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More Sport Climbing in the Dolomites

By Mark Anderson

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Fantisilandia, 7a+, Becco d’Ajal

Now that I had figured out which characteristics to look for in Dolomite sport crags I was much more psyched for the upcoming crag days.  One crag that piqued my interest is called “Rio Gere” and was merely 4 Km from our Condo in Cortina. Though the book raved about it, a quick recon of the area left me skeptical.

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Rio Gere–a massive boulder in the forest just east of Cortina.

The cliff is a mixture of yellow, fractured stone and (at that time) heavily seeping pocketed flowstone. Since I was unsure of its quality, I left it for the afternoon of a big hiking day when I was already tired. I began the session with the old strategy of climbing the dry yellow stone, which went as expected—I sent everything, but felt dirty afterwards. I decided I would have more fun slipping out of muddy water-sculpted pockets than teetering up dusty choss, so I climbed a set of flowstone lines that all turned out to be incredible, despite the mud.

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Climbing rad (but muddy) flowstone pockets on Che Pizza, 7b+, Rio Gere.

I also learned that by taking my grade down a few notches I could pretty much climb through a shower head without falling, and when I clipped the chains I felt a real sense of accomplishment. There was no question—I was having more fun climbing the best rock, even if it was wet. That made the choice of the next crag obvious.

IMG_1774aEasily my favorite crag of the trip was Beco d’Ajal—a group of massive boulders just outside of Cortina. Of the crags I visited, this is the other contender for “best sport crag in the dolomites,” and really, the distinction would depend heavily on taste. While Laste is more of a vertical technician’s dream, Beco d’Ajal is all about the steep overhanging pockets. The best comparison I can think of is Sector Cascade at Ceuse. Though not as tall as Ceuse, the cliffs are completely covered in sculpted flowstone jugs.

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No Worries, 7a+, at Beco d’Ajal

The crag is guarded by a burly 45-minute uphill trudge, but it was well worth it. As expected, pretty much everything was wet, but by now I was quite used to climbing through it. The scenery from the cliff was spectacular, looking onto the Tofana Group and Cortina, and the climbing was incredible. If I had one day to be teleported to any cliff in the world, I would go there (when its dry!), Becco

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Fantastic, 7b+ Becco d’Ajal.

For our last day we were all pretty tuckered out, so I selected a cliff with a short drive and even shorter Approach. Crepe de Oucera (Alti) was not quite up to the level of the previous three crags, but it was really good. It’s a favorite of the Cortina locals thanks to its short approach and southern aspect. The climbing here is generally near-vertical with lots of pockets, reminding me of the more pocketed rock at Sinks or the less-featured walls at Ten Sleep. This felt like a more traditional European crag with easy access, well-worn stone and lots of options. Though only one route really blew me away (a 12b called Cuba Libre), it was refreshing to climb some high quality dry rock for a change.

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White Line, 6c+, Crepe de Oucera.

There were a number of other intriguing crags we didn’t visit due to seepage. If I return in drier conditions I would definitely make return trips to Beco d’Ajal and Laste, but based on what I saw, I’d also like to climb on these crags:

– Sass Dlacia: steeply overhanging walls of pockets

– Malga Ciapela: less-steep, techy flowstone

– Tridentina/Eiszeit: Overhanging pockets

– Cinque Torri: Well-traveled/historic collection of large boulders tilted in wild directions

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Cinque Torri

All told, I really enjoyed the sport climbing. Given the amount of rock and variety I think it’s a very worthy destination for sport climbers, certainly worth considering for those looking for a holistic vacation with options for other adventure-oriented activities. That said, try to visit in the Fall when the rock is presumably less wet!

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Fantisilandia, 7a+, Becco d’Ajal.

Coming Soon: more non-sport-climbing adventures in the Dolomites!

Sport Climbing in the Dolomites

 

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People Mover, 7c+, Laste.

By Mark Anderson

Despite its staggering collection of world-class, bolted multi-pitch lines, the Dolomites aren’t known for sport climbing. In fact I’d argue the sport climbing in the Dolomites is pretty much completely unknown, evidenced by the heck of a time I had finding information about it when I first set out. But I knew a range of thousands of (essentially) limestone peaks had to have a few killer sport crags sprinkled about. It was just a matter of uncovering them. As I suspected, they were there in abundance. Once I found them, the challenge was wading through the endless possibilities to identify the most-worthy crags.

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Rope-swing at Salares, with Passo Valparola on the right.

After scouring the internet, I collected a couple guidebooks. The Rockfax guide claims to be a combined Trad, VF and Sport guide. This book is absolutely stunning, and I recommend it to any climber visiting the Dolomites, for general orientation if nothing else. However, it is NOT a sport climbing guide. It only includes a handful of over-used crags, none of which seemed particularly appealing. I ended up using “Sportclimbing in the Dolomites” by Vertical Life. This book is short on details but provides the bare minimum needed to visit more than 50 distinct crags of all varieties, with text provided in three languages including English.

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Prepping the photoshoot at Salares. The cliffs of Val Badia are off to the left.

In the end we visited six different crags. I’d like to say we saw the best in the area, but it’s hard to know for sure when there are so many options. We arrived the last week of May, which is definitely early-season, and the biggest downside of this was that many of the best crags were seeping. In fact, all of the best crags were seeping. I dare say all of the best routes at all of the best crags were seeping! If you want to visit the Dolomites primarily for sport climbing, I’d guess early Fall is the best time to go, but we had to make the best of our window.

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La Chica Bonita, 7a+, Salares.

I started by looking for crags that promised to be dry. These were fairly easy to find (the yellow stone tends to be dry), but I quickly regretted this strategy. We visited two dry-ish crags in a row, Franchi (aka Scheweg) and Salares, and both were disappointing. Granted we arrived at Franchi in a rain storm, and were lucky to climb at all. Only a couple lines were dry, neither were remarkable, nor were we impressed by the appearance of the wet lines. The defining memory of that day was an interminable game of keep away we played with a local crag pup (I absolutely could not leave without my left Oasi—it was only the first day and those shoes are king on overhanging polished limestone!)

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Achtung Baby, 7a+, Salares.

Salares was a distinct improvement, but I quickly noticed a pattern—the dry yellow stone tended to be heavily fractured. I mean egregiously fractured! In fairness, I never broke any key holds, but it was unnerving to be constantly teetering on what appeared to be vertically stacked rubble. It certainly made me think twice about the alpine rock routes. The saving grace of Salares was the incredible view of Val Badia off to the left and an exciting rope swing. So after two days of disappointing rock, I decided we would go for what looked like the best stone, and just deal with whatever wetness we encountered. This turned out to be a great compromise.

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Laste.

We turned our attention to an incredible table-top of limestone below the Marmolada called Laste. Laste is in the discussion for “best sport crag in the dolomites.” The setting is idyllic, with stunning views of the north face of the Civetta, among rolling hills of lush green grass. The rock is excellent but…weird. It’s very reminiscent of the lower left cliff at Rifle’s Anti Phil Wall. The holds are generally angular pinch fins, with lots of underclinging and sidepulls, a few pockets and only rare horizontal edges.

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Trippa per Gatti, 7a+, Laste.

The rock quality was flawless, though spider-webby in spots due to lack of traffic (I even found a mini-scorpion in one pocket). The stone is very light grey making chalk virtually invisible and onsighting incredibly challenging. The west wall of the formation was pretty-much completely dry and the climbing here was phenomenal. All the routes were long, sustained, cerebral and rewarding. I really felt like I accomplished something every time I clipped the chains at Laste. This was also one of the only crags where we encountered other climbers, on a weekday no less, surely a sign of its quality.

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Cilum, 7a, Laste.

It took three days, but I felt like I finally figured out how to pick the crags. We still had most of the trip in front of us and now that I knew what to look for, I was really excited to check out some more incredible-looking dolomite crags….

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Picnicing at the Laste parking lot, with the north face of the Civetta in the distance.

Exploring the Dolomites

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Hiking the alpine meadows below the Odle Group.

By Mark Anderson

The Dolomites are a jagged range of mountains in North-Eastern Italy, immediately south of the Austrian border. The range is composed of a form of limestone called dolomite (also found throughout Wyoming, at crags like Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris). The rock is heavily featured, and at times heavily fractured, providing unusual challenges for climbers and incredibly dramatic landscapes for sightseers.

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The Tre Cime (R) and Monte Paterno (L).

To climbers, the Dolomites are renowned for their long, dramatic alpine rock routes. The range is home to countless long classics, including one of the six “Great North Faces of the Alps” (the Comici Route on the north face of the Cima Grande). Reinhold Messner maintains they are the most beautiful mountains in the world—“each mountain in the range is like a piece of art.” After spending a couple weeks there with my family last month, it’s hard to disagree.

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On the trail to the Tre Cime, with the Cadini di Misurina group behind.

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Lago Sorapiss and the Dito di Dio spire.

There are so many ways to enjoy these mountains, its hard to know where to start. We wanted to do some sport climbing, some via ferrate (more on these subjects in the coming weeks), but mostly we wanted to explore the incredible and complex landscape.

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Routefinding….

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Climbing art in Ortesi.

For basecamp we chose the vibrant village of Cortina D’Ampezzo. This is a quintessential ski town complete with designer fashions and exorbitant prices (though to be fair, it’s not as bad as Aspen!) It even hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956. It’s got all the essentials (except a pool) and is ideally centered between several legendary climbing attractions.

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Exploring the Cinque Torri, a historic climbing crag. The Col dei Bos can be seen in the distance.

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Kate near the summit of Lagazuoi Piccolo, with Tofana di Rozes behind.

The weather in the Dolomites is incredibly consistent—it rains every day! However, in our experience the mornings were dependably awesome, usually bluebird, with clouds beginning to form around mid-day, culminating in relatively brief-but-violent thunderstorms. We never lost a day to weather, though we did postpone an activity when we awoke to threatening clouds. A typical day for us began with a dawn start, 5-7 hours of some climbing, via ferrata or hiking adventure, followed by a few hours siesta while the rain passed, then another short hike, etc and a visit to town for well-deserved gelato.

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Logan on the exposed trail to the Sorapiss Group.

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Amelie in the Odle Group, with Sassolungo obscured by clouds.

A well-maintained network of roads and cable cars makes it easy to explore, even with small kids (though the cable cars can be pricey). We were there in early season, so many lifts were not operating, and many via ferrate were impassable, but we found plenty to do for two weeks and grew to appreciate the relative solitude once the first wave of summer crowds arrived on the last weekend of our trip.

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Misurina, with the Sorapiss Group behind.

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The Haunold “Funbob.” No relation to Alex?

The kids did a great job of putting up with our insatiable desire to hike and climb. It was the most fun we’ve ever had on a vacation, but also the most exhausted we’ve been at the end. There always seemed to be one more hike, one more mountain pass, one more lake worth visiting. The only thing we failed to find was a good time to rest. Despite that, it feels like we barely scratched the surface of this marvelous place. I’m eager to go back once the kids are big enough to share a rope with me up one of the many towering alpine walls.

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Admiring the Sella Towers from Sella Pass.

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Podcast: Panel Discussion on Training

By Mark Anderson

On January 17th, the Boulder Rock Club hosted a panel discussion on training. The panel included myself, renowned climbing coach Justen Sjong, Chiropractor & Physio Dr. Brent Apgar, double-digit boulder and author Peter Beal and Physical Therapist Dr. Stacy Soapmann. It was a really fun and informative event. We fielded questions submitted online as well as questions from the live audience. The discussion was pretty lively and lasted a good 90 minutes.

Louder Than Eleven was on-hand to record the event for the community. You can listen to the Podcast here:

 

Our discussion covered the following topics:

  • How to identify Strengths & Weaknesses (@ ~2:49 in the podcast)
  • How to get Strong Fingers (8:12)
  • What is Core Training and is it a waste of time? (10:09)
  • Injuries, Prevention, Rehab and how these relate to Training Volume and Intensity (18:40)
  • The problem with the Gym; Indoor Training vs. Outdoor Climbing; balancing learning how to move well vs. how to perform well vs. training to get stronger; and what is Good Technique? (33:13)
  • The importance of Adventure and Route Finding, and the value of figuring out Beta (47:13)
  • Selecting the right Project, how to train for Freerider, onsight vs. redpoint grade (51:29)
  • Rehabbing Over-use Injuries in climbers, hardware vs. software and the power of the mind in healing (56:15)
  • Youth Climbing, training & injuries; American Ninja Warrior and the future of Comp Climbing; and is it healthy to be elite? (1:06:45)
  • Definition and value of Antagonist Training, training Patterns vs. Parts, proper Form (1:15:51)
  • Diet, Nutrition & Fuel with respect to performance; Alex Huber; individuality & variety of diet; sleep & rest; intermittent fasting (1:22:46)

I hope you find some of this useful, or at least entertaining. Thanks to everyone who participated in the panel, all the attendees, the BRC for hosting, Tara Gee for moderating and especially Brent Apgar, Aubrey Wingo and Mark Dixon for organizing.

Eclipse Fever

By Mark Anderson

You may have heard something about a Total Solar Eclipse last week. Since we were only about a 3-hour drive from the path of totality, we took the rare opportunity to see it in person. We chose to head into western Nebraska, figuring it might be slightly less congested than Wyoming. We drove up Sunday night and camped in the Pawnee National Grasslands right on the Colorado border, and immediately below a massive array of wind turbines.

Wind Turbines in Pawnee National Grasslands.

The next morning we woke up just before dawn and continued north. We didn’t have an exact destination in mind, but aimed for the general vicinity of Scottsbluff, a small town about 15 miles east of the Wyoming border and ~50 miles north of the Colorado border. The town is so-named for a large rock tower (Scott’s Bluff), that was a major landmark on the Oregon Trail. In the end we wound up parking and observing the eclipse right along the original Oregon Trail. It was serendipitous for someone who 1) grew up in Oregon and 2) considers himself to be a member and strong proponent of the “Oregon Trail Generation” — wedged tightly between Gen X and Millennial (if you played the Oregon Trail computer game as a kid, you too might be a member of the Oregon Trail Generation).

Amelie driving the wagon train below Scott’s Bluff.

By the time we arrived and located the perfect viewing spot we still had about 3 hours to kill before anything interesting happened (reports of Carmageddon-style traffic were greatly exaggerated in our experience). We took the opportunity to educate the kids about the pioneers with lots of help from the Scott’s Bluff National Monument Visitor’s Center. The kids really enjoyed checking out the covered wagons and climbing on the life-size Oxen statues.

Ready for action.

Before we knew it, the partial eclipse was underway. Without eclipse glasses most of the partial eclipse would be hard to notice. However, once the sun was obscured to a small sliver the temperature and light dropped noticeably. I spent most of the hour-long partial eclipse attempting to get a few halfway presentable photos with my point-and-shoot camera (which I did by precariously hovering one lens of my eclipse glasses over the camera shutter).

Partial Eclipse

After an endless wait, finally the total eclipse arrived. It was incredible! The atmosphere was electric and otherworldly. The sky was nearly dark, like late twilight, and a few bright stars were visible. The highlight was observing the ring of light emanating from behind the moon. The light was brilliant white; dazzling and spectacular in every respect. The first stage of the total eclipse begins with a “Diamond Ring”, in which the sun is almost totally obscured, you can see a thin white line around most of the moon’s circumference, and a brilliant, blinding light on one side. This was incredible and my favor part of the eclipse.

 

The Diamond Ring. You can also see a small Baily’s Bead on the left side of the ring.

Another Diamond Ring.

Once the sun’s disk is completely obscured the Corona becomes visible as smokey rays of light emanating from behind the moon. At this point you can also see “Baily’s Beads”, which are more distinct balls of bright, crisp, white light dancing along the inner ring of the Corona. If you’re lucky, you can also see “prominence”, which are red arcs or tails shooting out from the disk (these are plumes of hot gas ejected from the sun).

Some Corona pics…

A great shot of prominence (in the upper right quadrant), captured by Mike who viewed the eclipse from Wyoming. Photo Mike Anderson

The spectacle ends with another diamond ring, and then in the blink of an eye it’s all over. It was the fastest minute of my life, but one of the most memorable—well worth trip! If you missed this years’ event I highly recommend another one in the future. The next total solar eclipse in North America (in 2024) is supposed to be even better, since the moon will be closer to earth, making the path of totality much wider.

Here’s a brief video of the latter half of the Totality with some funny commentary that parents will appreciate:

 

Climbing in Italy – Finale Ligure Part 2

By Mark Anderson

Pyro, 7b, at Grotta della Strapatente.

Messalina, 7a+, Domus Aurea.

For our last climbing day of the trip, we chose the region around the village of Boragni. This area has a wide selection of crags within a small area, and also seemed to offer some of the best tufa climbing in Finale. It also offered another spelunking adventure for the kids, with two crags connected by a 100m-long cave (fortunately this cave didn’t require any fixed lines or scrambling).

Commuting between Domus Aurea and Grotta della Strapatente.

The first crag we visited is called Domus Aurea. This was a small crag with only a few routes, but it has a nice curtain of steep tufas. After warming up, we headed to the phenomenal Grotta della Strapatente. This cliff is famous for an 8b+ (5.14a) called En Attendant Berhault that climbs through a horizontal roof on big stalactites, but we were here for the amazing wall of flowstone to the right. I climbed some truly fantastic tufas on this trip, but these were the most fun.

Climbing Pyro, 7b, on the amazing wall of tufas at Grotta della Strapatente.

My favorite route on the wall was a snaking 7b called Pyro. The route flowed seamlessly—just when one tufa ends, an incut pocket appears to link the movement into the next tufa. The route was never super hard, but continuous and sequential. The tufas on this route were incredible—it seemed like each drip was sculpted with a climber’s hand in mind. It was easily the best route I did in Finale.

Memobox, 7b, another great tufa line at Strapatente.

Kate enjoying the heavily-pocketed start of Memobox.

After a few more of the wall’s stellar tufas, we packed up one more time and headed back down the hill to a stacked cliff of moderates called “Bastinata sinistra Boragni.” The cliff is enormous, with pitches reaching 40m, a few multi-pitch lines, and over 70 routes from 5.8 to 5.12. It was a great hang for kids, with a nice open base, and they both fell fast asleep as soon as we arrived.

Where’s Waldo…?

…there he is. Copping a rest in one of the many pockets of Panorama, 7a+

The climbing varied from steep slabs to very-slightly-overhanging walls covered in pockets. Some of these pockets were huge incut jugs, some just looked like that from below. Silt from runoff was problematic on some of the routes, but most of the lines were long and clean. The best route we did was a popular 40m 5.10 called Change the World. I had to scrounge up every draw and sling, back-clean a few bolts, and skip some others, but it was a fun and airy journey.

Kate at the bulging crux of Change the World, 6b, at Bastionata sinistra Boragni.

Of all the places we visited, I find myself most inclined to return to Finale. Not because the climbing was the best—it wasn’t, but because the lifestyle was so relaxing. Minimal driving, a wide variety of routes, and very few crowds. Even when the climbing is bad (it never was), you can look forward to capping off the day with a casual stroll along the beach and enjoying a delicious meal. It would be a great place to live as a retired climber—lifetimes worth of routes to climb, with none of the hassle of other venues.

Higher on Change the World’s endless sea of pockets.  The anchor is still out of the frame!

All told, it was an awesome climbing vacation.  We visited a ton of new crags, saw some amazing sights, and had a great time.  Generally we fizzle out at the end of these trips–ending up exhausted and longing for home.  That never happened on this trip.  The kids were really well-behaved the entire time, and relatively self-sufficient.  At 6 and almost-4, it feels like we’re through the tunnel from a “climbing with kids” perspective, and our horizons are broadening once again.  They managed many long days (and long approaches) with few complaints.  Another important improvement over previous trips was that we rented houses in both destinations.  I wasn’t sure how that would pan out, but it worked really well and was surprisingly affordable.  It made everything less stressful and eliminated the problem of finding food outside of normal business hours (the crux of our earliest trips).  The downside of this approach is that it restricts your travel range, but fortunately we found two base camps with a wide variety of incredible sights and crags.  It seemed like we could have stayed forever, and I’d be happy to return to either.

Castle of the Day: Vernazza, along the infamous Cinque Terra trail. We hiked from Monterosso (visible along the shore at center) to Corniglia (8Km total), which Logan managed with no assistance, minimal whining, and just a wee bit of bribery (a Police Boat Lego set).

 

Climbing in Italy – Finale Ligure Part 1

By Mark Anderson

Climbing Camera Con Vista (Room with a view), 7a, Finale Ligure.

Climbing in Italy has long been a mystery to me. I knew there was climbing—a lot of climbing—I just didn’t know anything specific about it. For whatever reason I knew much more about the sport crags of Germany, France and Spain. Some quick internet research revealed Finale Ligure, in the Liguria region of the Italian Riviera, was a highly recommended spot.

Playing on the Beach in Finalmarina.

The Finale region is spectacular, nestled in a set of tight valleys right on the Mediterranean Sea (some of the crags climb directly over the water). Finale is also renowned as a mountain biking destination, and the village of Finalborgo (where we stayed) was always bustling with adventure-seekers like ourselves. In the small piazza where we went for pizza, beer and gelato (not necessarily in that order) there were six different climbing shops and just as many MTB shops.

The cliff-covered valleys above Finalborgo.

Within a 15 minute drive of Finalborgo are hundreds of crags with thousands of routes. The rock is white, gray and sometimes orange limestone, covered in small pockets and the occasional tufa. The routes are entirely bolted, but there are many expansive cliffs covered in multi-pitch lines. The cliffs tend toward steep slabs with many vertical to slightly-overhanging walls, and the most appealing routes are in the French 6-7 range (5.10-5.12). According to our guidebook, polished rock is a bit of a problem at certain crags, but we never found it to be an issue.

El Diablo in Grotta dell’edera. This is fairly typical of the rock in Finale—generally white to light grey, near vertical, with many small pockets. Photo Logan Anderson.

I had pretty low expectations for the climbing, based on the few pictures I’d seen. The routes looked thin, tweaky and old-school. The two days we spent climbing there completely changed my view.   Every route I climbed was excellent and many of them were outstanding. While there were some thin and tweaky routes and some runouts, we also found amazing tufa curtains and walls covered in jugs. Even the less featured lines were fantastic technical challenges on amazing rock.

However, the best thing going for Finale is the atmosphere. It reminded me of Tonsai Beach in Thailand, where you can drop your pack on the beach, climb world-class limestone, then walk 15 steps to the bar and eat a great meal with a beer for pennies on the dollar. Finale wasn’t quite that convenient, but on the other hand, you don’t need Malaria pills. The climbing in Finale is equally relaxed, with the sea never far away and a great evening on the boardwalk or piazza to cap off every day.

The best part of Finale climbing was the ambiance. Eating phenomenal pizza in our garden in Finalborgo.

Grotta dell’edera (Ivy Cave) was the one “must-visit” crag on our list. It’s a collapsed cave, resulting in a near-perfect cylinder of limestone open to the sky. There’s a “window” on the southwest side of the cylinder that forms an archway across the cylinder. If that wasn’t peculiar enough, the Grotta is accessed by climbing 50 meters through a proper cave (with some steep scrambling thrown in along the way).

Amelie and I spelunking on the approach to Grotta dell’edera.

Looking up at the roof of Grotta dell’edera.

The perfectly-named Camera Con Vista (Room with a view), 7a. The “window” is to my left, and there is another mini-cylinder (with three routes inside and a skylight) to my right. Photo Amelie Anderson.

Kate cruising Bombolo, 6b, in the mini-cylinder inside Grotta dell-edera. Photo Logan Anderson.

Higher on Bombolo, a classic jughaul with wild stemming and some tufa action. Photo Logan Anderson.

The climbing in the Grotta was fantastic in its own right, but the setting made every route extra special. I climbed several great tufa lines and set up a thrilling rope swing for the kids that the other climbers seemed to get a kick out of (the place was packed relative to the rest of our trip—there were 8 other climbers, with us making 12 people to share 14 routes). The best route I did was a dead-vertical, slightly concave 7b with small incut pockets and tricky stemming called Lubna.

El Diablo, 7b. The Climber in the orange helmet is on the mega-classic technical masterpiece Lubna. Photo Logan Anderson.

Amelie’s rope swing.

Logan getting in on the climbing.

Logan preparing to take a big swing.  The higher you climb, the better the swing.

The (hiking) approach to the Grotta was long, hot and miserable. Frankly we were all in a terrible mood when we got there. If there’s one downside to Finale, it’s that the approaches can be long, steep and complicated. Other than that, it’s the perfect family climbing destination, with routes for climbers of all abilities and lots of fun rest day activities for kids. Fortunately the rough approach was a distant memory by the end of the day. We all had such a great time between the cave, the swings and the climbing that we would love to return. Back in Finalborgo we capped off the day with literally the best pizza I’ve ever had. Logan and Amelie picked lemons from the garden and Kate made lemonade. It was the perfect climbing day.

Castle of the Day: Dolceaqua, easily the best medieval village of the trip, with a maze of narrow winding passageways. The Ponte Vecchio bridge shown here was memorialized in this painting by Monet.

 

Climbing in France – Venasque

By Mark Anderson

Nearing the top of Vole, 7b, at the French Limestone crag of Venasque. Photo Logan Anderson.

Venasque is a little known crag outside the village of the same name, about an hour south of Buis. We first went there on one of my rest days, to give Kate a chance to climb some of the highly recommended 5.10s and 11s. Kate really enjoyed the climbing, and it looked so fun that we both agreed we should return for our last day in France.

Kate cruising Beaucoup de Bruit Pour Rien (“A Lot of Noise for Nothing”), 6a+, on our first day at Venasque.

The cliffs of Venasque don’t look remarkable (relative to other crags of the area). There are no tufas, the colors are bland relative to the orange and blue streaks of St Leger and Baume Rousse, and the scenery isn’t particularly special. But man, the climbing sure is fun! The rock is limestone, but it seems to have quite a bit of sandstone mixed in, and it’s weathered in a manner very similar to the best routes at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. We spent most of our time at “Place de l’Ascle,” the main feature of which is a 30m wall, overhanging up to about 20 degrees, and covered in huge jugs. All the routes on this wall were spectacular 5.12 pumpfests. The routes aren’t particularly striking or cerebral, but it was definitely the most fun I had climbing on our trip.

Kate starting up Petite Marie, a gobsmacking 5.11c that charges up the right side of a towering swell of overhanging jugs.  5.11 sport climbs don’t get any better than this.

Higher on Petite Marie. Note the leaning wave of rock to Kate’s left—home to Misanthropies Therapeutiques, Aller Plus Haute, and Vole.

I started by warming up on a brilliant 7b on this wall called Misanthropies Therapeutiques, which was completely stellar, getting gently steeper, with equally growing holds, as you ascend (all the routes on this wall were like that).  It was one of the most fun sport climbs I’ve ever done. Next we moved to another sector along the same cliffband which the Rockfax guide described as a “must see wall that is the epitome of a sport crag and a must climb venue.” This cliff overhangs about 20 degrees, with a number of pockety, sequential lines from 7c-8b. I tried a route called Objectif Puree, or “Pure Objective.” This name was apparently ironic, as I soon discovered about half the handholds on the route were chipped. It was a drag, and really turned me off on the wall. I felt like I was climbing in a gym with poor route-setting. It was also rather disappointing that some people think chipped garbage is “the epitome of a sport crag.” Whether that’s a reflection on the author’s taste, or the reputation of sport climbing (or both), I don’t know. Nor am I sure which would be worse. To me it seemed like a real waste of a cliff, not to mention a waste of a climbing day in Europe.

Objectif Puree. Photo Amelie Anderson.

The upside of this revelation was that I was free to return to the first cliff and climb as many of the rad jughauls as my family could tolerate (fortunately it was also another great place to rig a rope swing, which got me at least one extra route beyond the usual quota).

Midway up Vole, 7b. Misanthropies Therapeutiques is the next route left (following the flake system), and Aller Plus Haute is the second route left. Photo Logan Anderson.

The most memorable moment of the day came as I was cleaning the 7b+ Aller Plus Haute (“Go High”). The crag is right over the road, at the intersection of a very popular hiking trail.  A crowd of about 30 hikers came through, pausing briefly to watch my acrobatics as I neared the bottom quickdraw. When I cleaned this last draw on the steeply overhanging wall, I predictably swung way out over the road, greeted by a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” from the gathered spectators.

Logan getting in on the fun.

All told it was easily my favorite day of climbing on the trip. The crag doesn’t look spectacular, it’s not photogenic or historic, but it’s hard not to have fun on these amazing cliffs. It was a great hang for the kids, with no approach, and nestled in one of the most scenic rural regions of Provence.  It’s the perfect family vacation crag.

Castle of the Day – Entrevaux. This one was so spectacular it gets two pics….

Logan had a great time playing with the two cannons at lower right. Note also the Citadel high above, and the zig-zagging path that climbs up to it.

 

Climbing in France – Baume Rousse

by Mark Anderson

World class tufa climbing at Baume Rousse, France. Photo Logan Anderson.

As mentioned in the last post, it rained heavily during the first part of our trip, so for our second climbing day we picked a crag called Baume Rousse, somewhat sheltered in a natural cirque, and close to our home base of Buis-les Baronnies. Before getting into the climbing, Buis deserves a short description. This village of about 2500 people is nestled in an incredible valley, surrounded by impressive peaks and limestone cliffbands. There are three extensive limestone sport crags within walking distance of town (Baume Rousse, Ubrieux, and St. Julien), and another five or so within a 30 minute drive. There’s literally a lifetime of climbing opportunities with an hour’s drive.

Buis-les-Baronnies from Baume Rousse, with the limestone fin of St. Julien just above town, and the snow-capped Mount Ventoux in the background. St Leger is nestled in between Ventoux and the next ridge behind St. Julien, about a 25-minute drive from Buis.

The piercing limestone fin of St. Julien dominates the skyline above Buis-les-Baronnies. The crag features ~100 routes, including many multi-pitch lines and a network of via Ferrata.

A pair of climbers low on St. Julien (in yellow and blue, near the bottom of the cliff, in the center of the frame, at the same height as the tallest tree).

Baume Rousse is a smaller crag with only about 100 routes, but the hardest of those routes climb some of the most amazing tufas I’ve ever seen! Besides its amazing orange & black streaked limestone, Baume Rousse is unusual because it was developed in order to host a climbing comp in the 1990’s (fortunately the rock was not chipped to engineer the comp routes like at some other outdoor comps of the era).

The view towards Buis from the base of St Julien. The V-shaped diagonal limestone ridge behind the village is the crag Ubrieux (which we did not visit). The limestone cirque of Baume Rousse is visible just beyond the ridge, directly above the center of the “V.”

The left half of the Baume Rousse cirque.

Looking straight up at the tufa curtains on the back wall of Baume Rousse.

By far the best route I did on the trip was an 8a called Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit (Google doesn’t seem to know what “Rigpa” means, but the rest of it has something to do with “the nature of the mind”). The route follows a phenomenal tufa fin which juts out from the wall as much as 16” but is never more than 2” thick. It’s a classic pumpfest, maybe 15 degrees overhanging, with strategic exotic rests. The tufas fade near the top, requiring some big reaches between features.

Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit. Photo Logan Anderson.

Nearing the crux on Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Another pic of Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Just to the right of Rigpa is another tufa-laden 8a. I tried that line next, but just as I finished it started raining heavily. Thanks to strong swirling winds we found the little cirque was not quite as sheltered as we hoped, so we decided to pack it in for the day. The entire back wall of the cirque is covered in awesome tufas curtains, and if I had one more (dry) day in Buis, I would head straight to Baume Rousse to try more of these amazing climbs.

Amelie enjoying the best rope swing of the trip

One of the highlights of the trip for me (and I think Logan as well) was a short, entry-level via Ferrata I did with him at the base of St. Julien. Like most things at this age, it took a bit of prodding to get him interested, but once we got started he was instantly stoked. I think the pictures illustrate best how much fun we had. Before we were finished he started campaigning to do another, harder, higher via ferrata, and he kept bringing it up throughout the rest of the trip. Unfortunately these are engineered with a certain minimum height in mind, and there wasn’t another one around that was suitable for 6-year-olds.

Starting up the first few iron rungs of the via ferrata. The look of half fear/half excitement in Logan’s eyes says it all.

 

Still not clear if he’s happy or terrified. I think just really excited. I learned later that I was supposed to hook the rope through the metal hook-thing above Logan’s head as a directional. (St. Julien in the background.)

This particular route was designed specifically with kids in mind, more like a vertical park than a mountaineering objective, with closely spaced steps and a number of fun “obstacles” to look forward to (including a suspension bridge, “monkey bridge,” cargo net, and balance beam). It even climbs through a natural stone arch. It was super fun, even for jaded me. It really made me wish we had more via ferrata in the US; it’s a great way to introduce beginners to the mountains and creates no more impact than the typical hiking trail.  It’s pretty awesome the way the local European communities embrace climbing, marketing it as an attraction and encouraging participation.  There was a huge kiosk in the center of Buis describing in detail all the via ferrata, how to reach them, what equipment was needed and so on.

The suspension bridge.

So-called Monkey Bridge.

Climbing through the arch.

The cargo net, with Buis, etc in the background.

Castle of the day – Logan playing with a Trebuchet at Chateaux des Baux.

Julienne Salad Days

By Mark Anderson

My family and I are heading to France (with a few days in Italy) at the end of the month for spring break. I spend the vast majority of my outdoor climbing days working redpoint projects, but on this trip I expect to focus on climbing routes first go, so I’ve spent the past few weeks tuning up my fitness accordingly and practicing on-sighting. All the crags on our itinerary are limestone, so we made a point to visit Shelf Road to climb on similar stone (albeit of much, much lower quality–or so I hope).

Earlier in the winter I bolted 4 routes (and a linkup) on a nice cream-colored panel of rock in the “Tropical Wall” sector of Shelf’s North Gym, which offered the perfect objective. Granted, these would not technically be on-sight attempts since I had rapped all the routes while bolting them. However, I don’t really possess the capacity to remember the details of four random lines I bolted a few months ago, since all my memory banks are filled to the brim with song lyrics and movie quotes. So I expected it to provide good practice nonetheless.

The main feature on the wall is a 3-feet-deep roof about halfway up. Four of the five lines involve this obstacle in some way. The first line I tried (“Booty Sweat”) follows a fairly continuous crack system that skirts the left side of the roof with powerful underclings (for the grade). While basically a crack climb, there are a lot of nice pockets sprinkled around to spice things up.

Shaking out below the undercling roof exit on Booty Sweat, 5.11b. Photo Amelie A.

The most intimidating line on the wall climbs out the center of the roof. Thanks to a few sinker pockets I climbed fairly easily up to a good shake at jugs below the ceiling. Just as I arrived, Amelie announced she needed to pee and she couldn’t hold it. Fortunately there was a bolt right at my waist, so I clipped a loose sling straight in to the bolt so Kate could help Amelie. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate the imposing obstacle above. Once I was properly on belay again, I charged up to the lip and groped my right hand over to a shallow 4-finger dish. I couldn’t see an elegant way to get established over the lip, so I coiled and hucked my left hand for what appeared likely to be a big jug. It was, and I stuck it, but it was incredibly prickly. My feet swung out wildly as I stuck the jug, and Kate shouted up “that was sick!”, which is incredibly rare—usually she is completely and justifiably unimpressed by my climbing antics (having seen the sausage being made, so to speak). I replied with, “what’s sick is what happened to the skin on my hand.” My palm was torn up and bleeding in a few places, but it turned out to be nothing serious, just enough to warrant the name “More Shredded Than A Julienne Salad.”

Working up the headwall after surmounting the big roof on …Julienne Salad (5.12b?) Photo Amelie A.

Perhaps the best line turned out to be the 5.11- linkup that joins the bottom half of Booty Sweat to the top-half of More Shredded…, climbing through the left side of the big roof via a bubbly pancake flake. It’s a classic jughaul with no hard moves to speak of. I’m generally not a fan of linkups, and I had no intention of bolting this line when scoping the wall from the ground, but once I rapped the wall and saw the line of jugs I couldn’t resist.

Scoping holds on The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, 5.12a. Photo Logan A.

The other two lines on the wall, Be Australian and The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, involve sustained pocket and edge climbing on great stone. They’re both worthwhile. I hiked past this wall probably 20 or 30 times while developing the rest of the North Gym in 2011, and I always intended to bolt it, but I never got around to it for whatever reason. I assumed somebody else would claim it during my 5-year exile to Clear Creek, so I was surprised and stoked to find it still untouched last November. In retrospect I’m really glad I had the opportunity to put these routes in. I’m sure some day in the future, once every route at Cactus Cliff is polished to glass and has a queue 10-ropebags deep, these routes will be well-appreciated by adventurous loners like me.

Fine edging on Be Australian, 5.12a.

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