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Friday
Oct162015

Verdon

When traveling, sometimes I find a crag where I could climb forever and be happy. My re-occurring thought in these places is: "I can't believe I'm here." Kalymnos was like that. Cathy and I just found the Verdon Gorge in France to be like that. 

The Verdon Gorge is located in Haute Provence, which means the food, wine and culture are idyllic. The 700-meter deep gorge is lined with rock walls up to 400 meters tall. Massive Griffon Vultures skirt the dimpled limestone walls that attracts climbers from around the world.

The Verdon Gorge was a birthplace of modern sport climbing in the 1980's. It's where first ascensionist began equipping routes from the top down, allowing bolts to be placed in the right location to protect crux moves, rather than where a bolter on lead could stand or hang from a skyhook. Rap bolting, combined with hangdogging (hanging on the rope to work out a hard move), allowed the world level of climbing to explode.  

 

Climbers base from La Palud. This is downtown. The Lou Cafetiè bar is the normal après grimpe for beers, cafe and food.  

 

We stayed with Matia Edlinger at Gite l'Escalès. Matia was a professional climber, married to France's most famous rock climber, Patrick Edlinger, Le Blond. Patrick danced on rock and melted hearts. Patrick died in 2012. 

 

On our first night in La Palud we met friends Boris Lorencic, Eric Larson, Carolyn George and Adam George. Lou Cafetiè had old French guys playing live classic rock. Keen to climb the next morning, Cathy and I went to bed early. As we left, Boris, being a hard-climbing, classic rock-loving Slovenian, said, waiving his fist in the air, "That's okay man! I'll give you a call if they play more Stones!" 

 

Cathy on A Tout Coeur (150m, 6b+), Cathy's favorite route of the trip. A Tout Coeur was put up in the 1980's, which means the bolts are spaced and the holds a bit polished. The Verdon's limestone is perhaps second only to Ceuse. Solution pockets, water runnels and rails. Really good stuff. 

 

Neighboring climber Ian McDonald took this photo of me sizing up the five meter distance to the next bolt on steep rock with small holds. 

 

Cathy on Les Deux Doigts Dans Le Nez (150m, 6a+). In American that means The Two Fingers in The Nose. The route has two finger pockets for six pitches of 6a+ climbing. It's a modern route with close bolts and less polished rock. 

 

My favorite route was Liberte Surveillee (130m, 6b+), a new route with plenty of bolts, but still sporty enough to make you think. This route was in a narrow and secluded portion of the canyon with forests that hung like Japanese paintings. Between the hanging forests were striped walls of untouched limestone. 

 

Still honeymooning with my DW. 


Cathy leading the crux pitch of Liberte Surveillee. The route's S-turn gave her a bonus 100 pounds of drag at the crux moves. After a month of climbing around work days, she floated right through. 

 

Starting the first of seven raps down to the base of La Demande (350m, 6a), a classic and perhaps the longest route in the Verdon. I'm wearing flip flops so our climbing pack is lighter. 

 

Cathy on the final rap down to La Demande. A wiser option would have been to walk in from Couloir Samson and hitch back. Next to La Demande is Ula (250m, 6b). We'll be walking back for Ula. 

 

Cathy stepping off the "Thank God!" horizontal tree on La Demande. Overall, La Demande wasn't the classic Verdon rock. It was mostly slippery and dirty cracks with bolts every 10 meters. The chimney pitches were clean and athletic climbing though. Like Epinephrine in Red Rocks. 

Cathy was almost crying as we left La Palud for the airport. We'll be back. Maybe forever. 

Friday
Oct162015

Finale Ligure

Chris Wright described Finale as "Such a good vibe, good food, friendly people, #@&%ing castles, and amazing stone." Chris is a cultured IFMGA Mountain Guide. So he knows a good place. Listening to Chris, in October, Cathy and I spent two weeks working and climbing in Finale with IFMGA Mountain Guide Eric Larson and his wife Kat. Finale is on the Italian Riviera, close to the dinky country of Monaco, and the French cities of Nice and Cannes. 


Finale Ligure and the Mediterranean.  

 We actually stayed in Finaleborgo, a walled-in fort within Finale Ligure. Here's Cathy strutting her new Italian E9 climbing pants through Finaleborgo on a quiet morning. Other days the streets were packed with arm-waving Italians, the greeting of "Ciao! Ciao!" echoing off the ancient walls. People aren't slaves to their Facecramp here. They don't text much. They talk. Italians really like to talk. 

 

Cathy and I spent the entire 16 days with Eric and Kat. They live in Telluride, Colorado, where Eric ski patrols and Kat massages. The biggest issue we had the entire trip was deciding, "Should we get another vino, or switch to birra?"

 

Finale has thousands of climbs. Three thick guidebooks cover the region. The climbing is on short cliffs in the low hills above Finale. Here's Cathy climbing a 6b+ at Monte Cucco on a windy day. This sector has the best rock, but some routes are polished like porcelain from 30 years of sweaty, chalky climbers.  

 

Eric leading a 6b. He's equipped with crag pack of Peroni Birra, for Peroni power at the crux. 

 

Cathy topping out on Infezoine Finalese (20m 6a) in the Grotta dell 'Edera. This sector had the most memorable climbing of our trip. This massive cylinder of pocketed limestone was once a cave, before most of the roof collapsed. Access to the Grotta was through a dark cave with fixed ropes.

 

We spent half our trip acting like Italians: drinking wine in cafes and talking enthusiastically. 

 

Eric resupplies the home stash at the neighborhood vinoteca. Two liters of Nero d'Avola for €4.50. 

 

Thank you so much for a great trip Cathy, Kat, Eric and Finale! 

Monday
Sep142015

Envers

The Envers Refuge is where climbers and guides go on vacation. It's a mellow scene, but the rock routes are huge. This year Cathy and I came to Chamonix prepared with a double rack and twin ropes. Between weather and work, we squeezed in a day and a half of climbing at the Envers. Lucky us!

It's a three-hour approach to the Envers after taking the Montenvers Railway from Chamonix. From the Montenvers we dropped down ladders, cables and moraine to the withering Mer de Glace Glacier. Each year the glacier drops, exposing more teetering moraine.  

 

We hiked a mile up the Mer de Glace, then climbed ladders to the Envers Refuge. Typical of the Alps, route finding wasn't hard.  

 

The Refuge de l'Envers is perched above the ogived Mer de Glace. Rising above the Envers are seas of granite. 

 

After the approach, Cathy and I dropped our packs and climbed La Piege. Two hundred meters of 6a+ granite crack climbing just five minutes from the refuge. 

 

The next day we climbed Amazonia, a 370-meter 6a+ on the First Point of the Nantillions. Here's Cathy leading a polished slab on the second pitch. For us the route was 13 pitches. 

 

A choucas stopped by, looking for handouts. 

 

Joe having a seriously good time near the summit of Amazonia. Photo by Marian Penso who we climbed just behind. Marian is from Cape Town, South Africa. Great company! 

 

Our last stuck rope of the rappels. High friction rock loves to stick ropes. 

 

Down just in time before the rain. 

 

Mid-September. Winter is coming. 

 

Back at the hut, a Chamoniard Guide charms the ladies. We'll be back!

Sunday
Aug162015

Dale Guiding the Matterhorn

Dale Remsberg is a Boulder-based IFMGA Mountain Guide. I was lucky to work with Dale at the Colorado Mountain School in 2008 and 2009. I found him to be a talented guide, with high standards, and an unusual ability for mentoring guides. That's why he's now the technical director of the American Mountain Guides Association.

This summer I joined Dale for the summit portion of a six-day Matterhorn trip. On summit day, my client felt ill, so I returned to the Hornli Hut with her, then headed back up to catch Dale and his client Janet. I spent the day floating around them, taking photos, and feeling guilty about Dale working so hard. Although Dale is a super-efficient guide, it appeared he was working twice as hard as me who wasn't guiding. 

Most climbers stay at the Hornli Hut at the base of the Hornli Ridge. Last year the Hornli Hut was rebuilt. It went from being crammed and stinky, to wifi and roomy beds.  


I caught up with Dale and Janet above the Solvay Hut. Here is Dale shortroping Janet, using a fixed line for security. Getting up and down the 4,000 feet of the Matterhorn requires speed on third and fourth class terrain. Recreational groups often don't make it because they try slow, full-length pitches. 

 

Dale short-pitching with the rope wrapped around an iron stanchion. The box behind Dale is a light—see last photo. 

 

An old-school Austrian guide giving Dale and I the hairy eyeball. "So how come you can guide here and I can't guide in the US?" We tell him "You can guide in the US, but it's difficult for you, and difficult for us." The permits and insurance obstacles encountered in the US are beyond comprehension for most European guides. 

 

Cluster! The Zermatt guides passing Dale on their way down. Nobody gets ahead of the Zermatt guides. Swiss rules you know....

 

Dale, Janet and I on the summit.

 

Dale lowering Janet on the descent. Notice how the rope is wrapped upward to the guide. 

 

After lowering Janet, Dale downclimbs a fixed rope.  

 

Dale downclimbs to the Solvay Hut after belaying Janet down. Dale is protecting himself by looping his rope over a massive bolt head. Once down by Janet, Dale will flip the rope off the bolt. 

 

Looking toward the Monte Rosa massif from the Solvay Hut. The glaciers in the Alps are hurting. 

 

Dale using a Munter hitch on a locker draw to lower Janet down the Moseley slabs below the Solvay Hut. He has the rope pre-rigged through a bolt so he's ready to rappel. I jumped on Dale's rope for this rap, thus botching my chance for fame and glory from a ropeless Matterhorn ascent. 

 

Dale short-roping third class terrain. Facing outward while guiding third and fourth class terrain takes practice but it's important for moving fast and watching the clients' feet. If she slips, Dale is ready to stop the fall.


Back in Zermatt that evening we drank this wine with our pizza. It was really good. Probably the best wine I'll drink in my life, or so says the label. 

 

Zermatt put lights up the Hornli ridge to mark the 150th anniversary of the Matterhorn's first ascent.