Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review: Free Solo movie

Warning: This post will contain spoilers. You should see it first before reading - it's absolutely worth seeing. But essentialy, yes, he lives.

So here we go, my 2 cents on the feature length documentary blowing our minds in cinemas near you...
The Alex Honnold craze is peaking. It's incredible how widespread attention climbing has received since his free solo ascent on the El Cap. It's great we get the chance to see it on big screen, the movie is a monument to his historic feat and so I was excited to see it. Containing more than just climbing, but also an in-depth portrait of Honnold we did not know before, it has turned out very thought-provoking. As a showcase of Yosemite valley, the movie is really beautiful. Series of sweet climbing shots and landscape scenes induced a visceral crave of once returning to the Valley. For a climber's taste, it does a decent job portraying the scale and complexity of the Freerider route. I missed some more steady climbing shots though, somehow I felt there was not enough actual climbing footage.

I felt a resentment for the contrived narrative added on top of the documentary. It seems to be the case with most, especially feature length adventure movies nowadays. I appreciated the in-depth deconstruction of Honnold's personality, and the relationship drama it sparked, it is interesting and also relatable for most spectators (probably not the case with the climbing!). Even if the conflict is stereotyped a little bit - him as a single-minded, focused cold blooded dude and her a much more cheerful, simple person - it shows perfectionism is going to be tough for Alex. He wants the best of both worlds - but his priorities are set differently than hers. I resent the stereotyping in the narrative: Honnold's commitment to goals is seen as selfishness and insensitivity to some spectators. I found myself inspired with his very clear and vocal thinking on perseverance and hard work. But yes, it will come at a price (I can't read Slavoj Žižek, but I enjoy his bite-sized philosophy videos).
On the other hand, I was slightly disgusted by the "warrior spirit" rethoric since I've always thought that no matter the size of the mountain you climb, climbing and alpinism have aimed to not take itself too seriously. It may be an achievement the scale of the lunar landing, but is essentialy a very personal pursuit. To finalize, I felt sorry for Sanni who first had to go through all this and be on camera at the same time. While already making her look a little like a whimp (a "non-climber"), on top of that the narrative glorifies Honnold's heroism more than her enduring faith and devotion.
Anyhow, while definitely being a bit contrived, this conflict emotionally involves the spectator and adds a layer of depth to the movie. They really seem a cute couple, and hopefully things will get less tense since Honnold has stepped down soloing a little bit (what big wall would be next, anyway?). But now maybe their relationship is at danger with him becoming too much of a celebrity!

The movie also inaccurately claims about deaths of other famous climbers who soloed. Out of 5 or 6 the movie names, 3 times it was not a soloing accident. Sean Leary, Dean Potter and Dan Osman, they all tragically passed away pursuing other adrenaline highs, equally or perhaps more dangerous than soloing... It even seems plausible that, theoretically, soloing contains less inherent risk than base jumping or high-altitude climbing, and the death rates actually confirm this fact. While this doesn't change the outcome, it would be nice if the scriptwriters were accurate.

But how crazy Honnold actually is? For most people the plain idea of climbing without being on belay is scarily uncomfortable, let alone scaling a wall of this size, difficulty and technical complexity. Yet with Honnold, with his calculated approach, I feel kind of relaxed watching him do it. As opposed to some other soloists who speak of "waiting for the right moment", "waking up one day knowing you would do it" and similar slightly esoteric philosophies, he seems to simply analyze every uncertainty down to where very little is left to chance. I'm sure any of us watching was more gripped than he ever was on this climb. The huge volume of soloing experience, plus the knowledge of the route down to the minute detail meant in the end there was no doubt - only pure mastery at work. I highly recommend reading his account on the technical aspects of the ascent for a better perspective of how solid he actually was.

As a final point, should we just be outraged at seeing a movie about something so dangerous and fringe as free soloing? The anxiety of the film crew is real, even if it's a crew that's collaborated with Honnold on several occasions (didn't some of his solos in the past kind of almost match the boldness of Freerider solo? Like the Sendero Luminoso?). I admire the vision they had to make this movie despite the risks, but generally agree much more with Peter Croft's philosophy of keeping soloing one's private affair. It's great they included him in the movie for a nice contrast of what an approach one could have.

Anyway, the movie is a great success! Currently standing at almost 15 million $ in US box office revenue and a nomination for an Oscar... I wish Alex Honnold continues to inspire us with daring climbing achievements (maybe less soloing) and interesting climbing movies. I hope he calms the soloing itch for the sake of his relationship. There's really hardly a wall more impressive than El Cap that hasn't been soloed yet. Maybe this was climbing's "lunar landing"!

we free climbed the Freerider with David Debeljak in 2015 in an epic 6 day journey across El Cap, undoubtedly one of my best adventures in climbing! In the photo, David is seen smearing the glass-textured Enduro corner. In terms of climbing, it is pitch after pitch of excellent, challenging climbing, a real beauty.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The incredible Fish

The summer has arrived and this year it brings plenty of free time to climb! After discovering Grenoble and its local climbing scene earlier this year, I was keen to bring some people over to Slovenia. I always wonder how other people might think about the climbing here. I am obviously biased to like it, but since getting to know our mountains a little bit in the past years, I think there is particularities that one finds nowhere else. On the other hand, it's true that our Alps are a pile of choss compared to some places in Italy and France. So I lured Mathieu into Slovenia by promising him the best of what we've got (according to my humble opinion) and then a short trip to the Dolomites as well... and all the trauma of chossy Slovenian rock was forgotten when we got to climb on Marmolada south face and on it the mythical Fish, La via attraverso il pesce or Weg durch den Fisch.

First off we warmed up by doing Metropolis in Triglav North Face and Črni biser in Travnik the next day. Those were some routes I wanted to do for a while. Especially Travnik was quite a long day, but I knew it would be good preparation for some big routes in the Dolomites.

the traverse pitch in Metropolis

the good stuff

climbing in Travnik

tired from Slovenian beer, still managed to send  Ritem v zraku!

 Arriving to the Dolomites, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo popped up on the horizon so we decided to start there. We did Das Phantom der Zinne on Cima Grande which is a bit of a modern hard classic. The Cima Grande north face is steep, at times overhanging, and the route is equipped with enough bolts to make the climbing flow fast, while staying exciting with some run-outs and athletic moves on positive holds. Quite a climbing treat! The first taste of dolomite rock left us hungry for more, little did we know how stunned we'd be by Marmolada!

the Tre Cime di Lavaredo

žganci for power the night before :)

under the Cima Grande, cold fingers in the morning

the first pitch on Das Phantom

product placement

yehooo! high off the ground!

the amazing view from the summit of Cima Grande (shot with my phone :O)

We were a bit intimidated by doing Il Pesce so we took extra care to make sure we'd be fast enough to climb it in a day. The day started at 4 AM at Rifugio Falier. At 6 AM we were blasting through the lower easy pitches. By now the Fish has become a classic so route-finding is made simpler by following vague traces of polished rock. Soon enough we were in the crux pitches around the characteristic fish-shaped niche, grinning from ear to ear. The rock quality and the itinerary are simply outstanding. It's like one took Ceuse and stretched it out into one 500m slab of grey limestone (plus 400m above the mid-way ledge). The climbing is super technical on tiny holds and some run-outs between gear, but rock is completely solid so one can pull on small holds with confidence.

It is 40 years since the first ascent of this mythical route and I guess it was regarded as groundbreaking for the amount of free-climbing necessary between pieces of gear (or even sky hooks). There are no bolts on the route except a few in the lower, easy part. It is amazing to consider this achievement nowadays! Some sections look truly improbable and only after careful inspection one finds passage.

We climbed by swinging leads and managed to onsight everything until I popped off a tricky 7a section while following Mathieu, right before the end of difficulties. I started from the jug but didn't repeat the whole pitch. It was definitely not good style, and I admit I was quite nervous about taking too long or taking some rain (there was some rain in the forecast). Eventually we topped out at 6 PM and even a failed onsight couldn't spoil my satisfaction. During the week of climbing together our efficiency improved and it was a pleasure to go fast on such a big route.
quick change of clothes for Mathieu. no, we were not THAT scared... it was just warm in the sun

perfect climbing on Specchio di Sara

'Parete de l'Argento', the Silver face... south face of Marmolada

cruising through a sea of gray on the Fish

tricky moves right before the belay

kind of ecstatic on the top!

...still with some descent to go

We are much, much obliged to the Slovenian alpinist camp (organized by KA PZS) for the good company, useful information and logistic support. I was a bit lost in the Dolomites since it was my first time and you helped us a lot (the second time already, hehe).

routes climbed (all onsight and swinging leads unless otherwise stated):
Metropolis, Triglav
Črni biser, Travnik
Das Phantom der Zinne, 7c+, Cima grande
Specchio di Sara, 7c (up to the halfway ledge, we didn't redpoint the two hard pitches)
The Fish (swinging leads, as mentioned above I missed one pitch)

oh and to put everything in perspective, 9 years ago The Fish was done in free-solo... gulp

I hope to climb on Marmolada again soon. It just looks like there's so much good stuff to do...

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The French connection

It's been three weeks since I'm back to Slovenia after completing my Erasmus year in France. I was glad to come back after 10 months of living in France, having had a great year and feeling a new surge of climbing motivation.

Who needs hamstrings anyway?
Back in September while climbing in Ceuse I put a partial tear in my hamstring. It set me back considerably, since it was taking a long time before I was able to climb and run pain-free, but it's clear my irresponsible way of going about it prolonged the healing process. Just putting it out there as a note to self. Is there anyone who had the same? I would love to hear your thoughts. Even if less common than upper body injuries, hamstring tears in climbers are serious. And living in Grenoble not being able to climb or ski kind of sucked, too.

from the trip to Ceuse in September

Au revoir, Rocher du Midi (a la prochaine fois)
Between Grenoble and Chambery stretches the east barrier of the Chartreuse massive with numerous steep limestone walls cropping out. I grew to hold dear this unique enviroment of dense forests, interesting rock formations and alpine meadows. The few big birds are your only company up there, yet it's so close to the buzz of the life down in the valley. Taking the car ride back home, I passed in front of those walls for the last time: Dent de Crolles, Rocher du Midi, Aulp du Seuil, le Grand Manti...
In May I've been sieging a multipitch project on Rocher du Midi with friends Laurent and Romain. Romain was madly motivated for this route and it became a Saturday routine to get up early, make the hike to the base of the 250m wall and play on the various difficult pitches. The route is called Carnet d'Adresse and it came to people's attention after Nina Caprez gave it its third ascent a few years ago. Even if with Romain we both managed to climb the crux pitch, twice we were forced to bail due to rain and so the project of linking all the hard pitches remains (a much bigger challenge than the crux pitch alone).

hard sport climbing with an 'ambiance', Carnet d'adresse on Rocher du Midi
Romain levitating the crux pitch
rising above the clouds on a different climb on le Grand Manti, photo by Eirik
'ambiance Chartreuse'

hiking out past L'Aulp du Seuil

The Grenoble school of climbing
While 'saucissoner' (the act of being a saucisse) in my harness, I was inspecting the rock for miniature blips and bumps that would permit advancing the gray slab of the 35-metre crux pitch. It's a vertical wall, at times maybe even a degree of slab, but it's really, really thin. In a typical fit of desperation, I was cursing the rock and my lack of shape, wondering how is this even possible. Romain yelled at me and I looked down. 'Dude, just do this' he said, flexed his fingers and brought the thumb on top of the index. I had to shut up...
Romain, climbing bare feet at Saint Ange, just because...
 flying under the radar but sending like a beast

Climbing in Slovenia
Not long after I got home, I got out for a day with David. It's been since our trip to the amazing granite walls of Kyrgizstan that we haven't climbed together. Predostenje Križevnika is a north-west face on Križevnik (1909 m) in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. We climbed on Rajčeva, a route I'd already been on a year ago with Kruder. This time, things ran smoothly and I managed to free climb all the pitches. The route is an amazing trip up a very steep wall, an exhilirating mix of trad and sport climbing and a true pleasure to climb. Despite 10 hours of climbing we topped out feeling mega psyched. The next day I woke up feeling completely trashed. I'm running out of superlatives to describe this route. What a day!
Robanov Kot at 8.30 AM, feeling motivated... climbing becomes really fun
on the immaculate slovenian rock. First pitch, 7a+. David has a new camera and I brought my haul bag so we hauled, took photos, climbed, hauled...

me seconding the second pitch, 6c

Dave on the crux 8a pitch, a pumpy 30 metre crack line

me setting off for the next, an steep dihedral in 7b+.

Dave following the 7b+. That was a fight till the last move!

still happy despite sick with lactic acid

the wall. it's not very tall, but it's very good
The French connection
I am much obliged to my old and new friends in Grenoble and everybody who climbed with me during my stay, I've always felt welcome. Slovenia's reputation as a nation of mountaineers and climbers is widespread - one shouldn't be surprised, yet I've always felt secretly flattered. Since Eastern Europe sounds similar to Eastern Block, I've always had to dispell the rumours of our secret training methods. In a way, for the big nation and culture that is France, which sometimes turns out to be ignorant and self-centered, it's cool how climbing kind of puts us on the map. Suddenly I felt proud and started bragging in front of my friends about the performances of our athletes in the bouldering World Cup. Yet few people come to climb in Slovenia, I think they would if they knew how good it is.
a long overdue tour of history in Buoux! I spent 4 great days there during New Year holiday with a bunch of grenoblois. We talked to Antoine le Menestrel at the foot of the routes he opened 35 years ago. And I managed to send La Rose et Le Vampire, still proud about it ^^

Thanks for reading! I hope to post more, provided I get up to some nice climbs this summer. 'Till then, yours truly,

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Slovenia has an access fund!

Contrary to the general zeitgeist, when climbing is concerned 2017 was an awesome year for  Slovenia. Apart from being completely dominant in competitions, our rock climbing community has taken a major step forward. The ever-growing access tensions and the need for re-equipping routes have finally given birth to an access fund. It will seek to keep access to our crags free and employ people to re-bolt  routes with old gear, take care of trails, parkings, give a facelift when needed.

All ran on a non-profit basis by climbers who care. All funded by the rest of the climbers, us, who want to enjoy climbing safely. I am impressed and all I can say is bravo to my friends behind it. And now, I'm off to donate my part!

go visit it at Projekt OSP

(I am actually 3 months late and I know all of you good people out there have already participated. But let me spray some more.)

It has been interesting following the heated debate on a similar issue that sparked up in France in the meantime. It makes me think that for once, we have things running smoother than France. It seems true all they know to do is complain. Joke aside, let's take a look at the issue, which is something that could have happened to us (but now, with the awesome Project OSP, won't).

A well-known website called CamptoCamp (C2C) was called out for piratising climbing topos. It is probably the most widely used page dedicated to sharing climbing information, a peer-to-peer exchange of betas, informations on conditions, route sketches etc. It is true that there are some left-to-right topos of crags, litteral copies, straight from the printed topo. After failing to find common ground with C2C, a climbing club uniting most of the equippers active in the Isere region, is demanding from Camptocamp to take those topos down. The group is obviously fighting in the good interests of the people who put in their time and money to equip the crags of the Isere region. They are also the publishers of 'Ze Topo', the reference guidebook for the wider Grenoble area. They accuse C2C of not giving accurate route infos, not giving credit to the equipers and first ascentionists etc. The final point is the fact that some of the profits from topo sales go back to fund equipment of new crags, so in effect by not buying a guidebook you are compromising the future development.

It is clear that with the advent of forums like C2C, we are witnessing a new way of information exchange. Printed topos are becoming obsolete. It is quite common now to leave for a multipitch route and consult your topo online, mid-climb. Some decades ago information on climbing spots was scarce and hard to come around. I think we should embrace the amazing possibilities Internet brought us and try to make the most out of it. It's not clear what the future of the printed topo will be, but this is only one little part of the complex equation. I don't want to side with anyone in the C2C debate because I suppose it's not as black-and-white as it seems. However, I'm excited we have been able to offer a solution with a clear objective where people have a clear incentive to donate, and by providing money we've already taken care of the cardinal problem.
Why not crowd-source the necessary funds, make the information shared free, completely up to date, paper-free. Reality is, a lot of work will still have to be done on a benevolent basis, but luckily there are people willing to invest their time and force for the climbing pleasure of all of us. The hearty welcome the project received in social networks makes me believe it really will take off. Let's take pride of this high level of awareness in our community. Chapeau bas!

climbing one of the hard testpieces of Mišja Peč, Popolni mrk 8c (very much an archive photo!)
i see a bolt that needs replacing! photo: Luka Tambača
May all your future whips be safe. Don't forget to donate to Projekt OSP!
photo: Luka Tambača

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sandstone cracks in Annot

Et bah voila,
I finally got around to editing the few bits of footage we took last year with David, Ante and Gianluca while climbing in Annot. I hope you enjoy my amateur efforts :)

Let me say a few more things. Since living in Grenoble (since September), I found out I now live a mere 3 hours and a half from Annot! A trip there was very much due then, for I remembered how much I enjoyed climbing there last year during my big climbing year. So we went to Annot two weeks ago, and upon coming home I re-viewed the shaky GoPro footage we took and thought the shots of David on the finger splitter are too cool to be left rotting away on the disk! There we go then, a little video, sadly my editing skills and/or creativity didn't allow for anything cooler, but luckily David puts on a fine display of his jamming skills. Without intending to be mean, my friend, I will just remind you that you haven't sent it yet, so I think you will have to go to Annot again.

On my recent trip, I put my fingers at the new hardest route of Annot, 'le Voyage' freed by James Pearson in April this year. I have tried it briefly last year, but signed it off quickly thinking it is both too hard and too serious for me at that time. Seeing that he did it got me interested again. After watching his video (look for it on YT, I refuse to post it here, mainly because it's way better than mine) I was very psyched in fact.
I worked it again on top-rope, but still I can't find my method for the two last moves of the crux. But I am quite keen to try it again, it's cool having such a mega-project which is not too far from you either! What I must say is my respect to James, the line is pure and hard, and myself I know I am going to pass a lot of Zen meditation before comitting to the runout on the sometimes-slightly-non-confidence-inspiring sandstone of Annot!

Oh and how amazing Annot as such is! It truly is a little sandstone paradise, sticking out of nowhere amidst of all the limestone of southern France. Every time I went there, I found the chestnut forest quite enchanting, the rock formations as if they were sculpted by some deity, and the climbing very unique and brain-stimulating. Plus, there's really good bouldering (like, seriously good) and some bolted sport routes as well (sometimes chipped).
Definitely keen to get back.
Thanks for reading, Pinti

Thursday, September 28, 2017

On est bien ici!

it's already two months since we've been climbing these badass Kyrgyz walls! time flies... i am preparing a few stories&photos for this blog, stay tuned
Sat down with a little glass of red wine to help me channel some of the pysche into the internets. It's almost a month now that I've been living in Grenoble, in the very west end of the Alps. I came here as part of an Erasmus exchange programme with the intention to complete most of my exams for my 5th year of medical studies. Yes, that future doctor guy is not that far away now anymore and it is both exciting and scary at the same time. So far it seems like it's been a good decision and I will learn a lot in my time here (I'm staying until June next year).
The decision to come here was no coincidence :) beside the studies, Grenoble is
a) really pleasant to live in
b) literally surrounded by mountains, with little outcrops of rocks and crags well within biking distance
c) 2 hours from Chamonix and Ceuse
d) full of like-minded people motivated to go climbing

So far I've been doing a stage in Ophthalmology which is very interesting and a great way to start. It's not too action-packed which lets me follow even despite my inadequate french level. I am so looking forward to my fluent French after a few months here... hopefully. So far I've mostly been observing but also learnt some examinations and gave a few injections in the eye, just to practice steady hands...
It's interesting to learn the workings of a different system. The french medical students begin their "stages" in their 3rd year of studies. They kind of become a helper hand, a level below the specialist of the service. They spend 3 months in certain departments of their choice, their presence is obligatory, they have some 5 weeks of vacation per year, but they also start receiving a small salary. It's cool because I think by the time you exit med school and are looking for a residency, you'll have already done a lot of practical work and know your way around. It seems to me on the contrary we (Slovenian students) might be better trained in theory and knowing the scientifical background.

hiked "la Grand Sassiere" in Val d'Isere on the way to Grenoble. At 3700m it was just a hike. Pretty cool!
student life in Grenoble
So, the climbing... ahem. I've been having solid sessions every week now. The move to a new enviroment is great - I have a whole new surge of motivation. There's new crags to climb at, a bunch of strong climbers, a whole culture built around it.
I love the little afternoon sessions squeezed in after work/school. You're doing your job (texting people on where to meet), finishing early (because you have an important meeting), next thing you're speeding down the road on the bike and in an hour since you've taken off your coat, you're tying in for the warm-up. A few hours later and 5 pitches in the bag you're packing your stuff with the sun setting behind the mountains, you're back in time for dinner and early sleep, just to do it again the next day...

I keep fond memories of several winter seasons in our beloved crags in Slovenia... the odd day off during the working week when there was nobody at the crag except for a few of the motivated friends. Those days of perfect conditions... I want to re-experience it this autumn in Grenoble and its wonderful surroundings. After almost two years of not really thinking much about sport climbing, I am finding it very exciting again. It is hard not to be motivated with so many new crags and psyched individuals around. I hope my physical shape plays along (I have to put in some hours on the campus board!).

One thing I really admire is the passionate french climbing scene. It could be a consequence of Grenoble's location between that many rocks, or simply the fact France has such a history in sport climbing. But still, it seems to me here, on a random day you are likely to meet more people than in crags in Slovenia... and then there's this whole culture built around sport climbing. Clothing brands (ABK), slang (a "falaisiste" is somebody who climbs mostly outdoors, compared to climbing gyms), a bunch of motivated people who bolt (Quentin C., himself a prolific "equipeur" in the area, once told me they bolt approximately 2 new crags every year only in the Grenoble area), and what not... it's a place with mountains in every direction and this city lives and breathes outdoor sports.
on the way to go climbing!
just a little afternoon session at Espace Comboire. Resembles Osp quite a lot...
crimping down at l'Abbatoir, THE hardcore crag of the Grenobloise... I hope I will become a local :)
projects, projects everywhere! 
my Czech buddy at the classic old-school crag of Les Lames (just next to the famous Bastille). Polished and tough grades, but still a must
he's from Adršpach!

Rocher du Midi - the local "big wall", just out of Grenoble
a cold day on Rocher du Midi. Haven't been that frozen in a while.
les trous, les trous, les petits trous
To inaugurate the arrival to France, I had to make a pilgrim voyage to Ceuse. I found few places in the world as inspiring as here, and despite having spent many days siting under this piece of rock, I think I will always want to return. The immaculate rock, the super aesthetic lines, the amazing view... words don't do justice.
This time, the summer buzzing has already weaned off - there were not many people at the crag and nature was changing into automnal colours. Together with my Czech Erasmus buddy Jakub we made a quick hitch hike to Gap and got to savour two days of perfect (even a little hot!) weather.
I've been wanting to do the mega classic Natilik for a while - the picture of the ramp stretching out to the sky looks so crazy, but the climbing is not really difficult. Even better, the rest of the pitches are beautiful too and the fact that it's actually a trad route (bring a set of cams and stoppers) makes for a perfect airy and exposed experience.
Apart from that it was just classic good times at the best crag in the world. I managed to send one of my old projects and was very pleased about that, but sadly I also got myself injured at the same time :( I think I partially ruptured my right hamstring - I was doing a wild heelhooking move and was really in the heat of the game, and then I heard the crack and it was pretty loud... I really hope the pain will go away soon so I can at least climb a little bit (pretty bummed about the fact heelhooks are out of question for some months now - how will I send anything then?). Gotta take care of our bodies... I heard red wine helps.

GAP! There we go, Ceuse is not far away, long live dirtbag style!

back to Ceuse after some years, hoping to get out there soon again!

Biographie, in that magical evening light. I just missed seeing the magic happen though (Margo sent 20 minutes before)

I think I have something in common with this guy
so good! it's like these walls, clean as mirrors, always expose your weaknesses... to climb well at Ceuse you really need to have an all around skillset. the grades are never given, but once you learn it, you crack the code, it's there for the taking, like a gift from Gods
approaching the traverse pitch on Natilik
is this speleo or climbing?! and yet the grade of this is 5c (there's a little crux at the end :P)
...and all the air beneath!
belly flopping like a seal
taking in the automnal colours at the top of the cliff... we'll be back!