Sunday, 31 August 2008

An Alps Abseil Goody!

(Achtung! Big Copieur Is Watching You, TD+, 300m - 3rd abseil)

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Poi Stuff

Nothing to report on the climbing front I'm afraid :( All quiet on that front. In fact very little has happened these past two weeks. I do however, go to Greece on saturday to see my long absent girlfriend!!! Woo! Taking my rock shoes just in case and will try to find internet cafes if I do actually manage to find any bouldering. In absence of anything else to report I suppose I will have to fall back on my poi pastime; here is the latest trick that I've been trying to do; its very fiddly and certainly not very very annoying ;) Im afraid thats all I have to say at the moment, sorry! Maybe there will be lots of clever climbing stories to report when I return from Greece, but somehow I doubt it! Ciao 

Monday, 11 August 2008

Home, Home, Home

And so from the constant adventurism of the Alps to the monotony of home life. Sadly very little climbing related activity to report; I did go to the Gloucester wall but didn't achieve very much at all, in many respects I've got worse! Except, it appears, on slabs, which wasn't that surprising, seeing as I've been on nothing but slabs for the entirety of the alps!  Upon trying the 7a slab (features only) on the only slab wall the Warehouse has to offer, I managed after a hell of a disco-leg session, to get it completely clean!  However, everything vertical and above utterly defeated me :( Indeed a mere 5c overhangs completely trounced me! Oh well, must get back to the Gap! In the absence of anything climbing related to report about I thought I'd supplement this usually climbing blog with the only other semi interesting thing I've been doing at the moment, Poi. Balls on a string, wave them about, make nice pattern; thats the gist of it. Started playing with them in the alps and seeing as have nothing better to do at home been practicing on them quite a lot! Heres a video of the latest trick, called The Fountain (which took 4 hours to master as I'm a very slow learner!) : 

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Places We Go, But Never Leave.

Welcome back dear friends! Hopefully you, the readers, (if I ever had any anyway!) have not got too bored or even worried with my complete lack of communication over these past four weeks. For you see I have been abroad and out of the country in the Ecrins region of the Alps where, contrary to popular opinion and mean-spirited wishful thinking, I didn't perish nor seriously hurt myself but am back and brimming with lifeblood and energy! I did hesitate before I began to write this account of these past three weeks away as I also wish to write an official article of one of the more livelier adventures of the trip for publication and remained in two minds whether I should just post that on this blog as a satisfactory record of my whereabouts and justification of absenteeism. However, I realized that such article would likely be constrained to a very small section of the events that occurred throughout the three weeks and would ignore the multitude of other joyous and seemingly endless number of events that happened in our stay in the Alps. Furthermore, and perhaps of even greater importance than the last point, an article angling for publication would (no doubt) be official-like and formal in its tone. Fine; that all well and good but this is a blog, which by its very nature, is tailored to the informal, the random and down right incomprehensible! Consequently, it is a medium much more adept at capturing the true bubbling enthusiasm that rushes over me ever time I write about climbing! And so I have decided to write a far more wide-ranging and engaging article for this blog which hopefully will avoid the whole dead text of "we got up, we went here, we did that, we slept, we got up again etc." Instead of this rejected format, I will attempt to provided an accurate and above all exuberant representation of our actions, thoughts and feelings, through eight separate accounts revolving around specific emotions, actions, feelings that occurred on our climbing holiday that, fingers crossed, will illuminate the unknowing reader with the knowledge of how we were feeling and why us climbers do all the crazy stuff that we do.


"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit" could aptly sum up what was going through everyone's mind at roughly this point in time. The path had been lost (lost! on a ridge! how!) quite some time ago but the four of us (ah says the knowledgeable mountaineer, that would be why) Duncan, Andy, Olly and I were still very high up gazing longingly at our tents far down on the glacier below. Time is etching away all to fast and everyone is aware of it, we've been up here far too long! But there is nothing one can do about it, we're up the proverbial river and we know it but all we can do is keep on heading down regardless. And so into the gully of hell; loose stones everywhere, hurtling down all around, holds are imaginary or if not, in a constant state of acceleration. One twenty-meter pitch of this to the proposed abseil (a big spire that will hopefully take us to the snowline, hopefully) takes the group a good hour but feels like four. The one-liter of water had come and gone roughly four hours ago and now it was a steadfast search amongst the loose rocks for patches of snow. The gritty snow tastes foul but temporarily allays the yearnings of the throat for something decent to drink. Dehydration is setting in, the motions are becoming sluggish and everyone is on edge ready to shout for little reason. Must get down, must get down, must get down. What a first Alpine peak! And so we start the abseil all the while eyeing the spire, willing it not to follow its other rocky companions we had dislodged onto the glacier 400ft below. One by one the others descend down the gully, but now there is a new problem the rocks dislodged by the people above are hurtling straight past the ones who had finished the abseil. Keep on moving, and keep on trusting that innate belief that 'its never going to me'. Through luck/fate/god nothing hits us. And so I descend last, leaving a painful amount of gear behind for the ab, past my comrades on the remainder of the rope to check a little bit further down. Does the snow we can see lead to the glacier and thus back to camp? It doesn’t. We keep moving.


The price of how far we've come is heavy. Every step is agonizing to the knees, the back, the soul. We are approaching the end of the descent back to camp after successfully completing our second, and last alpine peak; the south face of the East Summit of the Ailefroide (3,848m). We have been awake since three in the morning, it’s five in the afternoon now and we haven't stopped moving yet. Sarah and Irish have long since left us behind in their race back to the campsite and back to civilization. I envy them; they will be back hours before we do. The one person I do not envy however is Olly, who bust his ankle in around seven miles back, my pain pales in comparison to the fresh hell he is being put through. From the very top of the Ailefroide down through two thousands meters of vertical descent and roughly 12 miles in horizontal mileage, Its a long, long way back home. My body is packing in in various different ways. The knees and thighs are screaming with pain with ever step (which has become shorter and slower the further I've come) I take. The shoulders, laden with my backpack containing all the equipment one needs to sleep out in, has transcended miles away from what the mere term 'agony' tries to encapsulate, into a whole new realm of unpleasantness. We are once again dehydrated and both are internally and vocally uttering the foulmouthed profanities at why we were so stupid as to actually think one can enjoy alpinism! One does no such thing, one suffers alpinism so that they can then bask in retrospective pleasure and bragging rights. We curse the world in general. There are many walkers on the path; I'm still wearing my harness and they can see we have come a long way. Most smile and nod, one raises his hand like a pillow and asks 'fatigue?' I'm too shattered to offer a reply.


The sun rises over Glacier Blanc, It hits the Bar du Ecrins first, spilling its soft golden light onto the cold snow. Soon the whole glacier is bathed in gold light. There are very few clouds today. Those that persist are below us, merging with the end of the glacier to create a flowing white sea that stretches far into the distance, almost it seems, beyond the sight of us mere mortals. It is very beautiful, and very fleeting.


'One step, two step, thr-' the line goes taught, again. Olly has been suffering from altitude ever since we had reached the snow line and progress has slowed right down to nothing. Sitting down on the snow, his back turned away from me, my climbing partner tries to get his ragged breathe back; even from twenty meters above I can tell he is completely burnt out. I look up, the snow slopes are beginning to give way to blue skies, 'We can't be more than an hour away from the top!' For a moment a rising surge of irritation at the whole situation overwhelms me but I quash it down; 'no anger is just going to make things worse, climbing partners stick it out through thick and thin together; it just one of those rules. Like when I was suffering from altitude/sunstroke high up on the glacier, then the situation was reversed. I was completely and utterly useless crawled up in a little ball steeped in self-pity for how much my head felt like fire. But despite a completely incapacitated partner, Ol carried on digging the snow hole, making the wall, getting the water and erecting the tent regardless. You carry on with the tasks that need to be done; you help your partner out regardless. 'One step, two step thr-' Its just one of those rules.


The sun beats lazily down onto the campsite and the whole glorious valley surrounding it. 'Shall we climb today?' hmmm... ahhh... nah. And so on top of a tarp serving as a picnic blanket we lounge around, reading books, playing with poi (well I played with the poi not sure anyone else ever had the chance too) and just being content in moving our bodies as little as possible. Periodically we would awake from our half-conscious slumbering to meander into town and by tasty goodies for us to consume during the rest of the day. Apathy is the word, complete and utter apathy at climbing, at moving, at talking, at everything; on those specific days apathy was our world. But this wasn't some slothful vice we were partaking in; we felt no guilt. We had earned this rest, and at least for the moment, we would savour these rest days as our just reward for all the other trails and tribulation we had put ourselves through in the days before. Some say there is plenty time to sleep when your dead but I disagree; there is also plenty of time to sleep when you are very much alive, but unlike when you're dead you also get to look forward to a nice lunch afterwards.


I've never been good at slack-lining, in fact would not be stretching the truth to say I am a complete and utter failure at it. But even so, this was a certainly an opportunity that was not to be missed. Set right across a streaming, crystal turquoise glacial river this slack-line was the most impressive set up I've seen to date. But even better than the line itself (which no kidding was one hell of a ride!) was watching the club come together to set it up and make it work in a touching display of social togetherness that makes you think, if only fleetingly, ' the human race isn't doomed after all'. Of course not everyone helped on the line itself (I for one was throwing rocks in the river trying to get them all soaked!) but everyone was there down by the river. And despite the fact that they were all up to their own things - Mark was learning how to complete a Rubix cube from Gareth, Steve was talking to an old grizzled climber, Olly and I were throwing rocks into the stream and the rest were preparing the slack-line- there was a closeness that exuded from them that I have never really seen anywhere else in my life. United by a common obsession that is so strong it flows outwards and bonds us to our fellow comrades creating a friendship that is very difficult to break. After all each one of us has literally put our lives in the hands of our fellow climbers countless times, how could such a link ever be phased by anything this ordinary world, this mundane world, could throw at us? And so this group of friends continued to play down by the river, content in the knowledge that whatever life threw at us there wasn't a situation imaginable where we still wouldn't be friends.


I'm five pitches up and it’s my lead. Below, my head tells me, there is a three hundred foot drop. But the ground is easy, way below my limit, and the traverse is well protected with bolts and so I let my body take control, going into automatic whilst hanging round in the back of my head, my brain fleetingly takes in the stunning views. When you get into this mode, nothing fazes you; you look at how far away the ground is and laugh. It could perhaps be compared (although the analogy does not do it true justice) to a very big roller coaster; once the fear of death or serious harm recedes you are left with this euphoric feeling. The adrenaline boosting you up, but the fear not dragging you down. This isn't common even when climbing, most of the time - well least most of the time for me - 'its oh crap mustn't cock this up mustn't cock this up' But every now and then your perception changes and you know nothing will go wrong, just know, and then the whole experience become a lot different. I think in this particular instant it was the immediate knowledge that the pitch I would have to lead crosses a waterfall (hence the name of the route - Cascade Bleaus- and the anticipation leading up to it, that got me in this state. When I crossed the waterfall, hands and feet trying to cling to wet rock as the cascade roared down the back of my neck, I couldn't stop laughing. Sometimes climbers get their buzz from pushing themselves to their upper limits, but other times I think it is the realization that such a meaningless activity can produce such strong feelings within the individual. In some cases it is fear, pain, determination; for me at that particular moment, I was overcome by pure unfettered joy.


Some other person once said 'treat issues of great importance lightly as you treat the issues of light importance greatly'. I believe, as other climbers have also remarked, that it is the phrase that comes closest to encapsulating the whole force of why climbers risk everything for no material benefit. From an outsiders point of view why risk it? Why risk even your very life for no gain? Why not just take up some other, safer, sport like football to become obsessed with? Why not, if you want thrills, just go to Thorpe Park for an afternoon and ride the roller coasters? These people miss the point. It is precisely because the physical action of climbing is so utterly devoid of inherent meaning that people continue to do, and to die for it. Climbing is a blank slate through which the individual can carve their own reasoning, their own fear, pain, sorrow and joy, their own purpose. Climbing is free from politics, religion, state, nationhood, even morality if one chooses. That is the essence of it: choice. The actions one chooses whilst climbing are, ultimately, their own. So are the consequences. All those feelings that stem from such a meaningless act are given to climber, not by a system of social regulations and expectations, but by his own doing. That is why I believe climbers develop such strong bonds of comradeship, because they accept the consequences of their partner’s actions as their partners accept the consequences of your own. The issues of great importance have no effect on climbing, they infringe not one iota on the act itself. But the 'light' issue of climbing can bestow great importance as the action the climbers chooses, and the consequences he suffers, are completely down to him. He is, in a true sense of the word, free.


I hope that you all have enjoyed reading this account of my first trip to the Alps. Throughout, I have tried to be as accurate to the reality of the situation as possible but there may be some instance of poetic license that slipped through, for which I apologize! I would like to thank my traveling companions Olly, Sarah and Lois for the wonderful time we had out there; it was amazing guys! Also to my Emily, who keeps on loving me despite this unfortunate climbing addiction. To everyone else I hope you all had fun reading my crazy ramblings and wish you all the best for the future.
All my love


Because this is a historical record of my climbing career and because, perhaps somewhere, someone is wondering just which climbs drove this poor journalism to such heights of passion, I will list below all the climbs completed on my three weeks in the Alps in order of severity of climb:

South Face of the East Summit of the Ailefroide (3,848m) PD
Pic Du Neige F
Achtung! Big Copieur is Watching You (300m) TD+
Cascade Bleaus (200m) TD
La Snoopy (200m) TD-
Saiph (6a+)
Bellatrix (6a+)
1x 6a+ (dogged)
3x 6a’s (dogged)
Soleil (5c)
Sarkostar (5c)
Dalle (5c)
Cliff Hamburger (5b)
+ Plus a lot more (for I have dredged the reserves of memory and cannot remember the names, these are the climbs that prominently stuck out in my recollection.)