Wednesday, 24 October 2007

7 weeks in a tent

Well, ok not quite 7 weeks in a tent, but 6 at least! We have learned a thing or two during this time, one of which is what we miss and what we don't. It's amazing what you can live without if you don't really need it.

Accoutrements for camping

Things we miss most (in no particular order!):

1. Bed
2. Bed
3. Hot water
4. Emma missed pizza until she found that the wee shop in Orpierre sells it in Emma-sized slices!
5. A toilet seat that doesn't freeze....yeah, let's not finish that sentence.
6. Bed
7. A table
8. Caroline misses loud music and dancing naked around her living room (things you learn about your friends; eh?! E.)
9. Clothes that at least look like they have been washed
10. Bed
11. Emma misses Paul more than anything
12. Caroline misses her Mini more than anything

Hanging out at Orpierre's Prince d'Orange campsite

For those of you who are interested, we don't miss work. For others of you who are interested, it has been down to -3 at night, and Caroline found ice on her sleeping bag the other morning. The days are warm (if we stay in the sun) but the nights are bloody freezing. Climbing wise Orpierre is a wonderful place to just be, climbing or not. Best so far is my clean onsight of 6b. I have also decided I can't be bothered with very long overhanging juggy 6b routes, which just freak me out and knacker my arms for the rest of the day. Give me something short and technical any day. My fingers are feeling a bit stiff and achey, which is a bit worrying, but a bit of rest might help. Caroline just likes stuff she can get up (her words not mine!).

Frosty tent

There is some re-evaluation of objectives going on, since this sport climbing malarky is a lot harder than I remember it being. Let's stick with doing whatever is fun, interesting and do-able; the grades can go hang for now. They're in danger of spoiling my trip.

Gros bisous a tous (I think my French is improving...?!)

Monday, 8 October 2007

Missing: Font Magic

Since it stopped raining and the sunshine returned we haven't stopped climbing. We've been to Bas Cuvier, 91.1, 95.2, Gorge aux Chats and Diplodocus. We've climbed every day abd we have sore fingers and tired arms. But still we're missing something. We haven't found the Font Magic. Something isn't right. We're not cranking hard on steep stuff; we daren't. We sem to spend all our time trying to trust feet on edges and smears which have been polished to glass. You could almost put your mascara on using them as a mirror.

Yesterday I lost the plot. Nothing was inspiring, everything was slabby (and polished of course but that seems to go without saying), and covered in sand (how does all that sand get ontop of the boulders??). I wanted something with edges, crimps and pockets to pull on, anything that felt hard rather than just freak-out, death-slide scary! We've struggled (mentally) with everything highball for fear that feet will just slide off. It sounds a bit pathetic, but neither of us wish to see the true nature of the French health care system. We did the whole yellow cicrcuit at Diplodocus today and I realised why my arms are so tired. I am over-compensating for unreliable feet. No wonder I feel my climbing is deteriorating

In amongst all this mental chaos, I did manage a nice roof problem called Le P'tit Toit at 95.2, ahich ends in a big rock over onto a very shiny heel hook, reaching (a long way) for a sharp crimp. The book says it gets 7a+ but I'm told one key hold has been "improved" (not by us!!) and therefore it gets probably only 6c. Still, it was a good problem. We met a nice group of folks from Bristol and recommended it to them. They had several good shots at it, but to no avail. When I had my first go of the day and topped out (that was the first time I'd done the last move, although I'd got the sequence wired for the rest of it), I think the big strong boys were somewhat taken aback that a pixie like me could do what they couldn't. I was just as surprised, although dead chuffed with my little self, but as my friend Keith says, you have to believe !! It works.

The first section of the roof

The shiny heel hook; cranking hard having got the crimp

In these long cold dark evenings, while we are sitting outside we have had many conversations about why I can do some things that Caroline can't and vice versa. There are 3 bigs things we hit on:

1. you have to WANT to do something
2. you have to BELIEVE you can do it
3. you need small shoes

Caroline is now the proud owner of a small and shiny new pair of Anasazis. I am working on the Wanting and Believing. Caroline believes that judging by the state of her knees, she very much wants to get to the top, by hook or by crook, one way or another!!

On the domestic front, we are now two very grubby young ladies. Camping is fun and easy, but everything gets dirty. We know it must be bad: all the French people we meet smell very nicely of washing powder. We have a wee robin who comes to sing to us over breakfast every morning, and the acorns are still falling. It's like a drop zone for acorn-sized paratroopers. I'm surprised my car doesn't have more dents in it. And let's not even mention the spiders....

Wednesday, 3 October 2007


One grey and damp evening, we retreated to our tents, everything looking as it should. Except, that is, that my tent was trying very hard to look like Caroline's. Maybe it is feeling too disguised, being green and all.

But lo, next morning, we find we have been visited!

We are puzzled.... maybe this is a sign that our 2 euros in Notre Dame only bought us a day and a half of sunshine (with 50 cents for the candle)? Is this our Guardian Angel? Are we losing our sanity? Please tell me you can see something too....!

Rain vs Psyche

It has been wet since Sunday and we are very despondent. Please send us something cheery - unless it's something about how good the weather is back home. We don't want to know. I always wanted to come to France as a child, because I thought it was always sunny. Apparently, I was wrong. Very.

We resigned ourselves to wet days being time out to rest and grow skin. But then yesterday we went to L'Elephant (when it stopped raining) and today we went to Bas Cuvier (while it was still raining). Now we are psyched to climb and it's ALL SOAKING WET!!!

L'Elephant does indeed look like an elephant - it's an eerie place where one gets the feeling that the rocks get up and move during the night but return to their original position by first light. We did manage a 5b traverse, but very, very tentatively since everything was wet and slippy. Very frustrating. Fingers just slide off with no warning, which is alarming. Rather than risk injury, we looked but didn't touch.

This morning it started to rain just as we got in the car, so since no trip is a wasted trip, we went on a recce mission to Bas Cuvier. Wow...... it too is weird, but I don't think the rocks move there! We ran about like excited children, wanting to climb everything, but even those things which are overhanging were so damp, fingers just come sliding off them. ARGH!!!

This is just condensation on the wall under a massive roof.

For those of you who know that strange Scottish weather phenomenon, it's like the haar, only warm. There is a thick damp mist hanging over everything just now; there is no wind, and only intermittent rain, but everything is soaked. I feel almost asthmatic the air is so thick with moisture. The warmth alo breeds lethargy, which hasn't helped either. I've no idea how long it will take to dry out, but I am feeling that our time is limited and we were just getting into the swing of things. Ho hum.

There are lots of these plants around. Does anyone know what they are? The berries look like they would make nice juice, but they're probably lethal so we haven't tried them!

Monday, 1 October 2007

I love Paris...

It rained, so we went to Paris. It rained more there. We did the fastest tour ever, (almost) visiting 6 major tourist attractions in one day.

First we went to Notre Dame, where Caroline lit a candle and prayed for sunshine. We think that our irreverence might have offended someone in the sky because its been a bit damp ever since.

Then we stood outside the Louvre and admired the gallons of water pouring through the fountains. Lovely. The glass pyramid was pretty too, as were the queues to get in, so we we stayed outside.... in the rain.

By the time we walked to the Musee d'Orsay it was more like a monsoon than just rain.

So we relented and took a bus half way to the Eiffel Tower. We couldn't work out which bus to get next so we just walked; we were wet anyway. Climbing the Eiffel Tower was a bit of an anticlimax. It seemed that half of England's rugby fans were there with us. But it is quite an interesting bit of metal work. I reckon Monseiur Eiffel had more than a GCSE in Technology ;-)

Then we walked up to see the chaos that is the Arc de Triomphe. Wow. Suicide, is the only word I can think of. The French don't appear to be very good at roundabouts at the best of times. This was just a free-for-all. Unbelievable. We eventually decided it would be (marginally) safer crossing it by bus. I am so glad it wasn't me driving. At one pont the bus driver got out and tapped on the window of the guy in front. I've no idea what he said, but he clearly was not happy.

Our next stop was Sacre-Coeur. We were again relieved to catch a bus there; it would have been a long and wet walk. By the time we got there it had stopped raining...mostly. We wandered around Montmartre, which struck me as being a bit like Soho, but smaller and a bit more quaint than urban. Very interesting.

We thought it looked like a good place for catalogue poses...

As it started to get dark, I started to panic that my confident understanding of the "dernière train à Fontainbleau" as 22.30 might actually have been 20.30. So we ran, from bus to bus to station, and jumped on a train at 20.27 which said "Fontainbleau" just as the bleepers went to close the door. Then the train didn't stop.... and didn't stop.... and didn't stop. As we were starting to freak it stopped at Bois le Roi, which is the one before Font. Phew. I had visions of us ending up somewhere close to Nice in the dark and the rain.

But then the following day was nice and sunny. So we went back to 95.2 and ticked some 5c things which was lots of fun, as was soaking up the sunshine. We might be acquiring some reptilian traits with all this damp weather!

PS. The French cannot make maps for toffee. It's definitely not my map reading. I can forgive French cartographers for the maps of the forest, since there are so many boulders the temptation to retreat for another glass of vin rouge would have got me too. But they can't make maps of Paris either!! We are lucky to still be alive after our visit to the urban jungle that is gay Paris.

Blue No. 9 - 3c

Here is a good example of the grade madness that exists in Fontainbleau. Has anyone tried (and can recall) the Blue (or Ultramarine, as the purple book calls it) circuit at des Gorges d'Apremont? No. 9 of said circuit is graded 3c. Here are some pictures:

It starts right of the tree in this picture, then you have to hang with your right hand from the chalky white slopey pocket just to the left of the tree. Then you make a strong move (well, for me at least) left. Cross over with your right, then take a tiny finger pocket with your left hand while you sort your feet, which are tucked well under the rock.

From there, reach up with your left hand to the right-most of the two top pockets, which are also slopey. From here I can't keep my feet on and reach up for the top crimp, so I have to cut loose before going from there to the good holds on the slopey top out above.

So, sounds easy enough; the grade is easy enough. But the holds are so shiny you could apply your mascara using them as a mirror. I did all the moves, and was very close to linking them until I came flying off backwards as I went up for the top pocket, just landed on the mat and jarred my wrist where the mat wasn't quite big enough. Even without the polish of 50 years of sweaty hands, it's pretty powerful.

So why does it get 3c when other things, which I can do without encountering near death experiences (!), get 6a? Needless to say we abandoned circuits and grades, and resorted to using the guidebook purely to locate ourselves (which isn't exactly straightforward, is it!? More on maps in another post...) It's definitely a better way to go in Font.