Now Usine me, now you don’t! – Steve Johnstone


Now Usine me, now you don’t!

Myself and Andy Turner had planned on meeting some friends of ours at a crag called Usine, just outside of Grenoble. I didn’t feel especially strong or ambitious, and could have been quite happy belaying and talking nonsense as I usually do.

After a couple of warm up routes, we then decided to have a bash at SAT M8+. Andy set about the route first, putting in the necessary quick draws and pulling through move after move. I watched to see that for M8+, this looked kinda hard. Its steep and at the top look a bit airy. The chains were located near the top of the cave, on the outside edge.

After a couple of grunts the chain was clipped and I lowered the big man down.

‘Pumped?’ I asked already knowing the answer.

‘Yep’ Andy said while catching his breathe.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward look this, I mean if Andy was pumped, then I was going to have to try hard! I set about getting my gear on and pulling the rope through for the lead. Tied in, and quick belay check and I set off on possibly the worse crime of climbing I have ever committed. Over gripping, over powering, feet work of and drunk and the head space of an Acrophobia (Acrophobia sufferers can experience a panic attack in a high place and become too agitated to get themselves down safely). Sure enough I got to a large move, with very little in the way of foots holds, and let out a feeble shout of ‘Take’. Pathetic. What the hell. M8+? Even if it was M10, what the hell was I doing? I do know that part of the problem is my head. I took a big fall years ago, and since then, I can’t seem to shake off this fear of exposure or climbing high above gear. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it really bothers me. I tried to fix it by putting up a E5 at Farletter, near loch Insh. As I have never climbed E2 or E3, I top ropped an E4. Climbed it without much trouble, and lead it soon after. I then worked my way through the rest of the E5′s that are there and then put up my own. The only problem with this was, that I knew I could climb it before I lead it. So my planned didn’t really work. I think the problems is the fear of the unknown. I guess lots of climber have this, but some deal with it better than others. I some can’t deal with it very well, and sometimes, it hasn’t even crossed my mind, and I climb with boldness.

Steve dry de coke

Feeling a bit annoyed about the whole thing, I went and onsighted a D10. I felt a little better, the style of climbing suited me, but I could have quite happily went to a cafe and had a brew. Instead I went to a nearby McDonalds for a jobbie and a rethink.

I got back to the crag to see that Gordon McAurther was set about on a hard route, with a massive move right in the middle. It looked like amazing fun, but whether I could get to the big move, let alone the move its self, well that was a different issue.

‘Jesus Gordon, that looks a bit tasty!’

‘Yeah man, I can seem to get the axe in the small pocket.’ He said slightly frustrated.

‘Man I would love just to get to that move, just to see if I could get it.’

‘Have a go man, you could get there I think, your a tall dude’.

Kindly Gordon pulled down his rope and quickly point out the starting holds.

‘Shit man, I don’t know about it, it looks mental!’ I said truly believe in my own in-capabilities.

‘Dude the route could be made for you man!’ said Marc Beverly with the usually enthusiastic American tone. ‘Go’on up there man, and crush it!’ If only every crag in the world had a Marc Beverly shouting at you.  We would be doing a lot better I tell you!

And with that, I ran and put my boots on. If even get to the big move, I’ll be happy. If I made the move, well that would be awesome!

I tied in and put my tools in the starting holds. The first move was powerful and set the tone for the route. I had to throw every move with a lot of energy to make sure that I didn’t fall short of any of the holds. I couldn’t afford to waste time swinging around. Next move was a big throw into a stein pull which I got first time, surprisingly. The next to moves were ok and then I was there! Jesus, I thought, I’m at the big move already!

‘Yeah man! That’s it!’ I heard from below.

‘Can you see the hole?’ shouted Gordon.

‘Nope, I can see some red paint……’

‘Yeah, well just aim for that!’

I dropped my right arm and gave an all out throw. Bang! I got it! The lads on the ground gasped and started shouting to keep going. I settled myself down and looked for the helpful little spats of paint used to indicate where holes are. I seen the next move, not as big as the last but still a huge throw. Clank! The reassuring sound of a mental pick in a pocket. Most of the pocket are drilled, so when I could see that the pick was a inch or so in, I knew I could kept throwing move after move without the fear of pick ripping out. I didn’t have the fear of falling like on the M8+ but the fear of loosing the hardest onsight of my life.

Every move from then looked too far, too hard and with the pump in my arms creeping in, I didn’t really know if I had it in me. Only three moves to the chain. My mind wanted to relax, it started to wonder, as another move was needed above a bolt with full commitment. I shook my head to focus on the task in hand, although this move looked like a show stopper. I could hear the lads shouting at me to relax, and to breathe. It helped, because I could still fail. If I came off now, I would have lost the onsight and maybe the route for the day.

‘Crush man! You got this! You got this!’ Marc shouted at me. The lads must of had as much disbelieve as me that I even go this far.

I powered up and let out a scream as my pick closed in on the hold. I fell short by 20 cm.

‘Jesus!, this is massive!’ I shouted.

‘C’mon dude! crush it!!!’ There’s something about a ’6,3′ American enthusiastically shouting at you. You just try harder!

Again I thew all out at the hold, at the last second I push hard with my feet and seen the pick fall just in the right place. I could see the chain, I thought about how much I was pumped. I relaxed. I settled myself. I can’t blow this now, I can’t throw it away by rushing. Two moves left. I made the first move without much trouble, but the hole wasn’t drilled. Instead it was a flatter hold with crumbling limestone in it. I couldn’t clipped the chain from there, I couldn’t cheat either, or waste my time trying. I also didn’t want to throw too hard as this tool could rip, and on the last move. I gingerly pull up, and locked with my left arm, I reached up, but it wasn’t enough. I pull the lock in harder, my fist pressed against my shoulder. As I reached up, I push my axe handle up, I was holding it with just two fingers. I felt the axe I wasn’t locking off on slip a little, and for a moment thought it might rip.  I held still and saw my other tool fall into the hold. Calm, stay calm, I said to myself. I got a full hand on the axe now, the chain was right next to me. But after the lock off, my hand felt stiff and clumsy. Calm, breathe. With the rope in my hand I pushed it into the karabiner.

I did it. I scream as loud as I could. The lads on the ground were shouting and whistling. I couldn’t believe it. As Andy lowered me to the ground, I held my head in my hands. Now sitting on the ground, trying to put together what I have just done.

Dry De Coke M12+ second ascent, onsighted.

Well that was a better effort than the M8, that’s for sure!

Massive thanks to Gordon for letting me have shot of the route.  Marc, Andy and the rest of the lads for the encouragement, and for Pierre Chauffour  for the picture!


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