A few days after my last post I was beginning to recover from my back injury and the weather forecast in Magic Wood was grim so the only logical thing to do was head off on a sight-seeing trip to Italy. We packed up camp and pointed our car south and didn’t stop until we hit Rome! Eight hours and 100 euros in gas and tolls later, we found ourselves standing in front of the Vatican at sunset.
On the day we chose to move out of our apartment in Bellinzona (Tuesday April 27th), we awoke to gloomy surroundings. Bellinzona was soaked and the rain hadn’t stopped falling. We woke up late and spent the morning cleaning the apartment and packing our black Peugeot full of our belongings. We left our beloved apartment around noon and headed to town to grab a few things on our way to Brione one last time before moving to Magic Wood. I was well convinced that it would be equally wet in Brione so I enjoyed a gelato to make the day better. As we winded through the canyon to Brione it looked to be a similar story with sprinkles of water consistently finding their way to the windshield. However, about five kilometers before reaching our destination the roads changed to a lighter color indicating the possibility of dry boulders ahead. As we walked into the lower river sector that’s exactly what we found! Even better, the clouds that were threatening above provided much needed relief from the sun, allowing the boulders to remain a few degrees cooler than normal.
I warmed up slowly on the rock and rested while Leslie worked out the moves on Marylyn Monroe. At the end of my warm up session I climbed on Bach Bloc which reignited my back injury from two days prior. The injury first occurred on Sunday at Magic Wood on a problem called Sofa Surfer. On my flash attempt I blew off the last holds and landed on my butt which bottomed out the crashpad into the rock underneath. This caused pain when I tried to stand upright. The injury started feeling better later that day and the pain had gone away by the middle of Monday.
Despite the reoccurrence of pain on Tuesday I decided to hike up to Vecchio Leone since it was our last day at Brione and I had put so much effort into this line in the previous weeks. After hobbling up the mountain, we arrived at the boulder and I laid on my crashpad for awhile hoping my back would loosen up. It continued to hurt so I decided to try the problem anyway. I had no expectations but I pulled on, instantly switched on 100% focus, stuck the first long move and continued my way up the boulder. I felt surprisingly good so I fought to stick the crux move to the crimp rail but my right hand popped off again! I was psyched to have such a good burn considering my condition. Unfortunately the intense climbing increased my back pain substantially and I could hardly stand up. Obviously I couldn’t give up after such a solid attempt so I rested for twenty minutes before giving it another go.
At this point it was difficult to walk or move the crashpads on my own. I hobbled up to the problem, pulled onto the starting holds, stuck the first move, did the difficult ‘front lever’ move to place my right toe on a tiny chip way out right, latched the next hold and pulled up to find myself at the crux again. I stuck the rounded crimp rail and my right hand remained clamped to the pinch for the first time! I matched the rail, fought the back pain to let my feet cut and climbed on to better holds and eventually the top! I couldn’t believe it!
The bad news is that my back was exponentially worse after this and I literally couldn’t stand up on top of the boulder! I barely managed to hobble off the boulder, hunched over like an old man. After a slow cripple-style walk down the mountain we headed off towards Magic Wood.
In the car I was hoping my back would start to loosen up on the drive there. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and it continued with shooting pains whenever I would try to move. Leslie helped with my things and setting up my tent since I couldn’t do much of anything on my own. I hoped after a night’s rest it would improve but sadly it was worse in the morning after the Advil had worn off. It was exceedingly painful to roll over, sit up, stand up, lie down or basically move in any direction. I decided to find a hospital to see if I had done any serious damage.
We found one 15 kilometers to the North in Thusis. Our first experience in the German speaking portion of Switzerland was walking into this hospital (I know zero German). The hospital was very clean and virtually empty; I saw one other patient while I was there which left most of their staff to help me out. Luckily a few people there spoke some English so I wasn’t totally in the dark. After taking x-rays the doctor told me there wasn’t any major damage to my spine or vertebrae. He said I had strained a ligament connecting my pelvis to my back which was probably the source of the pain. He told me to stop climbing for two weeks and see if it feels better then. Now I am 400 francs poorer but I’m up a few pain patches and pain pills which allows me to type this with only mild discomfort. Here’s hoping I can start walking again soon!
The Verzasca Dam is on the way to Brione and it is where James Bond was filmed bungee jumping in the intro to Goldeneye. At over 720 feet in height, it is the tallest unguided bungee jump in the world.
This is Les going airborne off the Verzasca Dam (video forthcoming):
Since our last post we’ve been spending a lot of time in Brione, where it has been HOT. We usually don’t head out until 4 in the afternoon so that we can get on our projects just before dark. I’ve had a few more sessions on Vecchio Leone and I have been agonizingly close to sending. I think I’ve fallen on the last move 25 times now. All I’ve been doing is resting and trying this problem for 2-3 hours per session then taking another rest day. It is very frustrating to come so close so many times and never succeed, especially in this heat. We climbed in the dark and drove home at midnight with the windows rolled down..
Yesterday we decided we needed a break from projects so we went up to Magic Wood for the first time. On the drive up we traveled through beautiful mountains covered in snow. The forecast was for rain but it was sunny when we arrived. The forest here is very dense with thick moss covering the boulders. We ran into a friend from Milano we had met in Ticino earlier in the week. She offered to show us around since it was our first time visiting Magic Wood. We did a few cool warm ups and then it started raining so we huddled under the Sofa Surfer boulder. After 30 minutes or so the rain slowed to a drizzle and I decided to give Sofa Surfer a go. From what I hear this problem was originally given 8a+ but now it is given 8a. It is a direct line going up an overhanging wall on decent crimps. After spending a few minutes trying to figure out where I should start it, I pulled on and climbed my way to the last move before blowing off the last holds. I sent a few goes later and didn’t think the problem felt anywhere near 8a. So far it seems some of the grades in Switzerland are off. Not all problems feel that way, but many feel a bit soft.
After my first day I have mixed feelings about Magic Wood. It is a beautiful forest full of boulders but I haven’t seen too many lines that really inspire me. Many of the problems here are dropoffs, which is mostly due to the foot of grass and moss on the top of most boulders. Some of the lines have bunchy starts and traverse boulders rather than climbing directly up. On the other hand, I am very psyched to climb in a place with cooler weather and many problems to do. It’s so nice to be able to climb at any time of the day rather than waiting for the sun to go down before climbing.
We are resting today and I’m giving Vecchio one last shot tomorrow before we move out of Bellinzona and into Magic Wood for a few weeks. Sorry no pics from Magic Wood yet but we’ll post some whenever we have internet access again.
Be sure to check out Black Diamond’s Blog to see our latest video from font!
Les has switched into crush mode lately, sending three 7C+’s and one 7C in a four day period.
We’ve been spending most of our time lately at Brione. Les sent Fake Pamplemousse a few days ago and then we headed down to the lower river area for Andrea and Doug to try Bach Bloc again. While they were working on it I walked just downhill to check out a cool problem called Side Effect which I think was put up a few years ago by Nalle Hukkataival.
It has a pit of doom landing that someone stretched a web of logs across so that you can put a couple pads down.
I pulled on a few times, did the first long move to a small sharp crimp but couldn’t do the second move. It was feeling really hard so I took a long massa rest. When I hopped on it again, I felt much stronger, stuck the first two moves and then sent the problem!
Unfortunately our good friends Doug and Andrea have left us for Spain. On the bright side, we convinced our apartment owner to let us stay for half price, so we are still living the high life in our swanky swiss apartment. The pace around the house has slowed considerably with only two of us inhabiting. No more late night games of Spades or Oh Hell, but we have been watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is hilarious!
Ok now back to the outdoors…
I’ve been projecting Vecchio Leone (Old Lion), an 8B put up by Bernd Zangerl which was featured in Memento and Dosage III. It’s a beautiful overhanging wall that climbs on positive holds up to the crux which involves an undercling pinch/crimp and a really powerful move to gain the crimp rail above. I stuck the crux move by itself at the start of my second session and linked it to the crux five times but couldn’t quite do the move. I was psyched to get all the moves done and felt close to sending!
We drove back up to Brione yesterday so I could get back on it. While we were there Les dispatched a cool 7B+/7C called Atlantis (vid to come).
Then he started working on an 8a called Salamandre which involves some awesome bread loaf pinches. We’ll take some photos of it today to show you.
The climbing at Brione is only at 800 meters or 2,600 feet so unfortunately we’ve past the prime season for climbing here. I’ve been waiting until the sun dips below the mountain, around 4PM, to start warming up since it’s been so hot lately. This gives me a brief window from 6:30 – 8:30 when it gets dark to send in halfway decent temps.
I had some good goes from the ground, usually getting to the crux and coming close to sticking the move. Here’s the crux sequence of one of my attempts from the bottom:
So after falling at the crux a few more times, we walked out in the dark just before 9 only to start the cycle over again: climb 2nd day, rest day, wait until 4 to warm up and try project. We’re headed back to Brione today to work on Salamandre.
We’ve been spending the past few climbing days at Brione. Each time we go back we find another sector with more classics to do.
On Saturday we went across the river and warmed up on the dyno boulder. We all managed to send the classic dyno which is around 6c but a bit committing.
Next we checked out the Frogger/Fake Pamplemousse boulder which is right on the river. It was a warm day but the roof was in the shade so it wasn’t too bad. I managed to climb Fake Pamplemousse pretty quickly and didn’t feel like it was 8a. It’s only three hard moves on decent holds. It’s a really cool problem and I’m stoked to share the footage we got of it. Leslie is really close and will send soon.
We finished the day at the upper sector where Andrea managed to heel hook her way up Molunk 7c. Nice job Hah!
On Sunday, back at Brione, Les had a good session on Fake Pamplemousse, getting close but taking a couple flappers in the process. We got some beta on the lower river area from a friendly local and ventured down there for the afternoon.
It rained for a while but stopped by the time we figured out the lower crux of a tall bloc on the river which has two names: Bach Bloc and Sonnenanbeter. It climbs on perfect water polished granite, it’s in the range of 7c, and has a somewhat exciting finish. I managed to send after we figured out the bottom and top sections. Check out a couple stills from the video:
By the time we finished on Bach Bloc it was 8pm so no time to try any of the other river blocs.
We rested today (Monday) with pizza and gelato in Bellinzona; tomorrow looks like rain in the afternoon so we’ll try our best to leave the house before noon!
Since my last post we’ve spent several climbing days at the three main bouldering spots in Ticino: Cresciano, Chironico, and Brione. We were lucky enough to have a couple days cold enough to climb at Cresciano which is the lowest elevation of the three.
It’s a beautiful area with amazing granite. I climbed two 7c’s at Cresciano that are worth while, il Partner and Jungle Book. il Partner is a taller line with interesting movement up high.
Jungle Book isn’t as tall but all the moves are really fun and utilize cool holds on perfect granite. I wasn’t too inspired by any of the 8a or 8a+’s that I saw at Cresciano which I guess is lucky since it’s way too hot to climb there now.
I’ve spent one day climbing at Brione so far which is up near a really cool mountain village of the same name. It is probably the smallest area of the three but it makes up for size with quality. It’s a bit more out of the way than Chironico or Cresciano so you don’t hear the roar of the autoroute several hundred meters below you in the valley. The views from Brione are amazing.
We climbed on nothing but classics our first day, starting with a perfect arete warm up (photo above and below).
Followed up with a classic highball slab called Black Mirror:
We finished up the day on Molunk which is one of the best 7c’s I’ve ever done. I’m of the opinion that the Molunk boulder has some of the best granite in the world. The holds are smooth, friendly, and fun to climb on. We shot some video so hopefully we’ll be able to share that with you soon.
I also worked on Vecchio Leone which is an amazing 8b put up by Bernd Zangerl which was featured in Memento and Dosage III. I did all the moves except for the last one which is the crux. I was close to sticking it so I’m amped to get back on it at some point. There are a few cool looking 8a’s at Brione that I’m keen to try such as Fake Pamplemousse and Frogger. However, the most intriguing of the bunch is Cellar Door which looks to have some cool moves and has a rather spicy finish due to three things: it’s tall, there are rocks in the landing, and most importantly it climbs over an old rock wall. If you blow the last couple of moves to the lip your legs are likely to land on the rock wall initiating your body into a backwards rotation sending you headfirst into the rocks below! Yup I’m psyched.
Chironico might be the best area of the bunch. It’s north of Belinzona by 30 km and it sits at around 700 meters. There are lots of rad lines to be done here and we’ve only seen half of the area. I had one session on Freak Brothers 8a+ which is an amazing line. I didn’t do the crux moves but I’m psyched to go back and put in some more effort. It has turned hot this week so we’re trying to climb mostly in the evenings after the sun dips below the mountains.
One cool aspect of spending a lot of time at a new area is that you have plenty of options for projects to spend your time on. It’s not as if there is only one or two hard problems to work on. There are dozens of them so you can choose the one that suits your style or the one that gets you psyched the most. In Ticino for example, there are loads of 8a’s, 8a+’s, and 8b’s. Many of them are uninspiring to me, such as Extreme Ironing, La Pelle, Dr Pinch, etc. They are either too short, too sharp, don’t top out, etc. Luckily there are amazing lines such as Freak Brothers and Vecchia Leone and many others that really inspire me to put in the time and effort to send!
Overall I’m really impressed with the bouldering in Switzerland. I like it more than Fontainebleau and I wish we had come a bit sooner for the cooler temps. The rock here is spectacular, the views are majestic, and there are lots and lots of hard boulder problems to choose from. Hopefully I can send a few before it gets even hotter!
We finally gave up on the weather in font after 5 days of rain and no sun in the forecast. Here’s a shot of our last ‘good’ climbing day in font, notice the tarp we setup over the boulder and Justin escaping from the heavy rain!
We headed off to Switzerland two days ago and managed to find clear blue skies just 10 minutes south of font.
Well, our time in the gite has passed and now we move onto camping. Unfortunately we’ve grown quite accustomed to our little cabin in La Genevraye, and needless to say it has spoiled us greatly. There are no more gites available due to Easter, and to complicate matters further it has been raining for the last few days and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. So now we sit in McDonalds, again, and long for good weather.
If it doesn’t clear up soon we’re going to jet set down to Switzerland, and in a hurry. We’ve heard that things are significantly more expensive there so we’ll be loading the car with as much food as we can pack in to keep our expenses to a minimum.
If you are into superstitions, please cross your fingers for us. We need a few more days of good weather to complete some projects. Hell, cross your toes for us, your legs, your arms, or anything else you can think of to cross. Send us your energy, prayers, thoughts, a France sized tarp, or a giant laser we can shoot into the sky to melt the clouds. When all you want to do is rock climb, it’s a bit grim sitting inside a McDonalds watching it piss rain outside.
On the up side, I had my very first Big Mac today…..
Looks like we’ve decided on Switzerland as our next destination. We’ll probably stick around font for a couple weeks depending on weather and projects. If anyone has any good info on bouldering in Switzerland please let us know because we don’t have a clue! We’ll have to figure out a camping spot or a gite before we take off.
After my two rest days we went back to cuvier where I warmed up and decided to rest since I wasn’t psyched on anything there. So basically three days of rest and then it was back to rocher greau yesterday to try Tigre et Dragon. We had a really quick warm up session before hoping on it. I got really close, matched at the lip a couple times but couldn’t pull off the last couple moves. It was 18 C, aka HOT and the slopey pinches were baking in the sun. I had five attempts before my tips were super thin and bright pink again! That was all the climbing I could do so I took the rest of the day off. Last night my tips woke me up because they were screaming so bad! It’s bad when your heart beat makes your tips throb. Anyways, I think I’ve got Tigre et Dragon figured out so if my skin heals today I might go back early tomorrow. Looks like we’ll have some single digit highs next week so that should provide some project sending temps!
After a month and a half one would think an area would get old. One would think that the mind would start to ponder the idea of moving to a new region to try new things and meet new people. This is not so. People say that time flies when you’re having fun. Never has this been more accurate than the last month I’ve spent here. In the blink of an eye I’m forced to begin thinking about moving to new places.
Our time here has been filled with amazing people, good times, and plenty of rock scaling. We’re living in a six person gite with 11 people. After climbing we stop at the store, buy food for the night, and hurry home to eat. The corks are pulled, the cans are cracked, and bottles are opened. We sit around the table and tell stories of the day, the past, and of our friends and family. I relate to others not just through climbing, but also through situations that other climbers tend to get themselves in. Everyone has their epic stories, their trump card, and it never gets old to hear them.
If you ever travel to the Bleau to climb be forewarned that weather is the issue. It is fairly hit or miss. The first part of the trip was loaded with snow, rain, and clouds. Then the heinous cold came. A week of perfect weather then commenced, enough time to go to a new area everyday and get projects all over the forest. Then came the heat. Not hot enough to not climb, but enough to make you long for the cold. It’s good though… If you like excuses, Font never ceases to supply them.
Alex and I have begun to think about what is next. We seem to have settled on going to Spain, and enjoying the company of our new found friends Doug and Andrea. We’ll find new language there, a new culture, and many new experiences.
This is my trip. A once and a lifetime excursion where I can lay it all out on the line, and see what happens. I can’t wait for the next four and a half months. I love waking up excited, spending all day excited, and going to bed ecstatic for the next day.
More photos to come.
It has been super cold for most of our trip but the heat came in a few days ago. Taking a look back at my goals and comparing them to what has happened so far in the trip will reveal that I’ve been unsuccessful in climbing anything at my limit. However, I have been successful in improving my climbing on less than steep sandstone. Which gives a glimpse into what climbing in font is all about. The easy problems are just as fun as the hard ones. Even lowball V0- or 5a can be a blast. The blue (easy) circuit at Isatis is fantastic. I think the reason is the sandstone. Moving on smooth sandstone holds is more fun than granite, in my opinion.
Before I started this adventure, the longest climbing trip I had been on was two weeks. I thought that six weeks in font would be a lot of time and I would be able to project hard problems more than I have in the past. The problem is font is so massive that we seem to go to new areas everyday and climb on new problems. I haven’t spent more than two days on a problem since we got here. Clearly it is a good thing to have so many classic boulders just a short drive away but it means that three months here would be ideal in order to project a few harder lines that are on my list.
The other issue with font is the skin factor. Yesterday we went to Petit Bois and Rocher Greau after taking a rest day the day before. After warming up I worked on Big Dragon which is a rad arete with a sharp crux hold. I tried it maybe 10 times and had to quit because my skin was shredding on both hands. I had enough skin left to try Tigre et Dragon (another classic 8a) three times before my tips were bright pink and ready to explode! Granted it was a balmy 70 degrees so that didn’t help at all! Now I’m on a two or three rest day period before getting back out to the boulders. It’s supposed to be in the 50’s and 60’s next week which isn’t ideal but I’m sure we’ll have some rad days and finally get some projects completed!
Top three on my list at the moment are le Surplomb de la Mee 8a, Tigre et Dragon 8a, and Big Dragon 8a. I’ve tried them all briefly and feel like they will go next time I get to them with skin and decent temps!
It’s looking like we’ll hang out in font until the first or second week of April. Not sure what our next destination is. Probably either England, Spain, or Switzerland.