Thursday, 7 June 2007

Keep going up!

I've recently been doing quite a bit of climbing later afternoon/early evening. Good for working beforehand and it's nice and quiet. Normally it's Chris and I by ourselves but I've been climbing for the past 2 days with a mate Crampons. We're a pretty similar level to each other so it works well.

Explanation: On the French grading scale they rank the difficulty of a pitch with a number followed by a letter (then an optional + if the rank is slightly harder). So it starts at 1a, then 1b, 1c, 2a, 2b, and so forth up to 8. It does go higher but I've never seen any 9's in books. An average climb would be around in the 4b, 4c, 5a, 5b territory. Above that and it starts getting harder with overhangs and minimal holds coming into the equation.

Yesterday we set off to the crag at Les Gaillands (Google Maps) for a quick climb - we intended on doing 3 pitches of around 5c to 6a. The first pitch ("L'arête des bûcherons" - 5c) was on a corner with a small chimney and it went OK. Just OK. A few sketchy moments coming over an overhang but managed it and sped up the chimney well.

The second pitch ("La Vipérine" - 5c) was spectacularly good. A small crack and needing precise footwork with some good strength needed. Really climbed it well balancing carefully and using good technique to really scale it quickly. Obviously the first pitch was needed as a warm up and after we both climbed the second pitch well Crampons suggested something a little trickier.

Here it is (move mouse over for the pitch route). It's taken over Crampons shoulder as we're looking for holds and route before we get stuck in. It's a 6a+ called "La Zig sans Zag".

A very cool pitch, really testing and exhilarating to climb. Technical but needing lots of strength with a two or three moves that really tested us. It marked a turning point in my mind to be able to do these harder routes and feeling much more confident about climbing on a different type of rock than normal. The pitch looked hard, it was hard and we still managed to get up - and well.

So today again late afternoon we grabbed our gear and headed down to the crag at Servoz (Google Maps). Crampons and I had the intention of doing a gnarly multi-pitch climb. Essentially a climb that's longer than the rope by a long way and requires 3 consecutive pitches to get to the top. The first pitch was a pretty tricky 6a, the second an easy but unprotected 3a and the third a technically difficult 5b. We'd looked in our climbing book showing the route up the crag, got our gear sorted out just so and then decided to set off.

The going was tough with an overhang to climb in the first pitch. There were good holds but for some reason Crampons and I made the going tougher than it needed to be. Up we went however and I reached the top of the first pitch feeling reasonably happy and helped Crampons sort out the rope for the next pitch as we hovered on a small ledge clipped into slings halfway up the face. I led up the second pitch after having clipped a quick draw into a bolt as protection and scurried quickly up to the start of the third pitch. Crampons duly followed then took over leading the last pitch up to the very top of the crag.

Me belaying Crampons up the second pitch. The chimney is the dark patch of rock in the top-right of the photo.

There was a small flake to put your right foot on at the start of the pitch and it was necessary to access the chimney by working around a pillar. This meant a left hand hold around one side of the pillar and moving your body into a position where you could reach around with the right hand to find a hold. As you were doing this your entire body was hanging over a vertical drop of some 300 feet straight down to the grass below. Hairy stuff! Safe enough with all the gear but it made my heart tick a little quicker than normal. The route from there up the chimney was littered with good holds and quick progress up to the top of the crag followed and then the deep exhaled breath of happy success! A truly awe-inspiring climb with delicate balance high above the ground. We sorted out the ropes and admired our manliness then abseiled down to the top of the second pitch dropping down into an overhanging chimney again got the heart going at a solid speedy rate. We re-organized the rope for the second abseil and down we went, then another organization for the final abseil. Minutes later we were down on the ground looking up, feeling exhilarated with ourselves and with big cheezy grins all round. I'm still smiling about it hours later.

Here's the crag and if you move your mouse over the photo and wait a sec, you can see our route up.

All in all a very good multi-pitch climb. Really pleased to feel like I've stretched myself a bit more in what can be done. Crampons was delighted too - he climbed and led very well and we did the whole climb safely and securely making sure to double and triple check the equipment at every stage. Awesome stuff!