Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gore-Tex Videos from our Experience Tour

Packing the bags, we are watching the rain pour over our colorful Mountain Equipment jackets.  This is our last day in Norway, and as a dessert here are a couple of videos by Paul Diffley, from Hot Aches Production, immortalizing this short but memorable experience:

Dave going for a morning run:

Dave climbing a little after the morning run:

Helena taking the classic Tunga jump:

and Helena again, climbing in the beautiful Ersfjord:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Freeing Bongo Bar on Blamannen: Dave in Action

Blamannen bathed in evening sunshine, picture by Dave McLeod

After the small big wall at Hollenderan, the next day became the V-day of the Gore-Tex Experience Tour of ours, when the weather stabilized just enough for Dave and myself to have a go at our main objective, the Bongo Bar route, on the impressive North face of Blamannen.  We have scoped out the wall on our first day in Norway, and Dave has done a lot of work figuring out the moves on the crux, third pitch, graded at around 8a.  He also rappelled from the top to check out the other pitches that did not seem very easy either, at around 7c, 7b, 7a, and the final 6ish one.  We have been hezitating about getting on the route because of objective dangers seconding the hard pitch (plentiful of loose and sharp edges while traversing around the roofs), - basically meaning my ability to do it, the uncertain weather forecast, and the possible wet cracks after all the recent rain.  However, in the end we decided to still give it a go, and see what we could do.

Approaching Blamannen for the third time from below for me, for the fourth time for Dave, just after the full-blown day of hiking up to Baugen, made me wonder about the realism of our objective already on the way up.  However, with brilliant sunshine, some puffing, resting, and blueberry-powered snacking, I managed to drag myself and my backpack again to the base of the route.  This time some kind souls have even set up a fixed rope up the last snow field, and the rimaye snow melted enough to make the scramble up the last ledge less dreary.  
Blueberry-huntint on the approach, picture by Dave McLeod

Still in the sun, more approach action through the arctic jungle

When at the base of the route, both Dave and myself looked up with apprehension.  The tension was palpable in the cold morning air.  Although the bottom pitch looked rather dry, we could not tell how were the top pitches.  The day before even the South-facing Baugen routes felt humid, will Bongo Bar be dry enough?  Will Dave be able to free climb the crux third pitch?  Will I be able to second it without falling off and cutting the ropes on the sharp edges of the climb?

When inspecting the crux pitch one week before, Donald and Dave pretty much concluded we should not go up.  They brought down all the fixed ropes on a sad Wednesday evening, and we all just went happily sport climbing.  Since, the wall has been itching in the imagination of Dave, and I have not really given up on the idea either, with the little mouse scrambling around my stomach and pushing for the big-wall dreams to take the center stage for just a little short while, just once more.  If not as a team of three with Helena, maybe we can still try it as a team of two?  It is safer to second on two ropes, while caring a jumar and a grigri to pull myself out of free hang trouble if I have to...Playing the big-wall game has always been intense, and this one is no different.

But UP! and we went, or rather Dave led off, and I grudgingly followed, feeling the weight of the backpack already starting off the ground.  I complained about it to the friendly hamster finishing parts and pieces of my snack, remembered "Ukrainian Strength" nickname I was given in some far-away past in a different land, by different people, and pushed on.  The first pitch did not leave us very optimistic - the crux layback roof was if not wettish, definitely humid, the dihedral above was drier, but still wet with moss retaining precious liquid.  If the crux third pitch were to be wet, Dave would not be able to free climb it, and we would have to come back another day, another time, another year.  At the top of the first pitch we decided to persevere - no other way to know except by checking out the "black tears" and the "diamond" sections.  UP!

And so it went, feeling better during the second pitch, and quickly forgetting the horrors of the first 7b warm-up pitch, in no time we were already below the roofs of the third pitch.  The hardest part of our undertaking, Dave went off leading the first 7c dihedral section, starting the sequence by a desperate "I don't remember any moves..." and then following up with perfect footwork, gentle swing around the corner, and what seemed effortlessly getting up to the rest in the middle of the pitch.  And there he went, after a "Watch me!" and a couple of grunts, he was already above, although shaking a little for the first time in two weeks, pushing his helmet up into the second roof and making the best of the second rest before the final layback.

And so it went, time for me to second this monster.  Helpfully, my experience from other past shady big-wall undertakings, with such names as Esfinge, Half Dome, Portalet, Eiger, Cima Grande, etc. kicked in - at least on the subconscious level - and I carefully went on, from peg to peg, from nut to nut, painfully pushing and hammering out the gear, gaining height one vertical foot after another.  The grigri and the jumar stayed uselessly on my harness, and there I was, standing by Dave at the third belay.  Now the only way was truly up, as retreating (back-aiding?) down the roofs promised to be rather unpleasant to say the least.

Dave high up on the route, leading the key traverse on pitch 6

So we went on, here's how it goes: Dave faultlessly freeclimbs the next, harsh 7c lay-back pitch, then the next, already easier 7b one.  I pulled up much less gracefully, grinding my teeth, and remembering all the battling up the other routes and projects of my life.  But the weather here looked good, we had friends and even a camera watching relentlessly our progress from the ledge close-by, and this wall was only 400 meters long, 800 meters high.  Except for a wild base jumper, only crows disturbed our silent effort, and so it went, only up, the routine, taking out friends, banging out nuts, shaking, resting, feeling all the muscles and tendons in my body rebel agains the weight, the progression.  Forcing the body to move up, peeing on the way, joking, filming, photographing, living.  Up we went.

Myself lost up in the cracks

I finally decided to pick up the lead end of the rope at the start of pitch 6, however my leading stunt ended very quickly as I came to the blank slab, protected by two old copperheads, and promising a frightening, gear-less traverse.  Bathed in the evening sun, from all bad options I chose one - building a belay with one more cam reinforcing the copperheads and bringing the hero of the day, Dave, up.  Sure thing, he made short work of my problems, led the traverse and finished the pitch.  I found the traverse rather hard, especially because of lack of gear and bold moves over a lot of air, and was satisfied that my self-preservation instincts made me stop before committing to those moves.

Those instincts did not stop me from wanting to lead again, supposedly the easy last 5+ pitch to the summit.  But, not far off the belay, again came a conundrum - anther not so well protected traverse, to the right this time, would lead us to the ultimate easier crack climbing to the top.  Again, I could not commit to the moves, I went down this time, and Dave the rope gun fired up the pitch brining us to the much-awaited top.  Actually, I found this ultimate traverse move the hardest part of the whole route for me as I had to apply all my slab vocabulary to find a crimper to pull on to be able to move up and not off the wall into the overhanging wild swinging.  Maybe because this was the last hard move after so much climbing, but I definitely would rate this pitch as harder than the original 5+.

Belaying while the evening sun gracefully touches our North Face

And so we were done, with another gruelling descent awaiting our wasted feet, another big wall, after a small wall.  Two long days: one on Hollenderan and another on Blamannen, that turned into a 600-meter marathon of laybacking over vertical terrain, and an 8-hour hiking in and out of the Kvaloya's granite stomach.  Up and free.

Route details (careful onsighers, stop reading here!):
Pitch 1 - start just to the left of the fixed rope leading to the ledge, up underclings and into a left-facing thin crack going up to a small roof.  Undercling the roof (crux, thin gear), follow the cracks up, then traverse right on slopers, and up into the final dihedral.  Go up the dihedral, either straight up to the belay ledge, or traverse right at the last big foothold on the right edge of the dihedral (easier). 50 meters, hard warm-up, 7b with difficult gear on the crux section.
Pitch 2 - follow the thin crack straight up from the belay to the black streak (next belay).  Very good fingery layback sections, with climbing progressively getting easier.  More gear placements and some good pegs. 40 meters, 7b+.
Pitch 3 - the crux pitch of the route, straight up the black polished water streak ("black tears"), harsh stemming on non-existent footholds (around 7c/+), then traverse right and launch for the first big blocky roofy formation.  Easier section but very loose and hollow-sounding rock up to a good rest.  Launch into the crux - stand up on the big loose rock, go above the roof clipping the arrowhead and pulling crazy on small sidepulls for left hand, feet up (crux).  Uncomfortable rest below next roof (the exit from the "Diamond"), and final layback on the right, where dropping feet lower helps on occasion, leads to the comfortable belay on a ledge.  50 meters, 8a.
Pitch 4 - very hard climbing to start with, another thin lay-back with bouldery moves and bad protection, careful as possible fall over the belay (crux).  After the first 10 meters climbing eases off to sustained physical crack and lay-back sequences, well-protectable, and finishing at the base of a prominent chimney on the left.  45 meters, 7c(+).
Pitch 5 - a difficult start  after the first peg, to grab an undercling and go left in the direction of the chimney, exiting  the chimney immediately on the left, a good crack system leads up to the next belay.  Some strange moves with either layback or using chicken-wings/chimney technique help overcome a wider crack section (bigger cam might be useful to protect).  45 meters, 7b.
Pitch 6 - easier climbing off the belay up and slightly right leads to a comfortable ledge (possible belay, 20 meters) with two copperheads sticking out of the cracks straight ahead.  The line actually traverses left (careful, loose flake above copperheads) on the slab and around the corner just below a prominent black-white streaked nose.  Very thin moves on badly protected traverse (red C3 BD cam and a nut), and a final dyno (crux) lead into a good hand-jam crack (save yellow/red C4 BD cams).  More crack climbing leads to a first ledge (possible belay), and then a second "double" ledge.  60 meters (can be done in two pitches), 7a+/7b.
Pitch 7 - up the crack system and right below a prominent roof, a short but difficult traverse from crimps in a disappearing crack to grab a hold on the right leads out into much guessed it...laybacking to the top.  50 meters, 6c (at least a grade harder and more exciting for the shorter people).
Scramble another 20 meters to reach the top.

And as a final bonus, here is a video of a Russian team doing a winter (=less free) ascent of the same route, same wall, but in very different colors: 

Blamannen - "Bongo Bar" (Kvaloya, Norway). Part 2 from KRUKONOGI.COM on Vimeo.

Alexis on Baugen, Hollenderan

Helena descending to the base of Baugen, Hollenderan

To change a little from our sport-climbing routine, we (part of the Gore-Tex team constituted by Helena, Donald, and myself) decided to start big-walling with a small big wall, that is Baugen, an inviting and well-advertised South face, mentioned both in the guidebook and by Par to me as "the most fabulous crack climbing around in Norway".  It all started, as most climbing on Kvaloya, with a long approach.  We took the steep trail up from Grotfjord, that started wet, but finished rather quickly up the col with a beautiful view down to the TKK hut and the range of mountains to the right of it (picture above).

Given that it rained heavily the day before, we opted for the proper South face of Baugen, and having hard time choosing the route out of all the three-star possibilities, decided on Alexis, described in the guidebook as "nice from the first meter" and proposing as desert the "wavy dihedral" as the crux lay-back pitch.

Donald following the second pitch on Alexis

The climbing reminded me a lot of cracks around Envers des Aiguilles in Chamonix, with numerous small and big cracks, well exposed to the sun, although still rather humid from the downpour the day before.  As the rock kept drying, we kept progressing up the route, quickly dealing with the difficulties on the way up, the word of the day being "layback".  I got rather pumped leading the "wavy dihedral", but it finished quickly and the cams seemed solid all the way.  After another extraordinary crack pitch that kept Donald grunting for a short lay-backing while, and a last fun experience with a short hand-jam section that Helena led, we happily made it to the top.

Helena at the start of the last pitch

The unfortunate part about Hollenderan in a day is that you still have to go down afterwards.  This time we walked out following the Blamannsvikdalen, pleasant and blueberry-filled walk, that still appeared much too long to our tired legs.  Good warm-up for the future big big-walling plans though.

Myself on top of Alexis

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Deliri Flagrante

Countering bad weather we have been climbing close to our fisherman's cabin the last days, while supposedly resting the fingertips and dreaming big-wall dreams.  I spent my time figuring out a tough sequence up a beautiful crack line in Ersfjorden, In Deliri Flagrante.  This was the first sport line to be bolted on the main Resekjerringa boulder by Leif Henning, sport-climbing son of another prominent first ascentionist on Kvaloya, Ben Johnsen.  I first started by underestimating the route and confidently went for a flash attempt that ended fast and furious at the start of the crux sequence.

Fun laybacking before the crux on In Deliri Flagrante

I next spent what felt like a couple of hours, abusing of the goodwill of Donald belaying me below, figuring out a very strange sequence for the crux.  First, after the pleasant laybacking and a decent rest, there is a nerve-breaking sequence to get up a small ledge.  My Amazon-warrior shout and a knee-pull-in  made short work of that.  However, next comes the real crux - from standing on the ledge one has to grab a good-sized undercling, get the feet high, and go for the next hold, finishing the route laybacking again an awesome granite flake.  Getting the key top undercling proved gruesome - although taller people just grab it from the ledge, making me feel totally foolish, powerless, and mainly short, I spent hours figuring out the foot sequence, despite having only three possible holds for the hands - a crack to layback, a right-hand sloper to crimp on, and a left-hand roof undercling to use.  There were around 10 possibilities for footwork, half on the left, and half on the right blank greasy walls above the ledge, every one of them heinously small, and the right-wall ones eating through the last rubber of my shoe.

After an hour of stubborn kicking, pulling, pushing, and grinding the skin off my fingers, I though I had a winning sequence.  That was before the next redpoint attempt, when pumped from the boulder move below, I realized the sequence was too hard, as I could not pull my right foot up the wall without a better rest.  Off I went again, trying out other ideas, moves, and sequences, hanging desperate in the cool Nordic air, and whispering to the trolls hiding among the boulders to share their knowledge, to inspire my footwork with a handy spell.  Just when I thought my technique on granite was good, just when I believed I could use my feet pretty well anywhere - came this  problem, this mystery begging for a solution I was shamefully lacking.  There I went, with another idea, another sequence: locking off the left hand, I could pull my feet up easier and get the undercling with my right hand.  Then I would just have to bring my feet up once more, and be done with it.

My tries yesterday were thus spent trying out this new solution - which to my frustration and fingers' doubled pain did not work either.  Bringing my left foot above my left hand in a lay-back position not only strained my neck out of control, but simply proved impossible after the stress of lower boulder move.  Really, time for short resistance training this autumn!!!  Thus, I stopped again, and preyed to the trolls, and female demons of the place, all those lonely-eyed and dirty-haired creatures of the forest, and blueberry-eating cave-hiding others, to give me ideas, to fertilise the barren soil, the tired skin of my hands, the stretched tendons of my fingers.  Off again, diving deep into my "creativity" shop, I managed to come up with another solution again, so simple, yet so contrived.  Instead of trying to pull my left foot so high up, why not simply leave it down, in an "inverted drop-knee" style, and dynamically grab the undercling with my left hand at that point?  And...that just worked!!!!  Too tired to redpoint, but confident now, I need another attempt at the route - that hopefully will happen on this trip.  In the meantime, let the big-wall dreams continue!

Pumped but smiling for the camera on top of Turistklasse on the Tunga boulder

While I have been appealing for inspiration to trolls and other strange creatures of my own, Dave showed us all how it's done by brilliantly free climbing his new route on Tunga on the first go of the day, despite combined moisture, high temperatures, and lack of skin.  He strategically left a Gore-Tex jacket on top to protect the exit hold from the rain, and Donald took it off just at the right moment before the final dyno.  Good we have at least one efficient redpointer on the team, or did he manage a better deal with the trolls than myself?..

Dave starting the crux on Centre Court, at 8b+ one of the hardest lines in Northern Norway

In between my struggles with the Delirium route, I also managed to bolt my first line - a proud extension from the top of For Apen Scene to the anchor of Balshoiballetten, two already rather painful routes, but beautiful as only the slab lines know how to be, on the huge slab of Toppsvaet.  I managed to put 3 bolts using a very nice Hilti drill and quick how-to insturctions from Dave, linking the two anchors with what I would like to call the Gore Extension, a heinous slab finish to the 25-meter For Apen Scene.  Given that I was not able to figure out one of the moves, I'm not sure about the grade, but probably around 7b/+, with a gorgeous view on top, and ironically of all things pretty run-out because of my limited proficiency at bolting traversing routes while hanging with all the gear and shredded fingers from above...Sorry, future generations that will have to cuss at me, as I have cussed so many other times on other run-out routes....or they always can simply and happily ignore the extention.  Anyway, I hope some learning has occurred and maybe my next bolting will be better!

And to finish this inspirational post on a good note, here is another besutiful sunset over our home Ersfjord:

All pictures, as usual on this trip, courtesy of Paul Diffley.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gullknausen, the Northern Jewel

The island of Kvaloya was formed, the guidebook says, as part of Greenland, before it actually parted from Norway some 100 million years ago on a sail West.  The island is incredible in its abundance of high-quality granite, tilted in all possible directions, and most of the time providing a stunning view to the neighbouring fjords below.  It is both beautiful and remote, hanging on the edge among the rocky and harsh world as we know it, the still arctic waters, the never-ending skyline, and out-of-space light that colonises it in summer, as opposed to all-day night that settles comfortably throughout the winter.

Nothing represents Kvaloya in all its full-blown colours and mind-blowing airy, watery, and rocky atmosphere as the Gullknausen.  Discovered accidentally by Svein Smelvaer from aboard a fishing boat called "Fidel",  the name given to the first 8a bolted on the main wall, it is a white-orangy 70-meter wonder hanging off the rims of the fjord, that any climber would go to some length to get a belay on.  It has been my immense pleasure to have a video shot by our talented cameraman Paul Diffley of my attempts, and final midnight redpoint of Golden Shower, an awesome line up the main wall, bathed in afternoon, and then night, sun, while the other members of the Gore-Tex team were busy with other projects: Helena and Donald multipitching on Flikkflak, and Dave working the yet unclimbed extension of "Fidel", supposedly a bouldery problem around 8b+:

Sports Climbing at Gullknausen, Norway from Hot Aches Productions on Vimeo.

Thanks Paul!  Below are more pictures of this incredible crag, one of the more stunning locations I have sport climbed in:

Donald climbing Flikkflak, as the guidebook says: "best 6b+ around (in Norway, Europe, and even on...)

 Incredible sunset over the unending ocean (picture by Paul Diffley)

Myself during the second attempt at Golden Shower (picture by Paul Diffley)

View from the ledge with the evening sun

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sportclimbing on Kvaloya, Ersfjorden

Climbing up Granitveien, a very strange but photogenic 6- (French 5+)

After the first days of Gore-Tex Experience Tour spent trying out the big wall and its much smaller offspring boulders, we finally went sport climbing - my speciality!  Just 30 minutes walking distance from our fisherman's cabin are the big boulders of Ersfjord.  The main attraction is formed by two big boulders, over 20 meters high, called Resekjerringa and Resekallen, that as the guidebook mystically says, are "treasure objects" of Saami culture.  The first name translates as the Troll, and the second as an evil female demon.  Trolls are an interesting species by themselves - usually assumed to live in isolated places, rarely friendly, they form part of Norse mythology and have fascinated me for a while.  I remember bringing back home a troll from my first trip to Oslo 10 years ago, although it has disappeared, mysteriously, since.  Now I am on a mission to find a replacement troll that I promised as a Nordic token for Silvia's precious baby, Montse.  I like trolls, partly because they appeal to the dark corners of my own character, and I do appreciate visiting their country very much lately.

Fisherman's boat parked near our cabin, picture by myself

A different take on the same theme of man and the boat by Paul, our official photographer on the Gore-Tex tour.  You can see the difference in skills, I do find the below picture inspiring - taken while shooting into the sun, on the approach to Ersfjorden by Paul:

The actual climbing at Ersfjorden proved very good, with tilted bouldery granite problems.  Very different from the slabby and cold Blamannen - most routes we tried were rather short and intense.  After contemplating several crack lines and warming up on the backside in the welcome shadow, we started the exploration with Helena getting our eyes on Psilocin, an attractive 7a crackline, where I managed to fall off the last move onsighting.  Using well the hanging draws, I next jumped on the near-by Sjamanen, and fell off this one quite low, at the bouldery crux off the second quickdraw.  The onsight attempt finished with the same luck on its neighbour, another 7b called Moctezumas Hevn.  Inspired by the boulder moves, I managed to redpoint Sjamanen, one of the more popular 7bs of the crag by the crowd wisdom of, on the next go.  Moving down the line, I finished the day with a final well-earned onsight (almost falling off at the last moves near the anchor) of a beautiful diagonal crack called Buestrengen, 7a, and gave Ramadan a (quick and rather lame) try provided the strong appeal of the hanging quickdraws and the eye of the camera staring into the blue distance beyond this steep line:

Struggling up Ramadan, first bolted 8a of Northern Norway

All this action wetted my appetite for more, as I watched a girl climb up In Deliri Flagrante, another superb 7b+ crack line that I'd love to give a [corrected] flash attempt on another day weather permitting.  Sport climbing is truly fun, and granite again made my day a good one.  Cheers to granite and to more sport climbing in Norway.  To be continued!

Most pictures above courtesy of Paul Diffley, Hot Aches Production.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Blamannen, First Days

The North Face of Blamannen

My first thought upon landing in Tromso, Arctic Norway, has been about how insanely beautiful the place is.  Flying in the midnight sun over Lofoten and the neighbouring islands, reflected in the water, with moon bathing their dark fins and snowy outcrops in a mellow light, I felt amazed, as in the old days, at the moment of birth, when discovering the Alps, when first driving through the Dolomites, when gazing up Cordiliera Blanca or contemplating El Cap from the bus: the sheer beauty, the simple and lasting presence of nature, masterpiece without need for the last touch of any human brush.  This place where we can call "home" the Utah desert, the Sierra de Guarra canyons, the high peaks of Himalaya, or the Ersfjord waters.  Come, stay, enjoy, and climb.  What a fortune, to be alive and well, to see it all, to gather in the sounds, the smells, the sights, and to reverberate back.

Midnight light on the fjord, seen from the base of Blamannen

The first big objective of our expedition has by default become the Blamannen, a towering North Face crowning the island of Kvaloya, just outside Tromso.  Already from the airport we could see the summit pointing outwards into the star-filled sky, the wall otherwise hidden by scenic hills.  Not wasting time and using the incredibly good weather we have been having, we headed directly for the Blamannen approach on the first day to measure ourselves up against or with the mountain, to check out the worth of the human condition, to laugh at our smallness, to admire nature's prowess.  It has been a while I have not been excited by a big rock face.  Looking at this one from the car park I did not necessarily feel the kick of energy or the urgent need to get to the top either.  Mountaineering ambition dead?  Let's go see and check it out. 

The promissed 45 minutes of approach turned out to be a good 2 hours of uphill walking, making me regret the missed training opportunities each time I have refused to join the Maladeta FA this summer with Ori, Xavi, and co'.  But after some persistence and the help from the walking sticks, the first miracle was accomplished and we were standing at the base - having passed the forest, the slabs, and the final snow patch and the muddy fixed rope.  Two other teams were going up Ultima Thule and Lost and Found, the first team ultimately abseiled, the other with Dave's friend Andreas on lead, continued to the top after we left for a due rest.

With difficulty getting used to the Northern light that never leaves, and recovering from the flight in, we slowly started exploring the face.  First, a look at Icarus, that appeared very difficult and badly protected for a free attempt.  Change of objectives, and standing below Bongo Bar we finally decide to give that a go as the lower cracks seemed more appealing and Andreas shouted down to us that the crux was apparently exceptionally dry during these last days.

Paul inspired by midnight light

Thus began the toil - almost Himalayan-like expedition style, fixing ropes up the first pitches.  Dave bravely lead the way up, despite being short on gear, but inspired by the prospect of difficulties up above.  Helena and myself seconded the incredible 50-meter monster endurance fest pitches with key lay-back moves on thin flaring cracks and pretty sketchy protection, especially on the first pitch.  The whole second day was spent by the dedicated team of Dave and Don to aid up the key third pitch and leave another fixed rope up that.  While the girls went bouldering and cooking dinner instead:

Bouldering at the base of Blamannen (picture by Paul Diffley)

The complete story of Blamannen remains to be written though, depending on so many outside as well as inside factors - will Dave be able to freeclimb the crux pitch?  What difficulties will follow up above? Will the weather keep the face dry?  Will we get a good day for a redpoint attempt?  Will we be able to make it to the top?  Logistics, planning, pure effort, and enthusiasm, those are the determinant things.  Or is it all just about simple luck and courage to try things out, to take chances? Up and free!

Very late sunset as seen from Blamannen (picture by Paul Diffley)

And all this possible thanks to the Gore-Tex Experience Tour, Mountain Equipment, and the great company of Paul, Dave, Donald, and Helena.  Let the adventure continue, wherever it might take us.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Heading up North

Excited and packing to be going up North tomorrow, way North...

This is supposedly the cabin where we will be staying during our two weeks of the Gore-Tex Experience Tour in Norway:

Let the adventure begin!

Life in Kaos

My life has been strange during the last...should I say three years?  Life in Kaos sounds about right as a title for this mess I have been senselessly contributing to, day in and day out.  A dry tree in the middle of a glamorous landscape, a flower in bloom on a satellite planet on a circuitous way around a beehive.  Taking it easy, taking it hard.  I left it all behind and took a four-day break in my favorite mountains, driving North again, full of motivation for the project, a need to forget, a want to remember.  The project went quickly, on the first night I sent Cobra Canaria, using new beta for the last sequence and doing the mini-dyno with the right hand instead of a much longer traverse right and back left I used to do before.  After the first lame try, I proudly listened to inspirational Sarah, no fear, only trust in the foot, an almost mechanical execution - put the foot, get up, dispara, there we go, what Holly named my "Levitation Project" has just been sent.

Taking it easy the next day, we visited Kaos and the top of Pared Inerte for some onsighting action.  After not appreciating at all the loose rock on Ordesa, figuring out the moves but not having any motivation to repeat Unai's 7c, I finally had loads of fun onsighting Toulomni Meadows and Tsaranoro, my kind of climbing, my kind of fun, "boring" for Sarah - my newly found friend that effortlessly onsighted wet Los Congitos, after only one year of climbing and a lifetime of gymnastics.  Below a shadowy Darth Vader of myself belaying the gifted Sarah on another test-piece, Massa Kumba:

Taking it easy again, we drove next to the hot Rodellar for a change in scenery and climbing style.  I let Sarah enjoy the commercial side of climbing in Spain, and hopped myself on a couple of lines to check my newly gained strength or the illusion thereof.  Conclusion: pull-ups are definitely working (had loads of fun leading the second half of Pequeno Pablo and Vis a vis, thanks Piju for the draws on that one), my long resistance ends at move # 13 (could not stick the beginning sequence of Pequeno Pablo, have to come back strong and just send this route once and for all), and I am definitely starting to enjoy Rodellar (a good project to get my self-esteem up: IronMan, first pitch, crux all figured out, although pretty hard moves for shorter people I believe).  I will be back.

Last winter I used to climb with boys, making them discover the beauty of this land I have been trying to make in a little tiny way my own for a while now - Ville, Philip, Martin, Mark.  In the reverse side of the model, this summer I climb with girls, also strangers here, like me, also thirsty to climb more and more, like me.  Big thanks to my girl partners for living with my crazy character for a couple of days, belaying me on my projects, and enjoying the climbing as much as I do - Holly from Bishop, CA, and Sarah from Massachusetts:

Other girls I climbed with this year - Sharon and Delphine, while regretting for not climbing more with Silvia and Cathy.  Girl climbing rules, and now off to Norway to climb with Helena...

All pictures courtesy of Sarah.

Monday, August 08, 2011


"A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use."
Carlos Castaneda

Friday, August 05, 2011

Cobra Canaria, Cavallers

 Raspberries at the base of African
Despite the gift of berries and many a fond memory, Cavallers has been harsh to me this year.  First week-end in April with Philip we both tried the wet and cold Smith Rock, and it spit us off without skin or desire.  Philip got sick, Jaume took awesome pictures.  Second week-end with Victor n Freeboc company in June, first the rope slipped off the gri gri and I almost went flying down to the lake from Pared Inerte, second we both tried la Foca Pirenaica but it was too wet to think about figuring out the crux moves at the crack, and I fumbled on Rigol Mortis, also wet and unruly.  Third week-end in June, Martin, Vincenzo, and myself went up to Pared Inerte again, this time I fell off the last hard move when onsighting Dimension Rappel, and then it cost me another 2 tries to redpoint this awesome route.  Smith Rock ate my skin and spit me off the move, again.   Vincenzo and myself decided Foca Pirenaica was too hard to get it figured out this year.

Finally, this last week-end with Holly I changed objectives and went to pay a visit to an old acquaintance, Cobra Canaria on the African Wall.  It is a short slabby wonder that some guidebooks have rated 7b, others 8a, and few people have been willing to waste nails and skin to figure out the way through the moves.  I tried Cobra while working the incredible Chris last year, and could not figure out the moves either.  I left it be, black and happy in the sun, and it slowly cooked, to become a worthy test-piece to check my slab technique again this year.

My butt starting up the traverse before getting to the base of the Cobra

After studying the moves out, Holly suggested i try a mantle with my foot to start the traverse.  That became a crucial insight as it made me able to clip the next bolt, do an incredible one-finger undercling mantle, and start the traverse.  However, the problem with this route is the sun - it is South-facing, and thus trying it in good conditions means waiting until at least 5 pm to be able to pull on the crimps.  The other limiting condition is skin, as after a couple of tries nothing is basically left, skin or nails included.  It took me 2 goes to get the undercling move wired on lead, however not enough time left to redpoint by finishing the crazy traverse after the move.  Not expecting much, I still stayed one day longer, and had a morning try.  But it was too hot already, only shade can save me on this route.  Very close, but very far, home I drove again, speeding through Escales, Alfarras, Balaguer, and back down towards my home mountain.  There is always a next time, to be continued...

On the bright side, the new bar Tropic kept us awake with the Columbian dancing during Barruera fiesta major, and Ana made us her wonderful tapas and maracuya juice - although at a much higher price this time.  Good things get expensive, a sad rule from business.

Holly showing them how it's done

All pictures are courtesy of Holly, on a climbing visit from Bishop, CA.