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Spain's bouldering paradise

After Barcelona we headed off to Albarracin for what we thought was going to be a five or six day extravaganza on one Spain's few sandstone areas. We arrived late at night and had no idea where to go, so we followed the main road to some coordinates we found online. The first thing we saw were signs signifying that there was to be no camping despite the fact that we were told that car camping in the parking lot was a-ok. We weren't sure exactly what to do so we pulled into a small turnout off the road and set up camp, hoping that we would not be spotted from the road. The last thing we needed was to get harassed for wild camping during our last few weeks in the EU. We set the alarm for 7am, to assure that we would be out of there before any rangers came our way. Of course after we woke up the next morning to figure out where to go, we realized hat we had alternate GPS coordinates for the actual car camping area all along. We just didn't pay close enough attention to the guide. Those no camping signs that we saw everywhere were really for tents, as Spain is pretty chill when it comes to camping in your vehicle.

We arrived at the "camping" area for Albarracin at 8:30am the next day. It was shrouded in mist and a little rain came intermittently. Surprise, surprise...we were so used to this weather and hoped that it would clear up in a couple hours so we could at least hike around and check out the climbing. After a few hours of writing, reading, chilling, eating and playing some Scrabble, the weather looked a tiny bit better, so we headed out to see what this place was all about. We hiked around for two to three hours and got to see three of the surrounding areas.

Morning in the forest

When we had first pulled in to the back of the "lot", we parked next to a British van. We heard them making breakfast and chatting away, but we were so exhausted from our previous nights camping shenanigans that we didn't quite feel like socializing quite yet. While we were parked there chilling, eating, and Scrabbling they packed up and left. When we returned, they had as well and introduced ourselves. It turns out that Nick and Brit weren't Brits at all, but South Africans.

Nick and Brit

They even knew our friends Scott and Kaddi, Chris Kelk, and Micky Wiswedel. We became fast friends and they introduced us to two more couples, Shant and Claudia from Montreal and Norbert and Karin from Austria. They all became our new climbing buddies for the next ten days. As we have mentioned before, bouldering isn't just about the rock but it is about the people that you meet that truly make the experience something special.

The following day's weather proved to be a bit nicer. It wasn't perfect but there was no rain and you can always find some dry boulders if your willing to look hard enough. The eight of us plus 3 wee ones, Sierra, Micah and Jonathon, headed off to Arastradero, one of the largest sectors in Albarracin.

Shant, super dad with Micah and Sierra

Micah and his mutant arms

There was a roof there that several people wanted to try and we figured that roofs had the highest probability of being dry. There was even a little warm-up area behind the roof with some 5's for Corinne to climb. A couple hours later Shant and Steve decided to give El Varano a try; one of the classic 8a's of the area. Though Steve did not send El Varano that day, he conquered that problem several days later. This time we were climbing with a Polish couple, Pawel and Agata. Steve and Pawel had climbed and raged together in Rocklands in the summer of 2011.

On our third day in Albarracin, we were driving into town to grab a shower, we spotted none other than the illustrious Ivan Luengo. Ivan and Rosie were a couple that we climbed with in Rocklands earlier in the trip. Ivan was actually the one who helped Steve name his first ascent in the Big and Roof sector of the de Pakhyus bouldering area. It turns out that Ivan and Rosie actually moved to Albarracin in October, a short time after they returned to Madrid from South Africa. We had actually attempted to get in touch with them when we were in Madrid in September but to no avail. It was so crazy bumping into them on the streets of the small town of Albarracin! Unfortunately, we never were able to connect to boulder together while there. Though efforts were made, it just never seemed to work out. We would not be surprised if we see them again in the future. Probably in some other bouldering mecca of the world or maybe even upon our return to either Rocklands or Albarracin.

Future mommy enjoying the practice

Over the next eight days, we visited a host of other areas in Albarracin. The weather was a bit warm and a bit humid but it didn't rain and after our experience in Font, we were in need of dry weather. November was turning out to be a true month of climbing and we were psyched since our trip was coming to an earlier end than originally anticipated.

Karin climbing at the most picturesque boulder in Albarracin

Corinne on Seiscerrano (6b)

Some of our faves from Albarracin include the El Molina del Gato, a bar with a river running through it; the Panaderia, home of the amazing round bread, muffins and chocolate rolls (these were to die for), the Carneceria, the morcilla might actually be one of the most amazing "sausages" we have ever eaten and lastly, the amazing farmers market every Wednesday. You could get some of the best Clementines we have ever had; 5 kilos for 3 euros!

The town of Albarracin

The folks in Albarracin are serious - This is part of a entire trebuchet park!

The rock quality in Albarracin is similar to that of Red Rocks or Joe's Valley. The style is a wild blend of Bishop table top volcanic roofs and Font style top outs. It is a fantastic mesh of power and static climbing; dynamic throws coupled with slow delicate movements. While the grades are inconsistent and the Euros can't seem to travel more than 2 meters from a boulder before dropping trough, it is a wildly fun place to climb with beautiful scenery and a relaxed lifestyle.

Norbert crushing La Rampa

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfRI0ggIlgw&feature=youtu.be;rel=0] Myself and Nick cranking out El Varano, Techos Don Pepo (left), el Orejas de las Regletas and Zatoichi.

If you go to Spain for hard sport, take some time to visit the boulders too. Some of our favorite problems in Albarracin included el Varano, el Orejas de las Regletas, Seiscerrano, el Grimpa, Zatoichi, el Mito de la Caverna and Motivos Personales (sit).

Brit, Nick, Corinne, Norbert, Karin and Jonathan in the bear hat

-C&S

Barcelona

After our week in Buoux, with the final day ending in rain, we decided it was time to move south to Spain and get to the better weather. We broke the trip up into two days again, as the Goose can only handle so much driving at a time (yes, we are still having our over-heating coolant issue; we have learned how to deal with it by driving around 80kph and always carrying coolant and distilled water with us). I found a campsite, using the ACSI website (the off-season camping card for Europe), which has proved to be quite useful when we can't find wild camping or when we know that we are going to arrive late in the evening and will have no time searching for wild camping.  The campsite was in Narbonne, a town on the southern coast of France.  Had also done a little bit of research on the town and found that on Sundays, there was a terrific food market that was a must-see for foodies, according to TripAdvisor.

Our beautiful campsite in Narbonne

Overall, Narbonne was a must-see, as the town was not even close to being on par with the small towns and cities that we had encountered during our travels. The campsite was horrible as well. Since it was off-season everything looked pretty downtrodden. i am sure that in the summer this place is bumping but in November, it was all pretty bleak. We did get our own bathroom though...strange place...

The one upside of Narbonne was the market. We headed out early and parked at the end of the outdoor market, an outdoor flea market that flooded the Quai and walked through to our true destination, the indoor food market.  Somewhat similar to the Embarcadero market (for you Bay area residents), the market had a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, patisseries and small restaurants. In the front, there is a wonderful spicery with fresh spices from all over. We even got to taste the spices prior to buying them.

Later that morning we left Narbonne and headed for straight for Barcelona. The drive took about 5.5 hours. We had a rough estimate of the address, along with some pics and a phone number, but of course, in Steve and Corinne traveling fashion, our phone minutes had expired and we didn't make sure that we knew exactly where we were going. Antonio, our Airbnb host, had not left the exact address, figuring that we were going to call or email prior to arriving.  So, knowing that in France, McD's was our internet savior, we asked Alice to find us one. We found one approximately 2 km away, but alas, no internet. Luckily for us, I found a wifi connection at the bar/pub next door, asked for the password and skyped Antonio's cell. A female voice answered, which turned out to be his ex-wife Margarita. As it had turned out, Antonio had had a heart-attack a couple of days prior. She assured me that he was going to be fine but had to stay in the hospital while we were to stay at the house but that she and her sons were going to help out and accommodate us at the house. We never got to meet Antonio, which we were looking forward to, but Margarita, her twin sons, Rafael and Santiago, Rafa's Brazilian girlfriend Daiana, live-in friend and helper, Roger, along with Antonio's 101 year old father made our stay incredibly warm, comfortable and welcoming. We highly recommend this house to anyone planning on staying in Barcelona. The house is unique and only twenty minutes from La Rambla via the green line. The rooms are spacious and inviting and the company is unforgettable. We loved it!

For our first night in Barcelona, we wanted to go out for food and see some music. After doing some research, and talking to Rafa and Santiago, we decided to head into the center and grab some fresh pasta from Tucco and then make our way over to 23 Robadors for some live flamenco. Unfortunately, it being Sunday, Tucco was closed but luckily, there was another fresh pasta restaurant a couple blocks away. The meal was delicious and inexpensive. We then headed over to the Raval district for the flamenco show. The club was tiny and we had to stand in a hallway with a small view of the singer, guitar player, dancer and percussionist. We watched two sets of the show, though the show continued long after we decided to return home. No matter what night of the week, Barcelona is active all night. At this stage of the game, I can only handle so much nightlife. We returned to Gaspatxch via the metro and began planning our big day of sightseeing.

We arose to a delicious home cooked breakfast at 9am and began our perusal through the world of Gaudi. Though I had been to Barcelona six or seven years prior, I was excited for Steve to visit all of the wonderful sites and structures Gaudi created. Our first stop was Park Guell.

Next on the agenda was La Sagarda Familia. This was perhaps the most stunning piece of architecture we saw on our travels.

Some HDR photos of the amazing interior of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral.

We had a pretty aggressive plan and attempted to visit both Casa Batlló and La Pedrera but when we arrived and discovered that the cost was 15-20€ per person for each site, we changed our plans. We had already spent quite a bit in the city and been to many museums throughout our trip and we felt that spending money on food was more on the agenda than spending more money on museums. So, we continued to walk toward the center and find a nice lunch place. Of course we wanted to have some recommendations for where to eat, and luckily we walked directly passed the apple store and everyone knows that the apple store is a great place to mooch wifi. We got a great recommendation via yelp to a small restaurant in the outdoor vegetable and fruit immediately off of La Rambla. Unfortunately, after twenty minutes of waiting for some seats to free up, Steve and I hit our top frustration level and had to move on. Fortuitously, there was an amazing Crepe master around the corner to supply us with the necessary sustenance that we both so desperately needed. He included spinach, goat cheese, onion, tomato, and oregano wrapped in a beautifully made crepe that was absolutely delicious (Steve had the jamon as well, the delicacy of Spain that I have had to forego during my pregnancy :( ).

After lunch we continued to walk through the maze of central Barcelona, attempting to head into the gothic area. Exhausted from all the walking, we decided to stop in a square and grab a coffee before meeting my old colleague Laura Nuñez.  Laura and I taught at Lick-Wilmerding together, we started the same year and both left two years later after realizing that theschool just wasn't the right fit for either of us.

Laura has been living in Barcelona for the past four years, working at an international IB (International Baccalaureate) school. This is her fourth international school, as most of these international school jobs last for two years and then you move on. Her previous locations have been: Mexico city, Paris and Milan. She now speaks French and Spanish fluently and additionally has a good grasp of Italian. Teaching has taking her all over but not surprisingly, she misses the bay area; she is always considering working in SF again and bay area education would be lucky to have her.

Laura took us to more of the gothic sites and introduced us to her neighborhood, where we went out for a drink to catch up and then to her local favorite tapas restaurant for dinner that was absolutely delicious.

We awoke Tuesday morning to another wonderful breakfast thanks to Rafa and Daiana. We packed up our things and began our journey to Albarracin. Our trip to Barcelona was absolutely perfect thanks to our wonderful hosts and Laura. We were sad to leave but also excited to get back to the mountains and to do some bouldering.

Daiana, Rafael, Roger and Corinne

A lesson in old school cranking

The dawn of sport climbing happened back in the eighties. The world traded in their hexes for hot pants and started bolting everything without a crack. The French were at the fore front of this new era putting up routes requiring the next level technical prowess.

After leaving Gorge du Verdon we again had plans of hitting Gorge du Tarn, but after strong recommendations from Yannick to visit the super crag of the eighties we checked the weather and decided on Buoux instead.

Our first day out we arrived at The Mur Zappa wall without a proper guide and were presented with a dozen or so 6a or 6b slabs, seemingly void of chalk after the rains. These climbs proved to be fun and insanely tricky for the equivalent range of upper 5.10s. While we enjoyed the slow motion slab climbing, I was hoping there was more to this place and set off further along the crag. Just around the corner the wall changed from gray to orange, became overhung and was spotted with perfect deep round pockets spread between long spans. Things were looking up. After some more powerful, but no less technical climbing we met some French climbers who loaned us their guide with a promise that we would mail it back at the end of our travels. Armed with this we knew the area had much more to offer and were excited to explore in the days to come.

Studying the guide

more studying..

For the next 6 days, we hiked around the many cliffs of Buoux, warming up on the vertical, slabby, techy climbs and then moving on to the more overhanging climbs for myself to attack. Of course, at this point in the trip the climbing was definitely winding down for Corinne but we still felt that top-roping and cleaning some vertical 5b-6b routes were doable and enjoyable. During one of our days, I took Corinne up her first multi-pitch. It was a four-pitch, beginning with a 6a then a 5b; easy but still epic, as Corinne was pretty scared and I calmly coached her through her quivering. Though she was a bit freaked out, it was one of the most enjoyable climbs of our trip to Buoux. Corinne can't wait to do another one...

Atop the 2nd pitch of Le Pillier des Fourmis

Corinne tapping into her old punk rock days

On our last day, I was ready to do some crushing, though we had to keep it relatively easy, since a belay on hard 8's with an epic fall was just not an option for Corinne's full body harness. I resigned himself to doing a super classic 7c+ (5.13a) that I had read about called Sous les Pavé in the sector La Plage. The name has to do with a reference to protestors in May of 1968. To get to the actual climb, we had to hike up to a second level via ropes, chains and ladders. After one beta gathering attempt, I banged it out first red point go. One of nicest routes I have done in this latter part of our trip.

Natural fingerboard

Some of our favorites at Buoux, included La Piliers des Fourmis (the multipitch), Sous les Pavés(7c+), Captain Crochet(7b), T.C.F(7a), Rose des Sables (7a+)(AMAZING!), Zappa Maniac(6b+) and a couple of other slabby 6a's and 6b's of which we can't remember the names.

Overall, we had a fantastic visit in Buoux, despite the fact we had to camp in Apt, as there is no wild camping anywhere. Apt is a perfect French town with cheap camping (only 10€ per night), several tasty boulangers, a bio store, and a McDonald's for our requisite internet usage. Thanks to Yannick for recommending such a stellar destination!

-S

Bleau part Deux

Steve preps L'Etrave as Yannick, Stephanie, and Morgan chillax

Perfect rounded boulders clustered throughout a golden, orange and red Autumn forest. Enough established climbs to last several lifetimes with more to be discovered in the lush mossy forest. Quaint little French towns with boulangeries on every corner serving delicious pastries and breads. Free camping sites with climbers from around the globe meeting and exchanging beta and stories. In a nutshell a bouldering paradise. What can make such a wonderful place lose it's luster? In one word....rain. Endless, unrelenting, mud conjuring rain. Or hot days and 100% humidity following that rain....

Lost in Cul de Chien on a wet day

We expected some wetness upon our return to Font, but we also thought there might be colder temps and overall better conditions. We met quite the opposite when we arrived in early October. The 3 plus weeks we spent in France's premiere bouldering destination started off well enough. It would rain a bit, then clear and we would get in a day or half day of climbing. This quickly degraded into solid rain with a forecast for days of the same. We decided that sitting in the Goose day after day was getting on the dull side and pointed the van north to Amsterdam!

Fast forward five days and we arrived back in Font with renewed skin, high hopes and a slightly better forecast. The weather held for about a day, then rained, and when all hope was lost, it stopped! Only to be replaced by temps in the mid twenties, no wind and a dampness that hung in the air like a wet towel. Think east coast summers, just not quite as hot. I was climbing in shorts; just shorts. This in Font in October?! Give me a break.

Bleausard showing us how it is done

In a few days our friends Scott and Kaddi were planning on visiting. We told them of the endless rain and terrible summer like conditions. They were coming either way as Kaddi's brother's friends were having a 30th bday blowout in Bleau and climbing was second, if not third to drinking and partying.

The fiery end of the German's birthday party

On an overcast day after another day of rain and season 4 of True Blood and reading in the van we set out in the humidity to the infamous Bas Cuvier. I had not been there yet even after a cumulative month spent in Bleau and Corinne had visited it once on a single day trip to Font with our friend Mike Silva back in '07. Upon our arrival we ran into our friend Clement whom we had met in Rocklands. A part time videographer and creator of Sandstones Media. He was also planning on meeting Scott and Kaddi when they arrived. He showed us a few classic in Bas Cuvier, then set off to pick up his girlfriend Julie. We spent most of the day in just one sector where I managed to crank out the first 7a, 7b and 7c in the forest. Not a bad day considering the friction reminded me of a slice of pizza. Corinne also busted out a few sends despite her growing belly. She managed to finesse her way up a Font 6a which would be 6b+ anywhere else on the planet. Not too shabby for 40 and pregnant in the day's pizza like conditions. We relearned the valuable lesson that the results of no expectations, unadulterated psyched and the only goal being to have fun, is that you actually end up sending a lot of boulder problems despite conditions.

Clement centimeters shy

The beautiful Contrôle Technique 7c+ Bas Cuvier

I left the shoe on for 3 hours

A few days before team Germany was scheduled to arrive our Swiss/French friends from Geneva Morgan, Stephanie and Yannick showed up to join us for a few days of sloppy sloper groping. We spent a few days in the humid rainforest conditions climbing classics and discovering 'new to us' lines. In the evenings we would all retreat to their small gite and prepared yummy warm meals.

Yannick topping out the classic La Marie Rose 6a Bas Cuvier

Morgan dyno'ing on a slab..go figure ;)

After a few days we had to go back in Paris for another ultrasound (stay tuned!) and checkup for Corinne. Upon our return the weather had finally shifted to cold October conditions and we spent our final days with Scott and Kaddi experiencing a small taste of Font friction.

Smooching the stone on Mégalithe 7c/7c+ at Rocher Gréau

As we prepared to leave, the rain clouds returned and with it our desire to move south in hopes of warmer, drier weather were solidified. While conditions could have been better, they in no way altered the fact that Fontainebleau is the best bouldering the world has to offer and we are sure to return time and again in the future; even if it might rain the entire time.

-S

PS - A shout out must go to Corinne for once again shooting some great shots that I plaster my name all over. Thanks baby!

Post from the Past : Reunited with the Goose

The following is a post lost in the annals of the blogosphere...enjoy: After our lengthy and eventful busride (a guy in in the back got busted for smuggling hash!), we arrived in Plüderhausen tired but glad to be close to home. We had told Kaddi's folks that we would be there close to 8:30pm, as our bus was originally supposed to arrive in Stuttgart at 7:30pm and we figured about an hour for our travels to Plüderhausen. BUT we didn't get in until close to 11pm and despite our incredibly tardy arrival time, as we literally threw the crashpads off the train, Erik, Kaddi's father walked toward us with a big smile and a warm welcome. Once we reached their home, Cristal, Kaddi's mom welcomed us into their home with hot mushroom soup and fresh baked bread. This welcome was indicative of our entire visit; every meal was amazing, fresh from the garden and homemade. Cristal used the Thermomix for practically every meal; this amazing invention chops, dices, blends, purees and even cooks. Unfortunately, they do not offer the Thermomix in the states. It is unfortunate as I truly think that it makes cooking easier. I may be able to get one in Canada, thus bypassing the 220 to 110 volt issue. We ended up staying with Cristal and Erik for two nights and then made our way to Geneva to go see our new friends, Stephanie and Morgan, whom we met in SA.

Though our stay in Plüderhausen was relaxing and needed, we were so excited to jump back into the Iron Goose and continue traveling the way that we originally intended. We couldn't wait to get back to our home on the road, where we are able to camp in the wild and go wherever we choose.

Reunited!

We wanted to take our time during our drive, so we decided to stop in Constance, next to Lake Constance, as recommended by Erik and Jochum, a close friend of Christy, that we also met in SA. The drive was beautiful. We arrived in Constance and a guy on a scooter gave us a thumbs up; though this was not the first thumbs up that we had received but this one turned to be a bit more significant. After parking and taking a walk toward the lake, a man came up to us and began admiring the Goose. It turned out to be the same guy that we saw earlier on the scooter. He was so excited and asked us if we needed a shower or wanted to go get a beer. He gave us his card and told us all about his Syncro group, made up of nineteen Syncros in the town of Constance. They were having a BBQ that weekend and would love for us to come and join them. We really wanted to stay but knew that we were expected in Geneva later that day. It was Friday and since Steph and Morgan work during the week, we wanted to be able to spend the weekend climbing with them, so we had to decline the invitation. We wished we had created more flexibility for ourselves so that we could begin taking advantage of these random encounters, as you never know who you are going to meet on the road when traveling in a Westy. The VW Westy community is a good one and we all tend to join together no matter where in the world we encounter one another.

Quick! escape the rain...where to?...Amsterdam, of course...

After being in the rain for two straight days in Fontainebleau and not foreseeing any stop, we examined the map to see where we could go to escape. While unblocking our phone at the SFR, we discovered that we could use the internet in the store (another free source, yet you can only use their device, much like at the library in Font). We looked at the forecast and saw that the rain was to continue for four more days and then we looked at the map...and that is when it hit me. Steve had to go to Amsterdam, so that is what we did. The next morning, we packed up and headed for Europe's version of the sin city, with it's brown cafes, "coffee" shops and red light shananigans.

We found a lovely campsite immediately on the outskirts of Amsterdam proper, called Camp Zeeburg. We arrived at the camp in the evening and decided to make dinner and keep it mellow for our first evening in the Netherlands; the next day, we would truly begin our Amsterdam adventure.

Wild architecture was common throughout the city

We woke up the next morning and decided to rent bikes, as Amsterdam is the most bike friendly city in the world and it takes a mere 20 minutes to pedal to the center of town from the campsite. Off we set on our two wheeled cruisers to the AMAZING Van Gogh exhibit at the Hermitage museum. The normal Van Gogh museum was closed for renovation so it had been relocated and re-imagined in this alternate location. Then we walked through the town center, watched a fire juggler in the square (Vin would have been psyched..contact fire BALL juggling), discovered a flea market near the music concorde, had another chance to enjoy a Döner, and enjoyed our requisite walk through the Red Light district so Steve could see the ladies of the night...

Steve taking a coffee break with his Tawainese group tour

Food stop in the Red Light District

The next day we were a bit sore from our day on the bikes, so we decided to take the metro for the day instead. To get to the metro, you need to walk about 1.5 km but the day was crisp and dry, so we grabbed a backpack and headed out. We began our day at Vondel park, a beautiful park in the center of town near the Rijks museum. I had spent several days in the park many years ago on a previous visit to Amsterdam; I had a friend who worked at the Teahouse, a round building in the middle of the park, where you can hang out outside of in, eating delicious sandwiches and drinking delectable Belgian beers. We walked around the park until we arrived at the Teahouse and stopped for a bite, while enjoying the beautiful weather. Then we set off to find the perfect sunny spot to have my first juggling lesson (actually, my second, I faintly remember Vin attempting to teach me for a short time in Alamo square once before). I thought it was time to try something other than climbing as my belly grows.

Juggling 101

After an almost one complete volley of three balls, a quick Yelp search returned a Belgian restaurant serving a large selection of beers of the same origin. With time to kill before dinner we hunted down a small photography museum called Foam. It was a refreshing change from paintings of Jesus, the usual fare in European museums. These included some particularly moving portraits of young gypsy children taken by an extremely talented young female Dutch photographer who died at an early age while visiting Guatemala.

Ummm...beer in weird glass

This being our last night in Amsterdam, we felt that we had to attempt to go out and enjoy some of the nightlife. After dinner, we headed off to the Paradiso, a local nightclub where we could see both live music and hear some local djs. Unfortunately, the band we ended up seeing was not quite our cup of tea and the music played by the local djs pandered to a much younger crowd and was overall pretty terrible. We stayed at the club for two and a half hours and really gave our best effort, but in the end, we just couldn't handle any more than that. We headed back to the campsite, still yearning for a night of good music and dancing. I guess we can try again in France or Spain.

Sunset on a canal tour

We left Amsterdam the next day and headed back to Font. We originally thought that we might want to visit Brussels on our way back up but realized that visiting cities puts quite a dent in our budget and that we needed to get back to our usual modus operandi - wild camping, home cooking, and hard climbing...

-C

Geneva: A city we could live in

Our friends Stephanie and Morgan live in the center of Geneva in a one bedroom apartment on the second ( but what they call the first) floor with their dog Tao; an expat pooch from West Virginia. Since they knew we were driving around Europe, they invited us to come see their home in Geneva while we were traveling. We knew that we loved Switzerland, having already visited the Italian and German regions, so we went visit them for some climbing in the French Alps. We arrived on Friday evening, which happens to be Aperitune night. Morgan created this get together on Friday nights, where a couple of friends head over to his house and have drinks and share music. The catch is that the music that they share must be a song that no one else has heard before. It is their way of discovering new music together. Another couple came by and we all hung out, had drinks and food and listened to music. It was a delightful way to spend the evening; it felt more like being back in SF, except for the fact that everyone was speaking French most of the time. Later that night, we headed to a concert a couple blocks away from the house. The opening band played old gypsy tunes and classic Russian, Romanian and other eastern bloc music.

Though we went to the show to see the main band, by 1am, they still hadn't come on and we were pretty exhausted (Steve was actually getting sick AGAIN) and needed to crash. We headed back to the apt, where Steph and Morgan had moved their loft bed to the floor due to my "condition", making getting in and out a little easier. So thoughtful! We were incredibly comfortable and I was truly thankful that I didn't need to make a ladder descent in the dark...

We were hoping to go climbing the next day but like many other days we have experienced here, it was going to rain, so instead, Steph and Morgan showed us around Geneva. Since it was Saturday, the city was bustling with activity. We took the metro and headed toward the lake, the central attraction in Geneva, for lunch. We ate right on the lake with a view if the Jet d'Eau Fountain, a 140 meter geyser that shoots out of the middle of the lake. You can tell that during the summer the area is packed, there are beaches, separate swimming areas with diving boards, boating areas and the like. It reminds me of Lake Tahoe in California, but perhaps a bit smaller.

On our way back to the house, we bumped into some friends of theirs who told us about some bike comp taking place in town. We had nothing else to do, so we decided to go and check it out. In the center of town, there is a large open space, where they host a variety of activities. It is next to the skate park that the city just built. The bike comp was a type of freestyle, bmx biking on different obstacle courses. These guys were pretty incredible to watch...

Later that eve, we headed over to a small Ethiopian restaurant. A food that we missed dearly. We often forget how much the bay area has to offer, especially the food; it is so easy to eat well in the bay area and boy, do we miss it! The restaurant was an everyday apartment converted into a restaurant. Morgan explained that these types of small businesses, just like their climbing gym (more on that later), are considered non-profit or small-profit, so do not fall under the same laws as normal businesses. These small businesses can operate without being taxed and are encouraged. Tt is a way for small businesses to make enough money to cover their expenses. These businesses are not looking to become bigger and more profitable, they want to remain small and cover what they need and nothing more. Dinner was absolutely delicious but of course the price tag was very different than in SF. The dinner that we ordered included a meat dish, so it probably would have cost $50 for the four of us, but alas, in Geneva it cost $68. Switzerland is quite expensive but as Morgan explained to us another day, people make more money, so in the end, it is all relative...

The next morning we headed to Chamonix to climb. What an amazing place! After taking the train to the top with a beautiful view of la mer de glace, we hiked a little ways down to do some bouldering.

F*** alpine, we're going bouldering

Morgan and some of his friends had already discovered and cleaned off a new cluster of boulders in the canyon, that included a very special compression problem that Morgan was dead set on conquering. Steve was excited to climb on the granite boulders; since most of the problems that they cleaned off were tall, 6b or above with sketchy landings, I was in charge of taking pics and watching from the sidelines. I need to be careful with little Crankenstein now, no more falling, so only easy climbing for me. With their efforts combined the boys managed to send the new compression line, an instant classic. While Steve grabbed the first ascent, it was a team effort for the beta and all the boys sent. Morgan later named the problem Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with a mutual agreement on 7b+/7c grade. Nice work guys!

Morgan setting up to clean the new compression line

Cleaning...

The beta hunt begins

Lots of chalk is showing up

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_DRLiQpoNw&feature=youtu.be;rel=0] ..and the ascent.

Both Morgan and Stephanie had to teach on Monday, so we just hung around the house attempting to figure out insurance and other admin that we needed to accomplish prior to our return home. That night we all headed to their gym. Yes, they are part owners. It is a co-op, one of these small businesses that makes enough money to upkeep and slowly make it better and better as the years progress. It is a true training gym, not quite like Moritz's gym in Nürenberg, but it is purely for those training to get better. Steph coaches the climbing team there on Monday evenings, others coach on other nights. Monday is Morgan's night to feed everyone who is working there that night, so we all headed over there and he cooked a feast, which included huge globs of melted cheese cooked in what looked like a grill cheese sandwich maker. The idea is that you melt the cheese then drip it onto potatoes. It is somewhat similar to fondue, called raclette. Not the healthiest meal but he did include fixins for salad on the side that he had picked on his friends farm outside of Geneva. We continued to hang out there for several hours, drinking beer (of course, there is a bar) and fraternizing while people climbed and congregated throughout the night. This gym is a pretty special place; it is more like a club, they even host bands several times a year and special events that include climbing hard boulder problems as part of the activity. Everyone there drinks, smokes and enjoys, without the interference of cops or authorities. We wish there could have a place like that in SF, but it would have to be underground and in the end, would probably be busted or shut down anyway...

The world's tallest campus board

Though it rained almost everyday we were there, we attempted to get out of the house. On Tuesday, we headed to CERN, the European organization for nuclear research; it houses the largest Hadron collider. We walked through the two exhibits, read, listened and attempted to absorb as much info as we could. This is where the créme de la créme of the intellectual elites do their research. Even the internet was invented here...

Corinne and the Atom Smasher

The first WWW web server

Since Stephanie and Morgan are both math teachers, I hoped that this would be an opportunity to watch teaching in another country. Though I had planned on doing this in several places while traveling, I had yet to do so, as we were never really in places long enough for me to inquire (except for SA, where I just wanted to climb more than work). On Thursday, Stephanie set it up so that I could go and watch a class that was actually taught in English. The kids in these classes were year four, seniors, and were the best of the best, when it came to mathematics; not only were they in a top level class, a mix of Calculus and vector analysis, they were also willing to learn in English, which was NOT their native language; for most, English was their second language but for some, English was their third. The class was run as a normal lecture class, much like a college class, where they attempted to absorb as much as possible. It was a two hour class with a ten minute break in the middle. They had class four times a week. Though the teacher may have had a plan for hw, all of that changed when the students were asked how to prove that the smallest set of vectors that had certain characteristics was the null set. They guessed that the answer was null set, but when their teacher asked them to prove it, they were baffled. So, that became their homework, to prove that the null set was the smallest set. No grumbling, no arguments, they just accepted that they were to attempt to prove it. It was a pleasure to sit in on a class where kids actually enjoyed being challenged and actually, yearned for it. I realize that not all classes are as special as this one, but it does inspire me for the future.

Due to the rain, we were only able to do one more day of climbing in Geneva. On Thursday, we headed to another spot that Morgan and his friends had discovered. It was an old granite mining area, that unfortunately was too hard for me but proved to be a pretty good afternoon for Steve and Morgan...

The view from the boulders

Morgan and Steve preparing for a climb

Stephanie and Morgan were the most amazing hosts; we couldn't have asked for more. Though we were vacationing in Geneva, we also needed to complete a lot of admin...insurance, tickets back home, decisions as to where to have the baby (east coast vs. west coast), plans for shipping the van back, etc. Though we would rather not admit it, it was all a bit stressful and having a home in which to broach these decisions, made our lives so much easier. These two made it very relaxed and we can't wait until we get to see them again. In fact, we should be seeing them very soon, as they are planning on meeting us in Fontainebleau in late October. It will be great to climb with them once again...we are anxiously looking forward to their arrival.

Of course, we hope that we can return the favor when they come to climb in the states. ;)

-C

Fighting the Rain

We are back in sandstone paradise, but as before, paradise is a little soggy. I anticipated that there might be some rain (turned out to be a LOT) when we were back in Fontainebleau, so we devised a plan for making camping a little more comfortable. While still in Fixin we stopped by the Brico Depot, France's Home Depot, and for a little over $13 we built an awning for the Goose. Using some two meter PVC piping, 45 degree joints, some basic hardware, a few bungees, a cheap tarp and some magnets, we constructed a quick setup/breakdown system that utilizes the jack stand points on the van.

The PVC pipes fit into the jack points and attach to the tarp with wing nuts. The end of the tarp "attached" to the van has ducted taped neodymium iron boron magnets every 30 centimeters. Then we use the two remaining rivets to run bungees to random points on the top of van and two guide lines borrowed from our tent and stake them into the ground.

So far the system has held up well in three storms; the magnets detaching only once in a very windy storm. In that case we made the guide lines a little less taught and the magnets stayed for the remainder of the winds. While the whole side of the van is not covered, the area by the sliding door stays dry and makes life on rainy days much more enjoyable. It also sure as hell beats buying a $1000 Fiama awning….

-S

PS - We are going Tarantino nonlinear for this post. We stopped in Geneva before returning to France, stay tuned.

Cooking my 31st birthday meal under our new creation

Madrid Climbing

Here you are in the biggest city in Spain and in less than an hours drive, you can be climbing on some granite boulders or limestone routes. Spain has some of the best climbing in the world but even if you don't hit the best areas (Albarracin, Rodellar, Marguelif, etc), you can still find decent spots with terrific problems.

Erin toured us around some of her favorite spots near Madrid. Though she hadn't been climbing much of late, as soccer was more of the current priority, she took us to the spots that she enjoyed close to home. Our first stop was Zarzalejo, a granite bouldering area north of Madrid. We first picked up Juan, one of her bouldering buddies from the local gym. He toured us around the area. The rock was sharp but many of the holds were conglomerate pieces that were "cemented" into the rock. We started at an easier area where we could all climb and then moved on to a more difficult area where Steve and Juan could really get down to business. After a few hours some of Juan's other climbing friends joined us. We continued to climb for a couple more hours and then headed to El Escorial de San Lorenzo for dinner.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6dPY14RG5U&feature=youtu.be;rel=0]

Five days later, we headed to Patones, yet another European limestone rock band, also north of Madrid. The rock was smooth but not completely featureless, as we were able to read the line prior to making movement. We arrived later than originally planned, but we still were able to do four or five routes. This was my first time using my full body harness, thanks to Stephanie. Not the most comfortable harness but no pressure on the belly, which is exactly what I need right now.

The next day, we headed back to El Escorial de San Lorenzo, which actually also had some Granite bouldering. Both Steve and Erin enjoyed the bouldering here. Unfortunately, much of the bouldering was just a little too hard for me at this point.

Bullfight

Spending the last week in Madrid we have gotten a taste for the food, culture and art that the city has to offer. We decided it for time for some entertainment that was distinctly Spanish. What better than a bullfight?

I don't think we have seen something on this trip that was more exhilarating, impressive, and barbaric. The stadium is all granite and concrete and we had second row seats in the giant circled shaped coliseum. There would be six bullfights in total with three matadors trading off turns. To begin the show all the participates enters the stadium in a paseíllo accompanied by music. The show begins with the matador and banderilleros using a magenta and gold cape to tire the bull out and learn it's quirks and behavior. Next a picador enters on horseback and uses a vara to stab the bull on the back of neck, which weakens and agitates the bull. To further injure and tire the bull the tercio de banderillas enter the ring and stab the bull with banderillas. These small stakes stay imbedded in the bull. Finally the matadors takes stage again and begins his dance with the bull, this time using the red cape. The final performance with the bull can last some time before the matador goes in for the kill. He feeds off the crowd and determines the best moment to drive home his sword.

The first five fights went smoothly with the third matador being the most impressive performer. Each bull was killed, some more easily than the others and each matador escaped unscathed. For the sixth and final fight the third matador entered the ring for the second time. He played the role of each banderillero, tiring the bull and even stabbing it with the banderillas. After he succeeded with the first set the crowd went wild. He grabbed two more banderilla and broke them in half. Now instead the length of a sword they were barely the length of a small dagger. He went in to stab the bull again, but due to their length he got too close to the bull and it tossed him to the side. The matador rolled to the side before getting trampled and escaped uninjured. He continued the show, dancing and dodging the bull. The time came to make the kill. The matador grabbed his sword and prepared to make a single thrust kill as he had with the last bull. He danced to the side and made a thrust. The sword drove in about half way, but it was the clear the bull was not finished. Eventually the sword fell out and the matador retrieved it. He tried again and failed. Again he tried. Another failure. This process continued until finally the matador again got too close in his impatience to make the kill. This time the bull gored him in the leg, but the matador slipped away.  He continued the show, but now with a heavy limp. Again he went in for the kill, but with the limp he was too slow to dodge the bull. It caught him and flipped him in the air like a rag doll. The matador went down hard after a full backward flip on to his head. He sprang back to his feet, but stumbled back and fell over; he was finished. The matador was rushed out of the ring. Eventually the only the bull remained, breathing hard and gushing blood, but still standing. After a few minutes, a side gate opened and a small herd of bulls entered the ring. They ran around the injured bull for about ten minutes then returned to their pen. We later learned this was an attempt to save the bull. If it had returned to the pen with the herd, it would have been saved and treated like king and used for breeding for the rest of it's days. Since it did not return, it was determined it was too badly injured and the bull was killed by a banderillero. The final tally was matadors 5, bulls 1. Something that rarely happens.

We were glad to see a bullfight, but agreed that one time was enough. The event was a bit too gruesome for multiple viewings. On the flip side it was a impressive spectacle and a unique part of Spanish culture. Madrid climbing next! -Esteban

The matadors enter the ring

One of their opponents

Banderillero tiring out the bull

This results in...

serious wounds

More tiring

The banderillo drives in banderilla

The Matador stands ready

Faceoff

The dance begins

Each matador has his own style

and super hot outfit

Gnarly

Going in for the kill

Eventually the bull goes down

The corpse is dragged off

Cape Town to Madrid

We flew out of CPT international on September 5th after staying the night with the infamous Justin Hawkins. Of all visits with Justin this was the most mellow. We arrived, hung out for a little, went out to a casual dinner at a wonderfully delicious Thai restaurant, and fell asleep watching the paraolympics. Which by the way were amazing if you did not get a chance to watch them. Watching a one-half armed man beat everyone in the 100 meter freestyle was badass.

Unfortunately this trip was not on business class, like our flight to CPT. Since we had to purchase one of the flights, as we did not have enough frequent flyer miles to pay for them all, we flew on Turkish airlines with an 8-hour layover in Istanbul. We had hoped to be able to check out Istanbul during our layover but after our hellish hot and uncomfortable flight, all we could do was sleep on the benches in the halls of the airport. Though Turkish airlines has free tours of Istanbul if you have a long layover, the tours do not start until 9am and end at 3pm. We arrived in Istanbul at 6am and left at 2pm. :(

Though the temperature on the flight to Madrid was cooler, there were no private monitors for movie watching. They were showing Snow White and the Huntsman, which we both really wanted to see, but we were seated directly below the monitor and could not see the movie at all....ipad to the rescue! We watched a few episodes of Forbrydelsen (The Killing), a show that Colin and Jen turned us onto.

We arrived in Madrid with no problems. We received a new visa upon entry and BOOM, we were admitted for three more months to the EU.  Two minutes after our exit, Erin and Matt arrived and off we went to navigate through the metros of Madrid to their amazing flat.

They live in the western portion of Madrid, between Arguelles, Moncloa and Islas Filipinas (three different metro stops). You can get to anywhere in Madrid pretty easily; it usually takes 10-20 minutes to any part of the city. We laid pretty low during our first few days there, as we were tired from traveling and climbing in SA. We then began to get back into our groove; however, as Erin noticed, my groove is getting slower and slower as I get more and more pregnant. I am not quite as motivated as I usually am. Though my energy level is supposed to be back to normal, carrying the extra weight and sleeping a bit more fitfully is definitely sapping my energy.

After a few days of rest, we began to actually see the sites of Madrid. We got our museum fix on; we visited the Prado twice, the Reina Sofia, the Thyssen for a special Hopper exhibit and the monastery in el Escorial de San Lorenzo.

Outside the monastery in El Escorial

Inside

The caskets for all the deceased Spanish kings

Checking out some surrealism

Of course food is a huge part of Spanish culture, with lunch being the most important meal of the day. Most of the days we cooked, well, most days Matt cooked, but we also went out for some meals. Matt is becoming quite the Spanish cook; his tortilla con patatas is amazing, as well as his preparation of sea bass and liver; we definitely enjoyed the food in Spain. Mid-way through our stay, we were invited to have dinner with Fernando, Erin and Matt's landlord. Fernando is Claudia's father, a good friend of Erin's who I climbed with last time I visited Madrid with Frederique. Fernando is a professor in Barcelona but also has a couple of apartments in Madrid, which he still considers his home. He is also an amazing cook. He made us a chilled soup, similar to Gazpacho but a little tangier, a hake dish with baked egg on top, as well a black sausage with a tasty green sauce (can't remember the ingredients). For dessert, we had whole cream and peaches. The evening's conversation revolved around American politics, the election and the media that presents it.

Fernando's handy work

Our time with Matt and Erin was relaxing and exciting. We did more than eat and visit museums however. Stay tuned! -Corinne

Time to spray

Epic sunrise at the camp

Rocklands has exploded over the past six years. It went from a relatively unknown far away climbing destination, to a seasonal epicenter for the world's hardest crushers to come and lay down the bouldering law. The average visitor climbs hard 7s or 8s and for the three months of the high season, climbing becomes the main topic of discussion and the primary activity of every visitor in the small farm town of Clanwilliam. Obviously this can become obnoxious as not all the climbers eat, breath and sleep the sport. Some of us try to pull down hard but would rather have fun climbing, visit with friends, and braii our brains out. However sometimes, one can't help getting caught up in the hullabaloo of hard climbing. :)

Since we were going to have close to seven weeks here, we decided that it would be best to start out very slow. We began climbing half days. That way we would save our skin and be able to enjoy getting outside and climbing most days. We both knew that rest days were key and that there was no reason to trash ourselves no matter how excited we were.

De Pakhuys campground in the evening

Resting and taking it slow worked out very well for both of us. We both came with some projects in mind. Things from the previous seasons that we had tried and wanted to complete; as well as lines we had not tried, but had inspired us before and wanted to give a shot.

Corinne and Charlie, the resident crag dog at De Pakhuys, on a rest day

We arrived mid season and it was colder than it was last year, which is both a blessing and a curse. This year our down coat and hats became a permanent part of our attire. The actual climbing was far better this year but we missed being able to chill out in the hot sun during the afternoon at the campsite. As the season progressed the temps slowly warmed up during the day and within the last weeks we managed to get a pretty nice tan. ;)

Life in Rocklands is rough

The biggest downer this season has been Steve's ability to pick up every virus that passed our way. He was sick half the time that we have been here. Something is seriously wrong with his immune system in this country. Before we got to South Africa, he hadn't been sick once, but here he was sick all of the time, which put a damper on the trip. Eventually he kicked the what we coined the Rocklands Plague and managed to get back into climbing the final weeks.

As has been the theme of our journey so far, the weather went from damp and rainy to warm over the season. When Steve wasn't sick, chances were it was raining, so the amount of climbing was less than expected in our seven weeks. That said we managed to send many of our projects, climb lines we never intended to do and Steve managed to add a number of first ascents to a few sectors around the northern Cederberg.

Corinne on Bullet Proof at Plateau

Steve knocking out Shosholoza before a hold broke this season...

Corinne sending here long term project Girl on our mind at Plateau, Photo Courtesy of Morgan Boiss

When we first arrived we met up with our good friend and Rocklands legend Scott Noy; the very man who convinced us to come back to ZA for the season during our visit in Freiburg.

Scott crushing Witness the Sickness at the de Pakhuys

Then a few weeks into our visit some of our friends from San Francisco came to Rocklands for the first time. Will Wolcott, Colin Trenter and Jen Szeto arrived in late July and joined our small troop. The psych was high and much sending ensued.

Will Up Top at Roadside

Jen and the 5 crash pad stack. Ready to send.

She used em all on Creaking Heights at Roadside.

Colin in crush mode on The Rhino

Will on Pinotage at the Sassies

After hard days of pulling on the bullet hard orange and gold sandstone we would gather back at the campsite and visit the De Pakhuys bar. Built early last season, the bar has proven itself both a blessing and a curse. It brings together the climbing community during the cold evenings for story and beta swapping. It can also turn your future climbing day into an unintentional rest day...or two.

Bar night - Scott, Val and Thys

Other evening we gather around the campfire and braii and chat; hopefully about anything but climbing. Though some nights we can avoid it and may go out for a night session with headlamps.

Our campsite in the evening

Night session on Koevoet (crowbar)

Another season in Rocklands has come to an end. The destination has gotten a lot of bad press this year because of potentially inflated grades, access complications and over crowding. While these issues hold validity and certainly need attention and discussion, I think some visitors overlook the other aspects that make this place a magical little corner of the world. It remains a special place to hike, explore, meet new friends, visit old ones and take some time to live life at a different pace. I want to give a big thanks to all the wonderful people of Clanwilliam and the hard working folks behind De Pakhuys, Alpha Excelsior, and Traveller's Rest. Without them life in the northern Cederberg would not be the same.

Cheers -Steve

A little more video spraying:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ5gFSQ8wys&rel=0]

First ascent of The Power and the Glory at Big and Roof

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShULNKKm9zA&rel=0]

First ascent of Crankenstein at 8 Day Rain

Singing, Dancing and Climbing

Near the end of our trip, Thys set up a day of climbing with some of the local kids who attend Elizabethfontaine Primary. The idea was that a group of climbers would go out with the kids, spot them and get them psyched on climbing. There was even a TV crew coming to film some of the kids with the climbers.

Our international group of climbers included Sandra and Yves from Switzerland, Kaddi from Germany, Jen Szeto and myself from the US and Marinus and Rebecca from South Africa. The kids natively spoke Afrikaans but also had a very good grasp of English, so communicating was not a problem.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0TV1FDidCU&rel=0]

Future crusher

Most of the kids hadn't climbed before but there were a couple who had been out a few times before and were quite good. But the kids were not just interested in climbing, they wanted to listen to music, sing and dance as well.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2mi1y4Bag4&rel=0]

Singing...

[youtube=www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA1i1g5XhIc&rel=0]

...and dancing

We hung out with them for three hours and everyone had a blast. I hope to see some of still climbing the next time I visit South Africa.

-C

The whole gang. Can you find me?

The big news

The permanent residency of the Goose has increased to three. Corinne is 17 weeks pregnant and the baby is healthy.

Based on careful calculations we determined that the future crusher (look at that full crimp!) was conceived on Hvar island in Croatia roughly sometime after this photo was taken:

We are very excited and will keep everyone posted on future developments.

-Steve

Golf Day

Exactly a week after Rockstock, de Pakhuys and other Clanwilliam businesses hosted the second annual golf day. On a beautiful Saturday, about 40 climbers decided to take a rest from the rock and compete against each other on the golf course. Our team, the PorkNeck Putans, were last year's champs and we were determined to win again. (Corinne was not part of the original team, but she and Shannon replaced Kieran, who was not in attendance this year) Paul Raad, our Lebanese/South African assigned "golfpro" was sure to win again, as he is a top-notch player and with Ricky on our team, there was no way we could lose.

"How do I do this?"

The master and his disciple

Shannon hammering it off the tee

Our pro, Paul Raad

Bakkie bar break

Eventually Corinne got the hang of it

The two top men at work

But lose we did. Though Ricky and Paul both played a beautiful game, there were others who played well AND had better handicaps, thus we came in third. Third wasn't so bad; we all received free brick oven pizzas from de Pakhuys which all of us enjoyed, excluding Paul, as he doesn't live close to the camp area and coming to the campsite bar and hanging out with a bunch of climbers isn't really his cup of tea.

The winning team. Our friend Daniel on the left

The team that actually played the best game thanks to semi golf pro Jackson in the blue

Fortuitously, almost a month after golf day, we also received the first place winner's prize, free dinner at Muisbosskerm, as the winners never claimed their prize except for Daniel and we refused to let a free all you can eat fish dinner go to waste. Thanks for the hook-up, Thys!

Our day at the fish buffet

Until next time. C and S

Holy Backblogged Batman!

We departed from South Africa yesterday afternoon and are on our way to Madrid. In six weeks of climbing, exploring, meeting new friends and visiting with old ones we managed only two updates. Obviously a bit more happened during our holiday away from our Euro holiday. We attempted to defend a championship, sent projects, put up new boulder problems, had visitors from SF, forgot what it was like to eat green vegetables, and have some very big news. Stay tuned as we sort out text and photos.

Rockstock

Photo Courtesy of JP Du Plessis

What started out as a simple idea for a campsite party has turned into a yearly tradition here in Rocklands. It is part of the culture, not to be missed and gives all the climbers something to hone there skills on other than the sandstone blocks. As always this year had to be bigger than the last. That meant a larger sound system, more lights and better DJs to follow the climber's performances. The brainchild of Justin Hawkins, Rockstock started with humble beginnings in 2006. He wanted an event to bring together all the climbers staying at different locations in the northern Cederberg and celebrate the community, meet new friends, and all have one hell of a time. The idea was to host a kind of lip sync contest. Each team would select a song of their choosing, create a routine, perform to live music and the crowd would select the winner. The first year went off so well with the help of DePakhuys owners Thys Kruger and Mark Botha, that it was decided to repeat the event every year. I missed Rockstock in 2009 and 2010, but I got a chance to perform last year for the first time. Justin, our friend Manu and I did the opening act that was not to be judged against that years contestants. I think we did Justin Beber proud.

This year would be Corinne's first Rockstock and a chance for us to perform together. We wanted to win, but more than anything we wanted to make the crowd laugh. Making a winning perform for Rockstock means picking a song people know and making the performance as funny as possible. Scott suggested "I'm too sexy" by Right Said Fred and we immediately knew we had a potential winner. We recruited Justin's girlfriend Lisa for our act and rushed to Clanwilliam to buy costumes and props. We spent the afternoon before Rockstock chorographing our performance and building the costumes.

Meanwhile everyone in the camp who was not out climbing was helping to setup for the event. The weather forecast was for rain, so Thys and Mark had purchased a large tent to house the epic sound system Justin has rangled up. As things started coming together in the late afternoon, the rain struck hard. Leaks in the tarp over the DJ booth had to be fixed and water draining past power lines rerouted.

As evening set in and the few dozen people whom had braved the weather crowded under the lapa for shelter, things started looking grim. I had read on the weather report that the rain was to let up at 8 pm. At about 7:50 I set out from the lapa, snapped this photo:

and stood by a huge bonfire while the rain continued. This prompted a few others to join me. The rain stated to let up as we stood around the fire sipping beers and rotating to dry ourselves out. All of a sudden the rain stopped. I glanced at my watch, the time read 8:03. In the next hour three times as many people and performers showed up and the energy was high. Rockstock was on.

Cody Roth mc'ed the event posing as Nicolas Sarkozy for reasons slightly beyond my comprehension. This year's climbing contingent is about 50% French, so perhaps that was a motivator. Justin was welcomed to the stage as the Madiba, which drew big laughter and a few gasps. He started the event off and took his position behind the light and smoke machine controls. The performances started strong with the folks from the Hen House doing a rendition of Thriller. This was followed by a chaotic performance from a mixed group of drunken climbers. It lacked polish, but their intentions were spot on. We were up next and rather than describe our performance I'll let this video by our friend Jackson do the talking.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhWsgUAC3mw&feature=youtu.be;rel=0]

More performances followed, climaxing in an original song composed and performed by a group of Swiss. It was created using an iPhone app and highlighted the main characters of Rocklands over the years, drawing applause and laughter from all the veterans of the area. While everyone loved Pimp Dawg Diggalo and his Funky Ass Hoes (our team name) the Rocklands Crew (the Swiss team) took the prize and we agreed they deserved it.

Photo Courtesy of JP Du Plessis

After the awards ceremony the DJs took the stage and the real party began. Everyone danced, chatted and partied the night away until the sun began to rise. It was another epic Rockstock and perhaps the best one yet. Everyone here comes to South Africa for the climbing, but when they arrive they discover there is so much more happening then simply climbing on rocks. They meet new friends, discover new culture and get to take part in events like this. The rocks bring them here, the people keep them coming back.

-Steve

Cape Town to Rocklands - A 21 hour tour

Since we booked our flight to South Africa so late, the only flights that we could buy with miles were business class. One way economy to SA from Germany is 30,000 miles but biz class is 45,000. After much deliberation, we figured why the hell not. We then would have to pay for one of one way tickets back to Germany, but hell, flying in on biz class was worth it. We left our van with Kaddi's parents in Pluderhausen and then trained it to Frankfurt via Stuttgart. The train rides were a bit epic, as we had both our crash pads and one large bag each, not to mention one small backpack each (our carry-ons). It took three different trains to get to the airport and on two of those we couldn't even sit down; the bags and bouldering pads wouldn't fit down the aisle.

Much to our chagrin, we arrived at the airport 5 hours before our flight. Not realizing that we could have checked in early, we waited for 3 hours in the airport "lounge" area with our bags. The German airports are very efficient and next time, we now know that you can check in many hours earlier and then hang out in the business class lounge right next to your flight. Stupidly, we waited and then thought that we had to go to the lounge in a completely different terminal, as that was what the airport guide said. So we rushed to the other terminal, so we could eat (the cost of the food in the airport was outrageous, so we were waiting for our free food in the lounge). We went to the lounge, stuffed our faces, each had a drink (Steve had three) and headed for our flight. It took us almost 20 minutes to get from the lounge to our flight and then upon our arrival we realized that there was even a nicer lounge right next to the gate. Why the hell doesn't the airport guide/map say that?! Well, we ended up getting more food and more drinks and then getting on our flight, which was one of the most comfortable flights we have ever taken. We had full on beds next to each other. Steve slept the entire flight. He never sleeps on planes. I am sure that the fact he was allowed to have endless Scotches prior to the flight may have helped but the fact that he was able to stretch out made the flight much more bearable for him. I am not looking forward to his attitude when we have to take Turkish airlines back in economy...

We arrived in Cape Town at around 12noon; the infamous Justin Hawkins picked us up right on time. Justin lives in Cape Town, so after heading to the shop to pick up some items like coffee, etc, we headed off to his home. We were then greeted by Lisa and Tristan. Lisa is Justin's new lady friend that he met on the set of his last job (Justin is a cameraman). They were working on the set of Strikeback in Jo'berg; a new HBO series being filmed here in SA. Tristan is Lisa's precocious 5 year old son. Lisa was frantically packing when we arrived, as we were all heading to Rocklands. They were going for ten days but we were about to start our seven week stint in bouldering heaven. Lisa is not a climber and though Justin used to be a climber, he now heads to Rocklands to party and get away from the hum drum life in the city; Rocklands is his escape from reality. The five of us were going up to the Cedarberg range in Justin's VW Golf and since we needed to bring tons of crap for camping and Rockstock (stay tuned), we also had a trailer that we attached to the Golf. After an hour or so of packing, we all piled in and headed off.

Ready to Go!!!

When Justin had first picked us up at the airport, he apologized for the condition of his car, well, not the condition really, but he warned us about the bumpy ride; it seems that the rear shocks were not really working anymore. At his point, we should have realized that dragging a trailer was probably a pretty bad idea. About an hour and a half into the ride, the rear driver side wheel started making some noise. Steve jumped out of the car and ran along side to see if there seemed to be anything wrong. He saw nothing but we decided to do some shifting with the weight and moved Steve to the front, and Lisa and Tristan to the back. We figured maybe less weight might just do the trick. Ten minutes passed without further noise but then a couple of us smelled burning. Justin quickly reassured us, all was fine and kept pushing on. Two minutes later a white car pulls up aside us, frantically beeping his horn and pointing down, we all look over and in the reflection of the car, we see fire. It seems that our rear wheel was shooting out flames. Justin immediately pulled over and yelled for water, we poured water on it and put the fire out but the disk brake proceeded to glow bright orange for a few seconds more.  We all got back into the car to catch our breath. Tristan was still sleeping, on top of the wheel that had just been on fire...

We figured out exactly where we were, 24 km south of  Picketberg, and Justin then proceeded to call tow trucks. He got in touch with one that was about 40km north of Picketberg and then we waited. Through all this, everyone still remained in good spirits; it was a situation that we all just accepted and dealt with. No stress, no whining (well, maybe a little bit about the cold, as our down jackets were packed away in the trailer), and laughter; it was all a bit ridiculous and an almost expected experience when you are with Justin Hawkins. While we waited for the tow truck, Justin posted our situation on Facebook, hoping that someone would take pity on us from de Pakhuys (the campground in Rocklands where we were all headed) and come and pick us up. Yet, it wasn't just us they would need to pick up but the trailer as well, so we needed someone who had room and a trailer hitch. Though there were endless comments about our situation, nobody could come and save us, so it looked like we needed to figure out another way. The tow truck arrived after an hour and fifteen minutes. He put the car on the flatbed and hooked the trailer onto the back.

FAIL.

We were all able to smush into the cab of the tow truck and off we went to Picketberg, the closest town where we might be able to get the car fixed. Once we reached Picketberg, we headed into the Tourist center/Spur/Truck stop. The tow truck driver wanted to make sure that he dropped us off in a safe area, as the plan was to sleep there, for we arrived in Picketberg at 9pm and there didn't seem to be any other apparent options. Justin, Lisa and Tristan were to sleep in the car and Steve and I were going to sleep in our tent next to the car, on the only grassy area to be found. Steve and I had bought one of the 2 second Quechua tents from Decathlon in Germany but we only purchased a one person tent, as it was to be our gear tent.

Luckily, we were parked right next to a restaurant, namely, the Spur, so the next step was dinner. We sat in a table close to a window so that we could keep our eyes on the trailer and the car. The Spur is a large chain here in South Africa that serves basic fare, burgers, toasties (grilled sandwiches), taquitos etc. The food is decent enough for a chain but I guess the adverts are amazing; no race is left untouched. They don't seem to care who they piss off and sometimes, their adverts have been banned from national TV.

After dinner, we decided it was time to set up camp, at least for Steve and I... We fished out the tent, sleeping bags and bouldering pads along with our down coats and proceeded to set up our tent on the only spot of grass. Luckily for us, that night was one of the coldest nights on the western cape, so no hanging out, we just crawled into the tent and attempted to sleep. Since our tent was a one person gear tent, it was pretty small, when Steve was fully stretched out, the opening of the tent hit his chest, so when I say we crawled into the tent, we literally did, one at a time and proceeded to sleep in spooned fetal position, as that was the only way that we were going to fit in. Once asleep, the night wasn't so bad, we were warm enough and pretty comfortable on the pads.   Throughout the night, people passed by, made noises, yelled, screamed obscenities etc, but overall the night went well, except for the necessity to pee in the middle of the night,as getting in and out of the tent was an epic struggle.

We woke up early the next morning and headed to a small breakfast cafe also located at the truck stop. Justin then went out on a search for a mechanic; he figured that the best way to find one was to ask the locals around the stop. Ten minutes later, he was driving the car over to a local mechanic two minutes up the road. 40 minutes later, Justin was back and ready to hitch up the trailer and get on the road. According to Justin, the mechanic put the car up, grabbed pieces off another old car and switched out the disk brake and something else and said we were good to go. It cost 650 rand for the fix ( about $80), whereas it cost 1000 rand for the tow (about $130). Off we went and arrived two hours later at de Pakhuys campground in Rocklands no worse for the wear but 17 hours later than first expected along with an amazing story...

-C

Döner Macht Schöner

Germany is known for it's beer. Bavaria is know for the high concentration of breweries in it's region. Nürnberg is know for the highest concentration of breweries in all of Germany. Germany is know for it's high concentration of limestone crags. Frankenjura is known for the highest concentration of hard limestone crags in all of Germany. Nürnberg is 40km from Frankenjura. Sounds good, no? We were to arrive in Nürnberg the evening of the Germany and Italy match in the Euro Cup. Unknown to us, Moritz and Julia were planning to go watch the match at a public venue. Due to poor planning and construction on the autobahn, we arrived later than expected. Moritz greeted us outside when we arrived in "Little Istanbul" or as what he called the southern ghetto of Nürnberg. Yet, as far as ghettos go, the area was more like the outer sunset in SF than Hunter's point. Due to the amount of Turks in the "ghetto", this area could also be considered "the home of the Döner", the German version of a burrito, insofar that it costs €3 and is a cheap meal that is quite suitable after a hard day of climbing.

Steve met Julia and Moritz in Rocklands last year. Moritz is almost as tall as Steve and they are both obsessed with climbing hard and training hard; they are like two peas in a pod. They climb at about the same level and are able to use similar beta; Steve truly enjoys climbing with Moritz.

We arrived in Nürnberg on a Thursday, as we planned for a full week in the city; we wanted to have a German garage check the Goose. We figured that if anyone would know how to fix the van, it would be a German, being that Goose was born in Germany.  We were still having our coolant issue and we just can't figure out how to fix it ourselves. Steve has been religiously reading forums to help him problem solve but it seems like the more he reads, the further down the rabbit hole he goes. We ended up bringing it to a garage, called N&M, on Monday, explained the problem (well, not all of it but most of it) and they found that part of the radiator was clogged and that the temp sensor for the water temp was old and needed to be replaced. When we picked it up on Tuesday, Goose was definitely acting better but still after a 45 minute drive on the autobahn, the minute we slowed down, Goose's temps were rising again. Not to the level where he is about to overheat, like before, but definitely reading temps above normal, but since it wasn't heading toward the super high temps, we thought maybe, just maybe, they had fixed our issues. That was until Saturday when we headed out to Frankenjura with Julia and Moritz and began to overheat. Once more Goose was acting up and all we could do was unscrew the cap on the expansion tank to release the pressure that was preventing the coolant from flowing. The coolant is getting stuck in the overflow and then cannot push back through to the expansion tank because of the pressure inside the tank. We have no idea why the pressure is building up in the first place. So,a week after our first visit to N&M, we went back and thoroughly explained our issues. The mechanic listened to us but decided that he had absolutely no idea what was wrong. He claimed that it shouldn't make a difference whether the engine was idling or being pushed at 80kph, it would overheat either way, but when he ran the engine all day, it resulted in no overheating and perfect coolant distribution. He kept it for another day, but found nothing wrong. Thankfully, he didn't charge us for his efforts. Once again, we were frustrated and annoyed, as we knew that our coolant problem was going to be a continuing thorn in our side.

We were psyched to head to Nürnberg to visit with Julia and Moritz but we were also psyched to hit Frankenjura, another climbing destination known for it's short, steep but often run out routes. Unfortunately, between our car and the relentless rain during our ten day visit, we spent more days in Nürnberg at the apartment than out on the rock.

We arrived on a Thursday, spent Friday in town sorting ourselves out and headed out to Frankenjura Saturday morning. We received a message that Kaddi, her brother Christian, and some friends were going to be climbing as well, so we headed out early to meet them at Kalte Wald. Though the weather was pretty warm, this area stayed pretty cool and had a nice array of routes from 6a to 7b. There were a couple of really fun 6a's and a great 7a called Stracciatella (sp?) that I enjoyed, while Steve, Moritz and Kaddi worked on a couple of 7b's that seemed to serve them well.  It was a great day and we were excited to see what else Frankenjura had to offer.

After a full day of climbing, we went to do what everyone in Bavaria does at the end of the day in the summer and headed down the road to the Biergarten. The beer in Bavaria is varied and plentiful and ALWAYS tastes good, except maybe the smoked beer, which Steve says tastes a bit like drinking bacon. Not only are there varieties in beer but there are also varieties in non-alcoholic beer; they even have several types of alcohol frei hefeweisen and they were all fabulous. Thank you Bavaria!

After the biergarten, we all were pretty hungry. Moritz knew of an awesome restaurant next to a pig farm but unfortunately, they were having a private event, so we headed to another place in the sweet little town of Pottenstein, right in the center of the Frankenjura region. Noone had been there before but it turned out to be one of our best meals yet. Steve and five others ordered the schäufele, while I ordered another smaller pork dish, as I had had the schäufele two evenings prior and I couldn't finish it the first time.

We were told that the schäufele was one of the best folks had ever eaten; it was pretty fantastic, the rind was perfectly crisped and meat just fell off the bone. We all rolled out of the restaurant after our huge, hearty meal and went looking for a place to camp for the night.

Though Moritz and Julia headed back to the city, the rest of us camped out in one of the very few bouldering areas in Frankenjura.  At around 10pm, it started to rain. We all sought refuge in our respective shelters, Kaddi and Christian and Wupi (Christian's dog, who is a mix between ewok and a wookie) sleeping under a cave with a couple of hard as nails  boulder problems. The rain continued throughout the night, along with a lightning and thunderstorm. It rained all throughout the morning as well. Despite the rain, Moritz and Julia STILL drove out to meet us, as promised. After several hours of relentless rain, Kaddi and friends decided to head home, as they had a long drive back to Freiburg and Basel, Switzerland. While Moritz and Julia gave Steve and I a quick tour of some other nice climbing spots on the way back to Nürnberg.

We dropped the car off on Monday at N&M. Julia has off on Mondays and being the amazing host that she is, took us around the sites of Nürnberg. Nürnberg is a cool little town; it has a central area which is only for pedestrians and maybe bicycles, like so many other cities in Europe; why aren't there more of these in the U.S.? I can only think of Boulder and Burlington off the top of my head. It is so nice being able to walk around, stop at a cafe, go shopping and never have to worry about cars, lights, etc.

For the rest of our stay in Nürnberg, it either rained or was hot and sticky. Limestone sucks when it is wet and does not dry too quickly in heat and humidity. Though we did have three more days of climbing in Frankenjura, we still have yet to truly experience all that place has to offer. Since we need to go and pick up our van in Germany in September and were promised that Jasper Bote would be there if we returned, we are planning on spending another week or two in Nürnberg to give Frankenjura another chance. Though Moritz and Julia will be in South Korea during our second visit, we will have a new base with Melissa and Jasper on the northern end of the city. But don't worry, there are Döner shops there as well...

Just want to give a shoutout to our amazing hosts, Moritz and Julia. You guys were so amazingly hospitable and we hope that we didn't cause too much strife in your life. When we think back to our stay,  we will warmly remember Döner macht schöner, your amazing training gym, great food, great beer (including alcohol frei), Crankenstein and your incredible hospitality. Thanks again you two and we can't wait to climb with you again soon! -C&S

PS - more posts soon hopefully. :)

Feel the Magic

Limestone is widely varied in it's formations, texture, color and quality. The one constant is that when it is hot, limestone is a slippery frustrating mess. We needed some elevation, shade from the sun and rock with a bit more friction. Enter the Magic Wood, Ausserferrera, Switzerland. Six weeks of route climbing had been great for our endurance and route reading, bad for my power and worse for my elbows. It was time to wrestle some pebbles and what better than gritty, overhanging, powerful granite crimping and slapping. We arrived in Ausserferrera late in the evening, greeted by cool air, thick lush forest and the familiar sight of climbers huddled around a roaring bonfire at camp Bodhi. Mischa welcomed us to the camp and informed us of the less crowded clearing across the street where he himself kept his own camper. Exhausted from the drive we setup the Goose and called it a night.

Come morning, we thought it best to explore the forest and find problems to climb in the cooler afternoon temps. The blocks in the forest are extremely condensed meaning you don't have to walk far to reach new problems, but it they also tend to practically layered on top of one another. This lends to lots of scrabbling, hiking up and down and worst of all it creates bad landings under the problems. Big crews and loads of crash pads is the name of the game in Magic Wood. A task our army of two and our wee sized Organic pads were not quite prepared for.

- Dropzone -

We managed to find lines with decent landings for Corinne and she performed musical crash pads while I tried some lines with less than optimal landings. Corinne had the chance to practice a little more with my 60D and I think she is starting to take some pretty nice shots. Shooting photos, moving crash pads and spotting me is tough for one person, but she mastered the skill in in these woods.

- Dino's don't dyno -

As the days passed we met more climbers to help share the spotting responsibilities, which freed me up to take some climbing shots of Corinne. MW is known for having problems on the harder end of the spectrum, so we were skeptical of how much she would be able to climb. As we explored the forest however, we found projects for her and after a few days of work she started sending.

- Beach Arete - Corinne topping out one of her projects.

- Fettes Schweinchen -

- Du cote de Seshuan -

- Slip Slap Slop - A new friend and fellow spotter : Eyþór from Iceland.

After a week of rain on and off we needed to make our way to Germany. The cooling system on the Goose was giving us problems again and we have a friend in Nürnberg who could help us out; not to mention show us around town and the monster climbing destination that is Frankenjura. We were sad to leave beautiful Switzerland with it's endless mountain peaks and pristine woodland. However it will be nice to pay normal prices for groceries again!

-S