Tuesday, December 21, 2010


This year will be remembered as the tipping point, consolidating my conversion from alpine to sport climbing.  From struggling to lead 6as the year before to onsighting 7as and redpointing 7cs.  From lame socializing at the climbing gym to serious training three days a week.  From not being able to pull myself off the ground with both hands to doing 3 decent pull-ups on jugs and 2 pull-ups with 3 fingers on slopers.  That's as much progress as my mind can fathom in a year - and i am still struggling with the consequences (tendonitis, triumphalism, and hubris at the rocks).  I have also worked a little bit on my head skills - although long way remains to decrease the gap between onsight and redpoint grade, or to increase the amount of accumulated flying miles.  The psychological aspect of climbing is the most fascinating and the hardest to challenge through direct action.  I have tried - and hopefully will keep trying, although I do not believe fear could - or should - ever go away.

Otherwise I'm afraid I have not progressed as much in other domains - .i remained stubborn, self-centered, closed as a marmot, and alone as ever.  Oh, I did get a Masters' degree, too, so that is another accomplishment I tend to forget.  I also started giving classes and improved my presentation skills to the point of feeling comfortable presenting my own work to the audience of serious professors in front of me.  Maybe climbing helps me in a way in this not that related field - i started to tell myself that if i can deal with the stress and panic of a hard climb, if i can assume the risk of flying and still give it my best, if i can try that hard - and survive - i can also master the critical eye of the other.  I can expose myself - maybe just a little bit - take the cloth off and share my world - invite people in, or at least move the curtain a little aback.  Having a blog is also my way of sharing.  Let's hope next year i will have more things to share, more motivation to improve, and more dreams to look up to and possibilities to imagine.  Or not.  The black hole is always there, ready to swallow the elephant, the giraffe, or any other prey walking with their head high and spirits low.  Hit me, may the new year begin.

And last but not least - my first try at editing a video, cameraworks by Pau, myself redpointing Viatgi Imaginari...Happy holidays and loads of inspiration to you all.

Imaginary Journey from Uasunflower on Vimeo.

(sorry for writing Spain in the title, the "error" was pointed to me after the editing had been closed...)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Rest after the storm

After redpoint day and super-cold, at least for Catalunya's standards, weather, the rest of the climbing days were spent South - first under the rain in Siurana, trying out the hard moves on Crema, and checking out the new - and it has to be said awesome - guidebook of the area by David Brasco, and then in Margalef.

2010 will be remembered as the year of new guidebooks for sport-climbing in Catalunya.  The Siurana guidebook is not a photo album, as the Lleida climbs one, but still a very good and informative, not to say comprehensive, guide to more than 1200 routes in this incredible spot.  Not only mentioning the length of climbs, the number of draws, the orientation and interest of the area, it has very good (and time-consuming) drawings of all walls and good approach descriptions (tried out the one to Siuranella South - perfect).  Nevertheless, as usual, there are some problems with grades - several climbs have been downgraded (i.e. Dema les inocents, 7a+, Papagora, 7b+, Crema 7c+), maybe to keep up the mythology of the area and show how hard the + routes could be.  Anyway, it is not the place to rant again and again about the grading, kudoos for the guidebook, David - long in coming, but very good indeed.  Thanks!

Finally as for the climbing - with the returning warm temperatures we enjoyed 2 incredible days in one of the most scenic spots in Margalef - Cabernet.  The two pictures taken by Pau, with Ville's camera don't make it justice, but here goes again, myself finally redpointing Califato Coach, a 10-star 7b there.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Viatgi, imagining the end to another journey

(picture by kind Pau)

An old good song by DC Talk used to go like this: 

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall?

I still don't know, and I'm as scared as always.  We fall, we get up, we reach the chain, and life continues.  Getting to the chain is good though, oh so good!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Polyphony and disappearing cultures

This composition by young Corse singers (more here) made me think of Pikardijska Tertsia, a group that used to be popular during my time in Ukraine.  Similarly disappearing culture and language.  It made me think of Lviv, our old yellow-red trams, meetings at Mitskevich monument, old bookshops, coffee houses, dark churches, and basement beer joints.  Looking for a video I was not able to find anything too decent - the best one is this one from a Polish TV, with young Tertsia singing their best song...Memories, I am almost ready to read up on Proust...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Aporia or the Imaginary Journey

I have traveled wide and long, over many years no place felt like home.  Now, since a couple of years, I have stopped.  In this place, Catalunya, that I now call home.  Other climbers make me feel a little more justified in my choice - here is Sharma talking about his choice of home, friends, and family.  Imaginary or not, the journey goes on, we choose where we want to be, and we go.  Or we don't.  For me one of the benefits of this new age of freedom of movement is the possibility of choosing - I want to live near the rocks, so i do.  I want to define my identity through climbing, so i do.  Have i finally reached port?  I don't know, but sedentary life is not necessarily an unimaginative one. The journey can be real or virtual, dreamed through or real to the core.

Identity is so fluid, so good - and so wrong.  It is not there, or it is.  You would die for it, and than it is all empty.  A journey is an escape, escape from self that never gets it right, always looking for the zen - the stone master who wanted to be the sun, the wind, the mountain - and then the stone master all over again.  More years means just more circles - there is no more first time, only a deja-vu, an again and another retaliation of the same tune. Purification, authenticity - or all lies, all pretending, all artificial intelligence, artificial flavor.  Only color, only smell, only concentration, only way is up.  Another route, another project, another repetition of same old routine.  Even climbing succumbs to it, gets dragged into the mud - the cold, the body, the head, all the same, all over again.  Imaginary journey, a different setting - or all the same, all over again.  Making sense of it, finding meaning, giving meaning.  Lines, rock, relationships, conversations - needs and necessities, nothing real, all imagined, all of it in the head.  Images - the boy with lama, the dying girl, all of it sensemaking, making sense, giving meaning to the world, in search of an innocence, the forgotten island of the past, the never-ending journey to the future.  Why would it matter?  There are no more rats, only ravens - crowing on the tombstones, tombstones of the dreams, the ones we've never been free to dream.

Viatgi Imaginari is a 40-meter feet of imagination indeed, orange, grey, bouldery, slopery, holdy.  It has a roof, it has a pillar, it has a slab.  It has a run-out, it has a hidden save-me bolt.  It even has three key heel hooks to get the pressure down and give your arms back the needed strength.  A route to imagine, a route to climb. 

Not exactly related, but an example of another parallel imaginary journey, Oksana started to make Lyalkas, or dolls in Ukrainin, when she broke her leg and did not know what to do with herself for several months.  Now her dolls are a success and a pleasure to look at.  There is always  more to be imagined, the journey that goes on...

Monday, November 15, 2010


A discovery for me - the Bruixes crag, well-known by the hard-climbing Catalan girls, inspired me this w-end despite the cold, tiredness from training, and aching ear n' throat.  After redpointing Jam Session on the second go and onsighting Pasta sin Agua following good advice and quickdraws in the right places by Pau and Lluis, I spent the rest of the w/end trying out Occident, a good, well-overhanging line for me - polished jug haul with the tufa ending for the strong.  I think we'll be back...

Moreover, now with the new Lleida Climbs guidebook the menu of North-bound climbs from Barcelona has been increased substantially.  Good work, Pete, Dani, & Albert, and nice picture album.  Although some errors in the guidebook have already popped up - i.e. Cobra Canaries on African Wall in Cavallers is rated 7b+ instead of 8a, a stretch even for the strong guys!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And More

Some tell me I should stop being obsessed, that climbing that much slab is not good for me. Some tell me to go pull on jugs. But then, how can one give up coming back? Montserrat, the one and only...

Picture by Luichy, myself climbing a 7a called Santaquemoia at La Miranda de la Vinya Nova...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Montserrat, always

Montserrat has always been a source of inspiration for me and my projects.  Starting with Rush, BuscaBrega, and Vianant, I keep coming back there for more challenge and flow, for more moves, intricate sequences, and incredible scenery.  Zen of the place, its flowers, its bugs, its smells and sounds absorb and replenish, inspire and keep surprised.  Now, as i see conglomerate from my window, i am closer than ever to the mountain.  I do not need snow and high peaks anymore, it is enough to play on a short wall, 30 meters high, with some gear, but mainly my technique and my mental qualities as a resource.  It takes time, patience, and always more self-knowledge.

Choosing one's battles carefully definitely helps the process to stay fun and sane. Maybe my last choice was not exactly following well the above guidelines - Mireia, a long route in Can Jorba's Soga de Satan sector, proved to be a much harder undertaking than initially estimated.  Pau was the first to go up the incredible wall, getting the rope on Mireia through Oriol, its 7c+ neighbor on the right.  We tried the moves together, and it did not all seem too hard, a 7c to the first anchor, and than a hard but rather short boulder problem that took one after another 5 meters of climbing to the second anchor.  A hard 8a, others warned me.

After several days spent figuring out all the moves, we started trying the route seriously - and realized we could not even lead it to the first 7c anchor.  Despite the route being totally my style, thin traverse from the final rest to clip the anchor kept throwing off any attempts at the redpoint.  All possible mistakes made me fall more than five times at the last move - badly changed hands, bad friction, wrong shoes, wrong foot, no confidence - all possible excuses, to the point that there were no more.  Oh, yes, there was one more - last day I came to the route with my finn friend Ville, and while toproping the route he managed to kick off a key stone that made the first long reach to the right a bit more manageable after the big ledge rest.  This cost me another try - but i was ready, luck had its place no more.  The route went, after many tries.  I underestimated Montserrat again, and managed only to climb to the first anchor.  Maybe i will come back, when stronger, to finish the route to the second anchor, or try its nice-looking sister, Martina.

(figuring moves on Rush, photo by Tranki)

For now next destination is Agulla de Senglar, with longer approach, but a wall as good as any in this orange conglomerate kingdom.  Another line - this time a long stamina-fest - Viatgi Imaginari, awaits new effort, new tricks, hopefully less long slings, and more fly miles.  Montserrat, always.

(toproping Viatgi Imaginari, photo by Nora)

Russia and its fate

I was reading today Khodorkovski's pronouncement and wondering why Russia, or rather many of its people, have had this unfortunate fate of misery and demise in their own homeland.  Whereas Americans, a little naively for sure, are usually seen in the bright light of the American dream and positive, if simple, emotions, Russia has earned the stereotype of suffering and never-ending maze associated with its intellectuals.  Or, maybe, Khodorkovski is just aiming at the long run, playing his best response in the game, and all this should be dismissed as more rhetoric of another ambitious 'future Mr. President'?   Yes, institutions in the country do not help, as Khodorkovski's case so well illustrates.  However, there are also others, such as Perelman, who have refused their talent and participation in the world altogether.  With each mention of Perelman, Dostoyevski comes to my mind.  He somehow managed to epitomize in his work the country and the Russian soul, or did he?  Yes, it would be scary and a little hopeless if so.

Ahthough Khodorkovski's story is the one in the limelight today, many other entrepreneurs and talented people have given up hope, taken up their belongings, and moved out.  Or maybe this is my unconscious self trying to justify why me too, i have left my own country and not been willing to recognize it for some time now as part of my identity.  Shattered hopes, my parents' absence of a vision of me in that country, all this contributed certainly to the exhaudus - of me in particular, and many, millions of others, in general.  The consequences cannot be evaluated, usual in social sciences, - as we will never know what a world with a successful Soviet Union would have looked like.  But it certainly would have been very different.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Siurana Invasion

So many events in the last month, I lacked any inspiration to write even a short note.  To start well, two full backpacks of climbing gear got stolen from my car, my camera included.  This means less pictures, but not less climbing.  The afternoon of the event we were already pulling up the Mireia project.  Mireia project was another bad idea of mine - after abandoning ambitions of climbing the 8a extension, i realized i could not even do the 7c bottom part.  Despite several days and patient belays from Pau, to Ville, to Luichi, and the slabby crux, the story remains to be continued.

Next, i changed living arrangements, now to live closer to the Mother Mountain, with all the stress implied in the moving, buying new stuff, and realizing just how much crap i actually have.  Let all possessions die!  The whole idea of things is so oh so overrated.  With internet access, a bottle of whine and a good cheese, i could care less.

And next, the short and well-deserved vacation to Siurana.  Despite it being so close to Barcelona, i had little feeling for this world-renown school.  A winter's day hike after wet climbing at Can Marges with Bienve led me to Campi qui Pugui sector some two years ago.  I remembered a prominent arete there and an impressive wall, climbing which i could not fathom at the time.  I've walked below la Rambla and suffered bouldery routes of la Olla.  I spent a day putting draws on Mandragora and failing on Remena Nena.  Much more remains in store though.  Although the definite guide by David Brasco is still lost somewhere in the print process, Siurana is full of good and bad surprises.

The first good surprise was the quality of the first project we tried, la Papagora.  A major line running in the center of the pic above, somehow overlooked by the English-speaking Costa Brava guidebook, it has been spared the Mandragora fate of total polish.  The crux is up high, and the route is gorgeous.  It was well-suited to my style, and after a quick toprope, I almost got to the anchor on the 2nd try, i mean almost.  Yes, i fell at the last possible move, after 35 meters of intense effort.  But what a route!

Coming back the next day, the force was with me this time, and the send was over in the cool morning temperatures.  My favorite line in Siurana so far, and not hard for the original 7c grade (especially if compared to its sisters, such as Cleptomania).  The less pleasant surprises continued afterwards, mainly due to the poor bolting of the routes - at least in my opinion.  Falling at the anchor was not over for this trip - first, i could not finish the onsight of Rauxa, doing it on the 2nd try, next i lowered off Gamba Gamba, and finally fell twice at the anchor of Muerte de un Sponsor, another major line.  My head is definitely not ready to take it all as it comes in Siurana (and probably many other places).  Oh well, everything just costs a big effort, that's the way.  Below myself, thinking about flying, taping up, and coming back to old gear, Ikea bags, and Trango Squid power...

And the evil olive trash wonderer, never to stop, with feet that start acking, with hands that stop feeling, with heart that keeps beating, and dreams that keep dreaming.

Autumn in Catalunya

Days go by, years go by, we grow up, learn, and forget.  Meanwhile, seasons change, but remain the same, bringing us each time the expected colors, the beautiful skies, sun to look up to, and to smile at.

Красива осінь вишиває клени
Червоним, жовтим, срібним, золотим.
А листя просить: – Виший нас зеленим!
Ми ще побудем, ще не облетим.
А листя просить: – Дай нам тої втіхи!
Сади прекрасні, роси – як вино.
Ворони п'ють надкльовані горіхи.
А що їм, чорним? Чорним все одно.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fading memories

While listening to the sound of rain and Dylan's cup of coffee, alone as usual at my place, a thought to the past, that already seems so strange and incredible.  While the haulbag lies dying in my closet.  One day, I have to come back to at least free the Astroman...one day, back to the vertical realities, lots of air below, the only way being up.  Dirtbagging used to be fun, and bears the only constraint on the mind flow. 

Your breath is sweet
Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky
Your back is straight your hair is smooth
On the pillow where you lie
But I don't sense affection
No gratitude or love
Your loyalty is not to me
But to the stars above

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee 'fore I go.
To the valley below.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Sunday, October 03, 2010


Another w-end, another sector.  This time it was time for Riugreixer, a small sector above Baga, in the region of Berga.  The best routes are in the welcome shadow in the afternoon, on the East face.  Below Pau on Rinovirus, a very long, good 7a that already makes the trip worthwhilie:

Again, I had to confront my fears of overhang climbing - and again, the fears have not gone away.  Flying and falling is as scary as before despite all the hard work and fly miles in Mowgli, Vianant, Alt Urgell...Climbing life is long and hard, at least for my little head.  Thus, I failed to even toprope Magic Boulevard, and decided to go for easier objectives, the Violencia couple on the left.  Violencia Domestica is a very good (and again long) 7a+, with crux in the second part.  Violencia de Genere is more serious, hard 7b.  I failed on that one too, below trying to confront the fears to fly:

The Medusa-woman, with all vertical works contraptions of long slings that do not substitute ever for a good head...May the red be the color of my shame...

And after the move...one day maybe I will learn to climb and fly...but it has not come yet.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tres Ponts

After a productive summer I faced a low period that gloriously finished with 3 weeks of training and finger injury at the end of August.  The (short) time off from climbing gave me another chance to delve into myself and look for the sources of energy and enthusiasm for life.  After a gulp of clear water from the endless lake of Cavallers, I am back again to the game - climbing a little more every week, and trying to keep up the good resolutions from the mountains.  A gecko chose to migrate into my appartment during these rest days, and for me it is the sign that i can and will climb strong again, whatever the poor green thing jumping and crawling around my kitchen might think for itself while secretly laughing at stupid humans.

To start again, again anew, I first baught a car, and then climbed, and climbed again.  Although some of my resolutions pleaded for a life with more to it than climbing, for the moment climbing took its biggest share unabashed, again.


I finally visited for the first time the very interesting and little known climbing crag of Tres Ponts, situated south of la Seu d´Urgell, and north of Oliana, a village known itself for the very hard routes put up there by Sharma and co´.  The crag is very good especially if you are into the harder 7th grade, with long routes of pulling on jugs intermingled with some technical limestone slab moves.  It is unfortunately starting to get polished, following the fate of Siurana or Rodellar on a smaller scale, but the crowds are still pretty low - and hopefully will stay that way.  It is in the shade in the afternoon and thus is one of the perfect summer destinations in the pre-Pyrenees at 2 hours from Barcelona. 

I indulged myself with 3 almost consecutive days at Tres Ponts, sampling several good routes there.  It is again one of the places where it is better to bring a strong team member to get the draws up as there is some airmiles to be done in the distances between bolts.  Thus, for instance, I was unable to get to the anchors of the topo´s #36, and my project - Alt Urgell - also has an exciting run-out just before reaching the anchor and on the steepest section of the wall.  Sometimes I wish so hard I had a drill and could just put a couple of extra bolts on these crazy routes - it always seems like the FAscencionists - all respects due - never think about the poor frightened chicken of the rest of us, especially the shorties like myself, that have to struggle mentally and physically in the limit to clip those bolts.  And there was a time i thought sport climbing was easy!.. sorry, end of the rant...

Below is Edu on his hardest project - Instincte Salvatge, very good - but also very loooooong endurance 7b+ that I would rate closer to 7c, one of the classics and to be recommended in Tres Ponts:

The company had a good time all around - here is the newcomer to Catalunya, the Austrian Martin, showcasing his heel-hooking on his first redpoint in Spain, an easy 7b that is erroneously rated a whole 7c in the topo, the first pitch of an 8a to the right of Alt Urgell: 

And here Pau starting that same Alt Urgell, a good long 7c, belayed by Josep, and showing off his now muscular back:

I took up the challenge of Alt Urgell too, finally enjoying a hard slab workout and facing my fears on the top overhanging finish.  Below, working the moves, pictures by airborne Pau:

and again
and more

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Happiness is a warm gun

This incredible interpretation of Beatles' song Happiness is a warm gun by Marc Ribot took me by surprise.  The song itself was in its time censored by BBC because of its sexual symbolism, although others have said the warm gun might have been a reference to heroin instead of Yoko Ono.  Melody's lingering beauty captured with only a guitar and gentle finger strokes by Marc resonates stronger than words though.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Better late then never

For Alex. Pictures from his website...

Мне нравится, что Вы больны не мной,
Мне нравится, что я больна не Вами,
Что никогда тяжелый шар земной
Не уплывет под нашими ногами.
Мне нравится, что можно быть смешной
Распущенной-и не играть словами,
И не краснеть удушливой волной,
Слегка соприкоснувшись рукавами.
Мне нравится еще, что Вы при мне
Спокойно обнимаете другую,
Не прочите мне в адовом огне
Гореть за то, что я не Вас целую.
Что имя нежное мое, мой нежный, не У
поминаете ни днем ни ночью — всуе...
Что никогда в церковной тишине
Не пропоют над нами: аллилуйя!
Спасибо Вам и сердцем и рукой
За то, что Вы меня — не зная сами! —
Так любите: за мой ночной покой,
За редкость встреч закатными часами,
За наши не-гулянья под луной,
За солнце не у нас на головами,
За то, что Вы больны — увы! — не мной,
За то, что я больна — увы! — не Вами.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Smith Rock?

Again, climbing, this complicated game. The summer is almost over, I have started training, and it is time to think new projects, look deeper for motivation - and try not to get injured...Hard times, reading Eva Lopez and trying to forget another finger that hurts...

Collage by scovophoto

and a tiny thought goes out into the wild to Chloe Graftiaux, too quickly, too soon...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Caravan Palace

This little piece made my day today, thanks to Rafa for the pointer, and with dedication to Wall, who finally sent his 8a in Freyr, the GsTQ:

African Wall

This w-end was some slab therapy time.  After recognizing my gone endurance flailing at St Llorenc, i focused on what i like most - granite, in my favorite sport climbing spot, Cavallers.  The time was well spent with friends assaulting African Wall, the jewel of the crown.  Best topo available - still not completely right as there are actually 2 7bs after "Somos los congitos", 7a, Flipin Palan, and then Black Mamba. Topo by Tranki.
More homework was thus done at African Wall this summer - the day started with inspiration: an onsight of Black Mamba.  It seemed easy and good, was over too quickly as i went weightless from granite mushroom to mushroom.  Then to continue with the serpents, i tried Cobra Canaries, first 8a off the 6b traverse (el mejor 6b del mundo), but it was too hard for this time (NEED NEW SHOES!!!!).  So to get the spirits up, I finished by onsighting another slab reptile, the Flipin Palan after Pau generously left me many a draw on it.  Thus, work left to do: Smith Rock, Cobra Canaries, la Frambuesa, and a little closer to my actual strength on slab right now - redpointing Cris.

Pau had his best w-end ever, redpointing first Massa Kumba, and then Los Illegales the second day:

Xavi decided on alpinism and la Traversia de Agujas de Traversani on the first day, and sport climbed with us on the second, here below on the 7a+ joining Massa Kumba:

And myself working hard the CRIS, an incredible futurist line, dedicated to Cristina Gomez Garcia.the Cris:

And again:

I left the route with 2 falls, it seemed pretty hard for 7c, I would upgrade it to 7c+ - incredible feat of imagination required to bridge the available holds on this one...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Afternoon Sessions at Sant Llorenc

To know people is wisdom, but to know yourself is enlightenment
To master people takes force, but to master yourself takes strength  (Lao Tzu)

This summer the time has finally arrived to visit the famed Sant Llorenc, an interesting climbing area situated on top of the Matadepera town, known for having the highest per-capita income in Spain.  It is probably the best-managed online area with a pretty comprehensive topo available here.  St Llor is also an area with a high concentration of difficult climbs - starting with 7s at Gruyere or Paret Gran, and moving to the Siberia for the hardcore 8s.  Here one can meet on hot summer days such stars as Ramonet, onsighting most 8s of the Siber, or Helena Aleman training for her next send.  There is also some place for the mere mortals, to work, sweat, and cuss the bouldery routes.

Climbing at St Llor is special in its own way.  Although it is conglomerate like the near-by Montserrat, it is different in many ways.  It requires much more endurance, dynamic moves, and pure explosive force the boulderers are so good at harnessing.  It is basically at the antipodes of my climbing style - but I thought it still might be good to work out here a little, especially given the 'chuchuflu', or the heat wave that makes climbing anything at this time of the year a rather painful exercise.

Thus, we have been going up the dirt road for many days in a row with Pau, picking up lines and cussing at the challenges.  Pau did well, sending his first 7b+, and onsighting 7as.  I did not do much, falling off most projects here and there - although it is all good, all training for some invisible fuzzy future and mastering Lao Tzu's advice.  Pau eternalized one of those moments with his first full-blown 1-minute video of the afternoon sessions, proudly presented below, with Par climbing Performance in the background (another proud send!!):

S'hi ha d'anar from Pau Freixes on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Rambles around Chamonix II

Rambles in pictures.

Leading away, Bienvenue au George V, 1ere Pointe de Nantillon, awesome picture by Xavi:

Trio on the summit, Marcal, Xavi, and myself:

Marc the mountaineer on the ridge (not looking down!!!):

Crux traverse of Fin du Babylone, Brevent, Marc daring the rain:

Some objectives remaining - Rognon du Plan Inferier, head-on view on American Beauty (or time to train hard again...):

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Rambles around Chamonix I

It has been already 5 years I have been coming to Cham on and off, for skiing, ice climbing, rock climbing, or what is generally known as mountaineering or alpinism.  This year is no exception, although it has been an anti-climax of a trip, making me wonder if i really want to be in this expensive, posh, and tourist-jammed town over and over, again and again.  Some long-due realizations:

* risk-taking in mountains is a habit; only by doing it over and over does one manage to shut up the instinct and become blind to the dangers of avalanches, crevasse crossings, ridge walkings etc.
* sport climbing does make you stronger in the mountains: after many years of trying i finally feel good and compfy trad climbing 6as...
* mountaineering is very inefficient, and my patience is rather limited, especially given the realization that i could be working on a project somewhere warmer and enjoying the process much more
* partner is the key word, as always, and oh, hard, how hard it is to find someone who could both inspire me to give it my best, and make me feel warm and fuzzy in my own skin
* taking the latter two propositions together, my motivation seems finally to be waning, maybe it is high time to stop wondering and looking always higher to such routes as Digital Crack or American Beauty, and just stay at the sea-level? Maybe Jonathan the Seagull was completely crazed and wrong?

With all of these wonderful and deep realizations so clear, i hope i will not forget them next year and not rush off again to the old dear mountains just because they are there.  This post is just a self-reminder, that maybe, just maybe, a vacation in Kalymnos or Rodellar could be a much better option given my current priorities, capabilities, and interests...speaking to the deaf, i know.  All this makes me think of Escher's dragon, tirelessly biting at its own tail, while hopelessly trying to become three-dimmentional, in a Sysiphe kind of way:

In Escher's own words:

However much this dragon tries to be spatial, he remains completely flat. Two incisions are made in the paper on which he is printed. Then it is folded in such a way as to leave two square openings. But this dragon is an obstinate beast, and in spite of his two dimensions he persists in assuming that he has three; so he sticks his head through one of the holes and his tail through the other.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Back to Freyr

One of the climbing schools I used to go to frequently was Freyr in Belgium.  Although from the outside Belgium seems like a flat country without much interest for vertically-minded adventurers, it hides well  some jewels for the initiated ones.  Freyr is one of these spots, rightly named for the Scandinavian god of productivity, sun, and rain.  It is one of the biggest climbing areas serving the North of France, all of Netherlands, and Belgium.  Even people from Germany and Luxemburg show up for some fun.  There are several separate rock formations, and over 300 mostly bolted routes. 

However, one has to be warned that climbing here has started in 1930ies, and that means that routes are (extremely) polished, especially in the easier grade.  Moreover, Belgians are proud in having a pretty spicy grading system, so don't get disappointed if you don't send the same grades here as in the more Southern places.  Freyr is in a way similar to St Llorenç near Barcelona, it needs some getting used to to start appreciating climbing there, but there are loads of very good climbs when you get started.  Below myself on one of those jewels, Heroine, 7a+:

Back to Freyr for me also meant seeing some good old friends I haven't seen in many years now.  One of them is Marc, one of the first people to tell me I had to become a sport climber one day, and to show me what difficult climbing was really about, in Ettringen, of all places.  He also inpired me in other ways, for instance to go look for his rock route in Peru (that unfortunately I never climbed), or to actually climb Grand Capucin and Petit Clocher du Portalet together.  Here is Marc leading the mythic God S(h)ave the Queen, an incredible 8a, from which the tradition says you have to be lowered down directly into the river Meuse.  Marc is still climbing strong and good, and maybe even coming to do longer routes with me later in the Alps:

And Wal, my first ropemate in Belgium, who introduced me to Freyr five years ago.  We used to play chess and discuss climbing philosophy in Chamonix, the classic bar on top of the Belgian rocks, full of climbers on hot summer days.  Now with new owners it is even more expensive, although climbers still keep coming there for a good Belgian beer after, or even before the climbing.  Wal gave up on his epic attempt to climb Schwarzenegger, another myth route in Freyr, after braking the crux hold on it and giving it over 100 tries...  He seems to be in top shape and climbing strong anyway.  Below Wal, working up to his highpoint of the day, same setting on GStQ, the first hard move on the traverse:

Finally below myself, cool photo by Marc, following the same line, awesome moves, but a pretty hard project, that might motivate me enough to come back with my shoes and harness here someday again:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Surreal World of Magritte

After experiencing Catalan and Spanish flags through one exciting week-end in Barcelona, my next encounter with nationalism took place yesterday during the celebration of the national holiday in another pretty divided country, that is Belgium.  Coming from the outside as i do, it is usually hard to agree and understand the need for separation and different identity in these seemingly such interesting and culturally rich countries.  Oh sure, yes, there are all the historic, although to tell the truth usually mainly financial, reasons for all the discontent. However, it was somehow a pleasure to see Belgians united for once, partying all together with their army, king, and political elite.  

My highlight was a visit to the new Magritte museum in Brussels, that for the day charged only 1 euro for its, it has to be said rather meek, collection.  Nevertheless, it was very well housed, introduced, and displayed.  Magritte is an interesting outsider to the glamorous life of painters in the XXth century. Held on a short leash by his life-long love with Georgette, he never managed to get full-heartedly accepted into the Paris circle of surrealists, and decided to live in a stand-alone bourgeois mode with his wife and friends in Brussels.  At the same time, he was a prolific artist, and a volcano of imagination and brilliant ideas for his work.  His final success came to him in the US, of all places, although now he is reveered in many an intellectual gathering.  Despite this success, most of his life he dressed like a respected banker rather than a crazy surrealist, the reverse side of the mirror to his flamboyant counter-part Dali.

One of the pictures that impressed me most during this visit was the below Art de la Conversation.  I find it a very good painting, located in that space somewhere in the middle ground between subconscience and the mind, where Magritte situated most of his works.  The two gentlemen conversing manage to build a huge structure, with the dream playing the center-stage, although simultaneously defying the laws of gravity and language.

The other picturte that left its mark on me was this, Domaine d'Arnheim, a theme Magritte followed in several of his paintings in the decade before his death (in 1967), inspired as he was by Poe stories.  Maybe because the paysage looks a lot like the North-side couloir to the left of Frendo spur, and Auiguille du Peigne is so tastefully transformed into the bird trying to get free out of the ice, or maybe because the picture also signals some possibility of hope, birth, life, coming from this austere twilight zone of the mountain.  One way or another it is a painting worth having a thought about:

These ideas go hand in hand with the book I am currently reading, Hofstadter's GEB, and specifically paintings by Escher mentioned there.  Basically Hofstadter talks about inifinite or strange loops, something Escher was really good at showing graphically, for instance in his Drawing Hands below.  The animate is born from the dead matter, hands come alive from pure imagination and lines traced by a pen.  Maybe it is just my mind playing tricks, but Magritte, his Ceci n'est pas une pipe etc. seem to be working on the same wavelength.