Friday, 4 March 2011

“Rub your shoes until they croak like a frog"

The last week has been our most sociable one yet. This has been good for both of us as it is amazing how quickly you start to miss the normal day to day interactions, discussions etc. with friends, family and colleagues. The previous week was quite intense for me as I was determined to get over the psychological hurdle of climbing a true font 7a, low and behold I proceeded to tick 3 off in 2 days. Therefore a lot of effort was expended, as was skin (from both fingertips and shins!).

Getting to know our newly found friends was a good opportunity for me to take the intensity of climbing down a couple of notches and pursue the bouldering as more of a group activity. I think my body is now thanking me for this.

On the Thursday at “Camping Ille de Boulancourt” I spoke briefly to a chap who introduced himself as Yann. I had a short conversation with him through broken French and English, although at this point I was unaware that I would be climbing with him and his friends the following day. The following morning I returned from completing my morning ritual to find Chris deep in conversation with James. It turned out that James was a friend of Yann. James was with his French girlfriend Jessica, and his fellow Ozzie friend Tassara. James suggested that we should meet up with them at Buthiers in the day. A couple of hours later we took them up on this offer and joined them.

It was a beautiful day and we had great expectations of what this area had to offer. Unfortunately, although there were some impressive looking boulders, the rock was either too wet or the climbs were to difficult. This was not conducive to climbing together as a group with people of mixed ability. We were met here by even more people. Yanns’ friends Helena, Anna and Marie.

An executive decision was then made to move to my favourite venue (Sabots), as it has a good spread of grades in a relatively localised area. The terrain is also very flat and navigating between boulders is not such a mission, as opposed to Buthiers. Here we got everyone onto the circuits. There was a really friendly atmosphere, despite most of us having only just met, and everyone was encouraging one another.

After this we moved to Cul du Chien as Chris and I thought that James et al should see it before moving on with their travels. During the short walk I got chatting to Marie and discovered that she had only just met everyone also and was making her way back home to Malaysia, after working and studying in London for many years. She was very widely travelled and had also lived for some years in America. I was impressed with her tenacity and courage to be travelling alone back to her home via Europe. She told me that she was going to be working for a couple of months on organic farms in France were, for a days labour, you get your bed and board free. At one of these farms the barn has been converted into a climbing wall, lucky Marie! She had finished a degree in Politics and filled me in on the details of world affairs. It was almost like having my own personal newsreader... So apparently Cairo is no longer the issue, and it is now all kicking off in Libya? Although it is probably something else by the time this is posted. Oh what a sheltered life I live.

Both me and Chris wanted to climb the famous Cul du Chien roof, as we have both done so before, only for damp holds to scupper our chances of an ascent. We realised that it would be stupid to even attempt a climb as the roof is quite high of the ground and a fall at this point would not be welcomed. I followed the main group into the natural amphitheater that the roof is situated in. It is always good to see what kind of reaction this boulder gets from first timers, invariably being that of jaws on the floor.

After this we moved to the aptly named “snoopy boulder” where the last of our energy was sapped attempting a dyno onto the nose of “snoopy”. Chris latched the hold which was great to see. Walking back to the car park I spoke some more with Marie and I found that she had been a project leader for an initiative that is now commonly used in my line of work. At the carpark we exchanged details with everyone and wished Jessica, James and Tassara safe onward journeys and thanked them for a great day. As Marie was staying on until Sunday we arranged to meet up with her the following day.

The next morning the heavens opened and literally put a dampener on the day. Not to be put off Marie kindly offered us shelter in her cabin that she was renting at the campsite. The day turned out to be better than expected and Yann, Anna and Helena joined us for some lunch. A whopping 1 kg bag of pasta was cooked up and various pesto, cheese and fish combinations were prepared. It was a veritable feast! I could have continued eating but after my forth bowl I had to let my better judgement override my stomach. The rest of the day was consumed by Beastmaker sessions and surfing the internet. Marie hooked us up with which is a genius invention. I wont go into the ins and outs of it but if your intention is to go travelling on the cheap I recommend you check it out. Hopefully by utilising this Chris and I will be able to reduce costs for the year even further.

Afternoon turned to evening and Yann gave us a rendition of some traditional Bretagne music on his accordion. I was blown away. The guy has a talent, I can’t lie. I filmed one of his songs on our camera and he has given us permission to use it in our final video, awesome. After this we played some table tennis in the campsite “activities” room. A shortage of bats and an excess of beer led to most of us using DVD cases as improvised replacements which was interesting. Marie had a three person cabin and when offered if we wanted to sleep on the spare beds we nearly bit her hand off. It was so great to sleep on a proper bed that night. First solid nights sleep I have had for a while. Even with Chris' snoring! Marie was woken in the night by the noise however and recorded the "din" on her blackberry. Now we have audio evidence, ha ha. Thanks Marie.

The following day we took Marie to 95.2 (this is another bouldering area/venue in Fontainebleau). After initially warming up Chris headed off into the “bivouac” area leaving Marie and I on the circuits. It was quite refreshing “spotting” Marie (if you aren’t a climber spotting is basically watching that your partner doesn’t fall awkwardly), attentively looking up with outstretched arms staring at something other than Chris’ backside for a change ;) Here we got talking to one of the “locals”, and this is when I received those wise words : “When in Font it is important to keep your shoes very clean. You should rub your shoes until they croak like a frog”, ha ha, absolutely philosophical but so true. This led to a discussion concerning French cuisine and how frogs legs are considered to be quite a delicacy. I can’t testify but apparently they are quite sublime.

We caught up with Chris at the Retour aux Sources boulder. This problem Chris destroyed within a handful of attempts. For me his method did not suit my style and thus started an epic siege. I was so close to linking all of the sequence. It was also given a 7a difficulty rating which made me want it even more. I continued trying. I got into the mindset that I all too often adopt when trying to crush the difficult problems. I just kept throwing myself at it. It must be quite interesting to watch as it is almost a form of self flagellation verging on masochism. No pain, no gain I guess! Marie seemed to be quite amused by it all and continued to offer moral support. Some time later another climber came along and started working the boulder with me. Ultimately he figured out a sequence that better suited my style using less holds and performing more dynamic moves. After seeing this I got the problem done on the third go! “Frustrated” isn't the word. Despite this I was pleased to be on top of the boulder and my ascent was signaled by a loud primal growl, emitted from the beast within me. Lol. Marie seemed almost as psyched as me and it was good to share the moment with her. We then switched roles and I gave her some moral support whilst she got on to some problems herself. We later met up with Chris, after losing him and having a walk around the forest, shouting randomly for Chris at the surrounding wildlife. Upon catching up with him I found that he had a productive day also and after leaving us he went on to climb a 6c+/7a (Tentation) and a 7b (Les pieds dans la lune; eliminate).

It was late by this point and we needed to get Marie to Malesherbes train station so that she wouldn't miss her train. We jumped into the Beastmobile, tut sweet. Here we said our goodbyes and wished Marie happy trails.

On Monday morning we moved to Franchard Isatis and did some circuiting. I climbed a 6c called Surplomb Gauche and Chris climbed the low start that goes at 7a. Not bad considering we had destroyed our tips. Both of us were really impressed with the area and in the evening we did some more exploring, finding the classic 8a “Karma”. We noted a future project for us both called “Petite Folie/Misericorde” which goes at 7c/7c+. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the most perfect line I have ever seen. Both of us were just awestruck. It must seem so strange to hikers/walkers who pass through the forest to find two boulderers just staring as if in a trance at a piece of rock, lol. Once you start to appreciate the beauty of a line or problem, this is a disorder that you soon become afflicted by. Upon our return to the van we were both of the mind that Franchard was our new favourite area.

After a false start on Tuesday at Apremont (too hectic to navigate without prior/local knowledge) we moved to L’elephant after a brief stop at Decathalon sports shop for finger tape. Our tips had taken quite a pounding by this point. Over the next two days we were blessed with blue sky and sunshine. It was a shame that neither of us were in condition to work towards our goals but it was great to do some more mileage and climb without t-shirts. Chris climbed a 7a called Le Lepreaux Direct and created a 7b problem on an overhang that he has named “Full Value” (see link). We got some filming done (see links) and plenty of stills (over 300!) and this was a good point to check the “form” that are bodies have taken over the last few weeks. Its amazing to see the difference already and the “waddage” (those who don't speak Neanderthal read “muscle definition”) that is pulling through. I guess the only thing at this time that could throw a spanner in the works for our quest of strength is an addiction to a particular biscuit. We have both acquired this addiction. The biscuit in question is known as a “malt chocolate”. These little bites of chocolaty, malt goodness I swear have been created by the devil. I have lost count of the times I have heard either Chris or myself say “yeah bro I could so easily just eat a whole packet”. Hopefully we will be able to kick the habit. At this time it doesn't look too hopeful, as we have already considered “stockpiling” them for our Switzerland leg of the trip.

One final thing worth mentioning is that whilst we were mixing it up with everyone, the Manchester lads that we had met the previous week told Chris that he was in a recent climbing magazine. Initially he thought they were taking the piss and had maybe seen someone who looked similar to him. Later that day they showed us the magazine and would you Adam and believe it there was Chris pictured on the Toll Booth boulder in Portland, sporting a glorious Movember tash. The picture was sent in by our friend Phil Belcher for a photo competition. For any of you who want to check Chris out he is in the February edition of Climber magazine.

I'm starting to feel a bit weak now as all this typing is making me tired. This post has been a bit of a mammoth. I reckon I should reward myself with a malt chocolate…

The weather forecast for the coming week is more sunshine. The tips are feeling good now after a couple of days rest. Time to step it up!


Greg on Black 31 @ l'Elephant:

Chris on Full Value (Font 7B):

UKC post:

We have just added a forum to UK Climbing outlining our new incentive based scheme known as "The Motivator". It is still in the early stages of development and we will write more about it in the next post. For now you can check out the following link, we would be interested to here your ideas: 


P.S. This week we have both been rocking the bloodstained trouser look (where else are you supposed to wipe a "blown" finger tip). Anyway we think it could catch on as not only do you feel hardcore walking around the crag looking like a battle hardened warrior, but you get some envious (curious) reactions when you go shopping for groceries.

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