It's more than a month since I came back from Sheffield and I've been quite busy doing many things around here in Italy... now I feel is time to sum up the experience, remembering the most beautiful episodes and trying to explain what it meant and what changed in my mind.
At the beginning of february I left from Paris, where I've been visiting my friend Nicola. Weather was not so nice and I soon realized I was quite bored to try hard on the same boulders. I've been doing this for ages: keep on trying almost on my own some boulder problems I liked, in a place I knew well and felt like a second home. So I was happy to be with friends, but I ended up to be stuck on the same climbing. I needed to experience something different, something that could give me new psyche and help me become a better climber.
Time was for Lorenzo to team up and leave together for a new adventure. Nothing was really planned but we were heading to Sheffield : I really wanted to climb on gritstone and Lorenzo was quite psyched about anything from Brad Pit to the old school problems of Parisella's Cave or Raven Tor. We were ready to enjoy english weather as well as english beer, and in case it rained too much we would have gone campusing like beasts at the climbing wall. I knew there wouldn't be any 8c to try, but I was sure I could find loads of amazing lines that would kick my ass and make me try at 100%.
During the first days we were kindly hosted by Rich and his wife. Weather was constantly changing and we managed to have some lovely days at Stanage as well as many sessions at the Climbing Works, which was just down the road... At the beginning my skin was quite soft to try anything hard on gritstone, so I soon focused on some easier routes: I found myself quite scared in the middle of Archangel (E3 5b) on my very first day, and kept on for glory to the top of Satin and Pressure Drop even if my legs were shaking... everybody was climbing so naturally at these heights I just told myself I had to learn. The best way was to switch my brain off and think about climbing: trying to feel my body under control, in order to be safe and easy on every move. But sometimes I just couldn't feel safe at all, like on my first tries on Ulysse's where I had to jump off several times before my sore ankles warned me to stop ... I wasn't ready yet !
After getting scared is always nice to come back to bouldering, and there was quite a lot I had to do. I started to repeat some nice classics like Help the Young sitstart (7c+), West Side Story (7b+) and Western Eyes (7c+), and even a couple of nice highballs at Froggatt edge like Sole Power (7b+) and My Orange (7c+) which helped me to raise a little bit my "fear height". Bouldering on gritstone can be quite frustrating as rock is usually really sharp and needs cold and dry conditions in order to stick all little quarz grains under your skin. Sometimes weather is ace and you can just levitate crimping everything, even the worst Font sloper, but most of the time is just avarage and you end up killing your skin on a cheese grater without getting anywhere... I really had to learn when to rest and how to preserve skin, but that was probably the most difficult thing to do!
Meanwhile Lorenzo went for a trip to Wales and I moved to the house of the "guys". These were Dave, Dan, Ben, Ned and Rich, with Nick always showing up as a special guest. I won't mention surnames but I don't think to exagerate saying that is probably the strongest "climbing house" in Britain, and I was really proud to be part of it sleeping on the floor of what was the music room. The lovely dirty house had everything a climber would need: from a training cellar full of Beastmaker boards to a huge selection of climbing videos, but most important of all it was full of nice people who would share with you their time, being it climbing or not.
There were a few hard lines which most of all captured my attention. These were The Ace, Careless Torque, Unfamiliar, 8 Ball, Angel's Share and Gaia. Each one was a kind of dream (apart from 8 Ball which I got stuck into...) , expecially Gaia and Unfamiliar were pure unknown terrain as I seldom ever wore a harness in my life and I had no idea of how to approach them.
Every day I went out (pretty much every day it didn't rain) I headed up to one of these boulders and fought hard to find a good beta... sometimes it happened to have a revelation but most of the time I just made no progress so I finished myself soloing or highballing something easier with friends. Watching them in action was really inspiring, many times I thought : "Are you mad? No way I'm going up there...", but then after some hesitation I found myself struggling my way up... if it doesn't kill you it will make you stronger ;-)
Then there was the CWIF, the international climbing competition held every year at the Climbing Works, it wasn't really a priority to me but I knew it was great fun and I tried to do my best, despite my skin was trashed by a week pulling on wet gritstone. I joined Beastmaker team and led by captain Ned Feehally we managed to get a pretty good overall second place just after the Climbing Works hired "dream team" of Hukkataival, Becan, Landman and Sandoz ! I also made my way to the semi finals but the next morning I climbed pretty badly and found myself quite dipappointed in 10th position. It was just 2pm in the afternoon and outside a nice sun was shining: "I won't get to the finals today, but I will climb Ulysse's Bow". I was angry enough. With a team of unfulfilled climbers like me I sat off to Stanage to complete my task, then we got back just in time to have a pint and watch the finals.
I was starting slowly to complete my projects: I fired The Ace (8b) on my first try of a cloudy and cool morning after I figured out how to do it with a hill (as there is always saving a heelhook). I managed to get almost frozen to the top of Unfamiliar (E8 6c) after fighting 10 minutes to place cams on a freezing windy day (luckily my friends were spotting and encouraging), and somehow walked on top of Angel's Share (E8 7a or font 7c) after 4 days of sliding and falling off it's slabby green surface. (almost ruined 2 pair of shoes there!)
At that point spring was coming and weather started to become quite warm. I was still shut down by Careless Torque, was close to complete 8 Ball, and still had the dream to try Gaia. As it was too warm to go bouldering I tried as many routes I could, not just to prepare for Gaia but because I really loved being out to enjoy climbing and rock in a complete new way. In fact I tried to flash The Knock (E4 6a), Nosferatu (E6 6b) and Balance It Is (E7 6c), but the last gave me some thrill when I took a huge fall ripping a small wire out of the rock desperately trying to jump to the top.
Fortunately last week turned out to be quite windy and I didn't miss the chance to climb 8 Ball (8b), being literally blown up by the wind! Then it came time to try the big one: the thing that made me dream about climbing for many years and now I felt finally ready to try. We set off to Black Rocks on a pretty warm sunny day (almost 20°!), a nice breeze was blowing and it was just perfect to keep me cool without being annoying (I hate to be up a scary route with strong freezing wind!). After some practice on a top rope I found an easy way to do the crux move at the bottom (which at first seemed quite hard sweating in the sun), and I soon felt ready to try, as I could easily walk up the upper section. So I did: I left the ground and thought only about the moves till I found myself looking down with a big smile; my feet safely laying on the final sloper. It was a great feeling, not as challenging as trying something ground-up but I finally brought up there the 14 years old boy who first saw "Hard Grit" on a dusty VHS in the climbing gym of Parma.
Time was running out and when you start to feel home you always have to come back to your real one. Careless Torque was still laughing at me and the list of things I wanted to try was growing every day bigger and bigger. I had the chance to climb Renegade Master (E8 6c or 7c+ boulder) with visiting John Partridge, and to see Dan's efforts on what later became Dandelion Mind, but my time was really over. I crossed the channel back on the 8th of April together with Dan, psyched to show him my projects and willing to bring back to Italy that feeling of "life" I found in England, in its climbers and in its climbing.
See you next year Sheffield!