Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Indian Johnny Dawes

Johhny Dawes' Indian clone... static stickmen will be appalled. Guy Robertson sent me this, saying he has given it all up to go hillwalking. I think I will do the same, with my flask of soup and red socks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dumbarton Rock A History

As a lot of climbers have been kept away from the Rock by these incessant westerly rain fronts, I thought some might be interested in reading a little about the History of Dumbarton Rock while it wallows in drippy green misery. I've been working on a climbing history to the Rock but this will be included in the new Clyde & Argyll guide soon. This is what happened at Dumby before we slipped our rock boots on...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Four Fontainebleau Problems

What is it about the magic 'a' grade at Font (6a, 7a and the even more magical 8a!). I guess these arbitrary grades are 'designed' by accident a bit like evolution's blind wathcmaker. They seem to be natural benchmarks of physical and conceptual progression in the forest, where restriction and history are finally broken, where something truly remarkable emerges. They always seem to have an 'edge' on problems beside them on the same scale and the true 'a' problems have an independent feel about them, as though jealous to retain their reputation from the others. Climbing them you feel they possess a hidden inbuilt code like the golden ratio, or at least a few extra digits of Pi! This could all be said about any grade, especially the new 'highest' grade, but in Fontainebleau, the feel of the 'a' problems is unique. They are a step above anything before and are worth seeking out if you are operating in the grade range.

La Marie Rose 6a - Marc Sweeney - photo by John Sharples

Marie Rose at Cuvier was the first '6a', climbed in 1946. However, it comes with a caveat. It should not be compared with more recent and numerous other 6a's as this was a watershed at its time. There is an interesting 'biological' theory called morphic resonance which reeks a little of the X-Files but basically says that once something has occurred repetition occurs more frequently and independently, allowing the same to happen elsewhere with more ease. It certainly 'appears' to happen, a bit like a magician's illusion, but just might be a statistical oddity. It might be an obvious statement, but until 6a was climbed, 6a was never climbed...

Michael Jeans on the forest's hardest in 1934 - L'Angle Allain 5+ (modern Brit 6a at least!)

'Marie Rose' is certainly a hard problem and feels about British 6b in modern money, but it's best to compare it to the famous 5+ nearby of L'Angle Allain to understand it. L'Angle Allain is easier with sticky shoes but at its time it was the hardest benchmarker (1934) and is more to do with foot friction and technique rather than finger strength and power.

La Joker 7a Bas Cuvier - Chris Everett

The first 7a is still debated, with most opting for Abattoir at Cuvier, climbed by Michel Libert in 1960. This is certainly a real step up in technique, power and commitment, easily a new breed of problem, but my money goes on the more elusive and earlier La Joker, just round the corner from Marie Rose, climbed in 1953 by Robert Paragot. This technical and frustrating wall is exactly what a Font 7a should feel like. If you are climbing 7b at home, it will still kick your backside and scold you for any weak fingers. All classic grade-busters should feel 'value for money' and La Joker has crept to the fore as one of the forest's real classics.

C'Etait Demain - 8a - Photo Godoffe Collection

I haven't climbed 8a but Jacky Godoffe knows a thing or two about them. His development as a young climber in the forest broke down the higher 7th grades. He spent his youth working these grades into 7c's such as the famous 3 at Rempart (Fourmis Rouges, Tristesse and Big Boss). He discovered the plus sign with La Balance and Hypothese (two classic 7c+'s) until finally he climbed something which he thought worthy of the '8a' grade: 'C'Etait Demain' ('that was tomorrow'), an aptly named problem at Rempart which was climbed in 1984 and was prelude to a flood of modern 8th grade problems.

Who knows where it will stop. 9a is currently the Fontainebleau dream and a few are getting close, such as Dave Graham's 'The Island' at Coquibus, though the problem of link-up grading is rearing its head... is there a true 9a straight-up in the forest. If so, who has the keys to unlock it?

Modern 7a's are certainly easier money, go after the older ones for the true Font experience (Mur de la Fosse aux Ours etc). Here's a wee vid of my favourite 7a. Some say 7a+, but these modern roof style problems seem to bag the 7a grade too easily. A result of too much morphic resonance! Anyway, I always go back to this one, as it's a combination of power, fingers, technique and good balance. It' s not the Joker though...

Retour aux Sources from John Watson on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Fontainebleau and Rain Wisdom

Le Parisien newspaper is not worth the 95 centimes to a poor French speaker. I can do the Sudoku and check the footie scores, but the rest is obscure political blabber, car accidents and endless TV sur-reality. Apart from Le Meteo ... to the visiting boulderer the weather page is the fount of all frustration or elation. Sitting in Bar Bacchus in Milly la Foret, as the rain runs off the Halles and bounces on the cobbled streets, squeezing the life out of a 3 Euro glass of Heineken, the Meteo page is studied forensically. The symbols are crucial to the case as the cryptic French style of weather reporting is more like a red-top Horoscope: 'your umbrellas will be at Granny's, a courageous cloud will follow you'

Spot the squirrel...

The next three days are checked for the best conditions and great debates ensue as to the surest strategy. The heavy cloud and rain symbol means a rest day or exploration, or recovering from a beer and wine tasting. A sun symbol means get out there and crank hard! I had three heavy rain symbols in a row. No matter how many times we looked at that page, the symbols didn't morph into sunny intervals. This was just RAIN. Only one thing for it...

Rain damage...

On the fourth day I pulled my tendons apart as the breeze lifted the clouds and sunny skies dried out the boulders to a crisp rasping friction that made everything feel easy for a while. But this magical time does not last long, the muscles lose power and the skin grows pink and sore. Time for the 400 meg pink smarties, a slice of saucisson in stale sandy bread, then blank chew-staring until the drugs kick in. Then you climb like Jehovah for a while until the pain returns again.

Alien 7c, yet another go...

There is only one thing worse than a rainy day in Font - a good day when you're too trashed to climb. Doing a few easier circuits is the sagest philosophy when things are sore, just don't choose the harder red circuits such as the 'Guichot shredder' or the long finger-manglers of Cuvier and Sabots. Blue circuits like Sabots, Cul du Chien or J A Martin are the best for loosening those tired calves and biceps.

J A Martin

Project exploration is another strategy to avoid the 'black dog' - the misery of not climbing in Font. Buy a map, get yourself lost negotiating the chemins and carrefours of the forest (follow the blue path, never get out of the boat...) and check out some obscure areas such as Gorges du Houx, Mont Aigu or Les Beorlots. You'll come across some great projects to return to and stumble upon some of the more bizarre features of the forest. I came across a pretty little bivouac with a string door with suspended pine cones and a single wooden seat inside. All very nice. In the very depths of the forest. Noone was home but I could feel eyes on me. They were either Blair Witch or Heidi... I didn't think Heidi would come bouncing out the forest with flowers for me, so I buggered off sharpish.

A bit Blair Witch...

Or you could put on some fine dandy clothes, powder your ass and straddle a horse like you're Napoleon of the goddamn forest. The only reasonable thing to do dressed like this is obviously to go shooting the very creatures who own the place...

Elephant Man Bloc

Still, we managed a few good walks through the forest, with the Elephant plateau providing the best light of the week. One new problem fell - the Elephant Man - which is a great 7a sloper problem not at Elephant, oddly enough, that's a complete red herring (yes, that's helpful). I'll keep it till next visit until the desperate direct is done... one good day is all it takes. Some vids below...

Fontainebleau Memoire D'Outre Tombe from John Watson on Vimeo.

A fine roof 7a+ at Rocher Fin. The right exit is 7b.