Saturday, 30 August 2014

Relearning Rock

Cathy on one of our 'new routes' at Reiff, Rap Torr Smith was it?!?
A rainbow of GUM club colour, sheltering from a shower
Getting back on the horse after you've hurt yourself climbing can be a bit of an emotional minefield, well at least it is for me anyway! It was something that concerned me quite a lot whilst I was waiting for my ligaments to grow back properly. You find yourself getting stressed about the possibility of finding climbing stressful. The knowledge that if I fall off again and re-rupture something would be an expedition ender was not very reassuring either. After every climbing injury I've sustained, the question of stopping climbing just doesn't come up in my mind! I just always make sure I learn from mishaps and try to listen to my gut feeling the next time around.

Jo and sunny Reiff rock.
Back home (eventually!) and cast free, my mind turned to my next planned Scottish climbing trip. As Reiff is one of the best places in the world and definitely my favourite trad location, I was keen to get some sort of climbing done. It's also where I learnt how to lead (on an extremely minimal rack!) so I was fairly confident it would be a good place to relearn how to climb too.

Still relying on crutches for 'off-road' walking, I realised that I would need to take cragging super easy! So set myself some rules: no leading, no traverses, no falling and nothing above a VDiff! Following Jo up some beautiful Reiff routes that I hadn't actually climbed before felt amazing. So needless to say three of my rules went out the window within about an hour of putting on my harness... I was just so psyched!
Somehow, it felt sort of liberating to be climbing in Reiff and not putting pressure on myself to climb at my limit. Collecting stars and only climbing things that I felt 100% confident on was actually really fun! For once the climbing was completely enjoyable and not emotionally draining. You get to appreciate your surroundings and company so much more when you aren't fumbling around for a bit of terrible gear.
Starting to go beyond bouldering and learning to lead... about TEN years ago?!
As Cathy and I were struggling to understand the guidebook for the Sea Cliff area, we gave up trying and went and climbed some 'new routes' (They must have been done before?!?) It was really satisfying to use our imagination and choose our own lines up the cliff. Just goes to show, new things don't have to be crazy hard you just have to explore a bit! Finding my own way up a mountain is definitely the most appealing part of mountaineering expeditions.

A quick stop off in Northumbo on the way home, to climb with Charlotte! She did a stunning job of acting as my own personal guide for the weekend, leading the way on a whole host of 3 starred VS's. Bowden Doors (above) is where I shattered my talus five years ago and is definitely a place where I'm aware that falling off hurts.... 

Back to Chamonix for the summer, where I normally do loads of classic Granite Alpine rock routes and go bouldering in the mornings before work. Sadly not quite like that this year... With my autumn expedition to the Tien Shan looming, my main priority has been getting my leg strong again and not hurting myself any more. My Clinique du Sport physio has been amazing, and the idea of having to lie to her about what I was up to definitely helped tone down my activities! Still I got out and did a couple of classic rock routes early on - Papillons Arete with Joel and Le Joyau et Le Lotus with Jack and Eva. 

Jack and Eva, finally near the top of Le Joyau et Le Lotus! NB Turns out it stays in the shade until about 11am in the summer DOH!

Dave on THE hardcore solo of the 2014 Chamonix summer season
The beauty of Chamonix is that there are loads of easily accessible and fairly easy routes in the Aiguilles Rouges, and I've climbed very few of them! So this year was the perfect opportunity to tick a few of them. To continue the theme of enjoying rock climbing, this summer has definitely been made by climbing with good friends and doing some lovely multipitch routes in the Rouges, at Barberine and around Ailefroide. Sadly I've been enjoying the climbing so much I have very few photos of these outings!

Me trying to remember what leading Chamonix granite feels like.... (Jack Doyles photo)
Good to be in the mountains again!

Alright view for a bit of after work cragging!!
A beautiful (if slightly unncessary....) bivouac spot. My first tentless bivvy in about 2 seasons, and Eva's very first bivvying experience!

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Other Side of the Camera...

(photo by Alex Gorham)
The past few months have ebbed away somewhat into a mix of rehabilitation, attempts at acclimatising and other general expedition FAFF! But two weeks ago I did something a bit different and took Jen and Al (from Light Shed Productions) on a whistle-stop tour of my life in Chamonix. The aim was to make a short film for BMC TV and Mountain Equipment, basically about my clumsiness! And then the resultant general stubbornness to get back climbing as soon as I can.
(photo by Alex Gorham)
With the photography and fine art filming side of my brain feeling decidely rusty from Chamonix life, I was pretty psyched to experience how climbing films are made! Nice to have a bit of culture in my mountain life for once. As Jen had sent me the shot-list in advance, I was able to exercise my art brain and figure out where would be suitable locations for all the segments of the film.

Chamonix was either rainy or too bright to see through a camera!
Bonus filming snack...
Predictably, I had a bout of really bad coldsores at the start of the filming week (sunburn and getting caught in a thunderstorm are a winning combination...) So I wasn't massively psyched about appearing on camera, as I looked like I had been punched in the face... But it was good fun to get stuck into the project so I didn't mind in the end! 
The sections of the film that I presumed would be easy were actually a bit more complicated than I expected, and the parts that I was concerned about went super smoothly. Filming road cycling in particular was a lot more stressful than we expected! Especially when I realised my stopping distance had trebled in the wet conditions... In spite of angry 74 plate drivers, neither of us crashed and we didn't cause any collisions either so it was all good in the end! Also, unlike wild camping in the Highlands, pitching a tent in the very steep-sided Chamonix valley also proved problematic. However we lucked out and found an idyllic, if small, patch of meadow next to a mountain stream.
It's actually really hard to make pitching a tent look interesting....(Photo by Alex Gorham)
The alpine section was perhaps the most concerning part of the film for all of us; nowhere is really 'safe' as most of the easy glaciers around Chamonix have crevasses and steep slopes to tumble down. As the newspapers from this summer season show, even very experienced guides aren't immune to tragic accidents. Jen has worn crampons and been mountaineering before, but to strong boulderer Alex, this was a whole new ball game! Although the Midi arete would have been an impressive location, (being a knife edge arete with an 1000m drop on one side) it's definitely not the best place to learn how to use crampons efficiently! Fortunately the top bin to Grand Montets has a set of steps down onto a nice flat glacier so was a much safer and easier venue, but still has a thoroughly spectacular ambience.
Looks like it had been windy up top of GM... Good job the sun came out for a bit!
Alex and Jen already looking like Alpine pros whilst filming on the Petite Aiguille Vert
Shooting on snow is really difficult, especially when the sun is out and the rocks create a big contrast. I was really surprised how beautiful all Jen and Alex's shots were on the glacier. It's always cool to introduce new people to the mountains around Chamonix too. I'm really looking forward to seeing the final edit. I'm glad that I can give something back to the BMC after they have been so generous with grant money for my expeditions. Watch this space for more information of my next one LEAVING IN A WEEK!!

Alpine styling on the Petite Aiguille Verte! Check out Al and Jen's version of events here.