68 is a happy number. How nice!

I was feeling on a high after the weekend, but also very, very sore. My shoulders were aching through till Tuesday, and then my lats picked up where the shoulders left on on Wednesday. I’ve also had a uni deadline this week so I’ve been mainly sat trying to figure out how confident I am in predicting how various things are distributed. It all sounds so simple, but then I end up staring at an equation which has parameters that mean nothing to me! It’s not very reassuring, but thankfully I got it finished (sort of) and handed in.

Wednesday afternoon I was fed up with the stats and not feeling particularly well so went out to meet Neil and Tim for a bit of a walk at Elephant Nord. I’d never been up there before and although there is nothing very hard, there are some interesting bits of rock. I joined them as they were about to set off on a 7A slab called Tour de Gard. I had taken my boots just in case, and it looked inviting, so I figured it would be a nice warm up, but it turned out rather differently. Firstly, I couldn’t reach the second move how Tim and Neil were doing it, so that called for a rather hard move to reach the mono. Mono?!? On a warm up! Then there was a tricky finger swap on the mono and then a smeary move to a decent sidepull jug. It was certainly harder than I wanted it to be, but I made it to the top. Next up was the problem just to it’s right, Christiansen, 7A/+. Once again, I was thinking it would be a good warm up, but I was once again so far off the mark. It required hard pulling, hard positions, and nearly resulted in failure. Thankfully I made it to the top after a number of efforts, just deciding to pull harder on the successful attempt, which wasn’t what I wanted to do, but needed to do. The next problem was something that Neil said was 6C, so it had to be easy… NOPE! Coquine Blues, 7A, is a one move affair, which I probably didn’t do in the easiest way, but the easiest way wasn’t easy either. I was really struggling on these problems, they all felt hard, and I certainly felt heavy! Falling is only one letter different from failing, and both of them are easy to do because gravity is always there to lend a hand. What a nice guy. I really should have known to quit, but foolishly pressed on. Tim and I walked round to Coup de Lune, 7B+/C, as I thought it would be an easy flash. A day of serious misjudgements as it would turn out. I fell on the flash, fell on the 2nd go, the 3rd, the 4th, ad infinitum (well, nearly). It was a very long move to a rather poor hold and before long I atleast had a bit of common sense left to walk away. I didn’t have enough common sense to leave the crag though… so Tim and I wandered over to Glamorama, 8A. I realised I could barely pull on, so walked away immediately, but then a magnificent arete/pillar caught my eye and I had to have a go. It was black number 33, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard, only a little scary. I got up to the last move, realised it involved a very balancy foot placement, and I hastily escaped back a few moves and to the ground. I did have a few more goes but the holds were clean, I was worried about slipping off, and basically I was being a total pus. Turns out it is 6C+/7A and called Le Pilier Legendaire (a fitting name). We packed up, said goodbye to Elephant, but instead of saying hello to some food and a hot bath, we were driving to Boissy aux Cailles to check out a great looking slab called La Nombriliste, 7. It is an amazing piece of rock, totally out of place in the valley which it sits. We bumped into some Americans (of which 2 were 8B climbers…) and none of them had done it. Pants down? Tim and I tried our best but our best just wasn’t good enough and we ended up taking our pants down too (in the non gayest sense). The moon guided us back out the forest, but we vowed to return!

I’d heard about a project at Boigneville, which is close by, that is supposed to be great looking, hard, and waiting for an ascent. I went up to have a look on Thursday afternoon and bumped into a keen French man, whom I recognised as none other than the font beast Francois Louvel.  He had the scene covered, a rope with a shunt to clean it, a ladder to access it, 2 massive thick foam pads, and then 3 bouldering pads on top. The line was certainly magnificent. An overhanging prow, high enough to be scary, but not too high to be dangerous, with holds leading the way up. He gave me a quick run down, but somewhere in the midst of all the Franglais it seemed to me that he might have actually done it from a stand start, but was trying to add one move at the start to complete the line. The move was about font 5, and wouldn’t have made any difference to the grade, but it would have improved the line. I’m not entirely sure if he has actually done it, but the fact he had given it a name, Intensite, and said it was about 8A lead me to conclude he has. It does look about the same level of difficulty as Partage, 8A+, so I said something like “so, easier than Partage” to which he replies something like “no, a little harder maybe. Partage is very technical, but this is more powerful”. Hmmm… sounded amazing, looked amazing, and I was very keen for a go. But my skin was in a bad way so I hatched plans to return in the morning. Before I left he had some goes, and was crushing the bottom bit, but falling off what looked like a tricky move at about 2/3 height.

The morning came and it wasn’t raining, my skin was sore but useable, so I went back up to Boigneville. Tim came with me, and we warmed up on a couple of 7A’s that Francois had shown us. Well, they were supposed to be 7A. The first was a very cool arete, that would have been entirely at home in the peak district. Such great movement, but felt a bit hard for 7A. Tim didn’t manage it which means something! The second was also an arete, but a 1 move affair. I flashed it, and it felt much easier than the other 7A, but Tim didn’t get it either. I think Francois may well be somewhat of a sandbagger. But the main meat was to come, and we moved on to Intensite. I fully expected to get to Francois’ high point fairly easily, as he made it look tres facile. Turns out he’s a beast and it’s not easy at all. In fact, it was very hard. I did some of the moves, but moves that he made look easy utilised holds that I could barely hang. I was genuinely shocked. There is no way it was 8A, that’s for sure. I kept plugging away and made a bit of progress, but I hadn’t been able to reach the move that Francois was falling off. I think I could do the moves, but in my opinion they certainly warranted some bigger numbers. It actually felt as hard as Kheops, 8B, which although I haven’t done I have tried enough to know. I thrashed myself but had no joy, I tried a number of different sequences but no joy. My only joy was the memory of watching him cruise the moves that I couldn’t do! When we left I left a note in the dirt beneath the problem saying “C’est trop difficile pour moi. Je Pense 8B?”. I hope it atleast provides him with some amusement…

Not content with finishing the day just yet, we returned to La Nombriliste. It was a little damp from the rain, but not too damp to halt proceedings. We got on and started trying again. The crux move is a long reach from a small foothold with no handholds (other than a strange palm if you can get in the right position) to a smallish pocket. Then you have another move to the top, then some slopers to mantle onto (from which one of the Americans fell time after time). Neither Tim nor I had managed to reach the pocket, and we were no closer to figuring out the move. Tim was probably closer than I was, but then I changed beta. The way we were trying involved reaching up smoothly, staticly, and fluidly with your left hand to the pocket (because you’re right is palming). I went against the grain, didn’t use the palm, and jumped/popped for the pocket with my right hand. I had a feeling it would work if I could keep my foot on too, but the problem had always been with the feet slipping off. After a rediscovery of the joys of the old pink anasazi’s I knew it was possible with my jump method. I was getting closer and closer to getting my fingers accurately in the pocket, and my foot wasn’t popping off. Eventually I hit it, and one more tenuous foot move allowed me to pop for the sloper at the top. Quite how the American chap could fall off here so many times was beyond me, as they were semi decent holds. I ran my feet up and mantled to glory. I was pretty psyched actually, because it’s a wonderful slab, and it was genuinely tricky for me. Unfortunately the video camera had dies, but fortunately it means I get to go back and do it again! If you’re reading this Adam (Long) you need to put this on your tick list for the next font trip. I really can’t recommend it enough and I know you’re the one person who will appreciate it more than most! There aren’t any small holds to pull on, only great delicate movement with smears for feet. It’s wonderful!

Earlier in the day as we left Boigneville, Tim asked me which list I was going to put Intensite on. I currently have several lists of boulder problems, which helps me stay on top of things (otherwise I’d just go crazy and try everything, everywhere). I have one “life long” font ticklist, one “to-try” list, and one short term “concentrate on” list. There is a fluid movement between the lists, but I try to stick to them. This week has been an exception on all fronts. It’s almost been a holiday week from climbing actually. I’ve not put pressure on myself to go and try Dune, or to try another hard problem. I think that it’s because I found success in Switzerland I’m just having a bit of downtime, a post success laziness. I’ve also been feeling rather tired all week, had stats coming out my ears, and generally not on top of the world. I think it’s also because I’ve been here for quite a while now plus other non climbing things are weighing heavily on my mind. Conditions have moved on considerably. Gone are the cold crisp mornings, the thermals, and the flasks of tea. Now we’ve got warm temperatures, April showers, and in some ways I’m getting a bit low on psyche. There are things going on in England that really need my attention, but I also want to stay here and climb some more. I found out that Dune was actually the first 8B+ in the forest, which only increased my desire to try it, but I’m still not sure if I can even do it at the moment. It’s hard and I’m beginning to feel weak. I’m hoping that it’s just due to this being a hectic week for me, and now the stats is over I can begin to get back into climbing. I’ve also been thinking that I need to return to some form of training, increase my base level a little bit before another extended trip. I know my fingers are mightily weak and they will need work before heading out to Magic Wood. It’s just that I don’t really like crimping…

I’m not sure how long I’ll remain out here now, but I can’t see it being more than 3 or 4 weeks. I hope I can make it a productive few weeks, and not slip into laziness. Maybe I should check for tick bites actually…