zondag 13 april 2014

Old project down, new project added...

The day started with a disappointment: due to time constraints we didn't go to Ettringen as planned... But Erik and I did find the time to drive to the Teutoburger Wald and climb there. Now that we can circumvent the strict no-chalk policy with a can of 'Friction+', we can try the hard routes there without worrying about getting finger injuries snapping of slippery holds. We walked straight to sector Schinder, which offers the hardest climbing of the area. Last year I tried the direct start to 'Alien' (making it 7c) and fell of the crux moves at least 20 times without climbing it. Although I knew I could do the powerful dynamic move, I got mentally blocked on it and failed to commit over and over again. Today - about eight months later - I made quick work of it though. It's good to feel powerful!

A screenshot from a video of me in Alien, after executing the crux move (yes, there is a chalkbag on my harness, but it's closed and I did not use any chalk. I carried it up to have a brush for cleaning the holds)
In the meantime Erik started unlocking the sequence of 'Banane ohne Rampe', a logical eliminate of Banane leaving out a big block for the feet, forcing you to climb a much harder line about one meter higher up. According to the first ascentionists Peter and Jan Martin the grade is about 7c+. Erik made good progress while I checked out a crazy combination of Alien and Banane (which involves a very hard slightly down-climbing traverse right after the crux of Alien) and discovered it was a bit harder than I expected. When I noticed that I could do the impossible looking top moves of Banane ohne Rampe relatively easily, I joined Erik on his quest to climb the route. Taking turns, Erik started making serious redpoint attempts while I got completely shut down by a move on small edges before the supposed crux. Lacking the mutant finger strength of Erik, I needed many attempts to find a solution that worked for me: a tricky deadpoint to a crimper. It took all energy that I had left. Eriks dedication paid off though and on an impressive attempt forcing him to dig deep he climbed Banane Ohne Rampe, his hardest ascent in 8 years. Inspiring for sure and very motivating!

A screenshot from a video of Erik looking strong on Banane Ohne Rampe.

woensdag 9 april 2014

One down

Matt and I (and three dogs very happy dogs) went back to Elefantenbäuche determined to get something done this time. As it happened to be quite warm and particularly humid, we thought that holding on to the very friction dependent sloper on Strontium 90 would be impossible and we focussed on Opium fürs Volk instead. To be honest, I expected to do it in two, maybe three attempts. It took more. Moving into the big undercut was much harder than I remembered and I fell twice on that move. The top crux spit me off twice as well, one time literally with a half pad of my fingertips on the jug over the lip... In the meantime, Matt wasn't more successful and we both started to feel the redpoint pressure, contemplating the painful option of having to go home without ticking off Opium fürs Volk.

Finishing the crux of Opium fürs Volk: one more bump up to go to the redeeming jug. Photo taken by Erik during the previous session.
Fifth attempt. Watching my fingers dry after applying the canned magic named 'Friction+' seemed an eternity. With no positions to chalk up on the route, starting with perfectly dry skin makes a big difference. I started concentrated and climbed through the start and the weird, balancy moves on the edges. Moving up to the undercut, my body position was slightly off though and I struggled to catch the hold, but lost my focus in the process. Instead of moving my left foot up first to push myself closer to the undercling, I immediately moved up my other hand, putting myself in a very strenuous position. Wasting even more energy, I corrected my mistake and stepped up. Making the foot moves to prepare for the crux, suddenly 'the flow' returned: I forgot about my tired forearms and focussed on the moves ahead. Almost unconsciously I executed the crux, that suddenly felt awkwardly easy. With a yell of relief I clipped the chains (actually there are just single bolts without backup and no chains in Ith - no 'Deutsche Grundlichkeit' here - but you get the point, right?). Strange how easy hard redpoints often feel on the successful ascent...

Folding up and fiddling with edges halfway up Opium fürs Volk.
Another photo taken by Erik during the previous session.
My success put some additional redpoint pressure on Matt, who usually deals better with the anxiety than I do and wraps ups projects a bit quicker. Not today though and he kept things exciting until his very last attempt. Having nearly given up he reluctantly forced himself to go up one final time. Somewhere he found the perseverance to hold on and sent Opium fürs Volk as well. The first hard(ish) route of the season is down at last! According to plan, more will follow. In the past week though I already missed two opportunities to go back to my 8a project in northern France. I hope I'll have another one soon. In the meantime, I'll try to make some more meters in the upper 7th grade to prepare myself for the 8th grade...

zaterdag 29 maart 2014

Three old men on the rocks

Having an unclimbed project gets on my nerves. I've managed to deal with the fact that there's an 8a closely within my reach waiting for me in Grotte du Brotsch for more than half a year now. Yet I'm obsessed enough with it to still be able to visualize every single move, hold and foothold on the route. Adding 'Strontium 90' to the project collection though was a bit too much to handle: I simply had to get back to it. Luckily, Matt is just as impatient as I am. This time Erik, psyched by the photo's and stories of our previous visit, came along as well, eager to try a 9+ that doesn't realy look that hard from the ground... Somehow that it deceived Matt and me yet again despite knowing how hard both cruxes felt on our previous attempts. Optimistically we shared Eriks hope of ticking off Strontium 90 today.

I'll spoil the ending: instead of finishing one project, we all ended up going home with two. To make things worse: I know I should have climbed the new project - 'Opium fürs Volk' (7c) - on my second attempt, but I wasted the power required for the crux move on an unnecessary clip...

Matt tackling the top crux of 'Strontium 90'. Note his fashionable hair band, doesn't he look just like Patrick Edlinger?
After a couple of attempts on Strontium 90 I felt fatigued again and my fingers were getting sore of the powerful, steep moves on the unergonomic pockets and edges of the first crux. I peeled off a layer of skin from my fingertips by trying the top crux just once. Wanting to do some different moves on different holds, I turned my attention to Opium fürs Volk, half a grade easier but steeper and more sustained, with the hardest move right at the end. After working my way up doing all the moves, I was blown away by its beauty. Every single move is interesting, technical and demanding, feeling much more like bouldering than typical sports climbing. Athletic throws, delicate balancing on small sidepulls (in an overhang!), pinching, beefy undercuts, heel hooks, compression moves and a deep lock-off are all packed within just 12 meters of rock.

Steep power endurance climbing in 'Opium fürs Volk'. Photo taken by Erik.
I completely forgot about Strontium 90 and gave it a serious attempt. I arrived at the crux near the top and still felt strong. An unclipped quickdraw dangled before my nose and the big undercling in my hands was the last good hold until after the crux. I decided to clip, but underestimated the steepness of the wall and as I wasted a few precious seconds on the clip, I felt the energy being drained from my forearms. I struggled to do the first crux move, heard myself scream and managed to do the second. But then I fell, empty. The next attempt was weaker, but (after a small midways rest) I climbed the top without clipping: much better! While Matt and Erik burned away their last energy by failing to climb an apparently silly hard old-school 8 (in Ith 7a's can be hard...), I rested to prepare for a final attempt. As soon as I set off, I found a good rhythm, moving fast, steady and precise. Within moments I found myself at the big undercut again. I skipped the clip, positioned my feet and made the big, dynamic lunge to catch a small, slopey dish with my left hand. I repositioned again and moved my right hand up into the compression position. My feet cut loose, but somehow I managed to hold the swing and get my right foot into the heel hook. With empty forearms, I bumped up my right hand. To my surprise, it caught the small two finger crimp and I didn't feel the weightless sensation of falling. I bumped up again, to the sloper. Again, I stuck it, not knowing where the strength still came from. One more move. Just one more bump up, less than 30 cm, to the redeeming jug. When I released my right hand to move up, if felt my body going down instead. On the last centimeters it failed on me and I started to fall into the void beneath me.

Compression climbing and heel hooking in the crux of 'Opium fürs Volk'. Photo taken by Erik.
Instead of being frustrated by another day without any successful attempts, I felt pleased again. Coming so close at the end of the day after being beaten up already by Strontium 90, I know I can do the route when I get back fresh and well-rested. Opium fürs Volk made me experience the battle to hold on for life when all muscles want to let go, to fight gravity when all the body wants to be pulled down again. After half a year of bouldering and trying to do the hardest possible moves, I had forgotten how indescribably intense and addictive the feeling is. For me, it's the essence of sports climbing and it's exactly for this reason that only climbing hard gives me the satisfaction that I seek. That said, a sustained sequence of 15 to 20 committing moves is enough for me. I like power endurance climbs and I'll leave the 30 meter pumpfests to others... I found a perfect one today and it's a treat to have this project to come back for!

zondag 9 maart 2014

Boulderers on a leash

Cautiously I scrutinize my knot and show it to Matt for a second opinion.
'Is this what it is supposed to look like?'
Matt shrugs his shoulders.
'Maybe... I does look familiar.'
I agree it does, so it's probably good. I chalk up my fingers. They are sweaty, betraying my nerves. I chalk them up again. There's no way back, I cannot chicken away anymore from the route in front of me on this dauntingly high wall.
'Ready?'
'Ready.'
I'm not. But off I go. One move. Two moves. Two becomes four, and four becomes eight. It feels like an eternity and it's hard to concentrate on so many movements.
'I'm so pumped!'
I yell down. I'm at least three meters above the ground when I pass the first bolt. One more move and the fear kicks in: I'm above the quickdraw... One little mistake and the fall could obviously kill me. But bravely I battle on reach the second bolt. And the third. And the fourth. A big rockover move follows, of course above the quickdraw again. Suddenly I face the terrifying runout that leads to the top. It's a slab that requires nerves of steel and precise footwork on footholds that are only just 30 centimeters deep... I keep my cool though and clip the chains of the first route of the day: a 6a+.

The last time I climbed on a rope was August 31, just over half a year ago. Yesterday Matt and I finally tied in again after a winter of exclusively bouldering. The days are getting longer, it's mostly sunny and temperatures are gradually rising above 10 degrees: it's time to try and translate this winters bouldering gains to more power endurance oriented climbs. And in what nearby place better to this than Ith? With a lot of gear and Vienna packed, we drove to 'Elefantenbäuche'. We've both never been there before but the name clearly points out what to expect and the Elefantenbäuche did not disappoint. It's one of the few remaining crags in Ith with a high concentration of hard routes.

The Elefantenbäuche deliver exactly what the name suggest: two 15m high impressive, bulging overhangs offering a selection of hard routes.
According to our guide book, a route called 'Strontium 90' is the best of the crag. At a grade of 7c+ it's not too off-putting to scare us away and we decided to give it a closer look. Long story short: it kicked our asses, bruised our egos and - weirdly - inspired us greatly. The route starts steep and as soon as your feet lift off the ground the climbing is hard. Powerful moves on small edges and strangely shaped pockets that look good but feel terrible lead to easier and less steep terrain. In a big hole a no hands rest is possible using a knee bar. The second part of the route is nearly vertical with a hard crux around two razor sharp mini crimps (just a few millimeters deep) and a perfectly beautiful, very bad sloper. Despite the availability of some good footholds, the sloper felt nearly impossible to hold on to, let alone make a move from. The crimps appeared to be hungry skin eaters, limiting the available amount of attempts drastically. Both cruxes are of similar difficulty (about 7A+/7B boulder I'd say), but they couldn't be any more different.

While struggling my way up Strontium 90 on top rope, I eventually managed to do all the moves. Matt did all but one (moving away from the sloper). Although it would most likely have been a better idea to work the moves some more on top rope, I felt a strong urge to try and make links on lead and get into that mindset again. I haven't even reached the second crux. I got scared on a move at the end of the first where you have to bump up dynamically from a mono to a high two-finger pocket, high enough above the quickdraw to give the feeling of a ground fall potential.  I know rationally that's not the case with a good belayer such as Matt, but nevertheless it shut me down. After convincing myself to man up I tried again. But I felt battered, beaten into submission by the uncompromising limestone overhang and couldn't pull off the moves anymore. Matt experienced exactly the same. Dusk set in and our bodies failed us. We had to pack our gear and start the long, steep walk back to reach the car before dark.

We were beaten up but somehow very satisfied at the same time. The limestone felt completely alien, the types of movement felt awkward and lead climbing felt almost uncomfortable. A typical first session of a new season. What did we expect? Cruising up the hardest route we've both ever done? As strong as I feel bouldering, as weak I felt on a rope yesterday. Route climbing is indeed a whole different game than bouldering, requiring a different set of skills. Should we have started the season with something easier? I think not. We got our asses kicked, we got humbled and above all we got inspired to sink our teeth into a hard project that will make us much better climbers than we are now. We will be back!