We stood around feeling somewhat self conscious. We didn't know any of the guests who were chattering away intently amongst themselves. They looked pretty comfortable nested on the ample sofas, we did our best to blend in with the decor. Scott, the only one of us to be actually invited to George's party had bailed way before we had even walked through the rain and into the appartment. Ben who had invited Scott wasn't to be seen.. and who was George anyway? It was a sticky situation to be in.
Our day had started much earlier with an early morning dash from Ilkeston to Sheffield. We had a peachy spot overlooking the British Bouldering Comp, if it was quiet we would at least have some quality entertainment. In typical AK style the stand was dressed as visitors arrived, but to be fair, what with running a climbing wall and all, we had a lot on our plate.
Our wall had been designed and constructed by Pete and Jim. Two days previously they had nervously slid under the marquee and pieced together the hexagonal Alpkids on the Blocs wall as close as possible to the competition wall which Percy was building. Percy's wall was bigger than ours and he had better drills, no doubt about that, but it was perfectly proportioned for the purposes we had in mind. It even elicited some complimentary comments from the Bishton crew.
"They have steel!"
Honestly, that's what they said.
As we figured, it didn't take long for the wall to be swarmed by kids eager to emulate what they were seeing on the big stage. Fortunately we had Dan and Pete to round them up, get them stretching and briefing their parents before unleashing them, armed with Alpkit pads, at the 10 problems. Unlike your run of the mill climbing comp ours was to introduce kids and their parents to the activity of bouldering. Each child / parent team received a Phud boulder mat and a chalk bag and were instructed how to place their mat and spot each other safely. We saw quite a few combined tactics during the weekend, but hey, the emphasis was on participation and fun and they were having a ball. The winner of each session bounced away with a copy of the excellent Climbing Gamesbook, we waved them off hopeful that some of these kids would be back in a few years on the main wall.
The concept was working well, it had just the vibe we were hoping for and we were revelling in the moment. It was quite unlike the situation we were to find ourselves in at George's party, but we had a creed to live by, we had stuck our necks out and what do you know but Noddy appeared from the kitchen, things were looking up.
So it was George's party, but who was George? The woody in the corner indicated he was a climber, and from the size of the grips a strong one. It didn't take long for him to find us, well if it was your party you would want to know who was dripping on your carpet wouldn't you? and it turned out he knew a lot about Alpkit. It wasn't long before a mini keg was revealed and we were eagerly helping to drain it.
Sunday morning saw us back at Millhouses Park bailing out our stand. It would be nice to think that the shear weight of visitors had caused the basin that became a reservoir over night, but honestly at this event we seem to be cursed.
It was great to see some members of the Nottingham Junior Climbing Team competing for the very first time at the BBCs. They didn't appear to be displaying too many nerves under the spotlights and in front of the crowds. It looked like they were having a lot of fun and sure got stuck into the CragX pull up challenge.
Many thanks to Matt, Percy, Graeme and the Cliffhanger team for putting on a great comp, it kept us running backwards and forwards from our gazeebo until the end. Mark from Chunky Monki and Scott from Extreme Dream for the after hours company, and of course George for letting us crash his party!
Pulling into Serre Chevalier Pete didn't much care about setting up camp. He instructed The Driver to pull off into a side road and park up. A setting sun cast it's long shadow over the climbing arena and it's central towering wall. It was the Serre Chavalier climbing world cup, so it would have been rude not to have taken a ringside seat.
It had been a long and hot drive from the UK so it didn't take The Driver long to sniff out pizza and for Pete to get his hands around a chilled beer. The wall was now lit up with several well toned athletes at it's foot, miming the moves they would hope to be performing later. Mrazek, last seen partying hard in Friedrichshafen less than 7 days ago was amongst them. He had had a good week by anyones standards.
"Allez, allez, allllEEez!"
Proceedings were definitely exciting the crowd. Fireworks burst high above the arena each time a climber topped out, sometimes they were just set off for the hell of it, or maybe the fireworks guy just didn't have a good view of the wall and was chancing his luck. Even Pete, ever sceptical about such spectaculars had to admit the Serre Chevalians had put on a good show. Camp at Ailefroide was reached eventually, much much later. After 24 hours on the road, an hour here or there didn't matter any.
The comp had been an unexpected bonus, the pair were actually in France to run a 'DryIce session' at the Tout a Blocs bouldering festival in L’Argentière la Bessée. By the time they pulled into the village the TAB crew had already erected the new modular FFME blocs and were putting the finishing touches to their boulder problems. They looked cool, they did cool well out here, but they were not suitable for the FigFour tools. DryIce required more positive holds so Pete who was no dumb milky toothed kid when it came to route setting, pulled out his allen key. Pete had done his time at the Dundee wall and fuelled by a diet of Pain got stuck straight in. His henchmen, Franky 'Babar' Lombard, Maty Maynadier and The Driver worked together to create four routes which would draw the internal tooler out of the unsuspecting boulderers; powerful layaways, figfours, dicey matches and long extensions. The scene was now set and Pete was buzzing.
As competitors registered for the main event, the TAB open, they were confronted by these strange British guys waving around pickless axes. Unable to explain themselves in the local tongue, they could well have ended as the butt to many a joke, however they adapted and adopted the universal language of climbing gesticulation. Endearing themselves to the good humoured and genuinely interested crowd the session was well received, giving many climbers their first taste of dry tooling and seasoned toolers something new to think about.
With DryIce in the can the team turned their attention to the TAB comp. The format was simple, 46 problems in 2 sessions split over 2 days. The problem, as ever, was to be the heat. Pete was used to being top muscle on his home turf, but this was continental. He could hold his own over a round of Alphand, but cranking for 3 hours in 30C heat would prove to be one spoonfull of porridge too far.
You see The Driver, who was no stranger to the format, figured that a short period spent at altitude would give them a competitive advantage. And so the team set off at mid day to the Glacier Blanc refuge. 3 hours later with just 2 hours until their session was to begin Pete was recovering in his tent. The cards were now stacked in favour of The Driver who had taken suitable precautions.
To say that The Driver had capitalised on Petes inexperience to take the lead on the first day is true, however I wouldn't want you to think that it had been a deliberate ploy on his part. He couldn't have known that Pete was not equipped with either a sun hat or sun glasses. The spirit of the event was friendly but if you should have any doubts over his motives you should balance them against the kind act of encouraging Julianne and Sophie McCarron to enter, who at age 10 and 8 were the youngest to compete, and win the charmingly named Microbe category. With his karma readdressed and stars aligned The Driver was blessed with his first glimpse of Alizee Dufraisse since the 2003 Rockmaster.
"Allez Alizee, AllIIIZEEEEE!!"
Pete took control of the second day, suggesting complete rest as alternative preperation. The team stayed out of the sun and ate well in the cool shade of the Ailefriode camping grounds. A glass of wine helped lunch go down and a Gibbon line session provided the lightest of post lunch warm ups.
Down in L'Argentierre a live band provided the soundtrack to the second session. Despite rubbing shoulders with some of the competition big cheeses it was a below par performance from the Alpkit team. A punctured finger tip in the final hour put The Driver out of the game, still it was better than last year when he hoped away with a sprained ankle. Pete had recovered some of his mojo but was still suffering from the heat.
If there had been a family prize it would have been won not by the McCarrons but by Team Tribout, but there wasn't so they had to be content with their tally of individual prizes. The Alpkit team were destroyed but tanned and still had an extra week left for some real climbing!
Hard Rock Festival
The tent was up, they were fully fuelled and they were in Devon.
A shifty figure shuffled about in the back of teepee while the crowd sat in anticipation. "Have you seen him talk before?", "Oh he's just so funny..", "Did you know he's from Hull?" were just some of the comments going around the giggling crowd. Andy Kirkpatrick kicked off the 3rd Hard Rock Festival with a presentation based around his recent ascent of El Cap with Phil Packer. Actually it wasn't just about Phil, there was also a lot about Andy's partner Karen but needless to say it is better to hear it straight from the horses mouth.
We were down for the festival, we had sponsored the film festival and we wanted to do some climbing. Thanks to Mike from The Mill Adventure Centre we had a guide book and shoved our noses straight in it. We had fooled him into thinking we climbed hard so he sent us out to Lower Sharpnose. Remember what we said about less strategy and more activity? He had called our bluff, it had gone too far and now we had to see it through. A short drive out to GCHQ and we were wandering aimlessly through thick gorse bushes and heading towards the sea. Being from Ilkeston we didn't have any sea cliffs at home, but we knew the tides were important for all sorts of reasons. We were proud that we knew low tide was 16.30 and we were so on it. Unfortunately the one thing we had not allowed for was Nick forgetting his rock boots.. game over, car, food, drink and back to The Mill for an appointment with Tim Emmett.
It wasn't long before two familiar looking vagrants turned up. It was Dan and The Captain arriving just in time for the talk. Tim took us on a lively journey through his recent escapades. We could see that Tim had put himself in many extreme situations, but even with all the experience he has gained over the years, he must have felt his comfort zone compromised when the following morning The Captain caught him in the toilets with his pants around his ankles. Technology has its place, but placing timed light sensors in the toilets is not one of mans brightest ideas.
The competitions got going Saturday morning. Think of a category and you had it.. boulder, lead, speed, dyno and dry tooling.. After my TAB experience I was all for joining them but apparently we were on a trad quest so we brewed a coffee and headed out to Baggy Point. The weather was uncertain, but it held (more or less). We had arrived a couple of hours early so we left the tide doing its thing. As we sat on top of the point light squalls raided the coastline, gulls floated overhead and cormorants sat on rocks discussing the cricket. We could have got carried away by the beauty of it all, but we did actually bag a route before darkness fell.
Back at'mill we caught the end of the dyno comp. There were some tired looking folk, we were hungry but had to wait for Dan to collect his prizes. We made a note to sponsor less able climbers in the future.
By the time we had eaten we had missed Scaramoose. That was such a downer but we still had another 2 bands to savour. They were awesome, but by the time they had finished the crowd was demanding more. Step forward the Alpkit Air Tunes Band, eagerly supported by several of the talented Hard Rockers.
You can only play air for so long.. and so it was on to the cheekiest challenge to come out of this summer.. the Alpkit Pebble Pinch Challenge. With so many climbers in attendance finger strength was always going to be a highly valued commodity, and our supreme test of gription would surely bring out the bull traders. 5 unlikely looking stones stood between punterdom, instant fame and £20 of MC Nicks personal wad. Nick's confidence was well founded and he was able to convert his prize money into beer later on. Other events to test our super human strengths included the keg lift, the beer bottle extension and everyone favourite.. musical girls.
By now we were well beyond last years party shut down, a milestone in Hard Rock history and a testament to the work Keith puts into the organisation each year. Despite the hour a lot of people were showing good endurance. Dan and The Captain wooed the late nighters onto the Gibbon line to greet the sunrise with Rose and acrobatics.
Sunday came around unsurprisingly quickly. By now a lot of the festival goers had quite literally gone, but what was surprising was the number of people still pushing hard and ready to crank through the second Alpkit DryIce session (remember the first in France?). We set 4 routes in The Mill cave, an ideal location in which to bust some powerful and strenuous moves.
Lying back exhausted on the crash mats, we thought it had been a great way to end a special weekend. We could have hugged, but instead we got a cup of dough balls and headed home.
Being a player in the global online retail space has it's advantages. Almost anyone, anywhere in the universe, although preferably on planet Earth can place an order.. and we don't even need to be in the building. But if that was all we did we would never get to meet any of the interesting people who buy our stuff. So we sat down, mulled over the problem and identified a creed which we could adhere to; 'less strategy, more activity'. And that's how it is, we unplug ourselves from the virtual world and take par