Friday, 8 August 2014

A Summer in Paradise

The Final Roundup

After a month living at the foot of arguably one of the greatest and most majestic sport climbing destinations worldwide, I am finally back home and enjoying spending a day or two relaxing and catching up with family and all that's been happening in the world while we've been away.
I started to write a final post as the end of my trip approached, so below is an extract from that, along with a selection of photos with some more words and thoughts put together since getting back.
Put the kettle on yo!


So my time out here is swiftly drawing to a close. It is hard to believe that it is the eve of my last day before I start making my way back home Tuesday morning. It's one of those cliches but it barely seems 5 minutes ago that we rocked up at the campsite raring to go with a months worth of climbing to look forward to. 

At the start it feels like the time to leave will never arrive but unfortunately everything has to come to an end at some point, and I could not be more psyched with how this whole trip has progressed. Even though I'm sad to be leaving, at the same time I'm looking forward to heading back home to a hopefully dry Peak... and chilling out with a few home comforts for a day or two. 
This place, while totally awesome, definitely starts to take its toll on you after a while. Maybe not physically, more in a mental fashion. Each day I feel fitter and fitter but anyone who has spent a month or more out here will understand and know where I'm coming when I say this I'm sure.

While getting to climb here each day is on another level, one of my favourite times of day out here has to be waking up each morning, sticking on the stove for a brew, munching down on some cereal while mulling over and getting fired up for the days climbing ahead. Equally satisfying is crashing into your tent after a long hot day at the crag, cooking up a beast of a meal to refuel before writing up your ticklist and thinking over the session you've just had. Then to finish, sitting around till bedtime with friends and exchanging stories from everyone's day to then finally letting your head hit the pillow. All ready to repeat again the next day!

 The perfect route? Sending L'Ami de tout le Monde (8b) as the clouds and mountain rain start to roll on in.
Photo | Sophie Whyte

Without a doubt this has been the best climbing trip I've been on yet. Not only for the shear quality and quantity of routes I managed to get done compared to my previous visit, but for the countless memorable experiences along the way.
From those simple rest days where the only things you do all day long is lay in the sun, eating, reading and topping up the tan to those moments at the crag that you've been training for.
By the end of week two I flashed my first 'proper' 8a (L'Ami Caouette) shortly followed by a flash of probably one of the most famous (and scariest) routes in Ceuse. The super technical, slabby and much sort after 3 star 8a+ that is 'La Femme Blanche'. On a personal level achieving this is one of my proudest moments in my climbing and one I certainly will not be forgetting in a hurry. The trad head definitely kicked into gear as the slabby section began to get more and more run out. Scary gritstone trad must be good for something right...

 The perfect rest day activity. Breakfast in Gap eating fresh French pastries!

Sam Hamer back in 2011, weaves his way through the perfect limestone pockets that form the upper headwall 'L'Ami Caouette' (8a)
Photo | Dirk Smith

With L'Ami Caouette I set off with the flash in mind, figuring I'd just see how things felt, but on Femme Blanche I had no real plan and basically started climbing to check what all the fuss was about. Then slowly as I got gradually higher and higher up the wall I began to suddenly realise that maybe, just maybe I could reach the belay. One super scary moment, high above my last bolt, clinging onto a poor pinch before having to shuffle delicately back leftwards on tiny slippy smears for your feet, marked the turning point when I really started to believe I could reach the chain. Thankfully I had expert guidance constantly being shouted up from below by both Lena and Marco! Without their beta and help I can guarantee I would have never made it to the sanctuary of the belay! A huge relief. Cheers guys! Big respect especially to Lena for also sending, particularly as it was so soon after recovering from badly damaging her ankle out in Magic Wood 2 weeks prior. Strong!

It has been said time and time again that quite often with most sport routes we'll forget the feeling of sending, they just never quite stick with you the same as a hard scary trad line. This ascent however I will remember for a long time.

 The view that never gets old

Fitness wise I was just constantly left amazed at the difference from 3 years ago. Routes I fell off a million times, pumped out of my brains, veins screaming, succumbed as virtual warm-ups. Others that I could only dream of sending before went down within a couple of tries. It was just mind blowing and I'm incredibly psyched that all the training and hard work have paid off. Just as an example, on my previous visit, in the space of 4 weeks I ticked something like 3 decent routes... The hardest being a bouldery 7c+ at Cascade. This time, I've come home with just shy of a 50 route tick list up to 8b with whole host of onsights and flashes.

The thought did cross my mind to maybe get on something a little harder, yet while very tempting there was far too much to keep us occupied and in the end I opted to just try and tick as many routes as possible, regardless of grade. There will always be another trip for the harder lines, and this one has got me fully fired up to return again in the future to give them a go. There are just sooo many!


It would be a total nightmare to have to choose a list of favourites, virtually impossible, but below is a small selection of one of two that seem to slightly stand out from the others for me. Everyone of them a classic and an absolute joy to climb!

  • Radote Jolie Pépère - 8b                                   
  • L'Ami de tout le Monde - 8b
  • La Femme Blanche - 8a+ (Flash)
  • Face de Rat - 8a+ (2nd go)
  • Mirage - 7c+ (Onsight)
  • Tout n'es pas si Facile - 7c+ (Onsight)
  • Encore - 8a+ (2nd go)
  • Les Colonnettes - 8a (2nd go)
  • Rosanna - 8a (2nd go)
  • Makach Walou - 7c+ (Onsight)
  •  L'Ami Caouette - 8a (Flash)
  • Sueurs Froides - 8a+
  • Violente Illusion - 8b
  • Berlin - 7c (Onsight)
  • Cent Patates - 7b+ (Onsight)

I went out to Ceuse with a vague plan, a fairly rough idea of what I wanted to achieve. Which was basically, climb as much as possible and better than my first visit! So I am beyond thrilled that it all worked out and to not only accomplish what I originally set out to do, but so much more at the same time. It may sound slightly 'cheesy' but if you really want something and it means that much to you, then nothing can stop you from reaching your goals. Whatever they may be, big or small. Get out there and make your plans happen and your dreams a reality.

Huge thanks to everyone that contributed to making this trip so special, old friends and new friends from around the world. It isn't all about the climbing on these kind of ventures, that is only half the fun, but it is equally about the people you meet along the way and the new friendships you form. Once again we managed to hook up with a whole host of international guys and gals ranging from the USA to Denmark. Hope to see you all again sometime soon!

Big shoutout to Arthur and Alize for putting on an incredible surprise BBQ for us the other night. Totally out the blue and very much appreciated! Another example of how great and generous the climbing community really is.

Finally another huge thankyou to all my sponsors for all their support. They truly are the best in the business! Mammut, 5.10, ProBalm, Nakd & Trek Bars, Scheckters Organic Energy.

Special mention has to go to the folk at Natural Balance Foods and Scheckters Energy for sending me out enough bars and energy drinks for the whole trip. They certainly did their job in getting me through the hike to the crag each day and up all the rad routes we've managed to tick! If you've never checked these two companies out before then you are missing out! Click onto their websites and judge for yourselves :)

A thumbs up for Scheckters from Lena after sending her project!

The only problem with spending a chunk of the summer months away is that you arrive back home and it suddenly dawns on you that 'summer' is nearly over! Hard to believe August is upon us already, but that is the way it goes I guess. Time moves swiftly on.

My plans now are to hopefully take advantage of a dry Cornice...? Maybe try to finish off one or two things down there, alongside making some more trips up to Kilnsey. Soooo uber keen for this crag! Excited to put some of this Euro fitness to the test there...
Then it'll be time for my first trip to Font in September, which I am pretty dam psyched about. Embarrassing I've never been before I know, so definitely looking forward to it. After that my thoughts and training will turn to a trip to Spain for New Years. Missed out on all the action out here the last few years, so this time it is GAME ON! Get me to Siurana!

Cheers for reading and following me on my short French adventure over the last month.

Onto the next!

 Until next time Céüse...

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