What a year 2015 has been! After the huge amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into the Australian Climbing Festival, we felt that an extended climbing trip was called for. We bought an old van in Holland that we named 'The Smurf' after it's uncanny resemblance to the white-hatted blue men, and first headed off to climb and paraglide in one of our much-loved countries, France, where all can be enjoyed with red wine and amazing cheese and bread. We went to the Pyrenees where we had a date with some sheep - we did some WWOOFing at a 'fromagerie', a farm where they made delicious cheese and yoghurt from both sheep and cow milk. So we were arm deep in poo when milking the beasts, but the experience of making the cheese and yoghurt, staying with the owners in their house and improving our French, and of course eating the cheese, was a memorable and worthwhile experience. And lo-and-behold, there was great rock climbing and paragliding nearby - what more could you want?
A short trip to the UK saw us attempting to impersonate Joe Brown and Don Whillans by climbing some of their classic routes at Stanage, and then we headed to Norway. In Voss we volunteered for the 'Ekstremesport Festival' and got to see some amazing athletes compete in their field, and of course we went climbing in Norway too, most notably in Uskedalen with our friend Chris Fitzgerald who was joining us for our Russian expedition. The multi-pitch crack climbing of Uskedalen was outstanding, and we would have stayed longer than a week if it wasn't for the notorious Norwegian rain.
From the cold and rain in Norway, we went to the hot, dry sandstone towers of Pfaltz in Germany before heading to Russia for our Siberian adventure. After Chris headed back to Oz, we returned to Germany where we first climbed at Frankenjura, and then experienced the novel Czech-style climbing at Elbesandstein. Here you can't use any metal pro in the soft rock, so all pro is on slings or knotted cord, even your 'nut tool' is a pointy wooden stick! On to Bavaria, the land of strudel, ledderhosen, and cute felt hats, then through Austria, Italy and back through France to return to Holland where we said good-bye to 'The Smurf'.
This trip was truly incredible. It was so varied in what we did, and seeing areas and countryside through climbing, hiking and paragliding, as well as the volunteer work we did, made it all the more enriching.