If you have a hunger for adventurous new routing there are a few places left in the UK but you have to look hard and then there's the weather. We all know about our weather. But if you look east there's a whole continent of unexplored rock. Following on from last years episode, Wide Fetish Golden Boys Do Italy, Tom Randall leads a pack of Peakies to Euroland to repeat famous off-widths and to search for new rock to climb.
In July we reported on Tom and Pete Whittaker's repeat of the Chamonix off-width, Thai Boxing in the UKC news report In Europe and Going Wide, here Tom, now joined by Adam Bailes and Andy Asquith, as well as young Pete, gives us account of the whole trip with a special 20 minute video by aspirant filmmaker Adam Bailes and a geeky list of what they did - they won't be appearing in any 8a.nu ranking anytime soon that's for sure!
This summer, Adam Bailes, Andy Asquith, Pete Whittaker and myself packed our big cams into a van and made our annual pilgrimage to Europe.
As four keen climbers from Sheffield, we've of course spent many days out on our local gritstone edges, and also on many trips to the outcrops and sea cliffs around the UK. Most of our activity has been based around repeating other peoples' routes and rarely on establishing our own lines. This trend is always broken when we cross the border into mainland Europe.
This summer we spent around 30 days in Chamonix and Annot, France, and the Valle dell'Orco, Italy. Chamonix was mainly occupied with the aim of repeating the fearsome offwidth of Thai Boxing, put up by the late American climber Craig Leubben. After a day of working out what we were doing (including two horrendous onsight attempts!) and lots of cleaning off moss and dirt, Pete and I were ready. We both climbed the route twice on the second day - but ran out of battery on the video camera so sorry for the short footage. The route is a great tribute to Craig's incredible offwidth skills and surely one of the best 'get in and Randy Hump' offwidths out there. Those who wish to travel to experience this little beauty should come fully equipped in their offwidth arsenal including; Trout Ticklers, BNPs and Smoke-in-the-Eyes.
After climbing Thai Boxing on natural pro, we decided to remove the bolts as we felt that the route should be left in its original first ascent status – a controversial move I know, but one we feel strongly about.
Next up was a new trad area that was being developed at Annot, in the south of France.
From Chamonix it was a hideously long drive down back roads to find ourselves in new route paradise! This place has got to be seen to be believed. It's Churnet Valley, Nesscliffe sandstone, Cratcliffe and Indian Creek all thrown into one a paradise of unclimbed arêtes, walls, cracks, grooves, slabs, everything in fact. I would conservatively estimate that there are perhaps 1000+ new trad routes to do, from E1 to E10. So many hard and bold projects, it's quite worrying!
The highlight of the Annot trip for me was Pete's ascent of Sadomasochiste Direct. This route is for anyone who has been to Ina's rock in the Churnet, it is like two Thumbelina's stacked on top of each other, with adequate protection and little respite. Pete's ground-up first ascent was a great effort, which saw some good air-time. Adam and I followed up with the second and third ascents, with both of us shaking our heads in disbelief at the quality of the climb.
| First Ascents
Sadomasochiste Direct, E6 6b
The Peninsula Face, E6 6a
Repeats (E5 and above only)
4th and 5th Ascent of Thai Boxing, 5.12c/d or E7 6c (Randall and Whittaker)
After putting up six or seven new routes in Annot, we were desperate to move on from the boiling temperatures of southern France and get stuck into some quality granite over the border in Italy's Gran Paradiso National Park. Home to the famous crack route Greenspit the Valle dell'Orco is also a huge trad climbing canvass. There are so many crags and walls in this valley, it's hard to know where to start. Each day we would set off with saws, a climbing rack and lots of water, to try and put up new lines we'd spotted from the valley below. As with most of our routes, we would try to establish all lines onsight which resulted in some real epics: loose rock, vegetation, ants, no knowledge of the line, and absolutely no idea of the grade! This style of climbing really is the most special for me – to get to the top of a route near to your physical limit whilst operating under these conditions, with failure always licking at your heels, is so satisfying.
I've never seen a grin so big and as long-lasting as the one Adam's face when he'd topped out his first new route!
VIDEO CREDITS: Directed By Adam Bailes, Edited By Adam Bailes with Tom Randall, Produced By Minus Ten production, Voiceover Script By Tom Randall, Filmed By Adam Bailes, Pete Whittaker, Tom Randall and Andrew Asquith. Special Thanks to Jon de Montjoye and Antoine Barbier for local knowledge and many other things.
Some of the highlights from our new routing included; Adam Bailes decking out on Rubber Bones and walking away unscathed, Adam decking out on an uncompleted multipitch new route (he's a dangerous one, that lad!), Adam splitting his head open and refusing to get it stitched up.... there was a trend emerging.
Probably the best climbing effort in Orco came from our young(ish) superstar Pete Whittaker, who made the fifth ascent of Greenspit. What's impressive is that he did this after probably 10 days of new routing with only one or two rest days and with not a single trademark rock-over move anywhere. I'm worried he's lost his touch! Also of note is Andy Asquith's close effort on getting this test-piece done – his valiant efforts at falling off the last few moves are starting to remind me of my own frustrating trials on this roof crack.
As we headed home, it was hard not to feel somewhat dissatisfied. Despite establishing some 20 new single and multi-pitch new routes it was always so clear what lay ahead for us soon. Even more new routes! These areas have huge potential and I really hope that others out there can see that with a bit of motivation and hard work, this kind of trip is possible and lots of fun.