Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tour around Dents du Midi **

Continuing on our skiing spree, we spent two days around Dents du Midi, on the other side of Rhone valley from Dent de Morcles. We started at the Marecottes ski station, another three-lift swiss-style wonder, with an impressive access road from Martigny and beautiful ice lines in the valley en face. One has to be motivated to visit all the skiing villages in this country - small or big, commercial or family-type, there is no end in sight, at least for my limited possibilities.
First, we went up the prominent col in front of the lifts near the Luisin. We traversed to the col on the other side without going for the summit (S4 descent). From there we saw the col de Fontanabran on the opposite side of the valley and a beautiful, virgin of ski traces yet, descent we'd follow the next day. Not to mention Mont Blanc and Grand Combin in the distance.

Here is Renaud with our next objective of the day - col de Susanfe on the right of the picture:

The descent was in good snow and practically alone. That was the sign of things to come on this surprisingly lonely tour. Afterwards, unfortunately, we had to go up col de Susanfe - just after the traverse of the frozen Lac de Sanenfe (no i don't know what love affair these people have with the 'nfe' sound there...). Not difficult, but long in the end of the day, the col lead us to the Cabane de Susanfe, a lonely refuge in the middle of the valley. The mountains reminded me of the Rockies with their limestone faces half covered with snow and hanging glaciers.

This time we were completely alone at the refuge, not a bad thing for once, except for the old smoking Stanley stove. Weren't that Stanley stove legs used as protection in Yosemite? (Salathe wall? not sure, my memory is failing here) They looked nicely curved and pretty solid to me one way or another.

The next day saw us up that hanging Ruan glacier, an unpleasant going up, using ski crampons most of the way, sometimes carrying skis through the rock passages and making our laborious progress without traces and just a map - not always that clear. Finally up the col between Grand Mont Ruan and Tour Saliere and out of the North face, we didn't go up the summit of Saliere either, thinking more about the descent and another col we'd have to go up that day. To our surpise, the big Lac d'Emosson was far from frozen. Our itinirary mentioned a crossing of that lake, which prompted us to change a bit our plan and traverse higher up instead of going down all the way to the lake and than up our col. Lac d'Emosson and Mont Blanc in the distance.

The only problem with that plan were the very South-facing slopes all around. Not exactly a place you want to be at 2 pm...There are things you have to do while ski touring or when in the mountains in general that make the heart beat go up a bit. That was one of those times. Going down an avalanche couloir to get to the normal ascent way of our col was the culmination of that. The ascent to Fontanabran was thanksfully much easier, simple ski touring diagonal curve way up affair. Due to our subterfuge traverse we gained a couple hundred meters in the ascent and respected the timing if not the avalanche safety on this one. Renaud in front, at the start of the long traverse...

The descent on the virgin slopes was the recompense for having survived the traverse and all other pains of the day. Good powder and first traces, what could be better? Nice valley d'Emaney, with limestone towers reminding of Tre Cime in many more replicas of smaller caliber made up for the rest.

After a not so bad descent all the way to the car, we finished the outing with a drink in the ever-present Cham in a swedish bar with Olov and Magnus. Even the bar-tenders spoke Swedish - soon Cham will totally forget its french origins among the chique boutiques, exhorbitant hotels, and tourist crowds - with skis in winter, or expensive hiking boots in summer. Thanks god they stay in Cham only and leave all the other small villages alone for most of them. Let's keep the secret places secret!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Marteau in Giffre Valley and the Fiz ***

Done with ice, it's time to get back on skis again! Flaine is a station i haven't been to yet, we leave the car at Samoens and go up all the way to the top of Flaine. Panorama on the Mont Blanc and the desert of Plate is worth the visit to this ski station created in the 60ies from scratch. The tour of the desert is marvelous, after five minutes we are in a different world - no sign of people or ski lifts, only rock and snow around. Here is Renaud at the beginning of the traverse from top of Flaine:

Our program is up the Pointe de Marteau, another not too difficult day with a view on the Fiz chain and Mont Blanc, the big father always present in the background. The last couple of meters up the Marteau double my heart beat as the snow is hardly attached to the rock. Going down is joyful, perfect for my limited powder skiing skills - and only two other traces on the whole face - i do enjoy ski touring more and more! If it were not for the avalanche danger, it could be a perfect sport.

The second part concerns skiing down to the Salvagny village through the Giffre Valley in the pristine Sixt Passy natural reserve. It is not exactly easy with a traverse to accomplish with skis over a 30m drop-off that the description qualifies of an S4. For me it's a rappel with skis on my back, longer but safer. I am getting old - and i don't feel that comfortable on skis yet; maybe one day...

Renaud catches a ride and brings the car back to pick me up at Salvagny and off we go to another family dinner in Lucinges. How nice to have both worlds - family dinner and ski touring all in one - that's what one gets for living in the mountains. One day, one day maybe...

Ice in Aravis - Reposoir

For the first ice outing this season we choose the site of Reposoir, near Col de la Colombiere. Only 2 other guys are around on this Crhistmas Eve day, and they take up the more beautiful fall to the left. We go for the one on the right, only 3 for 2 long rope lengths, but that's good enough. The valley is wonderful, a generous setting for a winter-tale - picture taking is in order! Winter is fun, especially with snow. Here is one of the Aravis landscapes:

Dent de Morcles **

Finally skiing this year, and snow is at rendez-vous in the Alps, at least much better than last year. We start the ski touring season in Ovronnaz, a small ski station in Switzerland with a thermal pool being its biggest attraction. For us, it's the ski touring destination to get to the Dent de Morcles. We take it easy skiing with lifts and than approaching the very comfy refuge Fenestral for the night. It's 100% swiss, with wine, beer, milk, snickers at free service, plenty of wood and almost full comfort. 2 other skiers show up later and we spend a nice evening near the fire.

The second day sees us up Dent de Morcles, an easy way up and down by Tete Noire for some more good snow. Beautiful scenery on Mont Blanc, Cervin, and Lac Leman. Done by 12, we spend the afternoon in the pool, not bad for a vacation!

On the picture below you can see Rhone down below from the summit of Dent de Morcles, beautiful, Canadian Rockies blue.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fonti and Hot Wine

This cold w-end finally saw some traveling. Despite the freezing temps, i got hot wine mix in the shop, gathered around friends and made it to fonti with the team - Renaud, Paolo and Dave. Several european nations were represented, such as Belgium, Italy and England - not counting Scappi and Kangoo.

Climbing was also good - as long as we stayed in the sun. Here is Renaud working at a rather photogenic problem at Gorges des Chats (for chataignes trees, not the animal), just in front of the famous Rubis sur Ongle - which the boys also tried to not much avail this time.

And here is Paolo, the first day, at Roche aux Sabots. Can you tell the Italians aren't used to the cold? :
and Dave finally getting this 6b at Gorges des Chats:

Good times, will do again - and thanks to the team!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bihzad or Persian Miniatures

Climbing down - culture up, that's december in four words for me. Anyway, islam does not allow to paint faces, isn't that one of those overwhelming stereotypes out there? Or at least that's what I took from St Sophia's visit in Istanbul. Calligraphy is sacred, images are profane. And what about this?

For me, it's talent, and an incredible one. I got wind of Bihzad, the 16th century master from Herat, in "My name is Red" by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk creates strong images of the master that forces blindness upon himself in the end of his life as he refuses to paint for new rulers of the land. But he did paint during several years before. Even though few of his original works remain, his following was great during the flourishing years of the miniature art, in Persia, India and the Ottoman empire.

Concerning the above painting of a scene in a hamam, notice composition and color style, diagonal lines that a little bit later Rubens will also introduce in his paintings when he brings action back from Italy to the Flanders. Decoration is realized precisely to the pixel, Matisse would have been proud to introduce these textiles in his paintings. No wonder it is said that the biggest glory for a miniature painter in those days was to go blind before dying.

Incredible execution again, each leaf is painted separately and has a different color pattern. It is also interesting to note how Chinese painting has been blended with arab inspiration to create these gems. To start with, paper came from china - and than ink and ink paintings - and calligraphy as well. Thanks again to Pamuk and his books that unveiled these paintings - at least to me. Another website with more information on Bihzad and his work here.

Interesting to note that Persan miniature never discovered perspective despite Venice being just a sea-journey away. But the theory behind it is that miniaturists tried to paint the world as God would see it and not as we, humans, do. That is one of the reasons why individual features never really made it into the miniature world, and why this art was tolerated and even adored for a time by muslim elite.

Here is one last miniature, probably by Aqa Mirak:

Notice how the tree integrates the frame and how there are several pictures in the picture here. Composition, that almost resembles an altar painting by Van Dyck, and japanese-style spring flowers, white on the right, and rose-red on the left.

Each miniature was supposed to accompany a text and a story. During wars and conquests, miniatures would be torn out of books and recomposed into new volumes, with new owners sometimes painted over old sheik or sultan representations. That is one of the reasons why it is very difficult to find who/when/why painted a specific piece. In conclusion i'd love to visit soon a miniature exposition to see at least some of these in real as internet pictures do even less justice to these works than more usual western paintings.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Africa Museum

This being the low season for climbing/mountaineering, at least as far as Belgium is concerned, I am concentrated lately at visiting various climbing gyms around my home sweet home. This w-end, to keep fit, was dedicated to biking and art. After 2hr at the Forêt de Soigny (perfect for my elementary VTT skills), we stopped at the Africa Museum.

This museum, situated in the domaine royale of the king in this same forest, boasts a rich collection of ethnographic african art, coming mainly from the old Congo colony. Yes, Belgium somehow managed to proclaim a colony several times its size - where somehow is not exactly a correct word. Anyway, the museum is now trying to wash off the colonial glow with a corner dedicated to 'colonial history' and attempts at being objective about the wrong-doings of the white man.

The collection itself is impressive, especially the 'art room' with chosen sculprutes and the 'hats' exhibit. Imagine that the Jago perrot has 12 orange feathers in its tail. No wonder these would cost a fortune and signify a chief from a distance.

The sculpture is not less surprising, with such powerful works as this one:

This one looked like an African buddah to me:

And this one like an illustration to Enchi Fumoko's Masks:

This museum reminded me a lot of my recent visit to the Vancouver's UBC anthropology museum, there is so much to learn from these forgotten and destroyed cultures...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Benabar and Bregovic

What a couple - Benabar and Bregovic, I would not believe it if I didn't see the (pretty bad) movie Vatanen's Rabbit, for whose soundtrack they associated. I found the result sweet, Egare Volontaire makes up for a good song. Otherwise, samples from Benabar are here, and from Bregovic here.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Aravis - Tours d'Areu

Tours d'Areu are these five distinct towers one can see from Salanches when looking up the hill. They look far away - and they are! Although the book talks about 1,5hr total approach, it took us only that to get to Doran village by foot (we did not dare drive up that road with my car), half way...But the promised scenery was at rendez-vous and the hike-in seemed less painful for that.

We did manage to get up CopaCabana, one of the easiest routes up the fourth tower. Its ratings are rather surprising with hard slab pitches, both 6a+ and 5c+ seemed similar and harder than its grade. Piola knew how to climb slab in the 80ies...And after the slab comes the roof - with Mont Blanc at our feet:

If anything, this place is worth it just to see this jewel!

Aravis - Pointe Percée, Gramusset

The second day, after a rather cold camping experience, saw us up la Pointe Percee, the highest peak in Aravis chain, at only 2750 meters, perfect for short autumn days. This is it - from the other side, at Doran village, as seen on the approach to Tours d'Areu the next day.

And this is it on the descent, the North Face. We climbed on the Gramusset side, you see it on the right of this photo, a 300m vertical wall going to the shoulder of the mountain. Mountaineering spirit being dead so far in our hearts, we concentrated only on climbing that short section.

The route, Partage du Monde, was beautiful and interesting, with both, slabs and overhangs, and even a cool crack on the pitch before last. Only 5 pitches, but combined with 2,5 hr of approach, this made up a rather good day out.

Here is the cool roof section in the beginning of the fourth pitch, a climb with a view!

Again, picture taking took up my time. This is Renaud on the descent again, close to the refuge, on this sea of limestone that reminds of a rocky glacier of sorts.

and this is me on the same limestone sea, looking the other way, towards the just climbed wall:

PS - some good info on this website about climbing around Haute Savoie.

Aravis - Sapey

To start the long w-end that we decided to spend in Aravis, the limestone mountain chain in front of Mont Blanc, we went to Sapey. Not having a topo, but only a print-out picture, the route finding with autumn mists was the crux. Thanks to some climbers in the area, we finally stumbled upon Extasy, our proposed route for the day, after long rambling around the base.

Rock is definitely awesome there, some super-high quality limestone with cannelures and unpolished gray madness of 200m of vertical fun. Incredible, especially for the last pitch, a place to go for limestone purists!

The whole w-end proved to be a very photogenic experience. My head did not exactly work well for leading, thus i concentrated on taking pictures. This one is from the rappel after Extasy

And this one the sunset (yes, days are pretty short now!) view over the main Aravis chain and Mont Blanc making its white spot behind there.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Tellers

A belgian band that might just become good one day, 2 young guys with their album out - 'hands full of ink'. Something around Kings of Convenience with more pop in it. Check my favorite of their songs Hugo on myspace, or their website at

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Recent Fonti trip

Last w-end we went to Bleau again, it becomes our second home this autumn - fist visit in september to Rocher Fin, JA Martin and Diplodocus, and here we are back again in Potala and Padole. With friends this time - Dominique from Belgium, Max from Italy - or Paris, his second home now. It was all nicely pigmented by a wine fair at Milly-la-forêt, where we started and finished the day on Sunday with wine tasting from various French domains.

This is Renaud on the last problem of the day at crowded, but very enjoyable Potala. We were on our way to the car, but this roof looked irresistible in the sunset. I did not dare finish the problem, but that's when i take pictures :)

This is me the w-end in septmenber at Diplodocus, trying the last problem of the day...

Sunset at Padole, a lost climbing area for once, where we only found rocks and crazy paintballers. Are those paintball bullets degradable? Those environment-unconscious french...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Remembering old Days - Totoro!!!

Yes, i loved that anime and the song from it - and many other Miyazaki and Takahata creations. Probably the best one is the Grave of the Fireflies, i did cry watching it. So there.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Borges or Long Time No See

Decided to pick up a book at the library yesterday and this is what i ended up with - Ficciones (in French/Spanish version too!) by Borges. As i shamefully couldn't remember at least one title of his works i've read - i decided to remake my education on this subject.

I do remember looking for his and Cortazar's books in dusty old, but mainly empty libraries in Lviv, Ukraine - apparently considered communist sympathizers, they were translated - but still hard to find in any interesting quantity. I did finish reading Miguel's Manual in France - but don't think i ever came back to this ugly, blind old man. His short stories are definitely recommendable!

Here are a couple of quotes:

"you who read me--are you certain you understand my language?" from the Babel Library,

or the best quote from Uqbar - in my translation from French - "Copulation and mirrors are abominable - they both multiply the number of humans!"

or this, maybe inspired by his promotion to Poultry and Rabbit Inspector position by Perron's regime - "Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Escalade en Alsace

Vosges are much closer to Belgium than Alps and such - but for some reason i have stayed away from these mountains. They are definitely rather hilly, but climbing there is rad - engaged, quality and picturesque! Maybe it is only one-pitch long, but you get your adrenaline's worth for sure!

I have only been to Krontal (on the way to or from the Alps), Martinswand and Gueberschwihr before. This time, Vosges du Nord with the new topo were the target. It happened so that each place we visited was also a tourist attraction because of chateau ruins near-by. Windstein climbing is directly climbing over what used to be a castle - and Langenfels is the area in front of the Fleckenstein remains. The latter was more enjoyable for the mediocre climber i am, with even a couple of project options for the future. Given all the picturesque villages and good wine, this is certainly a region i'm going back to!

website has a good routes database and topo info on the area, and thanks for the new topo guys!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


My favorite song from the last album -

thx to Micah for the discovery. Maybe it's because i also somehow like their pics.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Prevert Minute

Déjeuner du Matin - Jacques Prevert

il a mis le café

dans la tasse

il a mis le lait

dans la tasse de café

il a mis le sucre

dans le café au lait

avec la petite cuillère

il a tourné

il a bu le café au lait

et il a reposé la tasse

sans me parler

il a allumé une cigarette

il a fait des ronds

avec la fumée

il a mis les cendres

dans le cendrier

sans me parler

sans me regarder

il s'est levé

il a mis

son chapeau sur sa tête

il a mis

son manteau de pluie

parce qu'il pleuvait

et il est parti

sous la pluie

sans une parole

sans me regarder

et moi j'ai pris

ma tête dans ma main

et j'ai pleuré

Monday, October 01, 2007

Group of Seven

Painters working in the 20ies, at the time of Emily Carr, totally unknown to me with my ultra-European cultural upbringing, these guys made my eyes happy for a moment there, running through the last floor in Van's Art Gallery five minutes before the closing time. Twisted Impressionists, unfulfilled Fauvists, their wild streak could go back to Gaugin or forward to Pollock. Why not say original?

And how could i not react to these, almost tourist brochures of the Rockies - or a spider monster -

or this - almost Van Goghan peach tree - but not quite the same?

Oh, and certainly a hello and thank you to Masters. Not to forget Emily and the Haidans - at least alive in her paintings...

Monday, September 24, 2007

End of Canada Trip - Random Thoughts

Here i am, spending my last day cragging at Heart Creek with some Islanders that are not afraid of the cold, and compare it rather to their summer. Weather is gorgeous and my heart aches to leave this place. Some random thoughts/information follow to keep the memory working:

- Best coffee place around Vancouver - Gallilleo, just before Squamish, very good crumbles too! Best dinner place in Squamish - the Watershed Grill, good Thai salad.

- Best coffee around the Rockies - Lake Louise's Trailhead Caffee, with the best breakfast bagel i've tried on this trip - home-made omlette with vegetables and all, mmm, too good!

- My self-made favorite camping breakfast in Canada - cereals + oats (variety mix) with blueberries and maple syrop.

- Record partner non-show-up on this trip a) Kyle b) Jesse c) Adrienne who managed to not show up at the gym! All three without any warning before/after. People, you should learn some manners...

- Useful Canadian websites:
Weather -
Squamish partners forum -
Canmore/Canada partners forum -
More partners forums -
Topos Rockies -
Personal appreciation -
Conditions from the Guides -
Alpine Club, huts -
Avalanche Conditions -

- Thank you to everyone who has been nice to me (apparently a Canadian quality, based on Fergusen's book "Why I hate Canadians", interesting book btw), has shared a rope or offered beta or a couch to sleep on - i.e. Mica, Scotty, Brian, David & Emily.

- A random story I heard from the Islanders - during the 19th century, when trying to connect Europe to the US, after several months of prepation and setting up the cable through the Atlantic Ocean, just before reaching NYC, the cable setters...dropped the cable!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rockies, the Final View

And here are finally the Rockies again. Alone this time, back to Calgary, i quickly leave the city and head up for the adventures. The weather is bound on snow, meaning less climbing - and more viewing.

The first present is my stay at Canmore Clubhouse, Canadian's Alpine Club creation, and very very comfy place - especially after the night before spent at the Van airport chairs. I somehow get the privillege to sample the newly-built Bowsen cabin, and this is the view on the Three Sisters from the porch -

The next day the real exploring starts with the touristy drive up the Icefields parkway. Only a few kilometers after the park gate and the fee for it, this is the view i get - and enough to make me forget the fee.

As a sidenote, it is very funny to travel along these tourist routes in the Rockies - or should i say route, as there are not that many of them! Usually you see a couple of times during the day a stampede of people on one or the other side of the road, with cars parked and cameras out. That means either a view, or a wild animal. And it is usually worth getting out of your car for it, whatever aversion you might have for chinese or japanese camera clicks!

Next is a shot of another Zen lake out there, the Peyoto lake, shaped as a Wolf's head, and as blue and transparent as they get in the rockies. The recent snow adds its charm, and postcard shots are rather easy to come by.

After a long drive to Jasper, i treat myself to first, the Maligne lake, that prooves to be very maligne, and shovels snow and rain on me - and next, the Miette hot springs, and this view on the drive back. It is not the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, but close!!!

I discover a very welcome hostel near Mt Edith Cavell. I did think about climbing the East ridge, but it looked rather long and snowy up there, so I, as usual, chicken out, sleep at the hostel and than drive back into winter.

Tourism - Vancouver, Victoria, the Island

Being out of partners, sick of the campground and near the end of my trip, i escaped Squamish for some sightseeing activity with an expensive rental car. It was well worth it though, as the area around Vancouver is definitely one of the most interesting and beautiful ones i have seen in Canada (behind the Rockies though - but those are mountains - my playground).

This is a shot from Vancouver's copy of New York - not bad, and not far from the East side, an interesting hike to say the least.

And this Victoria, jewel of the Vancouver island, and the oldest city in Canada, from what the guidebook pretends. The port is not only home to boats, but also to water plains, that spit out business people into the dock and are very photogenic animals as a free by-product.

The promenade along the harbour is, like Canadians around here love to say, 'wicked' and offers several photo opps. MMM, becoming a full-time traveller and photographer doesn't sound like such a bad idea at times.

On my quick tour of the island i had to go back just after one day and only one stop at French beach (and no whales). These are the last shots of a less touristy port of Nanaimo, from where the Ferry leaves to Horseshoe bay. The ferry rides, by the way, are very pictoresque and make up for all the cruises i have not taken. Although not passionate about the sea, i can understand how one could be, especially when living around Vancouver.

Sea from another harbour walk, towards Nanaimo's Arts district (a disaster this time, not much to visit there).