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Eight years after his first 9a, La Sportiva ambassador James Pearson has recently sent "Condé de choc" in Entraygues, France. Here is his climb report and some thoughts about his evolution as aclimber and new parent.
I’ve known about the route since seeing pictures in magazines and from roundabout the time I started climbing, yet despite now only living a few hours away, and even visiting the area a few times in the past, I never actually been climbing at the crag.
Entraygues is a really great cliff for climbing in the summer, as it’s a relatively high altitude and in the shade all day. What makes a very special however it is the short walk from the lovely Alpine meadow where you can camp, and the relatively flat base of the crag, making it perfect for climbing with small children.
As has become quite normal for Caro and I, we spent part of our summer visiting friends living near Briancon and climbing on the boulders of Ailefroide. We’ve been travelling quite a lot this year with Arthur, first of all to Ethiopia, and later on on a bike and climb trip, and so I wasn’t really sure if I was in good shape. We had no specific objectives, other than to try to get fit for an upcoming project of Caro in the Verdon, but when we decided to go and check out Entraygues one day I figured I'd take a look at Condé de Choc to see if it could be something I might one day climb.
I’m definitely better at Bouldering then I am at routes, but since Condé de Choc is basically two hard boulders split by a really good rest, I figured I might stand a chance. Unfortunately, I tweaked my neck clipping the first quickdraw of our warm up route! Yes, it was as pathetic as it sounds, and so had to wait a few more days before I could actually move my head again and actually try it.
The first boulder worked surprisingly well for me. I climbed the iconic jump move on my first try, and figured out the first awkward moves to get into the jump. The upper boulder however was a different story, and despite its supposed easier difficulty, at the end of day one I still hadn’t managed to get to the chains! I decided to try just the first part of the route on day 2, known as Corde de Choc, 8c+, which climbs the first boulder and exits in a 7c. I managed it after a couple of tries, decided that the next day I’d get back on the upper section and try to figure that out, crossing my fingers I might have enough time to climb it before we had to leave.
Entraygues is a funny cliff with conditions, and in the space of a few hours, moves go from impossible to “easy” should the wind decide to blow the right way. With the help of a breeze I figured out a method that worked for me - a very cool, but very droppable dyno, and set to work trying to link the whole thing. I tried to make the most of the couple of days I had left, and was lucky that I could climb the first boulder almost every try. I got close on my first day of red-points, but couldn’t hold the strange dyno, and gave myself a few little cuts in the process. Instead of trying one last time that day, I cut my losses and took a rest day, hoping that my skin would heal and conditions would be on my side for the last day of the trip.
In the past I think I’d have probably felt a lot of pressure in a similar situation, but one of the most unexpected bonuses of becoming a father is that climbing performance doesn’t really bother me anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the idea of climbing hard routes and boulders, but the thought of “failing” doesn't stress me like it once did. If I climb a route or not, Arthur is still going to be waiting for me at the bottom, and he doesn’t see me any differently. All he wants to do is to play with me in the river, or for me to help him scramble around the boulders or trees.
Having a child really helps me put things into perspective, and realise that, at the end of the day, we only go climbing because it's good fun. In addition to the lack of stress, when you have a small child at the crag with you, you’re forced to be pretty damn efficient. When Arthur is up and about we’ve got to be following him every second, because turn your head for even a few moments and he’s solo’d up to the first quickdraw! When he decided he’s ready for a snooze, then its go time for red-points. You make the most of whatever time you have, when you have it - avoiding all the questions of “is it the right time”, “how do I feel”, and “maybe I should wait a little more”!
My first try on the last day was good! I passed the bottom boulder without too much trouble, climbed well into the upper crux, and nearly stuck the strange dyno, sadly only catching the edge with 2 fingers. I played with Arthur in the river, helped him build some little Kairns, and then just as I was thinking about how long to wait before my next try, he grabbed his teddy and dummy and pointed at his bed. A few years ago I would have definitely been waiting and worrying at this point, but now I’m tying on, happy to have a little time for myself. I climb the bottom boulder, but its a battle on each move, and get to the rest feeling noticeably more tired than the try before. Arthur hasn’t quite gone to sleep and he’s starting to wriggle around, I can’t hang around here forever! The few “easy” moves after the rest feel harder than normal, but that doesn’t matter. I try hard, set up for the dyno, try really hard and WOW! I’m still on the rock! The last moves pass perfectly, and I clip the chain on my 2nd 9a, 8 years after my first! I lower off, Arthur is already in Caro’s arms. We give him a snack, pack up, and start driving home.