Tag Archives: climbing

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.

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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: 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!

VIDEO/BLOG: Alpine Winter Action – Profit Perroux

Last week Yorkshire truck driver Andy Houseman arrived in Chamonix to blue skies and warm weather.

We didn’t have a lot of free time as Andy had to jet back to sunny Yorkshire and I had to get my ass down to Catalunya, but we did manage to get up the Aiguille du Midi with another friend Maury Birdwell.

We were hoping to climb the classic Vent du Dragon but due to going off route (Maury 😉 ) we ended up doing the top half of the Profit Perroux Gully, after doing a sort of variation start.

Brilliant fun to be in the mountains, and here’s the video:

I’ve been out rock climbing quite a bit recently, so you might say that a ‘come back’ is on the cards. There is snow here in Chamonix again now though, so the planks are waxed, and no doubt my forearms will shrivel up again.

Anyway, brilliant to climb with Andy and Maury. Hope the video isn’t too boring! More blogging to come on some awesome rock climbing soon.

Me having fun in the Alpine! Photo by Andy Houseman
Me having fun in the Alpine! Photo by Andy Houseman

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: Back from Patagonia and VIDEO: Alex Schweikart – 7b Crack – Couteray

I’ve just got back from a 3 week trip to Patagonia in South America. More pictures, videos and info to come from that trip. Suffice to say we had a great time, but terrible weather!

The last few days back in Chamonix have been excellent, with blue skies and great skiing with Emily.

Emily Andrew in 50cm of fresh powder at Brevent, Chamonix. Not a bad thing to come home to!
Emily Andrew in 50cm of fresh powder at Brevent, Chamonix. Not a bad thing to come home to!

Whilst I was away in Patagonia I had a lot of time to spend on my laptop, but no internet connection. I used my time to work on video filming and editing skills (thanks Matt Pycroft!) and have a couple of short videos to put up on here from old footage and lots of ideas and skills for new videos for this year.

The first of the archive material is German powerhouse Alex Schweikart on a 7b roof crack at Couteray in Vallorcine, France. I shot this in the spring of 2011! If only I knew then what I know now. Anyway, here it is, I hope Alex enjoys it.

Big HELLO! to Alex and Chrissi wherever they may be!

More videos and articles from Patagonia to come soon – ciao.

Jack