Two weeks have passed since I've come back home, and I think I've seen the double the rain I saw during my five weeks staying in Sheffield... every time I look out of the window I just see dark clouds and big drops, and I soon miss the endless afternoons I spent out in the Peak with a lovely sunshine and a nice breeze.
I have to say I've been quite lucky with weather. It has not been the best to pull hard on sharp boulder problems, (which is what I usually do the rest of the year) but at least it has been nearly always dry, and I could go out and try as many routes I wished, without the nightmare of getting too cold and end up with frozen tips... I'm Italian after all... even if it was too warm to try the hardest routes out there I still had to finish my homeworks and repeat many of the classics lines of the 80's and 90's, and there was nothing better than some sunshine to cheer you up for that. Eventually I could always go down at the Climbing Works to finish myself off if I wanted to!
So back to Sheffield, back to porridge oats, carvery and big tea mugs, back to see old friends, make new ones and climb on this fantastic rock that can give you everything for a moment and just leave you with nothing most of the times. At beginning there were four of us: me, Filippo, Gianluca and Lorenzo (you may better know him as "Nibile"...) but we soon lost a member who went to fight his way out the darkness of The Cave leaving us alone to deal with chilly wind over the exposed gritstone edges.
In fact at the beginning it has been chilly at times, and I already told you of my first experiences of the trip on Careless Torque and The End of Affair (see my previous post). Soon after I started to look at the sharp one, the famous Voyager, a big overhanging prow put up in late 2005 by mr. Ben Moon, which has now become together with The Ace, the symbol of hard gritstone bouldering in the Peak District. I briefly tried the problem a couple of times last year while spotting my friend Dan, but I still had to find a sequence good enough for me.
The problem is the closer you look at the rock the bigger you see the pebbles you have to pinch and squeeze on the prow in order to stay on... the line is great, but it is really painful, and every time you just have a few goes before tearing big holes open in your fingers leaving blood all over the place. Lucky enough, I could soon figure out a good beta, involving a high heel hook an a massive pebble, and having some skin left I was able to send the stand start the next day on a perfect windy afternoon... (everything is easy on a perfect windy afternoon, isn't it?) But it was not over, the goal was to complete the sitstart: it is logical, hard and still unrepeated since that day in 2006 when Ben was captured in this video that already made history.
So I went back to try again one or two days afterwards, and I had a few good goes, almost managing to hold the key sloper near the top, but that was it: my fingers were bleeding and I still had three weeks left to climb in the Peak. I was not in a hurry and I just left, quite confident to be able to climb the whole thing before the end of my trip... but I did not take weather into account. In fact we had a few more good days but the CWIF competition was approaching and I was trying to heal my skin and train a bit for that: I did not want to let the Beastmaker team down because of me, making Ned Feehally and Chris Webb-Parsons angry, as they could have kicked me out of home ;-)
As a result I trained more indoor (say, more than before) but I still went out in the afternoon trying to do my best on some highballs and routes. The first one has been The Promise. Almost next to Voyager is this short balancy route James Pearson put up in 2007. It was originally given E10 7a, as gear is just a poor ballnut #1 placed in a tiny crack at the height of your feet as you are going for the crux. After several repetitions and some safe falls on that piece of gear the grade went down to E7, but when you are up there you're just relying on that, and nothing else can stop you from falling on some nasty rocks seven or eight meters below. So the route can be quite safe if gear holds or quite dangerous if it fails, (and it recently happened) so you'd probably be happier to have all the pads we had that day to save your ass...
After some hesitation to reach the big sloper at the top on my flash try I managed to do it second go, quickly followed by Ned. The fall was not too bad as we managed to build a decent landing, but the climbing is about font 7b+, which is always tricky if you have not tried the moves before, and you really have to commit. It has been for sure a great experience for both of us, and you can see it fully featured, together with some other great lines in the film "Life On Hold" that Nick and Rich from Outcrop Films have been nursing for a couple of years, following the action of Ned, Dan, Mickey, Dave and other great climbers around England.
The day before the CWIF was supposed to be a rest one. My parents and a friend from Parma were visiting for just a few days, and decided to go bouldering at Robin Hood's Stride. Even my friend Rich was off from work and I still had to see that place so... "Why don't we go and try Kaluza Klein? It's a slab, it won't be tiring, and it will be fun!" So we went there: Rich abseiled down, gave a quick brush to the holds and tried the moves a little bit. He soon managed to do everything but he was so stretched on the last big reach that his feet often slipped due to the bad angle they made on rock. I thought: "I'm taller, I will be fine".
I placed a small mat over the big rock at the bottom and I started for the lead. It took me a while to find the balance and smear my feet up the bad footholds, and eventually I was there, ready to commit for the big throw, with no chance to come down but to jump off. So I tried, but I didn't hit the vertical crack high enough, and was now totally out of balance with nothing good to hold on. Funny position: completely incapable to move I desperately try to swap feet and I soon found myself into the air. As the rope caught my weight I was already with my ankles against the pad on the rock: "not too bad... next try!"
The CWIF qualifiers were as funny as tricky as usual and we managed to do well winning the team prize, but the day after I soon started to feel pretty tired from all the climbing I've done and my skin did not feel any better too. Never mind, you can't always have everything, it was definitely time for some sleep before watching the finals and going for a curry with everybody else. After that weather soon became quite warm and still, but it didn't rain and everything was starting to dry. I went back to try Voyager a couple of times, but in such horrible conditions I really struggled to move even if I was in a good shape. As depressing as it sounds... time has come to put on a harness again !
One of the lines I always wanted to try was Braille Trail, the blank slab featured in Hard Grit where you have to dance with your feet on some tiny pebbles having to rely on three hand placed pegs as a protection. We borrowed from Kathy a special piece of metal she used on the second slot during her ascent of that route (see picture here). The nice door handle she used in the first one was missing, so we went to buy a simple peg before leaving for Burbage south. Rich went down to clean the holds and check gear, and we found that we could actually use a safe ballnut #2 into the first slot, and a small cam into the third one which apparently got way bigger than it used to be... Everything felt quite safe, at least till you get established onto the arete (I slipped while getting there on my first try and did not fall that far), there one more tricky move gets you to easier climbing above, where you can just relax and calmly top it out... I loved it so much I did it twice to take a few pictures.
Next stop has been a quick three days trip up to Cumbria to visit my friend Dan and check out some nice sandstone. On the first day we went to "Queens", a small and peaceful crag lost in the middle of a bleak moor along the Hadrian's Wall. I soon felt at home as the rock is very similar to the one I have in Lagoni and I had the pleasure to climb Queen Kong a five stars 8a prow Dan opened some years ago (see more pictures on Mark Savage Blog). Next day was a rest one for me, and after all the cold we got the day before it felt quite odd to be by the ocean in St. Bees, where I could enjoy some lovely weather just taking pictures and watching my friends climb these crazy boulders sculptured by water and wind... definitely a must go if you like bouldering by the sea !
The third day we traveled back to Sheffield in order to be present at premiere of Life on Hold, but we decided to stop on the way at Ilkley crag in Yorkshire where I had the dream to check out The New Statesman, an outstanding route John Dunne put up back in 1987. Regarded E8 7a, the route climbs up the right arete of this huge bouder dominating the hill above the town of Ilkley. It looked to me even better than I imagined, probably the most beautiful bit of gritstone I've ever seen, and in ten minutes I was already abseiling while Dan and Kathy were enjoying the boulders spread on the grass at the base. The route is huge and it took me a while to clean it, to roughly figure out the moves on self belay and to decide which gear would fit best into the small sandy crack you find at two thirds height and in the even smaller one near the top.
As I did not have all my gear I just found a poor single cam placement in the first one and wasn't able to fit any additional wire in. The climbing above was just a single 6b move to get to further gear, and having done it twice in a row I was quite confident not to fall there. After all the process was done it got late and wetaher was starting to be cold and humid. I was feeling tired but I knew I could still master the moves if I went past the hard first crux. That could have been the only chance to get the route done, being it far from Sheffield, so I just didn't think twice and I started for the lead. Unfortunately after placing the small cam I got quite cold, and was starting to feel slightly shaky... at that point there was nothing else to do but carry on. As I made a high heel hook trying to reach further up the arete it suddenly slipped without warning, and I fould myself into the air at 10 or 12 meters height. I could hear gear fail, I hit a small mat on a side and I rolled over my back out on the soft grass... not too far from a big rock! I stayed a couple of minutes on the ground before standing up, then we packed everything, and I drove back to Sheffiled with a very stiff neck... I've been very lucky this time.
It took me one day to recover from the fall, and despite some pain in my chest I was soon ready to get up early and fight the heat at Froggatt together with James Blay. We had quite a good time there as he finally sent Renegade Master and I made the first padded ascent of Screaming Dream, an old E7 7a by Mark Leach, which is now a brilliant 8a boulder problem... way ahead of his time back in 1987! Above is a nice video of that morning edited by James.
Time was passing quickly, and spring was definitely on the way. I had just a few days left to to stay in Sheffield and still wanted to go back on The New Statesman, as well as see for the first time Millstone crag and the famous Master's Edge. Luckily my friend Paul Bennett had just finished preparing his thesis and had time to come out and climb with me. The result were two memorable afternoons, with a nice breeze and plenty of sunshine, during which I could feel a small step further in my mind, not just by climbing The New Statesman but also by soloing Edge Lane (E5 5c), and flashing Master's Edge (E7 6c). Nothing could be better to finish my trip to the Peak this year, and I was happy to celebrate with a good pint with friends before having to drive back to the continent, where I would spend one more week in Fontainebleau with Italian mates, but that's another story, and most of all a very different rock...
I'll leave you with the nice video that Paul edited of the New Statesman, and with the one I made myself with the routes I climbed ground up. It's just average footage from a fixed camera, but at least it captures real action and gives you the feeling of the moment, especially during my fight on Master's Edge, where I could mix some closer shots courtesy of Phil Kelly. Many thanks to everybody who shared his time with me or helped me out. It has been lovely to come back and I think you'll probably have to stand me again next winter... be ready ! ;-)