Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Rifle - The Best Trip of My Life

OK, so we actually left Rifle about two months ago and have been back home for a month, but I've been preoccupied with getting myself a job, catching up with family, doing boring things like DIY and all that 'real life' stuff so I've been slack about writing this. Plus, having had two weeks of rest I now find that every time I climb it takes about a week to be able to use my arms again, even for typing.

Our chilled out campsite and 8 person tent

Rewind to the start of September (oh but we could!), and following a torturous journey from Cape Town we found ourselves rolling into Rifle Mountain Park late Friday evening on Labor day weekend - kinda like rocking up in Pembroke on August bank holiday, but a Pembroke where there's limited camping. Fortunately, as we were to find out over the next 6 or so week, everyone here is really nice and friendly so the camp host Marty (picture an American Father Christmas with a gun) sorted us out with an overflow spot until things got a bit quieter. By 10pm everyone around us was in bed and all you could hear was the little stream running past our camping spot - perfect for anti-social professiodulls like us.

Colton on Deity in The Wicked Cave

Rifle is somewhere I've heard about, seen videos of, read news stories about and generally be keen to go to for a long time. Sometimes places you've not been get inside your head more than they 'should', so when we switched up our American plans to head there I started to get quite excited, if only for the chance of experiencing Colorado Kneebar School. Being 'blocky, chossy limestone' it gets mixed reviews, and I can see why some people wouldn't be so keen on it. It doesn't have the aesthetics of Margalef or the immaculate rock quality of Ceuse. It's kinda more like Kilnsey on a cocktail of illicit party drugs whilst snorting spary-glue. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we both loved it.

The climbing there is in the canyon of Rifle Mountain Park, about a 30 minute drive north of Rifle itself. The town is big enough to have everything you need (assuming that what you need is a City Market, Walmart, laundry, a pizza shop and a nice library to get free wifi and do job applications from), whilst being small enough that things like traffic are never going to be a hassle. At the top end of the canyon lies the camping ($10/night for a site), which is spread out enough that you'll always have space and it never seemed noisy. It's got portaloos but no water so fill up in town (40c/gallon at City Market or 25c/gallon at the car wash just down the road from there). Rifle is convenience climbing epitomised: the climbing is about a 2 minute drive from your campsite; walk-ins are all of about 30 seconds in most cases, so you and your partner can easily climb at different sectors; there are portaloos in the parking areas; and most of the steeper routes are fixed up with perma-draws, and not only that but proper permadraws usually - good solid metal that won't be fucked from UV, unlike in Spain. 

Rifle Gap
The style at Rifle varies quite a lot between the different sectors. A lot of the 6s and low 7s involve fairly vertical climbing on left facing laybacks and grooves, whilst harder stuff revolves around large amounts of knee trickery and burl. The Wicked Cave in particular is like a slightly smaller version of Santa Linya - thuggy, chossy and loads of fun. For me this mix was perfect - I could warm up on technically interesting and educational feeling routes and then go redpointing on a style that I really enjoy and that suits me. Arriving feeling strong from all the bouldering in Australia and South Africa, having managed to hold my sub 11 stone lightness from Australia (more on that in a future post), and being totally psyched out of my mind to be route climbing again I managed to have a few weeks where everything clicked, the killer instinct engaged and I got up Bad Girls Club (9a), Waka Flocka Flame (8c+) and a couple of 8c's. Waka FF was probably actually my favourite route of the American leg of our trip. It wasn't the hardest and it wasn't the best line, but the climbing was brilliant. It felt like a long journey through different styles from Yorkshire-esque undercuts to knee-scum trickery, basic burl, stressful shake-outs and gradually easing into lower angled more technical climbing at the top. I climbed the headwall trying to savour every move, greedily hoarding away the perfect memories.

The people at Rifle are awesome too. There weren't that many other foreigners around, which was great for meeting locals, semi-locals from places like Boulder, and not-locals-but-almost-local-by-American-standards from places like Salt Lake. All-in-all it made for a great scene. Marty, who looks after the camping and the park, even invited us up to his cabin in the middle of nowehre for a traditional Southern breakfast of biscuits and gravy (like stogy savoury scone and cream/pepper sauce) which managed to fuel me up the kneebar intensive La Cucaracha (8c+).

Hanging out at Marty's for breakfast
Despite our growing weightbelts provided by peanut butter and protein bars we did some more ace climbing, drove through a lot of corn fields to The Red, did a bunch more awesome climbing and generally enjoyed our dwindling time in The States. Actually, it's surprising how much the central bit of America which all the Americans describe as totally flat and boring reminded us of the South of England... or maybe that's not surprising when you write it like that.

Beneath The Arsenal

Before we left for Kentucky there was one more thing to do... At the end of an uneventful rest day Ella and I took a little walk up a hill to see the sunset. On the way we passed a wishing stump from an old tree - hammer in a coin and make a wish. I did, and at the top of the hill it came true when Ella agreed to marry me :)

My lucky green shorts pay off

Sunday, 11 September 2016

South Africa Part 2 – Rocklands and Oudtshoorn

After the eventful start to our stay in Rocklands things quietened down a bit and we were able to start to get stuck back into climbing and enjoying the trip. The vibe there is nice and chilled, and with warmer and more stable weather than we’d left in Australia, as well the luxury of being based out of a cottage instead of a van, life felt very relaxed. Highlights for me from the rest of our stay included climbing the toe-hook extravaganza that is Mooiste Meisie (8B), checking out a variety of funky kneebar problems in preparation for our upcoming time in Rifle, ‘Fryday’ night fish barbeques and the delicious and cheap filet steak.


Ella warming up at the cottage
James on The Rhino

Oudtshoorn (‘Ostrich’ in Afrikaans), 5 or so hours drive East of Cape Town, hosts South Africa’s only limestone climbing, and was to be our ‘return to (your) routes’ boot camp to kick us into shape for America. It’s not an especially famous area and although I’m normally a total sheep, sometimes even I enjoy stepping off the well-worn track a little; plus the photos made it look great and it’s the kind of place where if we didn’t make time to visit now then we probably never would.

Situated around 30 minutes drive into the hills from the town of the same name, the sectors are scattered within walking distance of the De Hoek Campground which we made our base. Whilst the campsite (and the chalet we stayed in there) did the job, we made the mistake on the first few days of drinking the over chlorinated water and thus suffered from hideous stomach cramps for a while, potential visitors be warned! (From chatting to a Cape Town based German at the crag, it sounds like quite a few foreigners have this issue with the tap water all over South Africa, although Rocklands doesn’t seem to suffer from the same problem).

Arriving from the quite dusty area around Rocklands, the surrounding scenery reminded us strangely of Wales, an impression which was only reinforced by our first day being spent looking out of the window at the driving rain. The similarities to Wales continue when you arrive at the Main Wall, with small sections of rock which look and feel almost like slate… unlike Wales, however, the rest of the wall is filled with lovely tufas! One of the morning sectors even features a Rodellar style cave complete with stalactite blobs and sika edges.

Koalie thinks he's in Wales...
...until he sees the tufas!
Expecting to feel pretty unfit having been bouldering for the last few months I was pleasantly surprised to manage the ‘hardest’ route at the crag, Streetfighter (8c) on our second day of climbing. My ego suitably boosted, I broke the golden grade chasers rule of “if it’s not popular on then stay the hell away” and promptly had my ass handed to me by a couple of bouldery 8b+s. After that the weather went nuts, ramping up from 13 to 33°C in the space of a few days, and our climbing was a bit up and down. Before leaving I did, however, manage what I think might be the first ascent of a new link/extension – essentially adding a harder start to an existing 8a+ which takes in the most impressive part of the main wall. The link, which starts up Up For Grabs and finishes with the extension of Up Up and Away, is a great line with some awesome solid climbing in the first half and some chossy but impressive looking tufas and stalactites near the top. If it is indeed a first ascent I propose the name Smash and Grab, and thought it felt around the 8b mark.

Penguins at Boulders' Beach

Now we're in Rifle: projecting, sticking bits of rubber to our knees with gay abandon, getting pumped, realising we're rubbish at techy vert warm-ups and enjoying the chilled out camping scene here... Life is good!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Rocklands Smash Fest

Having spent a long time in one area in Australia, I was pretty excited to be moving to a new spot, Rocklands, for a month long smash fest. And so far it’s been just that. After a 12 hour drive and two long flights we headed off through a country which felt quite different to the one we’d just left. Shanty towns on the outskirts of Cape Town provided an interesting change from hanging out at the local library in Horsham in the Gramps.  Arriving in Rocklands I found a picturesque area packed full of a bewildering array of boulders and small outcrops. The scenery is beautiful, the cottage we’re staying in with our friends James and Jo is basic but a nice upgrade from living in a small van with far too much gear to be convenient, and the rocks are freakin’ awesome. After a jet lagged struggle on day one and a bit of a mission to retrieve our delayed bags and pads from our airline we awoke to perfect conditions and headed up to the Roadcrew sector for a great day where we both began to feel like ourselves again – Ella quickly doing good links on Un Rime Stupide (7C+) and me doing that, Purple Nipple Clan (8A) and getting frustratingly close on Royksop (8A) at the end of the day before a weird popping in my hand told me it was time to stop and return another time (fortunately it seems like it was just one of those times where something moves over a bone or tendon or whatever rather than an injury).

The sun goes down in Rocklands

With a satisfying day at the boulders under our belts it was time to fill our bellies at the much anticipated fish barbecue which one of the local landowners puts on on Fridays. Drive up the road… Ella indicates and waits for oncoming traffic.. start to tur
Suddenly we’re spinning, my head going a million miles an hour.
What the fuck happened?
What the fuck is going to happen.
You’ve got to be kidding me, this can’t be happening.
Smoke everywhere, is the car on fire?
Get out of the car.
Get out of the car.  
Ella is in the drivers seat. Head down. Unconscious.
The door won’t open. Climb out the window.
Shouting. From me? From someone else?
My glasses have gone, I can’t see properly.
Run around to Ella’s side of the car.
The door won’t open. Fuck. Fuck.
Back to my side. Ella has come to, she’s already climbing out of my window after me.
You’ve got to be kidding.
Her memory is fucked. Can’t remember the crash. People have turned up. They’ve called the ambulance.
Ella goes around in circles like a goldfish whilst we wait for the paramedics “What happened? It wasn’t my fault was it? My head hurts, it’s bleeding. My neck’s starting to hurt. Don’t leave me. Don’t let me fall asleep. What happened…?”
Is that just shock? Is something wrong? Fuck. Fuck.

A 4x4/pickup-truck had ploughed into the back of us at god knows what speed as we started to turn. Fortunately the car wasn’t on fire, it was probably just the radiator of the other car which was smashed up pretty badly, as was ours with the rear of the car caved in. Whilst the accident was some hideous luck, the fact that we were both walking out of the hospital the next morning with only sore necks and stitches for a cut on Ella’s head seems really lucky given how messed up the car was, and thank God that only pads were in the back of our car rather than people.

Many thanks to everyone who helped us out, especially James Noble, Jo Allen, Dan Turner, Will Buck, Charite (the owner of Travellers’ Rest where we’re staying) and Duke and Holly from America.

A few days later and with normal service resumed I was chuffed to manage a 1 session ascent of Black Shadow, the classic 8A+ of the area. Now time to try some harder stuff…

Royksopp (8A), Rocklands

When We Were Kings (8A), Grampians