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Flight to Nice

In Freyr we free 110m Love Me Tender + the sketchy spacious Pull Marine and 85m Samarkande that crazy classic + Les Tourtereaux (L3-L4). A multipitchteam sees the light. A day later I send a sport climb project and Ben submits another two groundbreaking research papers (succesfully it proves later) calling for a celebration.

Freyr. Left: a cordée ventures into the last pitch of Al'legne, eponymous multipitch of the rock.
Right: Les Tourtereaux L3.

The great summer in Belgium becomes autumn. The steaming hot tourist apocalypse in the south ends. We know a way to celebrate the papers.


Late thursday night. Lo and behold as an Airbus A320 alights amidst the lights of the French rivièra.    Me and Ben jump out of the plane and proceed ** the masterplan ** in which La Côte d'Azur will bring us to legendary canyons.

Eperon Sublime (third 'till last are pics from the internet)

The next morning we stand at the edge of the cliffs near Belvédère de la Carelle in the Gorges du Verdon. Below, plumes of mist rise as clouds don't know which way to shoot up in the canyon cauldron. Griffon vultures glide past, a bit later skimming over from behind my back, guarding the wall, not at all bothered or scared by these little slender two-legged creatures.

I vouch for the abseils down to a hanging forest, inaccessible in any other way. Multipitch number one, Eperon Sublime (Luna Bong), obviously dates from the era (1970) when it was deemed heroic to traverse footless by campusing on slopers and aid gear, with rope drag heavier to pull than your own weight. There's only one way out. You do or you do not, there's no try.

Next day, at Malines, we find cliffs which are not pictured anywhere. For the first time we see dramatic straight-up walls with ridges, hundreds of meters high, overhanging the river. Our sunny side of the hurtling stream is gentler and allows for comfortable climbing in Arête du Belvédère, which is less tricky than the preceding exhilarating approach that is the only way down to the torrent.

Day 3 (Sunday) we abseil into a balcony jungle to climb one of the multipitches on the Dalles Grises wall. We plan to start with four 6a+ pitches in Atout Cœur. The second pitch I lead. Ben stays after with the topo while Verdon shows why it's famous for phantom bolt lines (to understand this, read history below).

In the incoherency I consult Ben, who is belaying around a corner way down, having the backpack with the full topo. I have to go right? I unknowingly lead an airy delicate link-up to another line, a 6a that Ben then leads thinking it's the 6a+ of the initial line. Then I start in what we think is the fourth 6a+ ("oh I'll leave your backpack with the topo, thermoses – and a few bricks I guess – on for this, less hassle")...


..but which is actually a way higher graded "déroutant et obligatoire" (confusing and spatiously bolted rock you can only free climb) "passaggio sconcertante". Via Dingomaniaque I end up in the crux pitch of sandbagged Démon: zeven a obligé. "Your 6a's have big feet while mine... I think this is not my style?!"... I'm dangling off the big rock face with the backpack... "There is climbing between the bolts" camptocamp remarks. You know what they say.. If there are no bolts, you'll have to be bold yourself.

Whether I scream like Deep Purple in Sweet Child In Time, or rather like Jim Morrisson in The End, I can't say, but surely I bite my way through purple lightnings. This lunacy is enough to make Rambo cry like a baby.

Then Ben comes after and narrowly — with two fingers of each hand laybacking on a little sloping dent, with his right foot aiming wide at head's height — sends this pitch which is more demanding than its French grade suggests. We end with Cœur de Verre, that way opening the new multipitchcombi Sac à Cochon. Bye Gorges du Verdon. After three days of ultrafocus we prepare to return to our jobs. To the Gorges du Loup! I'm afraid of French people, in cars. But drive.

We walk up Castellane (Verdon). Painting by Signac, 1902.

Later. We are surrounded by wild water, thundering down steep overgrown flanks, and sculpting out unpredictable paths. Higher up the jungle canyon, two hundred meter of abandoned ruined road lingers on a high overhanging rock. Rockfall smashed the blacktop. Bushes take over. This is what apocalypse would look like. On top of that the village has an abandoned fancy hotel mouldering away. A bit further a factory. Wouldn't guess we're 30 carminutes from Nice' airport sticking out of Côte d'Azur. We warm-up in the Hermitage sector. This.. is... incredible..:

After an engaging approach we come on to pristine solid limestone which seems unclimbed, with logic lines mostly in the sixth grades, and feet to put on the most subtle and surprising features with a friction to rival sandstone. Every route.. a thousand stars.. UKClimbing agrees.

We go to the ultrafamous Mesa Verde sector in the midst of the jungle of waterfalls, though only 15 minutes walking from the Pont Du Loup village. The crag is known for its seventh grades.. Here there's more polish but it doesn't matter thanks to the outspoken features. We will meet the seemingly only climbers of this long weekend, two locals.

Me and Ben both send Hopi Birthday and Pas de bras, pas de chocolat first go. We discover that the Loup's flow also brings to several multipitches. Verdon, I am really curious for a few other grandes voies like La Demande, Tarabiscotage, Massacre, Pincée de Ketchup, Rêve de Fer, Surveiller et Punir, Pichenibule, Tandem pour L'Evidence, Gueule d'Amour, Durandal, L'Ange en Décomposition, l'Encatête, and single pitches Eve Line, Aquarelle, Et le Temps Cessa D'exister and Série limitée, but now rather Gorges Du Loup has me hooked.


The Old Alpine Testament & The Prophets of Free Climbing

* Climbing tales accompanied by random history to situate Dingomaniaque as a milestone: 

1865: Several local guides and/or British mountaineers have worked a way up the highest peaks in Europe looking for the least severe route (normal route). Matterhorn is yet unclimbed, though Italian guide Jean-Antoine Carrel and British Edward Whymper each undertook a multitude of noteworthy explorations and attempts. Now, in July, Whymper and Carrel will climb together, they cancel, then the stories diverge. Anyway, it escalates into a race. Whymper bets on the Hörnli ridge while the Italian guide sticks with the Lion ridge.


Matterhorn, view by Vittorio Sella from Col d'Hérens in the west. The classic view is the northwest face, looking straight onto the Hörnli ridge, which is on the left side here. On the right side is the Lion ridge.

Both will succeed to reach the top with their party. But it is Whymper's descent that will make it in the newspapers all because of one step of one of the British in the team. It starts on descent, down the Hörnli ridge (side of the famous Matterhorn view). For one hour already they've been going down, each man in turn carefully puts a foot to help them downwards.

Indication of the little shoulder on the Hörnli ridge where the Solvay Hut stands since 1917, 50 years after Whymper and Carrel's ascent.

The one most down, Croz, will assist his first follower for a moment, so he puts away the axe, turns his back.. but in this instance his follower somehow slips and takes him with him, as well as the two next ones. Father Taugwalder is next but he stops himself by throwing the rope around a block. With the sudden halt the manila rope snaps in two, and so does the cordée. Four glide down trying to stop, father Taugwalder can do nothing but see the four being taken away, after he just saved the last two followers. His son and Whymper are spared from the downward pull of the rope.

Fourteen years later Edward Theodore Compton paints Cervino. That year Lucy Walker ascents the famous peak.

It will haunt them and their careers for years to come. It instantly ruins Taugwalder's guiding career. In the next 100 years, partly as a result of her popularity, Matterhorn will swallow more than 500 other lives on her flanks (According to Wikipedia Ueli Steck today holds a speed record up the mountain, but actually that's Dani Arnald according to the sponsored media.. well anyway, the interesting ascents are not automatically the mediatized ones). Carrel will guide lots of mountaineers safe up and down the Cervino. Whymper is not a mountain guide but makes his living as an artist, the job that initially brought him to the Alps. Now he starts a book on his mediatized ascent: Scrambles amongst the Alps.


Above: Book illustrated by Whymper. Below: Whymper's book, showing the fall (left) and southeast Italian side of Cervino (right).

Despite the mediatized rivalry, Whymper and Carrel undiminishedly join forces to explore the mountains in team upon times. Whymper designs a tent that will inspire models for at least 100 years to come. He is the first to dare his way up to one of the most daunting tops on the ridge of Les Grandes Jorasses, one year later he finds his own way up Barre des Ecrins and Aiguille d'Argentière. He also climbs together with Horace Walker.


Days after the incident Gustave Doré makes a series of work on the Matterhorn incident.


Gaston Rebuffat talked of "a cloud of rocks held together by ice." in his book Cervin cime exemplaire published in 1965 (first English edition two years later).

1876: In an emergency situation Chamonix guide Jean-Esteril Charlet invents a rappel with a double rope. The technique will make him and partner-in-crime Isabella Straton in January 1876 more confident to scramble up Mont Blanc IN WINTER. Together they finish several other first ascents, without someone to tell or write them it is possible. After twenty years they marry and take each other's name and they will have two sons. One dies in 1915 in World War I, send out to fight someone or -thing.

In 1875 Isabelle Straton reaches Pointe Isabelle (formerly Aiguille de Triolet) by le glacier des Courtes.


In 1909 Vittorio Sella publishes a photobook full of barely known mountains. Left is Marble Peak and right the Chogori (both along the Baltoro glacier among the many glaciers in the Karakoram).

1910: 18-year old mountaineer Hans Dülfer invents the Dülfersitz rappel. It may not compare yet to the comfortable hang-all-day abseil techniques that develop in the 1970's and which we inherit, but it is a big step forward. Hans finds routes to many tops and is known for often solving sequences by layback climbing. In Belgium this technique is still commonly referred to as dulferen. Around his 23th birthday, may 1915, Hans Dülfer is send out to fight some people he has nothing to do with at the Second Battle of Artois (so the story goes). He is at the other side as Estrel's son. Near Arras, close to the Belgian border and far from his Dolomites he is killed. Two years later 283.000 men will die on a war front of which then the position is barely different.

1911-1913: Paul Preuss, exploring the heights of the Wilder Kaizer, advocates free climbing and opposes the aid-addicted mountaineering world. Paul favors the idea of using gear only when needed to save your life, not for being essentially part of climbing. Another youngster, Rudolf Fehrmann, lives in the Elbsandstein and writes about rules to free climbing. More on this is easiest to find in writings on the Dolomites and the English Lake District. The guys and girls we're talking about were like hikers throwing away the hiking stick, the wood we are all told to need, and starting to run and skip over boulders and creeks. Quite some of them free solo'ed even, leaving the gear all the way at home, free climbing too in that sense. Or Paul went buildering in Münich in-between tedious university study. It's eventually soon after soloing that Preuss falls (and joins the macabre club 27 without being known a musician).


WOI (Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 september 1916, where Canadians advancing from Belgium 'invented' the tank)

1927: The first rock drill and expansion bolts;


1927. Ascent of the Dent du Géant by the SW Face on the Burgener Slabs,
45 years after the route was opened.

Comici in the Dolomites.

1933: Emilio Comici crafts a bunch of unseen gear which is capital to big wall expeditions.. he is one of the first to dare his way up several intimidating steep walls, hammering in lots of pitons, as protection or to aid where freeclimbing is not possible. Plus that way Comici looks for a beautiful instead of an easiest line to the top. He proposes the direttissima idea that will inspire Claudio Barbier;


Left: Dulfersitz technique.
Right: Unknown climbers on the Aiguille de Rochefort ridge, with Dent du Géant on the back.


1935: Bleausard Pierre Alain creates a soft-soled climbing shoe. Sticky rubber climbing shoes will only way later be developed, in 1975 by Spanish climber Miguel Gallego cooperating with shoemaker Jesus Garcia Lopez in Villena on the Costa Blanca, commercialised by 1979 (Boreal), and imported in the US by Bachar in 1983 soon to see more improvements when Austrian climber Heinz Mariacher comes up with more design;
1946: After some working out René Ferlet and Pierre Alain solve a climbing problem as they top out a boulder in Fontainebleau. At the moment it stands out to all other solved problems known in the climbing world. Marie-Rose. Of course bouldering history happens on many places and was already practiced by alpinists venturing into the Himalayas;

Mathias “Hias” Rebitsch from Austria climbed free before the exploratory period of aid climbing. Fritz Wiessner, or Bonnie Prudden, climbed quite some parts free in the Gunks.

Pierre Allain (left top), Guy Poulet (right top), René Ferlet (center) and Jacques Poincenot (left down) climb on the boulder of Chalumeuse (unclimbed at that moment), Dalle du Baquet (two most left climbers) and highball La Paillon Directe (two most right climbers), the first alone standing boulder when you walk past Marie Rose further towards the forest of – then little principal developed climbing spot – Bas Cuvier in Fontainebleau, 1948 (the original source wrongly captions a route a bit further, a misinforming detail which is no big deal compared to Dutch Wikipedia claiming (apparently since years) that Grand Capucin is a graphite mountain). These four bleausards together managed unprecedented alpine climbs and some of them joined up with other stars from the south. In shortfilm A l'assaut de la Tour Eiffel in 1947 they scramble up the Eiffel Tower as if they go for a jog.

1947: Climbing rope was made of hemp. It snapped starting from a 1 meter fall for someone of 80kg. And with a bit less impact probably your hips snapped. Lead climbing basically always had been free soloing. If you see an alpinist on a brownish photo, scaling a wall with the rope hanging from his waist, straight down, it's mostly because it had only use for statically abseiling back down or for pulling up a follower. Now war is over, polyamid/nylon is developed.

The UK's navy makes dynamic ropes and some people finetune this for climbing, adding a protection mantle. New possibilities of climbing are celebrated in the Belgian Ardennes (Freyr, Chaleux (Hulsonniaux), Sy, Mozet (which was very early bought by mountaineer, inventor, Einstein et al. physics congress sponsor Ernest Solvay,...)), in Le Saussois in Burgundy and in the Calanques. On top of that, soon after, the steel carabiner will be replaced by lightweight aluminium carabiners;

In Disneyland in California one of the attractions included a 'rock climber'.

1951: 21-year old Bonatti baffles the climbing world by working a 350m way up Le Grand Capucin by its most daunting face sticking out of the ice and snow between Chamonix's sharp mountaintops, he uses all kinds of gear and aids on it if possible, today the Bonatti-Ghigo route can even be free climbed wholly (so-called 7a although that doesn't really grasp the difficulty as it cannot be compared to straightforward nicely bolted single pitch sport climbs);

Bonatti with photographer Giorgio Lotti.

By 1953 Robert Paragot (top photo, far right) again and again had heightened the difficulty bar for singular hard climb moves by solving infamous Bleau climbing problems. Here he's seen on the yet unclimbed north face of Grand Capucin.

1955: Boulderer John Gill introduces chalk;
1968: It's the year of May '68, marking a cultural change in the Western world. Protests in Paris show how a large part of the youth does not take the status quo of their parents and older generations. In Leuven, students take over the library and barricade the doors from the police with books. The University of Leuven becomes Dutch, the French will go 30km south. Many clubs, like the mountain club, are founded. A music scene surges in Leuven. In February 1968 already, musicians have Pink Floyd over in de Rijschoolstraat, long before they're famous. In the next months albums will be released like The Beatles' Abbey Road, Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut, David Bowie's self-titled second album after his complete flop, Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, in Canada Joni Mitchell's Clouds, Neil Young's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, CSN&Y's Déjà Vu, The Band's debut, in the USA Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills (Janis Joplin), Deep Purple in Rock,..


Paris pamphlets say "be young and shut up". Also in Leuven there are diverse protests. Against the ignorant democratic (demagogic) majority? Slavery to a certain marketsystem with absurd jobs and decadence dedicated by a nascent consumption society in which consumers need to be given – and get – a highly destructive force on their environment and each other? The statusquo? Against the majority in terms of capital?

1968: Climbing lengths without aiding on gear, i.e. free climbing, already happened despite what many sources may say (e.g. in the Elbsandstein where the lithology barely allows artif (= aid) climbing). Going free has been a steady evolution driven by diverse climbers, it's not a revolution of one celebrated pioneer. In 1968 free climbing systematically starts to be taken to new difficulties in high climbing lines, to an integral non-aid approach, while obsolete gear is being removed in Pfalz, Saussois, the hills around Finale Ligure, the South-French Montagne Sainte-Victoire and Verdon, the New York (Shawan)Gunks, the Australian Grampians, the Tyrolean Dolomites, Oregon's Smith Rock, J(oshua)-Tree, Yosemite (aid-climbing surfing mountaineering Jim 'Bird' Bridwell and the stonemasters from the mid 1970's), Freyr (Claudio Barbier from teh 60's), Buoux,...;

Another pic in one of the guidebooks shows the bolting of Eperon Sublime down-up in 1970. On this pic, some months after opening, unknown climber Dennis Lee aids up the route.

1973: 19-year old Kurt Albert adopts the free climbing spirit in Frankenjura. Besides teaching math and physics he tries to climb famous aid routes, not aiding, ignoring the gear in the rock. If it eventually worked out he put a red dot in his book or at the rock: 'redpunkt'. Such attempts were done by more climbers at this moment and before, like for instance Freyr climber Claudio Barbier already painted gear you don't necessarily need yellow. But Kurt did this around the time this soon meaned more exceptional puzzly freeclimbs were being realised than were ever done before. As he was one of the climbers on the forefront of the quest for new standards his redpoint (leading without cheating) became a widely-adopted concept. (Side note: Kurt Albert will also manage several alpine and Karakoram outings);

Czech climber Zorka Prachtelová solos down Sfingy, said to be in 1970 in the Elbsandstein on the border of Czech republic and Saxony.

1973: In Yosemite, climber Yvon Chouinard realises he's making money on forging and selling (by John Salathé improved) pitons which damage the rock so he starts to develop and commercialise the disposable now so-called trad gear (while also seriously optimalising ice climbing gear), although Abalakov already in the 1930's invented camming devices for his own mountaineering (along with his famous ice climbing screw method) and (based on the 1973 cam nut from Greg Lowe) it was an aerospace engineer, a Yosemite climber, Ray Jardine, who by 1978 in a scientific way came up with ingenious 'friends' camming devices (read the story of the first cams, and a climbing partner of Jardine founding Wild Country)... plus Royal Robbins posing the idea of clean trad gear climbing (where possible). In the seventh grade steadily routes were opened.

1977, Yosemite. Shortly after Ron Kauk's first free ascent (send), Ray Jardine frees seventh grader Seperate Reality. FA is by Ron Kauk, dated 1977 according to Ron, 1978 according to Wikipedia and Climbing Away France. Some historiucal details may have sneaked in this list of random popular historical climbing feats.

1979, unknown climber Dave gives Seperate Reality a go.

On another note, speaking of responsable Chouinard: it can be argued whether Chouinard's businesses show an exceptional alternative way for how a corporation can work in a market-society in an economic succesful yet sustainable way for the environment and its employers, or how these businesses are rather just a corporation taking on to another niche, that is the aware consumer needing to be sussed. Patagonia is setting up repair spots (to be awaited how effective they are) which will make them sell less, meanwhile billionaire Chouinard is trying to guard Patagonia's land (as market commodity) as much as possible from brutal corporate interests, trying to stay critical for his own corporations;

Bachar playing the Sax on a campingground in Yosemite. Apparently this was staged for a Nike commercial.

1978: Dingomaniaque: As far as known to free/aid route equipers 'till then, hand drilled bolts were placed first aiding on lead (or for tradgear-freeclimbers there are no bolts tout court but they have to be more picky in finding rock which allows the style). Now unconventionally Dingomaniaque is drilled while rapelling down. This abseil-equip is another step allowing sports climbing in unseen difficulty grades on unclimbed long steep walls (see the Verdon shortfilm of that time: "La Porte Des Cieux" or the later "Opéra Vertical")...

In 1985 Catherine Destivelle frees Verdon multipitch Pichenibule (opened in 1977 and first free ascent in 1980 by Patrick Berhault and weeks after by John Bachar) and then a series of exceptionally hard bolted routes in Buoux. It's not clear which one of those this picture shows.

...though this untraditional way of giving a route to the rock sparks controversy. After a visit to Europe Ron Kauk takes the top down ethos to Yosemite's Camp 4 where Ron gets caught up in a fist fight with John Bachar (Article on Bachar and things like him offering 10.000$ to who could follow him free-soloing for a day.. No one.. He knew.. Nonetheless.. not in the article.. in 1979 Bachar himself refused to climb any longer with Jim 'The Bird' Bridwell after Jim's self-sacrifice to the climbing gods on a first alpine-style ascent of the Fitz Roy (aforementioned Bleausard Poincenot died in the Fitz river during an approach in January 1952), something deemed impossible by even Walter Bonatti, but now done in a storm, from which he miraculously returned in one piece). In the US it will take five more years 'till Alan Watts is the first one there to undertake an abseiling approach (instead of adventurously explore down-up) to open smashingly hard lines, exploring long subtle faces in Smith Rock. Here the strict idea of free climbing gives way for a variant soon to be called sport climbing, allowing rappel-down explorations, more regular bolts, hangdogging and a surge in the difficulties that could be explored;

Ron Kauk on the first ascent of Peace in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite 1995, which was an open-standing project of Bachar 'till Kauk eventually bolted the last meters rap-down, once again sparking the two's feud (© Chris Falkenstein).

1991: Wolfgang Güllich had been on the forefront (together with the aforementioned Kurt Albert (see 1973), Jerry Moffat, Ben Moon, unknown Freyr warrior Arnould 't Kint..) of taking sports climbing from dreaming from 8a in 1980 to 8c+ to the end of the 1980's. Then in 1991 Wolfgang sends Action Directe in Frankenjura, Germany. The route is remarkably of a distinctive unknown difficulty and the ninth French grade is proposed. Today the repeat list of this climb, despite popular interest, is still very limited. A year after Wolfgang Güllich, Alexander Huber, sends OM which will later by the climbing community be brought down to 8c+..

Alexander Huber sends Om close to his home in Berchtesgadener Alpen (1992).

One year later Fred Nicole sends Bain de Sang in Swiss Pompaples. Another year later Alexander Huber sends La Rambla in Siurana, Spain and Weisse Rose in Schleierwasserfall, Austria. In the latter, two years later, he will send Open Air, later generally considered as 9a+ instead of 9a. In the meantime in 1995 and 1997 French Fred Rouhling also appears on the scene sending unseen hard lengthy boulder problems (article on the controversial and perhaps misunderstood Fred), but – in his remote obscure town near Bordeaux – not many climbers go try his problem and can confirm. It is until 2001 that Chris Sharma sends the immediately confirmed 9a+ Biographie in Céüse and until 2012 that a woman, Josune Bereziartu, climbs 9a (aforementioned Sang du Loup). In 2013 Belgian Murielle Sarkany is the fourth woman to climb a 9a-grade route and by 2015 Belgian Anak Verhoeven is the ninth girl. Recently Anak climbed a 9a+ and then opened a new 9a+. Meanwhile sport climbing grades have expanded to 9b+ with one 9c, with the recent female ascent of 9b by Angela Eiter.

Josune Bereziartu is one of the climbers who finds routes for which the French grade doesn't know what to say so far.

1993: In 31 pitches Lynn Hill (after removing another aid piton in her way) manages to free climb the integral Nose line on El Capitan in Yosemite, something which was considered far too hard 'till then to be possible for any man or woman. A bit later she did it again but within one day. 'Till today the 31-pitch monster has only known 2 full free lead repeats, one of which is by Tommy Caldwell, the climber who over the course of two years (2014) found on El Capitan an impossible line on The Dawn Wall (aka the unclimbed eastface of El Cap).

Lynn Hill. Up: Freeing the Nose. Down: Technical slab climbing on granite.

In 1997 Arnaud Petit and Stefanie Bodet open La Voie Petit on the east face of Grand Capucin in the mountains of Chamonix. They foresee trad protection with exception of the hardest pitches where they go on to equip the 400m multipitch route with pitons and bolts. In 2005 Alexander Huber (above) frees it with soon other climbers following, like Caroline Ciavaldini.

In 2009 brothers Pou open and free Orbayu on Urriellu limestone peak Naranjo de Bulnes. Two years later our Freyr brother Nicolas Favresse repeats the route. In 2016 Edu Marin (photo) and retired father Fransesco Marin free the route a year after they freed Panorama on one of the Tre cime di Lavaredo peaks.

In 2016 Michaela Kiersch sends Golden Ticket at the Chocolate Factory crag in Red River Gorge.