Moggy at the cattery, CHECK. Fridge defrosted, CHECK. Passport in top pocket, CHECK. Car full of ‘essential’ gear, CHECK. August is holiday time for most of us and with two short trips to the Pays des Ecrins already in the bag we have made an early start; the rivers are flowing high and the weather is spec-tac-u-lar.
I joined Dan for the drive down to Briancon, a long featureless drive until reaching Grenoble where the mountains suddenly reach out, grab you by the short and curlies and give you back the will to live. From here the views only get better.. that is unless you arrive in darkness.
We were in the area for the Tout a Blocs climbing festival. Alpkit had already attended TAB for the past 3 years as a sponsor, but this was to be my first experience as a participant. Team Alpkit athletes Beth and Ashleigh had led the way last year and to be honest I had regretted not taking part myself.
In retrospect it would have been better arriving a day or so earlier, a two day bouldering comp the day after 18hrs in the car is not the best preparation. Nonetheless the weather was perfect, the blocs looked great and the place was buzzing with 400 competitors!
The qualifying round included 46 blocs and we had two 2hr 45 min sessions split over two days in which to climb as many as possible. Each day included 5 rounds which gives you a good idea of the intensity of the festival. To give everyone an equal chance the time of the sessions were staggered, so if you climbed at midday on the first day you climbed in the morning on the second day.
With this many problems and temperatures hovering around 30?C tactics play an important part; some easy blocs to warm up, try some harder ones to see how you are going, work some of the really hard ones to see if you might get them the second day or just clean up on all the ones you know you can do.
The scoring system is interesting. You get as many attempts as you have stamina which promotes a very sociable event. Each bloc is worth 1000 points divided by the number of climbers who climb it, so if 10 climbers top out each one would score 100 points. The climbers who risk all going for the most difficult blocs also have the chance of scoring big and making the final!
I started slow on the first day and had a lot of ground to make on Beth who had finished in one of the earlier rounds. I was failing to close blocs which I would have hoped to get first time and my goose looked to be cooked when I fell badly between two mats and sprained my ankle. At this point I should have walked away but I was really psyched for it. I finished strongly getting my last top right on the bell. Dan managed some of the most difficult problems but none of us got near the final, the field really is world class.
And there is the thing, you will really have a great time if you climb 6A, 7A or 8A the route setting is really excellent at every level. I was climbing next to some of the best guys and girls in the world but never felt intimidated or short of stuff to go at.
I am now back in the UK with my elephant foot resting on a plastic box. Beth has moved on to Ceuse and Dan is passing through Chamonix on his way to the Matterhorn with plans of adding a sit start to the Zmutt route.