Off the rails

On December 12, 2012

Writings from from the rail roads of Europe as I chug down the tracks of life this November.

Photo: Ed Hamer

So far the French stops have been friendly French farms,

eating mussels, Drinking wine

lunch with my host and hostess,

philosophical French artist and a doctor for the deaf

The first stop was Couch surfing with Nico and Marie on their wonderful project, a sustainable small holding/ centre for the deaf

Harvesting the Kiwi’s!

I am travelling by train between international competitions. I have already competed in the European Championships at the start of my trip, 13 stops from the top. I now journey on to a senior world cup and my last European Youth cup in Slovenia. This marks the end of a 11,000km season of overland travel. You chose which tracks you travel in life and effect what destinations you will reach. As I get to grips with the rail network the more I find that focusing on the destination removes you from the scenery at hand and the faster signal boxes and track controls will pass you by.

This morning my day changed track, the journey itinerary was…rest! That route promised letter writing, blog creating, novel reading, journey planning recovery. A phone call signalled the tracks to change, directing train 4 of my stay in the Pyrenees through 7c+ redpoint 7c onsight and escalated in my first 8a onsight.

2 passengers have been travelling with me for the first 3 days in the Pyrenees. My new friends and neighbours Tony and Sarah Whitehouse, weekend warriors turned world explorers, inspirational in their drive and experiences. My train windows have passed a gentle scenery exploring new crags. The Autumn sunshine framing nostalgic memories of meandering onsight climbs from 7a-7c+. A short schooling on Mr T (8a) was a 2 day destination and a short stop on Super Marsupilami (8a+) is left to be returned to. The mountains have been bathed in rusty gold, speckled with the last of summers greens, a backdrop worthy of my dads paints. Fiery leaves fill the silent spaces with crisp cracks as the last of summer energy falls with them onto the crowded forest floors.

Today was different, the clouds hung low amongst the peaks the colours muted in their joyful fair-wells. My thin and ragged fingertips were welcoming the Gray blanket and I was ready for rest. However a local climber Ivon, rang through! In light of worsening conditions in the coming days the local crew were heading out to an exciting new cliff . Your journeys progress is halted. These are the crucial times when your train is rendered stationary an exchanged for the signal box, you take the leavers and control you your future, you are about to change track, taking on a whole new direction, filling with new passengers, passing through different scenery and leading to unknown destinations.

Instead of a stationary day in my small room with gray mountain weather swirling comfortably outside. I fired the pistons once more and pushed my tired body down another mountain track. I welcomed on board some new passengers and discover a new destination. It would have been easy to stay in, with the valid excuse of much needed rest but even if the standard was possibly going to be low it was an opportunity not to be missed. It soon materialised that the clouds were congregated in my valley of rest only, leaving a prime sunshine conditions on the climbing area. Despite 3 days wear on my wheels the climbing flowed on. I think a combination of a style that suited me, climbing with the local crew and being at an exciting new cliff .

The cloud cleared revealing a beautiful new climbing area. Onsighting Johnnie Walker 7c+/8a Photo. Tony Whitehouse









After warming up with local beta on some good traverses, I almost onsighted the steep and crimpy ‘ Crache ton venin’ (spit your venom) 7c+ thought to be at least 8a by the guys I was with. it was comfortably bagged second go, long moves on small but positive holds over steep terrain. Next I was directed to the classic 8a of the crag Johnnie Walker I am told it is a gift at 8a and I would have to agree but it has apparently held its grade and I am happy to take that from the locals. It suited me well, slightly overhanging technical but on a gray featured streak that showed the holds clearly. It was sustained on slightly overhanging rock into a slab finish, the hardest moves were in the starting boulder and then it was a matter of recovering where you could. It was not far off the style of Femme Blanche (8a+) at Ceuse (another route I did first go, flashed with one piece of beta shouted up at me!). As I climbed I knew I was well suited to this route and the idea of onsighting it kept invading my concentration, it was a good lesson on staying focused. As the angle lessened I became more gripped with the destination but fought to stay with the scenery at hand. Clipping the chains was a mix of relief and elation


To finish the day before the rain really came in I onsighted an amazing 7c called La petite illusion. A soaring corner with ample good holds once the sequence was unlocked. This is probably one of the b

Photo: Tony Whitehouse

est 7c’s I have ever done. I pushed on to battle with the capping boulder problem extension going at 8a putting in a good fight but was thrown down. I will hopefully return to complete this and play on a fun looking artificial route through a blank bulging wall on glued on blocks. Not ethics I would agree too but fun to experience I think.

So sometimes the tracks of life give you choices. It is easy to roll onwards on along the easy route, the destination decided before. I did after all deserve a rest my wheels were aching the fuel tank almost empty and a few well known friendly passengers on board. But when opportunity for a new adventure, new friends and new destinations is presented, who knows how the journey will turn out. 8A onsight has been a goal for a long time and not bad for a rest day. I am really glad to welcome on-board my new passengers Ivon, Steve and John the Arriege ex-pat crew. And looking forward to the end of my stay with Tony and Sarah, the climbing and the good banter this will involve. On Wednesday I set off on the tracks again, first stopping at Venice for 2 nights to break the journey and then onwards to Slovenia for the World cup, more cragging and an EYC. We will see how the scenery unfolds!

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