Few and far between.
A huge Cold FONT
Since my last post I’ve spent a significant amount of time freezing my ass off. Apparently I aligned my climbing trip with a massive Euro-wide cold front, worthy of constant mention on most major news networks. Instead of intermittently cursing the cold while building hopping in Edmonton, I’m cursing it all day while trying to scramble rocks, frozen rocks. Attempting to boulder in -10 feels more conducive to sending warm bread and pain au chocolates than hard boulders, at least pour moi. That being said a significant amount of suffer climbing has taken place and I’ve been having a good time getting crushed, exploring the ENDLESS forest, getting up classics and watching the housemates obliterate all of the forest test pieces. Once Sean left I continued to be surrounded by more humans that belittle 8B+ from benchmark to casual-one-day-affairs. Climbing and hanging with Nalle and Andy from Finland, along with J. Webb from Tennessee had me questioning why I to don’t walk up the forest ‘s classic test pieces. Its easy to forget, but they are the worlds best, and their strength and motivation towards climbing operates at another level. It was unreal to get to watch the problems I’ve been hearing about since The Real Thing actually get climbed. Webb cruised up The Island, which I thought he was going to flash; did flash Big Dragon, did Ubik Assis second try; and made quick work of Gecko Assis in heinous cold, he had to send so we could go back to the car!
Team Finland and America have now departed and I’m hoping they left some of their magical strength in one of the cupboards for me. Recently I’ve been hanging with Mike and Tammy a very awesome couple from Idaho where they run a small vineyard and also have a wicked blog www.climbidaho.com . I’ve been making sure to harass them with questions about wine regularly and now feel confident that I could blow hot air at some wine snob with some mediocre level of perceived prowess.
Today was the second climbing day I’ve had in the past week. After years of intense teenage impatience and angst I have finally learned to enjoy being on a trip despite the villainous ways of mistress weather. Unfortunately for my projects this means enjoying other things pertinent to where I am. If you’ve been to France you know what that may be comprised of. At least I can pretend the bread helps lower my center of gravity on the slopers!
I have another week in the forest. Then I’m rolling via train to London to visit some friends and do some work in the London Archives. We can only hope I will have some climbing to report on while whipping through northern France. Soon after that its back to Normandy for a long weekend with my Uncle and his friends, and then Cairo!
Usually on bouldering trips I could care less about climbing easy problems. They don’t give my ego the same stroke of approval that double-digit problems do. Maturity hasn’t been responsible for changes in this, injuries have. But in Font it all changes, Today I climbed TWENTY unreal boulder problems just to warm up, all of them were V0, and I couldn’t have had a greater time. I am oblivious to the names of the majority of boulders I’ve topped out this trip most would be “the rad thing over there.” That sort of anonymity being inexorable from beauty and classic movement can only happen here and it rules.
The nameables I’ve suffered up thus far:
A Prehension 7C+
La Nuit 7C
Big Boss 7C
Tonnerre de Brest 7B
Magic Bus 7B
La Presse Puree 7A+
Dark Room 7A+
Les Monos Assis 7A+
Passage a l’Acte 7A+
Boule de Gomme 7A+
Belle Guelu 7A
Currently I’m sitting in a grandiose farmhouse in the small hamlet of Herbauville, France. The house is nestled on the edge of the infamous Fontainebleau forest. Fontainebleau houses thousands of eccentric sandstone boulders and is the epicenter of bouldering in Europe; the only place in the world where “modern” problems 50 and 60 years old can be found. You can trace the history of climbing through the forest and often find yourself laughing at your inability to climb something done in the 1980’s or earlier. Font is a great, if not the greatest place. My stay here will most likely be extended.
I arrived in Toulouse, France on January 18th to visit my good friend Sean Mccoll in his new headquarters. Perhaps every North American male climber’s true dream is to find a beautiful French climbing girl, fall in love, and relocate across the pond. Sean is currently fulfilling this dream with his awesome girlfriend Mathilde alongside with his dream of climbing professionally. Quite often flashy labels, websites, sponsors, and edited photos create grand misconceptions about the glamour of professional climbers, these blankets cover the realties of how hard they work. Most people may not understand that Sean has spent several years chasing his dream at a loss or breaking even, you would be hard pressed to find other individuals who are so committed to competition climbing. Whether you are an aspiring competitor, rock climber, or mountain man the effort is respectable at the least.
After some preliminary hanging and jet-lag conquering in Toulouse, which houses most of Frances top universities and colleges creating a great vibe, we made the six hour drive to Fontainebleau. We utilized the amazing transportation network www.covoiturage.fr to cut down our cost and have some companions in the car. The older woman’s snoring in the backseat proved to be a relentless test in our laugh-control abilities, I failed. Covoiturage simply allows drivers and passengers to connect and car-pool all over Europe and I will most certainly be using it to get around in the future.
The day before the trip we managed to find accommodation with an English climber who bought property in the Font area a few years ago. Sean had stayed with him before and we figured it would be best to keep things easy. Upon arriving at the Maisonbleau I couldn’t believe how with zero before hand planning I was now in a massive house on a beautiful farm for hilariously cheap. Sometimes traveling as a climber feels like cheating and every time I find myself even slightly regretting the complete absence of plans luck seems to take over. Sean was only planning on staying for a week as he has to be back in Toulouse preparing for ABS nationals and a trip to Hueco next month. I was happy to find a place with boulders in walkable distance (Buthiers areas) and a hospitable owner.
The first four days were more or less a total bust, we threw down pretty hard on some excellent T.V. shows and came close to sending the whole first season of Fringe and Suits. We managed to get two half days of easy climbing in but mostly did recon missions in the rain scoping out several ultra-classics. The problems that was most inspirational to me is the stand alone Elephunk 8B, maybe by the end of the trip. Walking around a magical forest finding inspiring boulders is cool but being able to climb them is slightly less torturous. Luckily the rain subsided on Sean’s last day and we got in a huge day of climbing in the famous Cuvier sector. I hadn’t climbed in a few weeks so am doing my best to ease into things here. Sean in true form had an epic day Sending:
Duroxamine assis 7b+
Big Boss 7C
Fourmis Rouges 7C+
Noir Desire 7C
Kheops Assis 8B+
It doesn’t get any better than climbing with old homies, its just a great time, and while some people may dislike climbing with someone who can easily flash your projects I find the bone crushing completely motivating a thrive off of it. It was good to send Sean off without the well-known melancholy of being completely shut-down by the weather. I’ll be in the house by myself for a few days and it looks like next week I’ll be sharing the accommodations with Nalle Hukkataival an individual who happens to be another one of the strongest climbers in the world, let the bone crushing continue.
We may have spent an hour wandering around a boulder free section of forest Day 1.
Morning view via bedroom window
What can only be assumed to be some V0
Fourmir Rouges 7C+
Thank God! I am finally sitting in the Havana airport with only 21 hours remaining before I can conclude mission Cuba. This trip has undoubtedly been the worst climbing trip I have ever been on. With that being said for the past six years all of my trips have ranged from Dunks to 360 Dunks so I truly cannot complain. Mediocre trips and bad travel experiences are inevitable when you’re fortunate enough to spend a large portion of each year away from home.
The nail in the coffin was the climbing. I am a climber who goes on climbing trips, rather than someone who goes on vacations where they climb. There is a difference and Vinales suits one much better than the other. Magazine articles and guidebooks Depicting Vinales as a world-class limestone heaven are laughable. The guidebook can almost be interpreted as a parody by any climber who has traveled to quality limestone areas. The quantity is minimal; the rock quality O.K. at best and the “Cuban experience” is definitely an experience for better or worse.
Thomas and I could not have been more psyched for Cuba before departure, each day we spent exploring the Mogotes of the Vinales Valley our energy and excitement rapidly dissipated as reality overtook romance. We put in three massive days of adventuring to unexplored cliffs in search of the King Lines that did not present themselves. Instead we found mostly crappy rock: too many features, not featured enough, to soft ect. We Tried and the cliffs were simply not there. Just before our arrival there was a Swiss and French Petzl crew who had traveled to the area with similar intention as us. They developed a few routes here and there but due to the impossibilities of Cuban transportation most of the crags were simply not logical for further development. Anyone who says that Vinales is a Tabla Rasa beckoning to be developed and climbed is simply unable to distinguish good rock from rock.
We did manage to find one wall of comparably remarkable quality, bullet proof streaked limestone, nice setting, and fun tufa climbing. In a good effort we established a new crag in the El Palenque area offering 5 new routes in the 5.10 range and one 5.12-. In my opinion these routes were the best quality rock in the valley and offered the most enjoyable moderate grades, but we all know that developers are inexorably attached and biased to their own routes and crags. Establishing the crag was the same hard work that bolting always is with added cruxes of horrendous vegetation, poisonous plants, and inexperienced machete users (myself). The top to the cliff was entirely inaccessible meaning the first two routes were bolted ground up, a time consuming and physically draining endeavor. Once those two were established it was relatively simply to traverse and get everything else up on repel. It was a good, hard, and fun few days of work, and a crag right next to a banana farm is a pretty tight creation. However, this still left us with no challenging climbing and we simply could not get physced for the climbing that did exist.
The harder climbing that does exist in Cuba is truthfully not hard at all. Thomas and I found ourselves, both completely out of shape, onsighting and flashing 8a’s something that should not happen. A good rule of thumb for everything 7c+ or harder is to take at least two grades off, the Thailand phenomenon in full effect. The main reason for this is most likely the appearance of several sponsored climbers venturing into Cuba with no system of checks and balances creating an inflation that appeals to their sponsors. Aside from difficulty, the quality of the climbing that does exist should be classified as a Local or at best a National destination. Describing Vinales as a World Class climbing area is a straight up lie and although it may sell guidebooks, write magazine articles, and entice sponsors to flip coin it also does a disservice to the climbing community. Other comparable “adventurous” climbing areas exist. Thailand has become a renowned climbing destination and Thailand is definitely not a world class climbing areas. It does however offer the combination of good climbing and good vacationing. In Cuba or at least outside the confines of private resorts you will not find the luxuries of a heavily romanticized tropical paradise. Even as a tourist the confines of communism are heavily present and the bizarre Cuban monetary system means a double standard is created for foreign visitors.
With all of this being said I have no regrets, an experience is an experience good or bad. I am going home completely exited to be going, a rarity at the end of trips. I am also pretty stoked to be able to go to a grocery store and buy food.
On November 26th 1863 amidst a civil war President Lincoln declared a National day of thanksgiving, American Thanksgiving. Just a few hours ago I was fortunate enough to indulge in this glorious day of American thanks. American thanking is, of course, of much grander proportions. Staying with my two Uncle’s Al and Joe in there glorious house in Ann Arbor Michigan I spent the day slaving away preparing for our quaint dinner of 26 people. I figured the minute mental stimulation of writing a post would help me digest the second plates that should have never been.
Our last week in Kentucky was hot and cold, in both the literal and figurative sense. We experienced some intense hillbilly culture and climbed way too much. Yes hillbillies still exist, they are alive and BOOMING with their confederate flags visible for all to see. Rain Clouds forced into making a big push and climbing four days on so that Pete Woods our friend visiting from Calgz could make the most of his trip. This meant that Alex and I climbed six out of our last seven days in Kentuck, definitely not a schedule that accompanies sending projects. Following suit with the rest of our trip we laid siege to the multitude of classic moderates that the RRG has to offer cleaning up many five star classics.
Overall I had an incredible seven weeks in KY. Originally my plan was to hone in on projects and spent the trip knocking down the heavy hitters. Fortunately and unfortunately this is almost impossible in the Red. There is simply WAY to much fun climbing and WAY to many new walls to go explore. This trip ended up being almost solely an onsight and volume trip. In the seven weeks I managed to climb 51 routes 5.12A – 5.13D, of these 51 routes only 9 were Redpoints and five of those were second go. Pretty much everything else was onsight or flash with a handful of pseudo-onsights of routes that I climbed on my last trip. I tried to keep track of everything but that of course falls apart after a few days, here is most of the trip:
Wild Yet Tasty
Too Many Puppies
Kick Me in The Jimmie
Check your Grip
Tic Tac Toe
Mercy The Huff
Blue Eyed Honkey Jesus
Super Best Friends
Cell Block Six
A Farewell to Arms
Bundle of Joy
Table of Colors
The Deep Show
Forty Ounces of Justice
Table of Colors Direct
Dirty Smelly Hippy
Straight Outta Campton
I was definitely starting to lose psych near the end of the trip as my elbows needed time off. After seven weeks of a T and camping I am more than happy to be spending a week re-examining the glorious invention of a bed and visiting friends and family in Ann Arbour, Chicago, and Toronto before I fly to Havana on the 2nd. I’m not exactly sure what the Internet situation will be like in Cuba but I’m sure Thomas and I will hunt some down. You might be able to follow our escapades here, http://basecamp.mammut.ch/en/basecamp-news/thomas_schmid_climbing_trip or for my German speaking friends (do I have any?) http://www.schmid-climbing.ch/. I’m Ultra stoked for the upcoming five weeks. Climbing with Thomas will most definitely be a good time and I’m stoked to suffer everyday trying to keep up with him. Currently Cuba has very little developed climbing. Of the little climbing that does exist there are only 7 routes 8a and harder which will force us to be in adventure mode exploring for unclimbed projects! I’ll be meeting up with Thomas in Havana on December 2nd where we will somehow find a way to get the 60 Kilos of gear from Mammut to Vinales. Let the games begin!