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Deep water soloing - what's that about?

Deep water soloing – what’s that about?

5. July 2017
Alpinetrek-Experts

A pair of climbing shoes, a chalk bag and some swim briefs – that’s about all you need to climb a wall. At least, that’s all Alex Honnold needs. Unfortunately, the kind of climbing (free soloing) Honnold wows us with on a regular basis is very dangerous, forcing the less audacious among us to leave it to the professionals. If you want to give it a crack anyway, we recommend deep water soloing.

Those who have tried it before refer to it as climbing in its purest form. Why? Well, there’s no protection, you can choose to follow routes or not and you won’t be risking your life as you would with each and every free solo climb.

Deep water soloing (DWS), also known as psicobloc, is becoming more and more popular. If you have yet to figure what it’s all about and where you can do it, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s start with a definition: Simply put, deep water soloing (DWS) is climbing without protection above deep water. So, does that mean it’s a less dangerous version of free solo climbing? Let’s put it this way: it depends on how you go about it. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the basics:

Advantages

You can just climb. You don’t have to think about protection, routes, belay stations, etc. In other words, you can leave most of your gear at home, which will come in really useful if you plan on flying somewhere. Simply pack your shoes, chalk and swimshorts and get ready to crush some gnarly DWS routes! If you’re planning on rappelling into routes then you’ll need straightforward kit like harness, belay device and rappel rope plus ascenders/prusiks to get back out if necessary.

Since you don’t need a belayer, you can climb by yourself (though we recommend climbing with others or letting them know your plans at the very least), saving yourself from the embarrassment of trying get over the crux for the umpteenth time. In other words, you can just focus on climbing, the movement, the route and your goal. Many people are surprised by how much easier it is to climb at your limit whilst on a DWS, at least once you’ve got over the fear of falling into the water.

This kind of climbing could be perfect for those of you who want something somewhere between free soloing and bouldering. Especially if you enjoy the heady sensation of highball bouldering above pads and spotters, DWS is for you.

Things to consider

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as you might think. In order for it to be fun and truly safe, there are a few things you need to consider.

How to get there

I know of three different ways. Climb there, rappel to your spot or take a boat! Many popular DWS locations have easy rental access to kayaks, canoes or other small boats, meaning you’ve instantly got a way to access the wall and a place to scramble onto after taking a dive. It also means your buddies are going to be in right place in the event of a bad fall or just to take the necessary action shots!

When rappelling into a DWS destination, bear in mind how you’re going to get back out. If the route proves too hard or you need to get out because of the tide coming in, or maybe you just stayed out until dark – you’ll need another way out of the crag. Take a jumar/prusik and know how to use them. Trust me, it’s better than getting stuck at the bottom of a sea cliff with the waves lapping at your feet! If climbing down, consider carefully whether you are confident on the approach. If in doubt, use a rope and be aware of potential loose rock.

The wall

This should obviously be in water and positioned in such a way so that you don’t fall on underwater rocks, logs, reefs or other obstacles. A lot of DWS cliff faces are vertical (like in the video from Löbejün below) or slightly to majorly overhanging. If inexperienced, don’t just commit to a ‘DWS’ without knowledge of the wall and water below. It could be that the route you think is safe is actually just as dangerous as soloing it above ground.

The landing zone – the water

The water at the base of the climb should be deep enough so that a long fall does not lead to impact under water. The wall should thus extend vertically downward below the surface of the water for several metres. Many DWS walls are over 15m high. There should be several metres of water below you.

The water should be calm as well. As many DWS are seas cliffs, you will have to familiarise yourself with subject matters such as surfs, swells and currents. And, in some regions, you may even have to think about whacky stuff like jellyfish, sharks, crabs, submarines, fish, pelicans, etc.

If you prefer to stay away from stuff like that and like it a bit more relaxed, look for DWS cliffs in lakes. However, make sure to spot your landing zone and have a boat at the ready – don’t get complacent just because you’re not in the sea.

Gear

The good thing is, you really only need shoes and chalk (and swim briefs/bikini). However, you can only use them for a single route, because after your dive/jump – which is an integral part of every fall – your shoes and chalk bag will need time to dry, unless you have backups. When deep water soloing in warm countries, most people take 2-3 pairs of shoes and have the others drying out in the sun whilst they are climbing.

In the UK, things need a little more preparation. Items such as a towel to dry off between attempts, a rash vest to keep warm during longer sessions and a waterproof container for keeping dry essential bits of kit like spare chalk/sandwiches come very much in handy. You should also carry a first aid kit at all times to deal with any small injuries or a genuine first response situation where a friend is injured.

There’s a trick you can use for your chalk bag, though. Take a plastic bag (one that fits perfectly inside your chalk bag) and fill it up with chalk. That way, you can just replace the plastic bag instead of having to use an infinite number of chalk bags. Liquid chalk is also great as that can applied once before a climb and will last well.

Information

You usually won’t be able to see far enough below water to find out what your landing zone looks like, so it’s important to find some background information about the venue beforehand. You can find this kind of information online or in certain climbing guides, such as the Rockfax – Deep Water – Climbing guide. Even better, get in touch with the local climbing scene and see if there are some clued up local climbers who don’t mind showing you around in exchange for beer and high fives.

What does psicobloc mean?

For one, psicobloc is another name for DWS. But, it also happens to be the name of a competition that Chris Sharma launched in 2013.

The competition takes place in Utah where an artificial climbing wall is erected above a swimming pool (usually used for high diving). In 2013, elite climbers met there for the very first time in a trial of mental strength! In August of 2014, they met again for another epic battle. The video is worth watching. Your fingers are guaranteed to sweat.

The crucial question – is it dangerous?

As always, it depends entirely on how you go about it. I mean, you can get injured doing anything, even whilst playing chess! All jokes aside, when compared with free solo climbing, DWS is much more attractive since a fall is not necessarily fatal. Still, your safety depends on a few factors.

The higher the fall, the harder the surface of the water will be when you come crashing down upon it. So, the way you land is crucial. You should try not to fall out of control but instead attempt – as you would when bouldering – a controlled jump, stabilising your body position to your advantage. The height of the fall and how you fall into the water will determine whether your landing is soft, burns, breaks some bones or worse.

Obviously, if the water’s too shallow at the base of your climb, a fall would be fatal. A good example of the importance of water depth is the Hard Moves Boulder League held in Wuppertal, Germany. In 2013, the wall they used for the competition was 7.5 metres high. However, the swimming pool in the Wuppertal’s Schwimmoper was not deep enough, so they improvised and built a trampoline to catch the participants’ falls (see image). If they hadn’t done that, it wouldn’t have gone well.

It’s also very important to make sure you’re not climbing over the foot of a cliff over rocks hidden underwater, as that could be fatal as well. Ledges along the route can also lead to serious injuries. In the worst-case scenario, you could hit a ledge on the way down, land in the water and have to fight your way out, all whilst dealing with a potentially serious injury.

On top of that, you’ll have to deal with all the risks associated with the water itself, such as swells, currents, etc. So, it’s possible that even after a great landing, you’ll still be exposed to certain dangers. Even a small fall can really knock you around so having friends on hand make sure things don’t get epic in the bad way.

In other words, I know we said you COULD go by yourself, but for exactly these reasons, you shouldn’t. Always go with at least one other climber. But, I’m sure you know that from rock climbing already.

In sum, if you’ve found a good rock wall with a good landing zone, use your head when you climb, jump off the rock faces well, don’t climb too high, then DWS should a brilliant and relatively safe activity for you to try.

Popular DWS locations

Popular and documented locations for DWS include places in Mallorca and Malta, Thailand, Croatia, the French Riviera (Cap d’Antibes, Coco Beach, Point de l’Aiguille) and Vietnam.

In Germany, you can go deep water soloing in Löbejun near Halle or in Kochel above Lake Kochel.

As for the UK, the southwest coastline of England and Wales has a lot of great places for DWS-ing. Beginners should look to the popular enclaves of Pembroke and Dorset, for good quality routes with nice holds and good water underneath. Harder challenges can be found in the intimidating sea caves of Berry Head in Devon, with hard link ups such The Wizard of Oz f7b standing out as must-tries for the seasoned soloer. Kato Zawn in Pembroke is another location where harder challenges can be sought out. Beyond that, there are plenty of other destinations for those seeking the thrill and sea spray of a stonking deep water solo – and maybe even a few first ascents to be made for the true advocate!

Have fun getting after it!

The big food test: Trekking food!

The big food test: Trekking food!

5. July 2017
Alpinetrek-Experts

If you’ve lived out of your backpack for long periods of time, you’re surely familiar with the advantages of outdoor food: the ratio of weight to nutritional value is unbeatable. Plus, the food couldn’t be easier to prepare. All you need to do is pour hot water into the little pouch. I know what you’re thinking: Easy prep is well and good, but what about the taste?

Well, we tried some! In fact, we’ve been so dedicated to our little undertaking that we’ve turned down our usual lunchtime grub multiple times now in favour of outdoor food. And, of course, we took notes! So, keep reading if you’d like to find out more about outdoor food.

Hungry, hungry Alpine Trekkers

Our food testers consisted of people from our purchasing department (who should be familiar with the stuff they’re buying), some customer service reps (who can share their experience with you) as well as some folks from our content team (who can then describe their first-hand experiences) and a couple of volunteers from other departments. We all met for lunch on several occasions.

Each session was structured in the same way: various meals from a single manufacturer were prepared. What followed was something like a game of musical chairs: the bags circled around the table in search of somebody who hadn’t tried them yet. In between all the smacking of lips, we shared and discussed our first impressions. Plus, each tester was responsible for noting down their personal opinion.

The first thing we notice: the group of testers grew with each and every lunch break. Even though we had all lived off instant meals before on our various trips, the opportunity to try so many different ones in such a short period of time was something nobody wanted to miss out on. In fact, some of us even discovered some new faves! And because there were some meals that were not so kind to the palate, to put it lightly, we recommend trying out a few before heading out on a long trip.

Expedition food and packet meals – what we tested

The most important question: how’s the taste?

The point of our numerous feasts was to test that which no nutrition facts could ever tell us: whether or not the grub tastes good. Admittedly, we weren’t able to replicate the conditions of life in the great outdoors. After all, we’d all probably eat about anything after completing an elevation gain of 1,500m, right?

And thanks to Benedikt’s willingness to sacrifice himself, we were even able to test whether or not the grub was palatable without “cooking” it first. The result: If you’ve got strong teeth, you can eat it, but you definitely need a high tolerance for, well, crap food.

Preparation and convenience 

Plus, we had a closer look at some of the more practical aspects of these ready-made meals:
  • How useful were the packages when it came to preparing and eating the food?
  • How much energy do the single packets provide?
  • How easy are they to prepare, e.g., pouring in the right amount of water?
  • How much does one meal or a (filling) portion cost?

Various manufacturers of outdoor food

First, we’d like to mention that the food for this test was supplied by the manufacturer at our request. But, don’t worry. We’ll remain open and honest throughout our review and refrain from using any advert slogans or catchphrases. Promise! However, we would like to thank our suppliers for their support and generosity. It’s greatly appreciated!

The following is what we had the pleasure of eating during our lunchbreaks:

The individual tests will be posted little by little with the appropriate links here at Base Camp!

Outdoor food: just pricy packet soup?

One of the first things that come to mind when enjoying some packet food is whether or not the high prices are justified. The main argument put forward in this context was: Why buy expensive outdoor food when you can buy packet soups from a variety of different brands at any discount food store for next to nothing. Valid, wouldn’t you agree?

Well, yes and no. While there are several similarities between the two, there are big differences as well. For one, outdoor food has more calories per gram. Even though most supermarkets try to appeal to the diet-crazed masses with fat-free, low-calorie food and most of us bite, outdoor athletes actually need just the opposite. For example, if you were to compare the caloric content of instant noodles to that of trekking noodles, you’d find that the latter has about twice the amount of calories per gram.

And, if you were to have a closer look at the nutrition facts and ingredients, you’d notice yet another significant difference: Trekking food does not contain the excessive amount of (cheap) fats and sugars. In sum, these ready-made meals are better tailored to the needs of us Alpine Trekkers. But, you’ve probably figured as much, right? This also means that trekking meals are usually much easier to digest than the same amount of instant food from the supermarket.

In addition, the meals can be prepared with little effort and even without the food ever leaving the packet. The only time it ever leaves is when you eat it! This will save an enormous amount of weight and space in your backpack, since you won’t have to lug around extra pots or tableware.

All in all, though, it’s an unfair comparison, because we’re comparing two products designed to meet different demands. For shorter trips, you can definitely opt for a cheaper alternative or just take a couple of sandwiches along, but trekking food is the better choice for longer trips.

And don’t worry, we’ll let you know whether or not it tastes good in a later post.

My favourite bouldering area: Fontainebleau

My favourite bouldering area: Fontainebleau

5. July 2017
Alpinetrek-Experts

If you’ve already been there or heard the word “Bleau” thousands of times from your friends, unfortunately nothing in this post will be new to you. But, if you’ve just started bouldering, have fun reading (and planning your next bouldering holiday), keep reading! You’ll want to leave straight away!

The bouldering mecca

Most of us are familiar with the scene’s more famous bouldering spots, such as the Rocklands in South Africa, Hueco Tanks, Bishop or Joe’s Valley in the US, Magic Wood in Switzerland or Hampi in India (to name a few). But, there are so many other smaller areas as well, many of which have grown in popularity in recent years. Not to mention, the new routes that are constantly being set.

However, today we’re going to talk about a destination that assumes a very special position among bouldering spots, namely Fontainebleau. Fontainebleau has become so popular that the magazine NEON even sent one of their editors there last year. Of course, whether or not that’s desirable is an entirely different question.

So, why Fontainebleau? Well, this is where everything began! Well, at least all things bouldering. Whilst everybody else was still climbing mountains with boots studded with cleats and hobnails or rejoicing because they were able to free climb a route, the French were bouldering in this small forest not too far from the beautiful city of Paris. In fact, they were even bouldering long before the sport climbing scene started doing it as a form of winter training.

What or where is Bleau?

When people refer to the bouldering area Bleau, they actually mean the forest near Fontainebleau, which is not too far away from Paris. This forest itself is full of countless sandstone boulders, which make up the bouldering area of Fontainebleau or “Bleau”.

So, if you go bouldering in Bleau, you’re bouldering in one of the many subareas there, such as Franchard, Apremont or Cuvier-Chatillon (just to name a few). These areas are then divided up further into sites. I know, it sounds confusing, but if they didn’t do this, bouldering guides would be a dreadful mess! After all, there are so many boulders in Bleau!

Where to spend the night

There are campsites, holiday flats, which range from being dirt cheap to ridiculously expensive, as well as designated bivouac sites. These are free of charge, equipped with a water supply and outdoor toilets and can be found in the bouldering guides.

Many boulderers even bivouac or camp right in front of the bouldering areas. As you can probably imagine, the park employees don’t like this one bit, since the bouldering guides explicitly state that you should use the designated sleeping areas.

This may not have been a big deal back in the day, but now that so many people travel to Bleau every year, it’s probably best that we all follow the rules. Otherwise, the car parks will turn into camping sites soon, too! Besides, a ten minute drive won’t kill you, right?

What’s the bouldering like?

Very traditional and technical. Bleau is where you learn to stand on your own two feet. Something you should probably considered before heading out is your shoes. You probably won’t be too happy with shoes with a lot of heel tension. I would recommend wearing softer, straighter shoes.

If you’re looking for a bouldering destination to stroke your own ego, Bleau is not for you. “Bleau teaches you humility”, as my co-worker would say.

My favourite bouldering area: FontainebleauWhat kind of rock is in Fontainebleau?

Beautiful sandstone! This rock is much easier on your fingers, but also happens to be much more susceptible to external factors. So if the blocks are damp or even wet, don’t climb them, and always wipe off your shoes before starting.

What about when it rains?

So many people claim that the idyllic little town of Fontainebleau has nothing to offer. That couldn’t be any further from the truth! There’s a cinema that has English movies playing several times a week. Plus, there’s a very big park behind the castle and a fabulous farmer’s market that sells regional organic produce three times a week! Oh, and there are excellent pastry shops as well. Nothing to offer, ha!

What else is there to know?

Well, Bleau is a pretty busy place. After Easter at the very latest is when it really starts to get full. There are boulderers from all over the world. Last year (long before Easter), I met people from jolly old England, the Netherlands, lots of Scandinavians, Germans, Spaniards, Irishmen…I think that’s it!

Unfortunately, the famous bouldering sites in Bleau are quite the attraction for petty thieves as well. So, try not to leave any of your valuables in the car. The police patrol the area regularly, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

What’s else is there to say?

If you’re a boulderer and have a chance to go to Bleau, you have to do it! The same goes for Tessin, Magic Wood, Val di Mello … etc. Getting acquainted with other bouldering areas will not only expand your horizon but also improve your performance! Plus, you’ll gain a lot of valuable experience in Bleau, even if your ego suffers as a result.

Climbing and bouldering in Scandinavia

Climbing and bouldering in Scandinavia

5. July 2017
Alpinetrek-Experts

Norway and Sweden are well known for being wonderful destinations for trekking and canoeing. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. We’re here to talk about climbing and bouldering in these beautiful Scandinavian countries. The aim of this post is just to give you a little taste of the best climbing and bouldering regions and to answer the question as to what makes climbing in Scandinavia in general and in Norway and Sweden in particular so unique.

Of course, this post isn’t meant to be exhaustive. We only hope to inspire you and put you in the mood to head over to Scandinavia to climb! Let’s begin with an important fact: the Scandinavians are very environmentally conscious people, which is the reason why they have refrained from placing bolts in many areas. So, it’d be a good idea to consult a climbing guide or ask a native before heading out.

Climbing in Norway

Old hands in mountaineering know Norway as the Mecca of ice climbing. Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or very experienced, you’ll definitely find a route for you. Beginners will love the region around Rjukan. This is where the popular ice climbing festival is held. But, if you like it a bit wilder or just prefer places off the beaten path, you should definitely check out Laerdal, which abounds in huge frozen waterfalls for all your ice climbing needs. Large areas of this region remain largely untouched. Of course, Gudvangen and Hemsedal are worth mentioning as well. All of these regions are mere hours away from Oslo.

For sport and alpine climbing, Setesdal is extremely popular, not least because it’s located in Southern Norway and thus easier to get to. If you happen to be in Denmark, you can just take a fairy from there to the Norwegian mainland. The granite rock in Setesdal offers climbers not only a large number of bolted routes but also plenty for route setters to work with. Many of the routes are smooth slabs, so you’ve got to like that sort of thing. But, they’re really fun once you get the hang of it! Cams, nuts and slings are a must even with bolts!

If you fancy more extreme regions, you’ll love the area around Narvik, or more specifically, Stetind. This rather imposing mountain is located north of the polar circle, so it’s pretty chilly all year round. There’s a climbing guide for this region as well, which will show you the way up the smooth sides of the granite. Of course, you can head up north to the Lofoten Islands as well. These islands are perfect for fans of multi-pitch climbs, not least because of the absolutely unique and beautiful scenery. The difficulty of the set climbing routes are between 4 and 8 (UIAA). There are climbing guides available as well: Ed Webster’s “Climbing in the Magic Islands” and the more recent “Lofoten Rock” published by Rockfax. Of course, you have the option of acquiring these guides and others when you get there.

Climbing in Sweden

Pretty much the opposite of the raw and wild alpine-like character of Norwegian climbing areas are the ones found in Sweden. Being able to climb by the sea is quite the experience. It’s as if the dichotomy between the water and the mountains vanished into thin sea air. In Bohuslän, which is north of Gothenburg, there are not only cute little islands but also solid granite to climb in warm summer weather. The majority of the predominantly sport climbing routes are significantly shorter than those in Norway. You can find much more on this region in the the tourist information in Uddevalla.

If you’re into the more difficult stuff, you’ll have the time of your life just outside of Stockholm. The demanding sport climbing routes, such as the Örnberget or Värmdö, start at around 6b (according to the French scale). However, out of the approximately 2000 routes that are within an hour’s drive from each other around Stockholm, there are some great routes for beginners as well. Other great routes can be found in Agelsjön near Norrköping or Kullaberg just north of Helsingborg. More maps and info on climbing in Sweden can be found at www.sverigeföraren.se, provided you speak Swedish.

Bouldering

There are plenty of places to go bouldering in Norway and Sweden. Many such areas are in Setesdal and in Southern Norway. Nico Altmaier who Alpine Trek has been working with for a while now, travelled to Norway for some bouldering in 2014 and made a short film about it.

Sweden is becoming one of the more popular destinations for bouldering holidays. In the rather idyllic town of Västervik in Sweden, there’s even an International Boulder Meet with several famous boulderers. The meet has taken place several times now and has really put the area on the (bouldering) map. Sweden’s bouldering scene is small but has been on the rise for a number of years. There are plenty of other spots as well. Check out the map of Sverigeföraren for more.

Conclusion

So, why should you travel all the way to Scandinavia to go bouldering or climbing? What makes the region so special?

Well, for one, it’s the variety of the Nordic countries. Not only can you boulder by the seaside but you can also experience extreme 750-metre long alpine adventures and unbelievable ice climbing routes. Norway is characterised by the rough and unpredictable climate, the view of the fjords, the green hills and the unbelievably exhilarating feeling of being out in the “real” wilderness – things we have trouble finding anywhere else, let alone at home in Britain. But, if you’d rather play it safe and keep to the climbing guide, you’re sure to have just as much fun.

Sweden is best for a relaxing holiday by the sea combined with some demanding sport climbing and bouldering problems. Plus, since it doesn’t get dark until really late at night in the summer months (and not at all north of the polar circle), you could theoretically climb into the wee hours of the night. The Scandinavians are such pleasant people, too – you’ll absolutely love it there! What are you waiting for? Head up to Scandinavia!