Day 1 – Rocher Fin
After a bit of a slow morning, but with the great traditional breakfast of fresh coffee, sugary grapefruit and fried eggs on marmity toast we set off to Rocher Fin. It’s down as one of the longer walk ins in the Trois Pignons but it really didn’t seem that long. It’s was mostly a long trek along the Chemin De La Mée and then a little bit of faff at the end where we found that my map was missing a new path!
Rocher Fin was like a lot of the areas in the Trois Pignons; sandy good landing with the odd pine tree around lots of sprinklings of medium sized boulders. We were pretty lucky with the weather after some of the downpours we experienced on the drive over yesterday, and although it was a bit humid, the rock did seem to be drying out a bit.
This was the first time I had put on my newly resoled Evolvs, their third time resoled by Feet First and I was immediately surprised at how well they stuck to the rock, actually better than my fingers were! The shoes didn’t seem to care about the residual dampness in the air, but my fingers certainly did!
I didn’t really set out with a plan for the day to be honest, just happy to get on some rock and try stuff out. I mostly stuck to helping Liz climb up and down things, and then throwing in the interesting blue climbs around half following the orange circuit. Of worthy note was La Cristalline, a rather tough 4+ (really?!) crimpy slab which I worked quite a bit with Andy until it eventually went. We found a couple of red 6as which we had a go on, but didn’t really get near to topping out. We’ll see how I warm up to it as we go over the holiday.
Getting back at about 7ish, I threw my running gear on and plotted a quick 11k route for a run out in the forest behind the gite, leading Andy and Kelly. It was a nice little run and we even saw a bunch of wild boar scurrying around in the undergrowth. Afterwards, a beer, a couple of glasses of wine with a big pile of pasta bolognese and then bed!
Day 2 – Apremont
The second day saw us heading to Apremont which I was quite looking forward to. When I was going to Fontainebleau with Jim, Andy, Rowan and Lorraine we went here quite a few times, mostly for Andy and Jim to work on one of their pet projects “Onde de Choc”.
One day Lorraine and I set up with 2 cameras for filming and both Andy and Jim managed it. Hurrah! I hadn’t been since and it hasn’t made it into the itineraries for our later trips with the Sheffield guys but today was the day.
We had a bit of a hiccup at the start, with people driving to the wrong car park! Liz and I were a bit confused once we parked up, as the car park didn’t match what we were expecting. I also didn’t see the big chalet adding to the confusion. After a bit of map/guidebook consultation we decided we were ok, and started out on the paths to find the sprawling maze of Gorges du Apremont.
We eventually found boulders with numbers, and tracked our way to the start of the green circuit which we started to follow. It’s been recently repainted, so was easy to follow, hopping over boulders and traversing around sometimes frankly rather scary drops! Eventually some of the group got a bit bored of the queuing following the circuit was causing (remember this for next time, small groups for circuit following!) so we broke into two groups for a bit. After a bit more of following the green circuit including a comedy moment where Liz’s bumshuffling down a slab on a descent tore a big hole in her trousers, we reformed the group at the foot of an impressive looking 7a problem called Hyperplomb.
After having a bit of lunch and looking at the dyno problem on a block named Choc I decided to try out Cocoa, or Salmon 14. It took a couple of goes to work out how to pull on, but I was then quickly working up the wall until my hands were on good holds at the top, but feeling oh so ever exposed by the lack of wall on the right. After refusing to back off and finding some bravery, I got my feet high and push over the top feeling a bit shuddery. Yay! Ed, Andy and Martin then followed me up, all looking for more comfortable than I felt!
Next I pulled a mat at the bottom of Hyperplomb and got busy. Although it was well out of my grade, the first few moves weren’t so I was happy to have a play. After a go, Ed and Andy joined me and we spent probably nearly an hour working it slowly. We didn’t really get high enough to finger the crux of the slopey top out, but it was really good fun.
Next we decided to cross most of Aprement Est to find a test piece 6a problem called John Gill. It took a bit of wandering through the winding, tricky paths to find it, but once we did, it was definitely worth it. It was a tough little traverse under a small roof, before coming out on to the roof from a little undercut, to two goodish holds and popping for a big dish. From here a high foot led to a mantle-ish top out. I never made that last move as the traverse was just too draining on the core strength. It was really fun though and definitely on the list for trying again next time. The quieter area of this part of Apremont does deserve a bit more attention though, so might be a worth a day with a stiff brush!
Day 3 – Sort of projects at Bas Cuvier
On day three we split the party! *sharp intake of breath*. Kelly and Ed really wanted to go and work on a few “projects” at Bas Cuvier, which doesn’t really include any circuits which Liz and Ceri can play on, with the rocks being both high and pretty polished. Instead, Liz and Ceri went with Martin to go and explore Rocher du Potala leaving Andy and I to decide if we want to go for circuits with them, or projects with Kelly and Ed. Looking at the painful state of my fingers and toenails, I decided a project day would mean I could do less climbing overall by ensuring I was resting properly between hard attempts, so went to Bas Cuvier. Andy had pretty much the same idea.
Kelly had pretty much formed the plan, head to Bas Cuvier and ‘deal with’ La Marie Rose, a problem she had unfinished business with. Once done we’d head deeper into Bas Cuvier to find Duroxmanie a 6b/6c test piece that Kelly had been recommended by someone at The Climbing Works. Going to a climbing area planning only to climb 2 problems was a different approach for me, but I was up for it as I also failed to repeat La Marie Rose (or so I thought, turns out I actually had already repeated it a few years earlier..) on our trip to Bas Cuvier a couple of years ago.
It didn’t take us long to find the boulder and we set up at the foot of it and started trying to warm up on something around there. Expecting it to be tough to find anything to pull on, I’d packed a theraband so used that a bit, and then tried out a bit of climbing on Le Bidule next to La Marie Rose. It would have gone if I’d have been focusing on it, but it was purely there as a warm up exercise.
Just as Kelly had finished up brushing the holds on her soon to be conquered project, the rain started :/. We had about an hour of on and off showers which was a little annoying. Wet rock = slippy and easy to damage rock, so we were left waiting, trying to stay/get warm while the rock dried up. Luckily our project was pretty much in direct sun (although this didn’t actually help when it came to climbing it…) so dried quickly.
Once it was ready, we all started on it, and after about an hour of working it Kelly finally finished it. Hurrah! While Andy and I continued to work on it, Ed and Kelly went to have a go on Nescafe, a horrible little slab I managed a few years ago with one of the most painful little finger holes on ever. Back on La Marie Rose I seemed to have regressed, being happy with the first few moves, but really struggling to make the left hand move to a sloper hold from a poor sloper on the right. By this point, we’d picked up a random climber called Kirsty, who was well into her 7-8th attempt out of the 2 she was allowing herself and we had a chat about the problem I was having. On the next attempt I ducked my head forward, trying to be nice and close to the rock and it turned the throw I’d started using into something much more controlled meaning I caught the sloper. Sensing that it was almost there I threw my right foot upwards and planted it much higher than I was doing previously and found something a bit more positive and pushed, catching the next better sloper. From here, I just needed to hold it together and pad upwards and it was done. Yay!
Soon we decided to move on, having spent half of the day on La Marie Rose and try and find Duroxmanie. Luckily Kirsty was up for checking it out and knew where the path was so guided us most of the way there and after a 10 minute trek through the wood found it. Duroxmanie was awesome, really good holds on a slightly overhanging wall needing good strong shoulders, a mean heel hook and some finger strength. I was the first to make it high enough up to wedge my heel into the starting hold, very surprising as I’m usually really bad at using my heels. It was probably the best heel hook I’ve ever used, swallowing my heel and allowing me to pull on it hard enough to set my calf cramping! I jumped off and pottered around trying to stretch it out while everyone else had a go.
Kelly, Ed and Kirsty were trying an alternative method involving cross throughs to get across, but I stuck to my original method and eventually managed to move to a high crimp before getting stuck. The next move required stepping out right to a good hold, but my hips wouldn’t open enough for this in my current position. Instead, I needed to some how turn my heel hook into a toe to prevent a barndoor and throw a hand out right to another crimp, but just didn’t have the strength. Here is a video of where I was getting to:
After a break for some food we continued working it for much of the rest of the afternoon, but loading up with food and general tiredness soon got the better of us and it wsasn’t long before we made a move to leave. Andy wanted a little more climbing back in Bas Cuvier, where we bumped into and had a conversation with Melissa Le Nevé as she was working on some hard stuff. It wasn’t long before we gave up though and headed back to the gite, all worn out.
Day 4 – “Rest Day”
This was supposed to be a rest day, but I kinda viewed it as a skin and toenails rest day, as I needed to get a 32k run in for my marathon training. Well, it didn’t quite go according to plan, so I wrote a whole blog post about it: Circuit des 25 Bosses: Simultaneously the best and worse long training run of my life.
Day 5 – Gorge aux Châts
Day 5 was a day with no oompf. I got up feeling pretty fresh and ready, but once we’d got to Gorge aux Châts and I’d done a couple of yellows all the energy disappeared. I spent much of the day milling around and feeling a bit out of sorts. It’s all to be expected to be honest after that run.
Still, I found a bit of focus to have a couple of goes on Travaux Forcés which was a rather interesting crack line and arete which we weren’t 100% sure of the correct line on. It’s definitely worth putting on the list for another go once I’d got some beans (and a load more strength and skill!). Rain then happened, which required sheltering under a roof and waiting for the wind and patchy sun to dry out the rock. At this point, pretty much all beans deserted me meaning I only really half tried half of the problems I pulled onto, resulting in bad feet slips, an ankle twist or two and some general moping.
After helping Liz on a half decent yellow, I wander over to join Kelly and Ed on La Travassis a rather ugly looking overhanging arete climb. After one go I decided I definitely didn’t have the beans and went to go eat some lunch. After a few goes on that, everyone moved to the next big problem, La Selle (milieu) a good looking slightly overhanging sit start from bomber holds. I pulled on a couple of times, but my right calf would cramp every time I threw my heel into place on the second move. Now that I could blame on the run! It was a little annoying as this seemed to be a problem I might have had a decent go on on a good day, but meant I could instead wander off and find something else with Liz and Martin.
We headed down the hill a bit and found a boulder with a big round block on it with two problems on (La Boule and Petanque), which Martin and I both tried. They looked do able and we were starting to work it out when the heavens opened again, forcing us to again hide under a big roof until it stopped. The wall we were climbing was now thorough soaked though, so we had to find something else.
Instead, Liz found us Pomme and Le Terrorist. Two simple looking wall climbs with round top outs. I threw myself at Pomme a lot, trying to dredge up some enthusiasm and found some, but couldn’t top it after nearly 10 attempts. The top was too rounded and I have no strength in my arms for what should have been a half decent mantel. I moved onto trying the harder Le Terrorist next to it and flashed it though, the main difference being a better top out!
After that we had really one more boulder to try, a traverse on a boulder called Fay, which was fine and fun.
Then back to the gite time as we were all a bit tired!
Day 6 – 91.1
A final day of climbing with very sore fingers and toes, but distinctly more beans than yesterday. I spent a chunk of time coaching Liz up some higher than usual stuff which was great but also got to play on some fun stuff as well.
I’d climbed at 91.1 before with Jim and Lorriane, so I’d often find myself with odd deja-vu moments halfway up a wall. Most notably being Creme Fraiche which I couldn’t do today, but I realised I had done before (and noted with “6a according to Jingo…. naaah.” on UKC. It was mostly just using a painful crimp… my finger still hurts!)
The other two climbs I remembered were Ingratitude and Gratitude, two 5b+/5c+ climbs up a lovely distinctive looking slab. Being as I didn’t log these as successes on UKC before, I’m guessing I didn’t manage them! They went this time though after some focus, but not without taking a painful little nick out of the bottom of my left hand. Ow! Blood sacrifice.
By this point I couldn’t resist going and joining Ed working on La Flipper a boulder over. It’s a rather strong looking fridge climb going up an overhanging prow and initially I really had no idea what to do with it. After watching a few attempts by Ed and another climber attempting it, I pulled on for a proper go and managed to go 3 moves further than expected! ooh, it’s on!
Sadly I only managed one more proper go, and one attempt that left me hitting the deck pretty hard when my right hand bounced off the hold rather than being anywhere close to sticking, before rain arrived and we scurried away to hide gear under any available roofs we could find. Luckily it wasn’t a long shower, meaning that we could pretty quickly pull the bouldering mats back out and use them as seats for making sandwiches for lunch.
After a bit of lunch, I went to help Kelly play on Gratitude and then have a go at Creme Fraiche before we returned to have few more goes on La Flipper again sadly cut short by rain. This time though the weather meant business giving everything a thorough soaking and drawing our climbing day to a close. Once the rain let up a little, we packed up and headed back down the hill to the car as the heavens really opened. It was quite amusing to see just how many climbers with bouldering mats on their backs appeared out of the wood as we descended, rain driving us all back to our cars to go find wine and beer.
The rain really hit downpour quality as we drove back making me very tempted to sack of the run I really needed to do, to keep somewhere close to my marathon training plan, and just to stretch out legs following the long run the other day. After having given up on it, the rain then stopped and the sun came out, swinging just as violently as my mood really, leading me to go get ready and plug in my Fenix in for 15mins to get some charge while I plotted a new route. My trail shoes were still absolutely soaked, so I needed somewhere on roads for my Dynaflytes, so I planned a kite shaped run from Arbonne La Foret to the other little villages near us and set out.
It didn’t take me long to realise that what I thought were roads on Google Maps were actually tractor trails, so my road shoes weren’t great for this, but it was still a lovely run, especially when you looked up at the horizon when in the middle of huge open fields and got a great sense of space.
I threw in a couple of fast sections to open the legs up a bit on the 2nd half which felt good and soon I was back at the gite and in the shower.
That’s it really for our Font trip this year. Pretty successful, despite what the weather was trying to throw at us. I’m still very stagnant grade wise, climbing only at the same level, or perhaps even slightly lower than in 2012/2013. I think I need some more dedicated bouldering time and strength training to fix that thought and I’m really not sure I can spare the time, energy or mental focus for it!
My feet are suffering a bit today with some ugly looking bruises coming up beneath my toenails. This happened last year, and they hadn’t really recovered. Hopefully they’ll settle down quickly.
The training plan required me to go out on Sunday again and do another 22k which was really hard work to make myself go and do, but Liz was insistent and I’m now glad I went out. Hopefully I’m not too worn out for the rest of the marathon training, but it’s not that long now till the taper begins. (2 weeks!)
Photos and videos stolen mercilessly from Ed Bowler, Andy Staley, Liz Allen and Martin Gleadow