Day 62 and 63

62 is the only number whose cube (238328) consists of 3 digits each occurring 2 times, whilst 63 is a Woodall number and a Harshad number.

Something a little different in this entry, as I eschewed the forest and drove like a madman for hours on end! Sara came down from Belgium for the weekend, and we were both psyched to head down to Switzerland, although for rather different reasons. For so long I’ve wanted to visit Branson, the home of La Danse de Balrog and Radja, the first 8B and 8B+, respectively. Fred Nicole did these problems in the early 90′s as you probably know, but it seems to me that they don’t get the attention they deserve. These problems should be on any wannabe’s tick list in my opinion, and they are certainly high on mine. After seeing a video of Sebastian Spauwen climbing it recently it kicked started me into motion so I decided to stop being a wus and just head down there.

We set off on Saturday morning and 4.5 hours later we arrived at the very sunny, very beautiful village of Branson. I was so psyched to be stood in front of the bloc which Nicole first gazed on back in the nineties, and then proceeded to crush. It was mid afternoon so the sun was shining down nice and warm, so we did the only sensible thing and sat in the sun eating! When it started cooling down we began warming up. There is a perfect little warm up block just before the Radja block with a number of 5′s and 6′s. I was struggling to get warm but eventually the fingers began working and we moved around the corner. I was really impressed the first time my eyes set upon the Radja block. It doesn’t look so great in the videos but it’s an impressive block. A wide overhanging face with a handful of 8th grade problems on really cool pinch-esque holds. It’s clearly a historical bit of rock, but in addition to that it’s actually really good. Since I saw the video of la Danse de Balrog I had imagined trying the moves, trying to remember all the movements, but also a bit intrepid to try such a classic problem. During the drive down I was a little nervous because I didn’t want to arrive and get totally shut down. But I’d watched the video so many times, the holds looked alright, and very much in my style. I love to pinch and every hold required you to squeeze with your thumb. Now that I was stood below it, brushing the holds, I could see that the holds were ok and I thought I should be able to do the moves. But I’ve learned in the past that holds which appear to be good often lead to very hard boulder problems. I decided to have a flash go, because you only get one chance and anything is worth a shot, so I cleaned my boots and sat down. I knew the sequence, I just had to execute. I pulled on, slapped for the first move, and proceeded to land on the pad. Clearly I’ve got room to improve in this department! I’d hit the second hold badly, with my thumb in the wrong place and that was the end. It was quite a sharp hold to slap for so I didn’t try that move again. I knew from that tentative go that I could do it. I then worked the moves upwards, starting at the second and finishing at the top. I figured out exactly where to put my feet, did all the moves without too many problems, and decided that for me the crux would be a foot movement in the middle. I was already nursing a split tip from last week and a hole in the side of my ring finger thanks to a DIY accident, but I was all taped up and ready for another go. I knew exactly how to take each hold, I just needed to do it now. I decided to have another go, knowing that I just had to grab each hold correctly and I could get to the top. I knew I was capable of the moves, but was I capable of the link? I pulled on, slapped for the first move and hit the hold perfectly. I knew I could do it now, as I had done the rest of the moves, so I just had to not let go and execute. My feet went on just where I wanted, and the foot movement that I thought would be the crux just breezed past. I guess I was pulling much harder on the link, desperate not to fall off. I set up for the last tricky move, which you can do with a kneebar but clearly I wasn’t about to do that. It’s such a great move, just like something from the 50 board at the school! I went for it and hit the hold! A tricky heel hook to bring my left hand up and I only had one long but steady move to the jug. I later found out that Dave Graham had fallen off that move on the flash but he was using the kneebar method which sets you up slightly differently. What a beast. I slapped with all my might to the final jug and BOOM! I was there. I was shocked, elated, amazed, and really fulfilled. I’d arrived a bit nervous as to just how hard it would be and now I was stood beneath it having done it second go (first go is flash go, right?). Nicole had climbed the same thing (nearly) in 1992… BEAST! I realised as I stood on the ground that I was bleeding, and it came as no surprise to see I’d split a tip. What is wrong with my skin? Why is it so weak? I suppose it’s a good thing I did it that go! I was riding high on adrenaline so I thought it was worth trying Radja. I taped up and had a few tentative goes at the moves but my skin was hurting a little too much so I decided to leave it for the following morning.





Climbing La Danse de Balrog so quickly really made me think. It highlighted some major things that have changed in climbing since 1992, mainly with regard to training methods. Clearly in the 80′s and 90′s there were some serious beasts around (Nicole, Gullich, Moon, Moffatt, etc) but training for climbing wasn’t as accessible. With training venues now being severely overhanging boards, campus boards, fingerboards, etc everybody is training power. The average level of power is definitely higher, and so coming to a piece of rock like the Radja block is like a test of all the training moves I’ve done in the past few years. Perhaps all climbing is like that in reality, but these problems are quite basic, requiring a lot of shoulder, back, and arm power. That is why it’s possible to do them very quickly. The new generation of beasts like Ondra, Woods, Landman, Robinson, and Graham are performing at another level. They are able to climb very hard but also in very short amounts of time. I wonder if the next generation will be able to climb 8C’s in a session? Probably, that’s evolution I suppose.

Anyway, we went to a lovely Chambres d’hotes in Branson for the night. Our room had such an amazing view… all we could see were snow topped mountains and blue skies above. Suffice to say it made for an incredible wake up call. However, my shoulders were aching after the short but intense use they received the day before. I wanted to have a session on Radja before we left and Sara was keen for a bit of crushing of her own. We had our breakfast up at the rocks whilst enjoying the view and the warm sunshine. We got warmed up on the mini radja block and Sara had her sights set on the 6C problem on it. I did it using a completely duff sequence and knew I had to find another way if Sara was going to get up it. Luckily it wasn’t too complicated and I found a method that I knew she could do. I showed her once and then left her to do it. Climbing with Sara is good for me because it reminds me that I wasn’t always as aware of how to climb as I am now. Sometimes I expect her to be able to remember sequences like people remember the day of the week, and it’s a bit unfair. I’ve enveloped myself in climbing so it’s easy for me to remember climbing related things, but Sara is still learning, developing, and improving. So I should say sorry to Sara for not being patient enough sometimes. She was falling off on the link because she kept forgetting what to do, not because she couldn’t do the moves. I left her to it and soon enough I saw her topping out. She then proceeded to inform me it was the second time she’d done it, and then she did it again for the camera! Great!!!

Frederic Moix turned up and I was glad to meet him. He was the one who’d given me all the information and beta for Branson. What a nice guy! He showed me the original sequence that Fred Nicole used on la Danse and on Radja. He explained how a variation had then been climbed on la Danse which was graded 8A+/B, and then went on to explain that last year he found a new method of doing the first move. It sounds a bit contrived, but it makes a lot of sense when you are in front of the block. The new method for the start means you do 1 move instead of 3, and this is how Sebastien Spauwen climbed it (as you may have seen in the video). However, it is a bit easier but this is not a variation or a different start. This is the most logical way to climb it, being the easiest method, and not eliminant. From the point you pull on for the new start it is only 30 or 40cm to the start holds that Nicole used. I tried the moves on the original start and did them ok. I kind of wish I knew that information for my previous session because I’m sure I could have done that start, which is still regarded as a benchmark 8B. I would have liked to climb it the same way as Nicole, if only to know that I was following in the footsteps of greatness. Frederic showed me how to climb Radja and left it in my hands to do it. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. It is a hard problem and very physical on the shoulders and lower back. I did do the moves but only individually. The crux is a 2 move sequence and would warrant 8A+ on it’s own. The moves are really good though, and I’m already harboring a desire to return to the bloc. I had a fair number of goes at the moves on Radja but the skin on my thumbs was just too sore and I had to quit. That goes to show how thumb intensive the holds are, much to my delight!

We got our stuff together, packed the car, and began the long journey back to font. It was an even longer journey for Sara as she was continuing on to Belgium! The journey wasn’t without incident though, as tomtom got stuck in a loop that took us in a big circle of about 20 miles. Don’t trust sat nav over common sense is the lesson to be learned there! The next incident occurred about halfway along the journey when I got pulled over for speeding. Luckily I wasn’t going too fast because Sara had just woken up so I was talking to her. As the policeman wrote on the whiteboard in large letters, “168km/h = 90€”. We paid and got on our way without any hassle. Luckily we weren’t on the receiving end of the €1350 fine that some other poor bastard was getting whilst we were in there! Ouch. Financially, it was a rather unwise trip as it ended up costing a fair bit… €50 payage fees, €65 accomodation, €120 diesel, €30 food, €90 po-po tax. All in, €355 for one boulder problem. Probably the most expensive problem I’ve ever done…

I don’t know when I’ll get to go back to Branson, but I’m definitely keen. It’s a bit too far to go for a one night trip, so next time it will be for at least one week. Frederic also told me about an amazing place called Fionnay that Graham crushed so I would love to see it at the next opportunity. I hope that next time I return I can do Radja. That would be a dream come true for me. In fact, it would perhaps be one of my greatest climbing goals, to repeat the world’s first 8B+. I think I can probably do it, but it will be very hard, that’s for sure. No, wait, I’m sure I can do it. Maybe not next trip, but I know I can do it if I want it enough, and I do. Now I’m back in font, it’s raining, and I need some rest.

I’ll update this post in a day or two with a link to the video from our little swiss trip…