The North Face® Summit Series Road Trip
The fifth and final instalment from the roadtrip is now online. Although the roadtrip is over, I'm enjoying reliving many of the funniest moments whilst editing the footage. Enjoy the webisode and keep your ears pricked for news about the final film.
It's been a blast.
This trip was a great opportunity for me and I feel rather privileged to have been asked to come onboard. Surprisingly I thought a lot about whether or not I would do this trip as I’ve got a lot of editing to do from this year’s Font trip and also because 40 days of travelling and filming is 40 days of missed training. Eventually I decided that it was such a great opportunity that I’d be foolish not to accept it with open arms and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
When I left England I only had one expectation from this trip, which was to be very sure that I should expect the unexpected. This was a situation which could turn out in many different ways and if I had chosen the best possible outcome then I would have fallen short of what actually occurred.
The unexpected did turn out to feature heavily on this roadtrip, with it making it’s presence felt in climbing, in countries, and in people. I had visions of this trip being a nice jolly around Europe, taking in some sights, and doing a bit of filming. It became so much more than that and I think it’s solely down to the team of people involved.
Not knowing Gaz at all it was always something of a worry that maybe James and I would get on superbly and Gaz would end up being the third wheel on a two wheel bike. I couldn’t have been more wrong and it didn’t take long to figure that out. Gaz is one of the nicest people I’ve met and someone who I could easily and willingly spend far more time with! It didn’t take long for the “tripod of stability” to become recognised, utilised, and relied upon. By the time we left the UK our bond was developed and it wouldn’t waver for the next 40 days, proving that three is most definitely not a crowd, but a recipe for a good time! As the days and weeks elapsed the tripod only became stronger. Each and every day may have seemed like hard work but it was a joy to undertake because I was in amazing places with amazing people. There’s not much room for moaning in such situations!
The manic schedule was something that I’d glossed over as I figured everywhere is fairly close to everywhere else in Europe, and trusted that James had utilised google maps in his research. After about a week I realised that being on a single giant land mass in no way means that places are close to one another, and it was a nightly occurrence to stay awake driving until the early hours. Luckily the human body is an incredibly adept machine and after hitting a wall of tiredness, hunger, and fatigue I broke through with the force of a thousand horses. Once my body understood it could survive on less than 6 hours sleep and only 1 real meal a day (on a good day) things became a lot easier.
This trip marked one of the longest breaks for me from climbing. Normally a 2 day period doesn’t pass without either training or climbing, so the thought of spending so long without pulling on was difficult. Initially I thought it would be possible to climb some of the routes that James and Gaz had listed, but it quickly dawned on me that we were too tight on time and I had to make do with only seeing and not trying some incredible looking lines. On the odd occasion I would get the chance to have a do or die effort on a route, and since I’m in no position to flash 8a’s right now, they all ended with more of a die. What this did was to motivate me to come back and finish them off, along with some of the other mega lines at whatever crag we were at, so failure once again provided me with the means/inspiration for eventual success.
Even though I’ve spent the last few years as a dedicated boulderer, I always harboured secret desires to do certain famous sport routes. This trip was an opportunity for me to receive the necessary psyche to actually buy (or beg, borrow, and steal) some quickdraws and a rope, so I can turn an airy fairy dream into a reality. Learning how to sport climb will be a fun process for me as I think it’s diametrically opposite to the search for a single hard move. Seeing routes like Agincourt in the flesh only filled me with psyche and I’m sure once I get fit enough to try it, it will fill me with both joy and lactic acid. The most magnificent route I saw on the whole trip was an 8a in the Czech Republic which we (unfortunately) saw on the day we were leaving. It probably ranks as one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in climbing and returning to do it is a certainty, not a distant pipe dream.
If I was again offered the chance to partake in a similar trip I would jump at the opportunity with open arms. Whilst it’s all too easy to romanticise past events, I’m not going to forget that it was hard work. The overall memory will be one of very good times, with plenty of amusing moments every day even when we were faced with late nights and lots of driving. The scales were definitely tipped in favour of the good and I have to thank James, Gaz, and The North Face for that, because without any of them this trip wouldn’t have been possible.
The future path is now one which I can’t quite see. This roadtrip took me to many new places and it opened my eyes to just how much sport climbing diversity there is within Europe. I’d never been to Austria before, but after being there I now find myself with a flat in Innsbruck, and an inevitable move happening in the coming weeks. I’m under no illusion that the grass will be greener upon arrival, but I know that creating an opportunity for change will result in new adventures and that is something I look forward to. New challenges, new adventures, new opportunities... Perfect.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog then feel free to continue reading my personal blog which is located at www.unclesomebody.com/blog
You can of course stay up to date with James’ adventures at www.jamespearsonclimbing.blogspot.com/
To keep track with Gaz’s new life in Spain make sure you click through to www.gazparryclimbing.blogspot.com/
This blog isn’t quite dead yet as there will be another couple of updates along with the fifth webisode featuring Zillertal, Misca Pec, and Val di Mello, so stay tuned for that.
Following on from James' final thoughts, here are some from the Big G himself...
When we first discussed the trip over a number of months as the plans developed it really did not dawn on me what we were about to undertake. It all began with a photocopy of a European map, a random green line sprawled all over it and a spread sheet with the climbing destinations we wanted to hit. It all seemed simple really. The first few days went fast. I didn't really know Keith and James all that well before we left the UK but now I would like to think that we returned friends [Ed - more than friends!]. The opportunities and experiences that we had over our 40 day tour is possibly one of those moments in my life that won't be surpassed. Memories and laughter that will stay with me forever and stories I will probably tell when I am even older than I am now.
Prior to leaving the UK I was pretty relaxed about the whole road trip idea really. It soon hit me though how much we had bitten off. People would ask me where we had been and where we were going but the past and the future meant nothing, the only thing that was real was the moment. This was heightened even more by our almost none existent contact with the outside world. I felt like we were travelling around in a bubble, our bubble being our wonderful van and a spreadsheet of dates, locations and times. On the journey almost all the decision came at the last moment as our days were too full to plan ahead. Leaving Copenhagen at midnight for a 10hr drive to Eindhoven being a fine example of pushing ourselves close to the edge. In Germany i almost hit the wall, i was destroyed but somehow i managed to claw my way out of near destruction to have one of my best climbing days ever in Slovenia. If anything this journey showed me that you should try a squeeze every last drop our of every day, month, year and even your life......after all you only have one chance.
We spent very little time in the big cities and a great deal of time driving, 15,000km of time. We had time on our hands and time to soak in our surroundings. Europe really is a wonderful place. In the past few years i have begun to think that as an experienced climber i have to travel further and further for new adventures but this trip has shown me that really its just there on your door step, all you need to do is open your eyes. From the southern coast of England to the amazing sandstone towers of the Czech Republic.
The day before it was all over i almost vowed to myself that i wouldn't do this again, the next day i was nothing. Quiet and empty i felt like i couldnt drive another mile or see another rock let alone climb one. That evening though we already had ideas for next year if it happens amazing if it doesn't then i will still have the memories.
The end of the trip signified a new beginning for me. A goodbye to the guys at Milan airport and i hopped on a plane to Spain. I have a house there now with my girlfriend Kate and some would say its a new life for me. I like to think about it as something different, more a new experience. That's what life is all about a new experience you just gotta get out there and make it happen. I know it sounds cheesy but its something i think we should all live by, as they say at The North Face, Never Stop Exploring.
Thank you James and Keith.
As the trip drew to a close we knew the inevitable moment would come when Gaz would board a plane and fly of to Espana to build a new life for him and Kate. None of us were looking forward to this moment and it was something we actively discouraged as a topic of conversation. No one wanted to shed any tears...
The day arrived and it was a sombre drive to Bergamo airport. The final moments were difficult but in every situation there is always something positive to be drawn. Here it was the fact that in 40 days we'd established such a deep and lasting bond. We'd been known (perhaps only internally) as the tripod of stability and losing one leg was a hard fact to face, but it was something we'd breakthrough and it would only serve to make us stronger.
In honour of the Big G, James and I decided to make a little video dedicated to his memory, expressing just how we truly feel. Some people might not understand some of the more subtle references in the montage, but everything has it's place for a reason. Big G, if you're reading this, know that even though the tripod is not together in physical form it will always live on in our hearts and minds. As always, click on the word vimeo to watch it in glorious HD. Enjoy...
I asked James to write a little something about the trip and this is what he had to say... written all on his own, no ghostwriting!
The Summit Series roadtrip first materialised around 1 year ago, when Keith Byrne, strategic marketing manager at The North Face asked me what I thought about making some kind of a journey around Europe to help promote a new range of apparel which was due to be released this spring. The clothing range never materialised, but the idea for the roadtrip continued to grow and evolve until we had a sensible (line through)realistic (line through), possible plan of action.
As our departure date grew nearer, I began to get a little worried about the success of the trip. I had been involved in most of the organising of the route and the events, so if things were to go pear shaped, the blame would lie heavily on my shoulders. I was also unsure about how "real" climbers would perceive the trip. Certainly in England, "big" sponsorship deals are often sneered at and the climbers who receive them are often looked down on and quoted as "sellouts" etc. There seems to be this odd idea that to be "the real deal", you need to be hitching from crag to crag, sleeping in caves, eating baked beans out of the tin and actively discouraging any form of publicity.
50,000 words, 15,000 km, 47 days, 30 hours of video, 22 borders, 14 countries, a load of climbing, and a whole load more new friends, and I now see the roadtrip as one of the best times in my life, a trip I feel privileged to have been involved in. The roadtrip surpassed any prior expectations I had, in pretty much all possible areas. I had way more fun, but also had to work far harder than I could ever have imagined.
After the first 5 days in the UK, I think we were all beginning to question what we had let ourselves in for. We barely had enough time to drive between the areas and climb then film the routes, meaning sleeping and eating were put on the back burner - not a wise choice for a 6 week trip. We lived life one day at a time and if it wasn't happening right then and there, we didn't think about it. I began to see things through an almost perma-drunk haze; I bumbled around tripping over things, finding most things funny and also saying things that seemed so smart at the time but in hindsight should probably never have left my lips, kind of like when you meat a nice girl in a bar, things are going well, then you whisper something in her ear which leaves you with a red face and aching balls - and not in a good way!
Like it always does, time passed, days turned into weeks, and the grand finale arrived. I had gotten to know and got on so well with Gaz and Keith over the last 40 days that when the time came for the tripod of stability to go its separate ways, I was genuinely sad. I think I have changed a lot as a person on the trip. I am now more open to new opportunities, and understand that climbing is definitely not the be all and end all. I will most definitely be pushing for a similar trip next year. Plans are already being formulated, with the only definite ingredients so far being bigger and better!
One of the things that will stick in my mind for a long time is how incredibly diverse climbing in Europe can be. With only a short drive, you can be climbing on completely different rock types, with completely different ambiance, style and ethics. I think this is incredibly healthy for us as climbers as it forces you to develop a well rounded set of skills.
Over the next few months I am going to make another Euro roadtrip, but this time it will be with my Girlfriend, on a smaller scale and at a much relaxed pace. I am really looking forward to spending some time with Emily; if there was one thing the roadtrip lacked, it was quality company of the female kind. It will also be cool to stop back in to some of my favourite areas from the trip, experience a little more of the local culture and catch up with friends - both old and new.
Then It is time for a major change...
Saturday was spent in Fontainebleau trying to edit this webisode as fast as I could, but secretly I was harbouring desires to go rock climbing. Unfortunately neither occurred as it rained and then I ran out of time! I thought that once I returned to unclesomebody HQ the way of the edit would be much easier, but it turns out that my computer must be a female as she was feeling so unloved that she was having some issues. It took a little warming up and a bit of messing about to get her working again, but here is the result of that intimacy.
This webisode features the following locations;
Dolni Zleb, The Czech Republic
Whilst it felt great to sleep in a double bed lastnight, it felt empty to wake up without James or Gaz either offering me a brew or driving to the next location. The tripod of stability has been dismantled (for now), but the blog lives on. There will be at least another 2 videos this week and a few more posts looking back on the good times.
We've come so far on this roadtrip, seeing so many countries, so many crags, and so many people. We've shared the laughter of each day and every single day has been another great experience. We came up with this concept to open the show at Melloblocco and so if you were there you've already seen this, but if not then imagine a dark scene... lights off... music comes in...
“Never Stop Exploring” may be perceived by some people as the cheesy catchphrase of a multinational organisation, but in reality it’s a philosophy that has far more depth to it. The search for new adventures is something that binds all climbers as we quest all over the world looking for the perfect route, boulder or mountain. In fact, it goes beyond climbers as it applies to a huge number of sports and lifestyles whereby the search for perfection never ends. Many of us dedicate our lives to the thing we love with the only reward being the pursuit of the next challenge. Never stop exploring is how we live our live our lives out of necessity and not choice. The grip of adventure holds such a tight rein on our lives that we are almost slaves to it! I’m lucky to consider myself a slave to such a great master!
We’ve been through many villages, towns, and countries. We’ve seen amazing vistas, beautiful crags, unbelievable sunsets, and on the odd occasion the most magnificent sunrises! Each country we’ve been to has received a mental grade, based on a variety of factors such as rock climbing, food, girls, general vibe, beauty, and the local people. There are important sub genres that are also taken into account which include random variables like quality of toilets, available services, houses, etc. Whilst I think Great Britain is a very comfortable country to live in, I’ve had a niggling feeling that I should be living somewhere else for quite some time. I’ve spent long amounts of time in other countries but a severe lack of one factor or another has meant that I don’t think a move is justified. In the past 40 something days I’ve glimpsed places which I’ve never seen before and this is really cool for me as it means I can tick another country off in my quest to get them all visited! However, it’s really amazing because I’m able to see other cultures, other ways of living and witness the variety of life. The result of this mini tour around Europe has been that I’ve found somewhere which I think may be able to offer me a new home!
For a rock climber, being centrally based with access to good training facilities and plenty of rock is an essential recipe for success. This leaves only a couple of places which need serious consideration. For a dedicated sport climber there is only one real destination which is Spain, and this is where the Big G has gone to! I’m not a dedicated sport climber and so Spain isn’t the ideal solution. For me it comes down to a choice between Austria and Switzerland. Both score highly, but in this instance the scale was tipped slightly towards Austria as the climbing/training scene in Innsbruck seems like the best one around. Luckily Innsbruck also scores highly in many other departments, and it was with this bit of inspiration that we drove to Innsbruck once we were finished with Mellobloco. Even more luckily, I wasn’t alone in my inspiration to move out of England, and James had been similarly inspired so it was together that we embarked on this adventure!
If you really want something then you have to do everything you can to make it happen, so the first day we arrived in Innsbruck was spent with a newspaper looking for potential apartments. We had no idea what to expect in terms of availability, quality, or price but it didn’t take long to learn a whole lot! There are far too many people searching for accommodation in Innsbruck and this means for every available apartment there are at least 20 or 30 contending parties! It’s quite insane. Coupled with the fact that it’s all done privately and not through any central estate agent, the epic of flat hunting soon set in. Luckily I had my wing man in tow so James and I got our A-game on, enquiring after everything we could find, setting up appointments and arranging to meet unknown people in unknown locations.
The long and the short of it is that there are lots of crap apartments, some nice ones, and very few amazing ones (in our price bracket!). I believe that when you are trying hard to make something happen then other random processes tend to conspire only to help you, so what might seem like an incredible situation occurred which made our lives a whole lot easier. We went to see an apartment which turned out to be the best we’d seen by a country mile, but it wasn’t in the centre of town. After chatting to Anne (the girl who lived there) for a little while it turned out that she was moving only to be in the centre of town and thus closer to university. In the time we spent talking to her she seemed friendly, funny and trustworthy so 24 hours later we called her back to ask if she wanted to move in with us! Amazingly, this random proposition was accepted and so the 3 of us once again started looking for an apartment in the centre of town. With Anne being a fluent German speaker and resident of Innsbruck, things really started moving! More appointments were made, more viewings were arranged, and eventually we hit the jackpot. An amazing apartment, wonderfully located, and within our budget! Unfortunately we are probably competing with another 50 people for this apartment, so we won’t be celebrating until we get a phone call informing us that we are the winners! Our fingers are now firmly crossed!
With this small victory in hand it was time to leave Innsbruck behind and head back to England via a cross European route taking in a few last sights and taking care of a few loose ends. The trip is now most definitely in it’s final steps. Our weary bodies are craving real beds, real home comforts, and perhaps even some down time. Whilst the down time can’t come soon enough there are some final chores to take care of and one of them is to upload another webisode ASAP. Tonight and tomorrow will be spent at Maisonbleau, editing video and perhaps even doing a spot of bouldering (if it’s not scorching hot).
I have to apologise for not getting it done sooner but the run up to Mello was intense and I had 3 videos to make for the boys’ final show. One of them will definitely be appearing on here very soon, the other will most likely be saved for the DVD extras (as it’s extra spicey), and the third is loosely based on footage that you’ve already glimpsed in a webisode (think lycra). So check back soon for something which I can guarantee will either cause a wry smile or an all out laugh!
It seems that nearly all of the readers of this fine blog understand that not every post is filled with boring fact upon fact. Most of the time the funniest and zany things are written but deleted before the final edit as we don't think they have any place on this blog, but writing them is purely for our own amusement.
The other day I posted a blog entry titled Kevin Garnett, which appeared to be written by James. He had the best of intentions and started writing the blog before hitting a wall and falling asleep. I took over and whilst he was sat next to me (in a half asleep/awake state) I wrote something which I knew would make him laugh and bring him back to the world of the living. It did just the trick and we all had a little laugh over it. Unfortunately that small section got left in and was published for the world to see.
It has now been removed as upon further reflection I've decided it may possibly cause offence to certain individuals. Whilst we've received no complaints from either the public or the powers that be, we felt it was better to wrap it up just in case someone didn't understand that it was a joke. Taken out of context a funny joke can often seem to be a derogatory statement and I don't wish this to happen. Anyone who has read this blog from the start, or who knows James, Gaz, or myself will understand just how tongue in cheek we are and that we are certainly proud to regularly use the wonderful art of British sarcasm.
Once again, I apologise if you were one of the silent individuals who may have been offended, and reiterate again that it was not meant as anything but a private joke for James and Gaz.
This was the big one, the one we’d been waiting 40 days for, the one which was going to be rammed with beautiful girls and great music. We’d had our warm up parties in Zurich, Barcelona, Hall, and Chamonix, but the Saturday night party at Mello was the one which we’d been saving ourselves for.
With nothing to save for the next party we went all out, showered, shaved, and put on our last pair of clean undies. Upon arrival at the party things were looking promising, with nice beats pumping out of the tent and copious amounts of liquid nourishment. Gaz and James had climbed their last route of the trip and subsequently their bodies had gone into a semi shutdown mode, but within 15 minutes this was all forgotten about as we were inside the tent jumping around like madmen.
It’s always important that you “make sure you know before you go, the dancefloor bro-ho ratio... 5 to 1 is a brodeo” and a brodeo is exactly what we’d walked into. Climbing isn’t a sport with an abundance of beautiful women, which I find exceptionally strange when there are so many hunky men like us, but we thought that an event like Mello would bring out the best of the climbing world. If 5 to 1 is a brodeo then the Mello party was much further along the scale, perhaps best described as brodown. If I had to have a guess the bro-ho ratio was somewhere in the region of 15-1 which came as a great disappointment. The music pounded on and without girls to try and impress we did the next best thing which was to dominate the dancefloor.
This was all going well and good until a little before 4am when the DJ grabbed a mic to make an announcement. I thought he was going to say something along the lines of “YO MELLO!!!! Are you having a good time!?! The night is young and the beats will outlast every single one of you!”. Unfortunately he declared that the party would be ending in 20 mins so we had to do our best to expend all of our energy by that point. None of us could believe it! A party that ends at 4am is not a party but a mere gathering of acquaintances. I’m not sure why there was a 4am limit but when the last beat dropped and the final clap was heard there was little else to do but search for the after party party. This didn’t result in any success with James and I eventually giving up and heading back to the van for a few hours of shuteye. The others, who were a little higher on life than us, pushed on to try and rekindle the party but eventually conceded that there was no after party to be found, giving up and returning to the van.
Whilst it’s often true that the brightest stars burn for the shortest time, it’s only partly true of the mello party. The music was truly excellent with the DJ playing some superb tunes, but such an early end was a bitter sweet end to the trip. Our warm up parties had all lasted until at least 6am so to have our final big one ending at 4am was a little disappointing. However, when we awoke in the morning the night was remembered with fond memories as we’d all had a good time whilst it lasted. We simply sat around in a beautiful meadow, soaked in some sun and tried not to be too sad that this was all coming to an end.
The beautiful view in the Mello valley
Sunday was to be our final full day together as the tripod of stability would be broken the next morning when Gaz boarded a plane to his new home/car/life in Spain. With no pressure to either climb, drive, lecture, film, or edit, we spent the day enjoying each other’s company, reliving the many glorious moments we’ve had on this trip. As the sun set I even managed to squeeze in an hour of bouldering which marks my return to climbing which felt amazing.
The trip may nearly be over but the blog isn’t quite there yet. A few balls have been set in motion and you can expect more regular updates for at least 1 week, with hopefully a video or two if we find a hard line into the internet.
All of the photos from the previous days will be uploaded tomorrow as we are now in a new place which has a stable data connection... the location will be revealed soon!