Video

Varazze Bouldering – The Movie

Last year I spent a few weeks bouldering in Varazze, and put together a short movie of some of the highlights.

I’m still a very amateur videogrpaher, but putting these together is a fun rest day activity on a climbing trip. Any comments, let me know.

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Fear and Self Loathing in Finale Ligure

Sunset in Varazze

I set off on this year long climbing trip with a warning ringing in my ears. “Be really careful if you try anything over 8000 metres” Err… okay, that’s fairly easy advice to follow for someone who is primarily a boulderer! I arrived in Varazze after ten weeks on the road, obstinately on a climbing trip, and I’d not been over 8000 millimetres yet!

Dope on a Rope

Bouldering is hard to explain to non-climbers. Actually, bouldering can be hard to explain to climbers at times, and in doing so exclusively I was certainly challenging a few folks expectations of what a climbing trip should entail!

This exclusivity had to change at some point though. I set off on this trip with some grand designs on doing some multi-pitch along the way, maybe even a big wall in Yosemite. And as much fun as bouldering is, it certainly is not training for a big wall! I had to get on a rope.

I’ve been climbing for years now. I started when I was about 25 I think, mostly doing trad on the Aberdeen sea cliffs. I transitioned to sport climbing at some point when I decided that trad was too scary, and eventually chickened out of that too to become (mostly) a boulderer. My ‘head games’ have never been anything to write home about. The last few years though I’ve been mostly a quivering wreak on a rope, with a few brief interludes of passable climbing. Getting to Finale was finally an opportunity to blow away the cobwebs, dust off the ropes, and get my head games in order for some ‘real’ climbing…

But before I manned up and got to that, of course I treated myself to some bouldering in Varazze. For two weeks….

Varazze Bouldering

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Varazze is a fairly typical Italian seaside resort. Hotels and restaurants line the shore alongside touristy shops and cafes. I would guess that the place would buzz in the middle of summer, but showing up in November is a different story! Aside from one holiday weekend, the camp site was very quiet – we were the only people there at times. The restaurants were similarly empty, and the bouldering was pretty quiet too.

Varazze’s most famous son is ‘Gioia‘ (8c+ / V16), Christian Core’s 2008 contender for worlds hardest problem (at the time). I guess the existence of this problem is probably the only reason that we had heard of the place, although of course it is way too hard for me to try.

A point to note: The Varazze bouldering guide is out of print, and is not available in any of the local shops. There does seem to be copies available on Amazon though, so a bit of forward planning could help out. If like us, you show up clueless and guideless, there is a cafe up the hill called Trattoria ai Cacciatori that has a copy of the guidebook. They are happy for you to snap photos of the pages on the assumption that you buy a coffee. The coffee is €1.00 so no excuses !

The bouldering in Varazze is… okay. It’s a good destination, but probably not a world class venue. The guide is an inch thick and there seems to be 10 problems up every sliver of rock. I guess I was a bit spoiled arriving there after bouldering in Chironico and Fontainebleau prior. Some of it is very good, but there is a lot of digging to do to find the gold.

We did find gold though. In particular, there are some cool problems at ‘La Cava‘. The Mu/Muu/Muuu traverse problems were fun, and the highball stuff on the back of the Equilibrium boulder is really good, even if it did elude me on this trip…

The main area – Potalla – has a lot of good stuff as well. Mike got ‘Cuicciati il Calzino’ for the hardest send of the trip so far at 7b+/V8, and Keith and I ‘made do’ with a number of V6 and V7 problems. There is loads of cool stuff all the way around the ‘Adams Sleep’ boulder. ‘Mr. Ciabatta’ (6c+/V5) and ‘Adams Sleep’ (7b/V8) itself probably the highlights, with a mention also for the crack traverse ‘Nebulosa’ (7b/V8).

I think if you are in the area is is definitely worth spending a few days bouldering at Varazze. The sport climbing at Finale Ligure is excellent, and splitting up a trip between Varazze and Finale will definitely make for a good time.

Roped up in Finale

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I’ve done a few routes over the last few years, but I’d guess I’ve been doing about 95% bouldering. Even on a good day, I don’t have a particularly good head for routes. So of course, the first thing I did in Finale was to get straight on a f7a/5.11d sport route. And of course, I got totally shut down. Coming off the back of months of bouldering, I could do the moves okay using a clip stick to go bolt to bolt, but actually leading the route was a different story. Moving above the bolts I was a quivering wreak and climbing like a brick. And worse, I continued to quiver no matter how much I dialled down through the grades… Clearly there was a lot of work to do.

An entirely inglorious start to the climbing part of this climbing trip…

When it comes to physical training, I tend to disdain the fingerboard, preferring to just go climbing and get strong slowly (or not at all…). I take a similar approach to training the mental side of the sport. Even though I know that fall practice is a short cut to performance, I tent to just shake and wobble my way up a load of low grade routes until some semblance of competence and confidence emerges. I’d like to say that I did the sensible thing and took a bunch of falls early on, but that is not the case and I went for my tried and tested, if time consuming method.

I think I spent about ten days climbing in Finale in total, and I think the hardest route I got up was f6b/5.10d. My previous high point was f7b/5.12b, so not exactly at the top of my game! I did a little bit of fall practice, but not nearly enough to push through the head games issues and really make the most of the climbing…

Which is a shame, because the climbing in Finale is excellent. I can’t really say what the ‘typical’ style is because there is so so much rock there and we didn’t even try 1% of it. There is a lifetimes worth of routes. We were mostly on juggy and steep short pitches, although we did try out a few slabby problems as well. There are massive bolted multi-pitch climbs at relatively low grades, as well as short and pumpy coastal crags. The setting is hard to beat, climbing on crags overlooking the sea and watching the sun set on the walk out is not a hardship, regardless of how the actual climbing is going.

I’d be lying if I said I really ‘enjoyed’ the climbing at Finale in the moment of actually doing it. It was torture! Or maybe ‘type 2 fun’ – fun only when I was safely back on dry land. But, there was something there. I used to love sport climbing, and only in my dotage (my thirties) had I really lost my bottle and switched to almost exclusively bouldering. The perfect limestone overlooking the sea in Finale did serve to relight the fires and remind me why I got into this sport in the first place.

Winter #3

The green shoots of progress were finally starting to break through when winter caught up with us and chased us further south again.

The bouldering in Varazze was excellent. I really think I consolidated the improvements made over the prior few months in Font and Switzerland. The venue itself disappointed at first but came good with a little bit of exploration, and ended up being a really worthwhile place to spend a few weeks.

In terms of climbing performance, Finale Ligure did not go well. But in terms of rekindling my enjoyment of getting roped up it had done the job. As much as I love going bouldering, there is definitely something missing if it’s not complimented by roping up and going climbing, and it was great to get back into it.

And of course, the climbing trip was just getting started. There was and still is plenty more to come!

Andy

Video

Chironico and Brione – The Movie

In a previous post I talked about going bouldering in Switzerland last year. I put together a short movie of some of the highlights.

I’m a very very amateur videographer, but it was fun putting this together. Any comments or suggestions, let me know. I’ll likely work on a few more from the venues that we visit in the US.

Rainy Days in Red Rocks

Red Rocks River

We arrived in Red Rocks on the 18th Feb, 2017. Just in time to catch record breaking rainfall. The rain here on Saturday was the highest ever recorded on that date, and is more than double the total February average rainfall. Not ideal climbing weather!

Saturday was a total washout of course, and Sunday was still pretty damp and obviously unclimbable. Picking up supplies in Desert Rock Sports though, I was surprised to hear how long the Canyon would take to dry out. No climbing until Wednesday? Obviously unacceptable, so we grabbed the limestone guide and started laying plans. All is not lost, and hopefully there will be tales of Limestone sending appearing on this blog shortly…

This weekend was a washout and not the ideal start to the trip. But, it was far from a disaster. Hiking around the Canyon and checking out a good few crags and boulders was fun, and will save time later on. The Calico Basin is a beautiful place to walk about even without climbing. The extra heavy rain meant that a fairly sizeable stream was flowing through the canyon, creating impromptu waterfalls and pools along the path. The sun poked it’s nose out of the clouds a few times during the day, giving a hint of what was to come – world class climbing in a fantastic location. Can’t wait!

Swiss Bliss

Swiss Bouldering

This post was nearly a tale of travelling from Aberdeen to Houston, detailing the highlights of sitting on a plane for 10 hours. But I figured reading about it would be about as exciting as living it. Instead, here’s a write up of a month bouldering in Switzerland last October.

I have been told that my idea of what constitutes ‘training’, looks more like ‘not training’. Or rather, just going climbing and hoping that I’ll get better. So of course when planning the Swiss trip, I took the training seriously. I went to Font for six weeks prior. I guess old habits die hard, and I still can’t get disciplined for a fingerboard. But, as non-training goes, six weeks in Font is as good as it gets!

For the first time ever really, I was starting a trip more or less at the top of my game. Problems which I’d normally write off as impossible were starting to look a bit doable, or at least inviting ‘just a look’. Could Dr Med Dent go? Vasco Da Gama? Lemon Tree?

The drive from Font to Switzerland is flat and boring until it is not. The Alpine scenery of the drive in is not a view that you can get bored of. The last time I made that journey was to check out Cresciano and Val Calanca. This time Chironico and Brione were the main targets.

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I don’t really believe in booking accommodation in advance. It’s more fun that way. Right…? So with some last minute googling, and after confusing a Swiss lady with what passes for ‘English’ up north we rolled into Camping Gottardo. The confused Swiss lady turned out to be the camp site owner. We asked to camp. “Too cold”, she said miming shivering. Once we convinced her that with the northern accents came a natural resistance to hypothermia, we were pitched up and ready to go.

Day one in among the boulders confirmed what I already knew. Bouldering in Switzerland is really fucking good. Better than Font? Maybe. Superlatives as such were in full flow as we got used to the gneiss crimps and edges that typify climbing in Chironico. A fantastic contrast to the sloping Font sandstone. The landings can be a bit uneven and spiky,  and made good the army of pads we were hiking around with. The absolute standout from day one was a superb f6b called Shock Wave. It looked simple but was not, and took a good few goes (hours) to figure out and dispatch. 

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Patience prevailed on day two with the seemingly impossible start to ‘Triangolo’ (6c+) eventually yielding to some tidy beta and a good dose of gurn. Even the bad days in Chironico seemed to be good days. Being dragged out of my tent to ‘check out a cave’ in unlikely conditions resulted in ‘Triade’ (f7a) and also the extension at f7a+.

Fairly early on in the trip, I tested myself on Lemon Tree. I was found wanting, but the problem was not – a classic for sure. A tricky pull, leads to a deep rock over, long reach to a sloper, a crimp, and then a big pop to the flat top and glory. Or, in my case a small pop and flop onto the pads. Forced to retreat with reduced fingertips, battle lost but war still on. Trip project identified.

There’s not much danger of getting bored in Chironico. Every taste is catered for with massive burly roofs, delicate padding slabs and everything in between. Variety being the spice of life though, we drive through to Brione a couple of times. This is a less well known venue and access is delicate, so check out the website before you visit. There’s not a guidebook but the ‘Bimano’ app has a few of the problems listed.

The stretch target at Brione was the classic ‘Molonk’ (f7c), but it was quickly obvious that I wasn’t getting close to that. However, there is treasure in the lower grades here as well. The easier problems on the Molonk block were all good fun, and the meadow bouldering is excellent as well. Of course, I had a go at the classic highball ‘Black Mirror’ (f6b), but chickened out less than half way up… I think that was likely the right choice as a fall from the high crux would likely be a trip ending mistake to make.   The left and right arêtes of the big triangular face in the meadow are both good, although the right hand side is an ego massage at 7a.

I capped an excellent day at Brione getting up ‘Pebble Straight’ (f7a), which with the two arêtes made for 3 problems at 7a in one day, a personal record.

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Returning to Chironico inspired, it was time for round two on Lemon Tree. I made sure to have the camera rolling from the start of the session this time to catch the presumed send. Perhaps even ‘first go on the day’? The footage is unlikely to see the light of day which is no great loss. As ever, an overly egotistical approach ending in to failure and frustration. So, 2-0 to the so-called ‘classic’. Still plenty time for another go…

Schattental, is lower down that most of the bouldering at Chirinico. The name means shaded valley, owing to the fact that the sun never really shines there. So it’s pretty cold, especially in late October. The bouldering is excellent though, and definitely worth a visit, regarless of the temperature. The highlight for me was  fiddly & delicate ‘Particle Elementare’ (f7a). This one seemed unlikely till the beta came together and I was at the top. The long and pumpy Vasco Da Gama (f7a) is also well worth a look, although it was too hard for me this time.

As October tended towards November, the weather did as it does and started to interfere with our climbing plans more and more. It was clear that it was time to fly south for the winter. But not before one more session on Lemon Tree. I went up on my own, got reacquainted with the moves, brushed up the top and went for it….

So far this narrative mirrors the previous posts on Amateur Acrobatics and Breakfast Arête, but this time with a far less satisfying conclusion… I got close a few times, but Lemon Tree was not to be for me. Session #3 ended with me lashing the rock with repeated rapid attempts on thin skin and getting predictable results. I could not do it, and it was time to go.

I’d be lying if I said I walked away grinning that day, but overall the Switzerland trip left a huge smile on my face. The bouldering is as good as it gets, as is the setting – a good combination. Not getting up Lemon Tree was dissapointing, but it in no way overshadowed the many problems that I did complete. A trip to Chironico comes highly recommended.  I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll be back to Chironico at some point, and I guess it’s probably easy to guess which boulder I’ll go to first. It’s not over yet, Lemon Tree!

American Airlines

American Airlines

What a difference a day makes… This time yesterday I was festering at home, no visa, no flights, no firm plans, and wondering if the US trip was actually going to happen. Today, I am Visa’d up, flights booked and ready to go. Flying out 5th Feb, returning 8th July, so plenty of time to get a good look around. I’ll be there in time for the Superbowl, and staying until after Independence Day. So I figure I’ll get a good look at American culture along the way. And of course, a shit load of climbing!

I intentionally don’t have a lot of specific plans for the states, I want to get across there with a bit of freedom to change locations, or stay longer if I like a place. But here are a few places on the ‘must see’ list, that I’ll definitely be paying a visit to.

Red Rock Canyon

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Our first stop is going to be Red Rock Canyon. The climbing here looks amazing, and of course it’s right next to Vegas… So plenty of scope for non-climbing activities. Red Rock seems to be a playground for bouldering, sport, and trad climbing. I intend to do a bit of everything here, but I really want to try out some of these crack climbs I’ve heard so much about. We don’t really have cracks in the UK. I climbed one in Joshua Tree that I thought was tricky, and later found it was graded 5.1 (yes, point one). So, obviously needing some practice there. Some of the bouldering looks amazing as well. I’m gushing now… Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to Red Rocks.

Bishop

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I spent a couple of weeks in Bishop a while back, and I’ve been itching to get back ever since. The bouldering in Buttermilk Country is probably the most scenic I’ve ever done, and I’ve got some unfinished business with the (also excellent) Happy Boulders. The last time I was there we inadvertently stumbled on a Mule festival in the town as well which was… interesting! The daily breakfast burrito from the Black Sheep cafe was almost as appealing as the climbing, I’m looking forward to that as well!

Joe’s Valley

I’ve not been to Joe’s Valley before, but it is somewhere that I’ll definitely be visiting. I’m hoping that lessons learned climbing on Fontainbleau sandstone will translate well here. But, that kind of thinking has resulted in an ego-spanking before, so I’ll see how it goes out there. Some of the videos online look amazing, I think this is a place not to be missed on this trip.

Zion National Park

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Zion is known for it’s off width cracks, and the UK climbing community has concentrated all of it’s collective off-width skills into two people. Neither of which is me. I’m expecting to get a lesson in climbing grade humility here. But, just look at the photos! The place is absolutely stunning to just look at, never mind going climbing there. I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy hiking about if the climbing is too tough- a visit here is not going to be a hardship!

Yosemite

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I’ve been to Yosemite a couple of times before, but I’ve never really been there long enough to really get into the style and maybe try something hard. I’m not exactly sure what yet, that’ll depend on how fit I manage to get before I arrive in the valley. But there is endless scope for adventure at all grades, so I’m sure I’ll find something to climb on. I would absolutely love to get one of the classic hard boulder problems as well… You all know which one I mean, but I’ll need to up my game for that to happen. Time will tell… I think some friends from the UK are meeting up with us in Yosemite, so I’ve got high hopes for a brilliant time here.

Joshua Tree

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Another place that I’ll be returning to having climbed there previously. Joshua Tree is a landscape like no other I’ve ever seen. It looks almost otherworldly – like climbing on a Neptunium moon or something. Last time I was there I went in May, and it was a little bit on the hot side. I’ll try and factor in an earlier visit this time I think, although “it’s too hot” is an excellent excuse when the notoriously sandbagged V2’s are spitting you off…

Other Cool Places Too

I’m definitely not limiting myself the only visiting the above places, there are loads of other things that I’d like to go do, but I have only got five months, so I might struggle to fit it all in..

I’m also looking for advice from the locals, so if there’s anything I really shouldn’t miss then let me know in the comments please.

Regardless of the specifics, I’m sure this is going to be an amazing trip. Rather excited to get going now!

Andy

 

The Long Way Round

Morning in the Peak

The US trip inches ever closer. Got my tourist visa approved last week in London, as soon as the visa arrives, I’ll be on the first available flight!

Getting from Aberdeen to London for a visa interview should really just involve a straightforward and cheap flight down and back. However, doing it that way doesn’t really end with any climbing getting done. So, I decided instead to drive to the Peak District (more than half way) and get the train to London from Sheffield. This meant that I got four days climbing around England on the way there and back for the visa.  Which seemed like a win versus flying down and being stuck climbing in the usual places in Aberdeen.

I had initially planned to climb in Northumberland on day one, but I didn’t really have the weather, so I stopped in Glasgow and went to TCA instead. Decent forecast in the Peak the next day so I got on with the drive in the evening and got set up in North Lees campsite. My mission in the Peak was to get Breakfast. By which I mean ‘Breakfast Arete’ at Burbage West, and also to get a breakfast roll from the bakery in Hathersage. I’m not sure really if it’s good climbing fuel to eat a multi-thousand calorie fried breakfast in a bun, but I am sure that I don’t care either way. It’s the best bit of a Peak District climbing trip.

Breakfast Arete at Burbage is a Peak District classic, and another problem that I had tried and failed on before. I seemed to remember being ‘close’ the last time I was there, so I went in once again with an inflated sense of confidence and ego. The first few moves with the heel-toe cam came together fairly quickly, but the subsequent ‘hold the barn door’ certainly did not…

I think I spent four hours or so falling off a bit of rock that is no more than four metres high. And, the move that I was falling off I could reach from a standing start. So I was basically starting seated, pulling up to a stand, and then falling on my arse. Rinse and repeat… Anyone watching who didn’t know what bouldering was all about would have thought that I was off my head. To be honest, I was starting to wonder the same thing myself. I was getting to the stage of just lashing it when the rain came in and forced me to retreat defeated, sore, and fingertipless.

I don’t think that ‘I went climbing’ is a good reason to miss a meeting at the US embassy. I doubt they appreciate the importance of sending the project, so I got moving again and got the train down south. I guess I probably should have taken a look round the capital while I was there, but I’ve seen it before and I’ll be there again in the future. So I dealt with the visa admin in the morning and then raced back to Burbage instead for another go! Again, I’m sure that this is a sign of some kind of madness, but I don’t care – there was a project waiting for me, and so I had to go.

Conditions at Burbage had been excellent prior to the previous days rain, but were now much less favourable. A cloud had descended so humidity was about 100%, and there was still puddles and seepage from the rain. Most of the crag was unclimbable, but Breakfast was more or less dry apart from the top out… Undeterred, I picked up where I’d left off the day before and got straight back into the sit / stand / fall cycle.

Perseverance to the point of probably insanity does sometimes have it’s rewards though. After a couple of more skin abusing hours, and a bit of beta refinement, I was surprised to find myself finally not falling off. After so many failed attempts at even getting established, it was fairly shocking to find myself clamped onto the arete with the toe on the crucial hold. One big pop move and then an easy top out, and it was all over. Success on day two in poor conditions and fading light. Delighted!

Since I am now a blogger (……) I though I’d better film the effort for your viewing pleasure. As you can see from the terrible footage, I am not much of a videographer yet. Hopefully I can get some better vids done in the states. Regardless, here it is in all it’s glory:

The final days climbing was planned for the Lake District on the way back up north. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t really play ball, and I was limited to a couple of hours playing on some boulders near Carrock Fell. The Lakes is somewhere I’d like to get back to, but it’ll not be till after the US trip now. A bit of a shame, but I’m still calling the mission a success overall. Got my visa, ticked Breakfast, and got two of Hathersage’ most heart attack inducing breakfast rolls down me. All good!

Andy

A Bit of Local Interest

Local Bouldering

The trip to the states is starting to take shape – I am currently en route to get to London to get my US Visa application in. In the mean time though, I have been getting in some of the local bouldering, trying to tick off a few things that have eluded me…

Namely, ‘Amateur Acrobatics’ (f7a+), a fairly newly found but soon to be classic problem on the Moray coast. The problem is undoubtedly brilliant – a classic at any venue. Unfortunately, it is also a total bastard. I have put more goes into ‘AA’ than any other problem I’ve attempted. I think I have had 6 sessions up there and well over 100 goes at it. There are only 9 hand holds, and I have fallen off of every one, including the very top jug which I somehow managed to slip off.

So, with all that in mind, I nipped up for a quick session last week to see how it felt. The coastal rock can be a bit greasy, and truly primo conditions are rare. However I reckon it was about as good as it gets when we got up. Kinda a mixed blessing as good conditions of course means that you have no excuses… However, I knew I had the beta dialled, I was feeling fit, and I had the conditions. I probably should confess that I was somewhat hoping to get it done at the first time of asking… But of course, pride cometh before a very literal fall. And fall I did. Repeatedly! Maybe karma was repaying me for the arrogance of the assumed retroflash.

I’m not really too sure what was going on with this problem. I think I had developed some kind of mental block in actually finishing it. I managed to change up the beta on the top half, only to discover that I could no longer do the bottom. Getting through the bottom moves, only to find that the ‘new beta’ for the top was much the same as the ‘old beta’  Moves that I thought were 100% suddenly became less so and frustration really started to build. With the tide closing in, and the skin starting to get thin, I sat down and pulled on for one more go. Last go best go. Got through the start easily enough, made the crucial move to the sloper and then…. slipped off the slippery bastard.

Defeated again… or so I thought. Of course, we all know that’last go’ is a promise that is made to be broken. On more go, even though I know I can’t do this. Even though I know I’ll fall again. Even though I’ll probably end up injured, or bleeding, or both. One. More. Go.

I couldn’t quite believe it when I wrapped the top jug, and I was again surprised to stick it this time and get myself up and over the top! Delighted, of course, but honestly more relieved than anything to have finally put it to bed.

This problem was a real bastard for me. It’s not a good match for my style, being overhanging and using a lot of compression. However, I really think that it became some kind of a mental block that was holding me back. I spent most of the day climbing like a brick. I only got the problem once I had decided that I was not capable of finishing it. Never mind positive thinking, or ‘beginners mind’. It took me a mix of rage, frustration, and sure knowledge of failure to finally get up and over the top. Make of that what you will!

I am delighted to have finally got the the top of Amateur Acrobatics. This problem would be a standout in any location, a really ‘world class’ problem, and definitely the best that I have done in Scotland thus far. I think I did enjoy the protracted process of working it, although I’m not sure how I would have said that if I hadn’t finished the problem!

An excellent problem, and an excellent day out. Excitement for the USA trip is rapidly building.