Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Val di Mello hit&run mission

I just got back home from a five day climbing trip to Val di Mello. Although it was short, this was a pretty cool trip. Thanks to Siebe for making it happen.
We planned to go climb on the 800-metres Qualido face, but our attention was drawn to a sustained 16 pitch endurance climb on 'Prezipio degli Asteroidi' called 'Non sei piu della mia banda'. It was a good decision, and the day we did it was pretty memorable including Siebe onsighting the overhanging 8a crack pitch (a beautiful, athletic handcrack!), getting shutdown on the 7c slabs and then the 3,5 hour descent through steep grass, stemming a wet gully and looking for trails in the dark.
There's a few particular things I learnt
- dirtbag climber travelling can be nicely enhanced via embracing some technology i.e. a smartphone with a foreign countries data plan, and I believe this does not necessarily take away from the travelling experience. It's just taking us a while to realize communication and travel have exploded to a different universe and planning a short-notice, hit and run climbing trip can be as easy as buying bread at the corner store.
- travelling light is so much more fun (Siebe provided all the gear, so I kinda just brought my shoes, harness and a toothbrush).
- some things never change a.k.a. going up is only half the job, can also be interpreted as 'ReadTheF***Manual' or politically correctly, 'study the descent beta carefully'
- I only knew Val di Mello for the bouldering there but never did the trad, so here it is: there is endless, amazing and heady runout slabs and few, select pure crack lines, but all of it is amazingly good on awesome granite. It's perfect.
- 'steep grass' is a style of climbing
- 'Non sei piu della mia banda' felt like a mini-Freerider and I think it would be a good testing run before going on El Cap because it has a good variety of styles (except no wide pitches) and is always really, really sustained, so you will have a big day no matter what (even Siebe was tired). So, to all aspiring granite warriors and Valley freaks, go for it.
- Siebe is a granite climbing machine (he just got back from a sailboat expedition to Greenland, and is about to spend next two months crushing routes on El Cap)
- it's been a while since I last dropped a shoe from a wall, but just in case I would have forgot, I tried it again, and it's pretty lame (but it earned us an extra half-rest day)
- I will be psyched to go back to Mello because it is a unique mixture of beautiful nature, lots of climbing, a friendly atmosphere and not many people. I really, really liked it!

Other routes I climbed: 'Lavorare con lentezza' with Siebe and 'Piedi di piombo/Oceano irrazionale' with a mixed french/belgian team (David, Laura and Romerique)
it's a bonus when your bivy has grapes, (hitching through Italy with Xavier)

Siebe following on 'Lavorare con lentezza' - a great moderate crack route
crux of 'Lavorare'
selfie with 'Prezipio degli asteroidi' in the back on the right
morning on the wall! not a very alpine start, we were climbing by 8.30, but it turned into a massive day of 12+ hours of climbing
Siebe leading on 'Non sei piu...' a 7a+ pitch

me following the 7c slab... la Pedriza style! it doesn't get much thinner than this
Siebe questing accross the same slab on lead

Siebe following up a perfect 7b thin hands
me getting pumped on the wild 8a pitch, overhanging and exposed! One of the coolest pitches for sure, athletic and pumpy.
mega wrecked on the summit! the descent that followed is sadly not documented, but mostly it was a lot of vertical shenanigans

Monday, September 5, 2016

Chasing the shadow

Few lines are as awesome as the Shadow. Few offer such an intense experience of climbing. The Shadow is a 20 minute meditative journey that relates to normal climbing only by the fact you are using a rope and a rack.
It is the most unique pitch, intimidating and very tenacious and unforgiving to climb.
The difference between the onsight and redpoint on this route is not in knowing the sequence, since there is no sequence at all and you will always be improvising. The difference is rather in getting used to how it feels and the overwhelming intimidation of two slick featureless granite walls that you are trying to stem up between. It is about accepting the fact that you will never feel in control, accepting the peculiar feeling of a foot that could slip anytime, relaxing and going with the flow instead of fighting it.
I kept coming back to it on different days during the summer. My onsight effort was good, but it felt simply too big at that time. Then, on two consecutive tries, my foot blew due to pumped calves or a split-second of lost focus. I couldn't mind it as even those tries felt so epic, and the fall felt like somebody waking you from a dream. Yesterday, I busted out my sport climbing shoes (my TC's are worn out to the point of being dangerous), hoping for a last-ditch effort before my flight home. The tight shoes offered poorer smearing but I knew they would be solid.
I've usually sucked at the last day sending missions. I build it up way too big in my head, jitterishly fall off and am left with a bitter taste of defeat. Then I would usually take it all in, realize how cool it is to be sitting there under the cliff with a bunch of friends and how that tick never really mattered, except to the small selfish bit of your brain that is now still hurting and will make sure you will come back to the route one day.
Anyway, yesterday it all clicked and I latched onto the finishing jug with a huge smile. The Shadow was my dream pitch and I believe no sport route can match the beauty and excitement of this clean cut dihedral. This route alone is a reason to learn how to do trad. Granite is so wonderful :)
What a finish to the summer in Squamish! I feel it all passed so fast, suddenly it is September and everybody is leaving to the Valley or Smith Rock. I am returning home but for once feeling content because The Shadow was kind of icing on the cake. Peace :)
The best corner in the world! The Shadow 5.12d, on the Grand Wall of the Chief, Squamish

The 'jesus stance'

No hands! That's chill!
Many thanks to my friends who came out to belay and take photos. Martin, Daniel and Ben and Teresa yesterday for the great support. This was epic.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Bugaboo expedition

I set out panting, kicking the soft snow under my boots, a heavy pack weighing me down and trying to trip me over. My glacier sunglasses, a 20 bucks score from the Squamish gear exchange, project a false image of reality to the eyes behind them. Not only the scratches on them, the dimming of the natural light feels so unreal and annoying. I want to strip them off. But we are well above 2000 metres, walking on a glacier and the sunnies are crucial to my eyes. It's always a bit of a shock going to alpine terrain for a crag rat :)
But even without the glasses, is what I am seeing really that what is there? My brain is flicking through a kaleidoscope of images of vast white fields, big granite spires, the evil looking gray moraines at their bottoms and powerfully reflecting crystal lakes. Fatigue and the monotony of our three-hour hike blend reality and imagination into one and I gradually take a third-person view of everything that is going on around me, blocking out the thoughts of tiredness.
When I pull on the rock though, what the senses are telling me seems to get closest to actual reality. A sharpened awareness and surge of adrenaline naturally quiet the passing thoughts in my head and my focus zones down to the stretch of rock in front of me. A face of golden granite, split by a striking crack... finally, I am in the Bugaboos! The climbing here is pleasantly stimulating my climber's taste. Psyched. During another full day of climbing, I am immersed in the beauty of the movement, still so unique to me and my limestone climbing roots, I am a bumbly tick-mark following sport climber after all. This place poses a different challenge, a fun mix of alpine adventure, masochistic hiking and splitter cracks. Wooo!

This trip was a great adventure, and surely the highlight of my three months in Canada. I got a ride from Squamish in late July, hiked in, spent a few days at Applebee campground, hiked to East Creek bivy, my partner Martin left and I joined a group of psyched Quebecers (new french canadian friends! Yay!), spent a full week with them and then hiked out. We spent a few rest days in Golden that were mainly composed of watching movies and drinking beer on the couch (civilization feels good after a short period of deprivation, at least for a few days...). Then we returned with renewed psyche and new supplies of peanut butter for another full week, this time staying at Applebee but managing another quick trip out to East creek for a mission on the North Howser tower, its tall and remote west face. None of the climbs I did were of extreme difficulty, in this sense I missed out on a couple hard ones like The power of lard or Sendero norte. Anyway, I grew more familiar and confident with rock climbing in alpine enviroment and above all spent a great time with new friends. I like lists, especially if they're long and since this one is considerably long, here's the routes I climbed:

Mysterious corner left of the Watchtower, ~5.11, North Howser tower, see below for the explanation

Beckey-Chouinard, 5.10, South Howser tower, a cruisy day with Martin

Club confidential, 5.11 into a unnamed (?) splitter crack of about 5.12- on the Great White headwall,
South Howser tower, mega splitter was probably the hardest pitch of the trip, anyone knows about it? (crack left of Your girlfriend gave me RP's)

Italian pillar free, 5.11d on the Minaret, a great day with Sebastien, finally reached the summit of this imposing 600m face after two attempts on the Millenium, scary and hard second-to-last, crux, pitch on diagonal 'flutes' with footholds crumbling away.

Two attempts at 'Doubting the millenium' on the Minaret, the best looking line of all in the Bugs, a 5.12 freed by the Belgian wild bunch, Villanueva&Favresse, a memorable rappell in hail

An attempt on the Wide awake on the Pigeon feathers, the most sandbagged 5.10 ever (I bumped a nr. 4 for 50 metres).

Solitary confinement, 5.11-, a 5-star single-splitter route that stretches for 6 pitches, more wideness

Nothing on the Pigeon spire (west ridge was a traffic jam)

Sunshine crack, 5.11-, on the Snowpatch, another cruisy trip with Martin after so much crack training in Squamish

The Labyrinth, 5.12-, on the East face of Snowpatch, a varied and interesting climb, spiced up with rappelling in the dark and crowned with a beautiful last night in the Bugaboos, spent on the Applebee slabs lit by the full moon

McTech arete, 5.10-, because classics are supposed to be done (it was great)
And the Kain route, 5.6, on Bugaboo Spire, done in my Decathlon approach shoes which probably still were grippier than what they used in 1916!

The climbs on the west face of the North Howser are considered some of the most serious due to their length and the remoteness of the face. I was debating going on 'All along the watchtower' with a couple of friends. It is the classic, featuring a long stretch of stemming in a sustained, 5.11+ corner. We were all slightly intimidated by the scale of the thing compared with our experience in similar things (plus all the glacier travel stuff, it's the 'axe and crampon and shit'...). Eventually me and Oli manned up and went for it and it all went smoothly. A 3 AM alpine start, rappelling to under the face in the dark, climbing the whole day, all free, right until the summit, bivvying under one sleeping bag but spending a beautiful, not too cold night after having had the most tasty instant mashed potatoes of my life. Anyway... all was good except for the fact we didn't actually climb the right corner (oh and I put a core shot in Oli's rope, that was stupid)! I worked out we must have missed the (very obvious) corner because it was considerably wet and the route sketch was kinda poor. We climbed over 100 metres of a beautiful, tight-hands corner (after having traversed too far left) in low 5.11 range and were expecting to hit the crux roof anytime, but then we suddenly entered easier terrain and broken ledges took us to the summit ridge. The route must have been done before since we found nice booty (well, that's something) in the form of a stuck .75 cam.
Nonetheless we were not too bothered with our poor route finding since the whole thing was a good (and tiring) adventure. Next morning we rapped the other side of the tower, past a huge bergschrund and walked out on the glacier that was indeed less sketchy than it looked from the distance. Mega!

Spending almost a month out on the glaciers made this trip feel like a mini expedition. A great deal of hiking had to be done to carry all the gear and supplies, and my legs progressively grew. Getting adopted by the Quebecers provided for an unexpected improvement of my diet as I ended up stuffing my belly with poutine, chocolate cake, bacon and fresh fruit for breakfast as they were clearing out their food stash (the perks of having a heli drop-off!). It grew from funny to ridiculous when we had to hike all the Rubbermaids, the plastic boxes accross the glacier (the perk of not being helied out!). Anyway, staying with them confirmed my theory of the importance of hanging around Francophone people if you want to eat well (haute cuisine, right? Is 3000m considered haute, already?).

Another weary hike-out, a drug-addict behaviour led raid of the 7eleven ice cream aisle and a two-day hitchhike accross British Columbia put me back to Squamish, the home base for this trip. Since then I've been a bit less motivated with some really hot weather in Squamish, lack of partners and blown out shoes. A short trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island for some surfing in Tofino... and now I'm back for the last few days of my BC trip.
Bugaboos is hiking!
'so what does a porcupine look like? don't know, but i guess they're quite a beast'
approaching the madness
Eastpost Spire and its reflection in the 'bathtub lake' 
soloing out the summit ridge on the South Howser after a great day on the mega classic 'Beckey-Chouinard' that features great sustained 5.8-5.10 climbing in chimneys and corners
on the Kain route on Bugaboo spire
The Minaret getting the first rays of sun
cool place to camp out...
hiking accross the Vowell glacier towards East Creek basin, left is Pigeon Spire and on the right is the backside of The Howser Towers
me on the amazing splitter on the Great White Headwall of South Howser! Things kept turning more epic as we found out it's harder than it looks, pretty runout even with a double rack (it was a desert sandstone kinda splitter!), full 60 metres between any belay options and the howling wind was announcing a storm. Luckily we were able to escape through a small squeeze into the Beckey-Chouinard chimney. One full pitch of the same crack was still above us - anyone has info about this route? The weather luckily was not too bad and we only got a few bits of hail, but it the exposure made it feel so epic!
spent the first few days climbing with my buddy Martin...
The Pigeon feathers in the morning fog
fighthing the 'Wide Awake', a hundred metres of the same size nr.4 crack, starting with this roof to warm you up. we were going to attempt the free variation from Villanueva&Favresse, but by the time we got up to the scary looking roof/flake (that gave the name Wide Awake Cornflake), I was pretty smashed, physically and mentally

Oli making lunch for the Watchtower! this is haute cuisine as well!

hanging out at the bivy boulder in East Creek

Birthday cake for Eliel!
and we're talking proper chocolate orange cake here!

chilling out on the porch in Golden after a monumental shower and breakfast
the curious neighbours in Applebee camp

the alpine warrior

...meets a Quebec strongman. 
Image result for howser towers aerial
the west face of the North Howser (with a bit more snow than we had)
Seb doing the Sherpa on the hike-out. I heard Rubbermaid are going to start making back packs!
hitchhiking accross BC... next time let's hop trains!

leading up a very wet corner on All along the watchtower. 'let's hope it's not going to be like this the whole way!'
the pseudo corner! even though we were off-route, the route was still pretty amazing :)
Patagonia provisions caters to high-class dirtbags who care about acting enviroment-friendly and are not friends with gluten. We just got it from somebody at camp, but it sure tasted good... thank you.
climbing out the sick ridge of the North Howser
Oli scoring the probable FA of this little flake right below the summit
nice job Pinti!
about to dissapear in the bergschrund. There goes!

hanging out at Applebee!

 I feel grateful this trip happened for me. Thanks to all the climbing partners, especially Seb, Martin and Oli, thanks to Leo Houlding and Will Stanhope for inspiration and fixed rappels to the North Howser, thanks Dylan for the ice axe and Chris for useful beta and psyche. A big shoutout to everyone who was there, the Quebec crew above all. Cheers!

p.s. Thanks to Martin and Oli for some of the pictures in this blog.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Squamish is all I could possibly ask for! A great concentration of best quality splitters, safe trad with bomber gear, short approaches and a boulder field the size of a few Magic Woods.
I have the whole summer off until my uni starts again in October. I was going to join an expedition but that did not come to be, and I reckoned I would instead try to gain some more experience in granite trad and enjoy the dirtbag life. BC was the place to go then!
Squamish is a playground. Camping right under the Chief means you have so much incredible climbing at your footstep. Hard multipitch lines, speed runs on the Grand wall, soloing scrambles on the Apron, biking over to Murrin park to work moves on a project, living the glorious dirtbag life in a moldy tent because your stuff never really dries, sipping beers and listening to each other's stories when the night falls and all the climber people make dinner at the picnic tables :) Since June I've been immersed in the climbing completely, going after it as much as the weather permits (this is proving to be an issue actually, don't let me get started on it). Anyway the plan is to stay mainly in Squamish and make a few side trips. I am going to the Bugaboos in a few days and getting really psyched for some big stuff in 'North America's finest alpine playground' and hopefully not shit my pants.

Having a bike in Squamish owing to the generosity of Paul Mcsorley has been great for commuting around the campground, the city and the climbing. Plus, it's keeping my legs fit. The graffitti on the floor say "break free from fossil fuels", it feels almost hypocritical in a culture that is

I can not describe the amazingness of the Squamish granite. This place has some of the most unique pitches I've ever climbed on. It's the fine subtleties in technique that it demands that make it so exciting. The rock is smooth, clean cut, with great friction, sometimes riddled with a thousand bumps of little crystals where you have to pick the right smear. The Shadow, 12d is the incredible stemming corner testpiece, I've been on it once and have yet to go back to send it. The feeling of exhiliration when you take your hands off and palm off both walls with all the air below is so sick!
Flight of the Challenger 12c was a good moment right at the start of the trip when I managed to onsight it, I gave it all in a 30 minute battle of kneebarring up the tricky groove.
I also gave a few tries to the Cobra Crack which is regardless of my (poor) performance on it a great experience and for sure 'hands down some of the best stone I've ever climbed on'. The purity of this majestic line and it's mindblowing difficulty make you dream to maybe one day sign your name under the names of the Immortals on the 'Earlmaker', the little fingerboard stashed beneath it. I could see how solving this riddle is possible if I would invest a few weeks at least...and get in a kickass sport shape, lose a few kilos, let my sensory nerves in my hand die off and with a sponsorship from a Superglue and climbing tape company.
As much as it sort of resembles a sport climb in how physical it is, it is also a challenge in working out the exact beta: you have to know every move, every fingerjam, down to the last crystal. I had an inspiring session on it yesterday with Logan Barber who is coming really close to send it. Watching him cruise through the heinous fingerlock moves and getting some valuable beta from him (he's put a decent time of work in it) surely improved my perspective on it. I wish so bad I would get to see that send! He confirmes a lot about this route is putting in the effort to learn it and getting used to the pain, and I have not yet completely written off this little dream (but it may take years).
In the last few days in Squamish I got to climb with one of the new generation Stonemasters, Brad Gobright. He is just coming from Yosemite having become one of the few humans doing three El Cap routes in a day, that is enough said I think. We climbed an amazing route full of powerful laybacking and splitter cracks called Gravity Bong and had fun doing some speed runs on the Grand wall. He's definitely one of the sketchiest climbers I've climbed with - huge runouts, half-soloing the whole time and recklessly dancing up the rock. I thought the climbing soon got quite spicy, but still fun so I hope to do a few more pitches with him.

We made a short trip to Washington to climb the granite spires in the Liberty bell group in Washington Pass. Even if it was a bit of a detour from my itinerary, it was a cool trip and we did some good climbing. With my buddy Martin we climbed 'The thin red line', a 15-pitch route with a few crux pitches in moderate 5.12 range.
Second time out of Squamish, I went to Vancouver Island for climbing in Horne Lake, steep limestone amphiteatre climbing that felt quite familiar to places back at home. It's not what I'm looking for in this trip, but Horne lake is great quality and compares well with the mega caves in Europe! Dinosaur Highway 14a is one of the best steep endurance routes anywhere! Plus, we got to go caving, for real.
I am beyond psyched for an alpine adventure in the Bugs and then a final push of going psycho in Squamish to finish all the projects!
Also, look out for the next issue of Beta that we have been working on, arriving in September, themed big walls - enough adventure psyche to move El Cap!

been climbing a lot with Martin lately and we are always crushing! so I decided to wear the same haircut!

dinner party at Malamute

Ann on The Scimitar 5.11 during the off-width day at Cirque of the Uncrackables

the dream line! you can barely spot it

resting on Dinosaur highway 14a 

Aussie friend Daniel finds first time on limestone hard enough 

I didn't think I could still drop knees. Sport climbing at Tunnel point, on Drop your gloves 13c

approaching the Liberty bell for a big day of fine granite. The Thin red line was quite a long day, we got off route and then Mikey Schaefer (the first ascensionist) shouted beta at us, we were already two pitches up his project :)

friend Ruben setting off on a fine arete sport climb at Squamish, Eurasian eyes 13b

Brad snapped this photo of me following on Gravity bong, on the first of the 5.12s, sick pumpy layback on the sheerest wall of all Squamish

Speleo at Horne lake!

Horne lake, the view from the crag. Vancouver island is beautiful, has mutantly big berries and gives a feel of wilderness. The climbing spot is unique and worth going!

Daniel on the South early winter Spire in Washington Pass. The scenery with the mountain backdrop and good granite is awesome, but the place itself doesn't feel very remote since the road runs just beneath.

epic photo of Patrick on the summit in Washington Pass!

Joe from OZ attempting the Sentry Box, Squamish's first 5.12, a formidable thin crack testpiece.

a day on Zap crack with Klemen Mali

Logan with blistered up finger after the battle with Cobra. It's yours man!

me on Made from fire 5.12 at Top Shelf - a 'locals' crag that is kinda freshly developed. It takes a half hour hike to get there, and yet it was only recently developed. Which means, there is tons of amazing climbing even closer by...

sending fuel - campground brewed berry jam

Washington Pass team

sport climbing at Tunnel point

a beach in Vancouver

sweet camping at Horne lake

dirtbag van parade

me squirming up the Split Beaver, the intro offwidth at Squamish

sport climbing on Petrifying wall

an imported frenchie feels comfortable on BC limestone! Thibaut on Dinosaur highway

looking for jams on Trippet out 5.13- at Top Shelf

buddy Zack on Boogie till you puke. All the knees were left intact and nobody pooped. Whoosh, what a relief.

just another sick splitter, Zap crack 5.12d

on the send of Zombie roof, 5.13a
Martin following on THE SHADOW
ferry ride to Vancouver island
fog rolling in to the Howe sound. view from the top of the Second peak of the Chief.

Masses are asses 5.12b