2017’s rock trips: Dolomites, Siurana, Verdon, Buoux, Provence and Côte d’Azur, plus a few injuries and plans for the near future.
I haven’t written in almost a year. Not a relapse, it was on purpose. Too much exposure I guess. I loved being able to help people that write me asking about anything, but I hate the pressure that has come up since Ama Dablam, in the shape of “when are you going to climb Everest” and the likes. Who were those people those people on my Facebook that I’ve never seen before and what do they want? What about all those Chamonix folks that add me on Facebook but never talk to me? Weird. But anyways…
Since 2014 I had only worked half years with half year vacations, but I was so confused in 2017 that I ended up working the first full year since 2014. January the plan was the usual “work hard and save” in the winter to then work part time in the summer and get out before December. Three weeks after I got back to Chamonix in January, my sister called saying she was pregnant and I realized coming back was a hasty decision, and probably wrong. But I needed the money, so I stayed. It took very few months to decide to go back to Brazil for good even with the worst crisis ever, which meant coming back with as much money as possible, which then meant working hard the summer as well, and not climbing as much.
And so 2017 turned to be a year of lots of work and a few micro/mini/small vacations. However, I can’t complain I didn’t travel much. I finally went to the Dolomites, finally went to Siurana and Verdon Gorge, and finished the year with a road trip to Provance and Côte d’Azur for climbing. As the year progressed and I started getting back into the person I always was (in relation to PTSD that is), I also went back to putting limits as to what is acceptable behavior coming from climbing partners (no more reckless epics, big egos, long delays, last minute change of plans and ruined/misteriously disappearing gear for me! Adiós amigos!) and so called friends, and obviously with that came conflict. However, that was a good thing: it is said the Universe won’t fill your life with good things if the bad are taking all the space. And so it happened, and magically, that after removing rotten weed from the garden, it started to flourish. I started meeting the right people in Chamonix. Obviously as my leaving approached I started thinking the usual, but true friendships withstand any distance and time. So no worries about that.
Climbing wise I started the year pretty well, going ice climbing the second day I arrived, climbing my hardest ever at the gym and doing well on the sport climbs I did in the spring. Didn’t get on many alpine stuff in Chamonix and I can easily say it was more of a year of rock, but then after a busy summer, I did lose shape and motivation to keep it. Then in October I “acquired” and ITB injury on my left knee which really almost made me give up my Patagonia plans, and from Siurana I got what seems to be a collateral ligament tear on my right index finger – immobilized as I type but going to Patagonia, plus a twisted ankle on the southern France trip. Although worried, none of those really put me down too much because whatever happens, a trip of my dreams is coming up with the best possible company.
Going to the Dolomites was an old dream. I guess the appeal was in the distance (away from the French and Swiss Alps), the different type of rock, the Italian setting… the difference to Chamonix. Mid 2016 when I started considering coming back to Europe I seriously thought of going to Cortina, and once I got there I knew that had I gone, I would be happy with the decision.
I took two weeks off work after my partner finally decided to come, and the plan was to hit the north face of Matterhorn first. However, we got there a bit after a big storm and it was super white which meant… no climbing on the north face. We then headed towards Bregaglia to try the north face of Piz Badile, which again, was hit by the storm a the day before we got there which rendered it unclimbable. However, we did climb some excellent granite cracks on a neighbouring valley before heading off to Italy. By then I was thinking my bad luck with weather was gonna doom the entire trip, but fortunately when I get lucky with weather I get really lucky, and one of those spells came again right as we entered Italy.
Our first stop was the Second Sella tower on Paso Sella near Canazei (where I bought the excellent Rockfax guidebook in one of the gear shops). We wanted to go for the Messner route but it looked wet at the crux pitch so ended up going for the Kaspanoff, also a 3-star route. This was my first time climbing in the Dolomites and I was pretty apprehensive about the rock, with due reason: compact limestone, rock fall and very, very hard to read. My leads were slow and I got lost quite a lot, but we made it to the top anyways, had fun and that’s what matters, especially considering the 15 minute approach and the van parked bellow us.
We then moved to Sass Pordoi, a small epic on the trip. I don’t even remember which route we wanted to climb but it looked obvious from the parking lot. However once we got to the base we thought we had it right but actually we were too far off to the right. In the end we merged two or more routes together (most of Via Gross) as in, got lost, but managed to come out at the top. The rock on this mountain was a lot more broken and lose though, and it was my least favorite climb of all.
After Pordoi we thought of getting a rest day since it was the 4th day straight of activity (counting also the days in Bregaglia), but looking at the weather forecast we saw that the next day could be the last full clear day for a while. That meant probably the only chance to do a truly big climb during the trip. It was over 18h when we decided to head for the Tre Cime, so after 1h30 drive, parking near the refuge, organizing gear, cooking, and preparing the route, we were ready to sleep at 23 h to be up at 6 h the next morning.
Before 7 we were at the base of the Comici-Dimai on the north face of Cima Grande, with a very clear sky, no wind and cool temperatures. Another rope team (a Swiss guide and his girlfriend) were already there but somehow let us pass saying they thought we’d climb faster (we climbed the same speed both the Swiss guy didn’t french-free anything, we did hehehe). The first half of the route is where the hardest pitches are, and knowing we’d had to climb fast we shot through them in 4 hours. Fortunately the first half is littered with pitons, old webbing and even wood, so route finding was not a problem because if it was, it would have taken a lot longer. Arriving at the big ledge in the middle of the wall however, the adrenaline started to wind down and we felt the tiredness, still having half the route to do – easier pitches but consistent, with quite obvious route finding. The last corner (4 pitches to the top) was very wet but passable. After 10 hours of climbing with perfect weather, we were are the summit terraces (sketchy AF with all the snow on them), and some time later started the rappels, which are hard to find but thanks to an Austrian guide who was soloing the Dibona, we found them and descended and old way to the van. Arrived at the parking lot after 20h, chilled a bit and drove to Misurina to sleep, after having climbed the most famous (and gorgeous) route of the Dolomites, and my first classic north face of the Alps. And after a while I discovered the route was opened on August 13-14, 1933, so, on my birthday, 84 years earlier. Class!
The next day was obligatory rest. Wake up late, stroll around the lake, and drive to Cinque Torri, where we climbed the following day. In fact, if I can give advice for someone going to the Dolomites for the first time, it’d probably be to go to Cinque Torri first to get used to the rock. There’s single pitch, multi pitch and trad, but nothing too long, so it’s good for training route finding, which I found the hardest aspect of climbing in this range. Our day in Cinque Torri was short because we were still tired and it was hot as hell, but we had fun anyways and afterwards I walked around the 1st World War trenches which are now an open air museum.
We stopped in Arco on the way back to visit a couple of friends and then headed back to reality in Chamonix. 10 days of vacation in 2017, or so I thought…
BRAZIL AND SIURANA
In late September I got myself another 10 days of vacation, but this time only to go home and meet my new niece. Counting flights, I was actually there for 8 days, of which 6 I spent visiting the new member of the family and the other 2 resolving some issues. It’s always good to see family and the few friends I squeezed in the little time I had, and refreshing to eat home cooked meals, tropical fruits and tons of different veggies.
Then late october I took a mini, 4 day vacation to Siurana (wow! me in Siurana… unthinkable a few years back), to hang out with Sean and try to put in some crimpy climbing. I was super out of shape and just beginning treatment for my knee, so I top roped tons of stuff I would usually just plain old climb, and only led up to 6b. But oh well, I was having so much fun I really didn’t care. Siurana is beautiful, excellent rock and really great temperature, and quite convenient if you have a car. For those who love crimps it is definitely paradise… I missed variety but I understand that for the hardcore sport climber this is (one of) the place to be. I would for sure come back as part of some longer climbing trip with other places included.
BUOUX AND VERDON GORGE
Although I worked a lot in the summer, I was still covering a lot of days off and vacations from the other girls, and vice versa, but came November and things normalized, and I was back at having pretty much 4 days off a week. The winter started arriving earlier than predicted, and having a partner willing to drive long hours just to get out of the valley, see some new places and climb not-so-cold rock, I took a few micro vacations. It didn’t take much to convince me, considering the (whole package) Sean was inviting me for quite a good time, cooks delicious curries, puts the draws in, keeps me warm at night, tapes my fingers…
First one was to Buoux in the south of France. Buoux is a sport climbing area that was considered the best in the world in the 80’s. I don’t know, it might just be THE best sport climbing crag I’ve ever been too. There’s a bit of everything: techy, slab, overhangs with big holds and reeeeeeeally nice corners and old school, mountain-like routes. We were there for 3 days, destroyed our finger tips but did a good volume considering our inability to get up early and go climbing before noon. Great climbing, good food, amazing company… I left Buoux saying “I wouldn’t mind having this as my home crag”. Humble!
The next week, after almost cancelling a trip due to a small problem with the van, we headed south again to the Verdon. WOW. Just… WOW!
You know those places you see in pictures and you just know that you’re gonna love it? I always thought that about the Verdon, and I was spot on. Just standing on the edge of the gorge was enough to make me feel like I do say in… Peru. Just thinking of the commitment of rappelling down some few hundred maters and having no option to come back up BUT climbing back was enough to psyche me. So there we went, almost at noon again, for my first route on the Verdon, the classic old school Luna Bong, an endless groove with butchy climbing, polished feet, and very run out protection. Needless to say, I got spanked, but a good spanking that leaves you wanting more. I didn’t lead anything as I got scared shitless after the first pitch, but it is a type of climbing and a place that makes me want to get better to lead there specifically. And by the way, we didn’t find the easy start so we went straight onto the 6b start, which considering how late we were, we just aided. We finished in the dark but super happy, went back to the van with no heating, cooked dinner, watched Vikings, and just chilled for the next day.
Next we woke up late again, feeling a bit beaten down. And lazy. I admit. Went for coffee in town, then a stroll around the gorge rim… wondering if we should climb or not because the weather forecast was not looking very good and the clouds were in the valley. But good enough that we were taking our time cuz the gorge cleared and we went for it. Our second route was Afin que nul ne meure on the Dalles Grises wall, and my day to lead, which I did until the last pitch just so Sean could say we swapt, but then I regretted cuz the last pitch was the prettiest of all. Worth saying that I kinda got on the left variant for the last two pitches. As usual… interesting that this was a completely different style of climbing from the route we did the day before, and they are just a few hundred meters from each other. I loved the Gorge, it’s a great place to spend a few weeks every year. Unless you live close by, then you can go all the time.
PROVENCE AND CÔTE D’AZUR
Both Sean and Anja had been joking with me that I worked too much even though it was 35 h/week and the eventual cover. Hard to compare a 25-year-old truly living the life, someone on a sabbatical year and someone about to start from zero again in a country as deep in shit as possible. But hey, they won by insistence. Or persistence? Sean eventually convinced me to take more time off in December and I managed to finish my contract ahead of time, which gave me 2 weeks off in December before getting my flight back fo Brazil. We thought of Corsica, of Sardegna, of the south of Spain. But considering distances and costs, we opted for the south of France, reachable by car, we already knew the country, Sean had been there before, and we had a good guidebook. So, off we went.
Our first stop was Mont Saint Victoire, a large mountain northeast of Aix-en-Provence. We chose to do the Grand Parcours, which crosses the three “layers” of the mountain up to the highest summit but ended up just climbing the first part which was super easy and not that interesting. In fact, the most interesting part seemed like the last one, and probably worth it to do the approach on foot (maybe 1h30) and just climb the main gendarme. So we finished the climb and hiked up to the summit through the cave. Took a few pics and soaked in the view before the rain came, than walked back to the van, during which my knee started complaining again, but okay, it took 1h40 for it to start hurting instead of 20 minutes, so that’s some improvement.
Then we headed for Chateauvert, a single pitch sport crag that looked amazing on the guidebook, and in person as well. I got annoyed by the incessant cold wind and lost my motivation to climb, so I just belayed. Good enough because it gave my injured finger some rest. We hang out on a town nearby before leaving and being stuck on the van during the 48 hours of non stop rain that followed. Lucky us, because while we were happily climbing in the south, hell was breaking lose in the Alps.
After the rain finally stopped, we headed for Saint-Jeannet, a mountain very visible from Nice and surrounding areas. We started with the south arête, where there were shorter routes and we could get a feel for the rock. Our pick for the day was Le Tonton Walker, a top 50 and definately worth the climb. For the next day we wanted something more challenging – which in our case means HAVE TO WAKE UP EARLY – so we went for the main face and La Directissime, a 9 pitch that felt a lot like the Verdon butchy climbing, very run out in many places. Now, from all the places we looked on online for info, everywhere seemed to give different info. If we did La Peril Jaune or not I don’t know, but for sure we did not finish on the last pitch as shown on the Rockfax guide because it looked and felt (for Sean) a lot harder than 5c (we later found out it was a 6b), so Sean found a scrambly arête and we summited from there. Also, my finger was showing signs of being in really bad shape. I particularly did not enjoy this climb much because like I said, too much fighting with the rock, but the setting is superb and the people at the village of Saint Jeannet were super nice. We walked back to town, got a pizza, and went to bed super happy.
Following Saint-Jeannet we went to Gorges du Loup, which should be dry by then, and was. Our first day we climbed a few easy multi-pitches on the left side of sector L’Hermitage, and the following day we went for the route on the right side with the big roof traverse, which was amazing. However, I didn’t feel all that strong for the scary crux plus the deformity and pain on my finger were taking the best of me and we bailed. Which was fine, it gave us time to find the sweetest parking spot near a medieval town on top of the gorges. We “showered” and I even washed my hair for the first time in like… 10 days! Yuck!
Last stop of the trip was Peillon, an amazing crag close to the border with Italy. Damn I wish I had climbed there! But I didn’t, I used my common sense and decided it was about time I gave my finger some rest before it got so serious that it would impair me from climbing in Patagonia. But I played belayer very well and Sean loved all the routes he did, I think all of them 3-stars, and besides, I could still use my fingers to stuff my face with brioches and nutella. Peillon is for sure a must!
And that’s how our trip went. We headed back to snow-covered Chamonix to pick up our stuff and then headed to Geneva, from where we temporarily parted ways until Patagonia. In the end I can’t say I climbed a lot this year because there was no consistency but I definitely traveled tons and went to tons of new places, and even better with Scottish next to me. And now I’m healing finger and knee here in Brazil, eating tons of broccoli, mandioquinha and coxinha, pão de queijo, cheap papaya and avocados, before heading way down south to Patagonian lands for more adventures. 😀