Sunday, 29 September 2013

Norway and Worlds

After my performances last year, and with making 2 European finals, I was this year selected for the World Youth Championships in Victoria, Canada along with a small group of the GB team; Molly, Pete, Buster, Jim and William. The flight was long, dull and filled with films, with the most exciting event being the finding of an unattended in-flight cookie box around 5 hours in. Canada from the air is incredible, so vast, empty and untouched, we flew for hours without seeing a town or even a road.

After short hop from Vancouver to Victoria in the scariest little plane I have encountered, we were on the island, and were to spend the next few days adjusting to the time difference and the place as a whole. The city was amazing, and unlike anywhere else I’ve been to, every person I met was happy and always ready for a chat. The amount of random strangers I had conversations with was staggering! In terms of the time difference I didn’t suffer too badly, and found waking up was actually easier than in the UK!

The Team!

Friday rolled around, and it was time for the first qualifiers. I was one of the last to climb in the biggest category of the event, so waited for hours under the giant wall, watching the competition unfold. I met a fair few new people on that day and the opening ceremony the previous night, and it was great to talk to some of them during the day. It was late before I started my climb, but I knew what I was doing, knew I was fit and knew I was ready. In the first part of the climb I felt sketchy and perhaps a bit nervous, but when I got to the rest I told myself to relax, enjoy it and climb my best, and I did. I fought as high as I could, and made it beyond any expectations I had, falling pumped within 2 clips of the top. You can do no more than fall off fighting, and that’s exactly what I did! I ended up 13th on that route, which put me in with a very good chance of making the semis, so I could relax some more and focus on my next route, and try to do as well as I could.

Qualifier 1 (Photo By Nick Pope!)

Like the first, my second qualifier began vertical and steepened out into a roof towards the top, and looked like my perfect style! I was on much earlier today, and this meant I could warm up as soon as I got to the wall, which helped to calm my nerves. Normally on routes in competitions they feel easier than they looked, that is the holds are bigger than they look from the ground, and the moves not as long, but on this route this was not the case! It was insecure and sketchy but I made my way up to the vertical wall to a rest, where I composed myself for the harder moves above. I moved off and up, and got to a long rockover around the arĂȘte. It was one of the harder moves on the route, and required a fair amount of commitment. I rocked to it, moving off the intermediate, but only got to the bottom of the hold. I clawed at wall trying to move the last inch but despite coming so close, I peeled off backwards into the air. I’m normally good at rockovers, so to fall off here was frustrating! It was enough though, and I qualified for the semi final in 17th.

Qualifier 2 (Photo By Nick Pope!)

The rest day was relaxing and gave me time to reflect on my performance, but before I knew it, it was back to the wall and into isolation. During observation the route looked just my style, techy and vert into more steep, crimp climbing. It looked perfect, and I was psyched to get on it! My time rolled around, and I was ready. From the start I felt good, and pretty solid on the first section. I got past the vertical and was resting ready to go for a big tufa that marked the beginning of the steeper section. I went for the move ready to use a small foothold as an intermediate, but it was terrible! I returned to the hold, ready to make the move again but had to move my hand around the rope, or it would have been in my way to do the move. I bumped it off, went around the rope, but when coming back down I hit the hold again wrong. I popped off it, over balanced and fell. I was devastated; to fall off with such a stupid mistake was completely frustrating. I ended up 24th, which with my qualifying results being much better I know there is lots of room for improvement, so bring on next year!

The Semis (Photos By Nick Pope!)

From Canada, after I got over my horrendous jetlag, it was to Norway for the final EYC of the year. The wall was in an ice rink, so warming up was the first challenge! The group sizes were relatively small, compared to somewhere like Imst at least, so I knew I would be on my first route reasonably early. I warmed up as normal and felt ready to climb my best. This was my last chance of the year to make a European final, so I had to get it right.

My first route was no soft touch. The vertical wall was littered with slopers that I knew were going to get my pumped. I sat in the chair, but was beginning to cool down as soon as I got off the warm-up wall. By the time it was my turn to climb, I felt fine, but as soon as I got onto the cold holds of the wall my fingers got cold I started to get pumped. I sketched my way over an awkward move off a sloper and rested on a volume, but just couldn’t shake off the pump. I had to press on, and hope it got no worse. I dug deep, and pulled over a lip before a move to and undercut defeated me. I came off pumped and frustrated with a final place of 12th on the route. Not bad, but not good enough for a place in the final yet. I had to do better, and I knew warming up effectively and staying warm would be key. 

I was dejected, but tried to stay positive. The route looked hard, and I was particularly worried about a section in the middle. I started and heel hooked my way up the arĂȘte to what looked like a hit or miss slap to a sloper, and there seemed to be more miss than hit. I got onto the hold below, looked up and reversed the moves. A high heel to hand, a rockover and a bit of luck later and I was past it, thank god for heels! I was pumped, but managed to fight my way to the next hard move, where I managed a crucial match on a big sloper before pumping out and peeling off. Now it was time to wait. For my efforts I gained a joint 4th place on that route, and had to wait the agonising hours to see if I could sneak in. The end draw closer and I was dropping places slowly. 6th… 7th… 8th… 9th… Then came 10th, the one place no-one wants to be with the end still not close. There were 5 to climb, then 2, then none. I had made it to the final of my first European this year, along with the rest of the GB junior team!

The 2nd Qualifier

The next day, finals day and I was set to go. I felt strong, and fit and ready. The route during observation looked desperate, with a hard double dyno move at half height. I read with a number of people, but knew the sequence was hard to read, and ensured I had multiple options for every move. I sat in the chair, put my shoes on, and then my favourite song came on in the arena. Perfect. I walked out, stood under the wall and read the climb. Time to go!

I had a huge scare at the second clip, where I had missed that one of the volumes was in fact a giant jug and went too statically, and almost didn’t reach it. Fortunately I held on, and fought my way through the lower section of the climb. I rested on a heel hook over a small lip and made my way, with some fighting, to the crimps before the dyno. It looked even bigger from here! I rested for what felt like an age on the crimps, and knew I would have to go for it. I got my feet up, and went! Looking back, it seemed like I was trying to do the move statically, or at least keep a hand on. I touched the hold, but couldn’t bring my other hand over to match it, and fell.

Looking back, maybe I should have rested longer on the holds, and gone for it with full commitment. But, I must say, the dyno was inappropriate for our age category. 4 fell at the same spot, and count back had to be used to separate us. One climber made the jump, and won the competition. This seems to be a new thing in competition lead climbing, dynos on the route. There were 2 in Norway, for some categories suitable and others perhaps not. Most recently on the male final in Purrs a sideways dyno caught out many of the strongest climbers in the world. Will there be more? I don’t know, but I will definitely be practising from now on!

I finished 5th in Norway, My best result in a European to date, and in my first year of the category. Hopefully next year we can bump that best up a place or four! My next comp is the junior and senior British Lead Climbing Championships in Sheffield next weekend, and then my first bouldering EYC in Laval next month, and am training hard!

Massive thank you to Paul Allen Wealth Management for their support, and bring on next year!

Happy climbing!

Alex J

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Road Trip

Sat in my final maths exam staring out at the sunshine, thinking about how the next weeks would pan out, I would never have imagined some of the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been and the climbs I’ve done.

We set off from the conclusion of that very exam, straight from school to begin the 7 week long roadtrip we had been planning since the beginning of the year. After a family wedding in Cambridge, we met up with Billy Ridal, one of my friends from the comp circuit who was also on the trip to Spain earlier in the year, who would be accompanying us on our journey. We were packed, psyched and ready to go, and boarded the ferry with high spirits. Bar the black foot marks in the cabin from constant "cabin bouldering", the 2 day journey passed relatively painlessly and we arrived in Bilbao ready to hit up the first stop on the list, Baltzola cave!

The one place we didn't have the guide for turned out to be the hardest to find a topo for, obviously, and we spent many hours in the city searching! Not to be outdone, we found the position of the crag online and decided to venture out topoless, and got on one of the nice lines until (we hoped!) some locals arrived. I managed the climb 3rd go, after falling from the last move on the second, and when a group arrived I was happy to find out it was in fact an 8a called “Blandiju”! As well as the route identification, we were also pointed to a topo online, which gives fairly accurate information about the routes in the cave. Fresh from my success on the first climb, I decided to try another 8, and settled on the 8a+ “Iluminatis”, another steep roof line, which despite trying it intending to get up the next day, I managed 2nd go! A very successful first day!

Second day, and I got on another 8a+, “Black Kongi”, which starts up the classic 8c of the crag, “White Zombie”, then ends with a boulder problem. It was an awesome line, and when I didn’t manage it that day I was deliberating whether to come back and finish it off or to move on to the next crag without the risk of another failure. Nice one to Billy for getting his 2nd 8a, and his first of the trip at this amazing crag! I made the decision to give it a last few attempts, and managed it, after a few good falls from up high.

I made a video of our time in Baltzola, including all the hardest climbs we managed. Some of the zoomed shots really capture the scale of the place!

After finishing the climb we left the crag and headed out to our next planned destination, Rodellar! There are very few, European destinations that allow for hard summer climbing, but with its North-South gorge giving morning and afternoon shade, and its proximity to the river, Rodellar is perfect, as well as having a great climbing scene!

My goal for the entire trip was to manage an 8a onsight, so with the aim in mind I set out to try as many 8a's as I could find, and it seemed like Rodellar would be the perfect place to do it, with plenty to choose from. We began with some fun mileage in the morning then set off for some more serious stuff on the huge wall of Gran Bovida. The goal for the day was an onsight attempt of Coliseum, the most onsighted route at Rodellar and a 40m long stamina fest. I set off, but despite easy climbing I was pumped out of my mind by half height, and came off fighting as hard as I ever have. I was going to need to be fitter!

I tried many more 8as in the coming days, falling off most in the last hard moves. I’m not sure if it was a mental block, or I wasn’t fit enough, or the routes just didn’t suit me, but despite coming within moves of success, the tick eluded me! I managed some great climbs in Rodallar though, with 3 8a ticks and a 7c+ onsight (almost falling clipping the chains!). Perhaps the most significant for me though was redpointing El Delphin, the mega classic roof climb through a huge arch well above the valley floor.

The route itself isn’t particularly good and the climbing for the most part is not too hard, but the mental battle for me to clip the chains was intense. It wasn’t the difficulty of the route, but the combination of the exposure, the (from my point of view) poor fixed gear and insecure looking rock flipped some sort of switch in my head, and I just freaked out. When I fell off on the onsight, I was a gibbering wreck of fear. I haven’t been scared of falling for some years now, in fact I have come to enjoy it, but this climb made me feel like I didn’t even want to weight the rope, for fear of the rope snapping on the worn draws. If I stopped, let the route beat me and moved on, I felt like I could develop a mental block, and it could slow down my rapid progress on the trip. I had to get back on the route, just to show myself that I could do it. The next go I came off again, panicked, but less so than the first attempt, which was good. I got back on, and with a fight I slapped through the last boulder problem and clipped the chains. Not a route I plan to do again in a hurry, but an important step in improving my climbing.

El Delphin

From Rodellar we headed to Terradets, but even with the morning shade the heat was unbearable, and the rock felt slick in the humidity. The sixes felt hard, the eights felt just as hard, and when the sun finally peaked over the top of the crag, with no meaningful ascents under my belt, I left feeling frustrated. We drove off to find the next crag, Tres Pons.

Tres Pons is exactly my style, long, not too steep and on positive crimps, and with the summer heat being kept at bay by the river and the shade, was the perfect destination. We arrived too early on the first day for the afternoon crag, but as soon as the sun was off it we got on an unnamed 7b to warm up, and wow was it amazing! This is the single best route I did on the trip, and I’m not even sure why. All the moves just flowed, and gave me a route that meant I came down smiling. Perfect!

Fresh from this fun I geared up for an onsight attempt of a route to the left, Alt Urgell, a 7c that extends into an 8a. I had wanted to go for the onsight of the 7c, but put a few extra draws on so I could try the extension if I got there. I set off, and after choosing the wrong line of holds at the start and having to down-climb to just off the ground, I was soon at the end of the 7c section looking up at the final steep moves before a hard looking slab to the chain. I was already about 30m up at this point, but I could recover for the last 10m on jugs by the first lower off. I composed myself, and went for the crimps above. It was hard climbing, but all the onsighting I’d been doing meant I knew what to do, and with some high feet and long rockovers I was stood on the slab, shaking out my arms and staring at the chain some metres above. It was a case of moving slowly, taking the route one move at a time and ensuring I didn’t make any mistakes. Every move was a calculated risk, but when I latched the final flake that I knew would take me to the top, I let out a shout of delight! I climbed to the chains, clipped them, and lowered off. I’d done it, my first 8a onsight! I left happy that night, and looked forward to the next day at this perfect crag. Effort to Billy, who also managed to top this route, despite being a bit under the weather.

We warmed up on the 7b again, but it didn’t seem as good as the previous day, which was a shame, but it was no matter, and I decided, after some recommendations from locals, to try for the onsight of another 8a. This again was the extension of a 7c+, but also extended again into and 8a+ finish. I took enough draws for the whole thing, more out of hope than any real confidence I would reach the top. I pulled through the 7c+ well, and got to the angle change that marked the start of the 8a extension, another slab! The moves were technical and balancey, with every movement a risk of a foot pop or a slip. A few tenuous metres later, and I clipped the chain, surprised to have ticked my second 8a onsight in as many days. But there was more to come! Just 15 metres of slab climbing stood between me and bettering the whole goal of my trip. I was high up, but I relaxed and focused on the next move. I committed where I needed to, rested where I could and after battling with 60 metres of rope drag, a sketchy mantle and almost falling clipping every clip, I had reached the top of my first 8a+ onsight. I lowered off ecstatic, but sad to be leaving this perfect crag. Props to Billy, the hero of the day, who, when a storm stopped his attempt, battled to the top through the heaviest rain I’ve seen, and the loudest thunder I’ve heard, to strip the route. Not something many people would be queuing up to try! 

After picking up my Mum and Brother from the airport, Billy and I were deposited in Ceuse, the crag I had visited last year, while the rest of my family enjoyed rainy days in the Verdon Gorge. Ceuse did not escape the rain however, and after the first day or so rain was a constant delight we experienced almost daily. I managed to climb far harder than last year though, ticking Dolce Vita (8a+) before the rain set in and climbing the steep and powerful L'ami de tout le monde (8b), after a problem latching a long move by the 3rd bolt. I also spent some time working Slow Food, and extremely powerful 8b+ that begins with a V8 boulder that I was very close to linking, for me the key to the route, and definitely something to got back for when I’m stronger. Ceuse, as with last year, was full of great people, and the atmosphere is amazing, so I will of course be returning lots in the coming years.

The last stop on the outdoor leg of our journey to Imst was in Gorge Du Loup, the group of crags I had visited earlier in the year. Just an afternoon there, in the dry tufa-lines of Deverse was enough to convince me that this was in fact a good crag, and after climbing the mega classic 8a+ Deverse Satanique, I was keen to return to the many more hard lines this steep wall has to offer.

From Loup, it was off to Imst, so, after stopping at the Arco and Innsbruck indoor walls to re-remember how to climb on plastic and 2 days or driving we met the team. A couple of days of rest later, it was time for the comp. My first route and I felt calm, confident and fit, but a slip moving off a pinch ended the climb short of where I wanted, and needed, to be. I came 40th on this route, but just 4 moves more would have put me joint 10th, so to be so close and coming off relatively fresh is frustrating. On my second route, I climbed well, but with a small mistake higher up I was off in a much better 15th place, so I was reasonably happy. Overall I finished 28th, my worst result in a European competition. I needed to stem the mistakes and climb to my best to make the final in this comp, but the fact I can be close on many of my climbs in encouraging, especially for next year when I should be stronger and fitter after a winter of training.

After climbing on the final problems on Sunday, we started to leave when we experienced the first breakdown of the trip! The muppet of a mechanic they sent out didn’t have a clue, but with a promise of having it seen to in the morning we were left at a campsite. Turns out the problem was electrical, and with an hour of tinkering we had found the trick (which involves pulling wires around the ignition when you go to start), and we could drive consistently. Off to Font!

Font was so much better than I expected. Even though we only made it to Bas Curvier, the sheer volume and quality of the problems that were there made me want to go back as soon as I could! While there, I managed Carnage (F7B+) and was excruciatingly close to the sit start, which is definitely something to go back for as it is such an amazing problem. I also climbed many easier problems, as the heat made it difficult to redpoint, but even these we a far superior quality to any boulders I have climbed in the UK. I am not the greatest fan of pebble pulling, but this place was definitely the best argument I’ve had for giving it a good go!

More driving, another ferry and the European leg of the trip was over, but we still had one final destination, the annual summer Youth Open comp in Leeds, and the first to include bouldering in the form of the Junior BBCs (British Bouldering Championships) round 3. The Saturday was the bouldering comp, and being a close second in the overall rankings behind the ever strong European bouldering champion Dom Burns, I was in with a good chance of taking the title. In the qualifiers I climbed ok, but not at my best and came away wit 6 tops in 7 attemps, but was within 1 move of another. This meant I qualified for the final in 4th place.

The finals were really good. Isolation actually had places to warm up, we weren’t in there for too long, and the problems actually looked really good! After observation, I was out early but from the speed people were coming back into isolation I knew I had to flash the problem to be up there and in with a chance. It was my turn to go, but a foot slip caused me to fall on my first attempt. I got back on, and despite taking a monster swing on the finishing jug I held it, and had topped the problem second go. The next problem was harder for me, with a long move from a sloper to a gaston which I couldn’t reach from the foothold, meaning the move became a full footless crucifix between the two. I didn’t manage this problem, and I didn’t even get the bonus so I was behind going into the last problem. The last problem started with powerful moves in a roof, into a long press and crimp moves on the headwall. I knew this problem would suit me, and when I came out I knew I could do it. I stepped out, read the problem and climbed it first go. I was slightly disappointed, as the problem felt relatively easy and I knew it would not be enough to put me in a better position, but I finished this comp in 4th, and the overall series in 2nd! I’m really happy with this for my first year in Youth A, and will certainly be back next year to challenge for the title. Off of this performance, I was selected to compete at the final bouldering EYC of the year in Laval in October, which will be a great comp!

Photo credit Peter Wuensche

The next day was the lead comp, and after coming 2nd in the last youth open I was hoping to go one better. My first qualifier was exactly my style, a vertical crimp-fest that actually required some technique, which was nice to see in a comp. I topped it, and was looking to repeating that on my second climb. Sadly, that was not the case. I made every move hard, got every hold in the wrong place and came off low down. Was it not for my first climb I could not have made the final, and when I came down I expected just that. Fortunately, in a final of 6 I made it in 5=. Not where I wanted to be.

In isolation I didn’t feel 100%. In fact I felt terrible. I had a pump in my arms that I could feel, and knew it would surface as soon as I pulled on to the final route. Isolation was crap as well, warming up on vertical walls is never easy! I came out, climbed as well as I could and tried hard, but the pump appeared, I went for a long move and was off. It was better than I expected to do, as I finished 4th, and were it not for my abysmal qualification I could have been higher, with count back deciding against me. Not my best comp, bouldering the previous day and just the fatigue from the whole trip really took it out of me, but I’m ready for the next national comp, the BLCCs in Sheffield in October. I will also be competing in seniors, so I look forward to seeing how I compare!

Its been an amazing summer, and I’d like to thank my Dad for putting up with me all trip and making it happen. Also to Billy for coming and keeping us company! Cheers everyone, and stay tuned for my next blog about the World Championships in Canada!

I will also be competing in the final EYC of the year in Norway this weekend, so follow me on Twitter for updates and to find out how to watch.