woensdag 13 november 2013

Making my puzzle with new objectives

Vertical Jeep Trip - Kleisura - Greece
Back in Belgium… a chaotic puzzle? Or just a multitasking life?

I wake up… I think: ‘Should I go running or immediately make myself a porridge and drink a green thee’. With a sleepy face and my arms destroyed from training the day before I go to school and follow class, I come back home and I study or do some schoolwork, read papers and write some papers. During the afternoon or in the evening, I go training in my local gym with some friends, back to basic. In the weekends Freyr is calling, except for those days when nature decides to poor water from the top of Al’legne (main sector). Then there is the other thing about climbing, the planning. Planning new trips or expeditions. Hours I can spend reading books and searching the internet, what a luxury. Your next expedition might be right on the internet already…

This is how my life here in Belgium looks like since I came back from the ‘The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival’ in October. It was only four weeks ago, but it looks like ages. An amazing climbing festival it was; good atmosphere, fun people, great climbing, great weather and I could smell the motivation to climb in the air.

Vertical Jeep Trip - Kleisura - Greece 
One year ago I remember myself saying: ‘I would love to combine my climbing and travelling with higher studies but still go full on in both disciplines’. Now, one ‘try out’ year to reach the goal of developing my climbing and developing myself with knowledge and education in higher studies as a social worker past by and it worked out fine. Although it wasn’t the easiest task, in Belgium I managed to combine training and studying quite well. When I left Belgium in my (extended) school vacations I managed to go on some great trips and have a good time out climbing. Although I couldn't forget my studies and filled my rest days opening my school books. It’s not easy to combine both disciplines like this. Mentally I feel it can be heavy sometimes to be on the road a lot and still have a lot of duties back home. Switching from one world to the other can be tiring or confusing sometimes. But uh… what… am I complaining? NO!

But what am I actually saying then? I think it’s a thing of our time, it’s globalisation and the goal is to learn how to deal with the freedom and uncertainty we have. For example, a lot of us can choose to go study what they want and when they want, is that freedom or just scary? Maybe freedom, but on the other hand society expects us to make the right choices and perform to fit in its context, so sometimes pressure is on. All this freedom makes us sometimes hesitate about what we’re doing and what meaning we have, it’s the luxury problem of our time who brings a lot of questions. I guess it’s hard to deal with this much freedom, but if it works it’s a good thing. Or maybe stop thinking like this and follow your feelings and live in the present. :)

Training time… and time for new objectives

Chamonix - July 2013
Last winter I did some training in the climbing gym, I could feel progression but I felt I could do more with the basics of climbing I’ve in my body. This winter I decided to train a bit more seriously, so searched for a coach. I found it, for the moment I’m training together with Tijl Smitz in the climbing gym of Leuven. The first objective is to get some more strength and specific power. With a good basic fitness, specific power is the first thing I need to improve. This allows me to gain more resistance afterwards. So this winter will be a winter full of bouldering and some campus trainings.

DWS in Ha Long Bay - Vietnam 2013
Besides the specific climbing training with Tijl, I work together with a sport specialised osteopathy and physiotherapy centre near my hometown, ‘Groepspraktijk Vanden Auweele & Sportpraktijk’. These super nice specialists, Koen and Frigyes, are both fascinated with climbing and what climbing does with our bodies. For the moment I follow their program for stabilisation of the imbalances of my body, some fine treatment I would say. I would like to thank those guys already for there support!

I got several new goals in future that allow me to find the motivation to train. I also have to say that I’ve always had the training spirit. I don’t mind spending time in gym if needed, definitely not with some good objectives lying ahead. After my exams in January I will go to Spain to push my limits in sport climbing again. I feel I got more strength in my body then some years ago when sport climbing was the main goal. Now, I would like to see again what I could do and what my limits are again. It’s fun to push it sometimes! But still my main goal stays to climb hard cracks, this training period is an investment for the month of April when I will go back to the US to search for some fine and hard cracks back again! And yes… I think I’m not the only one when I say I’m looking forward to the next summer and am already busy planning a trip. The big dream is still there… getting out high in the mountains and see what kind of walls are possible there…

Wilder Kaisers - Austria
Petit Clocher du Portalet - Switzerland
Chamonix - Les Intouchables
Chamonix - July 2013

donderdag 10 oktober 2013

The 'The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival' - life!

Last days we prepared the last things of the new PROcompetition sector. The routes are clean, the quick draws are in! The routes are waiting to be climbed by the invited climbers. It's going to be a great spectacle. The special thing this year about the festival is the live streaming from the PRO sector!

People at home can follow the PROcompetition today (Thursday) from 11 am to 1pm and on saturday from 8 am to 1 pm.

To watch the festival life: go to thenorthfacejournal.com, planetmountain.com and 8a.nu


zaterdag 5 oktober 2013

Vertical Trip to Kalymnos with Jeep and The North Face

Written on the 2nd of oktober:
School only just started, my second year in university began and… I’m out of Belgium after two weeks already. This time I left Belgium for a really particular trip, a real road trip. A road trip through countries I’ve never been before with as destiny Kalymnos, the sport climbing paradise in Greece where I’ll join the The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival. 
The Vertical Trip supported by ‘Jeep’ started a couple of days ago in Bergamo, Italy. Together with Jacopo Larcher and a team existing out of a journalist, Manuela, of the magazine Marie Claire Italy, DJ Gross from DJ tv Italy and the crew of spiagames we’re crossing countries like Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece at the end.  In every country we tried to climb in one of its best climbing areas. Enjoy the pictures of Alberto Orlandi in this blogpost.

The first stop was Arco, Itay, the amazingly big sport climbing area near the Garda lake. Here we climbed our first day with good weather, a little humid but climbable! I managed to do a classic 8a+, Randa second go where after Jacopo did an athletic 8c, Athena which he tried two weeks before a couple of times!
Good start of the trip though! For me it’s also super motivating to climb with Jacopo, it pushes me a bit more to try harder routes! 
After Arco we drove towards Osp, Misja Pec in Slovenia where we climbed half a day in the big overhanging wall. Regardless the rain and thunderstorm we were able to climb on dry rock! Because of the long drives we still had to make we only climbed a couple of hours but it was worth it! I managed to do a short resistance 8b in my third go while Jacopo could do an 8b+ next to it. Both great lines and most of all… dry! To end with, Jacopo still managed to do the 8b I did, strong little Italian this guy!

With pain in my hart I have to write that this was the only climbing we’ve done so far. The following two days we drove and drove and drove… The third stop was Paklenica in Croatia with its famous multi pitch walls of 350 meters. With a lot of rain the big limestone walls were soaking wet, we made a little hike through the national park of Paklenca and studied the walls we could see. This is an amazing place to come back to and as I always say is… I will go back to it . 
So we drove on towards Smokovac, Montenegro. But again… No success, driving through the Balkan we had extreme rain every single minute. Waking up the next day we looked around and saw so many good rock but it was all wet. Smokovac is a limestone sport climbing area that is still underdeveloped.

The guidebook showed us 10 routes on every sector but it looks like a lot of classics and hard lines are still waiting to get bolted. Who’s up for it?
So on we went in the direction of Greece. That fourth day we crossed Albany, an underdeveloped country that is also still completely under construction. They are building houses everywhere and routes are still in construction. From driving 2 km at a speed of 100 km/h on asphalt you may expect to be driving on a dirt road at a speed of 20 km/h soon.

This went on for 700 kilometres, it was a long and epic drive through Albany. It’s amazing to travel like this, I opened my eyes and observed the life and the people like I never did. This trip made me psyched to once in life use my thumb and hitchhike through the Balkan to live the real Balkan life.

Now we’re on our way towards Kleisoura in Greece. For the moment the weather looks great, so today… we CLIMB!!!

Thanks for the pictures Alberto!
The next post follows soon... If you already want more stories and practice your italian, have a look on marieclaire.it

zaterdag 31 augustus 2013

Vietnam DWS Trip 2013 - Climb high and splash it deep ...

Climbing in its most natural way everybody can do. You do it barefoot without any help of shoes neater of chalk. You don’t even have to use a rope, a harness or a belay bunny. You’re free to move wherever you want; up, down, left, right.  One thing you have to keep in mind is where you will climb. Not everybody is willing to climb free and solo at a height of 10 up to 500 meters like some of the climbers out there. The safest way to climb so naturally is above the water. The amazing sport of Deep Water Soloing gives us the possibility to climb whatever you want wherever you want to climb, as long as it is above deep enough water.

The idea

In 2008 I made a trip towards Mallorca where I climbed the first time above the water, I was excided but since then I never made a Deep Water Solo trip anymore up to last month of August. Together with a team existing out of 4 British climbers I went towards Vietnams Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. One of them was George Ullrich, the crazy Brit that joint the Venezuela expedition in 2012. When he asked me in February to join the Vietnam DWS trip I didn’t hesitate much to make a decision. Our team existing out of Jake Rogers, Matthew Burdekin , Liam Lonsdale, George Ullrich and myself had a specific goal. We knew the area existed out of a million small islands with a lot of limestone rock faces, sometimes above the water and sometimes not. Our goal was to search and find new yet unclimbed rock faces that we could climb up to a proper height above the water. We did research about the already developed crags or all the places climbers had been. Next thing we selected some areas, which we had no information of and assumed no climber had been there yet, to explore on our fourteen-day journey on a boat.
Epic journey …
We rented a boat in Cat Bá Island relying on the outdoor company Asian Outdoors. The boat itself was from a small company of Vietnamese in Cat Bá. First, George and I had some epic time getting on Cat Bá Island while the rest of the team was already there.  After George missed his connection flight in Helsinki he arrived 12 hours later in Hanoi, Vietnam. But still we couldn’t make our way to Cat Bá Island because Finnair lost my bag in Helsinki. We both had to spent one day extra in the big chaotic city of Hanoi waiting for my bag, which finally arrived about one day and a half after I arrived in Hanoi. After all it wasn’t that bad. Getting from Hanoi to Cat Bá Island we had to take some busses and a boat. Normally not a big deal but this day a storm was hitting the island and the main land with the result a lot of the transitions were cancelled. We ended up being hassled in Hai Phong, where we would take the boat to Cat Bá Island, by the Vietnamese boat business guys who each told us their boat would go but finally didn’t. The Vietnamese are friendly people but when they see western travellers they try to take advantage of them. It’s hard to ask for help because they just want to survive and make money so every question you ask them that hasn’t anything to do with their business they wont always answer. It is frustrating as a traveller but you cannot blame them for trying to survive. So at least we could leave Hai Phong the same day we arrived there but we ended up paying a lot more then we should have. Those are the mistakes you sometimes make travelling through a foreign country with another culture.

Discovering our environment
Once we were on Cat Bá Island we didn’t have to wait much longer anymore. The next day early in the morning we left the main land and loaded our bags on the Lan Ha Cruiser, the boat that would be our house for the following 14 days. The five land rats where impressed about the size of the boat. When you enter the boat from the front and go inside you first pass the dining table and captains wheel. Further on we had two rooms with in every room two beds and a bathroom. Yes you read it well; we had a shower on the boat, luxury. The boat had water reservoirs to provide the team of running water. During the trip we run out quite a bit of water what made us go back to the main bay, Bai Traï Dau, close to Cat Bá Island to get water from a big water tank boat. In the back of the boat was the kitchen, the place where the magic happened. With a 40 litre jar of the main ingredient for all dishes, oil, greasy! The place where we’ve spent a lot of time was the deck. The deck of the boat was big and perfect for sleeping, chilling, playing chess, searching for crags and crazy lightning parties in the rain. 
First thing we got to meet the boat crew existing out of a local guide, a cook, a captain and the captain of the little boat, basket boat. Our local guide is an amazing kid named Than, he’s 20 years old and only climbs since one and a half year. The special thing about this funny guide is that he’s a motivated bastard that climbs always barefoot. Than has a pair of shoes that are 4 sizes to big. If he uses them he likes them a lot, it’s like barefoot climbing but with rubber protection… crazy little Vietnamese he is. 

Than knows the area around Lan Ha bay quite well. The first days he showed us around the best crags. We climbed some of the established DWS lines and sport routes. In the start of the trip we did some sport climbing because the tides of the water were to low for DWS. It’s important to always check the tides and the depth of the water. The sport climbing around the islands is pretty good, a lot of different styles and limestone rock types. The only thing is that there is never one area with more than a handful of routes. They also are not always easy to access. But we didn’t came al the way to Vietnam for sport climbing, so soon we moved on when the tides were better towards the DWS cliffs and took our time to get used to the climbing and the height above the water. 

DWS climbing is a different thing. I remember the first day quite well; ‘Shit, I’m not going to be able to commit for hard moves high above the water.’ But after only one day the DWS headspace came back. You’re a free climber, you can climb where you want and as high as you want. It’s an amazing feeling once you’re comfortable with the height and falling into the water. You can follow the obvious lines in the wall, whether they traverse 10 meters to the left or right, if it’s a clear line you can follow it and you’re not limited by the bolts. In the start we had to learn how to fall down into the water without getting hurt. The perfect splashdown is to fall with a relaxed body using your arms to stay in balance and then finally hit the water feet first and with your arms against the body. It’s an amazing feeling when you can climb 15 to 20 meters as a free man to the most obvious top out. 
In the mean time I got to know my crew a little bit better. From the start the British humour filled up the air with a good atmosphere. Slowly I adjusted my American English accent to the British North Wales accent and was able to understand my British friends a little better. With Liam as a stand-up comedian full of shit, Matt the big guy who never turns his back to the funniest idea’s, Jake the tactful joker, George the team leader and Than our impressive barefoot climber and social guide we climbed almost every single day of our trip and had a good time on the boat. Mornings filled our stomach with western food like white bread and condensed milk with sometimes some rice bread what we called ‘rice pillows’. This breakfast wasn’t very popular with the team but still it did its job and filled us up every morning. Lunch and dinner existed out of typical Vietnamese food with rice and lots of fried veggies, meat and fish. In the beginning very popular within the team but after several days the oily food started to work bad on our stomachs. We asked for less fried food what we got, but still I think our Vietnamese cook wasn’t used to cook things without frying them. After all we couldn’t complain that much when you’re served two weeks long on a boat.

Our first exploring trips

After some days of climbing established routes we grabbed a map of the islands of Lan Ha and Ha Long bay and pointed some spots out to our captain of which we wanted to search for potential DWS cliffs. With our ‘slow’ boat we moved along the cliffs. The first few days of exploring we stayed close to developed areas. Close to the famous Ba Trai Dào we found what we called ‘Cashew Cove’, an area with three main walls that we climbed all new routes on. On the ‘Corner wall’ George and I had been trying an amazing athletic line with several big moves up to the crux at a height of 8 to 10 meters. We both fell every time in the same move, which we tried several times in different ways.  This is the difficult thing in DWS climbing, it’s like the old school Yoyo-climbing style where you when you fall have to climb al the way to your previous high point again to try the crux. It’s not possible to work the moves for a next attempt. You’re basically always on sighting as soon as you pass your high point, definitely when nobody has ever climbed there. George and I tried this project over and over again but without any success. We ended up doing really long moves to crazy slopers that we couldn’t hold. At the end I went up the cliff on the left side and found a traverse above our high point of the project, now I could see the holds and I concluded this would be a very hard line to climb as a DWS line. Up to the crux the project is definitely an amazing 7c+ worth to try. 

We found more amazing climbing in the area of ‘The Face’, an amazing flowstone face with two nice 7b/+ sport climbs. One of the walls we found we called ‘Razorblade wall’. On this one we climbed a fun dyno low above the water which leads towards a series of long dynamic moves on a steep wall. On the right of this classic we found another project. Every time each of us climbed a little higher on the project up to the point where I grabbed a crucial hold that broke and spit me off. This is how the climbing was like during this DWS exploring trip. Every route you climb is new and the rock has never been touched before. Often you’re climbing slow and steady searching for the right hold to get your way up. Sometimes the holds didn’t feel solid but you still have to trust them and go for it. This project we left behind because of the super sharp rock and because we had to move on. 
First ascent and on sight climbing
Climbing on rock that has never been climbed on is always exciting. But when you climb on virgin rock above the water and you never now when the rock will break it’s even more of a head game! This trip taught me a lot about first ascent climbing and searching for new holds and lines. I started to develop my eye for finding the best and most logical lines and when you find and climb them it’s such a good and satisfying feeling. At the start of the trip I climbed still insecure and hesitated a lot about what was coming but also because of the free air underneath me. Instead of hesitating you need to climb quick and try not to waist too much time searching for holds. I noticed that when I wasn’t scared to fall anymore I felt stronger and could climb better. I started to commit for hard moves without thinking about falling deep into the water, that’s when I knew I started liking DWS climbing even more. You get into a flow and the only way is up! 
Search and Find
During this trip we’ve spend a lot of time on the boat driving through al kind of bays searching for the perfect crag. We found a lot of small crags with also nice lines but we wanted to find a big area with good rock and a lot of potential lines and projects. Exploring can be tiring and despaired. We had days we searched whole island groups but couldn’t find a single good wall that could get us excited. After some days of searching it’s important to keep the head up and not lose the hope to find a wall. 

The time had come… One morning we woke up another day at 5 am, woke our captain and put him behind the wheel for a new exploring trip. That day we were going up North-east of Cat Bá Island in Ha Long Bay. This is when we found an amazing wall that at first didn’t look like it had many lines on it but finally we managed to climb about 10 lines with 3 more projects and much more potential. This wall we called ‘Hueco Wall’ due to the many big basin-like forms in the wall. Even before 7 am we climbed the first 15-meter line on the wall and were psyched to climb them all. We ended up climbing about three days on this wall discovering lines every minute. The climbing style is funky with a lot of knee bars and compression moves on pinches and slopy holds. The lines we opened we graded between 6c and 7c/+ with potential for some more and maybe harder. Hueco Wall is definitely a wall that will become popular in the future of Ha Long Bay DWS.
The sea and its creatures! 
On the first day at Hueco Wall I climbed a line called ‘Zues’s sea snake’. The climb got its name thanks to the situation after I climbed it. As soon as I dropped into the water from the top of the climb my team members on the boat started yelling at me to swim quickly to the boat. I followed their advice until they started yelling even more and told me to swim back to the rock and climb on again. I followed their advice again without really knowing what I was doing. A little worried but still thinking they were pulling my leg I swam to the rock and climbed back on a ledge. When I stood on the ledge and turned around I saw a sea snake swimming really fast with his head sticking out towards the rock about ten meters away from me were it slid up into a hole 30 cm above the water surface. A scary moment I’ll never forget. Afterwards the basket boat driver told us a bite of this kind of snakes is deadly and you will not have much time to survive. I realise I was pretty lucky. The team was a little shut down after this incident but still we managed to climb on. Since then, every time someone fell into the water the jokes stopped and we looked out for more of those deadly sea animals. 
The sea snake we saw only once, but what we did see many times were jellyfish. Most of the times we could see the jellyfish and were able to avoid them when we were in the water. We always relied on each other to swim back to the boat waiting for our team members to give you an update of where the jellyfish are. In the start you’re scared of them but after a while you start to get used they are there. At places with lots of jellyfish it was important always to look down at the water before you jump of to make sure they were not floating around underneath you. 
Arm wrestling as recuperation activity
Going back to the mainland we discovered some of the Vietnamese culture. Walking along the street we passed many karaoke bars with dozens of hyperactive Vietnamese singing and screaming. Matt took their attention with his tall stature and they dragged us in. What should have happened then, didn’t happen. Instead of singing gay music we ended up in a game of arm wrestling. First Matt started off with two Vietnamese guys. Then I was next, I had never done any arm wrestling before but I was going wild against those strong little bastards. I ended up beating 6 Vietnamese guys, where after my arms fell off. After me it was Liam’s turn, he stole the show taking off his t-shirt and making the hyperactive Vietnamese even wilder. We were like some foreign heroes for them that evening and ended up on pictures on all their smart phones. 
The DWS exploring trip in Vietnam was a great experience. We searched and searched a long time and I’m happy to say we found some great walls and amazing climbs with good rock. Although the contrast with my month of alpine climbing in Chamonix was pretty big I could get used to the climbing and the lifestyle on the boat. I have to say I still prefer the mountains with its traditional climbing. But still, this was an amazing trip. As long as there is a head game going on in climbing I’m satisfied, and so it was with Deep Water Soloing. 

I still want to thank Jake, Liam, George, Matt and Than for their amazing company and the good time we had! It was a bunch of crazy wanckers on a boat, climbing every single day above the water in an amazing environment with an amazing atmosphere. We searched and found new crags and climbs. Every new route and crag we developed has been written down and turned into a guidebook with pictures, the drawings of the climbs with an explanation and all the information necessary to go out there and repeat our routes! I will soon post the guide on my blog. I highly recommend a trip like this if you like sea, sun, a foreign culture and some high climbing above the water.  

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