As an eight year old I started loving mazes. I ran pen through corridors of black ink, drew lines left and right, and switched back and forth, always trying to find a way out. I loved pretending to get lost even if I knew just by looking, how to beeline for the finish. Those were of course the easy ones. As I grew older, I craved for the more difficult to solve. I started giving truer effort in solving harder ones. When I can’t figure a way out by glance, I’d lift the pen off the pad and run it through the maze until I found the way out. Only then did I push pen on paper to retrace the solution. Problem solved and no one gets to know I got lost. When those puzzles ran out I made my own complex mazes. At ten, I drew elaborate ones with rabbit holes that go back of the paper, revealing another maze that connected to even more rabbit holes. It was interesting to keep the mazes alive and always expanding. I’d keep them when I get to finish drawing. I’d try to forget them and then solve them when my memory of them faded, which was a tad difficult but nevertheless worth the try. I’d give some to friends and ask them to make some for me. It was fun, the exchange, but I always, at the back of my mind, clamored I guess for an innocent girlfriend who had the same quirky like for puzzles. I grew up in an all boys’ catholic school so I always wondered how it would be like.
I never did grow old of puzzles. Mine today though are a bit different. They no longer consist of long alleys, switchbacks and rabbit holes on paper. They now consist of crimpers, slopers, gastons, laybacks, dynos; all of them climbing moves made in sequence either inside a gym or erratically arranged on rock, designed by natural physical forces. Solving routes and boulder problems are like solving mazes. Some you readily know you can finish just by glance. Some are hard gained and require more effort and pragmatic scrutiny. I like the ones that require more of me. Unlocking a hard route or problem sometimes isn’t as simple as lining up the moves in sequence. Small changes make all the difference. Timing, moving a millimeter or a centimeter on hand or foot placements, conserving energy to a science, resting; they all form part of a complex solution that spells completion or falling off and trying again. It does sound complicated, but the more you keep doing it, the easier and more automatic it gets. The body reacts in a masterful way and the mind doesn’t get burdened with too much thinking. It becomes natural.
Sharing is another sweet side of solving climbing problems. It is interesting at times when there can be more than one solution to a single line. Everyone is made different and so strengths and weaknesses vary. It is more difficult when you go at a problem alone. With shared effort, tearing down a hard line becomes easier. At times, even if it doesn’t go, at least the shared energy makes the day feel lighter. I have climbed alone and I have climbed with numerous people. Experiencing the full spectrum of company is very interesting. You learn more and in the end it makes you a better climber. All too worth the mention is the diversity of the people you meet; different cultures, attitudes, outlooks, heights, etc. Like a ten year old, though, I still have that pang of sharing a problem with someone who has the same quirky neurotic approach to climbing as me.
There is one big difference with mazes on paper and climbing puzzles on rock. Mazes are solved with just the mind. Routes and boulder problems are done with both mind and body, and perhaps the soul if ones passion for it is too deep to even begin to understand. When all mind, body and soul are connected and they move together, there is synergy. A deeper connection to an existence develops and it becomes a reality that is hard to let go off. Taking that synergy and sharing it with someone of equal or greater passion becomes even more powerful it begins to border on crazy. This is why I think Chris Sharma, hero and friend, is able to surf on the climbing wave. He gets all this love and support from the climbing community all over the world. Me, I don’t crave for the same magnitude. Sharing a synergy with a handful will be enough. Sharing it, even with just one quirky person just like me, just like what a ten year old me would want, I think mazes will be that much easier and more fun.
The following are photos from a trip to Ailefroide, France. It is a place deep in the ski slopes of the Alps. In the summer, when ski season is over, bouldering becomes a viable option in the area.
To get to Ailfroide, by car from Briancon, take the RN94 in the direction of Gap. In Argentière La Bessée, turn right on the D994 in the direction of Vallouise (turn left if you come from the direction of Gap/Aix en Provence). After Vallouise and Pelvoux you'll reach the village of Ailefroide.
Note that a narrow curved tunnel inhibits standard busses going farther than Pelvoux village: Ailefroide can be accessed only by cars and small busses.
If you keep following the road after Ailefroide you'llend up at Prè de Mme Carle at 1840m at the end of the valley.
The closest train station is located in l'Argentière La Bessée, 18 km from Ailefroide. In Argentière you can take the bus to reach Ailefroide.
Located in the High Dauphiné Alps, the beautiful small and rather quiet village of Ailefroide at 1515 metres is located in the 2nd biggest French mountaineering area after Chamonix, nestled at the foot of the Mont Pelvoux ( 3946 m ) in the Ecrins massif.
In the climbing world, Ailefroide is renowned as one of the most beautiful natural climbing spots. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced, whether you prefer long routes or boulders, without doubt you’ll find your 'piece of cake'. You'll find 2 bouldering circuits, 9 sport climbing crags (194 pitches, 3c-8) and 67 great routes (150-500 m) accessed in not more than half an hour walking.
In the Ailefroide area there is also some of the best bouldering outside of Fontainebleau too! Each year in July a bouldering event takes place.
It was a day, a day of bouldering with new friends. We met each other under Ceuse. We shared beers, quiet conversations, a day off climbing in Gap, 1 euro baguettes, the one long day on the drive to Briancon, and the long energy filled bouldering in Ailefroide when Ceuse was under bad weather. We were like ten year olds, having fun, not minding the diversity, moving when the weather’s bad, and sharing synergy that up to this day hasn’t been forgotten.
I got off the chat with Dave Deary a few nights ago. The short chat was inspiring. It has been five years since we were together in Ceuse, Gap, Ailefroide and the many places in between. Friendships made in climbing don’t end. I have a home in the U.K. if I visit and for sure, wherever I am, my friends will always have a place to stay.