Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yosemite, the Valley

My travel spree continues, and my posting as well after a certain hiatus due to the expensive internet connection in the USA (yup, things have changed here...).

My next stop for the duration of last month has been the Yosemite National Park in California, mainly a climbing destination with some by-side photography essays. Yosemite is definitely a great training ground and a rather convenient stop to spend a certain time exercising the climbing skills.

There are several places worth a visit in the valley, depending mainly on the length of the route you want to do and the sun exposure. You have two sides - south and north. On the south-facing side you have in order of appearance El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Royal Arches, Washington Column and North Dome, Mount Watkins - and smaller walls in between (Manure Pile, Camp 4, Swan Slabs, 5 Open Books, Church Bowl). On the north-facing side there are the Leaning Tower, Cathedrals (Lower, Middle. and Higher), Sentinel, Glacier Apron, Half Dome. The biggest and most famous climbs are over El Capitan (15-30 pitches depending on the spot) and Half Dome (20 pitches). Shorter ones, but also very good are on Cathedrals, Sentinel, Washington Column etc. Also, outside the valley itself, there are several practice crags, such as Rostrum (big crag - unfortunately closed until August because of nesting birds), Cookie Cliff, Arch rock etc. that require a car (hitch hiking) for the approach.

The first climb we did on the first day was the Northeast Buttress on Higher Cathedral. The picture below shows the Middle Cathedral in the center with Higher Cathedral to the left and Lower Cathedral to the right. It is a big rock mass, although it is usually overlooked when entering the valley, rather dominated by El Cap on the opposite side of the meadow.

The climb was harsh - at least for me. At sustained 5.9 (5c), it has lots of it all, Yosemite-style, cracks, chimneys, stemming - the wide stuff. And we had company - usual as well in the park. A party of 3 Spanish guys, whom we shamelessly tried to pass and went off-route trying...They were very nice nevertheless and not only showed us the way but let us pass them for a cost of a beer - normal barter exchange method if you want things arranged with brother climbers. Here is Oriol, climbing guide in Val de Boi, leading one of the harder 5.9 pitches (sandbaggers, i say it once, i say it twice...) :

Rock is a beautiful featured orange/white, the line is perfect and exposure good. The walk down is painful, but that's the usual climbing ordeal. Here is the best part - the view on the Big Boy from the top:

Next couple of days saw us doing easier or shorter routes, such as Commitment, a 3-pitch fun with great first 5.8 hand jam at the 5 Open Books area, Nutcracker at the Manure Pile Buttress, beautiful 3-pitch line called Moratorium or the classic Serenity Crack and Sons of Yesterday couple of 8 pitches to know how the 5.10 climbing feels like. This is the astonishing first pitch of Serenity Crack, a practice aiding route that has been scarred by the pitons to the point to make it go free at 5.9 (a scary run-out 5.9 that some call 5.10 and i call hard feet-hurting monster):

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pierre Desproges

Heard this jingle at the radio yesterday, during the program in homage of 20 years since the death of a French comic Pierre Desproges:

Nous irons au Mexique pour voir trembler la terre quand les fêlés du ballon s'éjaculent des vestiaires.
Nous irons à Rio compter les enfants pauvres avant d'aller danser en bermuda résille.
Nous irons à Jérusalem comme à Berlin nous lamenter au pied du mur.
Nous irons au fond du désert compter les bouts d'hélicoptère oubliés cet hiver sous la poussière automobile.
Nous irons au fond des Carpates pour frissonner au loup-garou et voir s'enfiler les blattes dans le cimetière aux hiboux.
Nous irons à Tananarive, pour voir si ta nana revient.
Nous irons à Pekin pour bouffer chez Maxim's et pour voir si la Chine commence à s'habiller Cardin.
Nous irons au bout du monde ...
Nous n'irons plus au Liban, les cèdres sont coupés, les enfants que voilà ne savent plus chanter.

12 mars 1986, details from a daily radio program, Chroniques de la Haine Ordinaire, on France Inter...his official website is here and other extracts of Chroniques here.

Aix en Provence

I have wanted to visit Aix en Provence for some time now. Finally, using up a rest day in the region, we stop in this capital of Provence, where everything reminds you of the south, the street names in Provençal, street markets with fruits, and tanned olderly Frenchies sitting at the brasseries.

I enjoyed the city, just small enough to have a good couple of hours walk around the Vielle Ville. Of several buildings and churches the most interesting one to me was this one, Eglise de St Jean de Malte, a fortress and a command center that was founded by the what is now known as the Order of Malta, keeping up with the Gothic style of Avignon's Pope Palace. This was a couple of centuries before St John's Order occupied first Rhodes, then Malta, and became the maritime power of the Mediterranean that we think of today.

The only disappointing site was the new theater building, just off the press, and already half crumbling with various problems and bad architectural choices.

Another fun rambling in the region is Montagne Sainte Victoire. When coming to Aix from the South, it is the first striking feature you see from any road, the Autoroute included. A cross was built on top of it by a distressed sailor saved from the waves, who pledged to erect a cross on top of the first mountain that he would encounter after getting back to shore, the 500-year-old legend says. You have to drive to it from the West side, coming from Aix to Tholonet, to see Cezanne's view that inspired this:

Calanques 2008

After a day's climbing stop at Cormot, a very nice crag in the heart of Burgundy, we head down south. I can't withstand a temptation to photograph this world-famous wine country, although for us it's rock, and not wine, that makes up the attraction:

This was supposed to be a preparation for the upcoming Valley trip, but the weather and other scheduling issues have let us down, making it rather a quick start-of-the-season outing. Nevertheless, Calanques welcome us, mistral, sea and rocks at the usual rendez-vous.

We stay only three days for three routes and a romantic night at Pierre Azemat refuge for a bonus. The only thing missing is a water source. This place is still as incredible as ever. All hues of blue that great us on the first day's approach to La Candelle:

I learn a little bit more about this place's history from some torn pages at the refuge. Calanques, deep valleys in the white limestone, were formed by rivers, not glaciers as is the case for fjords, before the last ice age. They then were covered by ice, then sea, and then uncovered once more for us to enjoy in the current shape and form. The tops of the valleys resemble more desert-like mountains of in-land Provence, but the bottoms, well-protected from mistral, harbor tropical vegetation and their own micro-climate. Calanque d'En Vau, one of the most beautiful ones out there, from top of the Belvedere plateau, Cassis rocks in the distance to the right:

Our objectives are not too over the board, first day sees us up the upper part of la Candelle - third time for me, first time for Ren, by Fleurs du Mal route - enjoyable first two pitches, harder higher part. This is an unusual profile view of the rock:

The second day I have some unfinished business with Futurs Croulants, a route I once failed to find with Gabe. This time we manage to find it - and it's as good as it is supposed to be! I enjoy very much the boyot pitch, where you climb up a tunnel for almost a whole pitch - even more enjoyable and twisted than the before-last pitch of Traversee sans Retour. It does feel like it's all going to cramble into the sea soon, so get there and do it if you have not yet! This is Ren on the famous roof traverse of the 6b pitch:

And myself a little bit lower down:

The last day we make an excursion to Essaidon to do Bain au Calançon. I still don't know what calançon means though...The start is in a cave (picture below) with great ambiance, the top is hard on vertical goutes d'eau - but passing tourists taking pictures encourage me to make it to the top of a more enjoyable last pitch.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Mountain for a Dream 3

This is Cayesh, from the Peruvian Codiliera Blanca. One day, maybe - or maybe not. Beautiful as it is, it does not care anyway!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Quiche aux Poivrons

This was one of my most successful cooking accomplishments so far. The recipe comes from this wonderful blog by Odelie, and you can see the original recipe here. I did not have cacao, but added some frozen coriander to the egg and milk mixture. Picture of my proud achievement to the right.

Another delicious recipe from the same site concerns a chocolate tarte with oranges and bananas - check it out here and i promise, you will not regret it, even my mom complemented me on it!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

My Good Old Friends

I have not only traveled around Ukraine, I have also seen several of my good old friends. They
no longer all live in Lviv, but that's how life goes, even in Ukraine. Kyiv is the magnet, although some have resisted so far and promise to stay put. Some of them are happily married, some are waiting for an even happier event, adding to the current baby boom in Ukraine, others are working hard, or starting to think about their own business ventures. There are some enthusiasts, pro-ukrainian believers, there are some pessimists, that do not believe in this country's future, and finally there is the deserter - myself.

Overall, I would say that this trip has helped me to believe just a little bit more. Things are moving fast, money is coming in. Certainly the income gap is huge, mostly big population centers are benefiting from the economic growth. It's not even worth talking about Ricardo's 80/20 as far as resource management is concerned, but then again, there is probably hardly another proven way for a society to get rid of its ghosts...

Lviv, the Town

I was born in Lviv a long time ago, and i do come back to this town again and again. It changes a little bit, it changes a lot from one visit to another. It keeps well its austrian, polish, armenian, jewish - and even russian - heritage, and builds (a little) on it. Restoration slowly continues in the central square kilometer of the city, new banks, pharmacies and an assortment of hair saloons open every week (in that order of priority), nicely complementing the incredible number of cars that flood streets more each day. I even noticed some tourist maps this time - and hordes of tourists (mainly Polish) using them.

I have rather appreciated some details that made all the difference. Benches on the Rynok square, sponsored by L'vivs'ke beer, night lightning of a couple of churches (Dominican, Andrew's), sponsored by some lightning firm with imagination, and all the wonderful and oh, so good coffee shops around the city center - now there are so many more places to go to than the usual old Veronika or Tsykernia! Good coffee, my favorite latte or macciato, and pastries for many many kilos to somehow waste afterwards! Lviv is s l o w l y getting closer to its old master, Vienne, with good cooking before and after dessert time!

If not for the crowd in front of the Polish Consulate, and the 'suburbs' outside the tiny city center, and the rude bank and railway officers, and the bureaucracy with all and any given paperwork, and the delapidated state of many many other buildings, and, and, would be a perfect little European town, like Brugges or Gent, sleepily awaiting tourists and stingily providing for its denizens.

Carpathians, my Home Mountains

I have always loved these mountains - they are my home mountains, that's where i grew up during numerous summers with my two grandmas, that's where i first realized what mountains are, how it smells in a huge and mysterious fur forest, how it feels being alone out there, and looking at the sun from closer-by.

They still are there, despite some changes, slow disappearance of cows and farming, birth and development of the tourist industry with its pleasant and abominable features. I still can see the starry sky from my grandma's porch - but only looking left, as to the right the big hotel complex Koryna keeps the Las Vegas lighting up and shows off its new buildings and tennis courts to the God's eye in the dark Hutsulske sky. (picture looking to the left side)

I visited my secret places, going for a walk each day and living through the winter and spring i got to experience on this trip in just a few days. I mainly tried to compensate for the lost time with my grandma, attempting to show her my love and understanding - then again, what can those few short minutes do to make up for the long and empty, cold and slow years of organized absence and abandonment?..Mountains will remain, humans should go.