Patagonia Unplugged

Patagonia is known for is tough weather, long approaches and its awesome rocks and peaks. It’s been in my head since a few years but having to deal with injuries kept me away from this beautiful place.

Finaly, with the support of Mountain Hardwear, Janet, Freddie and I teamed up for a short month, hoping for the best regarding the weather and rock conditions. Janet and I both wanted to do a women party and climb the Fitz Roy. We had a few routes in minds depending on the conditions there. Freddie came along to climb but also to document our trip/ Adventure/ Climb (call it what you want except holidays…).

I was almost shocked by the beauty, the colors and the atmosphere I felt after landing in El Calafate. It was like being in a place I already knew and I felt connected with. Which brought me a good energy.

Boom ! El Calafate airport view. Not bad !

Right at the time we arrived we had a two/three days weather window so we geared up right away and hiked up with the most heavy bags I had to Piedra Negra, one of the bivy spot to access Guillaumet, Mermoz, Val Bois, Fitz Roy…. The weather was windy but sunny and warm. We got to climb some pitches on Guillaumet the second day but did not go all the way up. It was really windy and cold, we kept our mountain shoes during the whole climb. No way we would were climbing shoes that day! But it was a great warm up.

Little traverse and fun day on Guillaumet
Photo : Janet Wilkinson

That same day, while we were having fun on Guillaumet, a party of two beautiful women had an accident on Supercanelatta. It was around 2am when they fall for about 200 meters. They immediatly got the support of the others climbers climbing the same route and after a few hours the rescue was organized by the volonteer rescue team. No helicopter could come. The two women had several fractures and from 2am to 4am the next day they had to be carried on two liters over the glacier, down the morraine, crossing the river and so on. We were down our climb when the first team rescue came up with the liter and told us about the accident. All the climbers at the Piedra Negra bivy spot went to help the volonteers rescue team. We ended at more than 40 people to help. The two ladies were tough. They were suffering a lot but they never complained. Everybody did an amazing job and there was no little help. It was amazing to see all the energy between everyone to bring back to El Chalten in the fastest way possible the two injuried climbers. We arrived at 4am at El Chalten, everybody was exhausted but relieved to have bring down the two climbers alive. For everyone it was a good reminder. Keep your margin, remember you’re far from everything.
I decided to post a short video of the rescue I took with my Iphone so once can have an idea of how delicate a rescue there can be.

The rest of the trip was…. full of hope, wintery, frustrating, fun, tough, full of friendship. I think that 70% of El Chalten were climbers and they were all on the meteogram hoping for some high pressure and low winds. Everybody was talking about the weather. About the days left. About the routes. What else a small village full of climbers would talk about ?

We kept ourselves busy down in El Chalten with bouldering, sport climbing and meeting new friends, hiking around, reading and eating a lot. After a week in town everybody knows everybody. I was pleased to see Fred Nicole and Mary I haven’t seen for too long and share some other good times with some really sweet climbers.

Finaly, we though we’ll had a weather window on the 1st and 2nd of January. We went up to Piedra Negra on the 31st of December, hiking in the cold of a snow storm. We found our gear burried under the snow and set up the bivy. The day after, we went up to the Brecha of the Italianos with the hope to climb the Californinia route on Fitz Roy. We had a beautiful sunrise, and thought “here we go…. finaly the good weather is coming”.
A few hours later, while we were crossing the glacier breaking the trail in a deep snow, we found ourselves in the middle of the storm, and felt in the middle of nowhere. We kept going up and Freddie took the lead on the delicat mixed climbing pitches. Wind, snow, spindrift, cold but also smiles and jokes were our friends that day and night. We set up the alarm at 3am hoping (again) for the wind to calm down. The wind blown all night and we did not get out of our tent before 9am. It was freezing. The Fitz Roy did not wanted us that time. That’s how it goes.

All in all and looking back, I had a great time there. I improved my skills, I shared great and intense moments with Janet. I met new great friends. After all Mountains are not about summits but about sharing and living full on moments on them.

And of course, I got my desire to climb again in Patagonia bigger than before ;)

4,000 pull-ups on El Cap

Climbing a big wall, whatever it is, is always a bit of a mission. You have tons of gear, heavy bags with the portaledge, the equipement, the water and food you need for a few days. All this you have to carry it up, to haul it and then to carry it down. It’s nothing light but totally worth the experience.
Climbing a big wall with a woman who lost the use of her legs on a climbing accident is a total different story ! Nonetheless it’s what we did. « We » it’s Vanessa François, Marion Poitevin, Fabiend Dugit and myself.  Vanessa got struck by a huge chunk of ice in April 2010 while climbing a very classic line on the South Face of Aiguille du midi. Since then she’s paraplegic. Vanessa is not the type of person that will give up and after a year of rehabilitation she rebuild herself and found new projects for her life. Climbing El Cap was one of them. Quickly Marion, Fabien, myself and a bunch of other friends started to help to make the project happening. Trainings, money funds raise, gear development, etc…  After more than a year of preparation we finaly flew all the way to California with the hope to climb Zodiac on El Capitan, Yosemite.

Vanessa and the amazing wall of El Cap, the day of the shutdown announcement

We were not too worried about the climb itself but more about carrying up and then down Vanessa. For this we were hoping to find climbers at Camp 4 willing to help us. Unexpectedly, we arrived in El Portal -at the entrance of the Yosemite Park- on the evening they announced the shutdown in all the States. For us frenchies it was totally unbelievable. After a day of incomprehension, we realized that the best was to keep going for the mission we came for, without giving too much of importance to the shutdown. For three days we carried up loads of gear and fixed the 4th and then 6th fist pitches. If the shutdown made our project way more complicated (no others climbers to help us carrying Vanessa) and spicy, on the other hand it was an incredible privilege to climb El Cap with almost nobody else on the wall. The park was peaceful and quiet and we loved it that way.

To make a long story short, Vanessa, Marion Fabien and I climbed Zodiac from the 7th of October to the 11th. We got the support of Nico Potard and Victor Estrangin to carry loads and fix the first pitches and then we were on our own, on a ocean of granite with no other climbers around. We spent five fantastic days and four nights on the wall and slept another night on the top of El Cap. The energy between the four of us was amazing and made the experience very intense and very unique. Everyone was ready to help the other, to give a bit of itself for the rest of the team. We all knew we could rely on the other. The oneness between us was strong. Just once won’t hurt, we were three women and (only) one strong man which added a special taste to the adventure ;)
Vanessa was never tired, she was well trained and dialed all the pitches. The two last pitches were the mosit difficult for her since there was kind of slabby. But even here she just went one pull-up after the other and got to the top with a huge smile on her face…
The descent was the crux and it took us another small day on the 12th of October to get down. But we got really lucky to have met people to help Marion and Fabien carrying Vanessa (Julien, Niels and Mika).

Climbing a big wall climb with a paraplegic person  is nothing impossible but it’s nothing easy either. Everything take time. Every little things can take its importance. You need to be more cautious on some things you would not have even think about before. But all those difficulties were nothing in regards of having Vanessa climbing Zodiac and sharing those intense days on the wall all together. I have done a few amazing things in my life, this one is a part of them and forever in my heart.

I really want to thank all the people who has donated to make this project happened, the companies who supported us since the really begining, Cyrilde, Julien, Niels, Mika, Cyril, Nico Hairon, Victor et NIco Potard, Bertrand, Eric, Andrew Kirkpatrick, Timmy O’Neil. And above all, my team mates, Vanessa, Marion and Fabien for this fantastic moment of life shared in a true friendship and a beautiful energy.

Follow and help Vanessa on her website Vaness en mouv !
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