The rain came and it poured over the Rhone valley, day after day. Eventually I ran out of days and the final morning we awoke to see blue skies. Was I being gifted a final chance, a possibility to go and achieve my goal at the last possible moment? My shoulders were sore even though I’d spent the previous 3 days stretching and chilling out watching movies, but if good weather was out there I would soon forget that and go all out. Upon arrival at Branson things looks promising but close inspection of the holds revealed some wet holds. One of the crucial holds was wet at the back and the sit start holds were also wet but I wasn’t yet ended. I tried to dry the important hold off so I could at least try the crux sequence a bit. Whilst cleaning it I kept touching it to assess its dryness and then I suddenly touched upon something I may once have known but certainly didn’t have it at the accessible part of my memory. Suddenly my fingers slotted in to a part of the hold that felt slightly better than all of the rest. My ring finger was gripping on something that I hadn’t experienced before, but it felt better. I wasn’t sure if I was just going crazy so I dried it off as best as I could and warmed up while it dried a little. The water kept seeping through but a bit of tissue (cave tactics) absorbed some of the moisture. I pulled on and suddenly felt alright in the position. I was reaching up into the undercut far, far, far more comfortably. This new hand position, or perhaps finger placement was changing everything. How could I have spent 2 sessions on this only a few days ago and not noticed this obvious beta? I didn’t know if I was simply feeling stronger on the day or I really was gripping it differently, but whatever the reason I felt better and it came as a great relief.

I’d arrived in Martigny confident I could do Radja. I spent 2 sessions literally not doing one move on Radja and then 3 days watching movies. I couldn’t understand why I’d arrived confident and then got shut down so hard. My mental state wasn’t great but being down is certainly not being out. The bottom of the well is a sign that says nothing is impossible. Having had this final session and had a sudden progress boost was really good for my mental state. I’d arrived confident, had a dip, but would be leaving confident again. It’s a shame all this confidence exists when I’m not at the boulder problem.

I fled from Martigny, first driving to Bergamo to drop Sara off and then onward to Cresciano to take my place in a house of big numbers. I was arriving at a house where everyone had climbed 8B or above (bar Doylo, 8A+, who is certainly worthy of the honorary 8B club) and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be a melting pot of psyche and power, or a fragmented struggle for recognition? I guess it’s still too early to know for sure, but first signs are really positive. As I wrote in my previous post, I’m sick of the bitching, and so I want to be part of a positive group of people who all want each other to succeed. So far this seems to be the case amongst us.

I’ve only had one day out climbing thus far which was spent up at Brione. The rock up there is second to none and in my opinion is the highest form that granite can achieve. There is no better granite which I have seen or climbed upon and I hold it in equal estimation to the great rock of Fontainebleau. We started off in the meadow as Doylo had his sights firmly set on crushing Molunk, 7C, which he should have done first go, but ended up doing an hour later. I filmed a few of the better set warm up problems and then Brick and I moved over to join the crowd at Molunk. Tyler put his shoes on to show us a slightly different sequence which I was thankful for because everyone else seemed to be using a taller man’s method. Brick and I flashed it using different sequences, Fred ascended it uttering many strange English phrases involving things I can’t repeat, and then Doyle did it for the team. Success! I wanted to film the highball slab called Black Mirror, 6B+, so I quickly nipped down there and did it a couple of times. It’s a very cool looking slab and has only one tricky move which is fall off able. It’s easy though and if you’re in Brione you should enjoy the off vertical walk.

Pics removed for now at request of Fred Moix – back soon!

We moved on to check out the main meat, Vecchia Leone but the wall was saturated. It was a shame because I was well warmed up and felt ready to do battle but mother nature had a different plan. What do you do when you can’t try a 5 star 8B? Simply find another 5 star problem down the road. The beauty of residing in a land that has so much good rock! I took the team down to Limited Edition, 7C+, which I’d seen a year ago but hadn’t tried. I’d been immensely impressed by the double arête/ramp feature and longed to climb it. The first move is an amazing flick/jump and then you bosh up left hand, right hand, left hand until you find yourself at a committing move to the top.

Tyler led the way, committing and then successfully toping out. Perhaps it was the mental boost of seeing success that helped but I managed to drag myself to the top moves, committed, and was toping out.

But then a small hand slip on a dirty hold led to a small foot slip which led to a small hip slip and I was suddenly in a rather uncomfortable position. I wasn’t about to fall off but I was in a tricky spot which my position on the rock being very untenable. I didn’t have much purchase with my hands or my feet and my knee was certainly glued to the rock but in the heart raising moment I reached out and grabbed a branch of a tree that was nearby. I was relieved not to have pitched off backwards over the heads of my spotters into the abyss below, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t get my game together enough to calm myself down and then finish the rock over move without grabbing a branch. I wanted to get footage of the problem from various angles so set the camera up in another position and climbed the low moves again, then moves the camera and climbed the high moves again (after giving the top a good clean). I feel fairly honest in my appraisal that my initial hand slip was due to leaves, pine needles, and dirt rather than me going to jelly because I was topping out. I’m sure I don’t have some topping out disease! With that in the bag and footage looking good we headed home.

The house that big numbers built is looking good for psyche. It’s nice to climb with other people for a change and even better to climb with people who are obviously good rock climbers. Climbing with Tyler is also very useful for me for several reasons. It’s pretty much guaranteed that he will be able to do any move I can do, and so if I’m struggling and he proceeds to crush it, it gives me motivation on many levels. It’s not a case of wanting to compete or trying to keep up, it’s more a case of seeing someone else succeed brings things down from the plane of meta impossible to the very real plane of possible. That takes the mental edge off and then it comes down to executing the moves. Tyler has a good understanding of his movement so when he gives out beta it’s actually useful, rather than something like “pull a bit harder you weak bastard”. I’m hopeful that in the coming weeks I can fulfil my goals and complete my very short ticklist, although I did hear that a very strong climber spent 3 days on Boogalagga without doing it, which is a bit dismaying. I’ll just go and give it my best, every day for many days, and what I’ll have in the end will be good regardless of ascent or not.

[Photos Courtesy of Fred Moix Photography and Tyler Landman Photography]