Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Reel Rock 11 Review

The last week I saw the eleventh edition of the “Reel Rock” climbing video compilation at a pretty full auditorium in Stanford.

Last year Big Up/Sender film's compilation got a bit of a stick for being a complete sausage-fest, and I was happy to see that the gender balance is a bit more representative of the climbing community this year.

The first film was about Kai Lightner and Ashima Shiraishi traveling to Flatanger to do some totally amazing groundbreaking accents, which didn't happen. And which would have been a stupid storyline anyway. Kai Lightner and his mother came off very well from this segment, especially his mother who seemed to be a wise woman and whose thoughts I would have liked to hear more of. Shirashi wants to be the best climber in the world, whatever that means. In particular it seems to mean that a pointless addition of some “success” in Kyushu had to be tagged on to the end of the segment.

The best-climber-in-the-world thing made me depressed and very uncomfortable, even more as the entire Flatanger trip jarred with false notes, so it was great that the next segment “Boys in the bugs” offered comic relief.

Boys in the bugs has some very old-fashioned story telling about a team (Matt Segal and Will Stanhope) trying to free a horrendously hard fingercrack in the middle of a big shield of alpine granite in the Bugaboos. The segment really celebrates the pointlessness of it all, where our heroes sacrifice relationships, comfort and money to reach some ill-defined vague notion of success. Edited to show lots of hard drinking and funny dialogue. This was the best segment out of the five.

The third segment was about some Canadian local hero. I didn't catch her name, but some time after I lost interest in the clip and was checking my twitter feed she soloed some 6b+ thing in Patagonia and talked about being completely alone on the wall, except for the camera team one supposes? Sorry, but I would have looked if I was payed instead of paying to see this. (Addendum: The climber is called Brette Harrington, she's from south of the border and you should read her account in Alpinist instead. It's amazing.)

The fourth film was called “Rad Dad” and showed a dude called Mike dancing in spectacular locations wearing funny animal masques. So that was funny. The film should have concentrated on that part. Instead, the story of the film was about Mike being mostly absent from his family while concentrating on his self realisation, which was OK because he volunteered for a lot of PTA meetings when he was home. Alas, I couldn't connect with him and his struggles at all as he seemed basically clueless. Actually, to Mike there seemed to be no struggle at all.

The conflict between realising selfish climbing goals and responsibilities as a partner or a parent has of course been unsuccessfully covered by several climbing films, e.g. “A Line Across the Sky” from last year's Reel Rock, and equally as unsuccessful by climbing literature like “Psychovertical” by Andy Kirkpatrick. There is however a large corpus of excellent literature, theatre and film by authors who have been neglected by their loved ones.

The final film was by far the funniest. “Dodo's delight” showcases Belgian humour and lots of really shitty rock on Baffin Island. Narrated by Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll, who's genuinely funny, it was full of an unenforced sense of adventure in the true sense of the word. I'm not sure it is different from the web-episodes though? I saw those a while ago so I cannot really remember.

Rating: 3/5. Wait until it appears on your local torrent so you can skip segments 3 & 4. Segment 1 is probably quite good, so if you're less uncomfortable then I am by hard pressure from sponsors, choaches & parents on a 14-year old I'm sure it's quite OK

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Keep cool Raoul and La 7ème Leffe in Gorge de la Jonte.

My partner has been gone since mid September, and I have had a horribly full schedule of teaching, so apart from a half-day visit to Auzat in September I have not climbed outside since August. Just a bit of bouldering in the gym, with some attempts to keep a bit of endurance by doing a few fifteen-minutes sessions on the hang board.

Just about when I was about to have a break-down I got Thursday-Tuesday free from teaching. Luckily my friends Erik & Paulina was in Gorge du Tarn for a two week trip. Unfortunately, they are both injured. Paulina so bad that she cannot climb, and Erik bad enough that he has decided not to climb anything above 6c or so.

After a short visit to the sector Zebra in Gorge du Tarn, Erik decided that it's more fun to climb easy multi-pitch routes than single-pitch moderates. I had no objections.
Keep cool. Erik on the second belay, vulture below.

Keep cool Raoul, 6c+>6b (5 pitches, 150m)

Despite having climbed quite a bit in Gorge du Tarn, this is the first route for me in the neighbouring Gorge de la Jonte. It takes a pretty direct line on the left side of the big vertical face of sector Fusée, one of the taller walls in Jonte. The route is well equipped with plenty of glue-in bolts, giving the route a low mandatory grade. On the other hand, the pitch-grades are not at all generous, and the climbing is very sustained and technical.
  1. 6c. Start on a bit crumbly rock up to a vague grove that is climbed at surprisingly great difficulty using all available techniques for thin face climbing. Not to be underestimated. Take your time.
  2. 6b. Another sustained pitch. No fluff.
  3. 6c+. A short and difficult boulder problem followed by very nice climbing up and across a grove. Belay out to the right of the line after about 35m. I had maybe 13 draws or so, and had to skip two bolts to get to the belay, so bring plenty of draws for this slightly meandering pitch.
  4. 6c. Good climbing on terrain similar to the very best pitches in Tarn. Up the overhang and the arête to a reasonably comfortable belay. This pitch is also sustained.
  5. 6b+. Start easy on a juggy traverse leading rightwards up to an overhanging grove with a short but pumpy crux. After the steep groove, there should be a belay up and to the left, according to the topo.
  6. 2. A short pitch of easy climbing leads to the top.
I did not pay much attention to the topo and missed the bit after the crux on the fifth pitch, and all of sixth pitch. Instead I went straight up after the crux, climbing about 15-20m of crumbly rock at around 5a or so, directly up to the top ledge. Not at all recommended.

Descend by rappel. There is a rap-route on the left side of the face. You have to lean out to clip the first rap, then three fairly long raps lead to the ground (we had 2x60m of rope). According to camp-to-camp it is possible to rap the route on a single 80m, using intermediate belays.
Erik close to the end of the third pitch of Keep cool Raoul.
As both members of the team were in pretty bad shape for long routes our opinions probably don't count for much, but the route took much longer to climb than expected judging from the pitch-by-pitch grades. This was down to the route being incredibly sustained and technical thorough. Well worth doing.

Lesson learned: check the topo even if the route is fully bolted. Failing that, “Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end”

La 7ème Leffe 7a+>6b+/A0 (5 pitches, 120m)

The second route we did was another three star choice. La 7ème Leffe (The seventh Leffe), wrongly called La 8ème Leffe in the Rockfax guidebook, climbs the steep Roch Decollée. Good bolts all the way. Very generously bolted also. More sport-climbing over several pitches then multi-pitch that is on fixed gear, if you get my drift.

Erik on the second pitch of La Septième Leffe

  1. 5+. Start on a detached black pillar to the left of a big crack line, via a bolt to a crack leading up to a niche above a roof. Quite polished at the crux.
  2. 7a+ Climb the right-slanting crack with increasing difficulties, very cool climbing in a good position on slightly overhanging but not totally bullet rock. At least 15 draws, if you for some reason want to clip every bolt.
  3. 6a+. A fantastic pitch up black rock. Still steep.
  4. 6c. Would be a three star classic on any single-pitch crag in the world. Steep and very sustained. Technical as well.
  5. 6b+. Another magnificent pitch. Traverse right, around the arête and out in space... Exposure straight out of Verdon. Some tricky crack-climbing finish off this spectacular pitch and route.
Descend by walking across to the north face and rap down from a big tree with slings. A 20m rap takes you down to a ledge, where a path with fixed ropes takes you down to a second rap. I doubt thee second rap is more than 32-33 m, and quite possible to do on a 60m rope with some easy down climbing (we had a single 80m). 
On top of the third pitch of La 7ème Leffe


Spring and autumn. Most of the climbing is on south facing or south-west facing walls.

Getting there

Gorge de la Jonte is found north of Millau within walking distance from Rozier. If you get to Rozier by public transport you can probably do quite well without a car, but then you wouldn't be able to visit the close by climbing areas like Gorge du Tarn, Boffi, Cantobre etc.


The local guidebook is quite expensive, considering the low production values, but some of the proceeds goes toward bolting. Gorge de la Jonte is also covered by the Rockfax Languedoc-Roussillon guide. On the two routes we did, the Rockfax was an obvious copy of the local guidebook, with some novel errors. So the Rockfax has better photos but showed the belays in the wrong place for the first route we did, and was totally wrong on the rap for the second route. None of the guidebooks has descriptions of individual pitches.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Verdon, various routes

Série Limitée, 250 m, 6c+ (6b/+ obligatory)
A good but unfortunately very-very popular route on the north facing Duc. The route goes up on north-west-facing side of the big cleft on the right side of the north face proper, thus the sun hit the upper pitches around 2-3 in the afternoon. Good route for the summer if you can be up before the sun hit it, which, given its popularity might be a problem, if you're not also a morning person.
A climber on the penultimate pitch of Série Limitée

The route is not as good as Alix, punk de Vergons (7b) on the same wall, but almost nothing is. However, it offer some of the same style of climbing in a easier setting.  The climbing differ quite a lot from the classical routes on l'Escales, with much more user-friendly climbing for the modern sport climber: densely bolted, fairly steep climbing on good holds. The first four pitches all have mediocre climbing – but the top is steep and varied, without being too airy or exposed.

Approach from the Samson parking lot by walking to the first tunnel on the path downstream along the river, then walk down an across the river on a Tyrolian. Hike up to the crag. Total 15-20 min.
Tyrolian across the Verdon river

Pitch notes
P1. 6b. Easy slab climbing. Good warm up. The best of the first four pitches.
P2. 6b+. More slabclimbing up the corner. A few tricky moves at the end. Apparently quite reachy.
P3. 6a+. Easy climbing, a bit awkward to reach a bolt above a ledge on the top.
P4. 6a+. Cross the big dihedral. Nothing special.
P5. 6c. Nice tufa-climbing. Short but sweet (the tufa part)
P6. 6c. A short tricky overhanging bulge close to the belay, then easier climbing to the top. Another good pitch.
P7. 6c+ going on 7a. Off balance dihedral leads to a good overhanging corner with some blind moves. A bit engaged after the final small roof (and before as well if the long sling [chasse d'eau] is not in place). This part is the 6b+ obligatory. Hang in there: you'll be fine. Consider hauling the backpack on this pitch.
P8. 6b+/c. Short but physical climbing on positive holds.
Another shot of the second to last pitch of Série Limitée

Decent. Follow the path to the rappel on the other side of the big cleft. The first rap is either down to a cave (40 m) or down to a sloping ledge with slings around a tree (55m down to the ledge). From the tree you either do a 20 m rap to some chains or a 60 m rap down to a single bolt 3 m above the next chain (the 3rd belay on Série Limitée), clip in and wait for your second to rescue you...  A short 25 rap to the next belay, and then either one more rap or a 60 m rap followed by some down climbing.

Les Caquous 200 m, 6c A0 (6b+ obligatory)
A forgotten classic. Steep climbing on good holds. No pied-main on this one. If you pass l'Escales and all the classic sectors on the scenic route along the rim, almost all the way to la Malin you get to Grand Eycharme, just across from the new Ramirole sector. The route Les Caquous is on the east face, so it's a great option for some afternoon shade. Great climbing, mostly following crack systems and dihedrals up a very impressive wall.
Rapping in to the East Face

Approach. Follow a path and cairns (marked Cac) to a big cairn at the rappels. Apparently it's possible to hike in on skiers left as well. Which I think I'll do if I go there again to do the very classy looking 7b just to the right (Surface), because the raps are freaking scary, even for Verdon! No skimping on the prussik for this rappel... The first rap is either 30-40 m down and slightly climbers left to a big chain – or 55 m straight down where big pendeldums take you down to a tree that you can toe-hook and reach across to two bolts under an overhang. There are no routes coming up here so if you take this option you will need to prussik up 20 m if your swings are not big enough. Luckily some Italian climbers below yelled up to me, advising to do a lot of “ballant”. From the correct chain it is 50 m down to the next chain, from the lower rap I ended up on it's just 30 m maybe. Anyway its freehanging most of the way, and again you need to swing into the rap station. The next rap is 45 m and also mostly freehanging. From this station is possible to get down to the ledge below the big roof with 60 m ropes. Otherwise a 15 m rap leads to another station from which you can rap down to the ledge. If you don't want to climb the pitch through the roof (aid-climbing) you can rap down and diagonally climber's right to a double bolt belay (no chain) above the roof.
Julia on P2, Les Caquous

Pitch notes
P1. (Second pitch if approaching on foot from below). 5c A0. Loose climbing up to the roof, then a traverse right-wards to a bolt-ladder through the roof up to a crack. Easy to lead without ladders, but seconding can be tricky for shorter climbers. I'm 1.80 and could unclip from the bolts below without any trouble, but shorter climbers would be well advised to double a long sling in the first bolt hanger, lower themselves out and then prussik up the rope to the second bolt in the roof. Poor suckers.
The leader in green helmet on P2 of Les Caquous. The belayer in yellow on Surface.
P2. 5c/6a. 15 m.
P3. 6a 40 m. The timid might want a small rack on this pitch, as the bolts are 7-8 m apart on 5b/c terrain. The climbing is fairly secure though. I guess grey, purple and green camalot or a set of wires would do? P2 & P3 can be done in one very long pitch.
P4. 6b? Or so they say. I found this to be the hardest pitch with a powerful boulder right of the belay. Take the right branch of the corner then downclimb and traverse to the right (easier down low–very low).
P5 6b+. Scramble up and to the right and up the corner. Leave the corner and go up and to the left on a really nice face. The bolts straight up the corner are on another route (Surface).
P6. 6c. Up and get into a committing layback.  Definitely not 6a as in the topo in Grimper...
Julia on top of P6.
P7 6a. More nice layback climbing.
Julia starting up P7

P8 6b. Some powerpulls around an overlap. Really cool steep climbing on jugs on this pitch. Topping out where the rappels starts.

Démon, 160m 7a+ (7a obligatory)
Well of course not, either 7a+ or 7a obligatory is wrong.

Classic Verdon style. A clean onsight of this route was beyond me and I'm well impressed by climbers who manage that. Quite polished on the first pitches, both hands and feet. The climbing is very demanding on the fingers, and often steep. Definitely haul the bag on most if not all pitches. Count on taking a small break on some of the belays (if you don't have a lot of power to waste at this grade on l'Escales).

Approach. Very mellow approach down the Dalle Gris rappels, then a short hike down the hanging garden to the start. Gets into the shade around 2-3 which should give you enough time both winter and summer.

P1. "6a". 25m. Start to the left of the big corner system. Belay on a sloping lede.
P2. 7a+ 25m. Wall climbing on pockets. Very sustained on the fingers up the overhang.
It's basically over. Julia on top of P2.

P3. 6b+ 25m. Another good pitch.
Yey, that's me on P3! Another great pitch

P4. "7a". 35m. Another very good pitch. Really hard for the grade, even for the area. The second half in particular has some really out there climbing. Excellent. Did I mention that I found this hard? Oh well, ignore me, I'm probably just full of crap.
Not a happy customer on P4

P5. 6b+ 40 m. Jikes! This is airy! Traverse up right in a superb position, then up a crack to a belay just below a hanging nose. No polish on this one.
P6 6a+ 50m. Around the corner to the right. Steep. Unrelenting. Major.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Taghia Valley Marocko. Various Routes

TAGHIA: The limestone valley

Team on Zebda, 7b+.

The climbing

It is the world class multi pitch limestone climbing, from 7 to 20 pitches that make climbers travel all the way to Taghia. Some routes have no bolts, most are partly bolted, and some are fully or almost fully bolted. 

Some of the older routes follow ridges and are lower in the grades, but they are rarely repeated. To get most out of a one week stay, climbing the easy popular routes, you’d have to be at least a 6c climber, in the sense that seeing the 6c-grade (or 6b obligatory) on a big multi pitch route do not strike fear into you. There is nothing much harder than 8a/+ (or 7b obligatory) in the valley (One 8b and one 8c afaik).

The climbing is technical, steep and fingery throughout. The grades felt in line with Verdon, maybe a tad more generous. Bring good shoes. Unfortunately your good shoes will not last long as the rock is very abrasive.

There is also some single pitch climbing around Taghia, one crag with some 4s and 5s, one with 7s, and one rather nice looking tufa wall with some low eights. Kris Erickson, an american guide living in Zaouia Ahanesal, has bolted a number of sport routes around Zaouia Ahanesal with grades from the low sixes to mid eights.

Taghia Valley

When we went we were the only climbers in the valley, possibly due to the perceived terrorism threat after this summer’s spectacular strike in neighbouring Algeria. (Talking to the Taxi-driver in Marrakesh and to people in Taghia, the consequences for Moroccan tourism has been catastrophic) . There was in other words no hope of rescue if things went bad. Even if there are other climbers in the valley, who are likely to be competent, I would not count on timely rescues being possible—and how would you call on rescue in the first place? Yosemite or the Alps it isn’t.

The trekking

The hiking in the High Atlas in general, and around Zaouia Ahanesal in particular, is spectacular. There are donkey trails that criss cross the mountain range between the villages, but very few roads. Some valleys and canyons can be accessed by “Berber ferratas”, where a certain trust in goat-herder’s engineering skills is required.

Kris Erickson in Zaouia Ahanesal can arrange everything around a trekking trip.

On the path across ... Photo: Julia Sni


Depending on what you wish to do of course. We went for a sport climbing trip and brought 19 draws, of which 5 where tripled 60 cm draws, one set of wires and one set of camalots from #0.3 to #2. Those who want to do the longest and most serious sport routes probably wish to bring a #3 and doubles in #.75-2. To repeat the less bolted routes a normal mountain rack is necessary, and possibly a handfull of pitons as well.

If the bolts can be accessed by grade 3-4 scrambling, the Berber might find better use for the nuts and hangers than being protection for climbing tourists: thus there are reports of missing bolt hangers on the first belay of some routes on Parois de Cascade. Bring a hanger or two and some M10 nuts, or M10 nuts, washers and some wires to thread the bolts.

Two ropes, at least 50 m. Most teams probably wish to haul the pack on the harder pitches.


The only printed guidebook is Christian Revier’s beautiful 2009 book “Taghia, Montagnes Berbères” (French) available directly from the author, or through internet retailers. An update would be more than welcome, considering the amount of routes put up since the publication.

A print-out of the topos from Taghia on Luichys site is an almost complete Spanish language guidebook for the routes in the area (up to ≈ 2009 or so) (Spanish)

There are also topos for some of the popular routes on Remi Thivel’s site (French)

Parois de Legende, (Bodet & Petit) (french) also list a number of routes with topos and some useful info. 
A few of the new hard routes put up after the publication of Revier’s book have topos on, (French and Italian) but generally speaking, for routes put up after 2009, the new route book and guest book in Said’s gite is the best bet. (French) has some information of course.

Staying there

There are a number of gites in Taghia offering half pension. Said’s and Youssef’s Gite among them. Said was the first to cater to climbers, and his Gite has a new-route book and guest book full of impressive stories by climbers of all abilities, from 6c-punters to some of the biggest names in European multi-pitch climbing. Said's gite has consistently good reputation, and I have never heard of anyone having a bad experience.

Most French climbers stay at Said’s Gite. Said speaks French, his son Mohammed speaks good French and a bit of English, and should be able to help you out if you have no French. We paid 120 Dh per person per night at Said’s place (September 2015)

Chez Said Messaoudi, Douar Taghia, Zaouia Ahanesal 
22010 Azilal Maroc
Cellphone +212668246536 (intermittent coverage)
Fixed line +212523 459 290 (directly to the house)
e.mail: (if you speak no french it is probably best to e-mail them in English. Mohammed will be able to reply)
Chez Youssef Rezki, Douar Taghia, Zaouia Ahanesal 
22010 Azilal Maroc. 
Tel : 00 212 668909843


La Boutique Jamal is always open, or so they claim. Holler for them and they come. They had bottled water, Coke, threaded gas canisters (the smallest size), canned sardines, gigantic bags of couscous, some nuts, candy, soap, and internet access for sale (requires a subscription to Meditel). The woman who runs the shop has limited numeracy, so be prepared to do some addition.

There are two other shops in the village. But we only frequented this one.

La Boutique Jamal


Getting there

Book a gite in Taghia beforehand. Fly to Marrakesh—plenty of low cost carriers traffic Marrakesh—and let the gite arrange the transport from Marrakesh to Taghia. We took taxi all the way from Marrakesh to Zaouia Ahanesal, where the road ends (around 6-7 hours with a lunch break in Azilal) (1200 Dh, October 2015). From Zaouhia, hike in with donkey/mule (100-120 Dh per donkey). One donkey will bring up to 70 kg.

Another option is to get from Marrakesh to Azilal by public transport, than get to Zaouia with taxi.

Yet another option would be to rent a car and drive to Zaouia Ahanesal yourself.

On the donkey trail


More or less everyone who’s ever been has been reporting stomach bugs. We put aquatabs in all water or boiled it before drinking, including the water used for brushing the teeth. We also washed the hands and used  antiseptic spray like a couple of OCDs. Still both of us got diarrhoea. 


Mid-april to end of October. July and August likely too hot (and travelling in and out of Marrakesh would be a nightmare at that time of year). May and October being the most popular months, with up to 40-50 climbers in the village. In the autumn of 2015 the gites are reporting very few bookings, and we were by ourselves in mid September, having very good conditions for climbing in the shade with daytime temperatures in the low 20s. In May it reportedly rains quite a bit.

Modern life is rubbish?

Since 2013 there is electricity in the village Taghia. There is also cell phone coverage, but only through Meditel,: no other Moroccan provider will work. There’s also intermittent 3G coverage, but even though our French sim cards could access Meditel for SMS & MMS, we could not get data roaming (which was probably for the better since they ask 3€/Mb for traffic…). We bought a code good for 800 Mb (200 Dh) in the store in Taghia and Mohammed, Said’s son, set up his phone as a wifi-router for us.

The upshot is that it is possible to get up-to-date weather forecasts. We found the one-day forecasts from to be reliable.


Hepatitis A. Two shots, separated by six months, some protection after the first shot.
Diphtheria. A single shot protects for three years
Lockjaw/tetanus. (This is included in the vaccine program for children in most EU countries)

What to bring

Climbing gear
Two pair of shoes. The approach/decent shoes will get wet, so it is nice to change to dry shoes after returning to the village
Toilet paper
Head scarf (for women who want to pay respect to local customs)
Possibly a small gas stove for tea
A small medical kit including diarea tabs, penicillin, antiseptic cream, antiseptic spray and painkillers.


À boire ou je tue le chien ** (A drink or I kill the dog) 280m 6c (6b+ obligatory)

Julia on À boire ou je tue le chien

Nice climbing on excellent rock. A bit engaged in places. Has been onsight soloed (Alex Honnhold). Possible to combine with Au nom de la reform for a great day out, if you rap after pitch six. The sun hits the wall around noon beginning of September. 

Gear: 12 quick draws, a few wires (Wallnuts #2-#7). Four cams if continuing to the top after pitch 7.

Approach: From Taghia to Taojdad. Go up in the channel between Taoujdad & Oujdad. 30 min after the village, pass a big block on the left. Continue up until a path (cairns) left lead to the two obvious ramps that mark the start of Au nom de la réforme and À boire respectively.

P1 5c. Climb the crack (4) protected by wires or small friends. Then a mixture of wires and bolts to the belay. A bit engaged. Many teams report that this is at least 6a, but if you’re used to climb low-angle cracks 5c is probably fair.
P2 6c. Really good climbing, morpho.
P3 6c. I did something wrong on the start of this pitch. Did a 7a-sequence straight up between the first and second bolt, where a fall would have been unpleasant. My second told me it was easier more to the right rather than straight up, probably 6c.
P4. 6a+ Nice face climbing.
P5. 6b+ Steep and awkward dihedral. Don’t worry, a bolt will appear when needed.
P6. 5c. Reasonably well bolted face climbing. This is the last steep pitch and the last independent pitch as well.

To climb to the top of Taoujdad, change to your approach shoes and climb the top pitches of La Reform:
P7. 4+ Trekking along the ridge. Then some face climbing past a bolt (4+), then some trekking again past a big tree to the last steep face. (75 m or so)
P8. 5a. Two or three bolts. Two-three finger sized cams useful (40 m)

Decent from Taoujdad: From the top, head south-east on a path (plenty of cairns), diagonally skier’s right. Find a tree with slings and rap 40 m to a col, or 55 m down skiers right. Walk diagonally left and cross the ridge, then follow cairns down and right. Aim for the white water streak in the intermittent creek. Close to this, carefully follow the switchbacks on the right side of the couloir. About 1 hour down to the point where you took off towards the start of the routes and 2 hours down to the village.

Belle et Berbère *** (The Beauty and The Berber) 300 m, 6b+ (6a+ obligatory)

Very good climbing on a contrived line. Extraordinarily sustained 6b climbing, with most pitches around vertical on good to excellent rock. Very fingery throughout. Probably the most frequently climbed route in Taghia beside La Réforme. The sun hit the face around 12.30 in September.

13 draws. (And possibly a finger sized friend to protect grade 3 scrambling if necessary)

Approach on the left side of the creek to Parois des Sources. Two ledges on top of each other, climb up to the lower ledge further to the right with cairns on top of it (3+). There is a route (bolt) starting on the right side of the ledge, Belle et Berber start further right, just around the corner. 15 min from the village if you find the route straight away…
Me on Belle et Berbère

P1. 6b Traverse right (three bolts) into a right-facing overhanging dihedral with tufas-in-the-process of growth. 
P2. 6b Follow the bolts. Hard slab boulder in the start, then easier. Mind the rope drag.
P3. 6b Sustained low-angle face climbing
P4. 6b+ Sustained 6b climbing with a boulder move in the middle. 
P5 6a+  Short easy pitch, very contrived line where the bolts are placed to force you away from the natural line.
P6. 6b+  Long pitch. Vertical climbing, just when you think it is over, there is a slab crux, then face climbing to the top.
P7 6b  Walk across the ledge and then climb a bolted face. The careful climber move the belay to under the face, or just don’t fall. Belay with one bolt and a tree.
P8. 3. One bolt, then hiking diagonally right and scramble up (3b, unprotected or bring a finger sized friend) right to a red big face. Belay in one bolt or stretch up and clip the first bolt on the next pitch as well.
P9. 6b+ A crux on slopers off the first bolt, then easier climbing diagonally right to a steep finish.
P10. 6b+ Hard sequence across the fin, the rest is easier.

Decent from Parois des Sources. Scramble diagonally up left until you see the cairns on the ledge system to the left of the top. Follow the well marked path on the ledges for a few hundred meters, and then track back towards the village along the path. (45 min). Sticks or  stones might be useful to fend off aggressive dogs on this side of the village.

Zebda *****, 260 m, 7b+ (6c obligatory)

Second of the top the line. Better than The holy War in Wadi Rum, and slightly worse than Alix, punk of the Vergons in Verdon. Steep climbing on immaculate rock for 280 sustained meters. One of the most popular and recommended routes in Wadi Rum. Deservedly so.

The sun hit the route at around 13:00.

14 draws + belays.

Approach: Walk to Parois des Sources, past the sources and cross the river and track back. The name of the route is written in big letters at the base. 20 min from the village.
Julia on Zebda

P1. 7b+ Tough warm up. Well bolted face climbing (7a) with decent rests up to a short boulder crux at the tufa.
P2. 6a+ for the tall. Morpho. Worst pitch on the route.
P3. 6c+ A fantastic pitch. Steep face climbing.
P4. 7b Sustained climbing straight off the belay. Then a bit easier to the roof. The mantel shelf move above the roof is OK. The belay is hanging and in the middle of a non-trivial sequence. Strong climbers with good ethics are advised to bring plenty of quick draws and a 70 m rope and link it with the next pitch.
P5. 7a+ Another mind blowing pitch. Steep crimpy face climbing. Engaged and not trivial (6c-ish) near the belay.
P6 6c. Face climbing straight from the belay, and than a tricky traverse on good holds but mediocre feet.
P7 6c+ Steep climbing. At least a grade easier than previous pitch.
P8 6b (50m). Major pitch. Steep stemming up the corner. Belay on a single bolt + a tree.
Scramble 5-10 min to the top and descend as for The beauty and the Berbere

Approach to Canyon Apache/North face of Taojdad

Walk past Parois des Sources, and access the canyon to the left by scrambling up on its right side. A bolt around the corner is used to make the passage 4/A0 (expo). Keep walking up-river with a short passage of scrambling. 

After a while you come to a narrow passage where there are two options: either an exposed slab traverse to the left (5, one bolt) supposedly leads to a Berber bridge at a delicate river crossing (this bridge was either under water or gone when we where there) or three bolts on a bulge can be aided and then a short passage of 4+ climbing (one bolt) lead to a glue-in bolt (belay). From this traverse left and up and scramble along ledges until the river can be accessed again-

Further upstream there are some gigantic boulders blocking the canyon. If the water level is very low it is apparently possible to walk up to these and climb up and under them (very exposed) to approach the north face of Taojdad. Again we had to high water for this to be possible, instead we did the more common approach by way of the first pitch of Canyon Apache. Climb up three bolts on the left side of the canyon (the third was really loose) then traverse right 30 m to a delicate passage (6a) leads to a ledge. On the right side of the ledge the second pitch of Canyon Apache can be found.

To approach the north face of Taojdad downclimb from the start of the second pitch of Canyon Apache to the riverbed.

To get from the north face of Taojdad back to the village it is supposedly possible to rap down the passage with the gigantic boulders mentioned above. The water was to high for us and we had to reverse the first pitch of Canyon Apache.

The Canyon, not accessible from the village side without one and a half pitch of climbing

Classe Montagne Épinal **, 185 m, 6c+ (6b obligatory)

Approach: Scramble up the ledge system from right. The route follows a big pillar system.

P1 6b+. A very good vertical pitch
P2 6b.  Another good pitch
P3 5+
P4 6c+ Good vertical face climbing with a hard sequence straight up from the belay.
P5 6a+ dihedral. Not so good. A shoulder length sling can be used around a tree at the top of the pitch
P6 6b Straight up to a ledge, then traverse far right on the ledge then straight up. Two ropes useful
P7 6a+ Many bolts. Finish on the ledge with belay on one bolt + tree.
Untie and scramble up diagonally to the left to the ledge system that traverse the mountain on the south east side. Follow the cairns.
Julia on Classe Montagne 

Fat guides ***** 250 m, 7b+ (7a obligatory)

Start to the left of Zebda

For the grade it does not get much better. Dead vertical wall of perfect limestone. Will only improve as a few more ascents clean it up further.

P1 7b+ Hard start for the first few bolts, then steady climbing until a physical traverse out left. Finish up a very thin slab. This pitch probably sees some seepage as it was quite dirty. Felt like 7c/+ in the conditions we had.
P2 6c+ Nice short pitch.
P3 6c The same. The 3rd bolt is quite tricky to clip for short climbers (bring a stiff draw or a medium sized climbing partner).
P4 7a+. Magnificent pitch, not alway totally obvious to find the best sequence. Semi-hanging belay. Felt like 7b/+ to me.
P5 7b? Easy climbing up to a short two-bolt crux to a good hold, then some pumpy climbing lead to a comfortable belay. Either I missed something, or this is more like 7b+/c. A bail biner on the bolt before the hardest part told me I’m not alone finding this difficult.
P6. 6c. Another very nice, short pitch to a good belay.
P7. 7a+  An absolutely superb pitch. The first bolt is put in a bit too high, then there are 18(!) bolts in 50 m. It’s possible to shuffle draws in a few places, in which case 15 draws should be enough
P8. 4. 15 m. No bolts. Climb a bit to the right, than back to the left to a two-bolt belay, Two shoulder length slings can be used for protection, tying off some shrubs.
P9 3+ Traverse straight left on the sloping ledge. A rope can be nice for the first 15-20 m. 

Continue to traverse the ledge and exit like Classe Montagne Épinal, or why not finish with the last two beautiful pitches of Belle et Berbère (6b+ and 6b+), if you haven’t climbed that before.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Czech sandstone meet 2012. Adrspach and Teplice. Various routes

Me about to switch from off-width to chimney on Original Route on Mayor's Wife. Photo: Radek Linerth

“Only a fool can fall out of a chimney.” True. But then, what do you call someone who gets lost in one? 

Of all the chimneys we climbed during the international Czech sandstone meeting in 2012 the one that stands out most in my memory is the Original route (Stará cesta) to the top of the Mayor's wife (Starostová) in Adršpach. 

The first pitch started with a hand-crack somewhere deep inside a rock labyrinth, followed by a bit of sideways chuffing in one chimney which lead to a three-way junction when it met another major chimney. After some confused back-and-forth shouting with local chimney-aficionado Tomáš Vidlák, I got the impression that I was supposed to take the left junction, and continue across a smaller side-chimney up and diagonally across the wide chimney to the tower on the left. Since I judged the rope-drag to be “impossible” (for some reason I often find the drag bad just before climbing starts to be scary…) I instead turned in to the side-chimney and made a body belay to bring up Tomáš and Stefan.

Stefan is leading us out of the darkness into the ... light?

It turned out that I was supposed to just go diagonally up in the left arm for ten meters or so until a hidden bolt in the chimney could be reached. The chimney was extraordinarily green and wide enough not to feel super safe anymore, so I was very thankful that Stefan led that part. 

Stefan was perhaps not quite as thankful to take the lead, especially after he failed applying one of the fine tricks our host had shown us: when approaching a ring bolt that you really want to clip as soon as possible, take a double shoulder-length spectra sling and lasso it to the pin (only works for the old style square pins on ancient routes). If the bolt is drilled in vertically or in slight downward direction, as is often the case with old bolts, the sling should give you a body-weight top-rope anchor.

The bolt that Stefan failed to lasso was old and almost rusted through. (Note: In four days of climbing it was the only bad bolt we saw.) The next pitch was an easy off-width to more wide chimneying, followed by a last pitch with an easy hand crack which led to the top. But that feeling of getting lost in a maze of dark green chimneys will stay with me for some time. Weird and exhilarating.

Heikki Karla on the last pitch of the Original route of Mayor's wife, Adrspach. Finally some gear!

Sandstone subculture

The towers overlooking Elbe valley in Saxony, Germany, form the cradle of modern free climbing. That is quite natural. There is something very satisfying and primal in climbing a freestanding tower, especially by its natural route, and even more satisfying when the easiest route is challenging.

Towers in the Elbe Sandsteingebrige in Germany, close to the border of the Czech republic

In a chimney the leader’s body in itself is a form of protection, and so many of the Alte Weg (literarily the “Old way” or Original route) follow chimneys.

As the ability rose among the tower-aficionados in Saxony the cracks they ascended got narrower, or wider, and faces they climbed steeper, or less featured. They developed two kinds of protection: rudimentary wedges in the form of knotted slings and absolutely bomber ring bolts drilled deep into the sandstone.

In the beginning of the last century Saxon climbers took their craft across the border to Bohemia; first, further down the Elbe river valley, then all the way to the Bohemian highland, to the magnificent towers around the villages of Adršpach and Teplice.
View of Adr rock city from the top of the Major (Starosta)

For better and for worse Saxony and Bohemia are deeply conservative regions.. Many of the taboos and rules of their first climbers still hold. Among these rules are: no metal protection in the cracks—only threads and slings, no chalk, minimum amount of bolts, and new routes must be put up ground-up.

Last year, when climbing in Elbsandstein on the German side, my friend Erik Massih remarked that it was like climbing in a museum. A fitting description, I think.

The strict rules of Bohemian and Saxon sandstone climbing have kept the towers removed from the mainstream, and made climbing on them a subculture, even in Germany and in the Czech Republic. This situation is not helped by the wide-eyed depiction of climbing there in foreign climbing media.

The Czech climbing federation is rightly worried about how the sandstone climbing is described as something deadly serious and only for people with a deep-rooted death wish. Inspired by the yearly BMC meeting, the federation decided to create a climbing meet to show the possibilities of their beloved sandstone areas.

Adršpach was thus chosen as the destination for the first Czech international trad- climbing meet, and climbers from Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Romania, Poland, and the Netherlands came to climb with Czech and Slovak hosts.

The first night of the meet we were given some useful accessory cord to tie into knots from Rock Empire, a company that partly sponsored the meet, and were treated to a few nice old movies showing some brave souls doing first ascents in the 60s. In my mind a factor-2 fall is never to be contemplated by the safe leader, so it was interesting to see the Czech old-timers thinking nothing of taking repeated long falls directly onto the anchor when failing to find a way up.

The first morning was a bit wet and we went up to Křížový vrch (“Cross hill”) for some shorter routes, well -protected with knots. The Czech chimney-fanatic Tomáš Vidlák was hosting the Nordic contingent, formed by Stefan Lindström and myself from Sweden, and Perttu Ollila and Heikki Karla from Finland. After a few minutes of instruction in the art of placing knots we were ready to go.
Tomáš Vidlák, Perttu Ollila and Heikki Karla on a small tower on Cross Hill

Quite soon Tomáš discovered that we did not mind groveling up hard but ridiculously low-graded green wet chimneys and a tour of some very “classic” chimneys up the taller spires in Adr followed.

Perttu Ollila on the exciting full body stem between the towers on the way to the top of the Mayor, Adrspach

Adršpach rock makes for a very special style of climbing. The climbing is not like anything else, really. The sandstone is quite soft and feels very sandy and in places slippery too. The cracks are often featureless, flaring, and generally unforgiving, and smearing on the slabs takes some time getting used to. Maybe imagining a Fontainebleau with 100 m tall boulders could approximate it.

After a rainy rest day midweek we moved a few kilometreskilometers up the road to Teplice to climb with another of our hosts, the eternally cheerful Oťas Srovnal. Teplice has more solid sandstone and the climbing is more similar in style to other sandstone areas I've been to.

Teplice is also more of a “sport climbing” destination. There are plenty of face routes only protected by bolts and threads. Note that the threads are rarely fixed, so bring a couple of slings on all routes, even if you judge the route to be fully equipped.
Gotická mlíko IXc, Martinské Steny. (Gothic milk IXc, Martin Walls)

Even if Teplice involves predominantly face climbing, there are some excellent cracks there too. Among them we did the aptly named roof crack Prásknutí bičem (“Whiplash crack”), probably the best hand crack I climbed in 2012. There is a bomber thread just before the roof and then nothing until a ring well above the overhang, so the name alludes to what would be the consequences of a fall. I flashed it with Heikki's encouraging beta ringing in my ears: “it is a hand crack, tight yellow camalot, there is no way you can fall off.”

Me on Prásknutí bičem
Prásknutí bičem, photo: Ota

Ota topping out Prásknutí bičem, Teplice

For climbers like me who have used camming devices since starting climbing, cracks are the safest routes possible. Having to use knots for protection changes the game completely, however, and make repeating cracks more mentally exhausting than repeating face climbs, at least for those of us not totally confident in our ability to properly place and judge knots.

Stefan Lindström warming up on Otas’s route Endoskop on Church wall

Among the face routes we did in Teplice I particularly enjoyed a quite new one on Martinské stěny called Stroboskop. Well-protected fun face climbing for almost 50 meters. It was also very popular, the only route we had to wait in line to get on.
During evenings we where treated with slide shows by Czech climbers active in putting up new routes all over the world, and also a slide show by Slovak legend Igor Koller (first-ascensionist of The fish on, Marmolada among other things).

Igor Koller repeats his classic route Kalamárky in Teplice. The second ring was put in after the first ascent.

Tomáš Sobotka, a very experienced climber with some impressive big wall free routes to his name also gave a slide show. Among other things, he talked enthusiastically about the possibilities for really hard face climbs on Czech sandstone, and his belief that there are many hard routes with Fountainebleau-style slapping on bad slopers waiting to be put up by a new generation, and indeed, Adam Ondra has already put up a route in the French 9a grade.

From what I’ve seen I am sure that Sobotka is right. However, to push hard on sandstone towers in Saxony or Bohemia seems to be a local privilege, and not even exceptionally good visiting climbers have made much of a mark.

Stefan Lindström cruising Převislá on Věž přátelství, Teplice
I have climbed on sandstone in Utah, Kentucky, Nevada, France and Germany, but I must say that Teplice is still probably my favourite sandstone area since it has a little of everything: pockets, edges, slopers, and cracks of all sizes.

Tentatively the Czech federation is planning a similar meeting for 2014, and if so, and were you to have a chance to go, – my only advice is: take it and enjoy the ride!

One of the excellent event organisers, the Czech climbing guide Radek Lienerth has a write up (in Czech) on 


Bring the following
  • 1 wooden or plastic stick on a leach to help pushing in knots into slots, and to use as a knot extractor. This is the most important piece of equipment. Without it the knotted slings are rendered useless.
  • 1 sling from 5 mm accessory cord, 175 cm long
  • 1 sling from 6 mm accessory cord, 175 cm long
  • 1-2 slings from 7 mm accessory cord, 175 cm long each
  • 1-2 slings from 8 mm accessory cord, 175 cm long each
  • 3-4 slings from old 9 mm climbing rope, 180 cm long each
  • 3-4 slings from old 10-11 mm climbing rope, 180 cm long each
  • 1-2 Monkey's fists from old climbing rope. They take quite a while to tie.
  • Maybe a few lengths of tape as well.
  • 10 quickdraws.
  • 2-3 triple runners/alpine draws
  • 60 m rope
  • Free biners for the knotted slings
  • 2-3 double shoulder length slings for chockstones etc.
  • Tape for jam gloves, or ready-made rubber jammies. All three manufacturers I know for rubber hand-jammies are based in the Czech republic. This is not a coincidence.
Notes: When tying the knots leave a good 20 cm tail. The easiest way to take out the knots when following is to grab the tail and pull upwards.

On the old style rings there is plenty of room for two quickdraws. It is normal to clip two draws in opposition on every ring. The rings seem to be very solid. 
Long factor two falls onto single rings was de rigueur for would-be first ascensionists in the 60s. 
Tomas and Sefan sorting gear in the morning


Problem. There are no foreign language guidebooks to Adr and Teplice in print that I know of. The current Czech guide book for Teplice has some useful topos for a few of the nicer face climbing sectors, but is mostly text based. 

The Czech guidebook for Adr is fully text based, and very terse too. There is a select guidebook in German for Adr, but it is out of print, and difficult to get hold of.


My wide crack-climbing and pistol-shooting mentor Alf in Moab will be pleased to know that grades are considered to be the intellectual property of the first-ascensionist. Only they can change the grade. Thus the grades might not be as predictable as we in the fast-food generation would like them to be.

Generally speaking, the routes are safer the harder and newer they are. Above French 7a/UK E4 or so there are plenty of routes to choose from where a ground fall would be implausible.

The grade is given by a roman numeral. For grade VII and up Latin letters a, b, or c are used as subdivision.

Any grade conversion table is a fiction in the best of times, but I nevertheless include a rough guide. For more detailed fiction, please refer to Wikipedia. 

I-IV This is probably a chimney. Can be easy or hard, but only a fool will fall out of a chimney, right? It can also be a trivial face route. A grade III chimney could be pretty far from trivial.
IV-V You should be fine. This is an old route, so protection might be scarce but the climbing should not be too hard. Might involve slab climbing, juggy face climbing, or fist cracks.
VI Translation tables claim that this is around Hard Severe. Makes sense. Climbers where braking in to this grade before the turn or the old-old century, making this grade quite unpredictable. Worst case scenario is that it is a 70 year old friction slab.
VII Many old routes that follow striking lines are this grade. HVS+ or 5.9+ says it all.
VIII Still on the most striking natural lines. Often quite pumpy. Prepare to fight for it.
IX Some of the master pieces from the 70s have this grade. Think 6c or E3/4 and up. If it looks bold it probably is.
X Mostly safe and hard, or if it was put up by Berndt Arnold in the 70/80s: unsafe and hard. E6 and up. There is probably a bolt every 5-7 meters or so. Or it could be death on a stick.

Rules and reality, a footnote

Some of the rules, and my own comments and interpretations. All eventual misunderstandings are my own.

1) No metal gear in the cracks, only knots and slings. In recent years a new form of expanding sling chock, dubbed “ufo”, has been developed in the Czech republic. We tried one and found them quite trustworthy. Otherwise the crack protection is the same as hundred years ago: different form of knots in slings.

2) No chalk. Chalk-use is a source of real controversy in the Czech republic. Not so much in Germany since chalk is illegal in Elbe valley. However, in some areas on the Czech side sparing use of chalk is sort-of OK on non crack climbs of sufficiently high difficulty. Suffice to say that this is a sensitive subject and that I recommend to do without everywhere.

3) All new routes must be put up ground up. In Saxony the mere suspicion that parts of a new route where inspected on rappel has been ground for removal of bolts and the first ascent claim. In Teplice bolts where recently chopped when it transpired that they where drilled from rappel.

4) No aid climbing. What the Victorians dubbed “combined tactics”, where the leader climbs up the body of other climbers is OK, but none of the team can be hanging from protection to make the ascent valid. It seems to be OK to drill from aid stances as long as you climb free up to it, and on modern hard face routes in Czech most lead-bolts are drilled from improved hooks (bat hooking) or rivets, (after the lead bolt has been placed the first hole is glued shut).

5) Minimum amount of bolts. This rule has been understood different through time and is interpreted a bit differently depending on area. Suffice to say that fully bolted routes are few and far between and that they seldom are what we have started to call “sport routes” (i.e. fully and closely bolted short routes).