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.

Friday, July 09, 2010

el Vianant

Project-based climbing is about training and training again, going back to the same old route for many a time, with desperation, inspiration, and persistence, all of it a price to pay for the quick, short, and elating moment of infinite possibility and incredible lightness of being. The process is full of uncertainty, outside conditions, stress, and the enduring need for control.  Controlling your own body, or more precisely reaching this connection between the brain - knowledge of all the moves, memory of foot and hand holds, visualization of the exact feelings and sensations on the rock, - and the body, - the repository of knowledge, the willful executive agent.  The intellectual aspect of it is so full, so incredibly intense, so much about being passionately alive there and for that exact moment.  Either you can choose to agree that no ultimate attempt could be made, that it is too hot, you are too tired, too nervous, not ready, that next time might be better - or you can rebel, say no, now is the time, pain is irrelevant, absence of skin is irrelevant, tendons don't hurt, temperature is perfect, but the main thing - the vital crucial thing for me - is the pure joy of it.  To make the route not the enemy, but a testpiece that has to be tasted and cherished like a meal at a good restaurant, as a good glass of wine or cava, that has to be experienced to the fullest, giving it all the respect, and all your effort. 

Redpointing el Vianant, 7c+, Montserrat, the crux move:

Thanks to all that have supported me in this undertaking, and the many belays in the excruciating heat - Pau, Juanjo, Javi, - and most of all Uri. Thank you, again.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Things have changed

by Bob Dylan

A worried man with a worried mind
No one in front of me and nothing behind
There’s a woman on my lap and she’s drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin’s eyes
I’m looking up into the sapphire-tinted skies
I’m well dressed, waiting on the last train

Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

This place ain’t doing me any good
I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
Just for a second there I thought I saw something move
Gonna take dancing lessons, do the jitterbug rag
Ain’t no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove

Lot of water under the bridge, lot of other stuff too
Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road
If the Bible is right, the world will explode
I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
You can’t win with a losing hand

Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet
Putting her in a wheelbarrow and wheeling her down the street

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

I hurt easy, I just don’t show it
You can hurt someone and not even know it
The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity
Gonna get low down, gonna fly high
All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie
I’m in love with a woman who don’t even appeal to me

Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake
I’m not that eager to make a mistake

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Granite Summer

I have decided to treat myself this end of June with a week of a granite cure. For some reason granite is my favorite rock - it is the king stone. Maybe because of Yosemite, but more likely because of New England, and my first imprinting experiences of doing multi-pitch on Cathedral, Whitehorse, and Cannon there.

When I started climbing, around the first week or so, I already heard the mysterious and powerful word of multi-pitch, specifically a route called Thin Air buzzing up the Cathedral Ledge.  It is a 5.6 that takes 4 pitches and a crowd of willing alpinists trying out their new shiny cams and anchor skills learned through John Long's book.  Me too, I followed the same road well-traveled, read Freedom of the Hills for a reinforcement, and eventually got on the line, generously belayed up by Kevin and Cory, my first ever multi-pitch! Thanks for taking care of me, guys!

It is actually a funny story, my climbing beginnings, when I think about it now.  Freshly out of college, I invested my hardly won money from the previous internship at Gillette to first buy a car, and second climbing shoes and a harness. I saw real climbers previously, on a trekking trip to Zion National Park.  Just before a storm when hiking down from Angels' Landing, there were these bodies hanging from the wall in front of us. I had no idea what they were doing - climbers, someone told me. After that, I was so impressed by the sight, I started looking through the internet, the newly minted medium that supposedly could answer any question one had ever had, and figured a little bit more what climbing was about. I was young and still looking for a way to define myself. Maybe reading Rushdie´s Satanic Verses at the same time had something to do with my attitude as well. Not sure, anyway, I got myself an account on, bought climbing shoes, a harness and a screw gate, and showed up at the next meeting of Mass climbers at the Quincy Quarries, the local Boston crag. And sure we go again, Quincy was granite! My first climb was a 5.6 layback, I clearly remember how strange and difficult it seemed. And somehow I was hooked right away.  Below is a picture by Nelson, aka the Pirate, from those early days, toproping a 5.9 in QQ:

Long story short, this summer, as a tradition now seems to call for it, I have gone back to the classics, the good old granite walls. And where else to find them then in the Pyrenees, close to my new found home? Now the time is ripe, the weather has settled, and the rock is calling.  In a nutshell, it is time to explore another new place - Ventosa and its wide variety of climbs on offer.

The logistics are rather simple - go up from the Cavallers dam, 2 hours bring you to the refuge, and another 10 to 20 minutes to various walls, bolted for the pleasure of occasional visitors.  The way now is somehow complicated by the destroyed bridge.  Here is Juanjo, my rope mate for the adventure, crossing laboriously the new contraption:

Ventosa climbing is incredible, but only if you enjoy slabs and crimps, and don't care about excruciating pain in your feet after many meters of crawling upwards.  Ventosa is full of it all over, just bring good shoes and enjoy.  First of all, the Eden (topo by Tranki):

Routes done: Clara Luna (onsight), Elvis la Pelvis (onsight), Gisela (onsight ***), Fan fan (redpoint ***).

Second, there is the Vermeil - it is probably the best wall I have seen so far at Ventosa, here it is, reflected in the Tumeneja de Baix lake, still full of ice at this time of year:

And the topo of the wall, again by Tranki:

Routes done: only one, called "the best" by its author - the incredible Lilita Wildstyle (in blue above).  I found a very strange, my own way of doing the crux traverse, practically in static using a foot much lower than normal, and crimping and underclinging my way to the other side of the slab.  It took me a while, and basically destroyed the rest of my climbing day, but led to success the day after during an inspired piece of climbing that took me straight up to the anchors.  One of the best routes I've ever done, a jewel!!!  Here is a close-up, with the rope hanging in Lilita:

Finally, to finish off the appetite of a hungry sport climber, there is the fascinating wall of the Tabletom Sea Cliffs, in the picture below.  The prominent crack in the middle is a 7b+ 40 m wonder, Divertim-nos fins a morir (probably in reference to the final off-width before getting to the belay chain), yes, bolted, and no, I was too destroyed to try it this time.  And as dessert, there is an 8a+ on the left, following the outside corner, the Ascensor para el cadalso, maybe a long-term project waiting for the next trip?

Experiences become real only after writing about them, at least for me.  I still have to come to terms with the awesome climbing up at Ventosa and my longing for mountains and these magical lines of granite, bolted or otherwise.  To finish, here is Juanjo, meditating, (happily?) about life in general, climbing in particular: