Wow what a year…..
Last May I was fortunate enough to land a freelance contract working in Chamonix, France and what a year it turned out to be. In brief I have never climbed outside so much in my life, met so many psyched people and I even managed to climb my hardest grade yet!
I headed out there in May keen to get involved with every single part of the outdoor mountain life style but especially the climbing. That said I was slightly mindful as I hadn’t heard too much about the single pitch sport climbing and bouldering around Chamonix, more about the high alpine mountain routes that it is known for. Though my thoughts were where there is rock there must be sport climbing and bouldering, it might just be less well known. How right I was was untrue…..
Chamonix as you probably well know is a magical and beautiful place but also horrendously touristy at times. Certain routes and spots get overloaded with people and at times it can almost be as busy as parts of central London (haha no not really that busy…), but if you meet the right people and know where to look there is some beautiful climbing which very few people ever do. I was fortunate to meet a dude, Jonny Baker, who lived out there while climbing with Emma Twyford at LPT in North Wales just before I left. This was my in!!!! Once out in Chamonix I managed to meet up with him and the undercover world of Chamonix’s bouldering and sport scene was revealed. I found some truly amazing local spots and help develop some new boulder problems up and down the Chamonix valley. It was a full on summer with 2 evenings a week bouldering and sport climbing pretty much every weekend up and down the valley and even in Italy.
Sport climbing in the Chamonix valley is typically down the mountain in the Arve Valley. There is a lot of large long multi pitch climbing but unfortunately this didn’t really interest me. That said there was more than enough hard single pitch sport to keep me busy. Destinations like Bionassay and Cascades De Doran are amazing overhanging limestone with grades up to 8b. Further down into the next valley near Morzine there was the awesome destination of Foron an amazing overhanging limestone crag full of beautiful pockets. Here I managed to insight my hardest ever sport climb, a beautiful 30m 7c! Take a look at some of the pictures below from these epic destinations. Pictures captured by Final Crux Films (www.finalcruxfilms.com) and Roeland Van Oss.
￼￼After hammering the destinations down the valley at weekend I was keen to find a local spot for after work sessions. I was in luck, just past Le Buet there is a small hidden crag called Couteray. Not known by many but also infamous, it contains Europe’s hardest off width (Thai Boxing). I wasn’t here for that I was here for the 4 amazing lines to the right. There was a 7a+, 7b+, 7c and an 8a+. All about 15m long on amazing crimps and wow did they pack a punch! There was a certain style to this place for sure. In general it was an easy section of climbing into a hard crux sequence with a puppy but not so hard top. Initially I really struggled with getting through the crux’s on all 7b+ upwards routes, it was just a completely different style to what I was used to. Though after a couple of sessions my body clicked with the style and the routes started falling!!! In one evening session I managed to warm up on the 7a+ and then tick the 7b+, 7c and come close to the 8a+. An amazing evening!!! Unfortunately I never managed to completely finish off the 8a+ but I’ll be back for it for sure at some point. See the awesome picture below taken on the 7b+ by Tom Humpage (www.numero97.com).
￼A little further afield but definitely worth the drive was where I ticked my first ever 8a! A truly awe- inspiring crag called Balme De Yenne. This place is down near Chambery and looked very much like it has been picked out of Spain and dropped into France. Routes range form 6a to 9a with an epic cave half way along where can really climb upside down. I wasn’t here for the cave routes though the 20 degree overhanging tuffa 40m endurance pump fests were what I wanted. The 8a I climbed here was a great 7b+ tuffa route with a 15m extension of crimp on a 15 degree over hanging wall. A truly lovely climb. Even though this route was great, the line that really inspired me was an 8a+ further along. It consisted on 20m of crispy climbing into a 10m blank wall with one tufa running up and then a small roof to a 10m top out over a slap on small mono pockets. B-E-A-Utiful! I spent a good few days projecting this route and even spent a weekend down there with top Scottish Climber Robbie Phillips and local London WAD V-Mann. I was psyched to see Robbie send it and that made me want to do it even more. Unfortunately luck was not on my side, or most probably strength and endurance. I didn’t manage to complete it but I’ll be back one day, plus it’s a good excuse to get back out to France.
Worth mentioning is also the climbing in the Aosta Vally just through the Mont Blanc Tunnel in Italy. Here you can find pretty much any style you want on great rock. If it’s raining in the Chamonix valley this is definitely a destination worth looking at as we all know the sun always shines in Italy. Plus the coffee, gelato and pizza are amazing too. Some argue worth the trip alone!!! Notable destination are Gar Est and if you want to crazy overhanging chipped routes but excellent for training check out Sarr Roof.
So what next? My time in France has come to an end and I am now back in the UK. Chamonix was great but I did miss the indoor social and comp scene and the great climbing walls we have. This experience has opened my eyes to climbing and personally I see climbing as two separate sports, inside an outside. I missed the competition element of the climbing while in France and this is something I am keen to get back involved with in the UK now that I am back. The Blokfest series in London is an amazing event and something that I am definitely going to be aiming to train for and compete in next year. My indoor strength is definitely not there right now but time and dedicated training will fix that and I’m psyched to see the improvements!!! Bring on the next chapter!!!!!!