Saturday, November 30, 2013

Climbing in the sun

May the beauty of the world be with us, in reality, in dreams, in climbing.

 Picture by Xavi

Picture by Xavi

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Climbing in Wyoming

An interesting video about climbing in Wyoming, Todd Skinner, and some positive community developments from climbing (for once).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Colors change in Rodellar

Unknown on Botanics, Ventanas

Unknown climber on Amelie, Gran Boveda

                                                Unknown climber on Amelie, Gran Boveda

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Climbing in France

New country, old sport.  Or maybe not so new country either. Back into the future, back to France, square "0", where I started almost fifteen years ago, where I attempt to continue the journey. Fortunately, rock is abundant in the vicinity to keep me company.

 Beautiful landscape in Gorges de la Cesse

One of my first visits in my new homeland was to the incredibly beautiful Gorges de la Cesse.  Little known outside the local enthusiast circle, the place has an old topo, and kilometers of high-quality routes, to climb and discover.

 Laurent up a 7b in Gorges de la Cesse

Next stop - another Gorges, de l'Aveyron this time. Another huge climbing area I've never heard of before, with at least 300-400 routes, from vertical slabs where feet are hard to trust or find, to unending tufas and bouldery overhangs. More routes to try out and enjoy, more friends to climb with.

Mathieu on a 7c in Couyrac, Gorges de l'Aveyron

Boudjemaa on a 7b+ in Couyrac, Gorges de l'Aveyron

St. Antonin village in the evening sun

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fred Beckey in the Dolomites

I almost met Beckey in 2005, when road-tripping in Red Rocks. He never showed up for that week-end, and instead I listened to some more stories about him during our long nights in the desert, eyeing the lights of Las Vegas somewhere far away out there. He was already old then.  He is older today.

I wonder how many years he has been climbing and how many partners/generations he has seen go by? With my 10 years of climbing anniversary this year, I start noticing all these youngsters, wide-eyed, impressed, and impressive, discovering the beauty of the sport. Time flies, passions remain. To you, Beckey!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fantastic flying books

Finishing projects and moving on

And it has come to pass: another project is sent, accomplished, finished: a dissertation has been defended, a school has been changed, a city and a country abandoned, exchanged, switched, and forgotten. Time to move on, time to change, time to go. I celebrated, together with Catalunya, my own accomplishments. With confidence and eagerness, I defended my dissertation, the culminating result of the past five years of hard work, perspiration, and learning. 

I dedicated my dissertation to my parents, who opened the doors to education and otherwise inspire me continuously by their courage and commitment to a better life. I hope I have made them proud, at least for a short moment, at least I have tried my best.

Defending my dissertation

 Receiving last comments from the thesis committee

Done: please, call me Doctor!

Running in parallel to my own life events, Catalunya has been voicing its discontent, defending its own statements and desires, louder again during this ironic and iconic day of September 11th, the holiday in the province, celebrating defeat in 1714 of the last Catalan troops by the Spaniards. 

 Human chain in Barcelona

Catalans celebrated by joining hands across the shores of their beautiful homeland, in a movement that reminded me of Ukraine and Baltic states that had their own moment of human chains in the beginning of the 1990s. During those times, people were also full of enthusiasm and optimism in those far-away lands. Some moved west-ward, some...stagnated and turned around in a different direction. Apparently, I was also dragged to the streets by my parents, although I barely remember anything. 

And the big-picture view....

Good? Bad? Flag-waving disturbs me more than anything else, although I do sympathize with this land that has opened its arms and soul to me for a fleeting moment. Thank you for your generosity, Catalunya, and farewell.

Pictures by my mother.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Unicorns and other creatures

Part of the Cloisters Unicorn tapestry

While reading the classic King of Elfland's Daugher, by Lord Dunsany, I came across the unicorn, again. It figured prominently before (or rather after) in Neil Geiman's Stardust, and got me interested in the subject. That is why, while in NYC, I decided to go back to the Cloisters museum and check out their famous tapestry as well as the current unicorn exhibit all over again.

It was interesting to learn that the horns of the unicorns became very popular relics during the Middle Ages for kings and churches to keep. They were actually the tusks of narwhals, arctic whales not familiar to the Europeans then. These tusks grew from 1.5 to 3 meters in length and served as the artifacts justifying the unicorn legend over the years. In medieval times, believed to come from the unicorns, the tusks were said to cure poison and melancholia, and provided a great trading opportunity for Vikings, that bought them from Inuits, and sold them to crazed European monarchs for a small fortune.

Cloisters, a beautiful part of the Metropolitan museum in New York, hosts the Unicorn tapestries, the gift of John Rockefeller. These are seven tapestries telling a surreal story of the hunt for the unicorn by adrenaline-filled hunters - a vivid reminder of the scenes from the Lord Dunsany's novel. Although mentioned by Greeks, Jews, and Arabs, Christians have been interpreting unicorn as a symbol for Christ's suffering, and that is one of the possible allegories for this particular tapestry. An enchanting visit!

Enjoying the "art minute" at the Cloisters

Friday, August 02, 2013

Lofoten Adventures

This year's visit to the North lands of this planet included sightseeing of Lofoten Islands after some climbing in Sweden.  I first heard of the Magic Islands when living on the East coast in the US, when listening to the folk stories about various adventures of the local Ed Webster, who wrote the first English-speaking guidebook for the area and spent a couple of summers exploring the Northern granite.

Moskenesøya island

After a long and rainy drive (road connects the islands to the mainland through several tunnels, achievement of Norwegian public investments), our first stop was in Henningsvær, a small fishing village at the end of the world. Although it was raining cats and dogs, the village still preserved its charm, drawing unabashed on the climber population due to the climbing school and shop being located in its center. We had some coffee and ate the very expensive cinnamon buns, one of the favorite desserts in Scandinavia, that helped keep our spirits up that first rainy and cold day.

Rainbow after the rain, on the way to Henningsvær

View on Lillemola island from Henningsvær

Sunset over Henningsvær bridge

When wondering through Henningsvær, and after admiring the old Volvo sports car (supposedly the proud property of the climbing shop owner), we came upon Pobel's graffiti on one of the walls. Not much is known about this shadow-painter, except that he lives in Norway, and his name translates to "hooligan", or part of the plebs. Depicting fishermen seems like one of his favorite themes:

Pobel, "In cod we trust", in Henningsvær 

Despite the hopeless downpour on the first day, the weather cleared up and we started climbing the day after.  Although the horror stories of rain on Lofoten I have heard have been many over the years, we were very lucky to hit a high pressure system for over a week during our stay.  We used the days well on the beautiful granite of the islands, starting with the classic West Pillar on the Priest:

Leading up on the Priest, West Pillar

We continued with more climbing on the Priest, and around Henningsvær, exploring the Spring Wall in particular. There, Jonas tried the very hard 7+ finish variation to Blod eller gul, and I enjoyed very much the Gaukerisset crack.

Jonas following the incredible 3d pitch of the Crusade up the Priest

After the tame Priest experiences we decided to go West, towards the less explored territories of the Moskenesøya island.  It is one of the least developed islands in the archipelago, where several inland villages can only be reached by boat.  It is famous for its Bunes Beach, that can only be accessed with a 40-minute hike after taking the ferry to Vinstad from Reine, and is one of the more scenic Norway beaches accessible only by foot.

 Departing ferry from Reine to Vinstad.

Unfortunately, we never reached the actual beach despite all the fame and excitement about it.  On the way to the beach we decided to climb a nice-looking wall towering above Vinstad, with one known route reported in the 2010 update to the Lofoten guidebook.  However, after a longish approach (definitely not 30 minutes...), the first pitch spooked us with its water and grass enough to renounce on the rest and turn back. On the way down the slope, my leg slid through some rabbit hole, and although I did not disappear under the earth following the white rabbit, my ankle decided to twist itself in a painful way as a punishment for all my whining about carrying the heavy backpack.  After finishing the even less pleasant descent, we decided to camp there and then, and not continue the exploration of the island further.

Continuing in the same vein, we woke up at 3:45 am the following night, when Jonas suddenly realized that he did not hear the creek anymore.  It took his sleepy brain a couple of seconds to realize that the creek was not flowing downwards toward the ocean anymore...because we were in the ocean!  Fortuna has struck again, as Ignatius J. Reilly would repeatedly say, and the high tide got the best of us and our gear. 

Ocean at our door.

After this adventure, we decided the island was cursed and did not wish to push our luck further there. After a cold and wet morning spent drying out gear, washing camera and cams in the fresh-water creek, and praying for the electronics to start working again, we turned around, and came back to the more known lands around Svolvær, going to the Paradiset area for some single-pitch fun, Jonas climbing the classic Butter Arms, and me trying out the Svenske Dihedral and the Dosethrisset crack. Apparently, the lines opened by Hans Cristian Doseth have a seal of quality upon them, as he was one of the best Norwegian climbers of his time, with a very good eye for impressive cracks. He died in 1984 on the rappels after establishing the Norwegian Buttress, first route up the East Buttress of the Trango Tower.

Paradiset view towards the open sea

We finished our stay with a long day first trying the Ormen Lange route on Kallebukta, then climbing the very recommendable Pan route on Geitvika buttress, and then finishing with Running for Rasmus on Store Festvag.

Logistics tips for Lofoten

Norway is an expensive country, thus usually climbers are advised to come prepared - i.e. bringing the full provision of food from the less expensive neighboring Sweden is a good idea.  It is possible to camp at several places on the islands free, the rule in Northern Norway being that you can put up your tent anywhere, as long as it is not visible from the nearest house.  There are paid showers at the climbing school and the paid campgrounds.  Wifi is scarce, it is available free at the library at Svolvær.

The weather is the biggest challenge and unknown, as it can rain for several weeks in a row, although high pressure systems are not unheard of, and those can last for a week or two, with full sunshine and t-shirt climbing on the menu.

Climbing is mainly trad climbing on granite cracks, similar for instance to Chamonix, although not much red granite is around.  There are a couple of spots with sport climbing and bouldering, but those as a rule are not the main objectives for climbers on the islands.  There are several quality routes in the guidebook, although there is a certain lack of routes in the higher grades (7b and higher).  The original Rockfax guidebook contains several errors, somewhat corrected by the 2010 supplement.  Especially beta about gear is not totally correct, although sometimes even the lines are drawn wrong...or even drawn on the wrong mountain (!).  There is a folder with the new route updates in the climbing bar in Henningsvær, although it is rather thin given the expense of rock available.

There still seems to be an abundance of possibilities for new routes - although usually a long approach might be involved.  Many routes might stay wet even after several days of sunshine, especially if overhanging cracks are involved.

Most pictures by Jonas.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summer in the North

After experiencing the Spanish heat for several weeks and complaining about humidity, we have moved North, and now complain about cold and rain instead.  Northern Sweden is very different from the South indeed, it has its own beauty and personality.  Water (which unfortunately also means mosquitoes) and trees are abundant, making the scenery beautiful and reflective.  

Slow sunset over the Golf of Bothnia, picture by Jonas

There is also climbing in Northern Sweden, although not so well-known as the rock in neighboring Norway.  As Jonas works on the new version of the guidebook for the area, we visited several crags around Lulea, such as the famous Niemisel, claimed to be one of the best sport climbing crags around here, especially for the climbers getting into the 8th grade, visited by both Swedes and Finns of the North.

 Jonas pulling hard in Niemisel

I found Niemisel rather hard, slopy, and overhanging, not to mention wet, for the first visit.  It is another of those places one needs to get used to, requiring patience and motivation to stick to it. Lacking both for the moment, I enjoyed the sunshine and took some pictures instead.

A different Jonas enjoying summer climbing in the North

While in Sweden, I was treated to the classic of the Northern Swedish cuisine, Surstromming.  It is fermented - or rotten - herring, that smells very very bad when the can is opened.  Several stories circulate about unknowing foreigners opening the can and being more than surprised by the unpleasant result.  The taste of the rotten fish is mainly salt, and having practiced with French cheeses before, I successfully passed the exam and enjoyed this special food.

Rotten herring, a "delicacy" of sorts, picture by Jonas

More to come about Northern climbing, hopefully in Norway, if the rain lets us, soon.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Finishing my Thesis in Rodellar

And so it went, finishing my thesis in Rodellar.  I remember the late Max Boisot telling us how he wrote his thesis in a cafe in Paris, and since I had a fixation on finishing my thesis somewhere where it would be meaningful for me to do so.  Rodellar is one of those places with a soul, a meaningful place full of surreal beauty and mysterious secrets filling the air, the clouds, and influencing even the heartless humans who wander in and out of its realm, like Montserrat, or Ventosa, or Grand Capucin.  One keeps coming back to the source of water, to the source of life, to get one more gulp, to drink just a little more before it's all over, before the darkness sets in.  Meanwhile, the sun shines bright.

Finishing my thesis in Rodellar, picture by Jonas

Although this is purely symbolic, and I will continue working on improving my current papers, writing more, and some again, working on similar topics, it is still necessary to get closure, to set things into writing on the floating sand of life, to put the final dot over the i.  So it is, finishing my thesis in Rodellar.  This stage took five years of my life, with doubts but also excitement and intellectual growth along the way.  I have met several inspiring people, read many curious stories, and could exercise my writing - while learning a lot along the way.  I did not expect, in my self-assured know-it-all way, to learn so much.  

When I look back, it is a good feeling to realize I have grown - intellectually and emotionally - along the lines of my growing thesis.  No counterfactual exists, as usual, and I will not know if I might have grown in a similar - or different - way even without undertaking this PhD project, maybe by marrying, having children, and turning into a completely different direction with my life.  That did not happen, nevertheless I am satisfied with what I have done and where I have come.  The road has been long and winding, but here I am, finishing my thesis in Rodellar.  It almost sounds like a song, let it be a poem, let it be a bird.  My thesis might not fly and stay grounded, but I feel liberated, in a way more free, more confident, by arriving at the end of this project, with energy and enthusiasm for the ones to come.  

It is not the book that I always dreamt to write - it is a mere 130 double-spaced pages, but it is something I did with perspiration and love, and I am proud whatever the result, whatever the external judgment calls might say. With its exciting ups and painful downs, like the climbing projects, perseverance pays off when things are under your control, and some dreams can be achieved. Setting the bar high enough to be able to jump over, just low enough to be motivated by the slight possibility of making it, that remains the art.  Let the journey continue, let the projects come and go while the time runs its own course in its own direction of things.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Almost there, still here

A Magritte in the making, Swedish photographer Erik Johansson's work made me look twice.  Check it out here!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Searching for Sugarman

I have been watching recently several documentaries - first about Jiro and his love and mastery of suchis in Tokyo metro station during the many decades since the WWII, and yesterday about Rodriguez and his career in music that was not.  Both inspiring in different ways, both very good movies.

Rodriguez had a quick debut in the US in Detroit, did not make it, and as many other artists after being kicked off their label, went into public oblivion.  The interesting part of his story started to happen in South Africa of all places, where, unknown to him, he became an icon of Rock-n-Roll and rebellion against the Apartheid.  Legends about him killing himself on stage started to circulate there, as nothing was known about him.  Only 40 years later did fans come into contact with Rodriguez after looking for him for over 10 years.  All the while, he was alive and working in construction in the dilapidated Detroit downtown.  Rodriguez thus could perform - again - to 20, 000 fans, after having led a very different life during intermittent 40 years.

Would be interesting to hear if Rodriguez might have more new music left in him...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Västerbotten Cheese Pie

Västerbotten is a Northern region of Sweden, meaning West Bothnia precisely, harboring the cities of Umeå and Skellefteå, but also home to the Västerbotten Cheese.  All of this region actually used to belong to Finland until 1808, when Swedish became (more) violent about their territorial rights.

1 pastry base (pate brisee)
3 eggs
150 ml cream
150 ml milk
200 gr grated Västerbotten cheese
1 onion and/or leak

This beauty is inspired by a Swedish recipe for Västerbotten Cheese Pie, with some French additions of mine: I start by frying the onion with leak and wine for a couple of minutes and pre-baking the crust.  As for any quiche, I mix eggs, cream, and milk (proportions of milk/cream can vary depending on how "fat" (=tasty) you want the pie to be).  Then I add the grated cheese and the salt, pour everything over the pre-baked crust covered with the pre-cooked onions, and have it all cooked for 25 minutes in the oven.  The result? Delicious!!

Sunny and Rainy Chulilla

We added one more guidebook to the growing collection of beautiful climbing spots on the bookshelf - Chulilla was offered the sweet spot this time.  Looking for better weather, we went down and south, exploring new areas and new routes outside Catalunya.

 Cacti in bloom, Chulilla

Chulilla welcomed us with more of the same though - spring storms and rain not considered by as relevant enough to warn about.  We still managed to climb though despite a couple of storms a day that refreshed the mind and did little damage to the rock.

 Algarrobo/Balconcito sectors in the stormy canyon

We stayed at the very well-run refugio El Altico, run by Pedro Pons & co, that was helpful and welcoming to our impromptu venue. 

Storm hanging over Nanopark sector

Overall, the climbing is a mix of vertical to slightly overhanging terrain, loooong, with technical moves on usually positive to sometimes slopy holds.  It reminded me of the never-ending la Pedrera sector in Collegats, but with harder grades overall.

 Overview of Pared de enfrente sector
(Pictures by Jonas)

I enjoyed the Oasis sector very much, going on an onsighting spree there, with an abundance of high quality 7a and 7a+s.  The bolting was not always perfect - it seemed as there was a FAist determined to screw up onsight attempts by us mortals by placing a random bolt outside of where the climbing went - but otherwise the climbing was very good. I most liked Plan Z, a beautiful 7a at Oasis, and Diagonal, and incredible 6c at Sex Shop.  Definitely worth a visit for the limestone fanatics looking for new places away from the crowds.

New Guidebook for Chulilla, beautiful cover picture by Marieta

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beth Rodden and Climbing

Beth Rodden and climbing...

Yes, injuries can break you - or make you stronger.  Learning more about your own body without destroying it in the process, searching for limits, but finding balance.  Live and learn.  Up and free.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Old projects in St Llorenc

Spring is upon us again, with its great temperatures, but also pollen ("why o why do those trees need sex?" copyright Jonas) and crazy rainfalls.  Spring also means going back to some old favorite crags - Pared Gran in Sant Llorenc is one of them.  Despite the tiresome approach, the climbing and the views are worth it.

Sunset over Montserrat, from La Mola

And old projects are still all there.  The other day I tried Rescate Emocional - the last move remains as painful, especially for the "little people," as ever.  Next, it was Dresden's turn - and the crux on this one remains - oh surprise - as small and filled with agony as ever as well.  Oh well, falling is as good for the psyche as anything.

Trying out Dresden

Unfortunately, this year I have to struggle with the fact of being much weaker than last year - but my body is not in rebellion against my soul anymore, so maybe some redpoints will follow.  Or not.  But those projects will stay - and maybe I will learn to wait in the shadows as well...

One way or another, thanks to Andreu for bolting this great line, and Xavi and Jonas for patiently belaying, taking all my whining, and even taking pictures!

All pictures courtesy of Jonas.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Verdon 2.0

Antti topping out on Demon, just before the rain

Fredrik topping out on Rivieres d'Argent, in the sun

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, "Dune"

Pictures by Jonas

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Verdon, the forgotten jewel

Rainy view of the canyon from Rive Gauche

And so we went, leaving Spain and work behind, looking for adventure.  In search for the air beneath our feet, the goal was one of the most famous climbing destinations where both of us have not yet been - the Verdon.  The green canyon lived up to all the expectations, very quickly for that matter.

Lost on the face, 6b+ pitch on les Rideaux de Gwendal, belay at the intersection with Pichenibule 

A gorgeous mix between Grand Canyon in the US and Presles in France, with immaculate limestone all the way, we were awed, impressed, and filled with respect for these slightly overhanging walls falling downwards into the abyss, signified by the green streak of the river rushing on its way.

Jonas on the 6a+ in the middle of Rideaux de Gwendal

The quality of rock is incredible for such a big wall - infinite amounts of perfect grey-bluish limestone, intermingling with parches of good old yellow stone.  The climbing is very varied and interesting, including limestone cracks, tufas, death slabs, goutes d'eau, roofs and bellies.  The bolts are, indeed, far apart, although many pitches are also well-bolted and not overly scary.

Following the traverse 6c pitch on Pichinibule

Some others are scary and completely sandbagged, such as the above polished 6c traverse on Pichinibule, or even worse, the next link-up we did with Ctuluh, a route inspiring fear and respect for real on its probably one of the world-hardest 6c+.

Adventures to be continued while we wait and work through the rain.

To you, Patrick, and your impressive home turf...:

Así es mi vida,
como tú. Como tú,
piedra pequeña;
como tú,
piedra ligera;
como tú,
canto que ruedas
por las calzadas
y por las veredas;
como tú,
guijarro humilde de las carreteras;
como tú,
que en días de tormenta
te hundes
en el cieno de la tierra
y luego
bajo los cascos
y bajo las ruedas;
como tú, que no has servido
para ser ni piedra
de una lonja,
ni piedra de una audiencia,
ni piedra de un palacio,
ni piedra de una iglesia;
como tú,
piedra aventurera;
como tú,
que tal vez estás hecha
sólo para una honda,
piedra pequeña

León Felipe, Versos y oraciones de caminante (1920-1929)

 Bridge over the canyon, Rive Gauche

View on the first pull-out and the impressive Paroi du Duc in the rain

Most pictures by Jonas.