Tag Archives: sport climbing

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!

A weekend in Ceuse, now back to training.

Back in the spring I was on the fitness train, and it was going well. Arriving in the UK I felt good, climbed a few routes I wanted to do, including a new one at Gogarth. I enjoyed my trip to the UK, but although five weeks of trad climbing in wet weather was fun, it didn’t do much for my fitness.

Since arriving back in France a few weeks ago, I have been coasting along, working a lot, and climbing a bit, but not getting the ‘bit between my teeth’. I think it is good to by cyclic in training/climbing, and after a high point, it’s best to mentally chill out for a while. Okay, that’s enough chilling out, back on the fitness train.

To kick start the lactic acid I nipped to Ceuse for a couple of days with a fun team including Sandra, the golden girls Hazel and Maddy, the elusive Jude and the ever-young Alan. I managed to throw myself off the top of several 8as, which was somewhat telling in terms of endurance. Oh dear! But it was such fun!

The highlight of the weekend in climbing terms was seeing Maddy totally ‘killing it’ and climbing really well.

As my trip to the Himalaya is looming in only 6 weeks, I have a really limited window to achieve a hard rock route this summer, but I think I can up my game slightly, and get something ticked around Chamonix, if all goes according to plan. A five week intensive training mission is about to commence, but I need a project to focus on. Hmm, what to do, what to do?!

I think I will also have time for 1 more weekend trip to climb something fun, so psyche is generally high. Lets Smash! 🙂

A few photos:

Maddy cranking on an 8a+ to the right of Femme Noir. Looked really cool
Hit Girl Hazel Findlay on the 8c L’arcademicien. Smash time!
Although the trip was not a photographic one in any way, I was pleased to grab this snap of Alan Carne. Alan is always psyched, and a great person to climb with. Here he is just before taking a huge whipper off the run out 8a+ Femme Blanche – Go Alan!

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.

From one extreme to another

The last few months have been quite a whirlwind. So much so that updating my blog has been low on the agenda.

However the main event was undoubted a trip to Spain with a crew form North Wales.

Spain was superb, with the crags around Catalunya and Lleida being absolutely must-visit destinations. I think the highlight of my trip was for me finally getting to see Riglos and climbing the famous route Fiesta de los Biceps. 8 pitches of jug pulling, through really steep terrain – super-fun!

Sarah following high on Fiesta

The team from Wales was a real good laugh and we had a lot of fun visiting loads of crags – Terradets, Santa Linya, Margalef etc.

James, Jim and Betty at Margalef

I have got loads of superb photographs from the trip – I am just currently thinking about what exactly I am going to do with them all.

But then when I got back to the UK it was like this:

 

After spending November in Spain sport climbing, it was quite a shock to land back in Llanberis under two feet of snow!

I have been dashing around for the last month sorting things out for my move to Mont Saxonex, close to Chamonix, France. So hopefully afer the new year I will be updating the blog slightly more often and with some super alpine photos.

Merry Christmas!

Mallorca Report – Trad Potential!

Suzie and I are just back from Mallorca where we have been climbing with the Rockfax team to research some new crags for the Mallorca guide book.

The team consisted of me and Suzie, Alan James (the boss!), Mick Ryan, Sally Wheatley, Adrian Berry, Mark Glaister and Audrey Seguy.

We had a great time, with loads of routes done and crags visited. I have been to quite a few big limestone cliffs, and I have been to Mallorca before, but on this trip one crag really caught my attention. Not because of the routes that are on it, but because of the routes that aren’t on it!

Es Fumat is a big cliff (there’s loads of big limestone cliffs, I know), but it has a lot of potential. Mostly these big cliffs are too loose or too steep, or too far up a hill, or too gnarly or something, but Es Fumat is perfect – perfect for trad!

I think this place would make some great E5-8 trad lines in a Gogarth Main Cliff style, but slightly bigger – possibly 5 or 6 pitches. I do hope to go back there one day. Shown (just! he’s a tiny dot) on the photo below is Alan James on a F7a+ single pitch route. The major trad potential is to his left.

Alan James on Es Fumat, Mallorca
Alan James is a tiny dot on a F7a+, Es Fumat, Mallorca

As far as favourite routes from the week go, I can’t recommend Gubia Normal enough. It is a 7 pitch trad route with maximum difficulties of around VS (F4+). Suzie and I meandered up it in around 3.5 hours. We thought it was fantastic.

I also did some steep tufas and things like that too – which were all fantastic. I’ll post a photo gallery soon.