completely
before setting off to the top, clipping the chains with ease.

Once that was done we had a look around at
some of the other lines and it didn’t take long to see more 5 star lines. In
fact, there were so many 5 star arêtes within a few minutes walk, and every
line we saw filled us with excitement. We didn’t have time to get on any other
routes so just enjoyed the feast for the eyes. Some of the arêtes were like
much better versions of grit routes with bolts in, and we couldn’t get over
just how amazing it all was. So far we’d seen maybe tens of routes, in one
small area, but Ondra explained there are multiple valleys all filled with rock
and the routes number more than 5000. It’s an incredible place and somewhere
that you should definitely move up your to do list. Perhaps it’s not the best
place for everyone as some of the
bolts are boldy placed, but if you like a little spice or you climb within your
grade then the routes here are most definitely amongst the best in Europe. There
was another 8a we saw the following morning which can only be described as
perhaps the best sport climb I’ve ever seen. The three of us stared in dismay,
jaws agape, at the beauty and location of the route in front of us.

IMG_0428 

Another 5 star line

It’s hard to sum up just how great the
climbing is in the Czech Republic. It’s not going to become a sport climbing
hotspot for a number of reasons, the most obvious being a lack of an English
guidebook and a system of bolting that can at times be spicy. If you want to
become a sport climbing monster then go to Spain and spend day after day
crushing amazing routes. But if you want to experience perhaps the best lines
in Europe, on some of the best rock that any of us have seen on a sport route,
then book a cheap flight to Prague and set your GPS for Dolni Zleb. You can buy
a guidebook (in Czech) from the pub in the town which is located up the hill in
the valley, but even if you don’t understand a word of it I’m sure you’ll find
an amazing line to try. I’m certain that we’ll be back to the Czech in the not
too distant future to enjoy some of the amazing rock that’s on offer.

 

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 you can see the rocks we climbed on in the back left of this image

[ed - thanks to Ondra for some of the photos and also for being a great host]

May 2, 2009

Lowtivation

Today was probably the lowest motivational point of the trip so far but
also the highest altitude day we’ve had. After the good times in the Czech a
gruelling 6 hour drive was split between night and morning sessions, a cold
damp crag was not what Dr Suess ordered.

Directions to the crag had been emailed to us by Killian
(world champion beast) Fishburger only a few hours earlier, and these proved
essential as the crag was one of the most difficult to find. The walk was
reported to be long and steep, but the reality of it was long, steep, snowy,
rainy, and every step uphill. With perma-fatigue weighing heavily on the teams
shoulder it simply became a question of remembering to put the left foot in front
of the right, ad infinitum (or so it felt). 

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Eventually all the left – right – left – right deposited us
under a giant waterfall, under which we saw the route of the day. The route we’d
chosen was Have Fun on Top, which is strangely named as it finished half way up
the crag! According to the oracle of 8a.nu it is the most ascended 8a at the
Schleir, so we knew it would either be great, soft, polished, or a combination
of all of them. A cruxy boulder problem start led to a series of steep juggy
pulls before joining the top section of a 7c.

By the time we’d arrived at the crag all of our clothes were
dripping with sweat despite the cold and miserable weather. Hastily we got
bareback, only to find ourselves quickly frozen and our wet clothes colder
still. When you’re freezing cold, perma tired, and hungry, it takes a whole lot
of psyche to actually pull onto the first fingery moves of an 8a route. The
unspoken idea of sacking it off and heading back down wasn’t far away, but
James reached deep within himself and decided to get on with it. “The sooner
you start, the sooner it ends” being his recipe for success.

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After going bolt to bolt, de-icing his tendons, and getting
some blood back into his hands, he lowered off and crushed the route first go. This
set the scene for Gaz to have a flash go, and after getting sprayed down with
an unnecessary level of beta, he dropped the clutch, got into send mode, and
BOOM BABY! The ascent was in the bag and the work for the day done, or so they
thought. I demanded that they climb it again so I could film and they did so
without breaking a sweat. Working with professionals is so easy.

IMG_1406

After practically running the entire way down the hill we
headed to the Innsbruck TNF store for a little climbing demo and then a
slideshow. In the words of R Kelly, after the show it’s the after party, and
after the show James headed off into the night with the store staff for the
after party in Innsbruck. At 6am I received a text which said nothing more or
less than “To Destruction…”.

May 4, 2009

Austria on Top

Seeing as our new moto seems to be “to destruction”, we
couldn’t resist turning a rest day into a climbing day, and so Gaz and I
entered the world cup. Before starting this trip I was in reasonable shape, but
weeks of no real climbing for me, a lack of a decent night’s sleep, and
generally eating badly put me in the worst shape of my life. Gaz had suffered
from all of those same symptoms, except he had been climbing at least every
other day, so he had something to keep those muscles firing.

In the lead up to the event it was nearly an unspoken rule that
one or the both of us would be wearing lycra, and in Poland I was the first to
fall. After making a foolish bet with Gaz, which I inevitably lost, it became
my responsibility to wear the pink lycra. In the Czech I had my revenge, when
Gaz rashly accepted a bet that was heavily stacked in my favour.
Unsurprisingly, he lost (although I think he wanted to lose!), now having to
adorn himself with the GB lycra tights.

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The competition was not something I was able to take all
that seriously, mainly because I was not in shape [If you want to read all my thoughts on my own comp experience just cruise over to my personal blog]. For Gaz it was a somewhat similar
proposition, although he has plenty of comp experience to draw from, so even
though he’s not in great bouldering shape I had an inkling that he might
surprise a few people. He came out strong, looking exceptional in GB tights,
and crushed the first two problems.

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After that it went a little downhill, but
he put in a great effort considering he hasn’t bouldered for 9 months! Clearly
route climbing can be a great base for bouldering strength and fitness, which
was doubly confirmed when Ondra came out for qualification. Watching him it’s
clear he’s not a true boulderer, but it was abundantly clear that he is an exceptionally
gifted rock climber as he crushed the problems set before him.

Once qualification was over and the scene had levelled out,
we did the same thing we do every night, and drove up to the Zillertal, ready
for the next day’s climbing.

Zillertal was the chosen destination as the forecast was
rain, and it rained hard as we fell asleep and continued as we woke up. There
was a thick mist in the air, but we’d been given some beta by Killian for a
crag that was perma dry. We were joined to the crag by a pair of strong girls,
Nina Caprez and Melissa Laneve, who were keen to enjoy their free day on the
rocks. Two routes were dry, an 8a and an 8b, so Nina calmly set off on the 8a
without even a hint of intimidation.

Image2

It turns out the route is exceptionally
cruxy, with a series of moves on very bad slopers right in the middle, followed
by easier but sustained moves to the end. It took a while for Nina to figure
out the strange beta, which played out as 3 or 4 continuous right hand
movements, the left hand locking ever deeper. Melissa was the first to crush
the route, climbing it with great style. It’s always great to have girls at the
crag, for a whole host of reasons. They are prettier to look at than boys, they
climb with better style (in general) and it’s generally more fun to have more sisters
and less misters. The second ascent of the day came from Nina, after which they
rushed off to watch the men’s semi finals. Once they left, the pressure on Big
G’s shoulders was lifted. No longer worried about getting burned off by girls,
he relaxed and crushed the route, deviating from his intended sequence and
freestyling all the way to the chains!

Image1

Meanwhile, James had been up the 8b,
sorting out the very basic moves, and devising a sequence. Essentially it was a
jug haul with some dynamic moves that he described as “making you feel like a
man”. Big cutloose moves, deep locks, and very steep. His 2nd
redpoint go saw him falling with his fingers on the finishing jug! After this
he pretty much came down and collapsed. He had cramp in his foot and the energy
of a sloth. He declared himself done for the day, but after seeing Gaz despatch
the 8a he suddenly had a burst of PMA and asked for the lightness of angels and
the strength of devils. He set off, cruising upwards, hitting all the holds
perfectly. Once again, his fingers hit the final jug and for a moment it looked
as though the timelord has stopped spacetime but a pico-second later he was
soaring earthbound. He’d really tried hard and come as close as you can without
clipping the chains, but sometimes the chips fall on the wrong side of the
line. With nothing left to give, we left the crag and headed back into Hall for
the World Cup finals.

The big favourites had made it through the semi’s, the line
up including Fishburglar, Moroni, and Ondra. These three ended up taking the
podium in that same order, with Killian coming out and cruising the 2 problems
that were ascended. The most amazing thing for me was to see these guys
flashing problems whilst making them look as though they were part of their
every day circuit! Truly exceptional and incredibly inspiring, so congrats to
the three of them.

The after comp party kicked off with remarkable consequences. There was an amazing moment when we realised that the bro ho ratio was averaging 1:1, which was the first time this was achieved without money changing hands. We also broke the record for the maximum number of people in the van, but unfortunately at this point it was mainly drunk, ugly, men. Luckily I wasn't around to witness such events, but James and Gaz assured me it was a moment to be remembered.

 

May 5, 2009

After the Party…

The party took it’s toll on some more than others, and for
Big G a day of chilling was most certainly necessary. I welcomed the chance to
K.I.M it out for the morning and we enjoyed the sun, eating breakfast and
sipping coffee. Once again, these down time moments are pure joy, so it was
really nice to hang out and not have any pressure to move.

The pressure to move may have seemed far away for a few
moments, but by lunchtime reality set in and we boarded the bus to get our
drive on. The destination for the day was Osp in Slovenia and by dinner time we
hoped to be there!

During this entire trip we haven’t so much as glanced at a
map, and this is because we have an almost divine belief that the sat nav will
guide us to each and every location. For the most part it’s been good to us, although
we learned about it’s infallibility in the Czech Republic when both our routes in
to Dolni Zleb proved impossible!

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The drive to Osp was going smoothly as James took the helm
and Gaz dozed for most of the journey, with my task to catch up with editing
duties. After many, many hours of cruising we were only a few miles from Osp
and still following the directions of the sat nav. When it tells us to turn, we
turn, so we didn’t hesitate too much when it told us to turn off the motorway
and head into a small village. As the road narrowed further and further we
became more disillusioned with the sat nav until reality set in and we saw a
sign saying that vehicles over 2m wide were too fat. Being far too fat we
turned around and tried the next option, which took us in over the mountains
along some shady looking roads. This time we made it through and as we pulled
in to Osp we saw the motorway which we should have followed if common sense had
been our guide.

With the goal of the day complete we settled down for a sing
song and went to bed…

May 6, 2009

Breakthrough

The problem with arriving to a new crag at night is that you
often miss seeing the entire aspect of the crag. Waking up in Osp it was
difficult to see the crag from where we parked, but we pressed on uphill
through the trees until glimpsing our first piece of rock. Utter disappointment
was the first emotion we felt. The first thing we came across was some white
limestone that could easily be at raven tor. What had we let ourselves in for?
Gaz had been here before (15 years ago!) and assured it was good, so what on
earth were we seeing? It turns out that the very far ends of Misja Pec (which
rather strangely translates as Mouse Rocks) are rather uninspiring white
limestone, but as the bowl bends round towards the centre the beauty and
impressiveness increase along with the height.

In the centre of the wall there are some very long routes,
but the route choice of the day was an 8a called Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic. Conveniently
there was a 7b warm up next to it so James and Gaz nipped up this, then James
came down putting the clips in the 8a and assessing the holds on the way. He
reported back that it looked like a boulder problem at the end with a good rest
before it. With no more information Gaz set off, and cruised upwards to the
rest jugs. Between here and the end are only 6 moves, but these 6 moves are
much harder than anything else on the route. After depumping he pushed on,
grabbed the crux shoulder with his right hand and try as he might he couldn’t
do the next move.

IMG_1484

From the ground James and I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t
just crushing. We get so used to seeing Big G crush everything in his way that
we forget that sometimes he actually finds moves either hard or tricky. This
was most definitely proving tricksome, and he ended up slouched on the rope.
Before even 5 minutes had passed he had figured out the beta and was heading
down for a rest. James roped up and got on the sharp end. His climbing was
pretty much a carbon copy of Gaz’s ascent, all the way to the rest jugs.

IMG_1499

From
here a similar thing took place, with James shaking out before pushing into the
boulder problem, but upon touching the crux holds he immediately sensed
difficulty and returned back to the safety of the rest jugs. He hadn’t expected
them to feel quite as small, so he did the sensible thing and spent another 5
mins shaking out. Upon second arrival at the crux holds they didn’t feel any
bigger and he just couldn’t get Gaz’s beta to work, so tried the freestyle
approach. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, with this time being one
of the times that it was close but no cigar. He fell off, but only after
discovering a new way to do the moves. Instead of utilising a powerful shoulder
as Gaz did, he used the same hold as a poor sidepull and did a big move off of
it. One set of holds, two climbers, two sequences, beautiful.  

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James lowered down and Gaz was back on. Now that he knew
what to do he did just that, despatching the route with only a mini power
scream in the crux. Big G’s power screams are developing as the trip goes on.
Initially they were small puffs of breath, but in Poland they climaxed with
full on screams. Today they were a combination of hard breathing and small
screams, which was amusing for those of watching. Regardless of type of scream,
the route was in the bag and Gaz was back on the ground for belaying duty.

IMG_1512

James did the deed next, cruising up to the crux, shaking
out for what seemed like a lifetime, then powered up through the moves. His
alternate sequence worked a charm (a powerful one) and he clipped the chains,
finishing his climbing for the day. Gaz wasn’t quite in the same boat,
seemingly having broken through his multi day wall and come out the other side
psyched, adrenalized, and ON IT!

We watched a local cruising up a VERY long 8a that breached
the entire height of the crag, but whilst James and I were impressed, Gaz was
psyched. He declared that he was going up there and off he went.

IMG_1528

He moved between the rest positions with a little bit of
huffing and puffing, then pulled out a mad sequence at the 2 moves before the
chain, but they got the job done. Another 8a in the bag for the day, this one a
flash. We were in a privileged position today as we didn’t have to leave in a hurry
for another location, so Gaz went completely mental and decided to try another
8a. He’d not only broken through his wall, but he’d steamrolled over it,
crushing everything in his way. The next 8a he wanted to try was another fairly
long one and without too much fuss he was clipping the chains for another 8a
onsight. At this point we thought the game was over, James was ready to leave,
but I was being impressed and inspired. Gaz showed me a very short 8a+ and in a
fit of insanity I decided to give it a go. For about 30 minutes I declared it
impossible (even though Gaz had done it many years ago!), saying that the
individual moves were about font 8A. I did the moves using a sequence which
could well have been font 8A/+ but knew that it would be impossible to link
like this. I was about ready to give up when I found another method which was
nearly as powerful, missed out the good tick marked holds, but allowed me to
have a serious go at linking the route. Unfortunately my redpoint attempt saw
me falling from past the crux, in a position where I thought the route would be
relatively over. Damn it! After this my skin was done for and I packed up my
bag. Gaz was still running on whatever he runs on (the long life parrot!) and decided
to try yet another 8a.

This one nearly got the best of him, as he reached a section
with only one bad looking undercut. Utilising his best power scream of the day
he transformed into a hydraulic machine and out of nowhere found the required
strength to reach up into this undercut, match it, and move off it. Probably
the most impressive thing of the day and another conformation of his tenacity
to raise his game when the game needs raising. He finished off the route and by
this point it was getting dark so we set off back down to the van, only to find
James singing along to the wonderful Queen song Breakthrough!

Today was indeed a breakthrough day for Big G. He’d found
some great form and I can only guess it’s due to partying exceptionally hard
and then sleeping/dozing for most of the next day. We should all do more
partying and sleeping in the vain hope that we can all find form!

[Ed - Apologies for the delay, but mobile data connections in Italy are like Italian women...]

May 7, 2009

Hidden Gems

We’ve now made it to the penultimate country on the tour,
and it’s another one whereby we arrived with open minds. We had no expectations
of how Slovenia would be (other than full of beautiful women) and so when we
arrived in Llubjana we were blown away.

The event for the day was probably the best of the trip so
far, with a mobile climbing wall in the centre of the old town being both an
invitation and a display for the public. The boys were joined by Natalia Gros,
and the three of them put on a show for a rather large crowd.

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It’s always bordering on a circus show when events like this
are put on, but what separated this one from the rest was the level of interaction
with the public. After James, Gaz, or Natalia did a demo the crowd were immediately
invited in for a climb and they came in willingly which was superb.

IMG_1590

First up was an old man on a red moped who did exceptionally well, thus
inspiring many others to come forward for a try. It was an excellent grass
roots level event, where the people in the crowd weren’t climbers, so what they
were seeing was really a mini spectacle. This is in direct contrast to events
at climbing walls whereby every single person in attendance is a climber so
what they are seeing is something which is already part of their lives.

After this event we moved 50 metres down the road to a bar
for the evening lecture. There have already been lectures in bars on this roadtrip,
but this one was the first outdoor one! It was a really great location and this
formed a perfect backdrop for the lecture!

IMG_1635

Having an event in an outdoor bar was also a great concept
as many people would walk by, stop and listen for 10 minutes (or more!), then
walk on. This involvement with random people is great and hopefully one of them
saw something inspiring which may cause them to give rock climbing a go! Once
the lecture was over we were given a whistle stop tour of the old part of
Llubjana. It was at this point that we were blown away. Between us we’ve
visited many, many towns and countries, but Llubjana is almost out there on it’s
own. It’s spectacularly beautiful, it’s ridiculously clean, and it’s somewhere
we’ll be heading back to before too long. Being a climber, every possible free
moment is dedicated to climbing, but if you can take a city break for a weekend
then I can’t recommend Llubjana enough. If you want to go for longer then there
are plenty of crags within a 1 or 2 hour drive, so you have no excuses.

Thanks to the all female Slovenian TNF team who did a truly
wonderful job.

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[Ed - photos to follow as mobile internet in Italy is killing me... 40 mins to upload this text!]

May 8, 2009

Back to HQ

The agenda for the day was simple. Get to TNF HQ by midday
and from there we all had our separate jobs to do. Upon arrival the first job
was to make use of one of the greatest mod cons known to man, a hot shower. It’s
been a while since we had a hot shower so not only did we stink but we’d
forgotten how amazing they were. I didn’t want to get out of the shower, actually
enjoying the fact that my skin felt like it was burning! Once out, the day only
got better as we were rolling with boxfresh clothes thanks to the peeps at TNF.

Things only got better when we found out the canteen would
be open in 10 minutes and they served the rarest of commodities (at least on
our trip!), vegetables! We’d showered, we’d adorned ourselves with clean clothes,
and we’d eaten vegetables… what more can a day bring?!?

For me it involved sitting down for a long editing session
and for the two rockstars it involved various meetings with different
departments and a special masterclass at the rocks for TNF staff. In the run up
to Mello things have been very, very hectic. The show we have planned is
hopefully going to be very good, but it requires me to get my A-game on to
finish editing a few videos. Without the video’s there is no show and without
the show there is no reason to go to Mello, so I’m working hard not to
disappoint the two chiefs.

Once the day had closed at the office we drove on to
Sportler to do a slideshow and then a masterclass. Sportler is a rather large
sport shop with departments for every outdoor activity, from biking, to hiking,
to climbing. We spent some time browsing before getting serious;

IMG_1655 

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The most notable structure is the huge climbing wall in the
centre of Sportler. It’s very impressive that such a wall exists in the middle
of a giant shop, and it certainly puts to shame some of the better UK climbing
walls! A lot of TNF staff turned up for the lecture which was cool and they
were rewarded by getting a masterclass (perhaps in posing) from James and Gaz,
as you can see in these pictures;

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Another evening finished and another drive to be embarked
upon. The trip is drawing ever closer to ending, just as we seem to be becoming
at one with it. The short nights, the long drives, the lack of food, are all
things which we have embraced and now represent a level of normality I never
thought we’d see. We’ve found our groove and we’re moving efficiently now, fast
approaching Mello and the inevitable break up of the tripod of stability. We
tried to discuss our feelings on the matter of Big G leaving on the 11th
but James quickly shut the conversation down, claiming he had something in his
eye…

[Ed - quite frankly, I'm disappointed in Italy's mobile network. It's not robust enough to upload a few simple photos and it's just not good enough!]

May 11, 2009

Kevin Garnett

Arco holds a special place in Gaz’s heart and after
listening to many of his stories of good days gone by, we were all really
excited about the penultimate stop on our little tour.  Climbing was going to follow the usual plan
of a quick warm-up, (hopefully) quick dispatch, and repeats for the film, but
unusually, today climbing would not be the headline event!

One of Gaz’s stories told of the famous Marco’s Ice cream parlour,
with its many, many amazing flavours of cold creamy joy.  Being a firm believer in “I can do anything
if I put my mind to it”, Keith declared that he could eat every flavour in one
day – a bold statement considering there were around 30 of them in total!

Six flavours were dispatched before breakfast, with a
further six coming shortly after; a promising start but still a long way to
go.  We went to the lake shoot some more
of our music video which was an incredibly gay affair, and seemed to be enjoyed
by a pretty windsurfing instructor who kept casting cheeky glances our
way.  Back in town, Keith got on the Ice
Cream train again and came crashing into his first wall!

IMG_1717

He had been working his way through the flavours in the
order they were laid out, and unluckily found that scoops 17 and 18 were not
his favourites to say the least.  Perhaps
one bad flavour in isolation could have been tolerated, but the combo of two
gag-tastic scoops, with 16 others already inside him was almost too much to
take and he turned very pale, very quickly – was this the end?

Time is a great healer, and after an hour or so he was back
on the program feeling ready for more. 
After hitting the crag and doing what needed to be done, we were back in
town for the final rounds.

IMG_1735 

IMG_1718

A warm up six
before dinner left the home straight well and truly in sight and with a few of
his favourite flavours still to come things were looking pretty good.

Sweet success came at around 9pm, with flavour 29 being his
personal favourite; dark chocolate. After a speedy espresso we jettisoned towards
our final stop on the tour, Melloblocco, with the proof that anything is
possible…

IMG_1760

I have a bad habit of leaving everything to the last minute
and despite promising ourselves we would try to be more organised on this trip,
old habits really do seem to die hard. 
We arrived in Val di Mello on Friday morning with a slightly manic
schedule – climb our last route, film the last parts of our music video,
prepare the evenings show, capture, edit and render 3 short films for the show,
make some pictures and prepare the venue!

Our chosen route was possibly the most accessible of the
trip, being on a giant free standing boulder 1 meter from the road.  Gaz had onsighted it a few years ago and so
he had a good idea of what to expect, and sadly the knowledge he imparted to me
involved slopey pinches which were now bathing in the noon time sun. Although
this may be one of the easier routes of the trips, it turned out to require
more collective redpoints than any other route of the trip. Once the magical
redpoint barrier was broken, it also became the most ascended route of the
trip, with Gaz and myself doing it at least 4 times each for photos, videos,
and the ever welcome ego massage.

The remainder of the day flew by with Keith being locked in
the van editing away as fast as he could, in preparation for the evening’s big
show. So far only one of the 4 videos were finished and everything was hinging
on the other 3 being ready. Gaz and I went for a walk and picked some flowers, which was a beautiful moment and without doubt one of the most relaxed moments of the trip. [Edit - the original text has been removed as it was posted in a fit of passion which we now feel the world may not be ready for. I apologise sincerely if it caused anyone offence, disgust, or moral outrage].

The lecture was scheduled for 9pm, and at 7pm we were all
set up in the gardens of the mountain guide centre. The shower that was due to
arrive at 5pm didn’t show up, so an evening of outdoors events was to go ahead.
Unfortunately only the first event managed to get underway outside, and halfway
through the storm arrived, forcing us to move the location of the lecture into
a large, echoic, sports hall with a rather poor sound system. The lecture was
supposed to be an all out audio visual show, but the poor sound turned it into
more of a visual feast. Even without decent sound clarity the crowd all laughed
in all the right places, confirming that such high brow comedy can be
appreciated in any language. There were some unexpected twists and turns to the
lecture, and I won’t go into them just yet, but suffice to say it was something
a little unexpected.

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I think Keith is going to post up one of the video’s when we
arrive at a location with a decent internet connection (ie. probably not in
Italy), so stay tuned for that as it should crack you up.  

After the show it’s the after party, so off we went to the
party…

[once again apologies for the lack of photos but using a mobile data connection seems to be genuinely impossible in this part of Italy]

May 12, 2009

The Big One

This was the big one, the one we’d been waiting 40 days for,
the one which was going to be rammed with beautiful girls and great music. We’d
had our warm up parties in Zurich, Barcelona, Hall, and Chamonix, but the
Saturday night party at Mello was the one which we’d been saving ourselves for.

With nothing to save for the next party we went all out,
showered, shaved, and put on our last pair of clean undies. Upon arrival at the
party things were looking promising, with nice beats pumping out of the tent
and copious amounts of liquid nourishment. Gaz and James had climbed their last
route of the trip and subsequently their bodies had gone into a semi shutdown
mode, but within 15 minutes this was all forgotten about as we were inside the
tent jumping around like madmen.

It’s always important that you “make sure you know before
you go, the dancefloor bro-ho ratio… 5 to 1 is a brodeo” and a brodeo is
exactly what we’d walked into. Climbing isn’t a sport with an abundance of
beautiful women, which I find exceptionally strange when there are so many
hunky men like us, but we thought that an event like Mello would bring out the
best of the climbing world. If 5 to 1 is a brodeo then the Mello party was much
further along the scale, perhaps best described as brodown. If I had to have a
guess the bro-ho ratio was somewhere in the region of 15-1 which came as a
great disappointment. The music pounded on and without girls to try and impress
we did the next best thing which was to dominate the dancefloor.

This was all going well and good until a little before 4am
when the DJ grabbed a mic to make an announcement. I thought he was going to
say something along the lines of “YO MELLO!!!! Are you having a good time!?!
The night is young and the beats will outlast every single one of you!”.
Unfortunately he declared that the party would be ending in 20 mins so we had
to do our best to expend all of our energy by that point. None of us could
believe it! A party that ends at 4am is not a party but a mere gathering of acquaintances.
I’m not sure why there was a 4am limit but when the last beat dropped and the
final clap was heard there was little else to do but search for the after party
party. This didn’t result in any success with James and I eventually giving up
and heading back to the van for a few hours of shuteye. The others, who were a
little higher on life than us, pushed on to try and rekindle the party but
eventually conceded that there was no after party to be found, giving up and
returning to the van.

Whilst it’s often true that the brightest stars burn for the
shortest time, it’s only partly true of the mello party. The music was truly
excellent with the DJ playing some superb tunes, but such an early end was a
bitter sweet end to the trip. Our warm up parties had all lasted until at least
6am so to have our final big one ending at 4am was a little disappointing. However,
when we awoke in the morning the night was remembered with fond memories as we’d
all had a good time whilst it lasted. We simply sat around in a beautiful meadow, soaked in some sun and tried not to be too sad that this was all coming to an end.

IMG_1784 

The beautiful view in the Mello valley

Sunday was to be our final full day together as the tripod
of stability would be broken the next morning when Gaz boarded a plane to his
new home/car/life in Spain. With no pressure to either climb, drive, lecture,
film, or edit, we spent the day enjoying each other’s company, reliving the
many glorious moments we’ve had on this trip. As the sun set I even managed to
squeeze in an hour of bouldering which marks my return to climbing which felt
amazing.

The trip may nearly be over but the blog isn’t quite there
yet. A few balls have been set in motion and you can expect more regular
updates for at least 1 week, with hopefully a video or two if we find a hard
line into the internet.

 All of the photos from the previous days will be uploaded tomorrow as we are now in a new place which has a stable data connection… the location will be revealed soon!

May 12, 2009

That Joke isn’t funny anymore…

It seems that nearly all of the readers of this fine blog understand
that not every post is filled with boring fact upon fact. Most of the
time the funniest and zany things are written but deleted before the
final edit as we don't think they have any place on this blog, but
writing them is purely for our own amusement.

The other day I posted a blog entry titled Kevin Garnett, which appeared to be written by James. He had the best of intentions and started writing the blog before hitting a wall and falling asleep. I took over and whilst he was sat next to me (in a half asleep/awake state) I wrote something which I knew would make him laugh and bring him back to the world of the living. It did just the trick and we all had a little laugh over it. Unfortunately that small section got left in and was published for the world to see.

It has now been removed as upon further reflection I've decided it may possibly cause offence to certain individuals. Whilst we've received no complaints from either the public or the powers that be, we felt it was better to wrap it up just in case someone didn't understand that it was a joke. Taken out of context a funny joke can often seem to be a derogatory statement and I don't wish this to happen. Anyone who has read this blog from the start, or who knows James, Gaz, or myself will understand just how tongue in cheek we are and that we are certainly proud to regularly use the wonderful art of British sarcasm.

Once again, I apologise if you were one of the silent individuals who may have been offended, and reiterate again that it was not meant as anything but a private joke for James and Gaz.

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May 16, 2009

Never Stop Exploring

“Never Stop Exploring” may be perceived by some people as
the cheesy catchphrase of a multinational organisation, but in reality it’s a
philosophy that has far more depth to it. The search for new adventures is
something that binds all climbers as we quest all over the world looking for
the perfect route, boulder or mountain. In fact, it goes beyond climbers as it
applies to a huge number of sports and lifestyles whereby the search for
perfection never ends. Many of us dedicate our lives to the thing we love with
the only reward being the pursuit of the next challenge. Never stop exploring
is how we live our live our lives out of necessity and not choice. The grip of
adventure holds such a tight rein on our lives that we are almost slaves to it!
I’m lucky to consider myself a slave to such a great master!

We’ve been through many villages, towns, and countries. We’ve
seen amazing vistas, beautiful crags, unbelievable sunsets, and on the odd occasion
the most magnificent sunrises! Each country we’ve been to has received a mental
grade, based on a variety of factors such as rock climbing, food, girls, general
vibe, beauty, and the local people. There are important sub genres that are
also taken into account which include random variables like quality of toilets,
available services, houses, etc. Whilst I think Great Britain is a very
comfortable country to live in, I’ve had a niggling feeling that I should be
living somewhere else for quite some time. I’ve spent long amounts of time in
other countries but a severe lack of one factor or another has meant that I don’t
think a move is justified. In the past 40 something days I’ve glimpsed places
which I’ve never seen before and this is really cool for me as it means I can
tick another country off in my quest to get them all visited! However, it’s really
amazing because I’m able to see other cultures, other ways of living and
witness the variety of life. The result of this mini tour around Europe has
been that I’ve found somewhere which I think may be able to offer me a new
home!

For a rock climber, being centrally based with access to
good training facilities and plenty of rock is an essential recipe for success.
This leaves only a couple of places which need serious consideration. For a
dedicated sport climber there is only one real destination which is Spain, and
this is where the Big G has gone to! I’m not a dedicated sport climber and so
Spain isn’t the ideal solution. For me it comes down to a choice between
Austria and Switzerland. Both score highly, but in this instance the scale was
tipped slightly towards Austria as the climbing/training scene in Innsbruck
seems like the best one around. Luckily Innsbruck also scores highly in many
other departments, and it was with this bit of inspiration that we drove to
Innsbruck once we were finished with Mellobloco. Even more luckily, I wasn’t
alone in my inspiration to move out of England, and James had been similarly
inspired so it was together that we embarked on this adventure!

If you really want something then you have to do everything you
can to make it happen, so the first day we arrived in Innsbruck was spent with
a newspaper looking for potential apartments. We had no idea what to expect in
terms of availability, quality, or price but it didn’t take long to learn a
whole lot! There are far too many people searching for accommodation in
Innsbruck and this means for every available apartment there are at least 20 or
30 contending parties! It’s quite insane. Coupled with the fact that it’s all
done privately and not through any central estate agent, the epic of flat
hunting soon set in. Luckily I had my wing man in tow so James and I got our
A-game on, enquiring after everything we could find, setting up appointments
and arranging to meet unknown people in unknown locations.

The long and the short of it is that there are lots of crap
apartments, some nice ones, and very few amazing ones (in our price bracket!).
I believe that when you are trying hard to make something happen then other
random processes tend to conspire only to help you, so what might seem like an
incredible situation occurred which made our lives a whole lot easier. We went
to see an apartment which turned out to be the best we’d seen by a country mile,
but it wasn’t in the centre of town. After chatting to Anne (the girl who lived
there) for a little while it turned out that she was moving only to be in the
centre of town and thus closer to university. 
In the time we spent talking to her she seemed friendly, funny and
trustworthy so 24 hours later we called her back to ask if she wanted to move
in with us! Amazingly, this random proposition was accepted and so the 3 of us
once again started looking for an apartment in the centre of town. With Anne
being a fluent German speaker and resident of Innsbruck, things really started
moving!  More appointments were made,
more viewings were arranged, and eventually we hit the jackpot. An amazing
apartment, wonderfully located, and within our budget! Unfortunately we are probably
competing with another 50 people for this apartment, so we won’t be celebrating
until we get a phone call informing us that we are the winners! Our fingers are
now firmly crossed!

With this small victory in hand it was time to leave
Innsbruck behind and head back to England via a cross European route taking in
a few last sights and taking care of a few loose ends. The trip is now most
definitely in it’s final steps. Our weary bodies are craving real beds, real
home comforts, and perhaps even some down time. Whilst the down time can’t come
soon enough there are some final chores to take care of and one of them is to
upload another webisode ASAP. Tonight and tomorrow will be spent at
Maisonbleau, editing video and perhaps even doing a spot of bouldering (if it’s
not scorching hot).

I have to apologise for not getting it done sooner but the
run up to Mello was intense and I had 3 videos to make for the boys’ final
show. One of them will definitely be appearing on here very soon, the other
will most likely be saved for the DVD extras (as it’s extra spicey), and the
third is loosely based on footage that you’ve already glimpsed in a webisode
(think lycra). So check back soon for something which I can guarantee will
either cause a wry smile or an all out laugh!  

 

 

 

May 16, 2009

Take This

We've come so far on this roadtrip, seeing so many countries, so many crags, and so many people. We've shared the laughter of each day and every single day has been another great experience. We came up with this concept to open the show at Melloblocco and so if you were there you've already seen this, but if not then imagine a dark scene… lights off… music comes in…

Take This from unclesomebody on Vimeo.

May 18, 2009

Webisode 4

Saturday was spent in Fontainebleau trying to edit this webisode as fast as I could, but secretly I was harbouring desires to go rock climbing. Unfortunately neither occurred as it rained and then I ran out of time! I thought that once I returned to unclesomebody HQ the way of the edit would be much easier, but it turns out that my computer must be a female as she was feeling so unloved that she was having some issues. It took a little warming up and a bit of messing about to get her working again, but here is the result of that intimacy.

This webisode features the following locations;
Pfalz, Germany
Frankenjura, Germany
Sokoliki, Poland
Dolni Zleb, The Czech Republic
Schleierwasserfall, Austria

Whilst it felt great to sleep in a double bed lastnight, it felt empty
to wake up without James or Gaz either offering me a brew or driving to
the next location. The tripod of stability has been dismantled (for now), but the blog lives on. There will be at least another 2 videos this week and a few more posts looking back on the good times.

 

Summit Series Road Trip – Webisode 4 from unclesomebody on Vimeo.

May 20, 2009

Final Thought #1

I asked James to write a little something about the trip and this is what he had to say… written all on his own, no ghostwriting!

The Summit Series roadtrip first materialised around 1 year ago, when
Keith Byrne, strategic marketing manager at The North Face asked me
what I thought about making some kind of a journey around Europe to
help promote a new range of apparel which was due to be released this
spring.  The clothing range never materialised, but the idea for the
roadtrip continued to grow and evolve until we had a sensible (line
through)realistic (line through), possible plan of action.

As our departure date grew nearer, I began to get a little worried
about the success of the trip.  I had been involved in most of the
organising of the route and the events, so if things were to go pear
shaped, the blame would lie heavily on my shoulders.  I was also unsure
about how “real” climbers would perceive the trip.  Certainly in
England, “big” sponsorship deals are often sneered at and the climbers
who receive them are often looked down on and quoted as “sellouts” etc.
There seems to be this odd idea that to be  ”the real deal”, you need
to be hitching from crag to crag, sleeping in caves, eating baked beans
out of the tin and actively discouraging any form of publicity.

50,000 words, 15,000 km, 47 days, 30 hours of video, 22 borders, 14
countries, a load of climbing, and a whole load more new friends, and I
now see the roadtrip as one of the best times in my life, a trip I feel
privileged to have been involved in.  The roadtrip surpassed any prior
expectations I had, in pretty much all possible areas. I had way more
fun, but also had to work far harder than I could ever have imagined.

After the first 5 days in the UK, I think we were all beginning to
question what we had let ourselves in for.  We barely had enough time
to drive between the areas and climb then film the routes, meaning
sleeping and eating were put on the back burner – not a wise choice for
a 6 week trip.  We lived life one day at a time and if it wasn’t
happening right then and there, we didn’t think about it.  I began to
see things through an almost perma-drunk haze; I bumbled around
tripping over things, finding most things funny and also saying things
that seemed so smart at the time but in hindsight should probably never
have left my lips, kind of like when you meat a nice girl in a bar,
things are going well, then you whisper something in her ear which
leaves you with a red face and aching balls – and not in a good way!

Like it always does, time passed, days turned into weeks, and the grand
finale arrived.  I had gotten to know and got on so well with Gaz and
Keith over the last 40 days that when the time came for the tripod of
stability to go its separate ways, I was genuinely sad. I think I have
changed a lot as a person on the trip. I am now more open to new
opportunities, and understand that climbing is definitely not the be
all and end all.  I will most definitely be pushing for a similar trip
next year. Plans are already being formulated, with the only definite
ingredients so far being bigger and better!

One of the things that will stick in my mind for a long time is how
incredibly diverse climbing in Europe can be. With only a short drive,
you can be climbing on completely different rock types, with completely
different ambiance, style and ethics. I think this is incredibly
healthy for us as climbers as it forces you to develop a well rounded
set of skills.

Over the next few months I am going to make another Euro roadtrip, but
this time it will be with my Girlfriend, on a smaller scale and at a
much relaxed pace. I am really looking forward to spending some time
with Emily; if there was one thing the roadtrip lacked, it was quality
company of the female kind.  It will also be cool to stop back in to
some of my favourite areas from the trip, experience a little more of
the local culture and catch up with friends – both old and new.

Then It is time for a major change…

Never stop…

May 21, 2009

Take a look…

As the trip drew to a close we knew the inevitable moment would come when Gaz would board a plane and fly of to Espana to build a new life for him and Kate. None of us were looking forward to this moment and it was something we actively discouraged as a topic of conversation. No one wanted to shed any tears…

The day arrived and it was a sombre drive to Bergamo airport. The final moments were difficult but in every situation there is always something positive to be drawn. Here it was the fact that in 40 days we’d established such a deep and lasting bond. We’d been known (perhaps only internally) as the tripod of stability and losing one leg was a hard fact to face, but it was something we’d breakthrough and it would only serve to make us stronger.

In honour of the Big G, James and I decided to make a little video dedicated to his memory, expressing just how we truly feel. Some people might not understand some of the more subtle references in the montage, but everything has it’s place for a reason. Big G, if you’re reading this, know that even though the tripod is not together in physical form it will always live on in our hearts and minds. As always, click on the word vimeo to watch it in glorious HD. Enjoy…

Take a Look from unclesomebody on Vimeo.

May 21, 2009

Final Thought #2

Following on from James’ final thoughts, here are some from the Big G himself…

When we first discussed the trip over a number of months as the
plans developed it really did not dawn on me what we were about to
undertake. It all began with a photocopy of a European map, a random
green line sprawled all over it and a spread sheet with the climbing
destinations we wanted to hit. It all seemed simple really. The first
few days went fast. I didn’t really know Keith and James all that well
before we left the UK but now I would like to think that we returned
friends [Ed - more than friends!]. The opportunities and experiences that we had over our 40
day tour is possibly one of those moments in my life that won’t be
surpassed. Memories and laughter that will stay with me forever and
stories I will probably tell when I am even older than I am now.

Prior
to leaving the UK I was pretty relaxed about the whole road trip
idea really. It soon hit me though how much we had bitten off. People
would ask me where we had been and where we were going but the past and
the future meant nothing, the only thing that was real was the moment.
This was heightened even more by our almost none existent contact with
the outside world. I felt like we were travelling around in a bubble,
our bubble being our wonderful van and a spreadsheet of dates,
locations and times. On the journey almost all the decision came at the
last moment as our days were too full to plan ahead. Leaving Copenhagen
at midnight for a 10hr drive to Eindhoven being a fine example of
pushing ourselves close to the edge. In Germany i almost hit the wall,
i was destroyed but somehow i managed to claw my way out of near
destruction to have one of my best climbing days ever in Slovenia. If
anything this journey showed me that you should try a squeeze every
last drop our of every day, month, year and even your life……after
all you only have one chance.

We
spent very little time in the big cities and a great deal of time
driving, 15,000km of time. We had time on our hands and time to soak in our
surroundings. Europe really is a wonderful place. In
the past few years i have begun to think that as an experienced climber
i have to travel further and further for new adventures but this trip
has shown me that really its just there on your door step, all you need
to do is open your eyes. From the southern coast of England to the amazing sandstone towers of the Czech Republic.

The day before it was all over i almost vowed to myself that i wouldn’t do this again,
the next day i was nothing. Quiet and empty i felt like i couldnt drive
another mile or see another rock let alone climb one. That evening
though we already had ideas for next year if it happens amazing if it doesn’t then i will still have the memories.

The end of the
trip signified a new beginning for me. A goodbye to the guys at Milan
airport and i hopped on a plane to Spain. I have a house there now with
my girlfriend Kate and some would say its a new life for me. I like to
think about it as something different, more a new experience. That’s
what life is all about a new experience you just gotta get out there
and make it happen. I know it sounds cheesy but its something i think
we should all live by, as they say at The North Face, Never Stop
Exploring.

Thank you James and Keith.

May 22, 2009

Final Thought #3

This trip was a great opportunity for me and I feel rather
privileged to have been asked to come onboard. Surprisingly I thought a lot
about whether or not I would do this trip as I’ve got a lot of editing to do
from this year’s Font trip and also because 40 days of travelling and filming
is 40 days of missed training. Eventually I decided that it was such a great
opportunity that I’d be foolish not to accept it with open arms and it has
turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

When I left England I only had one expectation from this
trip, which was to be very sure that I should expect the unexpected. This was a
situation which could turn out in many different ways and if I had chosen the
best possible outcome then I would have fallen short of what actually occurred.
 

The unexpected did turn out to feature heavily on this
roadtrip, with it making it’s presence felt in climbing, in countries, and in
people. I had visions of this trip being a nice jolly around Europe, taking in
some sights, and doing a bit of filming. It became so much more than that and I
think it’s solely down to the team of people involved.

Not knowing Gaz at all it was always something of a worry
that maybe James and I would get on superbly and Gaz would end up being the
third wheel on a two wheel bike. I couldn’t have been more wrong and it didn’t
take long to figure that out. Gaz is one of the nicest people I’ve met and
someone who I could easily and willingly spend far more time with! It didn’t
take long for the “tripod of stability” to become recognised, utilised, and
relied upon.  By the time we left the UK
our bond was developed and it wouldn’t waver for the next 40 days, proving that
three is most definitely not a crowd, but a recipe for a good time!  As the days and weeks elapsed the tripod only
became stronger. Each and every day may have seemed like hard work but it was a
joy to undertake because I was in amazing places with amazing people. There’s
not much room for moaning in such situations!

The manic schedule was something that I’d glossed over as I
figured everywhere is fairly close to everywhere else in Europe, and trusted that
James had utilised google maps in his research. After about a week I realised
that being on a single giant land mass in no way means that places are close to
one another, and it was a nightly occurrence to stay awake driving until the
early hours. Luckily the human body is an incredibly adept machine and after
hitting a wall of tiredness, hunger, and fatigue I broke through with the force
of a thousand horses. Once my body understood it could survive on less than 6
hours sleep and only 1 real meal a day (on a good day) things became a lot
easier.

This trip marked one of the longest breaks for me from
climbing. Normally a 2 day period doesn’t pass without either training or
climbing, so the thought of spending so long without pulling on was difficult.
Initially I thought it would be possible to climb some of the routes that James
and Gaz had listed, but it quickly dawned on me that we were too tight on time
and I had to make do with only seeing and not trying some incredible looking
lines. On the odd occasion I would get the chance to have a do or die effort on
a route, and since I’m in no position to flash 8a’s right now, they all ended
with more of a die. What this did was to motivate me to come back and finish
them off, along with some of the other mega lines at whatever crag we were at, so
failure once again provided me with the means/inspiration for eventual success.
 

Even though I’ve spent the last few years as a dedicated
boulderer, I always harboured secret desires to do certain famous sport routes.
This trip was an opportunity for me to receive the necessary psyche to actually
buy (or beg, borrow, and steal) some quickdraws and a rope, so I can turn an
airy fairy dream into a reality. Learning how to sport climb will be a fun
process for me as I think it’s diametrically opposite to the search for a
single hard move. Seeing routes like Agincourt in the flesh only filled me with
psyche and I’m sure once I get fit enough to try it, it will fill me with both
joy and lactic acid. The most magnificent route I saw on the whole trip was an
8a in the Czech Republic which we (unfortunately) saw on the day we were
leaving. It probably ranks as one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in
climbing and returning to do it is a certainty, not a distant pipe dream.

If I was again offered the chance to partake in a similar
trip I would jump at the opportunity with open arms. Whilst it’s all too easy
to romanticise past events, I’m not going to forget that it was hard work. The
overall memory will be one of very good times, with plenty of amusing moments
every day even when we were faced with late nights and lots of driving. The scales
were definitely tipped in favour of the good and I have to thank James, Gaz,
and The North Face for that, because without any of them this trip wouldn’t
have been possible.

The future path is now one which I can’t quite see. This
roadtrip took me to many new places and it opened my eyes to just how much sport
climbing diversity there is within Europe. I’d never been to Austria before, but
after being there I now find myself with a flat in Innsbruck, and an inevitable
move happening in the coming weeks. I’m under no illusion that the grass will
be greener upon arrival, but I know that creating an opportunity for change
will result in new adventures and that is something I look forward to.  New challenges, new adventures, new
opportunities… Perfect.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog then feel free to
continue reading my personal blog which is located at www.unclesomebody.com/blog

You can of course stay up to date with James’ adventures at www.jamespearsonclimbing.blogspot.com/

To keep track with Gaz’s new life in Spain make sure you
click through to www.gazparryclimbing.blogspot.com/

This blog isn’t quite dead yet as there will be another
couple of updates along with the fifth webisode featuring Zillertal, Misca Pec,
and Val di Mello, so stay tuned for that.