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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.