Thursday, 5 July 2007

A testing start at Servoz

It's been crap weather here for a week. Really crap. So when the clouds lifted for a brief second earlier whilst on the computer in the office it was no surprise to hear my phone ring with a voice on the other end of the phone saying to grab all available climbing gear and meet up at the crag at Servoz. After a bit of nagging Chris eventually gave in and said he'd be down a little after Brian and I were to due to meet. I'm really pleased he did because he brought a camera and snapped a load of absolutely incredible photographs (Flickr). Some are included in this posting. Chris didn't climb but made use of a small winding path that leads up to the top of the crag to watch and take shots.

So a brief fly to the farm from Cham to pick up the bits and down to the crag to meet Brian. It was pretty cold leaving Chamonix with hairs on your arms standing up due to the distinct chill in the air. The mountains have been dusted with a small coating of snow down to around 1850m (6,070 feet) and felt more like December than early summer. The portent of abandoning the evening's climbing loomed larger with a rain squall in Les Houches but with backup plan in mind set off determined to get some exercise and fresh air.

A dark and broody peak above Servoz

I'm pleased we did, as although there was a good bit of cloud there was also enough blue skies and bright sunlight to strip off the tshirts and warm our bodies in the golden rays before setting off upwards. Had a funny moment stifling a giggle at Brian trying to remove all his thermals in the blazing sun after being caught out by the unusually hot weather. A brief discussion later and Brian was duly sent to lead a long single pitch to the top of the crag. It looked like a testing sort of 60m (196 feet) pitch with some interesting features the whole way up to the final large overhanging section extending down from the top by 5m. I've got to admit, anything that Brian takes his time to climb generally means it's going to be a tad sporty for the rest of us. This hypothesis has yet to be disproved and stood up once again here as Brian tackled the top overhang. Grinning insanely to myself, I set off after him and the early part of the climb went relatively well - some good sections, some really cool moves, some not so good and one minor slip on a piece of wet rock. Challenging might be the right word for it. Felt good though and was very pleased to get up to below the overhang at the top.

Brian closing in on the top of the crag.

This is where said hypothesis was proven. There was a feeling of being a little tired after a long pitch with arms starting to complain about the state of affairs and feet barking away about being stood on tiny ledges for too long. Looking up at overhangs I always find it uncomfortable as you're arching your back and craning your neck to see where the holds are. I could see where my hands and feet were supposed to go so had the first (of several) cracks at it. A slip and a fall back to the ledge made me chuckle and have another go. The next I set my jaw into what I'd like to think was a steely grin in the face of adversity but probably looked more like a vicar with hemorrhoids. Another slip and by now the steely grin (or purturbed vicar look) was starting to be replaced with a rather nervous twitching smile. It's all good climbing indoors and falling. It's even fun falling close to the ground or half-way up a small pitch on a crag. It gets subtly less amusing 180 foot up a rock face with nothing more than air betwen your arse and the ground.

I must have tried climbing the overhang maybe 7 times but it was just too much. I was too tired and maybe not had enough to eat. It was also technically very difficult. I called up to Brian to say I was having a bit of a sketchy time of it and did he have any suggestions on alternative ways to get to the top. After a couple of goes of pulling myself up a rope purely by my hands and arms I felt myself starting to topple back in my harness. This was when I felt things turning a tad feisty. You step into a harness much like you fill a kettle with water. Much as in the same way of making a nice relaxing cup of tea - you turn the kettle upside down and the water empties out providing a refreshing beverage. Turning upside down and the feeling being poured out of ones harness was however neither relaxing nor refreshing. In fact I started shaking like a shitting dog. I've never had a panic attack before but this one kicked in with a big insane grin.

Luckily I've spent a lot of time over the years in precarious situations and have had a lot of experience making decisions and trying to keep a clear head when things could get messy - backcountry and freestyle snowboarding and wakeboarding as well as hiking mountains in the winter all bring a certain level of risk and subsequent important decision making. Also included in this list could be the time when I tried dating two girls at the same time whilst in my latter stages of life at school - an extremely precarious situation.

Brian managed to rig a pulley system by me clipping a spare carabiner into my harness and clipping the run off rope from the belay device into that. Very effective, and a half dozen or so heaves later I found myself sitting on the top of the crag with Chris and Brian feeling a tad shaky but otherwise OK. I rolled a much needed ciggie and unbeknownst to be me Chris snapped one of the best photos I've seen for a long while.

Brian and I at the top of the crag.

I love this photo because it says a lot. It tells me that my friends and I will use lateral thinking and ingenuity to solve problems as well as heart and strength. It tells me that I can push myself to my absolute limits and still know when I'm beaten. Earlier in my life I'd have pushed myself more in that situation to get up the overhang and probably end up hurt. Not this time. It tells me that it takes more than just meaty arms to push yourself mentally and that if you work at something then you can achieve it. Most of all it tells me how I know my life to be - full of challenges that I know I can overcome, even when I'm really really scared. The simple thing the picture says is friendship. I'll look at this photo and think of what happened beforehand, but as a snapshot the picture looks serene with two guys out for a bit of adventurous exercise.

We did do a bit more climbing afterwards - Brian did a few more pitches whilst I belayed him from a shelf much lower down. I had a smaller climb and got some really useful tips which I'll definately remember and use in future. Brian got beaten by a 7b pitch (so he IS human!) so it was kind of comforting to see we'd both reached our limits. AFter a good few hours we returned to the Delice for a quick mango juice and then I retired home for a spot of dinner.

Addendum: Brian and I had both forgotten our guide book for pitches on the crag so we didn't know what route was graded what. We later found out that the start route was a 6b+ - one of the hardest pitches on the whole crag and the hardest pitch from the bottom! Feeling dead pleased to get as high as I did!