Sunday, 14 August 2011

Highlights from Font and N Wales

I've got very lazy about this blogging malarky of late.  I have however not been so lazy in other areas.  There's been a lot of work stuff occupying my time and there's been some walking and rather more cycling to work, which the dedicated reader will recall involves crossing Stanage before descending down into Hathersage.  In the last couple of weeks, families of grouse have been in evidence above Stanage Edge, running about like refugees fleeing a war zone, as if they knew that the glorious twelfth was about to seal their fate.

At the end of last month, I took my son Joe and two of his mates over to Fontainebleau, just south of Paris, to do some bouldering.  Font (as it's known to English climbers and Bleau by the French ones) has long been a climber's Mecca but I'd never been to the area before.  I knew it was a series of boulders in the forest but hadn't realised just how many boulders and how big the forest.  There are in fact a couple of dozen areas spread over something like 50 sq kms.  The boulders are typically 3m to 4m high and are of rounded sandstone (so the rock feels a bit like crags in Northumberland) and too hard for me but the boys had a good time.

The lads on a boulder problem

Cul du Chien (head of the dog)

One of the 'beaches' at Font

We visited the Trois Pignons area, which has half a dozen groups of boulders in close proximity.  I spent my time cycling on some of the sandy trails through the trees and getting lost.  I'd set the GPS onto a datum suitable for France but the IGN map I'd bought in the local InterMarche wasn't a good scale for navigation on forest trails.  On the last afternoon, I found a detailed map on a notice board in the car park.  Doh!  Technically, the cycling isn't hard (unlike the bouldering) but I managed to break a spoke.

Typical sandy track through the trees

The useful map I found just before we left!

From Font we drove to the Lleyn peninusla in N Wales and stopped in a  field of sheep above the cliffs at Tudweiliog.  The parents of one of Joe's mates have been going there for years and were already set up by the time we arrived.  I'd only planned to drop Joe off there and then come back to Sheffield but in the end I stayed on for a week.  I got some more cycling in, during which the front gear changer spontaneously fell apart, leaving me with low gears only, which at least meant I could go up hills even if my top speed was limited to 14 mph. 

Our campsite at Tudweiliog

Joe and I did a couple of multi-pitch trad rock routes over in Snowdonia, taking alternate leads and doing the sort of climbing I was more in tune with.  Our first route was Faith, a popular VDiff on Idwal Slabs, off the Ogwen Valley.  The climbing is easy but it gave us a chance to sort out our multi-pitch technique. Joe is new to this and I haven't done much climbing since 1992 .  It all went like clockwork and the scariest thing was the desecnt route down by the east wall of the slabs, which technically speaking, was probably harder and certainly more exposed than Faith.

On the first stance of Faith

The track back to the Ogwen Valley.  Pen yr Ole Wen behind me.

Our second route was at Tremadog, just outside Portmadog, which traditionally is the place to climb when it is too wet in Snowdonia.  I'd never climbed here before - usually, when it was too wet, I had either gone walking or done some low grade route in big boots.  Tremadog climbing focusses around Eric Jone's cafe.  Eric Jones is something of a 'rock' legend, who along with the likes of Joe Brown and others did a number of bold first ascents in the sixties as well as making the first British solo ascent of the Eiger North Wall, a balloon flight over Everest and a base jump off Angel Falls.  When we called in for a brew, Eric was sitting in the corner looking uncompromisingly fit for a man in his mid-seventies.
We picked at route called Poor Man's Peutery, which is graded severe but has different descriptions in different guidebooks.  In the end, we started up a route called Borchgrevink, a small gully with a couple of trees in, which parallels the first two pitches of PMP before joining it.  Joe led off, which was good as I found the first pitch quite energetic.  Joe also led the bold move onto a nose of rock, protected by a large iron piton and, while he set up the belay, I watched an Osprey from the local RSPB site, come out of the trees and circle below me.  I led the final pitch, which was a thought provoking crack climb up a steep slab.

So that's about it.  I've been back at work for two weeks and resumed the commute across Stanage on the mountain bike, while the weather holds up.  I must be getting fitter.  Three months ago it took me an hour fifteen to get from home to the office.  I'm now down to fifty minutes.  The last big obstacle is working out a line through the steep rocky section off Stanage Causeway.

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