Tag Archives: chamonix

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!

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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 / PHOTOS: Chamonix Ski Conditions – January 30th 2014

Finally it seems that things are settling down here in Chamonix. More lines are being skied, the snow has a reasonable base and the conditions are generally quite good at the moment.

Here’s a couple of photos from a few days ago up at Le Tour.

Christelle Gionana skiing great snow at Le Tour
Christelle Gioana skiing great snow at Le Tour
Ben O'Connor-Croft at Le Tour, Chamonix
Ben O’Connor-Croft at Le Tour, Chamonix

The ice climbing this season has been very fickle, but with the onset of cold temperatures once again, I have heard that Cogne is in very good shape. You can check out Jon Griffith’s photo from a couple of days ago.

I don’t have much more info until the weekend, as I have been away – over at the huge tradeshow of ISPO in Munich, Germany. But with some snow and a lot of cloud forecast for Saturday and Sunday, I think tree skiing will be in order…

BLOG: Chamonix Conditions: SKIING POWDER! 19th Jan 2014

Well it might not be neck deep and fluffy, but it isn’t bad.

Andy Houseman skiing the trees in boot deep powder at Courmayeur, Italy
Andy Houseman skiing the trees in boot deep powder at Courmayeur, Italy

The last week has seen some fairly significant snowfall in Chamonix, mostly falling on Wednesday night and Thursday. Skiing conditions have been pretty good the last few days, with people skiing powder and fresh tracks over in Italy at Courmayeur (see photo of Andy Houseman above) and up the Aiguille du Midi (photo of me below), as well as good conditions found off the top lift at the Grands Montets.

Me skiing fresh tracks up the Aiguille du Midi, on the Gros Rognon variation
Me skiing fresh tracks up the Aiguille du Midi, on the Gros Rognon variation

The weather has stayed mixed with little sun and temperatures in the valley hovering around zero degrees. This has meant that the snow that has fallen hasn’t been too affected by the sun, and although it has been a little heavy on the lower slopes, in general the skiing has been very good for the last five days.

Climbing conditions in the mountains haven’t been as favourable, with cloudy weather and many routes looking quite thin. Here’s a moody photo of the East Face of the Tacul from Wednesday the 15th of Jan.

Tacul on the 15th of Jan - pretty dry.
Tacul on the 15th of Jan – pretty dry.

The forecast for the coming week is for more unsettled weather, with some more snow and lower temperatures. Fingers crossed for some more skiing!

Patagonia Prep: Climbing, Skiing and Testing the Kit

Rob, Matt and I leave for El Chalten next Tuesday, which is pretty damn soon! So the last couple of weeks I have been trying to get out on my legs as much as possible to prepare for the monster approaches in Patagonia.

Whereas in times gone by climbers used to pitch camp close to the peaks in Patagonia, it seems with modern weather forecasting and the fact the El Chalten now boasts some places to eat and drink (not too much booze Rob!), the usual technique is to stay in town, and then hike in when the weather clears – which is a long way.

So I’ve been ski touring quite a bit, and trying to get as many vertical metres in to my legs as possible. With variable skiing conditions around Chamonix at the moment this has meant driving a little way to the Aravis, but I have been rewarded with some great (and some not so great skiing). The snow cover has been quite thin, so it is still best to take the old rock skis, but there is powder out there!

Charlie Boscoe certainly earned these turns!
Charlie Boscoe certainly earned these turns!

As well as some great skiing I also had quite a big day climbing the Terray-Rebuffat (Carrington-Rouse) on the Aiguille des Pelerins. Due to the Midi lift being closed until the 20th of December, this made for quite a walk in the day before, then a great bivvy, followed by some nice climbing.

I wanted to climb at least one Alpine route just prior to heading out for Patagonia to run through some of the kit I am taking. I’ve just got a new Marmot Helium sleeping Bag, which is a model I haven’t used before, so I was pretty keen to see how that performed. It’s rated -9c and I was fine that night in an open bivvy with no thermarest (I used a hut blanket to sleep on), so that is good to know.

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This photo is from a couple of Autumns ago – bivvying at the crag at around 2 degrees. Betty the dog is using a jacket of course, but the sleeping bags are the Hydrogen (-1c, my usual alpine summer lightweight bag) and the Lithium (-18c my big daddy for Himalaya, really cold temps etc). It’s great to have a 3+ season bag that is in between the two.

An interesting fact about sleeping bags that is worth bearing in mind when buying one is this: a ‘4 season’ sleeping bag isn’t as versatile as a ‘3 season’ sleeping bag. With a super warm 4 season, you are likely to be too hot a lot of the time, sweating in the bag (not good for the bag or you). With a lighter 3 season model, if you do find yourself a bit cold, you can beef it up with your clothing. So a ‘3 season’ bag covers more seasons that a 4 season. Just something to think about…

Anyway, the winter refuge at the Plan de l’Aiguille  was really full (17 people!) so we slept outside and were rewarded with a great view.

View down to the Chaine de Fiz from the AIguille du Plan bivvy.
View down to the Chaine de Fiz from the Plan de l’Aigulle bivvy.

And the climbing was pretty cool too…

Liv leading on the mid section of the route
Liv leading on the mid section of the route
Jack Geldard on the Terray-Rebuffat
Jack Geldard on the Terray-Rebuffat (note: the jacket is the same one Betty is wearing in the above photo!)

The best part of course was the ski / walk down. The snow was the most unskiable I have ever come across and I only skied around 1/3rd of the way to Chamonix from the refuge. After that it was quicker to walk! I was quite pleased to read that even Ross Hewitt took his skis off!

There’s more skiing condition info on Charlie Bosocoe’s excellent Chamonix Conditions Blog, with some more details of some of the spots where we’ve been in the Aravis.

PHOTOS: Back in Chamonix – Sport Sport Sport

Back in Chamonix after my Spanish return to rock climbing and it is great to be home.

Interestingly, after a couple of sessions out on the local limestone here I have to say I can 100% confirm a 2 grade difference between esoteric France grades and Catalunya grades. Ouch! And I thought I was a hero. Oh well.

But not to fear, been checking out some of the harder sport routes of the area and looking forward to getting stuck in.

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.

 

Although she always says that she prefers rock climbing, Betty seems to be clinging on to the last remnants of the ski season. Photo by Dave Pickford.

Winter Cometh – Photo: Chamonix Training Wall

It’s still mild temperatures and reasonable weather here in Chamonix, today excepted, as it’s raining. However with the onset of winter comes tantalising thoughts of ice and mixed climbing, as well as skiing.

But for the time being I’m having a short break from climbing. I’ll be popping down the wall a couple of times a week to keep in reasonable shape, but not training or striving for a specific goal.

For those interested, and especially members of ‘The Mill’ back in North Wales – here’s a photo of Jonny on the private training wall in Chamonix. The two system boards are on electric motors that can be adjusted to any angle. There’s a large campus board, a few hangboards and a new large board about to be built (steel in place) and a bouldering area at the back. Behind me is also a full gym, with exercise bikes, weight machines etc.

A superb facility.

Naked Jonny at the private training wall, Chamonix