Reflections of France, Germany, Spain
Suzu Jeffery becomes an “au pair” to climb in Font, Frankenjura, Mallorca.
Day Dreaming of My Summer
For the past three years I have been pushing through school to the moment when I get the chance to climb.
Luckily, my university wasn’t located in such a bad area to do so. Flagstaff, Arizona offered a variety of climbing within 15 min of the actual campus, and I loved it for those years, but somehow I wanted more.
The past couple of summers, I tried to figure out a way to travel and climb without any money. (Pretty much every young enthusiastic climbers’ problem to solve.) I finally found a solution: Au Pair. Now, if you haven’t heard of au pair-ing – which it seems like many people I have spoken to in the US haven’t – it is a French phrase, and literally translates to “at par”. It means a member is “at par” in the family, an equal part, and shares housework. An au pair is basically a live-in nanny. Families across the globe may hire a young woman or man to live in a room in their house, take care of the children, and possibly do some light house work. The au pair will receive a small stipend, usually around 80 euros a week and receive free room and board, food, transportation and other details that shift from one family to another.
Sounds like the life for a climber, right!? Well, it could have been a disaster, but lucky enough for me, I found an awesome family, and an amazing location! While I was looking to work in Spain and brush up on my Spanish from high school, a family from France contacted me and said they just happened to live in FONTAINEBLEAU FRANCE! Although I had never taken even once class of French and could barely pronounce the word “Merci,” I accepted!
Working around the boys’ school schedule, I was able to spend every day until four in the forest climbing. After a nice day climbing on some slopey, technical sandstone, I would return to pick up the boys from school and take care of them at night. Once the boys were out of school, however, the schedule changed and I wasn’t able to spend all day climbing for myself. Instead I had to take care of the boys from 7am to 9pm.
Their week turned into a climbing camp in one of the best bouldering areas in the world. It would be a shame for these kids to never understand the amazing Disneyland paradise they had in their backyard, so I took it as my job to show them. I got them both a pair of little whipper snapper shoes that could fit in my palm, and we would spend the entire day out in the forest.
These summer days were quite hot and I spent the majority of the time teaching the kids to climb, feeding them, taking care of their bug bites or blisters, and when the time came that they began to argue I knew it was time to go home. At this point I would sprint in as many circuits as I could, rushing to the top out to relocate my hiding monkeys before we left. One time it was just the kids and I in the forest, and we ran into two guys from the Czech Republic, the time came when the boys were cranky and I knew it was
time to leave so I hoped on as many boulder problems as I could before taking off. I knew these two guys were looking at my strangely, wondering what the hell I was doing rushing up some highball problems with one Mad Rock pad, in between yelling at these two wondering kids in broken English and broken French. This time was tough, because I spent everyday in the forest but felt constantly taunted by the amazing sandstone, when I couldn’t focus really on my own climbing, and just on the kids. So after the parents got home I would run out for another night session, trying to avoid the prostitutes lurking behind trees, for a chance to actually climb for a bit.
The nights in the forest were pretty amazing. Some of the more popular and convenient areas would get pretty crowded on weekends and days when family’s and climbers from Paris come by train. But since the nights were long and the sun didn’t go down until around 11:00pm climbing at night offered a scene not normally experienced and much more friendly temperature, especially on tricky slab.
I was in awe the whole time I was there, the climbing was just so abundant. I was lost at least once a day, but several times I had been looking for one climbing area and simply ran into another instead. A guide book was completely unnecessary, since everything is marked and if it’s not, you can easily make it up as you go.
One day I ran into some old timing locals re-painting an area. It was really cool to see the local traditions: 60, 70-year-old men out there truly enjoying the forest and trying to share it with others. A couple of the guys spoke English and helped me out with some beta on newer climbs. Bouldering there is such a part of the culture and history of the land that there seems to be a deeper appreciation of the sport than in the US.
In the end, at this point in my trip truly was worth it. although I was feeling a bit selfish on those summer days, now I know that those two boys will having climbing forever. Climbing has done so much for me and has literally led the majority of my life choices and decisions, and for the better. I want to be able to share that opportunity to other people, knowing know that it can open doors to a completely new world to those that really need it. I know those two boys will not forget their summer, for they will have the memories and coaching from me, but they will also have my Mad Rock crash pad, apple sauce stains and all, that I left for them to use as they grow older.
I had been asked a couple of times, “Oh, how hard are you climbing, what have you done?” but there is truly no comparison. The colors give you an idea of how difficult the climb might be, but when you look in a book and use the conversion chart for the US, it makes no sense. Therefore the climbing is less stressful, I would just hop on anything that looked fun, and was never disappointed – a nice break from the competition climbing I did the years before.
Now that my selfish genes were tingling to full capacity, I heard word from a long lost climbing friend from my youth competition days, Eli Stein, that he would be in Germany. I took that opportunity and sprinted out the door to Frankenjura, Germany.
Him and a couple of other friends all traveled from different parts of the world, by train, plane and car to arrive in another world class destination. Arriving here was a complete transformation from the sandstone boulders in Font. The grassy hillsides were broken up with walls of pocketed limestone. We wanted to get in as much climbing in as possible since we were had a week there, so Eli and I pushed through without a rest day. The bouldering I had been doing in Font upped my power, but the lack of the sport climbing I had been doing had showed in those days. The routes were so much fun though, so featured, that I could hardly keep up.
It was truly inspiring to see the original redpoints, and of course the ultimate Action Direct. Unfortunately, none of us could attempt it, even with our combined strength. Instead Eli and I got on Slimline, 8a+, a beautiful line just to the right of Action Direct. We both left without a send, but that meant we were also left with another project of the thousands in Frankenjura to try again.
After Germany I had another week in France before I flew to Mallorca. With its crystal clear blue waters and endless orange and gray limestone, going to Mallorca was literally a dream for me. Ever since I watched “King Lines” at about age 14, I set Psicobloc or deep water soloing, as a thing for me to check off my bucket list.
While I was in France I met a lot of people, some climbers, some au pairs, some neither. One of those people I was lucky enough to meet, Liere, turned into a good friend who just happened to live in Mallorca. The very first day I was in Mallorca, we trotted off to Cala Barques, what some call the Camp 4 of Mallorca, with some friends that knew the area.
This day the waves were breaking pretty hard, as it was my first time I was nervous, but Simon re-assured me that it was still okay to climb, though he said any rougher and he wouldn’t. I traversed over to the bottom of the first climb and began the sequence. The rock was slightly wet and slimy at the bottom and the 90 degree weather was not helping the skin. Because of this, and the fact that the bottom of the climb feels the most dangerous, since I was not hanging over the water, I over-gripped the entire first section and was pumped out of my mind by the time I reached the fun part. As I shook out and listened to the ear-shattering waves crash below me, I began to realize how terrified I actually was. I threw to a big left-handed cross and fell into the water. Since I fell pretty low, it was actually still nice to fall into the water, since it was so hot.
My next try I felt much more comfortable on the rock. I knew that it was okay to fall, and I was able to focus a bit more on my climbing rather than the sound of the intimidating ocean. This time I could actually enjoy the fact that the rock is really good quality and really fun, obvious sequences. I reached the top jugs and had to do one last right hand throw to a crimp, and then match left. I got the crimp and tried to re-adjust, realizing that this was actually the crux and had a real pump. I missed the match and fell from the very top of the climb. Coming off I knew I wasn’t in control of my fall, I started tipping forward and pretty much face planted in the water.Needless to say, I came up out of the water with the front of my body stinging, and caught out-of-breath – half from the impact, half from laughing.
It was so much fun, probably the highlight of my trip. Psicobloc is such a mental game. At 14 watching King Lines, I didn’t realize it, I thought, “Oh, he’s just falling into water” – but you get out there, and it just rushes to your head.
The game is getting over those thoughts, I guess just like any other climbing circumstance or life experience. I have gained a true respect for those climbers. Especially since they considered this climb “short”. In the guidebook, they use the verb “flipnar” to describe a route based on the amount that you pee yourself out of fear while climbing. It makes perfect sense, and it is completely worth it.
Although Mallorca was a dream, the whole trip was such a variety of experiences that it is hard to pinpoint just one specific moment, or try to even summarize the trip in a couple of pages, like I’m doing now. My eyes were opened in ways that I know I won’t even realize for twenty years. One thing I realized immediately though, is how amazing our climbing community is. I don’t mean just your local climbing area or gym community, I mean the world of climbers. Climbers are such a unique breed of people; people that fight to their death; that in this manner are dedicated perfectionists that will do anything to achieve their goal.
When these people come together, no matter what language they are speaking, there is an unspoken language of climbing that somehow everyone understands. The personalities of climbing break the language barriers that cultures sometimes put up. Because of this I was able to meet a lot of amazing people on this trip, from France to Germany to Spain and all the travelers in between, people from Singapore, England, Poland, Russia, Japan, Czech Republic and not once did I feel threatened as a 20-year-old girl traveling alone. Climbers are stand-up people, keep on keep’n on guys! Get out there and crush!
- From the Mad Rock team,