BLOG: Strongly sluffed and a smack in the ear

The rush of snow got stronger until it engulfed me and the bright daylight turned to a black nothingness. I grabbed wildly at the rock wall of the gully with my gloved hand as the great weight piled heavier on top of me, trying to pull me down the slope.

After two seconds that lasted an hour, the heaviness of the snow was making movement difficult and I couldn’t breathe. I sprang up and started wildly backstroking, instantly reaching the surface and sliding for around thirty metres on the avalanche debris.

I opened my snow-filled eyes and the sunlit afternoon greeted me, as did Bullock, both cheery and both snow-covered.

“Shall we go see if that other route is free?” chirped Bullock, his curly hair highlighted in to a comical white afro by the powder cloud that had followed the small avalanche that deposited him on the snow slope parallel to me.

I caught my breath and we went to check out the next ice line up the valley which was thankfully busy.

A few days later we were out climbing again.

The friendly Spanish mountain guide topped out on the ice pitch to where we were waiting impatiently to abseil in for our turn. He had been quite a long time and we were getting bored.

“Don’t go down.” he warned, “The ice is very, erm how do you say, it is making strange noises. That’s why I took my time.” He gesticulated with his hands and made a booming noise.

I glanced at Bullock who had been waiting in the snow for almost an hour and I knew we were climbing it regardless of what this guy had to say. Bullock looked disinterested and carried on sorting the rope.

“It was very… erm… extreme,” the guy said to us both, searching for the right phrases to describe what had obviously been a big lead. Again Bullock didn’t look up.

“Yes, extreme. I had to climb far on the right. On the left it is very thin. Very steep. Overhangs. You must stay on the right.”

Bullock’s eyes flashed. I sighed.

Bullock climbed the left side. It was very steep.

I followed the rope through an overhang of ice fangs, and struck hard for a placement with my left axe. A toaster-sized piece of ice came off under the impact of my pick. I turned my face away and caught the blow straight on my ear. It swelled up immediately.

The pain, the swelling of my ear, the heavy blow, it took me back twenty years. I’d felt it before. Same pain, same ear.

“Get the ball or I’ll snap your legs.” Paul Barrett was a big lad. He was rough too, even by Keighley standards. He was built like a brick shit house. I wasn’t. The legs that poked out from my school P.E. shorts must have looked pretty easy to snap.

“You kicked it.” I said. “So you get it.”

No warning, he punched me hard on the side of the head. The blow knocked me to the ground and my ear swelled up like a balloon.

I stood up, shitting my pants, and said again “You get it.” I would have happily got the ball that Paul had kicked off field, it would have taken two minutes but – in the complex hierarchy of school bullying – standing your ground was usually better in the long run. Usually.

The P.E. teacher came over and Barrett whispered to me as he left to fetch the ball “I’ve already got a scuffle after school today, but I’m going to fucking smack you tomorrow.”

I nodded but didn’t say anything.

My climbing has somewhat mirrored my school days. I don’t go out looking for trouble. The routes I’ve done have always been well calculated. Within my grasp. Very rarely have I been strung out, scared and thinking I have really over-cooked it. Wait for good conditions. Be confident in your ability and everything should go according to plan. That has always been my way. But sometimes you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’d had quite a few fights at school, almost everyone had. I didn’t start any of them, and I had always come out okay in the end. It wasn’t really a case of win or lose; more damage limitation, and these ‘scuffles’ weren’t like in films, they were pretty nasty and very undignified. They could last for a long time, with dirty tricks, kicks to the head, and rings of lads pushing you back in so you couldn’t get away, but by and large I had got away with limited fighting, and that was the way I liked it.

Barrett was big, really big. He had a nasty streak and I was scared. What had started off as just another football match had ignited instantly and without warning in to something very serious. I was in for a proper kicking.

Forewarned is forearmed and so, after school and with my ear still throbbing, I went to watch his fight.

The avalanche of snow had hit us after we had climbed and abseiled the ice couloir; caused by the sun hitting the large expanse of fresh snow poised above the gully we were climbing. Luckily for us we had climbed fast and were back down near the base of the couloir by the time the sun came round. If we had been higher up the route we would have been in a bad situation, especially as we climbed much of it unroped. We shouldn’t have been on that route the day after a snowfall. It was an error of judgement, a stupid mistake. But we got away with it, like so many do, and we laughed and brushed it off along with the snow down our jackets, and carried on with our day.

That same day a friend of mine had an accident on the Tour Rond. He was tragically killed.

We were in the 5th form, Barrett and I. We were 16 years old and both about to leave school with no qualifications and no desire to go on to 6th form. I wanted the freedom of the hills, I hated the confinement of school. Barrett was simply too stupid to do A Levels. Barrett’s fight was to be next to some lockers, under a stairway, and I found out he was to fight someone in the upper 6th form, two years our senior.

I watched from the small crowd; Barrett saw me there as he waited for his opponent. He looked at me, and I nodded at him. Then the 6th form lad appears with his mates in tow, quite big and up for a bit of a fight, but not a nasty bastard, you could tell. Barrett wastes no time and just head-butts the guy square in the face as hard as he can. The lad goes down, semi conscious and with a broken nose. Barrett grabs his hair, pulls him rag-doll upright and smashes his head three times in to the right-angled metal corner of the lockers and then drops him to the floor, like he was dropping a wet dish cloth. The lad doesn’t move. The fight’s over.

Barrett walks past me and says “You’re all right you Geldard.” I nod, and say nothing.

I can feel my ear pulsing under my fleece hat and climbing helmet and I swing my left axe again and this time the pick bites solidly in to the ice. I push my knee on the lip of the overhang to steady my body enough so I can swing my axe higher and then I bring my crampons up around the bulge. The angle relents a little and I take in the exposure. I use a cheeky heel hook, just for a bit of fun, and I swing right on to the final pillar of vertical ice.

Bullock’s on the belay, just a few metres above and to the side. He jokes about me deserving the swing I face if I fall off. I mutter something self deprecating about being quite likely to fall due to my incompetence on ice.

“You’re a good ice climber”, Bullock tells me and he means it, and it means a lot to me.

It’s funny, isn’t it, climbing, life. Sometimes you make a mistake and get away with it. Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and sometimes, inexplicably, Paul Barrett says you’re all right.

BLOG: Why Mountain Media is Important

After a hectic weekend at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival (KMF), I find myself flung back in to my home life of DIY, work and dreaming of climbing. Once again I’m back from the festival with a head full of ideas of where my next adventure may lie.

As a much younger climber I had little time for events like KMF. “I’d much rather be out on the mountain than stuck in a pub talking about being on a mountain.” was my thinking.

Pete Waite-shores, my first alpine climbingpartner from many years ago, shown year on the crux of Vent du Dragon this autumn. Climbing again with Pete after a 10 year hiatus was fantastic, and one thing it showed me was how much we have both changed in the intervening decade. Older, yes. Wiser, maybe not! Actually, yes, we are both certainly wiser than the young alpinists almost freezing to death in the deep winters of the early 2000's.
Pete Waite-shores, my first alpine climbing partner from many years ago, shown here on the crux of Vent du Dragon this autumn. Climbing again with Pete after a 10 year hiatus was fantastic, and one thing it showed me was how much we have both changed in the intervening decade. Older, yes. Wiser, maybe not! Actually, yes, we are both certainly wiser than the young alpinists almost freezing to death in the deep winters of the early 2000’s. This time round I wasn’t climbing in motorbike gloves for a start!

But now I realise that films, books, photographs, facebook posts, guidebooks, topos, articles, they are all important to our sport. Sometimes they inspire, sometimes they really don’t, but the concept of sharing of information, of ideas, and of the beauty of the mountains is important.

I’ve written literally hundreds of articles, and I’ve climbed hundreds of routes too and I look back on both with a similar eye. They often blur in to one. Maybe I just need glasses! Anyway, I’ve forgotten many routes I’ve climbed, and I’ve forgotten many articles I’ve written. But some routes, and some articles will always be special to me.

A couple of years ago a friend climbed the Brandler-Hasse route on the Cima Grande in the Dolomites. Arriving on a ledge they found a small cache, left by some previous climbers. In that cache was a print out of an article I wrote in June of 2007. It was the first article I put together for UKClimbing.com, and when I heard that someone had printed the article and used it around five years later, I was pleased and proud.

The same thing happened this year, a different friend came across another article of mine, this time stashed in the Argentiere Hut, beneath the Courtes North Face. Again I felt pleased and also proud, and to be honest I had forgotten I had even written that one!

 Jack Geldard on the summit of Les Courtes. An old photo this one, taken by Adrian Jebb. Our ascent was nothing special to the wider world of climbing, but we had an adventure and a lot of fun. I remembered the route but not the article I wrote some years later, although the article was probably more useful to other climbers!
Jack Geldard on the summit of Les Courtes.
An old photo this one, taken by Adrian Jebb.
Our ascent was nothing special to the wider world of climbing, but we had an adventure and a lot of fun. I remembered the route but not the article I wrote some years later, although the article was probably more useful to other climbers!
Thanks Aide for the good times.

So where am I going with this ramble? 

Media makers out there – it has never been easier to ‘share your passion’. The internet has married almost cost-free publishing with the possibility of reaching a potentially endless audience. But before you write your article, or post your photograph – just think for a second; “Why?”.

Does your post inspire, inform, entertain or educate? What is the purpose of your film? Why are you telling this story? Is it for yourself, or is it for your audience, whoever that may be.

There is nothing wrong with vanity publishing of course (look at this blog!), but the media that stands the test of time will be that which grabs the viewer with both hands and drags them out of their seat and on to the mountain. That which shows them the stunning vista from the summit of a remote peak, and gives them a hint on how to get there themselves. Or that which shows and then inspires in others the true determination and human spirit needed to achieve the seemingly impossible.

So I say this: Climb a mountain and write an article or make a film. But try and include at least a little bit of ‘look at this’ as well as a good bit of ‘look at me’. I dare you!

BLOG: Finding Your Limits – Finding Yourself

There’s something intensely personal about pushing yourself in sport. At an elite ‘amateur’ level in rock climbing there’s no big pressure to try hard, there’s no technical support, no physiotherapy team, no nothing, you’re out there on your own, making your own decisions and mistakes.

National climbing teams may have some more support of course, and the very best or most famous and successful climbers in the world (you can count them on your fingers!) can afford to pay for sports physios, and just by the fact that they are that good and famous, a lot of doors to knowledge are opened for them, be that from other experienced peers and other climbers, or team coaches etc.

However, for the majority of us, the most we can expect is our mate to buy us a beer if we climb our hardest route, and to be honest even that is a rarity (are you reading this Steve… where’s my pint?!).

Steve climbing a fantastic 7c+ at Balme de Yenne, less than 2 hours from Chamonix. A steep and fantastic tufa crag with stiff grades and endless hard routes. Steve is a brilliant climber who tries his hardest, but never seems to stress about his performance. Maybe this is because he's so old?!
Steve climbing a fantastic 7c+ at Balme de Yenne, less than 2 hours from Chamonix. A steep and fantastic tufa crag with stiff grades and endless hard routes. Steve is a brilliant climber who tries his hardest, but never seems to stress about his performance. Maybe this is because he’s so old?!

Yet, despite all of this I have countless friends who are fantastic climbers, pushing themselves really hard, and sometimes having a lot of fun doing so, but sometimes they are not having fun.

A father and son team attempt a desperate 8c+ at Anthon, near Chamonix earlier this summer. The conditions were terribly hot, not suited to this slippery, bouldery route. The father was relaxed, and happy to belay, but his young son (who was clearly a fantastic climber) was extremely stressed at not being able to climb the crux moves of this hard route. 6a+ climbers lounge in the springtime heat in the background.
A father and son team attempt a desperate 8c+ at Anthon, near Chamonix earlier this summer. The conditions were terribly hot, not suited to this slippery, bouldery route. The father was relaxed, and happy to belay, but his young son (who was clearly a fantastic climber) was extremely stressed at not being able to climb the crux moves of this hard route. 6a+ climbers lounge in the springtime heat in the background.

Stress, disappointment, fear, and anger are all common emotions to find out on the crag. (I’m talking sport climbing here).

This past week sport climbing in Turkey I have seen people scared to fall in safe situations (very common, it happens to everyone) but then getting very stressed or disappointed with themselves for being like that. Also I’ve seen people afraid to commit to climbs due to being intimidated. I’ve seen people screaming swear words and actually punching themselves on the head for not being able to do the moves on their personal project.

Surely the guy (who almost gave himself brain damage by punching his own head!) on the 7c+ realises that no one else in the world cares if he can climb this route? That it isn’t a big deal? But for him it is a big deal. His frustration and anger are all his own creation, but for him they are 100% real, and despite doing no good for his climbing, he easily slips in to that stressed state. If nothing else, maybe he should get a helmet!

Seriously though, much more rare is the ‘happy faller’. Up they go, trying as hard as they can (Jonny Baker) and then with a hoot and a laugh, they peel from the rock when the moves get too hard, laughing all the way until the rope comes tight.

I must confess that I am in-between the two, I don’t punch my own head, and most of the time I am having a lot of fun climbing, but I do occasionally get a little stressed, but it gets less and less the older I get.

Myself finding my own limit of what I feel happy climbing in trainers without chalk - Chamonix trad 6a slabs are pretty tough! Always fun to be in the mountains with Emily though. Photo by Emily Andrew.
Myself finding my own limit of what I feel happy climbing in trainers without chalk – Chamonix trad 6a slabs are pretty tough! Always fun to be in the mountains with Emily though. Photo by Emily Andrew.

Recently I have been reading a few books based around this 10,000 hours rule of elite ability – the concept that anyone can be an elite performer at anything if they put in 10,000 hours of focussed practice. (I was started on this subject by fellow climber James McHaffie, who recommended the book Bounce).

One of these books – which I think is the best I have read so far (James, you should read it) – is The Sports Gene by David Epstein. David talks (as do many other authors on this subject) about Conscious Bandwidth. The phenomenon whereby an experienced athlete has basically more spare brain power to notice things going on. In the middle of a hectic football game, a seasoned professional sees everything that is happening on the field. It’s the same in rock climbing. Climbers with more experience read moves faster and more accurately, they get less phased by blank looking sections of rock, and basically they are just way more relaxed and in tune with what is going on around them.

That’s all well and good for actually performing well on the rock, and if you get your 10,000 hours in whilst you are still young, you can be an elite climber before you leave school… but… being less stressed with your climbing seems to come with age, not necessarily climbing experience, so I wonder if the same mental bandwidth broadening is happening with age but in a much wider sense? A wider sense of self?

At the age of 33 I have more life experience than when I was 23, and that experience gives me the wider perspective that means I hardly ever punch myself in the head when I can’t climb 7c+ 😉

Me again! This time climbing steep sport at Balme de Yenne - enjoying the moves, not breaking any personal best barriers, and all without punching myself in the head. Photo by Heather Florence.
Me again! This time climbing steep sport at Balme de Yenne – enjoying the moves, not breaking any personal best barriers, and all without punching myself in the head. Photo by Heather Florence.

At the age of 73 will my general life experience give me a much wider sense of what is going on around me? Will I see ‘pointless’ sport climbing projects as just that or will I see a deeper meaning in the things I have achieved as a younger man? A meaning that right now I don’t have the capacity to notice? Or will I simply remember back about how I could move fluidly over the rock, and enjoy that feeling of movement, with nothing deeper attached.

I don’t know, but I do know that I enjoy seeing and talking to climbers of different ages and experience, and I really enjoy speaking to those climbers who have been at it much longer than I. We’ve all got a lot to learn, and perhaps one day I can say something to a younger climber that will stop him punching himself in the head! Who knows.

And I hope that when I am older I can look back on my climbing experiences fondly, and enjoy the memory of movement and fun, and not the memory of punching myself in the head!

BLOG: Good Hard Sport Climbing Near Chamonix

The weather has been pretty crap here in Chamonix the last couple of months, but never fear there are loads of local crags that dry fast or stay dry in the rain and give a wonderful mixture of different types of sport climbing.

For those operating between 6b and 7b there are literally loads of crags and places to go, but for those wanting something a bit steeper and harder, what are the options? Well, there are lots and lots of different crags, but here are a few of my favourites for bad or hot weather.

The Gorge, Gietroz.

Routes from 7a to 8b. Stays kind of cool due to shade from trees and being high altitude. Best in the evenings. Does seep after long periods of rain. Steep base. <30mins drive from Chamonix.

Jack Geldard climbing at The Gorge, Gietroz
Jack Geldard climbing at The Gorge, Gietroz

Bionnassay, Saint Gervais.

Routes from 6c to 9a. Overhanging limestone on small holds. Very technical. Stiff grades. In the shade until 1pm. Stays dry in light rain. Can seep, but usually pretty dry. Flat base.  <30 mins drive from Chamonix.

Jack Geldard climbing at the fantastic Bionassy, close to Chamonix. Photo by Charlotte Davies. This overhanging limestone cliff sports routes from 5 to 9a and also has a number of unclimbed bolted projects. It is in the sun from 1pm onwards.
Jack Geldard climbing at the fantastic Bionassy, close to Chamonix. Photo by Charlotte Davies. This overhanging limestone cliff sports routes from 5 to 9a and also has a number of unclimbed bolted projects. It is in the sun from 1pm onwards.

Foron, Giffre.

Routes from 6a to 8b. Steep pocketed limestone. Soft grades. Stamina pocket climbing. Excellent around the 7a and the 7c mark. Stays dry in the rain. In the shade until 3pm. Steep scree base. 45mins drive from Chamonix.

A busy evening in the sunshine at Foron.
A busy evening in the sunshine at Foron.

Sarre Roof.

Routes from 6b to 9a, mainly 7b upwards. Huge quarry roof with drilled holds. Virtually all quickdraws insitu. 2 minute walk in. Permanently dry. In the shade after 11am. 45mins drive from Chamonix (you need to go through the tunnel to Aosta Valley).

Jack Geldard climbing Parsifal at the Sarre Roof. Not the most beautiful of crags, but it certainly gets you pumped!
Jack Geldard climbing Parsifal at the Sarre Roof. Not the most beautiful of crags, but it certainly gets you pumped! Photo by Rob Greenwood.

All these venues take less than an hour to get to from Chamonix. There are loads more (check out the website Escalade74 for a few ideas), with routes up to 9a+ all within an hour of Chamonix.

If you want to travel a bit further then a 2 hour drive opens up hundreds of crags, literally hundreds. And 3 hours, well, that will get you to Ceuse, almost to Finale Ligura, Lehnn, the crags of Interlaken, Domodossola, etc. Phew – tired arms.

So, there you have it. Stuck in Chamonix in bad weather? Go get fit!

BLOG: What Exactly is my Training Plan?

I’ve had quite a few emails about this blog post: From 6b to 8a in 4 Weeks asking me exactly what I have been doing and how I went up through the grades so fast.

Well, I’m happy to report my level has increased a notch again since I wrote that post, and I feel in pretty good shape. So I think I am on target for 6b to 8b in 3 months, we shall see.

Note: I am no training guru, in fact I am quite the opposite, so if you do know something about training, and you have any opinions on how I could be doing better, or any other advice, then do let me know!

The Training Plan Explained:

Firstly, if you have never climbed harder than 6b please don’t expect to follow this plan and climb 8b in 3 months. It might work but it most likely won’t. My previous personal best sport grade is 8b+ and I have onsighted quite a few 8as, so although I did start this season by climbing 6bs, it didn’t take me long to get above that level.

Coming back to rock climbing after a full winter of skiing, and a summer of little climbing last year did mean I started at a low level. I ticked over for a couple of weeks by doing 2 route climbing sessions per week at the indoor wall, climbing about 6b, then I started trying to improve. The first 2 weeks were actually just to get used to climbing again.

The main difficulties for me trying to train with no base fitness is the simple fact that I am not fit enough to train. Reading articles about doing circuits and laps and 4x4s etc is all well and good, but my arms were not up to that sort of thing.

So I went steep multipitch climbing in the 6th grade, and basically this meant that I did lots of pitches of the right standard to get me tired, and this also stimulated me to keep trying when I was already a little bit tired (nothing like a 400m drop beneath the feet to give a little extra mental boost…). It also got me psyched. I love climbing, and I love long routes, so this was a great kickstart for me.

I added to these days with 2 very short indoor bouldering sessions. I had wanted to do 4x4s (picking 4 boulder problems and climbing them each 4 times, but the first session I actually only managed a 1×4 (one problem 4 times), and then the second session I did a 2×4!)

Summary of Week 1: 3 big days of multipitch climbing in 1 week, plus 2 very short indoor bouldering sessions.

———-

Then I went to Spain for a week, to be inspired by friends, and climb more pitches.

I started off pretty easy, and (the grades are a bit easier in Spain) I could onsight 7as by this time. I climbed a little bit every day for 5 days in a row, just three or four routes per day, and by the last day I onsighted 2 7b+s. My friends were encouraging me to try harder routes, but I resisted the temptation for several reasons. Mainly because actually I had tried really bloody hard to do the 7b+s, but also because I was wary of injury, and also I wanted to finish the trip on a high note.

Summary of Week 2: Climbing outdoor sport routes in Spain for 5 days in a row from 6c to 7b+.

—————–

Coming back from Spain I took a rest day, and then started training again.

I stuck with doing 4x4s in the local bouldering wall, choosing moderately steep crimpy problems of a basic style. I added to these with some basic finger boarding exercises.

I usually did double session days with 4x4s at lunchtime and fingerboard (just 30mins) in the evening. On the board I did repeaters on a few key holds, and 20 sets of 10 pull ups on jugs.

I also climbed outside 3 times during the week, and redpointed a tough 7c in a couple of attempts. The outdoor climbing was overhanging, physical sport climbing, mainly on routes that I had done before. I was climbing several pitches each session until I was tired, but not exhausted. This included toproping a couple of routes after leading to increase volume of climbing etc.

Note: Throughout this training plan I have never trained to exhaustion, and I have never felt exposed to injury. It is worth noting that on top of all this climbing training I have been doing stretching and push ups around 3 times per week.

Summary of week 3: Three outdoor climbing sessions trying as hard as I could on routes up to 7c. 2 days of indoor training with double sessions: bouldering wall and finger board.

———

Week 4 was very similar to week 3, except that instead of redpointing a 7c I redpointed an 8a. This took 2 visits, and I had quite a few tries on the route on my first visit, making sure I had the sequences dialled for the next visit. I managed to do it on my first try the second visit with relative ease (and cold hands!). I still didn’t have loads of fitness, so I think one or two redpoint attempts were all I would have been able to do, so firing it off straight away was the best idea!

Interspersed with the 2 outdoor sessions were indoor bouldering and finger board sessions similar to the previous week.

Summary of week 4: Two outdoor sessions on steep rock resulting in an 8a redpoint. 3 or maybe 4 indoor days on bouldering and finger board doing double session days.

———–

Week 5 and 6: I have just taken two weeks off from hard climbing, and been on holiday. I have climbed quite a bit, onsighting fun routes up to 7b, plus I have been trail running and cycling.

I’m now back to training and trying hard routes again, this time an 8b. I have increased the difficulty of the finger board routine, and added leg raises and core work to the routine. I’ll report on this section in more detail when I tick the 8b! (I hope!).

I hope that is useful to someone (Bjorn or Jim? – and good luck with your operation Jim) and happy climbing everyone!

Me on the initial section of Parsifal (8a+) at Sarre Roof. The extension is 8b... come on arms! Photo by Adam George.
Me on the initial section of Parsifal (8a+) at Sarre Roof. The extension is 8b… come on arms! Photo by Adam George.

BLOG: Orpierre – 15 Years Later

Back in 1998 I was lucky enough to visit the limestone paradise of Orpierre in France on a college trip. I was studying Outdoor Education and we took a sport climbing week to the polished slabs of the region as part of our course. It was my first ‘Euro Sport’ trip.

All I remember from the trip was being really impressed that one of our tutors (Rob Gale – an all round fantastic bloke) could speak French. And I also remember redpointing a 7b called Toutes les Chances plus UneI was climbing with my good friend Aide, and I went up first and gave Aide the beta for a flash attempt. I’m pretty sure he fell off on the flash, but either way I recall that just before the crux there was an option to rest on the right on a good handhold, but it was quite steep there.

On arrival at the ‘resting’ hold, Aide shouted that I had sandbagged him, as it was too steep to rest, and he moved to the left to rest in a wet manky hole – a much worse handhold, but less steep, and an option I hadn’t even considered.

With this memory in mind I set off up the route last week, after some young climbers from Southampton University had redpointed it in a few goes. They reminded me of Aide and I back in the 90’s.

When I reached the aforementioned resting area I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could rest in either position, so despite not being a technically brilliant climber back then, I hadn’t been too far off the mark. I will hand it to you though Aide – your rest was marginally better! 😉

Looking down from Aide's rest on the Orpierre 7b - Toutes les Chances plus Une
Looking down from Aide’s rest on the Orpierre 7b – Toutes les Chances plus Une last week – 15 years older, 15 years wiser than the first time. If I knew then what I know now I think my climbing tick-list would be a little fuller!

It was lovely to go back to this beautiful village, with hundreds of routes to climb, many in the low grades, and a smattering of high 7s and 8s to go at too.

And 15 years later I have to say that this technical and pumpy 7b was actually little more than a warm up for me, and the very obvious holds and sequences flowed by in a series of polished moves that were almost automated. I guess my climbing has moved on in 15 years after all.

What a joy to go and climb a route again after all these years and have such a different experience. I am full of admiration of young climbers achieving goals and climbing routes that I wasn’t even ready to dream of back then.

For me now the experience levels are there, the skills are in the tool bag, so it is back to the training program to bring the body up to spec. Very excited for what 2014 has to offer climbing-wise.

I’ve also had a couple of days down in Oltra Finale in Italy over Easter, and both this and Orpierre are fantastic venues for this time of year, Orpierre with its afternoon shade, and Oltre Finale with its amazing restaurants! 12 courses with wine for just €35….. better get back on that finger board!

BLOG: Rock Climbing: From 6b to 8a in 4 weeks, still rising.

The first steps on rock every spring are tough for me. A winter of wearing gloves and ski boots with little rock climbing means I have baby skin and weak arms.

Last year I never really got in to the swing of things on the rock, a general tiredness after a Himalaya expedition coupled with a huge amount of work and DIY last summer meant that whilst I floundered my way up a couple of 7cs, I never really hit my stride, and I didn’t care – climbing any grade is FUN!

However this year is a little different. I’m thirty three.

My all time favourite climbing film is The Real Thing with Jerry Moffat and Ben Moon and I watched a highlights video online the other day to help with motivation. I used to watch this when I was a teenager, my mum and I together in the lounge with the video player on after school. It was brilliant.

In The Real Thing Jerry has his 33rd birthday and also knocks out a personal best on the campus board. This is about 1 year after he made the first ascents of his 8cs Progress and Evolution on the British limestone. So no excuses for me this year, I’m back on the rock, and loving it.

After a couple of long 6th grade multipitch rock routes in France to get going (the gorgeous Presles and the local Arve Valley) I kick started my climbing with a trip to Chulilla, Spain to be a journalist on a Boreal climbing team event.

Jack Geldard hanging out on a belay at Presles, France. Perfect warm limestone to kick start the rock climbing season. Phot by Adam George.
Jack Geldard hanging out on a belay at Presles, France. Perfect warm limestone to kick start the rock climbing season. Photo by Adam George.
Following another perfect pitch at Presles. Overhanging rock, large rucksack, small arms. Tough work! Photo by Adam George.
Following another perfect pitch at Presles. Overhanging rock, large rucksack, small arms. Tough work! Photo by Adam George.

Luckily for me my good friend James McHaffie is now on the Boreal team, so I got to spend a few days with James, as well as meeting Nathan Lee for the first time, and spending some time with fellow northerner Jordan Buys. Talk about motivation!

James McHaffie (centre) onsighting a 7c+ in Chulilla, Spain. What a cliff!
James McHaffie (centre) onsighting a 7c+ in Chulilla, Spain. What a cliff!

My two favourite climbers Maddy Cope and Hazel Findlay were also in the area, and it was brilliant to see them too, and as everyone was climbing really well, I had to pull my finger out and get on the rock. I went from climbing about 7a at the start of the week to onsighting 3 7b+s at the end.

Hazel (8)c Findlay, James (9a) McHaffie, Maddy (pull your finger out) Cope. A motley trio, but certainly helpful in the psyche department!
Hazel (8c) Findlay, James (9a) McHaffie, Maddy (8a+?) Cope. A motley trio, but certainly helpful in the psyche department!

The key for me at this stage of the season is to gradually increase my climbing volume, without trying to run before I can walk, otherwise injury will occur.

Me on the Arve Valley test-piece 'Docteur, j'ai peur' at Pierre a Laya. This 7c route was first climbed by Patrick Edlinger and Didier Raboutou and is desperate. In this photo I ma trying it last year (not successful) but a quick trip back there this spring saw it dispatched with relative ease. (Believe me, this would be 8a+ in Spain!). Photo by Chris Prescott / Minerva Design.
Me on the Arve Valley test-piece ‘Docteur, j’ai peur’ at Pierre a Laya. This 7c route was first climbed by Patrick Edlinger and Didier Raboutou and is desperate. In this photo I am trying it last year (not successful) but a quick trip back there this spring saw it dispatched with relative ease. (Believe me, this would be 8a+ in Spain!). Photo by Chris Prescott / Minerva Design.

Since the Spain trip I have made a big effort to climb/train 5 days per week, sometimes having double days adding a finger board or bouldering wall workout on to a day of cragging. None of these days have been super hard, but I have slowly increased the grade and now after a couple of tough 7c and 7c+ routes I am back in the 8s, which is very motivating indeed.

It's great to have this little training wall just two minutes walk from my house. Whilst it isn't huge, I find that breaking down barriers to training is the most important thing, and as this wall is so close it means lunchtime sessions are really easy to arrange.
It’s great to have this little training wall just two minutes walk from my house. Whilst it isn’t huge, I find that breaking down barriers to training is the most important thing for me, and as this wall is so close it means lunchtime sessions are really easy to arrange.

I’ve set some goals for the year, and have a rough climbing and training plan to match these goals.

Next on the list is my biggest weakness – bouldering. And as well as organising a trip to Magic Wood in the summer, luckily for me I have just discovered a huge untouched bouldering area just 20 minutes drive from my house (plus an hour walk…). Psyched!

A big smile on 'The Big Smile' (7C+) in North Wales.  Happy times!
Bouldering! A big smile on ‘The Big Smile’ (7C+) in North Wales. Happy times!
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