Sunday, December 27, 2015

The US trad climbing trip

I am back home after my 4 months trip through Quebec and the US. I feel it's time to sit down and reflect on what I've learned.
After years of sport climbing all over Europe, I somehow found myself getting into trad climbing this year. I am generally quite driven with performance and thus focused on what I think I do best, but it seemed I would never feel an accomplished climber if I didn't try trad. Who cares, I might or might not like it, I thought. Might as well give it a try...

the indispensable trad gear. My rack of old Aliens I was so lucky to have come across, they just fit everywhere.
and La Sportiva TC Pro's - I am sure this has to be the best shoe ever for everything except steep limestone. It's like 80% of Yosemite people wear them. I wouldn't go for anything else!
After a great month in Yosemite with David where we did the El Cap and a bunch of other cool things, I continued my trip through the US west. I wanted to climb trad in different places and real cracks. Indian Creek was high on my list.

 (I think this needs a bit of a disclaimer to start with. This is a post purely about climbing, with what may seem a ridiculous amount of fascination over rock split with cracks.)

But those cracks... are more perfect than any other I've climbed. They're splitter, parallel, going the same size for metres. It's unique, special. This is Indian Creek. But my words will not do it justice. My friend Craig has written a beautiful Ode to the Creek. I am a believer!
a desert sunset. pic by Kathy
a solitary splitter at Supercrack buttress. Believe it or not, I bet most IC climbers will recognize it, even though they all look pretty much the same :)

I was lucky to run into my friend Enzo Oddo at the Superbowl camping. Him and his french crew were on a trip to the Moab area doing climbing, highlining and base-jumping, basically getting high in the desert with adrenaline.
Climbing with him was great fun and good learning opportunity. His crack climbing is amazing. He flows up cracks elegantly, running it out a good few metres above every piece and boldly going for it. All that from a person who, pretty much like me, comes from a sport climbing background, and hasn't climbed cracks all his life at all - he's simply talented.
Watching him crush Indian creek testpieces like The Optimator, Pat's Blue Ribbon, Pink Flamingo, Six Star crack (all 5.13 or 5.13-) has pushed me to try harder and go for it more. It was great, I got on routes I would otherwise never dared of. Merci mon amis francais!
One day we were on Six Star crack, a perfect 30 metre splitter high up a headwall, a .75 and #1 size crack. I managed to get tight hands where he had to do painful ring-locks. For 30 metres! I felt like cheating, but still struggled to send, while he onsighted quite casually!
Enzo shooting up his onsight of The Optimator (5.13-). I managed that second go!
with the french 'Nograd' team after sending Six Star crack!
Etienne was taking a lot of footage for a movie with their sponsor Nograd. This is going to be an insane adrenaline-filled clip!

Sometime through my trip, I realized how much fun trad climbing really is, and how psyched I was to finally get into it. The climbing culture I grew up in has a skewed perspective on trad climbing. It's not all heady, leg breaking with scary falls and popping gear like hardcore British gritstone. It takes some time adjusting to it if you're a sport climber, but ultimately it is fun because it adds a puzzle game of how and where to place gear, and doing stuff clean without unneccessary bolts is just way more cool anyway.
offwidth+overhang=going inverted
The route that epitomized it was Belly Full of Bad Berries. I have a Simon Carter coffee table book with the above picture in it. I remember looking at it years ago thinking this was insane, gnarly painful, and simply crazy. It didn't seem to me I would ever get around doing stuff like that. Yet there I was, now, about to get stuck feet first in this brutal 45-degree overhung offwidth. It was still painful, felt slightly crazy, but also a lot of fun, and an incredible feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction getting the send on my second attempt, after a 20 minute struggle. My calves burned, my whole body hurt, but it was an eye opener for sure!
the BELLY! Will I send... or throw up maybe?

in the fists section of the Belly, approaching the fearful invert! after that, it keeps going for about 10 metres!
I really liked the sport climbing-style routes, too - ones where the crux was less about enduring through the endless jamming of same size and more about figuring out the moves. I felt less awkward than on most crack climbs, while still getting the kick from having to place cams. The best ones I did have to be Burl Dog (5.12+) and The International affar (5.12)
mid-crux on The International affair (5.12). Face holds yes yes! pic by Etienne Tafary

tiny cams protect the funky finish to the route. Sport climbing with cams is awesome! It took me a few tries to get this fun liebacking/bouldery crack pieced together and send.
learning how to finger-jam on this textbook fingercrack "Cat burglar" 5.12, pic by Kathy
an IC mega-classic "King Cat" 5.11+
a wide handcrack into a strenous lieback flake to a short roof and a heinous mantel to the chains!
 After nearly two weeks spent living in the desert, the Creek was beginning to bear down on us. Nights were getting real cold, muscles were sore from non-stop physical climbing. When I first arrived, I went for five days without a break. Now, I was doing a couple of pitches per day, only when the sun was out. It snowed a couple of times.
Indian Creek, Superbowl camping. The desert is a harsh place!
I felt it was time to leave and go do other things. By turn of events, I hit the road with Stacy and Kotaro. We drove 10 hours west to the coast of the Pacific. I have always wanted to try surfing on waves, and they were psyched to take me out!
waking up to this...
van life!
 I changed the big plain desert for the sandy beaches of San Diego, climbing for surfing, sleeping in my tent for being a beach bum sneaking around residential areas in Stacy's Sprinter van, a dirtbag climber's pasta diet for mexican food and milkshakes.
'Dawn patrol' in Del Mar, northern San Diego with Stacy and Kotaro.
Mornings provide a calm ocean, no wind and great, consistent waves.

It was a total hit. I obviously sucked but still had fun. Catching an odd wave here and there after countless tries has kept it exciting and I surfed until my belly button developed a nasty rash. Then we ate burritos, hung out, watched movies and slept a lot - easy California life. Thanks friends!

After San Diego, I went to Joshua Tree. This vast, out-of-this-world desert is a true climber's playground and surely one of the most beautiful places of the Earth I've been to. I hope to get a 'part 2' of this blog about my time in Joshua Tree... thanks for reading! I hope this inspires some of my fellow climbers to go out there and place some cams!

a "wide day" with Stacy, doing the classic Indian Creek offwidth climb The Big Baby. I like this picture - candies, a #6 cam, and an odd spot of blood...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Roof cracks in Vegas

Red Rocks!
introduction to desert sandstone at the Yin&Yang crag. Pic by Edouard
In the last two days, I got to climb two routes off the top end of Red Rocks grade index ticklist :) two single-pitch roof crack climbing testpieces that were so good I believe I'm now spoiled for the quality of routes here. I'll have to get on more to find out! I arrived to Red Rocks a few days ago. It is one of the best venues in the States with nice weather, a ton of climbing in all styles and beautiful ambiance among walls of desert sandstone. All that, bizzarely enough, only few miles out of the most outrageus city on earth, Las Vegas, a human monument to... money? 

A few messages and video links were exchanged and we had a team. Eric, the man and his moustache, and Kathy, the short but oh-so-crusher girl who talks as much as she climbs. All in all just a genuinely good vibe on belays and climbs :) thanks guys! 
The objective was two 5.13 roof cracks: The great red roof and Desert gold. 

THE GREAT RED ROOF from Sonnie Trotter on Vimeo.

Sonnie Trotter's video got us all syked on The great red roof. I will say it was a bit misleading when it said sketchy protection. In the vid one can only see two cams sticking out the crack. We ended up bringing too little a rack, well, we were missing one piece actually, but for people less balsy than Will and Sonnie, this can be meaningful :D Red Rocks is the first time I'm climbing trad on sandstone and I'm still getting used to it. When rock was breaking and flaking under my shoes on approach, it reminded me to be more careful with pro. Sandstone is much more prone to break than the granite in Yosemite. Chicken or thoughtful, anyway I am mortal, unlike those guys!

The great red roof barely climbs like a crack. It is ten metres of a cool flake/sloping feature (the crack is angled, rather than perpendicular to the roof) with almost no footholds at all. Ha... jams are few and poor, you are supposed to campus it! It takes good pro, that is incredibly strenous to place. 
Somewhere midway your forearms, lats and back are burning with pump, feels like a weird sport route without bolts, so wack!
I came close to flashing but eventually pumped out. On my second go, I felt my core power waay weaker, but somehow managed to pull it off, in a clean style, placing gear! Kathy found better tight-hand jams that put all my this far earned crack technique to shame, some ninja kicks, and did it with only a hang!
crew working on the roof

getting pumped on The Great Red Roof. Pic by Irene Yee
Desert gold is different. It is an actual splitter crack with a crux in a slightly overhung ring-lock section. It gets progressively wider and turns into a roof with hands and cupped-hands (for those not familiar with the art of climbing air between two halves of rock, these are all references to crack width). Hard finger section into a pumpy roof with exposure! 
Crack climbing on sandstone is much different to granite. Because there's less friction, technique is even more important. The finish to Desert gold felt harder than Separate reality, even though it's said to be 11d (lower grade than Separate - that one is a bit of a given :P)

look at that crack!
pulling on the ring lock section. Thanks for the photo Eric!
somewhere above the desert... Eric belaying Kathy on Desert gold
I managed to send despite struggling with the ringlocks,

I am so looking forward to my apprenticeship in crack climbing in Indian Creek! No footholds, no crimps on the face beside the cracks. No european cheating (besides an odd layback here and there, I am keeping this!), only fingers, hands, up to elbow- and thigh-jams, whatever goes, whatever jams.

Alrght, cut the crap... this trip has been a whirlwind of fun and new discoveries. I could go on about routes I did and others did and whatnot. Although sending matters, I remind myself to take in every day as it comes and enjoy every aspect of it. The climbing community here really is composed of great people and this is what is making my experience unforgettable. Shout out to road trip buddies and climbing partners! Let's keep the send train going! Off to Indian creek tomorrow, yeeee!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Voyage in North America

Starbucks in Bishop sounds like a lame place to be. But right now it makes sense... outside is cold! They say it never rains in the desert, but Bishop has greeted me with some cold, cloudy and rainy and snowy weather. Tips are well sanded down from two consecutive days of bouldering. Inevitably a rest day is approaching, after all, there's the hot springs I have to see ­:) it might work well instead of a shower, too. But we're pretty psyched on the Sad boulders tomorrow. It means another day of cranking. Then the Reel rock 10 tour is on and we're gonna throw a party. It's pretty cool to be here...

 It's been a month since I'm in the States and I can't help but feel like spoiled. At least I'm trying to send hard to make this trip not feel just like a three month vacation. I don't go bouldering that much, but Bishop brings out all the psyche I've got for it. The Buttermilks are up there with any world class boudering area. The amazing space-like desert landscape creates the typical Buttermilks picture: clear skies, mountain backdrop and a hill scattered with egg shape huge boulders. We are running around like kids. I also think it's really similar to Prilep. I keep telling people how good bouldering is there!

 Leaving aside all the stereotype and prejudice I have on the USA (which I feel all hold true, in fact), visiting here is such a nice time. Maybe it's the climbing community that makes me feel so welcome, I'm part of it now, jumping on the usual fall circuit of Yosemite-Bishop-Red Rocks-Zion-Indian creek, being a full-time dirtbag. But anyway the States greet you with nice people everywhere. America, home of the free, land of the brave, sometimes coming across as stupid, but never fails to surprise in some way...

 Bishop is the next stage of my trip after Yosemite. It's a nice change from big wall climbing and it's nice to take it easy each day playing around on world class boulders. I spent a month in Yosemite, packed full of climbing with my friend David and enjoying the vibe of the Valley. What the Valley means for a climber is too big to describe with words. All of the climbing culminated in a great time on El Capitan, where we climbed the Freerider over the course of a full week! We shot a ton of video so we'll make a slideshow when I'm back home in December, to tell the story of how we climbed the Monster offwidth, the Enduro corner, the Boulder problem and the Teflon corner and the other 28 pitches of what is Freerider, the modern day big wall free climbing classic. And an attempt in the incredibly ballsy face climbing testpiece, El Nino, some larger-than-life single pitches like Separate reality and the real Mount Everest, that is, the Midnight lightning.

Soul Slinger V9 at the Buttermilks
Bishop... the desert
Atari... doesn't get more perfect than this!
David relaxing and clipping some bolts in Owens River Gorge, the sport climbing venue next to Bishop
Tao on the approach to the Owens River
a day at the 'Milks...
 Damn! I feel like there's too much catching up to do on this blog. Maybe I'll be more regular, or maybe not... depends on weather, and psyche, right :)? Anyway thanks for reading! And thanks to all the people I've met on the way and who have helped me out... buddies Tao and Edouard for rides and keeping it real, Kim for giving us a lift, all the Camp 4 people, the Swiss team that lent us the portaledge, Helen and Josh for pics on the Freerider, Slovenian team at Camp4: Ursa and Spela, Ziga, Marko, Alen and Blaz, and everyone I forgot. Last but not least Dave for putting up with me on the wall and at the camp!
me leading the Enduro Corner, on the sixth day, somewhere under the Salathe Headwall, 150 metres from the summit of El cap

well syked after the Enduro corner! Almost there...

all the luxuries of staying on the wall

Dodaj napis

Camp 4 banda :)

Separate reality. It's all there, in form, not only a myth! photo by Francois Lebeau, thanks dude!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cap Trinité with Emilie

My time in Quebec is drawing to a close. The last weeks were full on intense climbing, mostly trad with some sport mixed in for relieving the mental :)

The culmination was surely the trip to Cap Trinite last week. I first got psyched about it when Felix showed me the topo and kept hoping to find people to go there. It's not easy to find partners for these routes. Luckily, I got to meet Emilie through Julien.

Cap Trinite sits above the fjord of the Sagunay river in Northern Quebec. It's 250 metre granite wall has long been a playground for aid climbers. It's majestic - steep and monolythic with cracks providing route to summit. Free routes are all moderate to hard! It's a place with character. This means few routes are clean and well travelled, so you often climb on slightly mossy rock. Shit! Well, one gets used to it, it's just the smears have less friction and you want to protect more! I am very much looking forward to Yosemite and its perfect clean granite :)
We were lucky to be lent a canoe from a friend so we could make the approach in the coolest way possible. Walking 2+ hours loaded with gear, food and water would be a bit less badass.
view from the bay
routes in the left part of the wall are incredible: steep climbing on cracks with an amazing exposure over the sea. The orange rock is the crumbly part though!

Instead of the story of me climbing in Quebec, this could be a story about the strongest couple in Quebec. Getting the insight into the scene through a local is way better than travelling on your own, but it's not just about that. I'm grateful for the inspiration and knowledge I got from them. My friend Julien has travelled all of Europe's crags to craft his skill and is repeating the hardest routes here in a matter of few tries, and then there's the projects. Even though working full time now, he's a pretty strong weekend warrior :) Quebec's hardest route may soon be on his account I think!
Emilie has been on the road ever since getting into climbing. She's one of the most experienced climbers I've ever climbed with and on the rock she moves with impressive confidence. She taught me a lot and, looking back now, I wouldn't want to go to Cap Trinite with anyone else. Big walls require experience and inventive thinking, and it's worth having at least one such person on the team :)

breakfast in our camp while the wall gets the first rays of sun

On Monday we did the logistics, stocked up on food, loaded the boat etc. and did the tiring 6 hour drive north. On Tuesday, we paddled in early morning with the high tide on a beautiful, calm sea (well, river?). Tides are strong here (about 4 m shift) and it's good to plan arriving on high tide to avoid walking on wet slabs or deep mud. Tidal currents can also be strong, but apparently not in the small bay of Cap Trinite, so this is not an issue. The craziest is that some routes start from just above the water and can only be reached at low tide!
We set up my tent and got on climbing! 'Les grand galets' is the classic of the wall, usually done in aid over a few days. On free, it has 4 5.12 pitches (out of 8 in total) with the hardest being the second pitch at 12d, a stemming corner/finger crack. Rock is solid on this route and most pitches are considerably clean.

With gear beta from Em I managed to flash the second pitch and she sent it second try. We fixed our rope and left the rest of the route for the next day.
On Wednesday, Patrick from Quebec joined us and we went in the route early. Changing leads, me and Em climbed the route and Pat followed on the other rope. I failed in the 11d pitch which proved to be the hardest of all for me! I had a long battle with it, getting wack pumped and scared, but somehow managed until my foot popped just below the anchor. I was still happy with my fight and I got to test my placements with a nice fall, which is good for getting my trad head a bit more sorted.
sorting the gear before the last pitch in Les grand galets
Patrick following in the 11d stemming dihedral
None of the pitches proved easy, but we did the route and rapped on daylight, feeling content after a big day!
Wednesday we were feeling a bit tired, but we still went for a harder route. La Cavale woke me up well with adventorous climbing on mossy terrain in the first pitch. I failed in a slabby 12b pitch, but later managed to send the hardest, 13b pitch (french 8a, I think it's 7c+ though) and Emilie was close to send, I'm sure she would get it in the next lead try (she did it on second later)! We climbed up and skipped the last two, easy and very grassy pitches.
Em following on La cavale

We were feeling good, started rappeling, but then the epics began, all at once: I kicked my headlamp off my helmet while rapping and my rope's sheat tore somehow. So that you could see the white strings of the core, ughh... We improvised a bit and made it to the ground safely. We reckoned we had a good score nonetheless. We already did 5 multipitch routes together (including three in Gros Bonnet) and we thought one epic out of five is pretty normal!

Friday we were feeling well trashed and going for an easier, shorter route before going back sounded nice. Well, Mareé Haute turned out to be nothing like that, with 5 pitches of continous, hard crack climbing (between 5.11d and 5.12b), and a good portion of sand and crumbliness! I was leading every pitch and I think this was my most gripping trad experience so far. Every pitch, got me totally pumped through the whole body and the placements in the sandy crack were not reassuring.
Even though we were aiming to come back by daylight and paddle back in to the bay, our rope got stuck on the rappel. It was just one of those classic, cold-shiver moments when you keep pulling on rope, more and more, until you slowly realise the other thread is not moving. Emilie sorted our shit out with a heroic 60metre jumar up to save the rope.

Emilie feeling good after the offwidth section in Maree Haute, well, she cruised it...
We returned in a eerie canoe ride back in full moon, talking nonsense to somehow keep us awake. We were both pretty trashed.
Landing at low tide meant we had to carry our boat through 100 metres of a muddy floor of the bay. If you go, try aiming to always paddle at high tide!

So this was our Cap Trinite trip. I heard it called as the best cliff of Quebec, and that may well be true (in regard of multipitch, trad climbing...). It gave me a memorable experience and some valuable lessons. Thanks Hugo for providing us with the canoe and Patrick for joining us on Grand galets and the few beers! Above all thanks Emilie for keeping the psyche alive!

I put together a short video of the trip! I'll get it uploaded shortly!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

I'm in Quebec!

 Finally it was time to leave.  Less than two weeks ago I was at home, revising for the last exam of my third year at uni. After I passed that, a whirlwind of climbing, events, meeting people happened and a week later I was sat on the plane which took me to Montreal. I am taking a year off at uni to push my climbing and see the world, and then on 5th of September it finally started, I'd been looking forward to it and planning it for a long time.
First I am visiting my good friends Julien and Felix in Quebec. Besides the sole fact of stepping foot into North America for the first time and the landscape here, I am getting a unique insight into the dedicated sport/trad climbing scene here. Later, I'll be off to Yosemite!

Before leaving, we spent a great three days in Paklenica. We had a mega day with my sister on a big multipitch Nostalgija in Anica Kuk, then a total epic climbing Agricantus, one of the three 8a multipitch routes, while enduring the worst thirst of my life, and finally doing some gripping trad with David the last day.

Nada in Nostalgija,  with the typical Paklenica expression "It's not only 5a!"
proper sandbag yee

Klemen pulling on the crux in Agricantus. What a route! I didn't do it, I have to go back to climb it! Four consecutive hard pitches, all overhanging, with a sharp, powerful crux in the 8a!

Klemen: "I've never fought this hard in any route before."
Well, it definitely looked it! It was a real a muerte day.

happy after having rehydrated!

The Slovenian community has got itself a proper magazine again. I am psyched to have contributed a minor part and really looking forward to see it grow. It's the community, people and stories that make what we do more than just a way to earn your evening beer. If only the people will realise the potential of having an own mag! This one is for you, join in, contribute, give feedback!

Here's some photos from the first few days of my trip. Let' see what my "annee sabbatique" brings ":)
I got myself a new GoPro Hero4 Session which has widened the horizon here a bit :) I hope to get some cool videos from what we'll be climbing! Thanks for reading, leave me a note if you like it or if you're somewhere around!

Montreal. It feels overwhelmingly big!

the crag of Baldy. Short, bouldery routes on cool rock, only 45 min. out of the city (I hitched there!)

climbing Ulysess, a 5.13a (7c+), the best line of Baldy. 

but the real crux is yet to come! almost fell in the slab later. have to get my ass in shape!
Montreal sunset