Monday, May 16, 2016

Crack and tufa

Since I've been back from my big trip to Spain, I keep bouncing around trying to make the most of my year off. It's amazing how things sometimes seem to run in my favour and every time I leave on a trip not knowing where exactly I'll end up, I come back having had a great time.
I feel I've been lucky this trip one more time again, from meeting my climbing partner while hitching on the side of the road to reuniting with friends for one of the best days on rock ever, to being hosted in a small perched away village in the hills of Provence that saved me from the worst rain. It could have gone worse, granted, the cold rainy front made the last few days a bit chilly and windy and the hitchhike back a little less pleasant. It was great to immerse in the French climbing culture again. So many climbers and so much rock to climb, so much activity and development everywhere, the Provence region is filled with a lifetime worth of climbing of many different kinds that will keep me coming back.

It's been a year since I've last been in Verdon. One more time I returned with a ticklist even longer despite having ticked a few classics, c'est la vie I suppose. I have in mind a quote from Sonnie Trotter, it's after realizing there's too many routes to climb in a lifetime that you can settle with it and relax and stop being anxiously psyched. This is wisdom indeed and I think it took him some years and a baby to realize that :)
the amazing Verdon, cliff of L'Escales 
I managed to get done one that used to make me jelly since first seeing it, the massive tufa climb classic Tom et je ris. A day upon arriving to Verdon, I went for a hike in Culouir Samson and thought I was lost in a stream of tourist and will never find a cool partner to climb some fun stuff. That night in one of the bars in La Palud (that has all the characteristics of a climbers' bar - big concetration of colourful puffies, unshaven people smoking rollies, a number of white vans parked in front - except for expensive beer), I run into Arthur and his friend Vincent. With Arthur, we sieged Cous cous in El Chorro a few months ago and this was a total coincidence. Tom et je ris? Let's go do it tomorrow!
Arthur taking the swing

Arthur lost in the sea of tufas
 Only thing to compare it against is the Monster offwidth from the El Cap. It's a similar kind of challenege where it comes down to determination, resisitng the horrible pump and not losing focus the whole half hour you're doing it. I was shocked once again how bad my tufa climbing is, I think in the years of obssesive campus boarding I have neglected my footwork slightly. The mono-tufa pinching sections give me horrible pump since they require a good deal of shoulder flexibility, while the double-tufa knee-drops are by definition not my thing.
The supposedly scary runouts didnt feel bad at all, there's plenty of bolts, or maybe the trad climbing I've been doing is making the difference and I'm happy about that. The exposure is unreal though as you are literally suspended mid air in a massive gorge with wind blowing and vultures circling around. I wanted to do the line since the approach and the spiky nature of the tufas make it a big commitment, so I tried really hard on my second attempt and got it after a huge fight. On boire la biere ce soir! Big ups to my two Swiss/French friends for being such a good team.

pinching like crazy on Tom et je ris
Vncent hung off the rope to take a few pictures, here's meon one of the cruxes, the elbow gives away i am suffering from a severe lactic acid build up
jumping in the Verdon after a big day of hiking to get to Tom et je ris
i caught a vulture circling in the air

In Verdon, I also had a day of doing the famous Voie ULA, an old classic that has raised attention after having had its bolts removed in 2011. Removing the few bolts in every pitch (while leaving bolted anchors) by a person "inconnu" has sparked a big controversy by introducing a new ethic in a long developed place, one that has been made possible with the advent of better and more accessible trad gear. Interestingly enough, most people I spoke to agree this was actually a good move that gave the route a little more character and has made for one real big classic that should be on the ticklist of every climber arriving to Verdon with a rack of cams and nuts.
Myself I agree and think this is a fresh way of thinking that puts a nice counterweight to today's bolting exploits, much different to the bolting back in the day, that basically have no restrictions and end up making many routes have a ton of bolts everywhere - look at some routes in Paklenica for example
Gian Luca following on ULA, a classic Verdon route that has had its bolts removed and now offers six brilliant trad
 pitches in one continous crack

Annot was a bit of a discovery in this trip. I'd been to this place before for some sandstone bouldering, there might even be some pictures about it in this blog from some years ago when I had milk teeth and didn't know about crack climbing. It's hard to believe one would just walk past these amazing splitters and not want to try them. Anyway I'd heard about the trad in Annot and was keen to check it out when Gian Luca (my hitchhike ride from the first day) suggested it. It blew me away! So many good lines, typically either splitters or dihedrals, OR, the more exciting gritstone-ish lines with pro in sketchy pockets and horizontal breaks. Totem cams prove indispensible because of their narrower stems, they really do the trick and seem to me a piece of engineering genius.

my friend Dave on his favourite kind of crack, Pure finger 7c

trying the sick project in Annot, a well overhanging hands crack that finishes with a super physical boulder section

tightening down towards the finish, this one will be a tough nut to crack

an offwidth a day keeps the doctor away... or maybe not
this one went well, there's some great lines to practice, it would have helped us a lot in El Cap

commiting to a petite runout on the hard grittish "Sadomasochiste direct" 7c 

the most unique climb I'd ever done, slinging the hollow sounding holes and sticking cams into pockets on "Spitalgie" 6c

Gian Luca cuts feet in this short, but spicy roof crack "C'est ta rate en realite" 7b
It was a great time in France all in all, with a reinspired psyche for trad climbing that makes me plan more trips for good looking cracks (interested partners hit me up!) and search for a bigger adventure. Since htiching to France now feels like taking a bus ride, I am thinking of going all the way to Sweden for the first month of summer. Too bad you can't hitch-hike a plane.

Basically I returned for the climbing festival in Austria, the funny climbing festival in Carinthia called Kings of Kanzi where I met Sean Vilanueva and Nico Favresse and saw their new film "Adventures of Dodo" which is full of amazing. It's impossible not to be inspired after seeing it and meeting those cool guys in person made it even more powerful.

with Sean and Nico. Look out for a feature with them in the autumnal issue of Beta magazine (themed Big balls, i mean, walls)
"Team Beta" consisting of me and Jurij battled away, not intimidated by the underdog-not-local status and came at third place after experiencing sever toe pain and emptied forearms. The festival was good fun, look out for the next installment in 2017!