Friday 12 January 2024

Mini Moonboard Review


A Mini Moonboard is one of the cheapest and most compact homeboard systems. Both fun and effective for those who boulder 7B or harder. Can also be worth it for those who can boulder 7A — if they add a few more good holds to the layout. A lot of climbing in a small space with the sound philosophy that no one gets strong by pulling on big holds.

What is a Mini Moonboard?

We've had a Mini Moonboard in our apartment for just over three months, so I thought it would be a good time to write down my intital thoughs on the product.

A mini moonboard is a scaled down version of the popular Moonboard from Moon Climbing. The Moon board was the first commercial board with holds in pre-fixed position and with pre-set problems. In the first version, all problems were set by Mr Moon himself, but now they are user submitted via the app and a group of moderators decide which problems get the stamp of 'benchmark' for each grade.

These commercial uniformily ready-made or half-fabricated boards have, for various reasons, also become popular training tools in climbing gyms so I don't need to explain what they are. I guess everyone has climbed on a Moon board or possibly a Kilter board?

The advantage of ready-made boards is that there are already pre-defined problems at almost every level of difficulty, so users don't have to spend time or money on setting problems themselves, and they also avoid the risk of only setting problems with moves which suits them well. Most climbers also find it difficult to set problems with hard moves, on the borderline between possible and impossible, and mostly only set problems where they can make the move within a couple of attempts. It is hard to aquire new technique without being challenged by imposed demands.

The ready-made boards have the disadvantage that you pay more for the holds than if you would buy them in bulk from some low-cost manufacturer, as you also pay-in to a system with an app, administration of benchmarks and the community of users, product development and so on.

Like on every compact board, the climbing is basic on the mini. Very much about climbing in open positions with moves between flat holds without many tricks that make the problems easier.

Price — approximate budget in 2024

If you do the entire construction yourself and choose not to insert LEDs to light up the problems, you will probably end up with a budget of around €1,800 – 2,000 without crashpads. If you buy the whole kit with lights and pre-drilled plywood, it adds up to just shy of €4,000 with quality padding. If you want to make the wall adjustable with a motor winch, you have to add about €200-600 depending on attachement points.


The Mini is one of the smallest of all readily available commercial home walls and in its original dimensions fits into most garages or living rooms. It requires only 202 cm ceiling height, 244 cm width and 170 cm depth. Those with no carpentry skills at all can buy a ready-made freestanding wall or hire a carpenter to do it for them. There are several manufacturers of free-standing walls in Europe. Building a mini moonboard to the original dimensions using the instructions on Moon Climbing's website is relatively painless for those with basic carpentry skills. You can also find several instructional videos on YouTube, and detailed descriptions with blueprints elsewhere on the internet.

We decided to install the board with an adjustable angle, because we want to be able to set it less steep and use it for endurance training during high summer; this construction requires a bit of extra experience or a willingness to pester benevolent and well informed friends with many questions. I also have some kind of illusion that I will train at 50 degrees for some specific projects in the area.

The video indicates how the winch hidden behind the kickboard is used to change the inclination. After some thought I moved the bolt on the far right up to the roof. It will be fun to cover all the holds with putty and paint if we move out.

I also chose to make the kickboard slightly higher than the 15 cm specified, which of course makes the problems significantly easier to start if you allow yourself to place one or two feet on friction under the footholds. But if you keep both feet on the start foot holds, they are only slightly easier compared to the original dimensions. The effective inclination of a problem is the angle between the lowest placed foot and the highest handhold, not the inclination of the panel!

I added adjustable strut support to increase stability. The righ hand side support is also an idependent back-up

The reason I made a taller kickboard is that I wanted to put in an extra thick mattress so that I don't wake up the neighbour when I hit the floor. I am also getting older and no longer have any desire to hurt myself when falling to the ground. Another reason is that at 50 degrees it is difficult to crawl in to the start if the kick is too low.

After having talked to other owners of the board, many say that they would have added a few cm at the base to make it less likely to dab the heels. (But don't comment on the grade of a problem unless you build up the floor to shorten the kickboard back to 15 cm!)

We also had enough ceiling clerance that we could make the board 10cm higher and still get it in at a 20 degree angle, so I added half a row to the top (a row that so far only has two holds).
The board at 20 degrees takes very little floor space

I also bought extra t-nuts for the back so that I could drill more holes to put up more holds than on the specified grid. I chose not to put in LEDs to highlight the problems. The mini board has only 120 holds and pretty soon you have learnt all the hold positions by heart.

Layout with extra holds

So far, I am very happy with the approach I took for our build.

Holds (2020 set)

The minimoon board is almost completely devoid of jugs. It comes with three series of wooden holds: A, B and C, which are also used in the '2019 master' and '2024' configurations of the full-size moonboard. The B and C series wooden holds are by far the easiest to hold on to. These are in addition to the set of original yellow holds that are also included in all moonwall configurations except 2024. All wooden holds are secured with both a central socket head screw and a wood screw to prevent rotation.
The configuration uses the best jugs as low undercuts and only has twelve really good holds on the wall, so almost all of the easiest problems are via these holds. The last row has only one really good hold that average boulderers can hang one-armed without feet. Most problems end up on one or two holds that are so bad that the vast majority of climbers are forced to keep their feet on the wall. One thing I dislike about most moonboard setups is that too many problems ends with a big huck for one of the jugs on the last row.

The original yellow holds are slippery when they are brand new (urethane plastic) but become easier to hold when used for a while. The birch plywood holds have more friction than hardwood holds and can be climbed on from day one.

Those who have a problem with thin skin should keep in mind that birch plywood holds wear out skin faster than pure wooden holds, but less than plastic holds.

Style of climbing

Unlike the original moon board (at least the layouts I've tried), the problems on the mini are generally a bit more static with a higher percentage of moves done with full control. On many problems, you absolutely have to keep your feet on the wall, partly because the holds are poor and it is difficult to hold the swing, and partly because you are constantly climbing so close to the ground that a foot slipping off a foothold almost certainly brushes the crashpad.

Thanks to the short kick and lack of good footholds on the first four rows, the mini board feels much steeper than the full-sized moonboard. The first two moves are usually done with the feet on the kick-board, where the slighly sloping standard feet require a bit of tension. The next move is often done with the foot on a very slippery wood hold or a small yellow plastic hold requiring even more tension.

Of all the commercial boards I've tried, the mini is probably the one I find most fun to climb! All killer, no filler. Perfect holds and short problems, often just 2-4 brutal moves that require total concentration.

My better half, on the other hand, favours the Kilter board by quite a margin. In the best of all worlds, you have a friend who has a mini you can test before buying. Or read a lot of reviews online.

This video displays the typical style for the easiest set of problems. For more videos, check the instagram accounts mentioned in the section Community below

Training effect: does it work?

All boards are naturally limiting in style, and the minimoon board more than most perhaps. It is, as the name suggests, small. But if you want stronger fingers and being able to do harder moves outdoors, I think the mini is better than all the sets I tested on the full-sized moon board, and of course miles better than something like a indoor bouldering wall or the Kilter board. (I have not tested Kilter's home version, which apparently has some holds that are not jugs). The Mini is also a little more demanding than the regular moon board when it comes to body tension. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to practice really long dynamic moves on the mini board.

I was never someone who responded quickly to strength training and that didn't improve with age, but I think the mini, like all boards, should provide a very quick initial training effect for those who can already climb, as long as they don't get injured. It is difficult to do more than one-and-a-half sessions a week with short limit boulders, at least for middle-aged amateurs (which is probably the target demographic for this type of product). This is another reason to add more holds or make the board tiltable, if it is going to be your main training apparatus for parts of the year.

Grades, grades, grades and benchmarks

This section may make your eyes bleed and you may think I've gone mad, but there is a point to this endless discussion of grades. Namely: what level is required to make it worthwhile to invest in this home board?

My impression is that a mini built to specification (15 cm kick and 40 degrees overhang) requires a minimum level of around 6C outdoors/ 6B on the moonboard or 6C/7A on the kilter board (@ 40 degrees) just to be able to make individual moves without dabbing on even the twenty easiest problems.

Since the holds are mostly poor, a relatively high level of skill is required to climb the easiest problems. The easiest way to get from sitting on the floor to the top, using any footholds and hand holds requires about the same effort for me as doing a boulder around 6B+ outdoors, and about the same grade on a kilter board set at 40 degrees. The lowest grade that can be assigned to a problem on the accompanying app is 6A+, and there are about 40 benchmarks with a grade of 6A+. There are more problems in the app in this difficulty but there is significant overlap between the problems as they are all forced to use the restricted set of 12 good holds.

My opinion is that it is not worthwhile to build a 40 degree mini moonboard for those who cannot boulder at least 7A outside or do the most popular 6B+ benchmarks on the 2016 set on the moonboard. Even those operating at that level should be prepared to buy a suplimentary set of better holds and put them in the big gaps left in the pre-defined grid. I think that's a better investment than buying LED lighting. 

If you want to set up classic circuits of 20-25 moves to train strength endurance, a considerable amount of skill is required to use the mini-moonboard without additional holds. Even the easiest problems are quite difficult to back down. It is very difficult to set 20-movement circuits that flow nicely and are easier than French 8a.

If you set up a minimoon board at 25 degrees, you can probably subtract about two letter degrees in difficulty. Climbing a 7A at 25 degrees overhanging feels about as difficult as a 6B at 40 degrees to me. So setting up a mini at 25 degrees can be an alternative for those who lack the prerequisit level for a mini at 40 degrees. It also makes sense for those who are training for outdoor bouldering, as there are few areas with quality problems ≤ 7A on steep faces.


Many users of the mini emphasise the social aspect of the board and its app as one of the best things about the board. As there are fewer users compared to the Moonboard or the Kilter, it becomes more natural to exchange betas, tips on problems and so on.

I am a total leech who only repeats popular benchmarks without giving anything back to the community. Though sometimes I post a brief comment that the problem is supersoft and that everyone else who has logged without demanding downgrade should be ashamed of themselves, not mentioning my tall kick and the fifteen dabs on the pad, on the appartment's white walls and on non-included holds, of course.

There are a number of users who puts up tons of usefull beta on instagram. @the.chalk.board is tall and well organised and often uses reasonable beta. @dolphs_minimoonboard is tall and insanely strong. @ita_board is short, strong and bouncy.

Sunday 28 May 2023

Gorges de Taghia, revisited

Taghia village from the top of Taoujdad

As an early fiftieth birthday present to myself I arranged a short trip to the best mountain limestone climbing in Europe. Funny enough, this mythical place is found in Africa, but it is the only limestone climbing the Italian, the Iberians and the French can all agree upon as being possibly the best. This is because of absolutely bomber limestone on orange mountains with most impressive profiles.

Taghia was discovered as a climbing destination in the 70s, when French visitors put up routes following the most obvious features on the biggest objectives, finding traces of one earlier mystery route ascended by possibly a Polish team. In the 80s and 90s the Spanish started to develop the place, among them the Gallego brothers and Toni Arbones, and around 2000 the French found their way back in numbers, when Ravier, Thivel and later Petit and Bodet put in substantial work.

From the turn of the millennium until today there has been rapid development, and the lastest version of Christian Ravier's guidebook (2019) lists 167 long routes from 200 to 900 m around the village, and more than 70 long routes around nearby villages, as well as some 50 single pitch routes. New routes are still getting put up all the time, and soon a single volume will not be enough to cover the routes.

The Guidebook

Despite being in the middle of the High Atlas, Taghia can be accessed within a day from any European metropolitan area. The flight to Marrakesh is followed by about 5 hours in taxi, followed by a one hour hike with donkeys or a short shuttle with a 4x4 taxi, and the one hour time difference to CET makes it easy to leave home anywhere in Europe and climb the next day. 

I assume that the newly constructed route will soon get a better surface and that city taxies can get all the way to the village. When it does, the tourism will absolutely explode as the valley really is one of the more spectacular on earth.

The road to Taghia can be used by cars with good clearance and new suspensions if driving with care 

Compared to last time we visited eight years ago, the village is clearly better off. Now all houses have electricity, the worst shacks have been demolished and better houses have replaced them, and thanks to the road way fewer villagers die in transit to hospital.

There are also more climbers, more hikers, better shops, and it seems like there is better separation between fresh and black water. (We still filtered all drinking water and put chlorine tablets in it, did not eat any fruits that was not peeled, and were served bottled water for dinner.)

The routes are a mixture of fully bolted, mostly bolted, mixed and unbolted multipitch. We did what most casual visitors do and brought just a set of quickdraws with a few alpine draws, a set of wires and a single set of cams from finger to hand. You can easily do without any removable protection for a week or two, but a minimal rack leaves more possibilities to climb long routes where some of the easy pitches don't have many bolts. Next time I will try to convince someone to join me on one of the classic crack climbs and bring a full rack.

From browsing the topos and talking to other climbers on site, I suspect that you really have to be able to climb 6b mandatory to get the most out of a week's stay. The mandatory grade is a rough estimate on how hard you have to pull between the bolts, what the generation of scandinavian climbers before me quoted as the grade they were 'solid' on. 

The routes from the 70s and 80s are of course easier, but they look longer than they look amazing, and might require a few pitons? I suspect they are mostly mystery quests, something that is not everyone's cup of mint tea.

Ravier's beautiful guidebook has clear topos and is generally good, if a bit terse. It must be nice to be able to write for an audience that is thought to be competent enough to tie their own shoelaces. Most routes just have a simple line-drawing indicating the pitches, and a write-up of the name, the length, the first ascensionist details, a word on the rack required—if necessary—and a one-word description. A route is simply 'great', 'beautiful', 'disappointing' or perhaps 'serious'. The approaches are usually described as 'obvious' or in worst case 'useful to scout out beforehand'. In any case, even though the guidebook is in French, you don't need to be able to read French to use it. The drawings are clear enough.

We stayed again in the classic Gite Taoujdad, owned by Said Messaoudi. You can communicate with Said beforehand on email (in French). However, I had to relearn the evergreen lesson of never putting more than one single subject in one or two simple sentences in a mail. (You would think that a teacher would already know this...) The food in Said's gite (breakfast and dinner) was great and plentiful, and shared in the big common room with other teams of climbers, and some occasional hikers — even some Moroccan guests, in a nice international atmosphere. For those of us not speaking Berber or Arab, a modicum of French is more than useful. When we were there there were always people around to help with translation, and it seemed like it was possible to arrange with time for eating breakfast in English as well.

Timrazine, Taoujdad and Oujdad in the morning after snowfall

The weather during our stay was unstable and unseasonably cold, with snow all the way down in the village (1900 masl). Some of the snow stayed on the surrounding peaks for a couple of days. As such we climbed perhaps one or two fewer routes less than I'd have liked. Such is life in the mountains.

Some notes on the routes we did this time: (for more, check out my post on Taghia from our visit in September 2015).

Alex and Mikael on À boire...

Champion de Maroc, 7a+ (Champion of Morocco), ED- 310 m.

Great route on impeccable rock. Listed in the new edition of Parois de Légende. Just next to Au nom de la réforme and À boire ou j'tue l'chien. Pitch 1-5 are fully bolted. To get to the top, bring some gear (either a set of wires or 2-3 friends, e.g. camalot #0.4, #0.5 and #0.75).

Julia on pitch two of Champion de Maroc

P1 7a/+ 30m We scrambled up to the first bolt (3+ friction) and belayed from there, making the pitch closer to 30 than 50 m. The crux is probably a bit morpho. Great climbing.
P2 7a 45m Start up an excellent dihedral to more technical face climbing. Amazing pitch.
P3 6c 45m. More good climbing leads to a comfortable ledge.
P4 5c 40m. Still vertical, but now with jugs. Good fun.
P5 5c/6a 40m. More of the same. Pure sport climbers can rap off after this pitch. We are tainted by traditions and want to go to the top of mountains, so we continued.
P6-7 110m 4+? One bolt. Some gear.

Descent: Walk down the south face, following cairns to find a rap station that takes you down to a saddle. The rap is 35m, but can be done on a 60m rope if you are willing to downclimb a few metres of 4+.

Some of the young men from the village were solicited by the climbing clubs of Casablanca and Rabat for the national championships. The route is dedicated to the local climber Mohamed Amil.

Les Rivières Pourpres, 7b+ (Crimson rivers), ED+, 600 m.

13 draws (11 draws max on the pitches, iirc)

World heritage route. Long and sustained for the first eleven pitches. The 13th pitch is not to be discounted as well. Hauling is easy on P1-11, and might also be possible on P13 (we did not test this theory)

Alex on one of the lower pitches of Les Rivières Pourpres

Approach: Enter the canyon below the north face by an expo 4b move on a polished slab some 10-15 m above the riverbed. Around the corner there are two bolts hopefully equipped with a bit of a rope to use as a handrail. Traverse on the right side of the canyon then cross the river on a juniper tree, then easy climbing to a bolt where an exposed traverse (3c) left leads to easier hiking. A huge boulder blocks the passage, if the water is low you can chimney up a hole on its right side (push the haulbag in front of you), head lamp not necessary. When the river is high, climb the first pitch of Canyon Apache (6a) on the left side of the boulder and rap down above the boulder. After the boulder walk up another fifty metre until a marked path leads up the ledges to the base of the routes. "RP" written at the base of the climb. 1 hour.

Mikael following pitch nine of Rivières Poupres

The approach is regularly swarmed by local kids in flip-flops, so suck it up buttercup.

P1 6c 30m A rough awakening. Challenging and a bit runout. Not that great, imho.
P2 6c 30m More of the same. Some fairly obligatory passages on steep rock.
P3 7a 40m Good pitch. Fairly sustained
P4 7b 25m Steep. I cannot remember a single thing about this pitch.
P5 6c 25m A bit zig-zag.
P6 7a 40m Face climbing to easier terrain (6b)
P7 7a 40m. Technical face climbing then run-out but easier near the belay.
P8 7b 40m. Brilliant pitch. More technical face climbing then sustained climbing through an overhang to a final bit of tricky run-out face climbing.
P9. 7a+ 40m. Great run-out face climbing until the bolter's courage ran out and a traversing A0-style ladder leads to the belay.
P10 7a+ 45m. A steep well protected boulder problem leads to easier climbing.
P11 7b+ 40m. Brilliant steep sustained well bolted climbing to a protected but committing crux. The belay is to the left just below the huge ledge.
P12 5a 55m. Walk across the big ledge, diagonally up a ramp left, then back right past a single bolt to a belay in a horisontal crack.
P13 6b+ 50m. Pretty sparsely bolted crack climbing leads to more complex but still steep terrain. (A friend or two would be nice to have, but who would drag that up this route?)
P14 5a 50m. Some bolts function as cairns to lead the way.
P15 5a 50-60m. Two-three bolts of climbing leads to scrambling. Possible to make a belay around natural features at any point towards the top.

Descent as for Champion de Maroc

Les Rivières Pourpres is a middling crime drama set in the alps. The movie version stars Jean Reno.

Topping out

Soleil de pluie, 6c+ (6b+) ED-, 250 m.

15 draws. 

Brand new route on Parois de Sources. We found this route excellent, but the grade given by the first ascensionist felt a bit off, maybe due to the pristine new rock and no trace of magnesium on the holds. Extraordinary generously bolted. Hauling OK.

P1. 6b+ 35m Start from the newly constructed bridge. Climb with some difficulties past a bulge to a belay. Felt more like 6c, but was not exactly dry and clean.
P2. 6a+ 30m a nice vertical wall leads past a steep ledge to two belays on a steep face. We took the lower belay.
P3. 6c+ 45m. Start up the dihedral and quickly leave it rightwards and up on a brilliant journey. Felt hard for me.
P4. 6c+ 45m. Up the arete and then technical of-vertical face climbing, just to the right of another new route, which it joins at the belay.
P5. 6c 40m. Straight up to a ledge where there is an optional belay where it crosses Rêve d'Aicha. Nice slab climbing leads to a belay on the big ledge system below the fifth pitch of Rêve d'Aicha.
P6. 6a+ 35m. Same as Rêve d'Aicha
P7. 3c 20m. Past a single bolt then up left to a bolted belay, or just make belay wherever. Keep scrambling to the top (grade 2, cairns).

Me on pitch five of Soleil de pluie

Soleil de pluie (Sunshower) is a French variety song from the early 70s.

Baraka, 7b (6b), ED-, 650m

13 draws of which three 60 cm. Three-four friends e.g. camalot #0.4 to #1 for the top pitches. 50 m ropes, light twins would be perfect. We climbed light with shoes and water clipped to the harness and candy in the pockets. Low mandatory grade, but loads of climbing. Long day. Tooks us seven hours to climb, but thanks to rain and snow the days before the route was washed clean of chalk, might be quicker if you can follow some traces of others. The first half had a few wet holds, but thanks to the abrasiveness of the rock it was totally fine to climb in these conditions.

Julia starting up pitch six of Baraka

Approach: From Taghia village, at Gîte d'etape Taoujdad cross the river and take the path leading straight up to Oujdad on the left side of a small hill. The path is well marked and leads to the ledges that crosses the west face of Oujdad.  The route starts after the bridge, at the lowest point of the pillar. The name is written near the base. 1 hour.

P1 6b+ 40m 8 bolts. The start is a bit expo (6a) and I put in a green camalot between the first and second bolt. There is a surprisingly hard section near the belay, bolted for A0. Climb well to the left of the bolts on top.
P2 6b 45m 8 bolts. Mostly slabs.
P3 6b+ 50m 13 bolts. Great slab climbing, watch out for rope drag.
P4 7b 20m 10 bolts. Vertical climbing, bolted for A0 on the hard part. About five-six bolts worth of tricky sustained climbing on slopers with a few crimps.
P5 6b+ 50m 12 bolts. Quite a bit back and forth, use your shoulder-length slings!
P6 6c 40m 11 bolts. Amazing technical face climbing that zig-zags around the bolts. This pitch marks the end of the technical difficulties.
P7 6a+ 50m 8 bolts. The first part of the pitch is harder and has more protection, the second part is fairly easy (5b?) and a bit run-out.
P8 5c 40m 6 bolts. Possible to put in some extra gear if needed.
P9 5c/6a 40m 5 bolts.
P10 5b 40m 3 bolts. Stick to the dihedral, the bolts you see on the right is on Barracuda. Fairly easy climbing between the bolts, possible to add some gear.
P11 6a 35m 5 bolts. A few pulls to leave the belay, then easy hiking on the ridge (3) to the belay.
P12 4a 30m 1 bolt. Hike across the ledge and then up past a bolt to the belay.
P13 6a 35m 4 bolts. Straight up from the belay (solid friend) to a bolt, then join the big dihedral where bolts and solid gear lead to the belay back left.
P14 6a+ 40m 5 bolts. Follow the dihedral on a mixture of bolts and decent friends, and possibly a few mid-sized wires if you are tired by this point. Then slightly left up to the belay.
P15 6b 55m 7 bolts. Straight up (6a) to a well bolted traverse out left and do two pulls (6b) past a bolt to the top. Scramble 30 m. on ledges (2c). Two bolts mark the way to a bolted belay.

Untie and walk up ledges (1c/2a) for 100m to the top of Oujdad.

On pitch six of Baraka

Descent: From the top, descend a well-marked path that meanders on ledges 10-60 m. skier's left of the south-east ridge, with views of Taoujdad. Pass some gendarms and then descend about 100m of altitude until the path branches. The right branch leads to some sheep pasture on a big ledge were cairns and traces leads to a rappel station hidden in a cave behind a dead calcified juniper. The left branch also has cairns and leads to a down-climb (grade 3, unprotected). After the rappel follow a vague path traversing the slope towards south until hitting a well marked path that leads via a big loop south to the refuge at the base of Oujdad. The refuge is manned during the season. From the refuge, the path leads back to the base of the route. 2h30 min to the base of the route.

Baraka is a Moroccan brand of jam. It is apparently also the benediction of The Lord in Islam and Judaism alike. 

Classic routes. I have not done more than half of these, but they are all of good repute and often repeated:

La rêve d'Aicha, TD, 6a+ (6a), 220m. Timrazine (Parois de Sources).
Belle et Bebère, TD+, 6b+ (6a+) 300m. Timrazine (Parois de Sources).
Allumeur du rêve Berbère TD+ 6b+ (6a+) 320m. Timrazine.
Au nom de la Reform, TD+ 6c (6b). Taoujdad. A set of wires if going to the top, otherwise rap the route from top of pitch 7.
À boire ou je tué le chien TD+ 6c (6b+). Taoujdad. A set of wires for the first pitch.
Canyon Apache ED- 6c (6b) 355m. Timrazine
Haben oder Sein TD+ 6b+ (6b risky) 240 m. Parois de la Cascade.
Widi Azry, ED- 7a (6c risky) 500 m. Taoujdad.
Baraka ED- 7b (6b+ A0) 685 m. Oujdad.
Zebda ED+ 7b+ (6c) 260 m. Timrazine (Parois de Sources).
Suserro Berbere ED+ 7b+ (6c) 280 m. Timrazine (Parois de Sources).
Fat Guides ED+ 7b+ (6c) 280 m. Timrazine (Parois de Sources).
Shucran ED4 7c (7a) 380 m. Oujdad.
Les Rivieres Poupres  ED+ 7b+ (6c+) 600 m. Taoujdad.
Fantasia ED4 7c (7a+) 600 m. Tuyat.
L'Axe du Mal ED4 7c+ (7a+) 550 m. Tadrarate.
Rouge Berbère (Astroman of Africa) ED+ 7b 560 m. Tadrarate. Full mountain rack up to camalot #5
Babel ED+ 7c+ (7a+ risky) 800 m. Tuyat.

Monday 20 June 2022

Spigolo, Petit Aiguille d'Ansabère

The extreme warm weather of May and June has been relentless, and for Friday, forty degrees was forecasted for Toulouse with even warmer temperatures further west. Thus me and Alex went to the High Pyrenees for some colder temps, even though the meteorologists talked about temperatures of above 30 even above the tree line. 

Approaching in early morning. Already well above 20 degrees at 1800 masl!

Petit Aiguille d'Ansabère. Spigolo is the obvious spur on the left

One of the classics in the Pyrenees that J. has done before we met is Spigolo on the impressive pillar Petit Aiguille d'Ansabère, as such I was happy to find someone else to climb it with.

L2 5c R. Not perfect rock, some funky gear

Spigolo is Italian for ‘spur’, and I guess that the first ascensionist, Raymond Despiau, was inspired by the similarities in look to the spurs of the Dolomites. Something else that he was clearly inspired by was the alpine methods to murder the impossible by bolting aid-ladders whenever the rock got too blank for their free-climbing abilities. Amazingly enough lots of the rivets put in place in 1967 are still there and are still used for direct aid by most parties on the route. Some of the pitons used for protection also likely dates from the late 60s, by the look of them.

L3 6c. Three pitons according to the topo. One of them is still there.

The route was freed by Serge Casteran in 1984, at 7a and 7b for the two hardest pitches. Mr. Casteran was— and still is to this day—a complete master of free climbing, but I strongly suspect that there are more than one hold missing from that ascent thirty years ago. To be fair, it was warm on the wall, with temperatures well above 25 degrees, but neither me nor Alex freed L5 or L6 — neither on lead nor following. I also got really tired from trying to link L6 were I had a hang on the rope somewhere in the middle. Normally, both of us should be OK on vertical 7bs... 

L5, 7a+. Or so. Bolts everywhere for the convenience of the A0 climber

Nowadays there are all type of fixed equipment on the route. Some old rivets from the 60s, 8 mm expansion bolts which look like they are from the early 80s, 10 mm and even 12 mm bolts from more recent times, and lots of pitons of various type and age — there is even an old wooden piton threaded with a fairly new sling!

L9 6a+. The rock starts to be good!

L10 6c. "Wendenstöcke-like quality rock"

Gear: a set of wires from small to medium and a set of cams from micro to camalot #1 (red). The smallest we placed was a black totem (#0.5 11.7 mm at its minimum range). The red camalot was likely superfluous. Twelve draws including five 60 cm draws (perhaps more if you want to link pitches) and a double shoulder length sling, plus something for the belays. We climbed on a single 60m rope and had a haul-rope/zip line.

Hauling is fine. We climbed L1, L2 and L10 with a bag which we hauled on all other pitches; this worked well.  Due to the extremely high temperatures we hauled 7 litres of water!

Approach: Walk in to the cabins of Ansabère from the parking at Pont Lamary(1 hour), then take the path leading up to the Col de Pétragème and scramble up to the base of the spur (about 1 hour more). There is drinking water at the cabins.

L0 2a 10m. Scramble up and right some 10-15m to the top of a small detached pillar and rope up and belay from a single bolt. 

L1 4c 35m. Easy climbing, but pay attention to finding the most solid rock. The first bolt after some 10 m. Do not stop at the first belay (3 old bolts) but keep going another 5 m to a second belay with some slightly newer bolts. Two bolts and a few pieces of gear.

L2 5b R 55m. Hike up ledges up to a steeper pillar and find the first bolt some 5m to the right of the left edge of the pillar. Then some pitons and some questionable gear on decidedly average rock leads to a good belay on new bolts on a comfortable ledge below a short steep dihedral on the left side of the arete.

L3 6c 20m. A steep dihedral. One bolt at the start, then some micro friends and an old piton to easier climbing. Only two pieces on fixed protection on this pitch. Good semi-hanging belay on bolts.

L4 6b 25m. Some fixed protection, but mostly on gear. Belay on bolts.

L5 7a+ 18m. Well hard and bolted as an A0 ladder for aid-climbers so there are bolts everywhere but not always in the best place for a free ascent. No gear needed.

L6 7b? 20m. Very hard, see above for the bolting. Bolts a little bit further apart and there are some obligatory 6c moves if free climbing, so climbers who are in well above their head should probably bring hooks. This is might actually be the reason why this pitch felt so hard, as I can imagine that it is pretty easy to break holds with hooks as the rock is pretty friable. No gear needed.

L7 6a+ 15m. A short traverse leftwards. Three bolts. No need for any gear. Excellent rock.

L8 6b+? 35m. Runout on questionable fixed gear with very few opportunities to supplement with friends/wires. The hardest parts are well protected by brand new bolts, but I doubt the mandatory grade is below 6b+ unless you bring hooks. Excellent rock. We found this very hard for the grade.

L9 6c 30m. The original route goes out left (at 6b), the direct version goes right on really good rock. Brilliant climbing past many bolts to a finish on a traverse out right on pitons. No friends/wires.

L10 5c R 30m. Two bolts and no gear. The first bolt is some 10 m up and slightly to the right of the belay (above the bulge and well above the difficulties of the pitch). Go left around the small corner then back up right to very easy climbing on solid rock. (Note: The route Borrokan Aske comes up from the right, and it is possible to traverse into this (7a+) after the first bolt).

Descent: Rap from the top down  the other side. First rap is 29m, second rap 28m. Then go a few meter straight out from the wall before starting to scramble down and skiers left to the saddle (very airy). Keep traversing past some cairns until you reach a red couloir with loose rock. This is where we went wrong, apparently ‘you arrive at the base of an easy couloir that allows you to return to the plateau behind the Petit Pic d'Ansabère, then descend the grassy slopes of the Petit Pic d'Ansabère towards the south to reach the Col de Pétragème before walking back to the Cabane d'Ansabère’. (Description within quotation marks is translated from here.)

Across the brèche/saddle. So far so good....

Instead of scramble up the couloir for 30 m we scrambled down this for about 250 m with some difficulties using a less than stellar improvised anchor to rappel past a snow field until it was possible to reach the scree-field below the pillar via a traverse diagonally down left on steep and loose terrain.

We walked down the scree forever until it is possible to traverse skiers right back towards the pillar. This took us around 4 hours and felt pretty serious at times.

Sheep herding at altitude with Petit Aiguille d'Ansabère in the background

Wednesday 18 May 2022

RACS, Ordesa

As it has been quite warm the last week I wanted to escape the heat and head up to the mountains. I already had a date for about doing RACS in the Ordesa valley in late May, but my prospective partner had to bow out because of a family visit and  I was left without a partner. Luckily I randomly ran into a German climber who lives in Norway at the crag who was also keen on doing a longer route. By pooling gear we managed to get a full rack of sorts together and promptly set off for Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park.

RACS starts some 60m to the left of the waterfall

We slept in the car just outside the park and arrived fairly early in the morning. As I have no guidebook for the area we followed the somewhat substandard written approach description on camp-to-camp, and after 2.5 hours of hiking and searching we managed to identify the start of the route with the help of a picture I found online. Our original plan was to start around 8 am, but in the end we did not start until 10 am. Luckily the days are long in mid May and the route is fairly short for being in Ordessa, some 250 m or so.

This must be it!

The fine mist from the waterfall soaked the first few metres of scrambling and left a little bit of moisture in the cracks on the first two pitches. 

Here is my pic of the first pitch, in hope that it will help someone to identify the start

RACS was first ascended over three days in July 1984 by the legendary team of Jesús Gálvez and Miquel Angel Casals. The wall sports only intermittent lines, and most of the pitches are somewhat overhanging (something that is abundantly clear if hauling a pack). Despite the somewhat blocky and scary appearance of the wall, most of the climbing is on solid rock with good gear. There are however quite a few places where you have to do some athletic climbing between pieces of gear, so I am in full awe of the first ascensionist.

Me starting up pitch one.

The valley of Ordesa is littered with steep crags formed from a peculiar sandy limestone that forms steep walls, often overhanging, of blocks pilled on each other. Thus there are few routes below 5+ or so, and as fixed gear is mostly notable by its absence and there are few obvious lines, the area has somewhat of a reputation for serious trad. 

David follows the first pitch, overprotected by a stressed out leader.
I basically never climb trad any more. The last time I put in some gear was on La Demande in Verdon last year, and I doubt I have lead more than a handful of pitches requiring natural gear in the last decade. The last ten metres of the first pitch required some gear trickery mixed with some to me non-obvious moves through the roofs, and I fear that I overprotected the climbing by quite a bit. 
David sets off for the second pitch. Note the tangled haul-line, not great.

David followed easily and cruised the second pitch, barely placing more than a handful of pieces on the entire pitch. The first pitch was fun but the second pitch was amazing, with a bit of everything: straight in jamming, laybacking and face climbing in a constantly overhanging groove. 

After having lost about half an hour on untangling the haul-line it was my turn again. I placed almost the entire rack on the third pitch  — another fun pitch. I even found the time to fiddle in the offset wires David had insisted we should use in lieu of normal wires. I never did use offsets much before I became a sport climber, but they were absolute bomber in the cracks of RACS. Much recommended. (I am sure that this is not news to anyone.)

David stripping the last wire of pitch 3

The fourth pitch is the money-pitch. After stepping around the corner from the third belay the pitch goes through a steep dihedral and some pretty impressive roofs followed by steep but fairly easy climbing up to a crux on a slightly overhanging finger crack near the next belay. Again, David made short work of the pitch and placed no more gear than absolutely needed. It would have sucked to fall while seconding as the pitch is steep enough that it would have required some rope-ascending shenanigans to get back.

In various topos I found online it is implied that the fourth pitch is quite hard (7a+++ and “para los buenos”). To be honest, we did not find it that bad. The first bit through the impressive roofs has some mandatory 6c moves, I suspect, but the crux should be possible to frig if necessary?

Me seconding the crux pitch

The fifth pitch is supposed to be 6c according to most topos, but I did not find it harder than 6a+. On the other hand, I did not find much gear either; I placed a cam about half a metre above the belay and nothing else before the crux which is a few metres above and to the right, so really rather obligatory (there is a chopped bolt just next to the crux). There is not much gear to be had after the crux either. The rock was fairly solid on the hard bit but the rock quality, which so far on the route had been mostly great, started to deteriorate toward the belay.

The fifth pitch ended on a huge ledge with a belay in three “burils” with no possibility of a back up that I could see. A buril is a type of rivet that can withstand up to about 4 kN of force. Up to this point we had always been able to back up the belays, which consist of pitons or burils, with at least one piece of gear.

Happy customers at the ledge after pitch 5

The following two pitches both consists of huge dihedrals. The first starts with some rather loose and quite adventurous climbing to reach the dihedral proper which had solid rock, good holds and is surely the steepest terrain I have done on trad at the grade (6b). The second dihedral was quite technical and had also fairly solid rock I thought.

After a last pitch of easy ledge shuffling, grass and tree climbing, we reached the plateau above the crag at half past four. A very pleasant hike down along the Cotatuero river with a via ferrata along a waterfall lead down to the forrest path down to the parking. 

The Cotatuero river

Overall, a great route with interesting and physical climbing on high-friction sandy limestone. I have not done any other route in the valley but I would still highly recommend this one to anyone who can. As it is found in Parois de légende (€130 second hand in good nick last I checked!), it is no great surprise that it is a super classic.

Advice for future ascensionist: We hauled a bag, this is fairly painless but it is not at all necessary if you have the chance of climbing this route on a day when it is not too hot: just clip shoes and a bottle to the harness. We had a serious cluster-f*ck with the haul-line and lost about half-an-hour fixing this, and it took us just under 6.5 hours to climb the route without ever rushing. The route would take 5h to climb for a seilschaft of two Davids and at least 7h for two Jonases, so the 5-7 h given in PdL seems fair. 

We had an eclectic collection of obsolete small cams found in the boots of respective car; green alien (or similar size) seems very useful as we placed at least one on every pitch and the blue alien came in well handy to protect a hard move a few times. The offset wires fit well in most cracks. All descriptions I found said to bring micro-wires but for what it is worth we did not place a single brass nut on the route, and nothing smaller than a #2 wallnut, ymmv. See the topo below for detailed gear advice.

Double ropes and plenty of long extenders are absolutely necessary, never hesitate to put a shoulder-length sling or longer on a piece. 

Teams who wants to do this in under 7 hours should probably consist of two climbers who are able to cruise 6c cracks and 7a on jugs. While the first four pitches are the hardest, on the top four pitches it is probably useful to be able to climb somewhat loose 6b-terrain without much gear.

My topo of RACS.  PDF version here
Pitch-by-pitch description

Pitch 1, 7a, 45 m. Climb a grassy ledgy choss up towards the roofs. Gear appear by the time the climbing gets interesting. Climb the roofs and traverse left to a belay in 2 burils (+ small wire in the diagonal crack above).

Pitch 2, 7a, 30 m. Step out right to the steep dihedral with a hand/fist crack in the bottom. Belay in 2 burils (+ one medium friend) a bit after the crack runs out. 

Pitch 3, 6c+ 40 m. A nice steep hand crack to a fixed piton. Pass a big ledge and some loose rock to a thinner crack leading to a belay in a niche (2 pitons + medium/small friend in a roof above).

Pitch 4, 7a+ 35 m. Step out right and climb a series of impressive roofs via a crack. Easier climbing leads past two fixed pitons up to a finger-crack in a small dihedral. Belay in two pitons + some gear.

Pitch 5. 6a+ R/X 30 m. Climb up to and traverse right under a small roof until you gain the two jugs. Pull an unprotected crux (6a+) up to easy terrain, traverse diagonally left above the roof until a series of ledges leads to a big ledge and a belay on 3 burils. (The pitch is given 6c in most other topos)

Pitch 6. 6b+ (6b R) 40 m. Traverse some seven metre left before attacking some loose rock up and pass to two pitons (one stainless and good, one rusty and suspicious looking) then more left up to good rock in the huge overhanging dihedral. Make a belay on the ledge above the dihedral.

Pitch 7, 6c, 40 m. Transfer the belay to the left end of the ledge to two new bolts (new route?) below another big steep dihedral. Climb the  dihedral and then continue up to obvious ledge at the end of the main difficulties.

Pitch 8, 4, 50 m. Climb diagonally up left on grassy ledges. A belay can be arranged on the plateau by slinging some boulders.

PDF topo here

Here is a picture of the wall, reprinted without permission from os2o

Sunday 17 October 2021

Three more recommended routes in the Verdon

As a companion piece to N routes worth doing in the Verdon Gorge here are three more routes worth doing in Verdon, selected from among those I have done/tried over two short trips this autumn. This text has been added to the original article, in order to make it as complete as possible, but for those who just want to read the new recommendations, here is the update:

Sector ULA

Au-delà du délire 7a/A0 (6c mandatory) 120-200 m Amazing climbing on good pockets. Fairly generously bolted. This ultra-classic route is not done often despite being featured in Parois de Légende. And as it protected by an awkward access it will likely stay free of polish for many years to come. 

Either access via the route ULA which requires a full rack with a double set of cams or by rapping down Tranxène 5. The rap of Tranxène 5 is found about 50 m downstream from Les Marches du Temp on a small ledge one metre below the rim (Tranxène written on the rock at the rim). The rap of Tranxène is very airy.
The third pitch of Au-delà, counting from the traverse

Au-delà du delire was first ascended ground up and follows an impeccably natural line up a very impressive wall, where you would be hard pressed to guess that there was room for a route of such amiable grade. The price for this is a short section of A0 on bolts (no aid-gear needed) through seven metres of friable rock. On the last pitch there used to be an arrow pointing to the right at the second bolt, now the arrow is gone and you have to figure this out by yourself. (Hint: the grade of the last pitch is likely not correct). 

Au-delà du délire is an album by the progressive rock band Ange (1974)

La demande 6a (6a mandatory) 350 m The first route on L'Escàles is still very much worth climbing. The route requires a small rack (cam 0.4 to 2, a set of medium-large wires and some slings – possible but not at all necessary doubling of the 0.4 and 0.5 cam). Every pitch has a few bolts, usually protecting the hard bits. (As such, they are sometimes placed in “illogical” places. Both me and Johan missed bolts while leading.) The route offers a veritable smorgasbord of cracks from fingers via hands to back-foot chimneys, interspersed with normal face climbing. Do not get discouraged by the enormous amount of polish on the first pitch (with its slightly disgusting layback moves on soapy holds) as seemingly a lot of people have been discouraged enough to rap off after that pitch. The rest is quite polished but never to the extend of the first pitch. In fact, due to the polish the jams are very comfortable, and despite not having climbed a route with sustained sections of jams for six years prior to this route I did not get any abrasions on the back of my hands.

Me exiting the chimneys and nearing the top

The line is impeccable and follows an ever widening crack in the middle of the highest wall. The last two pitches offer full-on chimney climbing for 80 m or so without much respite, so climbers who are not quick up 5.9+ chimneys (if you are not sure you are quick, you aint) should count on 8 hours, or even more if they are not confident putting in gear or at climbing easy but run-out terrain.

As we were stuck behind a cosmically slow team from the dolomites and finally had the chance to pass them at the sixth belay I went off route at pitch seven, despite having read the very same morning the explicit warning on camp to camp to

Ne pas suivre la fissure au-dessus de relais (coin + sangles et piton avec maillon rapide), au contraire traverser à droite (flèche gravée dans le rocher), remonter un dièdre, franchir un surplomb par la gauche et traverser immédiatement à gauche dans la dalle pour arriver au relais

guess who followed the crack above the belay... and did not see the arrow carved into the rock? In this way we got to do a nice bit of off-width followed by 30 m of very-hard-to-protect chimney climbing, completely free of polish! Including this little episode of deviation, and the finger crack version Johan did on the previous pitch to by-pass the second of the team ahead of us, we did the route in about five hours, having a lot of grade in hand on all styles the route has to offer.

Johan Hasslow leading the second to last pitch, stemming above the void
After having returned to Marseille, having done the first ascent of the wall of L'Escàles, one of the members of the team proposed to his beloved, hence La Demande

Baume aux Pigeons

A very impressive wall with some aid routes and lots of free climbing potential. Not futuristic, because the future is now. 

Dame Cookie 8a+ (6c mandatory) 120 m + 60 m scrambling  Very modern route up the middle of the imposing Baume aux Pigeons. Makes up in the quality of climbing for what it perhaps lacks in line.

Neither I nor my climbing partner were in sufficiently good shape to have a chance to redpoint in a week-end trip from Toulouse, so we hung like dogs whenever we felt a bit tired. In this style, it is definitely a less challenging proposal than one might think even if it is quite difficult to link the pitches.

The first pitch is OK, and the long easy dihedral that follows is sub-par for the area, but what follows is truly great modern climbing on positive holds. Especially the third pitch (8a) and the fifth pitch (8a+) has some really high quality climbing on it. For teams punching above their weight class, I think that it would be a good idea to break the fifth pitch in two as the leader is out-of-sight and out-of-hearing on the crux bulge. At leat that is what I plan to do if I am going up this with plans of working it with for a future  complete red-point ascent.
Alex follows the third pitch of Dame Cookie

The last pitch has one move (protected by a bolt) just above the belay followed by 55 m of steep bush-whacking through a near vertical forest making it complicated to access the route from above. As the route has a gazzilion bolts it is very easy to work for someone who finds a motivated belayer. But I do think that the route should be possible to onsight or do very quickly from the ground for anyone capable of onsighting 8a on the single pitch crags, as this route was put up with a very modern sensibility towards grades. In fact, I would be more impressed by teams onsighting the neighbouring Les Naufragés (a route with a hard to read crux with less modern style of climbing and way less modern application of free climbing grades).