Things haven’t been going all that well and I’ve been very aware that my time is beginning to run out. I’ve been trying to let Gecko marinate, so that I can enjoy my other climbing moments without getting sucked in to a fierce and needless battle with Gecko. I’m here for long enough not to have to direct all of my undivided attention to Gecko, so that I can climb on other blocs and when I’m feeling on it I can then go to Gecko. But that’s where the trouble has been. I’ve not felt “on it” for a while now. My energy levels and thus power levels have been caught in a trough, but today I felt like the bottom had been reached and I was now riding towards the peak.

Last night I decided that I need to step up a gear and that today would be the first day of a new regime. This morning I woke up, grabbed the skipping rope, and went straight to the garage. Last year I was skipping every day and I really felt good for it. I felt like raising my heart rate in the morning put me in a much better state for days of rock climbing. Today I resurrected that regime and every morning I’ll be getting my skip on! This is the physical shift that I’m hoping will also align with a mental shift. I’m moving out of the trough and into the peak.

The weather certainly hasn’t been ideal in the last 10 days. Most days I’ve been struggling to find dry rock and rarely have I felt that super grippy feeling. I think it’s in part due to my bad skin, which has been going through a particularly bad patch, but mainly due to a constant dampness that has prevailed in the forest.

I thought today was going to be more of the same as we arrived at Cuvier to see most things wet and the report from Rempart was the same. Keen as mustard, we headed to Apremont to have a look at Psychose, Marginal, and Le Mur d’Idee. It’s a little bit of a boar hot spot up there, so I explained the boar danger scale to Nige and I thought we were both on the same page. Once we got up there I realised Nige had no idea of the danger lurking in these woods as he brazenly walked towards known boar pits. Luckily for him, it was all quiet on the boar front, and unluckily for us both, the boulders were wet. Marginal looked the driest, so I figured it was worth a punt. I pulled on, did one move, and then my hand blew off. I guess it really wasn’t worth a go. We packed up and headed back to the car to continue the search for dry rock, this time back at Rempart.

The sun (and a soft breeze) had done it’s job, with the rocks looking rather dry. We warmed up on some bits and bobs, taking our time as we knew the rocks were only getting drier. As we were walking down the path I remembered I wanted to do Watchtower, a prowed 7B (get it?!). I’ve wanted to do it for ages, but never had any idea about how it climbed, until a few days ago when I got sprayed down with beta. It turns out that it’s only 1 tricky move, the first, followed by a glorious jug romp to the top. The rock felt grippy and I found myself at the top all too quickly. It’s a shame that after the first 2 moves you are on jugs, as a few hard moves would (in my opinion) make it just that little bit better.

Then a young man desperate for a poo came round the corner and decided today was the day for the big 5. I won’t give the details away, but I’m sure you can read them at his blog. Since the team was under the big 5 I decided to get involved when the party moved to Fourmis Rouge. This is another problem that I’ve wanted to do for ages. I have tried it before, twice in fact, but both times I was shut down by wet holds. Today the holds were all dry and I had no excuses. My first go was a good one and I fell on the jump move near the top. It’s not a jump move for taller people, but my lack of height only gave me cause for more enjoyment as the little jump move is great. I was pretty confident it would go down but my next few goes were horrific. I couldn’t even match the sloper above the crack. It was as if my skin has been smeared with goose fat and i just couldn’t understand why. I wanted to believe that the conditions weren’t good, but as I watched Tyler, then Nige, and then Dave float up the problem I suddenly realised that it was I who was puntering. Tyler turned to me and said “your turn” and I pulled on with strong feelings of intent, but a bad feeling in my tips. I got up to the sloper which you have to match and I very nearly slipped off. My left hand felt horrific. I muttered something under my breath along the lines of “I can not believe how my skin lacks any purchase on this hold – gosh darn it” and I nearly let go, ready to give up. But then I readjusted, unfortunately resulting in just the same bad feeling. I decided I better make a go of it, and even though I knew I was about to slip off I should just slap the hold with my right hand. I slapped in to match and somehow I was still on. I moved my foot up, got in the position ready to jump, now convinced that I was definitely about to slip off. I lurched upwards and my left hand managed to somehow hit the hold and hold on! I could hear a barrage of shouts from below but it was just a blur. My right knee went on the hold that my foot should have been on, and just before I was about to slap up with my right hand I heard the shout of “get your foot on”. I utilised all my 1-5-9 training and pushed down with my right hand until my right foot reached the hold (which is how one gets by without being very flexible!). My right hand slapped up to the next hold and I was still on. At this point I would have offered odds on which hand was about to slip off, I was so sure that one of them would rip and deposit me on the pads. A super sketchy slap saw me a move higher and then one more lurch found me at a decent hold after which I managed to stand up! It was, without doubt, the sketchiest ascent of fourmis rouge that has ever occurred. I think that even a 1% increase in sketchiness would have resulted in my falling to the ground. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t slipped off, and I owe the ascent to the old adage of “until you quit, success is on the cards”. Sometimes you just have to keep on slapping, lurching, and hoping.

After this epic I was psyched for more but I knew that my skin wouldn’t appreciate any more climbing, so I took the boots off and got back to filming. Quite why my skin is so bad at the moment is a mystery to me. I think that little bit of climbing I did today was enough to take off the top layer and hopefully promote the growth of super duper grippy and strong skin for tomorrow!

One thing I want to say after getting a little closer to the magical big 5 is that the best boulder problems are often not the most classic or popular. The big 4/5 are often regarded as the best, or the ones to do, but it’s certainly not because of their quality. Big Boss involves a crux of having to keep your body from touching the rock behind it. Fourmis Rouge involves a start made of soft sand and a nasty couple of holds in the crack. Tristesse really is good though, having an amazing move of an amazing pinch! I can think of quite a few boulders which are 7C and are much better that big boss or fourmis rouge. When you come to font, do the classics because they’re classic, but don’t do them on the pretense that they are the best things around. A problems status as “classic” certainly doesn’t automatically qualify it for being a wonderful boulder. I refer to classic in the sense of being a historically important ascent, not classic in the sense of being both a proud line and amazing climbing! How many people have done Carnage but not done Peter Pan? The same grade, but worlds apart in terms of quality. There are amazing boulders out there… don’t get stuck under the bad ones!

Here are some random photos of Nige on La Nombriliste (check out how clean it is compared to last year!);