A blog about climbing full time on the road.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Buoux (Back in France)

We left magic wood with the threat of a snowstorm and just barely made it back over the 2000m san bernadino pass before the snow hit. We were very happy to make it safely down to the valley below where we rejoined our friends from New Zealand for some excellent granite bouldering at Cresciano and Chironico. Both areas are located in southern Switzerland in the Ticino region where Italian is the main language.
We stayed at the La Finca campground which was walking distance to the Cresciano boulders.  We thought it was going to be an easy 5 minute walk to the boulders, but our orientation shifted when we asked for directions and were directed way, way up the hillside. We all had thought the boulders were down in the valley along the river. We walked up (and up) the very narrow winding road (cursing the other climbers who had driven up and were obviously free camping although there were signs explicitly saying not to and we had read that the access agreement with the village was a little tenuous due to this) through the old village of Cresciano into a chestnut forest filled with granite and/or gneiss boulders. We had photographed an Italian and a German guidebook which was some help but also quite confusing as we tried to decide if the hand drawn block stating "flugen mit unterkling" was the climb we were looking at or not. We climbed two days at each area and were able to find many great problems and know that there were many more areas we didn't even get to. The scene at each was beautiful, walking through old villages with views of the valley below and the alps above.  Although we could have stayed longer, a few days of rain were predicted so we parted ways and headed for Finale Ligure Italy. Hannah and Seamus began making their way back to England
We arrived in Finale which looks like it has some great climbing and is one of the few areas with a free (although disgusting) campsite, but decided not to stay or climb since more bad weather was coming and we didn't have a guidebook. We drove along the Mediterranean coast which was quite beautiful and made it to Nice France where we camped. Heavy rain was predicted for the night. The receptionist told us it was only the 12th day of rain they had all year, but we thought it rained enough for at least a week. We decided to save our time to relax on the beach for when it was sunny, so we made our way through the Verdon Gorge (in a ridiculously heavy rainstorm) to Buoux where we are now.
styx wall buoux buoux Buoux is a famous climbing area, one of the first hard sport climbing areas in France. It's a beautiful sandstone/limestone cliff with amazing pockets. Yesterday I climbed at the Styx wall which is where Lynn Hill (an ultra-famous US climber) almost died when she fell into the trees from the top after forgetting to fully tie into the rope. We checked knots and harnesses a few extra times before getting on. The routes were quite amazing, but after a few months of only bouldering, my endurance and head were not quite up to the length of the routes or the distance between the bolts. But we can certainly see why Buoux was and still is such a famous climbing area. We'll probably stay here until Wednesday when we will make our way to Alberracin, Spain for what looks like amazing sandstone bouldering.
For now we are really enjoying the town of Apt which we walk to from the campsite. It has amazing chocolate and candy shops, bakeries, cheese shops, butchers, and a great Saturday market. Most of the shops are in a walking-only area with is great for people watching and window shopping. Today we are planning to go to a chocolate festival at an abbey in a nearby village. We are hoping for some free samples!
macaroons We have a lot of new climbing, town, and food pics, but will have to wait to post those until we have access to a computer again.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chamonix and Magic Wood

aguille du midi sunset

After leaving Fontainebleau we headed to Chamonix to check out the French alps and see Mt Blanc (a famous mountain). We left on a thursday because rain was predicted and rain it did. We drove through the rain and ended up camping in the rain for about 4 days. Much time was spent in the car watching movies, drinking wine, discovering that our tent leaked, and heading into Chamonix for the free wifi. The weather was quite cold with temps near freezing at night. It snowed for a bit at camp, and a lot in the mountains. Once in a while the clouds would part and allow us to see the peaks and they were quite spectacular. By Tuesday the weather had improved considerably and we were able to hike on a few trails and enjoy the views. Many cable cars exist in the area and most people pay the 50 euro price to get higher onto the mountains and then hike from there. Being on a tight budget means we chose not to do those more expensive trips. We would have loved going to the top of the Aguille du Midi which was a spectacular view from camp and is pictured above.

waiting out the rain
waiting out the rain. very exciting stuff.
posing for a picture
free internet at the tourism office
the wonderful bakeries of france
the wonderful french bakeries. this one was in Chamonix
another rest day activity - laundry...

We left Chamonix after about 5 days of exploration and headed to the Matterhorn (a famous Swiss peak) only to realize that there was a steep charge to take a train into Zermatt and that you can't see the mountain until you get to Zermatt. Being a huge tourist draw has caused the town to ban cars and force tourists to take a train or hike. The hike would have been okay but we didn't give ourselves enough time to do it and so we left without seeing it.
We decided to move on to Interlaken Switzerland to see other peaks that were supposed to be some of the best in the alps, but were thwarted again by army officers who had closed the only road because of huge amounts of rain. We chose to head instead to the east to Magic Woods and start bouldering again. this path took us through Northern Italy for a few miles, and wow was that some of the craziest mountain driving we've ever done. This was on a local road since the main highways all have steep tolls here which we've been avoiding. It's slower to get around and takes us through a lot of small villages, but we have the time and mostly have been enjoying the experience. The Italians have quite narrow mountain roads (on the sides of sheer cliffs) with drivers that love driving in the center of the lanes and only get out of your way in time to avoid head on collisions. It was probably the most intense driving I've ever done and we were happy to find a campsite in Locarno Switzerland. The site was crazy expensive at 36 francs (basically 40 dollars) and even charged another franc for a 5 minute shower! Needless to say we wasted no time leaving there in the morning to finish our drive to Magic Woods.We drove through the day and crossed San Barandino Pass. The height of the pass is about 2000 meters (6000 feet) and we were not totally surprised to see a bit of snow at the top. This made us a bit nervous because we knew we had to go back over the pass to get back to Italy and the coast.

the crazy Swiss switchbacks on the way up San Berandino Pass 

Magic Woods campground
bridge to the woods
hiking across the river to the climbs at Magic Woods.

We got to Magic Woods that afternoon and arrived to find the rocks wet from rain so we didn't climb that day, but got setup in camp. The next few days we spent exploring the woods, finding boulders, and climbing. We didn't have a guidebook and instead had a printout with an overview map. The map has boulders depicted as drawings and numbers marking the climbs. This made it quite difficult to get oriented, and it was even harder given that the boulders are located on a steep hillside covered in wet moss and mud, hiking around was strenuous and we ditched our gear to explore as quickly as possible. We weren't terribly impressed with the first two areas we found though we did find climbs we wanted to try and did a few small climbs. The following day a lot more people arrived at camp and we met our new friends Seamus and Hannah. They are from New Zealand and were living in Britain for the last couple of years. They've done a ton of traveling and we were eager to hear their stories and pic their brains about it. We spent the next few days completely exploring the forest and climbing together. The landings at Magic Woods leave a lot to be desired so having extra spotters and a huge pad helped immensely with our confidence. Plus Hannah and Seamus are great to hang out with.

lunch in Magic Woods with New Zealand friends - Hannah and Seamus

a fun warmup

a great 6b. We both did this climb and loved it. one of the best in the woods.

We did our hardest climbs those days with Cassie sending multiple 6c's and I got a couple of 7a's and even a supposed 7b (V7) called James Bong (though that grade is a subject of much debate on the internet). We found that we weren't as psyched on Magic Woods as we had expected. The climbs there are more intense undertakings than we had thought and required a good bit of courage and many pads to protect. Cassie and I are pretty much wimps when it comes to falls and we spent a good deal of time complaining about the landings and wishing we could find more problems that suited us. That being said, the friction there was the best I've even seen. The grains of the stone and the 40 degree temps allowed us to stick onto slopers with ease. It was some of the best granite climbing we've done. It made Squamish and Little Cottonwood seem very slick in comparison. There are tons of 8a and harder climbs which are immense and inspiring but are much harder than we can do, and so for us, don't contribute to the quality of the place.

7a crimpy face
Cassie on a crimpy 7a

very hard 6c
a crazy hard 6c arete. didn't finish this one. 

With snow predicted for Wednesday we decided to leave Magic Woods ahead of schedule. We opted to head to two bordering areas many European climbers had talked about. Located in southern Switzerland, Cresciano and Chironico are famous bordering areas that we had never heard of before we got here. They have an added benefit of being located at an elevation of 300m instead of Magic Woods which is at 1200m. The weather here is warmer and drier than Magic Woods. We spent our first day exploring both areas and just spent our first full day on the stones at Cresciano. It was excellent. We'll plan on doing another blog post recaping our time here in the next few days.

There are a ton more pictures that we didn't put into this post. Click here to get to them
Chamonix-Magic Wood Pictures

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Final Fontainebleau



Well after three weeks at Font we are mentally and physically drained. There's so much climbing it's easy to be overwhelmed and we are finally throwing in the towel. There are tons of climbs that we would have loved to finish, but when you can barely raise your arms above your head it's just time to go. Supposedly it's going to rain tomorrow so we figure that's a good time to head East toward the Alps. We're planning to check out Switzerland and plan to be in Magic Wood (a very famous granite bouldering area) by the end of the weekend. Hopefully by then our muscles and minds will have rejuvenated themselves and our psych will be restored. The ferns are starting to change to brown, a good indication that autumn will be replaced by winter soon!

Since our last post a couple of great projects have gone down. Cassie finished the superb Marie Rose (6a). It's quite famous since it was the first 6a (done in 1946). It's pretty incredible that it was climbed so long ago because let me tell you it's not like most people just walk up this climb. During the 3 days we spent on it I saw one other person climb it out of at least a dozen people trying. The top part is the crux and many many people fell off that last move. Cassie had it dialed after the first day, but it took many tries for her to get past the crux. The hands and feet are both quite poor and require much technical footwork and balance to succeed.

Marie Rose
La Marie Rose 6a
She also finished La Coquille (6c). It's a much steeper climb (overhanging) than Marie Rose, and has a huge move off a high foot to a small right hand. The move took much effort by both of us to succeed and we were both psyched on it. Really amazing climb and outstanding rock. Each move is unique and difficult.

La Coquille
La Coquille - the awkward and powerful start

La Coquille
La Coquille - the desperate crux throw

A few days ago I finished a project that I was psyched on called La Oblique (7a). It was the only 7a of the trip to Font and wow did it tax me. 7a appears to be a grade here that is quite difficult to break into. I tried probably about a dozen or so 7a climbs and this was the only one that felt doable to me. It's a sit start that goes to a dyno and a mantle finish. The slopers at the end are pretty terrible.

La Oblique
Matt's "Try Hard" face at the end of La Oblique

The fine grained sandstone

roof climbing
an orange circuit warmup at Franchard Isatis - Haute Plaines