Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The best crag in the world?

Is Ceuse the best crag in the world? Last week I went on the trip I’ve been waiting for and planning for months now. Ceuse is the sport climbing mecca of the world and after months of waiting I was finally going. We packed, squeezed and cut down on luggage to get under the weight limit and at last we drove to Bristol, met with Chris at the airport and eventually we were on the plane away from a cold Britain to a sunny Marseille in over 30oc heat. It was defiantly a change in scenery and on the drive to the campsite we discovered the sheer amount of rock that the French have! We were driving past crags that would have been classics in the UK!


After shopping in Gap (with me winning the “who can see Ceuse first” game) we arrived at the campsite and pitched up. Ceuse is famed for perfect rock, incredible scenery and amazing routes but as well as that the walk-in is infamous amongst all who have travelled there. It really is a slog, but it’s over eventually and when we got there it did not disappoint. Cascade is an amazing sector, and put anywhere in Britain it would be the best by far (all of the sectors at Ceuse would!). We began on a 6c+ called Medecine douce, famed for not being a warm up and that went ok, onsighting it without too much trouble. I’m not sure what else I got on that first morning, but I didn’t get up anything else that day. I probably did my usual trick of trying too hard too soon, and I proved this theory by walking to the other end of the crag to try L’ami de tout le monde, an 8b that Buster had done a few days earlier. The whole plan for the trip had been to try lots of onsights and flashes, then get on a hard project if I felt strong, but instead I got on the hardest route I’ve ever tried on the first day after just doing a 6c+. Defiantly something to learn from this. I left without even 2 routes on my first day, but if it was any consolation the walk down was much easier. 

The next days were more of almost the same, with only a couple of 7bs being done, but I was improving fast. Ceuse is defiantly a crag that takes some getting used to, with the combination of the walk, the food (I had pasta and a sauce every day for the 8 days I was climbing) and the camping wearing you down before you’ve even begun the classically pumpy routes. The last 2 days was when it really began for me. I was trying a 7c called Galaxy at Berlin before my final rest day, getting high before pumping out and taking a big fall, with my first ever inversion! After doing the classic 7b Super Mickey in the morning, I got back on Galaxy, taking a couple of goes to do the crux boulder problem. The problem has a pair of high starting holds that are normally reached by building a small rock pile but after many feeble attempts which only succeeded in a scattering of rocks I kicked over my latest attempt and started off lower holds, making the start much harder, but I sent the route first go.

That is one thing I didn’t like about Ceuse. Some routes rely on using the first bolt as aid or a large stone pile to reach a good starting hold. If these routes were in Britain you’d just have to find another way around it or tough really. It just seemed to take away from some routes, especially if they are possible without the aid. Still, at least these starts haven’t just been chipped, but left for someone who’s good enough to do in the routes original state!
Buster wanted to have another go on the classic hard 7b+ Blockage Violent, but I still wanted to go for an onsight. I wanted to leave it but figured now was as good a time as any so I went for the route. The moves felt solid and I was moving well, sticking what I assumed at the time to be the crux. When I got to the less steep section around the second to last clip I knew I had it in my sights and called down to Buster that I could do it! The last moves felt fine and I clipped the chains, relieved. This was possibly the highlight of the trip for me so far, I had onsighted Blockage, maybe the classic of the crag. Buster sent the route next go and we headed down after dark on his final day.

The next day was my final day at the crag and my dad was there so we walked up slightly later than usual. I warmed up on Medecine douce then went for my next goal of the trip, an onsight of Vagabond d’occient, another classic 7c the starts up a steep wall onto a long headwall. I cruised up the juggy steep wall to the knee bar rest, recovering for the crux that was sure to follow. The move cam quickly and I launched, sticking it! I moved quickly through the next juggy section with some very long moves before I was finally at the chains! My hardest onsight moving 2 grades in 24 hours, what has this place done to me! I then tried to flash a 7c+ called Le privilege du serpent, but fell high from the final move of the crux, frustrating but we decided to move as the sun was beginning to hit the crag.

Vagabond, 7c onsight

We moved to Berlin to have a final attempt at Mackach Walou, a 7c+ with one of the catchiest names at the crag. I’d fallen high with Buster the previous day and was keen to get back on it. I put the clips in and got the beta sorted, then went for it! It felt fine until the top crux, where I began to get very pumped. I pulled through and slapped up a rib, before getting my self onto a good jug that allowed me to clip, an then a quick shake before the last few moves and clipping the chains. A great way to end the trip!

Ceuse is an amazing place and I would go back any chance I get, and I could defiantly have done with another week or two once I’d gotten into my stride. Oh well, next year here we come!

I was hoping the trip had made me stronger, since as soon as I got back we were on the train to Edinburgh for the Youth Open. This event makes up the selection for the European Youth Championships at Gemozac, France in November so I had to do well.

I arrived early at the wall to find we had 2 qualifiers on the less steep old competition wall, and our first looked very similar to the first qualifier in the Europeans earlier in the year. I was 5th onto this climb and so didn’t have a massive amount of beta for the top section, only the demo, who had fallen off on the final move.

I moved quickly through the first section, finding a move from an undercut to a poor hold on a volume the hardest, as I decided to slap and move faster, rather than do an easier step up that would have taken more out of me. I climbed easily to a rest above, and not pumped I shook on the last good hold while eying up the final sequence. I tried a cross through that felt hard, so reversed it and went to the further hold with the other hand. Match on the volume then a long move to a good hold. Toe hook by left hand, match, left foot high and then rock to a big sloper. The match to this was a crux that many fell on, but I found it fine and matched. Little shake then a cross over to a crimp. This is where it all went wrong. The beta from the ground was to put a foot below the roof, or maybe a high heel. I opted for neither of the two, and put a foot above the roof and jumped to the final jug. It felt easy, until my right hand popped, and unpumped I swung from the final hold. Frustrated I returned to the ground, but fortunately only one climber topped the route so I got second on that route.

I was on second to last on my final qualifier which normally would be a good thing, but the route had already been climbed by Youth A and the Juniors and they were complaining of the grease even before we were on. Fortunatly we managed to get someone to brush them, but that meant the route was easier for the first climbers in the group and the route was hideously greasy when I got on it, and I could have quite easily come off the easy slab section at the start, as others had. I made it through to the greasy rest below the crux headwall. I made it over the roof and a high heel made the move to a large volume easy and sitting on the heel gave me a restbite from the climbing, I couldn’t quite reach on sequence, so touched the base of the hold for a few seconds to gain the points. I returned to the lower hold and went for a long cross over, which I stuck and matched. Now very pumped I missed a crucial feature and went for the final hold, where I fell with my fingers over the edge. I qualified for the final in 2nd place.

Qualifier 2!

Isolation was reasonably short but extremely loud, and I was glad to be out when I was called. I was warm and feeling strong but the wait in the final waiting area was long due to a backlog, so I had to stay warm with pull ups on a beam. I was eventually called and read the route quickly, and pulled on confidently. It felt easy to a jug before a roof, and as I wasn’t very pumped I rested for a very short time here. The new rules implemented this year mean that ties in the final are not decided on countback to the qualification, but on time taken to reach the highest point. I disagree massively with this rule, partly as it makes the qualification pointless but also because someone who tops all 3 routes can be beaten by someone who qualifies in 6th but gets up an easy final 1 second quicker. We have been training to climb quicker for months, and this paid off this climb. I moved from the rest and used a sketchy toe hook to move through the crux roof. I wasn’t too pumped and a final off balance move around the roof was it for me. I very nearly held the hold but my fingers uncurled and I was off. When I got down the judges were talking and I was told I had missed the final clip. I was horrified, but my score still stood as the hold I had moved off was possible to clip off. I was frustrated because I’d missed the clip, but also because I hadn’t topped what was a reasonably easy final. Either way, I got to the joint highest place on the route, but my speed training had paid off, and I got to my high point in almost 2 minutes quicker than Pete.

I had finally won, all the training had paid off and I was selected for the European Championships. Not a bad few weeks really, and Imst this weekend!                                                                                

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