Our Athlete Rachel Carr Tests Her Limits At Font

rachelcarrFont! It’s a uniquely beautiful place both in terms of its scenery and its climbing. Every time I leave, I know I need to return. My previous visits have always been rather short, a week at the most, but this year I planned for slightly longer trips to give myself a better chance at climbing hard; boy did I need it! At Easter I managed to climb my highest number of blocs yet, and managed to push my grade from 7B to 7C, and visit many new areas. I had an amazing trip with lots learned after getting to spend so much time on Font’s beautiful, testing sandstone. This October I hoped for the same!

I didn't expect to up my grades again, or achieve as many tops as I had before, since that was really my first proper trip to Font. This time I saw fewer new areas, but explored them more. My aim for this trip was simply to do a LOT of climbing, I wanted circuit days, slabs, and to test my limits. As is the way with many Font stories, the rain disagreed. With so few days without rain I struggled to find a day to do circuits because I was worried about wasting chances on projects. I found it very difficult not to feel like I wasn't doing enough. The first few days were good weather but unfortunately didn’t involve much climbing. With a combination of trying very hard blocs at the beginning of each day, and the exhaustion of a full day’s driving to get to Font, we just didn’t possess the energy for long sessions. I managed to send a few 7as at the beginning, but it wasn't until the 3rd day that I finally felt strong again. Mike suggested I try a cool problem at Franchard Isatis called ‘Alta’. This was very much an indoor-style boulder with one hard dynamic undercut move and finishing on an easier, rounded top out. I don't usually like doing indoor-style boulders outdoors as I never feel like I really have to work them out. The sequence is usually fairly obvious and they’re over all too quickly. However, making the hard move after only a few attempts I regretted thinking it would all be over after that. With a knee bar on my own arm, some fight and a bit of panic, I managed to top it out. I even managed to salvage a bit of style, no whaling for me this trip! I was happy to climb my second 7C without flailing too much, but I was a disappointed I didn't get to enjoy the process a little more. I always appreciate a problem more when it’s taken a bit of working out; even if I don't go on to top it.

Happy with a hard top, I decided to have a shot at working on one of my weaknesses, an arête with terrible feet: ‘Angle Bens’. I spent what felt like hours working my way up higher than I had expected to, but my lack of aerate experience meant I couldn't quite get the top. Despite this, I was happy; I’d climbed a cool 7C, warmed up on a slab and got very close on a tough arête!

The following days followed along a similar course, with a quick ascent of ‘Onde de Choc’ and an unexpected success on ‘Science Friction,' a horrible, or wonderful, slab…depending on your point of view. Supposedly a 6A, ‘Science Friction’ took me more goes to top than ‘Alta’ and ‘Onde de choc’ combined. I was happier with that than any other climb so far, which definitely says something about my slab climbing. I finally felt like I could climb slabs with style.

Then the rain came.

The forecast had deceived us with sunshine and high winds, however what we really got was 2 days straight of heavy rain. Thankfully one of the great things about the forest is its amazing ability to dry overnight. The next dry day we managed to get straight on the rock but unfortunately when it came to my go to get on the rock, the climb I wanted was one of the few wet ones so a third day of no climbing for me which happened again the next day. Just my luck, after a few goes on a hard climb at 95.2, purely because it was quick drying, the rain hit us as we were getting close to a send. The frustration was really setting in.

At this point I was losing hope and sanity. I prayed for the rain to stop for long enough for me to try my projects. We parked up at Isatis for the night, for another rainy sleep in the van but we hadn't planned to climbed there as it was still raining. When we were planning to leave the next day I decided to have a look and see how wet the rock was as we’d seen a lot of people go climb despite the soaked ground. To my surprise my project was dry.

‘Le our de lamentations’ is a high, crimpy bloc that involves a lot of finger strength and skin. Thanks to the weather I’d spent the last 4 days building up skin by barely climbing! This one did not go easy; the first move took at least 3 goes, followed by every move after taken at least 2 more. The 3rd move took what felt like ten attempts with me changing the hold and body positioning four times in themselves. Half way through trying we were joined by some very strong French climbers, one of whom flashed the boulder. I was in awe but also very happy as it allowed me to see, and steal, the beta for the final section I had been struggling on. With the pressure of others watching and the new beta I managed to work my way to the final move, and power out. I slapped back for the final hold and missed as my left hand ripped and I plummeted to the ground. It was the first fall I’d taken on anything remotely high, I had been terrified as I clung on the final holds and my fear became a reality. I hit the pads waiting for the usual ankle issues but suddenly I was ok. I hadn't gotten hurt. The best part was the emotion I felt was not fear or disappointment at how close I’d come, I was happy that I’d managed to fully go for a move despite my complete fear. There was no way I was leaving it at that. I was suddenly incredibly nervous; nerves reminiscent of how I usually feel in comps before a final.  They  piled on the pressure to get to the top and with all that pressure I of course got nowhere. I got frustrated, my tips were raw and my fingers sore but I just couldn't give up. I pulled on again and thankfully this time managed to get that last hold in my grasp. With a massive smile on my face I pulled over the top of the boulder and let out a small cheer of excitement. I was incredibly happy, not only had I managed to climb my project, but I had managed to push my limits successfully. The trip was finally coming together. I only had a few more days left but the pressure of success was finally lifted.

Unfortunately the rain continued through the final days meaning my project was wet and we were forced to fast drying areas. I managed to get a few more 7a’s and 7a+’s under my belt but sadly nothing harder. I was very happy with these climbs however as they were classics and one was even a pesky boulder I’d tried when I was younger and been incredibly frustrated on, so to finally get the top was great.

To some this trip may sound miserable, it may sound wet, it may even seem like I've had a bad time. But that’s all down to my poor writing skills. Every trip to Font is incredible even when it rains for days on end, which rarely happens., There’s always somewhere to go and something to see. This trip may not have seen a lot of climbs, easy or hard but it has seen a turning point in my climbing. Firstly I climbed a slab, who saw that coming? Secondly I did pretty well on an arête, not quite a top but I need to leave some challenges for next time. And thirdly, I managed a fairly high boulder that took a lot of time, something I'm usually not very good at. My technique and climbing has improved massively over these two weeks with my biggest weaknesses becoming my greatest success. There’s always things left unfinished but I won’t be worrying about them, not until next time.

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