Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Winter 2018/19

that Slovenian feel (photo: David Debeljak)
Winter 2018/19 was the first time I deliberately set out in our mountains with the intent of doing some climbing. I got myself a pair of winter boots, crampons and borrowed a pair of ice tools, and so it was on for the world above the clouds... Luckily I have great climbing partners who were willing to menthor me along the baby steps.
I was a bit reluctant before first setting out, I wasn't sure if I'd like the cold. There must be something genetically involved with my extremities often being cold, and I easily get Raynaud's phenomenon in certain settings (cold+caffeine). Some of my fingers turn pale and persist this way for some time even after getting back to warmer atmosphere. Anyway I learnt there's few things that cannot be mitigated with proper choice of clothing (that said, I imagine winter in our mountains is only a fraction of what one gets at higher altitudes!). On the other hand, there's few people who don't get incredible hot aches after hanging off their ice tools for a full pitch.
I discovered I quite enjoy mountaineering in winter. There are unique experiences to be had... like the feeling of planting your ice axe in styrofoam-like nevé snow (and the sound it makes). The bittersweetness of a nauseating hot ache when you're reaching the belay, happy because you know it's going to be over in minutes, but unable to really think of anything but your hands. Reaching the summit of a north face and stepping into the sunlight and warmth, feeling relieved. Finishing a delicate pitch and feeling extremely warm despite not wearing your down jacket and despite the air actually being very cold. The cold sweat down your back when you're carefully smashing that thin ice drip. The interesting taste of a semi-frozen Snickers bar, still delicious, but presenting a challenge for your molars. Doing the belay dance for warmth, 10 squats, 10 jumping jacks, repeat...
And the climbing of course, it's so weird using crampons on rock the first time you do it. But then you get used to it, and it's super delicate, there's almost no feedback or sensation of what your foot's going to do, so you tense up like a robot and obviously it's super pumpy. The 4AM alpine starts, and the yawns on belays in the early afternoon. Coming back feeling totally worked, since just getting to the base of the wall involved more effort than an average day climbing rock. The 4AM alpine start, the summit before noon and being back on time for beer...

The choice of routes was somewhere in the easy to moderate range, and most days were pure joy, which really is great when you're starting out. I grew some confidence in use of ice tools and crampons and learnt some new skills. I did a few frozen waterfalls but prefered longer alpine routes, I didn't get past the point where ice climbing would turn from overwhelming to enjoyable. At this point, I'm looking forward to the next time winter climbing, though it may well be I'm packing away the winter gear for some time, rock faces are already dry and I'm psyched to get back to that!
cruising through the Slovenian route on Triglav with David 
Prevčev izstop (Slovenska) photo by David

"is this a cave?"
from the new James Bond shoot on Mala Mojstrovka (Kaminska smer) (photo: Klemen Gerbec)

dawn at the foot of Nad Šitom Glava (photo: Bor Levičnik)
Luka Stražar climbing in Nad Šitom Glava (Tandara Mandara)
clouds rolling across Vršič pass (photo Luka Stražar)

just another day at the office for this guy
the north face of Planjava was a popular goal this winter
Matevž Štular enjoying prime conditions on Palouz-Tschada route (we exited through Šaleški izstop) (photo Bor Levičnik)

steep tree climbing (photo Matevž Štular)
route finding on Planjava (photo Bor Levičnik)
that time when we tried to climb grade IV slabs in mountain boots and bivy gear on our backs, lol (we didn't get far)
an attempt on north face of Kanjavec with Klemen and Marija
one step forwards, two steps backwards...
improvised shades! it blocks sun ok... but i took it off for the climbing part. Well, maybe I overestimated the danger of snow blindness :)
great news for my climbing partners, I finally have a set of half ropes! Petzl sorted me out with a pair of Rumbas. I decided to go with a thicker half rope (Rumba is 8.0mm as opposed to the Paso Guide which is 7.7mm) since I want them durable and I will mostly be doing rock climbing.
me on the ice drips in the lower section of Kemprle - Murovec (Dolgi hrbet) (photo Klemen Gerbec)

actually this would be much nicer in climbing shoes. I have a nice pair of thin gloves with some extra sticky rubber on them that makes it way too tempting to just climb with hands, I think I should have a few sessions drytooling.

on the summit ridge of Dolgi hrbet (photo Klemen Gerbec)
we climbed Kemprle-Murovec route and then rappelled the equipped abseil line just left of it
west face of Planjava, we climbed the obvious drip (Pripravniška smer) (photo Krištof Fortuna)

delicate ice while setting off (photo Krištof Fortuna)
yum steepness, yum conditions, it's cool to go fast (higher up on west face of Planjava)
descending from Planjava (photo Krištof Fortuna)
till next winter...

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,