Kitten Mittens Project

Kitten Mittens Project

Monday, July 13, 2015

Biographie and other short stories

I have some pictures but unfortunately I'm having trouble loading them into the blog. Also, I typed this all out on my iPad, so I apologise for any grammatical mistakes. It's tricky to edit a document on a small screen. Anyway, here it is. Ceuse part 1.

So Ceuse is pretty cool. This is my first trip to Europe and it has not been a disappointment. A few years I go I tried to get here, booking my ticket with the idea that it would give me something to save towards. As the days to my departure grew less and less, so to did my bank account. I the end I worked out $150 wasn't going to be enough for 3 months overseas. Heck, I'd have been lucky to survive a week. I have a weakness for fine wine and well aged cheese you see. Not quite, but you understand what I mean. I had no money!

Anyway fast forward two years and here I am. Sitting in Les Guerins campground waiting on the stove top to brew me another cup of the good stuff. It's a rest day so the pace of the morning is slow. Although even climbing day mornings have a slowness to them. Biographie sector doesn't come into the shade until 1, so sleeping in until 930 has become routine.

We, Nate and I, have been here for nearly 3 weeks now, I'm not sure where that time has gone. Lucy was with us for the first 2 weeks but has now left to compete in the Lead World Cups. The first week of climbing here I felt clunky and unnatural. I think a combination of travelling, no sleep, a new style of climbing, oppressive heat and trying to work out how much food and water you need for a day up there all combined to create one tuckered Tom.

My plan for this trip is to try Biographie, 9a+, 36. After my first indoor climbing session as a Gecko, the under 12s program at Urban Climb in Brisbane, I went to a family friends house to borrow a harness and some shoes. They had introduced us to climbing. There, Pete showed me a video of the best climber in the world doing the first ascent of the hardest climb in the world. Chris Sharma on Realisation. I didn't really have any idea what rock climbing was about at that stage and watching that video blew my mind. My vocabulary and writing skills aren't nearly developed enough to describe how that video made me feel. When Chris did the double left hand bump to the victory jug and let out that victory scream, my whole body got chills. I still get chills. For me Biographie is, and forever will be, the epitome of hard sport climbing. It just is.

Here's a quick history run down of the route if you don't already know. When the line was bolted in 1989 by Jean-Christophe Lafaille it was given the name Biographie. In 1996 Arnaud Petit, who I have spotted 3 times at the cliff now!, put in a new anchor half way up the wall and climbed it cleanly to there that year, calling it Biographie and grading it 8c+, 34. This left another 7m of pretty hard climbing still to be done. In 2001, Chris Sharma climbed the whole route to the original anchor put in by Lafaille and called it Realisation. This became the first 9a+, 36, in the world. Since then the anchor put in by Arnaud has been taken out and now the entire route is referred to as Biographie. Climbing the whole pitch is my goal.

The idea that one day I could be in a position to actually try this route was, I thought, an intangible dream. But as the years went by the idea of maybe one day getting on it became slightly more real. Until one day I felt like I had done enough climbing to actually have some business being on it. Not just being some flop cake trying to skull drag their way up a wall.

In the months leading up to the trip I tried to get out as much as possible and climb as many routes as I could. I got a training program off Lee and did my best to get in shape.

My plan for once I got here was to not muck about wine and dinning the thing. Just begin the pigheaded siege. This didn't go to plan. We arrived to a monumental heat wave. Rendering anything on holds that weren't in someway in cut, pretty hard. after a few days I decided I needed to get on it. Although it was hot I couldn't wait any longer. I was too excited. On my first go up I did most of the moves and made my way up to the anchor. I was really psyched to have gotten to the top. Sitting in my harness after clipping the chain I realised this was the beginning of what will be a big journey.

In the first week I had a couple of sessions on it, working out moves and stitching together bits and pieces. The heat wave, however, kept on keeping on. Each day hotter than the one previous. Moves I did first or second go on my first time on the route I could now not even touch. So I called off my attempts until a breeze arrived. It's a frustrating thing, but it's all part of the process.

After two weeks there was finally a reprieve in the weather. Temps got as high as 40 degrees in Sigoyer and the only wind about was a manufactured tail wind, if you catch my drift. So when the forecast predicted 27 one day and 25 the next with some legitimate wind, the whole camp ground was a buzz. People even started breaking their record for the walk up! Not a bad way to begin your day.

Biographie on these days was magic. I was grabbing the holds and they held onto me. Inviting me to try the next move, then the next and the next. I was finally able to start working out sequences and proper bits of beta. Previously it was more about fighting to hang onto the wall by any means.

The route breaks down into about six sections. The first four move boulder problem is meant to be about V9. I've not tried it yet as it looks vicious on the skin and good skin is worth more than Saffron in these parts. I'll try it next day on. From the end of that boulder to the flake rest is a nine move sequence at about V6. This takes you to the first rest, the flake, and the end of the first section. From the flake there's quite a tricky 10 move sequence on two and three finger pockets. You can't release any tension in your body during this bit. Everything from your fingers to your toes are working hard to keep you on. I think it's probably about V9 through there and it takes you to the start of the next section, the toilet bowl rest. It's only that its a big slopey open hand bowl that you think of it as a rest. It gives your fingers a reprieve from pocket pulling, but doesn't do much to rid you of pump. From here there's another nine move V8 on pockets and edges to take you to the rest were Arnaud put in the '96 anchor. Another rest that isn't much of a rest. You need to be holding the holds quite actively at these rests. There's no place for dragging and hanging on them. A nine move V5 sequence takes you to the next rest and what marks the start of the redpoint crux sequence. This is the best rest on the route, however it still isn't much. Four intro moves lead you up to staring down the barrel of the move that Biographie is perhaps most famous for, the stab for the left hand pocket. Get the pocket well and there's another six moves between you and the victory jug. The whole crux sequence is probably only V8, but the pocket stab move is quite hit and miss and so it can feel quite tricky. Take the victory jug and its glorious grade 25 climbing for 10 meters to the top. Probably easier than Madge McDonald. That's it. Pretty cool route really. None of it is desperately hard off the rope, it's more about executing the moves perfectly and having the forearms to keep pumping through to the next half shake.

I've been pretty happy with my progress so far. On the first day of good conditions I climbed from the end of the first boulder off the ground to halfway into the pocket sequence after the flake rest. Then overlapped from the start of the pocket sequence into the toilet bowl. I sat on the rope for a bit and after a couple of false starts, then linked from the toilet bowl to the original anchor in one section as well. I was frothing on this as it felt like it was the first proper links I had put together. A really encouraging milestone to have in my pocket.

The next day conditions were just as good and so I jumped on twice. Both times figuring out more intricacies and becoming more familiar with it all. Both times I linked through from the toilet bowl to the next rest. On my second go that day I decided to pay some more attention to the upper redpoint crux. I'd stuck the pocket move once or twice before but hadn't managed to move from it. I would just be hanging on, not really sure what to do next.  It's a weird hold to grab. Front two with a thumb catch that you need to pinch together immediately. Not quite as secure as you'd hope. After some playing around I figured I'd have to do the finger jump trick that Chris does. Grab it initially with the front two, then quickly readjust to get the ring finger in and stack the middle finger on top of the index and ring. Then you stab your left foot way out left and cross your right hand over yourself as quick as you can, snatching for the next edge. Once I worked that out I linked through the whole crux section for the first time. It was surreal. A sequence of holds I had dreamt about and watch be climbed so many times before, I had just climbed. I felt quite emotional hanging off the victory jug at the end of that sequence. I think it was then that I realised I could climb this thing. One day I will be grabbing that jug on link and letting out a victory scream of my own.

There have been a couple of people trying Biographie over the last few weeks. Jon Cardwell, who was coming to the end of a two month stint when we arrived, and some French fella who was trying the 8c+ version. The French guy never had much to say as he steamed passed you on his way to the route for another attempt. His girlfriend chasing after him carrying his climbing gear and drink bottle was however, quite friendly and talkative. We called her Smiley. She later told us he was trying to loose weight and not eating. We called him Grumpy. It was good to watch Jon and Grumpy on it. Although I have watched every video of the route countless times, actually seeing someone on it in person you can really see what they are grabbing, how they are grabbing it and what their feet are doing. It was a big help in trying to work out my own sequences. In the end they both had to leave, neither of them coming away with a redpoint.

But enough about Biographie, there's several bucket loads of other amazing routes on this cliff. Each day I have tried to do a couple of new ones. It's amazing to be at a cliff and have every single route be a new one. I end up running around like a dog with two cocks. It's overwhelming. There have been a few routes I've wanted to onsight or flash, but with the heat sticking around for far too long I decided it would be better to just get on and have a crack anyway. I've redpointed a couple of things like La Femme Blanche, 8a+, Carte Blanche, Les Collonettes and La Couleur du Vent, all 8a and onsighted a couple of 7c+'s. I'm pretty psyched to tick off a couple more things before heading off in two weeks.

Overall, Ceuse is a fairly user friendly cliff. The walk isn't nearly as bad as I was thinking. It's a pretty steady one compared to places like Flinders Cave in QLD. The campground is green and nicely shaded if you pick the right spot, delicious Pizza at La Fressinousse is only a short drive away and Gap has all the food and outdoor shops you can poke your walking poles at. Plus all the routes are top notch. I guess that's why it's been so popular.

However due to the heat, we think, it has been relatively quiet this season. We heard stories from previous years of cars not being allowed into the campground due to space being at such a premium. Even of people being turned away. The crowds may also be staying away due to far reaching stories of this years' inhabitants general uncleanliness. Dish cleaning sinks being left with a meals worth of tinned meat and pasta in the plug hole, rubbish left to find its own feet to walk itself to the bin, some of the most outstanding skid marks I have ever seen left in more places than just the toilet and the unfortunately ever present mud monkeys being snapped off not half a meter from the track. The daring of those participating in the later of these need almost be congratulated. There's being caught with your pants down and there's that! I'm not sure if these behaviours are shared by one particular type of person or perhaps a few. If I were having a double rest day I would go and interview people and perhaps knock up some sort of technical Venn diagram to illustrate the data. I suspected there's a connection between the skid markers and the path squatters.

The biblical plague like number of flies may also be keeping the masses away! There is no single place to get away from them. Despite my best efforts to keep them out of my tent, swotting flies has become part of the night time ritual. Fitting in neatly between brushing my teeth and getting into my sleeping bag. Even when taking a wiz at the crag they get in the way. On one occasion there were a few particularly pesky bastards that ended up flying too close for comfort. I tried to swot them away but theres only a small amount of waving about you can do when at full stream. Pissing on yourself isn't the most graceful thing. One little bugger got himself caught in the stream, which felt like a small piece of pay back until the physics of the situation took over. The splash back went everywhere. Shoes, shirt, pants and hands. I guess the flies had the last laugh with that one.

All in all it has been a great trip so far. I'd rather the heat than the rain and the flies, I guess they're better than mozzies. These trips always go quicker then you think and you always want more time. But I am missing my girls and very much looking forward to giving them a big hug again. FaceTime isn't as good as the real thing. I'm really excited about the time I have left, hopefully there's more cold windy days to come and I can pull a few more things together. I'll try to get another blog out before the end of the trip with more of an update of whats been happening. Until then, au revoir.


  1. Nice one Tom. Good luck with that Biographie thing! ;-)

  2. Great iPad skill cos. I enjoyed to also see the campside stories that come along the path. Alller Tom.