Secret Aims of Valley Cragging

We have been based in Chamonix for the best part of a month and have so far had some great adventures in the mountains. That said, there have often been down days where rest is required and there have been as many, if not more, bad weather days where restlessness is acquired. The past few days has fallen into the latter, and therefore I thought I would write about our sport climbing in the valley, to try and alleviate this growing restlessness by hiding in the van from the rain, and writing.


Climbing in the Bourgogne region

We spent the better part of 2 weeks in the Bourgogne region, hitting up crags all over the area, which was predominantly limestone single pitch climbing. This part of the trip was used to lay a foundation of strength in our climbing ability. Before we set off for the trip we had tried in vain to gain some semblance of climbing strength at a local wall, however this was continuously hampered by elbow tendinitis that continued to flare up. Even at the start of the trip I was made aware that after weeks of rest, it was still apparent and therefore I would need to climb light and try and rebuild my climbing from the bottom up.

So for the most part I climbed on the lower grades, sticking in the fours and lower fives. The problem with these grades is I know I can climb them, so an element of adventure is lost before even setting out. Although this tedium was tolerated in the knowledge that it should be helping me to strengthen tendons and ligaments that were obviously weakened. It would also help my major muscle groups that had not been pushed and tested as frequently as this for many years. Even with climbing in these low grades you can still get a shock, as a couple of routes were stiff in the grade, and one 5b I attempted turned out elsewhere to be graded 6b, so occasionally I would be pushing myself and my grades.

5c at Forresters

All of this built up and led us to the Alps, where in the mountains we have been climbing at a steady AD – D grade, which is suiting us just fine and is higher than what I have climbed in previous years, where I have predominantly stuck to the PD grade routes. However down in the valley there has been a secret plan at work, one which was not intended to be implemented at this part of the trip, however it has started to develop without me even planning to.

When this trip began I made aware to people, that one aim was to be able to climb 6a comfortably. Now those who see this grade as a walk in the park may not get this, however those who know that 6a is often a giant leap in grade from the fives will get it, and making this transition in my climbing has always daunted me. I have occasionally scraped at the sixes at the end of a weeks holiday, so I knew it was achievable, however after months and months climbing it should be a grade well within grasp. So far this has been the case, and we have both ticked off multiple routes with 6a grades and it is becoming the target grade at each crag we visit after warming up on the lower grades climbs. We have even ventured onto multi pitch routes, which we would not have at the start of our trip and overcome them all.

Abseiling after struggling over a 6a+ overhang!!

A few years ago I read the book ‘8 out of 10 climbers’ by Dave Mcleuad, and plucked out a few points that might help with my climbing. The first of which is he stated the importance of climbing in the same area, repetitively, until you felt comfortable on the rock. Whilst we have been in Cham, we have been parked near the town so, although busy, Les Gaillands is the obvious choice of climbing destination as it takes only a few minutes to get there and dries uber fast after rain (which seems to be here more often than the sunshine). We have been climbing here 4-5 times in the last couple of weeks, in between mountain days and and the positively shit weather. We plan to continue to climb here, ticking each route and working through those of higher grades.

The second, is one that we have nearly turned into a joke, is 4%. Each time you struggle you need to remember that you still have at least 4% extra left in the tank, and it is this that you need to draw upon to push on through and move onwards and upwards, 4% more effort will enable you to push on past the problem and help achieve higher grades. Unfortunately, when you are holding on for dear life, and someone at the foot of the climb casually states that all you need is 4%, then you can often verbally retaliate that they can shove 4% where the sun don’t shine.

Jess following up the Arete climb (6a) in the Frendo area

And the final point follows on just nicely, falling. The fear of the fall is often what stops us pushing to a maximum. I have often thought that I could climb something, however the fear of the fall halts any further progress. Sometimes this is justified, depending on the ground below, spikes and ledges would often lead to a bad day at the office, I am predominantly talking sport here, as falling on trad has never worked out well for me. So if you fear the fall, then this is exactly what you should do, given that it is safe-ish to do so. That way, when you do, you will understand that you will survive and that the next crux move can at least be attempted, and hopefully overcome without an unjustified fear.

One thing that is apparent, is that climbing every available day has made me become more relaxed on the rock and less anxious of falling or the dangers that often build up in my mind. I continue to try and keep my mind at ease on routes, and concentrate on each pitch at a time. In the past I have often got angry with routes, or more my lack of ability on routes and this has very rarely helped, although ocassionally it has given me the grunt to push on through.

Jess at a belay in the Frendo area, the Aiguilles Chamonix in the background

So all this has something to do with valley cragging? And a secret? Well I have been trying to use this information above to work my way through the grades, as I said earlier we have been steadily ticking off 6a grades in the crag, each time we have climbed there we have made sure that we only climb grade 5 and above, to keep us climbing hard. As well as this, we have started to advance and have added a couple of 6a+ grades, that have again, pushed us further, although on some we have had to have a rest enroute to keep our strength up for the crux move.

More recently still, I decided to have a go at a 6b+, and although I was blowing out on the crux move, with my leg wedged in a crack, slipping as I was reaching for the next hold, feeling very insecure, I did make the move and was so happy that I had done it, the first 6b+ that I have climbed. All of this pushing of the grades is another step towards my secret goal of the trip, I would like to try and climb a grade 7 climb. This is a massive step in my climbing, and although goals should be realistic, this one is a push. However, if it was easy it would not be worthwhile, if I ever get this grade, or anywhere near it, then it would a great achievement in my climbing. For all this talk of grades etc, I am enjoying the freedom of climbing and irrelevant of the grades of each climb, it has been enjoyable, and long may it continue.

Jess following up Gertrude (5c)

I just need to ensure that I continue to implement the few pointers above, don’t get injured and keep working hard and hopefully I can continue to push the grade. I may falter in the fact that the only training I’m doing is climbing itself and not a specific training program, we shall see how far this can take me before I peak. This ‘training’ is being hampered by the weather, for a few weeks we have had varied weather that have stunted our opportunities for cragging as well as getting up the mountains, although I’m confident thatw e will soon get a decent few days for both mountaineering and crag climbing.

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