French couple Florence Pinet and Gérome Pouvreau swapped the French heatwave for a British one as they toured the UK in their van this summer. In just a few weeks, the pair headpointed a long list of hard trad classics - a list which any Brit would be rather proud of. Gérome made the 6th ascent of Rhapsody E11 7a and ticked Muy Caliente E9 6c and The Big Issue E9 6c as well as three E8s and a cluster of E7s. Florence also climbed The Big Issue E9 6c, The Quarryman E8 7a, Point Blank E8 6c, Chupacabra E8 6c and Requiem E8 6c.
32-year-old Florence was double French Champion in Lead and Boulder in 2009, and has since racked up multiple hard sport ascents up to 8c+. 34-year-old Gérome was Lead World Champion in 2001 and has ticked numerous 9as and established new routes in France and further afield. In more recent years, together Florence and Gérome have travelled the globe trad climbing, multipitching and exploring new rock destinations in South America, India and Pakistan.
Florence and Gérome's tick-list is surely one of the most impressive feats of UK trad in such a short space of time by visiting climbers. The pair worked each route on a top-rope initially.
It's always interesting to hear what foreign climbers think of our rock. Florence and Gérome wrote some words about each area that they visited and took the time to answer some questions about their trip and what they thought of British trad...
*Answers translated from French
The Slate Quarries
The Quarryman was a great 4-pitch route. We worked the route for two days before we both completed all the pitches on lead in the same day.
The Groove pitch was tricky - it forced us to stay humble and we had to learn to climb all over again! It's not a question of increasing your physical level, but of finding new techniques. There are some jams: hands, feet, knees and elbows in a slippery and exhausting chimney. You end up horizontal, hands on the right and the feet on the left...we put a helmet on! Fantastic, in short - we loved this pitch!
Our timings left us with one and a half weeks here.
°°° Point Blank E8 6c. This was the first route that we did in Pembroke. A superb line with a big reputation. There were two run-outs that were pretty "safe" ...but that's a question of perspective!
°°° The Big Issue E9 6c. This line offers a long and steady overhang, making for a completely new-school route without big run-outs. It was a pure pleasure to climb for both of us, in a crazy environment!
°°° Chupacabra E8 6c. Less difficult on paper, but the reality for us was quite different. It involved technical climbing on small holds with random movements and Friends who disappear under your feet! A good 8a+ in "old school" style. All located in a kind of hole: the famous "Hunstman's Leap" - pretty captivating for some or scary for others! No fall again for either of us on lead. "Yes - it goes!"
°°° Muy Caliente E10 6c. If the difficulty is not too bad, probably 8a+, the run-out involved makes up for it! Fortunately for Gé on the day of the tick, everything came together: beautiful weather, a small northerly wind and one motivated climber. That day, Flo opted to fine-tune the route before going for it. Despite completing it several times on a top-rope, Flo's psyche and the weather didn't combine to result in a lead ascent.
Gérome tried Rhapsody E11 7a. It's a beautiful crack to start with, followed by two very bouldery sections interspersed with a mini rest. Yes, it's hard to climb: the moves are forced, tricky, random and technical. It's around 8c+. Add some pump and a potential fall of 15 metres on two micro nuts...
As for Flo, she climbed Requiem E8 6b. This route shares the same starting crack as Rhapsody, then leaves it before the the final wall on magnificent ramps. This route also offers committing moves above a slightly dodgy nut. If it had blown, Flo would have experienced the same fall as for Rhapsody. It's fitting that the crux is in the last three moves!
After three days of top-roping on completely soaked rock, on the morning of the fourth day, the cliff was dry. Gérome climbed the crack at the start, and continued quite well. He reached the run-out, but fear didn't come into the equation: the pleasure and the desire not to miss his chance took over. He seized the 'life-saver' jug and topped out after the final mantle. Gérome never tested the "massive fall" as the Brits say!
Flo was feeling tired at this point in the trip and fell on her first lead attempt. One good thing - the wire holds! Two days later, Flo ticked Requiem between the raindrops.
The Peak District
We had the duty to climb London Wall E5 6b, one of the 'Great Classics' of the area: a splitter with smooth sides, just beautiful...
Gérome ticked Balance it is and Messiah, both E7 6c. Flo would have liked to climb these too had a favourable weather window come about, but a horrible wind from the south would not leave us alone at the end of the trip.
Why did you choose the UK? Had you already climbed here? If not, what were your impressions of the climbing and climbing culture here before coming?
First of all we wanted to discover a new country and new crags. We like to vary our climbing and British trad was a facet of climbing we knew little about.
Also, British climbing is quite well publicised and we were curious to discover its historic places and spicy routes! We wanted to take a closer look at the well-known ethics to better understand them and confront certain myths. We wanted to experience the sometimes hostile atmospheres, such as climbing over the sea or in the bottom of a hole in a slate quarry! All this creates a climbing character that is quite unique and it's all these reasons that pushed us to travel in our small van on British soil. Oh yes, it was also a good way to escape the heat wave in France!
You are best known for your performances in competitions and in sport climbing (here in the UK at least!) Is 'trad' a relative novelty for you?
We love to vary styles and trad is an essential part of rock climbing that we love even if we do not do it all year long. After the Petzl Roc Trip in Argentina in 2012, we placed our first cams in Patagonia and ever since each year we have been on trad trips. We did a lot of climbing in the US at Trout Creek and Indian Creek...fabulous places. We also climbed Zion classics such as Moonlight Buttress. Then we learned big wall climbing in Greenland, but also on Golden Gate on El Cap and when establishing our route La Scoumoune in Pakistan. Last year, we were attracted by Northern Ireland and made our first trip to the British isles with visits to Fair Head, the Mourne Mountains, Ailladie ... Finally this year our focus has been on England, Scotland and Wales!
Tell us about the places you visited, with a brief impression of each area!
Slate Quarries: We arrived by the Llanberis Pass, what a beautiful place. These quarries are really unusual climbing sites because they are manmade - a very 'grey' place with a rather austere atmosphere. Climbing on slate was a novelty and often confusing and slippery! We loved it!
Pembroke: Just super! Climbing by the sea was great and juggling the tides was a reminder of the strong forces of nature that surround us...
Dumbarton: Oops ...This is the urban site par excellence! After Pembroke, it was hard to be here sometimes surrounded by litter. Fortunately our two challenges were great to climb and we focused on those...and of course the Scottish countryside is really close-by and beautiful!
Peak District: The place is beautiful, the rock exceptional and the climbing often bouldery and unbalanced! Not to mention routes that are extremely committing with the ground never far away!
The rain and the weather ... is it really raining all the time here?! Did you have any problems due to bad weather?
In fact, when we went to the UK we were a little prepared to have bad weather and indeed it is a reality that it rains often! We really learned to be patient and opportunistic so as not to miss our chance although it was not always perfect! We were impressed, the Brits generally are incredible: some even swim in horrible weather, walk in the rain, drink tea on the terrace under the drizzle and the ice cream van serves its customers in 5°c while we - as proper French people - would have preferred a hot crêpe! It was a beautiful life lesson to witness their ability to be active anytime! Back to our trip, the weather was not always excellent for climbing but we managed to do what we wanted on our first three steps of the journey. It was only in the Peak where it really bothered us, but it's the game and we still had a good time. We just did a little too much top-roping for our liking, but for us it was too dangerous to engage in leading in mediocre conditions...
Which routes were the most memorable / your favourites?
In fact, I think we loved all the routes that we tried; they are all memorable and I guess this is due to the commitment of British trad which means that most routes have a lot of character…
The crags you visited were varied. Does that make climbing here a little different, compared to in France?
The big difference is that in France, there are almost no trad sites. As for the climbing/rock style, slate indeed offers a unique and confusing style, whereas at Pembroke and Dumbarton, the climbing there was more conventional for us. Finally, the Peak District is a hybrid between routes and bouldering; there are a lot of balancy moves and the commitment is often unreasonable. It's a style that is rarely practised in France...
What do you think of our 'trad' ethics here compared to abroad?
It's interesting and there is a certain logic. Everyone makes these personal choices, the strict ethics (if we understood it correctly) prefers the climber to choose a "ground up" style, but people are not prevented from making attempts with the protection in place or from top-roping prior to leading; the important thing is to clarify what we do. Trad is not only about the moves but also the search for protection, the difficulty of placing it and also the mental commitment.
The "grit" - is it as good as they say?!
This is not a myth - the grip is incredible and your feet don't slip very often! We loved it, it's one of the most beautiful rock types we've ever climbed...
Do you plan to return one day?
Yes, especially to the Peak where we left some crags and frustrations behind! Then there are many other spots that look great, climbing in the Llanberis Pass, for example, is one of the places we didn't get to know and would be curious to discover.
What are your next goals?
Soon we will leave with our faithful van to visit and equip the columns of Kyparissi in Greece. It's a bit like our end of year trip to the sun in "easy life" mode! Next year we would like to climb Biographie at Céüse and as for the next trad trip, we are still thinking about it!