Monday, August 27, 2007

Furka, at the Heart of Swiss Granite

Switzerland is vast - especially in climbing opportunities. Driving to Andermatt last year for skiing, i noticed the granite towers all around. This summer was the time to discover the area. Frequented by Remy brothers, this pass fugures in the top three passes with Grimsel and Susten, to look for when climbing in this 'hilly' country.

The very recommendable Siedelen hutte, run by a loveable Gisler family - and trust me, they know how to cook!, is only 1hr from the car, and 30 min or less from the climbing. Climbing that stands up to its sister-locations at Envers des Aiguilles in Cham or Aiguilles Dorees on the Mt Blanc backside. Several peaks are accessible from this hut - and other areas, such as the famous Grau Wand, from the Albert Heim hut.

We did a mix of three routes on Chli Bielenhorn (starting up Psychides, moving through the Perrenaud and finishing on very nice last 6a pitches of Sacremotion) the first day, and the second day went up the Hanibal point - 5-pitch Capucin-style free-standing tower (see photo below of the before-last 6b pitch on Elephantrussel). The cherry on the cake is the bus station that a crew carried up fixed ropes to the top of the tower last year. Perfect spot for a summit register :)

Monday, August 20, 2007

We've got a winner, or Portalet, second time

Second time on Portalet in two months - that's a lot. And not for anything - Etat de Choc was the big objective for this short w-end. This incredible line, followed from bottom up by the Remy brothers, disturbs the eye by its overhanging perspective and beauty of the setting.

This is the view up the wall, with first 6a pitch before the actual start of the wall - and than the route follows cracks/chimneys to the right of the prominent pillar. Who said there were no chimneys or no cracks worth of that name in Europe? 'Escalade d'anthologie' the guidebook says - and it is truly a stunning experience.

The biggest surprise is the 5th pitch - it is hard to put any grade on it - some of the most claustrophobic climbing ever

with an overhanging offwidth to finish with pleasure on a hanging belay 150m off the deck.

And finally after all the suffering and grunting, one of the best crack climbing pitches ever - here's Mark proudly going up the dream stone.

Yes, Portalet is worth coming back to over and over - to at least look at it for inspiration!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chamonix, always Chamonix (Brévent, Migot)

Another w-end, another last-minute departure - and another visit to Cham. And why not? There are people who love it, there are people who hate it. I guess i am in the 'love it despite everything' group. Whatever i might have heard about crowds, consumption society and tourist trap, of the two routes we did - we were alone on one, and had to do all the work in knee-deep snow on the second...Yes, there were over 60 people in the refuge - yes, most of them had no idea why they were there, and would have been as happy on a beach with a beer or in front of a big movie screen - but than again, what do i care? It's my temple, it's my land, i'm there to pray - and pray i can alone or among others, believers or simulators, all the same.

First day was an easy one, with a little beauty to start with - Poeme à Lou, a route by Pallandre, maybe not as prolific as Piola in his FAs, but the quality is usually at the RDV when following his lines (his other routes around Mt Blanc count such classics as American Beauty, Sale Athé or Voix du Druide). For our first climb at Aiguilles Rouges, this is a surprisingly sustained line, despite some grassy ledges, short approach and no descent. Unfortunately it is not even mentioned in the official Aiguilles Rouges Topo - but it should. I preferred most the second 6a+ pitch - long, sustained and very technical. I spent a long time leading it - but than could take a couple of nice pictures of my partner following through the eerie clouds.

The 4th pitch should have had a fixed rope to protect a traverse - now it's gone, the move is hardest for the second (probably 6c), avoidable by descending or rapping off the first bolt. Best is the finish - like the Arete des Cosmiques - right under the noses of the gaping tourists.

The second day saw us up in refuge Albert 1er, or rather out of it (wake-up at 2 am - oh my, why am i doing this again???). I already tried to do Migot once last year, without even getting to its start with Remy due to some exciting adventures up Aiguille du Tour. This time was the right one. At the refuge they looked a bit concerned - as no trace was made up the route since the last snowfall and none was willing to go up first. We decided to try.

Early start did not help though, as long, long was the day ahead.

10 hours to get to the top - and another 9 to get down...Hmm, maybe that's the record for the longest climb of Chardonnay...Anyway, we returned safely despite long searches for rappels, crevasse avoidance in the white-out and unending walk back down to the refuge. A well-merited supper awaited us there with kind words from the crew. Good people, nice refuge - nevermind the crowds.

Chardonnay has a very pleasant summit - and this is the view (Aiguille Verte) from it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Or this View of the World

More of a Kusturician view of the world, right out of Arizona dream...

(copyright Magnus Carlsson,

Picture of the Day

Bacon's Head I

("I lost my left ear due to a bite while fighting with another human, i believe. But through the infinitesimal aperture that remains i clearly hear the noise of the world. I also see things, although with difficulty and from an oblique angle..." excerpt from Vargas Llosa's interpretation of this painting in "Eloge de la maratre")

Monday, August 06, 2007

Cerces or Perfect Summer Day

Perfect weather forced me to go to the mountains despite the lack of partners. One place i had my eye on for some time - small limestone massif of Cerces, at Lautaret col, in front of Ecrins. Only good things were said by people who had already visited the place, and now i will add to their words. Above is the picture of Tete de la Colombe, a peak we planned but did not actually climb. Some very nice routes there as Bal des Boucas, or harder ones on l'Ecaille.

First objective - Ponant Neuf on Tour Termier, The approach is reasonable, with around 2h if you park at the tunnel, and even less from Col du Galibier (better option we did not take from foolishness). This is the view from the walk-up to warm up the spirit. From the top of the Tour, you can probably see with binoculars people finishing la Traversée de la Meije.

Despite being alone on the approach, we find more than 6 parties under the wall - 2 go off for Feu Sacrée, the rest waits for Ponant Neuf. Apparently this is a well-known classic...We opt for its neighbour, and start up la Terre-Minée , a little bit harder, but also bolted. This is my newly-found partner Gwen on easier P3.

Several pitches are very nice - the second (crux) 6b, fourth 6a, and the rest to the top, with incredible last pitch traversing under the final roof (the same as a variant for Ponant Neuf). Overall good rock, but Gwen manages to dislodge a big rock just a meter off route and send it flying down to add adrenaline to the couple of parties climbing below us. Crowded mountains = dangerous mountains...It all finishes well and we descend on foot taking in the beaty of the place.

On the second day, due to the lack of time, we go to Contreforts de la Roche Robert to try Helene et les Garçons. With our luck, already 2 parties are at its start, so we switch again to the route on its left, a little bit harder, first half less memorable, but very nice two last pitces at 6b and perferct limestone.