Oct 28, 2013

Australia Mount Arapiles

Everything here in Australia is so clean! I can't believe it when we are in a Melbourne. When you are in Amsterdam the Royal Palace on Dam Square is covered in pigeon poo and dirt, here most of the old buildings look really clean and well taken care of. 

There is also a lot of space on the streets and even in rush hour the trams are not packed with people. This makes the average Australian a pretty relaxed individual. They live with 24 million people in a country which is a many many times bigger then our little Holland where we are with 17 million people.
Australia is a country where you can be alone really easy.
And so we do.  We head out in our camper van, our home for the next month. 

We are going to Mount Arapiles, a national park north of Melbourne. 
Mount Arapiles is very famous for it's lovely views and beautiful rocks. 
One of the 12 apostels
On the way we decide to do a little side trip to see the famous "Twelve Apostels". The Twelve Apostels is a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of Port Cambell National Park, by the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. It is a very popular tourist attraction.  
After looking at the stone towers, and taking lots of pictures, we realise that we can look at rock formations all our live, but it's much more fun to climb them!

So we leave the Great Ocean Road and quickly drive to Arapiles. 
We stay at campground "The Pines". It is a very cheap and basic campground. They have toilets and a place where you can do dishes, but no showers. Also there is no drinking water. You have to get drinking water at a gas station or in Natimuk, about 10 kilometers west. It's strange to be somewhere where water is something scarce and valuable. We come from a country where all the kids have a swimming degree, because there is so much water, and we always complain because it rains so much. Now i am at a place where i can't even take a shower :).
Mount Arapiles is composed of Quartzite, a metamorphic rock that was originally sandstone.  The color is orange/red, and it's spectacular as it glows in the afternoon sun. The style of climbing here is trad climbing. In this style of climbing there are no drilled anchor points in the rock, you have to make your own anchors with special equipment. It's very exciting because it's the first time I (Sandra) do trad! 

Close to the campground is also some really nice bouldering. As we approach the rock one day there is a huge kangaroo sitting in the shade under the boulder which we wanted to climb. A male kangaroo can be about 2 meter tall and when it gets angry it can kick you so hard you can actually die. We decide to take a few pictures and leave the boulder for what it is.

It is Marcel's goal to climb Kachoong, one of the most photographed routes of the world. For a couple of days he tries to find a climbing partner. He makes a very artistic poster, but he gets no respons. Most people he meets don't have the skills yet to climb it, or at least they think they don't. At the end of the day, we decide to borrow some gear, I will belay Marcel, and he will clean the route himself afterwards.  But of course this amazing route needs to be photographed. So Marcel has a plan...

We rappel, he puts the camera on a rock, the famous "Photographers Ledge", switches it on to making a photo every 3 seconds, we rappel some more, climb up to the start of the route, and listen if we hear the camera make noise. We each hold our breath but we hear.... nothing! So, Marcel climbs down again, climbs up again to the Photographers Ledge, switches the camera on again, climbs down, up...and now we are ready! He eventually climbs the route on sight and look at this amazing photo! :-)

Marcel climbing Kachoong 21
Getting stranded in a national park

The rock here is really amazing but since we don't have our own trad gear, we have to keep borrowing material and it makes us anxious to sport climb again. 
We decide to visit the nearby climbing area The Grampians. In this climbing area there is a mix of sport climbing and trad climbing routes. We find out that due to forest fires a big part of the sport climbing is closed.... But we still go to Taipan Wall and Van Diemensland to climb for a couple of days and we can enjoy some really cool climbing. The views are amazing. We even get stranded there one night because the battery of our car is dead and we don't have a cellphone for to get help. Luckily our car is also our home so we can sleep anywhere! 

Parrots at the campground. Watch your food!

Amazing views at Mount Arapiles

Jul 27, 2013


Marvelous view on Castleton Tower from Castleton Valley

Written by Sandra 

 It is 6 o' clock in the morning when we wake up from the sound of the alarm clock. We have to get up. Today is THE day, and Karl is waiting for us. After taking a shower and a quick breakfast we receive a text message from Karl, the other climber in our party. He says he has good news and bad news. The good news is that we are already wide awake and ready to go, which would have been nearly impossible for the two of us if we weren't supposed to meet up with him.... And the bad news is he can't join us today. His climbing partner has bailed out. A bit bummed out since Karl is also the one who knows the climb and has done it many times before, we head out towards the famous Castleton Tower in Castleton Valley, Moab. This will be our first desert tower!

 The approach is very steep. Although it is still very early, it is already starting to get hot. After one hour we reach the bottom of the climb. Looking up we are very impressed with this huge pinnacle rising up from the desert. Castleton Tower is 105 meters high, and standing straight up from the desert. It has been the setting of numerous music videos, commercials and movies. Film crews have even lowered cars on the top with a helicopter. One day a model had to spend the night there in a car because the wind had become so strong the helicopter could not land anymore! I guess it can be very windy on top of a desert tower.

 Marcel tells me the start of the climb should be somewhere around the left corner. I'm getting pretty nervous about the whole expedition as i look towards the left side where loose rocks sit above a immense abyss. "Are you sure? Are you really really sure?" i ask Marcel. He just smiles, grabes the gear and rope and wanders off around the corner. I'm having serious doubts now and with a huge stone in my stomach i'm trying to convince myself that Marcel would be really happy for us if we did the climb. So, i follow him.

 After getting our gear sorted out, Marcel starts to climb. The first moves look quite hard and for a moment I hope I will be able to even start the route. Climbing cracks has made me an absolute beginner again. The grading and the moves are so different from sport climbing, it is a totally different technique.

Halfway the second pitch
When Marcel went up, i saw it looked harder than i hoped it was. After he reaches the first belay, I start to climb. There are no holds, only a crack and a huge boulder blocking my way. It takes me a long time before I figure out how to balance myself off the ground. "This is probably the hardest part of the route!" Marcel shouts from above. I pray to God that he is right. Instead of holding on to small holds and standing on small edges the idea with crack climbing is that you stick your hand in a crack and turn it somehow so it jams in the rock. As footholds you put your foot in the crack and turn it, pinky tow down. This hurts a lot! It all feels pretty unsure and unstable. The first pitch is really long too, which makes communication hard. Luckily there is no wind, that would have made talking even worse.

The second pitch starts with an 5.9 offwidth section. Offwidth is the crack size where the width is too big to fit your fist, yet too small to squeeze your body in. You have to use two fists stacked together, two hands stacked on top ('butterfly') or a combination of these two techniques. In other words... Offwidth is the weirdest and most difficult crack size to climb!

Marcel places the only #4 Camalot we have, in the crack, just past a very old and rusty looking piton. Karl has borrowed us the #4, saying we really need this piece of gear. We are happy that he did. Falling on the very old piton is not an option, and for a while there is no other gear to be placed. Marcel is making weird noises while he struggles up this section. He says it feels more like a wrestling match. After my own long struggle with the rock we are both finally at the second belay. We take many pictures because the scenery is pretty spectacular. The third pitch is a lot easier and actually has some good holds, giving me a small break from crack climbing. When we are at the final belay before the top Marcel offers me to lead the last pitch to the top. Although I think it is really scary, I start the lead.... only to bail out after just five moves. Not this time! The fear of falling and making a weird pendulum at a height of almost a hundred meters is too scary for me. So Marcel leads again and somewhere around late afternoon we are standing together on the top of the tower. The view is incredible. The golden light of the descending sun is making everything look even better. We smile and look around us. We did it! On the top there is a so called 'top box' with some small notebooks in it. This is very common for long multipitch routes. In the books all the people who stood at the top wrote something in it. Some of the texts are from 20 years ago. Of course we also leave our mark by writing something in it.

Awesome view on The Convent, The Nuns and The Priest

Yes we did it :)

Then it is time for the descent..

It is probably the most scariest descent i have ever done. The drop is more then hundred meters as you step over the edge. When Marcel throws both the 70m ropes over the edge to start the rappel, the wind blows the ropes almost horizontal. While he descents the rope disappears around the corner. I can see he's nervous, hoping his rope won't get stuck on the way down. This does not really help me in wanting to do this rappel too. But I know the only way I will get off this mountain is like this, I have no choice but to follow. Thank God Marcel is holding my rope so at least it won't get stuck around the corner by the wind when i am dangling on it. The wind is getting really strong now and after two more rappels I am very happy we are finally back on the ground. But we still have to walk back. As we run off the mountain the sun is setting and it is getting dark. We lose the path but quickly find it back again. We are almost at the parking lot when we lose the path again. It takes us another 45 minutes to finally find it back again. It is crazy how the color of a path can be so clear on daylight and so invisible by the light of an iphone. I make a mental note: Never forget your headlights on a multi pitch!

The blue dot is me rappelling down!

Jun 8, 2013

Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp - Thailand

After a short stop in Hongkong, where we do some cheap shopping for a new Skylotec climbing rope and a pair of 5.10 climbing shoes and where we ate the Hong Kong famous Dim Sum we fly to Bangkok, Thailand. A piece of my tooth broke off in China and needs to be fixed. Luckily the medical care in Thailand is known for it's expertise so after a week the tooth is repaired and we are set to go. We are going for ten days to Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp about 150 km north of Bangkok, close to Khaeng Khoi in Saraburi provence. It is conviently accessible by train and bus!
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After a long train ride we arrive in Khaeng Khoi so we ask locals where the bus is going to the Nam Pha Pa Yai camp. Nobody seems to know, but there is one bus going out of town, and they explain to us with hand and feet and a lot of smiling where we should go. At the busstop there is a friendly schoolgirl that helps us out and writes for us something in Thai to show to the busdriver. While we are waiting for the bus, a car stops in front of us and a woman steps out of the car. With a gentle voice she asks us in fluent english where we are going "You must be lost!" We explain where we want to go, she looks on the internet, makes a phonecall, and then tells us we are on the right way. Very reassuring! I guess they don't see a lot of foreigners here! :) The bus arrives, and when the driver tells us it's our stop and we get out of the bus, we are not sure where we are. We are standing on an intersection and there are no signs or houses or people to guide the way. Just when we decide to start walking, another car stops with a friendly Thai couple. "Are you lost? Where are you going?" They had seen us on the road looking all confused and decided to make a turn to ask us if we needed help. They offer to give us a ride to the camp. As we load all our luggage in the car another woman on a motorcycle stops and asks where we are going. We are just amazed how helpfull everybody here is. She calls Ben, the owner of the camp to come to pick us up. 15 minutes later we arrive at the camp.
Nam Pha Pa Yai camp is a little gem in the middle of the Thai jungle. This ecological camp is owned by Ben and his wife Joy. Ben used to work in rope access in France, and build this camp all by himself. We are staying in the tree hut. It is a little cabin that hangs in the trees. It is the most cool place to sleep, since it is pretty hot here. It is also the home of a gecko that loves to shout in the middle of the night "GECKO!!!!" in the nice accoustics of the aluminium roof we sleep under. It is the only noise here, but pretty loud. It breaks up our sleep, but since he was here before us, we adopt him as our pet.

Every morning Joy makes us the most amazing breakfast with omelets, homemade bread, coffee and fruit. She also makes great lunches and dinner. The first night we arrived we even got homemade pizza. They try to have a self sustainable way of living, so they grow their own fruit and vegetables, and use only electricity of light panels. So Joy often cooks her delicious dinners with the help of a headlamp. Ben does not want power lines coming to the camp because he does not want to ruin the beautiful landscape, so electricity is in scarce supply but we only need it anyway to charge cameras and phones once in a while.

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One of the great benifits of staying at Nam Pha Pa Yai is the close proximity of the rocks and the way you get to the crag. Instead of a long steep hike up a mountain, the way to access the climbing area here is by walking through the fruit garden of the camp and then ziplining across the river. An activity you would normally pay for, is here a way of accessing the climbing! Needless to say, the first time we zip line up and down ten times just for fun!

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From the zip line you have a perfect view on the rocks, long and slightly overhanging limestone. The routes here are more of a technical nature. Small holds, vertical to slightly overhanging and Ben grades them old-school French so the grades are a bit stiffer than in Tonsai/Raylee or Chiang-Mai.

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Ben convieniently hangs the latest topo always at the base of the cliff so the information on the routes is easily accessible. Some of the high lights of the routes we climbed are Sweet Lip 6c+, a gorgeous long tufa pincher, Stop Monsanto 7c+ a long and technical masterpiece and Jungle's Thai 7b+ another gorgeous route.
For more information, please see Nam Pha Pa Yai's facebook page.

Nov 30, 2012

Back in Yangshuo

When we get back from Getu and are in Yangshuo again, the first thing we do is eat Western food in  one of our favorate restaurants and get-togethers Kelly's. Kelly's is a little restaurant that serves Western food and Chinese food, without MSG, which is very rare in China! The owner Kelly is a very nice lady that knows all the climbers by name and speaks good English. Almost every morning climbers have breakfast and meet each other there. On rainy days everybody hangs out there. We are happy to be back and see some of our friends.

Then we go climbing again! It starts to rain a lot in Yangshuo, and the temperature is dropping now. But the good crags are sheltered from the rain, and lower temperatures mean more friction! :-)
So armed with warm clothes and rain boots we head to the crags again.

Me and Marcel have some unfinished business at Lei Pi Shan, one of the hardest cliffs in Yangshuo. The first time we came there, Marcel convinced me to go into this 7A, called "Crash and Burn". It is a slightly overhanging route, with crimps and pinchers and with multiple cruxes along the way. Every time I try it, the hardest part seems to move up. The final crux is to climb past the last quickdraw on a pincher and a little undercling with bad footholds and move on to a jug in order to clip it. Because I find it impossible not to grab the quickdraw as I climb over it we decide it's a good idea to remove the quickdraw so I can't grab it!
Although I never thought it was possible, on the last day on the last try, using this new beta i sent the route.
I also sent Pickpocket, which is my second 7A!

                                               Sandra on Face Route, a 6B+ in White Mountain.

Marcel on Riverside

 Marcel sents "One Love" a very hard 7C+ on the same day, so we can leave China with a content feeling. But we will definitely be back!

Oct 30, 2012


We are walking on the main road of Getu. Looking around it appears to be a commercial from the communist party. Farmers, working hard look at you smiling as you pass by. The sun is shining on the rice fields and everybody is having a good time. Women are working while carrying a baby on their back, and very old people with enormous loads on their back are walking around with a content smile on their faces.
We have arrived in Getu, the place where the 2011 Petzl Rock trip took place. It is supposedly a new climbers mecca, and we are very excited to be here.
The main attraction of Getu is it's big arch, a monumental cave that goes straight through a mountain, and after settling in, that's where we want to climb first.
The walk up is hard, the steps are steep, and I feel exhausted when I come up. When I look around I am really amazed. I feel like there must be dinosaurs living here! It has to be one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. The arch is 70 meters wide and 120 meter high. They say that one day, someone flew an airplane through it!
As we walk through the arch, I can feel raindrops falling on me. There are clouds inside and it's raining inside!!! It is really an amazing place….
When we start to climb in the Arch we notice how everything feels a little dirty. It looks truly amazing but the climbing is maybe not what we expected of it.
Sandra tries Sushisson 6b+, and after that Dragon Bolt 6c. The last route is very technical, but I manage to come to the top. Marcel climbs Capucine 7b on sight, and Dunman 7a+. The last route is really bizarre shaped underclings, and the steps are mainly friction. It is very typical for Getu.
In the following days we climb at various places, but our favourites are Banyang Cave, where Sandra climbs her first Chinese 6c, and Marcel red points and almost onsights several 7c's. Another favourite is Oliver's Crag and Wayangs Cave and of course Fish Crag, where I took this amazing picture of Marcel below. I also loved Rastaman Crag, where I onsighted my first 6c+!!! :-))) My goal of the trip, to climb 7a, is coming closer!
We finally stay in Getu for 2,5 weeks. We love it very much. The climbing is great and the people are really nice. In the beginning we are with about 30 climbers in the village because it is national week, a holiday for all the Chinese. But after that week we are only there with 9 other climbers. We eat together every day, the same Chinese dishes in the same restaurant, and after 2 weeks we are craving for different food. We look forward to going back to Yangshuo and eat burgers, pizza and meat!

Umbrella for the sun
Getu Darker Days 7b
Sandra climbing at Oliver's
The Arch
Marcel climbing in the Arch
Woman on the street in Getu
Farmers in Getu
Small and Big
Sandra trying a 7A

Oct 15, 2012

First impression of Yangshuo, China

We are now in Yangshuo, a city near Guilin, South China.. Yangshuo is a fairly large town, much bigger then we expected. And we don't notice much of the communism. There is an abundance of shops and traders here, the prices are free, and you have to negotiate everything. Everywhere people are persuading you to come inside and have a drink. Capitalisme rules here, I would say!

 The shops here are open from early morning to late at night. Not that it matters, because our backpacks are so full there is no room for shopping. I guess that's good for us for a change! The food here is amazing. Every day we eat "bao-tse" some kind of steamed bun filled with meat, vegetables and rice. We haven't eaten dog yet (that we know) but we did eat stomach… yes, the translation is in fact "meat" as well! We ate it, but maybe I would't have chosen it from the menu if I would have known!

 The Chinese like to cycle and the lazy Chinese ride electric bikes. You see those electric bikes everywhere. Public transportation is also very cheap. We have rented a bicycle several times, and we also take the bus. This morning, when I arrived downstairs, Marcel's bike wasn't there anymore. Of course it gave me a fright, thinking it for stolen for a moment. When I went looking for it, it turned out… it was towed away!!! It was parked in front of the wrong hotel, so it got towed away….. luckily we didn't get a clamb on our wheel, just like you get in Amsterdam! :-))

 The scenery is really pretty here. Yesterday we cycled to the Dragon bridge, along the Yulon river. It was really beautiful, like we where cycling in an old Chinese movie. Ricefields, mountains, little villages along the way. We watched water buffalo's and farmers working, and children running with us while screaming proudly "hellooooo!!!" to us. Needless to say, we took many photo's along the way. 

When we arrived at the hostel "Climber's Inn", Lilly the owner took us climbing on a nearby crag only hours after we arrived. That's what i call a warm welcome...  Climbing here is great! After a hard start because we needed to get used to the rock here, are we back in shape. We have been to Moon Hill twice already. This is a climbing area with rock in the shape of a half moon. You have to climb 700 steps in order to get there, but it's worth it! :-) On the stairs two old ladies sell ice-cold cola and mango juice. One is 56 and the other is 73 years old! Every day they climb all these stairs. Marcel went climbing with a South African man named Herman. Together they climbed "Moonwalker" a 7C. I climbed a very pumpy 6A+ and a 6B. The gradation is by the way a little harder then we are used to, but maybe we also need to get used to the rock a little more. We also went to White Mountain, one of the major crags here. This is a huge wall with a big steep section. On Moon Hill we also met a group of Chinese tourists. They where from a different part of China and did not see so many foreigners yet. "May I take a picture with you?" times 30 ;-) We will be famous! :-))

Sep 3, 2012

We Are On Our Way!

By the time you're reading this message we are probably sitting in an airplane somewhere between Amsterdam and Hong Kong. We're very excited that the Trip Has Begun and we promise to keep you posted on our adventures (if the The Great Chinese Firewall permits us).

Aug 30, 2012

New climbing gear arrived!

The mail today brought a much anticipated package: our new climbing gear from our sponsor DMM has finally arrived, just before we're heading to China! DMM is well-known for it's excellent craftsmanship in making the safest and lightest carabiners and they are one of the few companies who have not off-shored their production factory to the Far East.
Because of their weight, DMM climbing equipment is often used by trad climbers. Considering we're going to have to carry it for the next 10 months we're very glad to have joined the DMM team! DMM sent us quick draws consisting of the Alpha Trad and Spectre 2 biners with a 18cm dyneema sling, two Renegade harnesses and some Belay Masters and Screwgates. 
Here are some iPhone photos taken from our roof terrace overlooking the centre of Amsterdam. It's a really cool view up there, but i'm looking forward to waking up with a nice mountain view on the other side of the globe :)

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Jul 8, 2012

Climbing 9A made easy

Remember the days when "sticky rubber" was invented? All of a sudden those seemingly impossible friction walls were climbed by climbers wearing Boreal Fire or PE shoes. Climbing technology kept on improving every year, quick draws and ropes became lighter, training methods were improved... and now there is the ultimate technologic advancement to conquer the last unclimbed vertical walls!

Participating in a challenge for the American Air Force where the objective was to create innovative climbing equipment to get people over a 90 foot vertical concrete face, the Utah State Univerisity was the clear winner with "The Personnel Vacuum Assisted Climber!". 

I wonder when this apparatus will be small enough to take with you on the rocks :-).

(from: Hightech Edge)

May 31, 2012

Short visit to Font

Beginning of april we took off for a few days of bouldering on the beautiful stones of Fontainebleau. It has been quite some time since the last time we visited the forest and it was a joy to be back! We visited Gorges d'Apremont, Franchard Cuisiniere, Petite Bois and Restant du Long Rocher but both of us were not in the best of shape so no big numbers were crushed. The weather was perfect and we met up with quite some friends, Font is a very social experience!

Robert-Jan in Egoïste, Gorges d'Apremont

Sandra in 20 blue, Gorges d'Apremont

Focus on the crux..., Gorges d'Apremont

Marcel in Clin d'Oeil, Gorges d'Apremont

Arnold in Big Jim, Petite Bois