Grandes Jorasses, back at it…

This fall saw unique conditions on lots of North faces and serious climbs in the Alps. The Grandes Jorasses was not the only one face to climb but when Rémi came up with the idea to go climb another route on this mythical face I was psyched. Funnily enough, I had just spent two weeks at sea level, walking with flip flops in the warmth of Turkey during the Petzl RocTrip so I was not sure how I’d feel in the cold and at altitude, but as always there is no answer to those questions until you go for it. So, we went for it…

The idea was to bivy at the base of the face and climb the combination of the Slovenian route finishing up with the Eperon Croz route. The plan B was to climb the Couzy-Desmaison further right on the Pointe Marguerite if other parties were already on the Slovenian/Croz route. We hiked up on a Friday at lunch time under a perfect blue-bird sky to the base of the face. One other party was already there but we had the feeling we would start before them and did not worry about having them above us on the route.

We started to climb at 1:20am and climbed the first two thirds of the route at night. Rémi climbed first through the bergschrund in good style making it look easy. I had no idea until it was my turn how tricky it was. I struggled. I did not like to lose time here at the beginning of a long day. It was only in an unconventional way that I could pass it and we could keep going. Rémi was climbing really fast, completely immersed in his element. I felt a little bad with leading and being slower. But it was great to sea how things can be done and learn from someone with amazing skills.  
The whole climb was a fun and great experience. And I’m definitely looking forward to climbing some other routes on this attractive and impressive face ;)

A little taste of Turkey

It’s been a few years since I’ve been on the Petzl RocTrip. In fact, it’s been a few years since I’ve really sport climbed at all. This autumn the Petzl RocTrip headed to a string of different locations in Eastern Europe, finishing its happy journey in Turkey.
Turkey sounded very appealing. Perfect limestone, three dimensional climbing, big holds on steep walls, warm and sunny weather and new crags for me. All good ingredients for having a fun trip. The areas of Geyikbayiri, Citdibi and Olympos did not disappoint. It’s all good lines and nice scenery. As usual, the Petzl crew had great spirit, high energy and parties went well all over the place. It was fun to hang out a little bit with friends I don’t get to see that often anymore. If sport climbing does not bring me the same emotions I get in the mountains it still means lots of fun, good internal fights, good people and lots of happiness. It felt really good to move freely on the rock again, try, fall, send, try something harder, and so on. Climbing is magical :)


Special thanks to my good friend Jack for teaming up the last two weeks. It’s been good chats, good laughs and great climbing days. I’ll remember for a long time how Jack warmed up on a 7c+ thinking it was a 6c+ and many more hilarious moments. And above all I’m thankful for his catch on an unexpected fall at a first bolt. Broken holds can happen anywhere. It was a stark reminder the belayer must always be ready. 

Massive thanks Petzl for the great organization and all the good times. You guys rock!

Sweet little combo on the Grandes Jorasses

When I moved to Chamonix three years ago and saw all those paragliders in the sky it was not long before I started to fly myself. What made me wanting to fly was the possibility to mix up climbing and flying. It has always made me dreaming. And it’s great to have dreams ;)

In between a few injuries, work and expeditions I managed to mix up some easy alpine climbs with paragliding. It has always been fun and I was really looking forward to try on something bigger or more difficult. Together with my good friend Mika we’ve been speaking to do something on the Grandes Jorasses a year ago already. But matching the weather, the wind, the climbing conditions and our own schedules was not easy.

It was a secret for nobody, this year, the Grandes Jorasses were in amazing conditions. Naturally the idea of climbing and flying off this mythical face came back. The tricky part was that I had spent my months of July, August and September working behind a screen, sitting on planes and cars. It was not the 2 hours of running here and there that would have made me feel fit for such a big face at this altitude. Even though the conditions were excellent and made the Grandes Jorasses routes easier to climb, it stays a long and serious face that I would not underestimated. But the desire was here. I wanted to climb on this face and fly off it. My mindset changed, from “I’ve done nothing this summer” to “I can do it”. I knew I would not be a rocket for climbing but I knew I’ll be good and safe enough.

Finally a new weather window came, matching Mika and I schedule. We had to take a few decisions. What route? Where will we take off? One day or two days? The wind was supposed to be North, North West so we thought our best option would be to take off from the Col des Jorasses on the right side (climber’s right) of the North Face. It brought us to the choice of the route : Mika suggested to do “Rêve éphémère d’alpiniste” on the Young Peak. It seemed to be the perfect route for us : a bit shorter than the Colton, close enough to the Col des Jorasses and the probability to see other parties was really low. Below is a picture from Julien Desecures that shows the route we climbed and down right of it, the Col des Jorasses from where we took off.

Julien_Desecures

The first step was to reach the Leschaux hut. I was a bit anxious. We had to take off on the north side of the Aiguille du Midi which I find committing. You have to do it right or you die. My other concern was about the landing. We did not know where we would land on the glacier neither in which way the wind would blow. Down the glacier or up hill? Would it be rocky and uneven with holes and hard ice? With those questions – and the different ways to deal with the situation – in minds, Mika and I took off from the Aiguille du Midi at lunch time. The wind was light, coming from the North. Right after the take off we turned right to pass over the Col du Plan and got above the Vallée Blanche. We “dropped” our heavy bags full of gear and food with a long sling attached to the risers and headed straight, without a turn, toward the Leschaux Glacier. We flew over the Leschaux hut and landed both a little fast but at least next to each other and without hitting a rock or putting the feet on a hole. I was relieved.

Just landed and happy :) On the background you can see the base of the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses Mika_Geroni

We could have done the approach and the ascent in one day by taking the Aiguille du Midi first bin at 8:30 am. But we did not wanted to have to feel any time pressure. I had never climbed on this face before and I really wanted to enjoy all of it without any performing and rushing minds. I like climbing mountains because they are beautiful and it makes me happy. So we spent the afternoon at the Leschaux hut, embracing the view. I was feeling small and excited. The North Face of the Grandes Jorasses was enchanting and all the lines very attractive.

Feeling small, excited and happy The day after we started the climb with the day light. There was maybe 25+ climbers on the face but nobody on our route. It was a perfect blue bird day, not too cold, not windy. One of those days I like. The climb was nice, not too hard and more varied on top.

Mika, fast, efficient and happy

My turn to lead Mika_Geroni

When we got closer to the top we saw the clouds coming from Italy on the South side and we realised we had to rush. We did not go all the way up to the Young peak. We traversed right, Abseiled down and reached the Col des Jorasses. No drinking, no photos, no relaxing time. We had to hurrry up, packed the climbing gear as fast as possible and unpacked the canopies. The clouds were on us. The wind was not coming from the North anymore but from the South although we had some small cycles coming form the North. Mika helped me to take off during one of those short windows. I kept watching behind seeing his canopy going up and then down and up again. The South wind got stronger and it was a bit of a struggle for him to take off even though he is a much better pilot than I am. Finally I saw him in the sky. Phew!

Magical lights and clouds

The atmosphere was almost magnetic. The flight back home was stunning with the clouds, the lights, the big face just behind and the crevassed glacier of Mt Mallet underneath. I had never flight in this area and once again I was amazed by the beauty of the peaks, ridges and glaciers around me. It is such a fantastic terrain!

Above the Mt Mallet Glacier

Reaching the Mer de Glace in between clouds

I’m publishing the photo below to share the “drop bag” beta Mika showed me. Flying with a heavy bag pack full of gear is tough on the shoulders and not so pleasant. Dropping the bag is way more fun. So here is what we did : before to take off, add a long sling (120cm) in the lock biners of the risers. On the back pack put another long sling holding the two shoulder straps and connect the two slings with a lock biner, paying attention with the risers. When you drop your bag, you want it to go underneath you, not around one of your riser. And obviously it has to be even. The last thing is that the back pack should not be too far low. For piloting and for landing it’s better to have the back pack between the knees and feet.

The drop bag beta to make the flight even more enjoyable ;)

Below is a rough drawing of the two flights we did for those who are interested. Flying saved us four hours of walking to the Leschaux hut on the first day (Aiguille du Midi – Leschaux Glacier) and six hours or more of hiking down on the second day (Col des Jorasses – Chamonix). Plus, it was fun! Flying Map

Regarding the gear… the lighter, the more fun… I fly with an Ultralight 3 in 19m2 and I have a Neo String. In total it adds 2345grs to the normal climbing gear. But it really worth it. The ultralight is very compactable and I could fit in my Scrambler (30 liters) everything. I’m amazed by all the improvement the gear has seen in the last 3 years in term of weight and reliability. The Laser Speed light, the Sirocco, the new Baturas, the Ghost Whisperer and the Ultralight and Neo are great examples.

Overview of the gear

But the most important… it’s not what we do that counts. It’s with whom we do it. Sharing the experience, sharing the adventure with one of my good friends is of more value than the climb or the summit itself. Thanks a lot Mika for roping, flying, laughing and rushing together. It was a great one! IMG_1843

The end of one adventure, the beginning of more other ones

I haven’t BASE jumped since last year in March and realised I did not miss it. BASE jumping brought me to some awesome places, made me meet wonderful friends, made me share incredible moments and took me out of my comfort zone. It was awesome to experience being on the edge and push off the rock to that point of no coming back. It was magical to have this one second leaving the rock while everything inside you is telling you “no, don’t do it!” as an instinctual reaction. It was wonderful to be in the air and feel a form of freedom with such amazing feelings.

But little by little I found less interest in doing it. Loosing friends over the years affected me more than I thought. Some people think climbing mountains is more dangerous than BASE jumping. This is wrong. I know more climbers than I know BASE jumpers. I have lost more friends BASE jumping than climbing. This is the reality.

Having less interest in BASE jumping and wanting to climb more made me ready to quit. I love climbing mountains and it is where I want to put my energy and time. BASE jumping was fun, powerful, and different. BASE Jumping was a wonderful adventure. But I won’t miss it. I’ll miss some of its people.

Thanks to those who “guided” me on the learning path. And thanks to everyone I met and shared a jump with. I have fond memories of those times. I’m psyched with my decision and ready for more climbing adventures :)

The Border Lands: Fear and Happiness

I have already wrote about our expedition in the Tian Shan Mountains in my precedent post. But I haven’t talk very seriously about the fear I/we experienced over there. Fear is present on many of the expeditions that we take into the mountains. I’m not a big fan of feeling in danger, I’m not a big fan of feeling too much fear. At least not for too long.

On that trip, I was at the edge of my comfort zone. Terrifying rock falls at night and during the day time, piles of boulders ready to fall on us and some pitches of chossy rock to climb. All in all it was pretty stressful even though we where quite stoked to be here and climb. The worst for me was at night. I could not sleep. I was on a permanent vigilant state. The noise of the rocks fall was so loud that it gave us the impression a part of the wall was falling on us. I had to deal with this new type of fear. Not like a serac fall or an avalanche that last for less than 2 min and gives you a intense but “short” adreanlin shot. This type of fear was permanent and lasted for 5 days. Fear means tensions, tensions lead to a wast of energy and less focus. So the best was to not let my imagination making the danger bigger than it was for real. The best was to focus on the climbing and on being active.

Eventually the happiness of being in the heart of those untouched mountains with some amazing friends gained the upper hand on my fear…

Check out the video and get a little bit of fear…and happiness!

 

Also, Mike Libecki’s thoughts about fear on the Mountain Hardwear Blog