lunedì 17 aprile 2017

- Peak 2017 - The Elder Statesman

The last two years I didn't manage to travel much. Apart from some short trips to Ceuse, Albarracin or Verdon, I spent most of my time climbing near home and I was starting to miss that feeling of extreme freedom a long trip gives you. This year, as I had some changes in my life, I felt it was time to hit the road again and come back to a place I was missing so much: Sheffield and the Peak District, where I have some of my best memories.

Short stop in Font on the way to Sheffield...

Fortunately a friend would help me, and a plan was made. Getting to Sheffield for the CWIF and remaining there a couple of weeks to get the most I could out of gritstone. Then back to Fontainebleau on my way home, where I would join Italian friends to spend the last week of my holiday.

The Cork Stone - Photo: Claudia Amatruda

The CWIF was fun as usual, and it was a pleasure to compete in the Wild Country team together with friends. I soon realized this time I was there just for fun and no longer had the competitive spirit or will to succeed I used to have back in the years... all I was thinking about was getting back on the Grit as soon as possible!

Burbage Valley infrared

The first days after the competition were quite chilly and rainy, but I still managed to get out for some bouldering sessions in the evening, to get the feeling back with this strange rock and with proper English weather too! I also tried to get back to Voyager once... but it was still dripping wet :(
Weather improved quickly, and it soon got nice and warm... time for some routes?? I had many in my mind I wanted to climb, and I was lucky to meet Claudia, who was off from work, to go climbing with.

On the way to Voyager...

We decided to get to Millstone as a first day to get some practice with routes, as both of us haven't been trad climbing for quite a long time. I spotted a rarely repeated E7 by Ron Fawcett called "Scritto's Republic", while Claudia could test her skills placing gear on the classic crack of "Embankment 3". As we first got there the wall was still dripping, but the heat was crazy and the sun quickly dried everything.

Claudia on Mark's Roof Left Hand

After a couple of top-rope inspections to check the gear and the moves I decided to give it a go. It was quite late, the temperature had dropped a bit and the sunset light made everything orange, exactly like four years before when I climbed the nearby Master's Edge. I set off, but at first I could not commit on the crux of the route way above the two tiny pads we had and jumped off. "Well, here we are again, I know this feeling...". Five minutes later I found myself past the crux and above the first unsecure piece of gear: I didn't work the top part that well and I forgot I had to change hand on a mono!!! Easy on top-rope but on lead it's totally different ;)

Scritto's Republic - Photo: Tom Randall

I somehow managed to close my eyes and do that, and I was now past my last runner which I did not trust too. Just one more tricky move before better holds, but this time I could not make the position work: "How did I manage to get to that pocket!?? Shit!". I was already in the state of mind of taking a fall when I managed to jam a finger in a small crack just below the pocket and reach it with the other hand... what a moment! "Yes, this is Gritstone as I remembered".

Sunset from Curbar Edge

After an easy day soloing at Stanage I decided to step up the game a bit and went to Curbar to finally try "The Elder Statesman" HXS 7a. I had this line in my mind since I saw James Pearson's video on it. With only three ascents to date and a cool scary dyno at the top it seemed the perfect mix of something hard but not too dangerous I could start with.

The Elder Statesman - Photo: Jake Thompson

The first day was quite frustrating: I managed to hold the dyno something like two times out of five, but I still struggled to get into the jump position from the crack, that looked just too far away... at the end of the day I managed somehow to do every single move but with such an effort it would have been nearly impossible to stick the jump. The next day the unexpected happened: thanks to a new pair of Otaki shoes and a better sequence I managed to do twice the crux on top-rope, so after Claudia worked Elder Crack I didn't think twice and went for the lead before it got dark!

Victory!Photo: Mike Hutton

On the lead everything went smooth, I was not too scared and I was focused on the moves. I still did not know whether I would hold that jump or not, but I gave it a real try and I soon found myself screaming with joy at the top of the crag! I could not believe it, I've done the route and as usual I didn't have a single picture of it...  Yes pictures... I had already planned to have a small shooting for Wild Country out on grit, so why not getting back on this route? It's really stunning and I would have loved a picture on it.... "Yes, I'll get back the next day". I was almost disappointed I didn't have the chance to test that scary but "safe-ish" fall!

Photo: Jake Thompson

The next day weather was quite grim: dark clouds on the horizon and a strong wind blowing at the top of the crag. "Do I really want to do this again?" Anyway I made people come here, now it was time for action. I set up the belay and did it once more on top rope, then back on the ground to sort out gear and get ready. It was quite cold. We arranged to have some slack as usual, as I was worried of hitting hard into the wall on the right if the rope was too tight. That's all I was afraid of... I trusted my gear and knew it would have been a long sideways fall, but nothing too dangerous.

my wrist after surgery

Once I got established in the jump position I was quite cold. Friction was good, but I was not feeling confident I would do it again. I tried, but could not stick the good crimp this time and I found myself flying horizontally towards the right wall. I remember thinking: "I'm not in the best position to hit that wall..." then something happened, and I was lying on the ground in pain. It took me a while to realize what happened. The rope cut. I hit Claudia, and we both fell on the ground. I was feeling a strong pain to my left hand and when I looked at it I saw it had collapsed into my forearm, very bad looking, but I could still move my fingers. The right ankle was also painful, I probably broke that as well, but it just didn't look as bad as my hand.

at Hard Grit Live event

Luckily for me Edale Mountain Rescue Team came quickly and they carried me till the car park where an ambulance took both me and Claudia to Northern General Hospital in Sheffield where I had an operation to the wrist the next morning. Claudia suffered several bruises but she was fortunately fine. My friend James managed to get in touch with my parents who took a flight to London and got there the next day.
I have been lucky. I just didn't think that could happen to a rope, and I didn't even know Steve McClure climbed it with three cause of that when he made the first ascent... you always learn something.

Claudia on La Coquille - Fontainebleau

I stayed in hospital three days, and they discharged me just in time to be at the Hard Grit Live event in Sheffield, which was quite fun! ;). Then I drove down with Claudia and my parents to Fontainebleau, where my friends were waiting for me... this time not for climbing together unfortunately.
I have to thank the rescuers, my parents, and everybody who helped me. Special thanks to James and Claudia for their help: without them I wouldn't have had the opportunity to live this experience and tell you this story. Yes, it's been a positive experience anyway. This trip gave me back feelings I had almost forgotten and made me realize once again how much I love this place and its climbing. It will take a few months to recover now, but I can't wait to be back... there are still a couple of routes I miss on the Hard Grit tick list! ;)


Above is the video of the fall. Be careful of what can happen to a rope in that situation. You live and learn.
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