Sunday, April 22

Gorges du Verdon

We have all seen the classic images of tall, brilliant, blue streaked walls dotted with climbers high on the rim of the Verdon Gorge. I'd heard many-a-tale of the immense historical value of the Verdon as a climbing destination, and its stigma for being an old school, honemaster's hangout. What I've discovered over the last week is how much I didn't know about this amazing place-- It's really exceeded my expectations. 
Rougon- a hillside village at the mouth of the Verdon that is straight out of Lord of the Rings. ©Ladzinski
The Gorge is nothing short of gigantic. Not only are the walls towering in height, the climbing potential here is shocking. At any number of well worn, classic cliffs you can look in every direction to see more incredible walls, many of which are barely developed, if at all. The Gorge is miles long and hundreds (at times thousands) of feet deep, with satellite crags littering it's shoulders. Throw out the idea that the Gorge is nothing but dead vertical blue pocket lines-- a few of the steepest, biggest caves I've ever seen are here. Moderate cragging - check, multipitch sport and trad - check, test piece technical routes - check, burly new school routes - check. All in one place. Seriously?! 

Add to this a fairy-tale-beautiful setting, incredible history, delicious food and kind people. There's no question that the Verdon is one of the greatest climbing areas I've ever been to. Magic. 
Andy Mann is stoked on our ridiculously cool rigging job. ©Ladzinski
We're here specifically to shoot a feature film for Arc'Teryx about the climbing, lifestyle and history of the Verdon. Three Strings Media is here (my good friends Andy Mann and Keith Ladzinski) and we've been wildly productive thus far. I'll save some of the excitement for the film, which will premier at this years Squamish Mountain Festival in July, but here's a sample of what we've been up to over the last few days..
Nina executes 'Les Braves Gens...' ©Ladzinski
Turning the roof at the monstrous Galetis Cave ©Ladzinski
As I've mentioned before a few times, I'm something of a history buff, and there's no shortage of it here in the Verdon. Some of the earliest test-piece sport climbs in the world are here, it's been awesome to climb on a few of them. Nina and I did a really, really cool 1988, run out 8a called 'Graphique' and a quintessential J.B. Tribout 8b called 'Les braves gens ne courent pa les rues' from 1986- done within a year of his groundbreaking ascent of America's first 5.14 at Smith Rocks, Oregon. Along with dead vertical, fingery, toe bending burl, we've also checked out a massive cave just inside the Gorge. Nina and I both took down a really nice 8b+ yesterday, and I managed to get through it a second time on my way to try an 8c extension that I'll surely try again in the coming days. These two zones could not be more different-- it's pretty cool to have both within a 20 minute drive of our gite. 

Rain. ©Ladzinski
This... for MILES

Rest day poaching internet in Riez ©Ladzinski

 The in between times are kick-ass as well. Our group has a great dynamic forming, and during down times there's been plenty of sights, food and laughter. For a just over a week spent in France I'm already super pleased with the trip. Eight more weeks to go! 

Tuesday, April 17

France part 1

I've spent quite a bit of time in Europe over the years; my parents have always seen the value in travel and have certainly encouraged and supported me to do so throughout my youth. When I was young we lived in Norway for a while, and we traveled through Scandinavia and the rest of Europe as a family many times since. Once I was old enough (and brave enough), I began traveling alone. I spent another few months living in Norway after high school and I managed to make my way around most of Western Europe and also quite a bit of the Eastern countries too. I loved the newfound feeling of freedom and sense of responsibility- it felt like my first taste of adulthood. Soon there after I became enthralled with Asia and had not made a trip back to Europe since. I feel extremely fortunate for all the international traveling I've been able to do over the years, and I feel strongly that it has informed my perspective and enriched my experience far more than any classroom... traveling is the single most powerful learning tool that I've yet to encounter.
The Verdon Gorge. The scale here is truly amazing. Thousands of feet deep and miles long, this massive gorge drains into the lake you see here on the right. We're staying in a small village on this lake for the next few weeks. In the center of the frame you can see a big cave towards the base-- we checked out this giant cave, only accessible by Kayak, yesterday. It really reminded me of the Pipe Dream- powerful moves out a very steep cave of jugs, toe hooks and the occasional kneebar to help. The routes are burly, long and gymnastic. 
It's been nearly seven years since I've visited Europe, and never before have I had a proper climbing trip here-- this is my first. Psyched. After only 3 days, I can say that I am already very impressed. So far my my two most outstanding impressions are 1) proximity. Within a 10 hour drive from any location in Southern France or Eastern Spain there are literally dozens of world class limestone areas. You could drive between probably 100 crags here in the time it would take you to drive between Colorado and Kentucky. 2) scale. Cliffs here are BIG. It's not uncommon to use every inch of an 80 meter rope, or more. In general, the crags here, are just... bigger.

Andy Mann picked me up on Friday night in Marseille, we drove half an hour to Aix en Provence. Aix is a crazy place, super super young crowd and a lively vibe in an ancient town. It's a great place to hang out. 
We made the hour drive north to check out an uber classic zone, Buoux. Perhaps the international birthplace of sport climbing, Andy and I had to have a look, given our dorky interest in history. It was like a climbing museum, except you can interact with all the exhibits.  
My first day climbing in France!
Andy shows me how it's done on one of the worlds most famous sport climbs... La Rose et le Vampire 8b. This route is incredible!!
The view from our place in the Verdon
Nina Caprez is a gracious host and a brilliant cook. She loves everything about France, and is stoked to show us around. 

If the past couple days is any indication, this is going to be a diverse and seriously action packed couple of months. I'm super excited. I'll post whenever I have access to the Internet.

Friday, April 13

front range stop over

During my most recent stay in Boulder I was reminded of how much I really enjoy the place. How could you not? Great climbing, world class gyms, awesome food, great friends, brilliant trails and ridiculously nice weather… At the risk of sounding too cliche, it really is true that sometimes to see the value in something you've got to take it away. I'll admit that after a few more weeks I'm sure that I'd be restless in Boulder, but after my quick stay I am almost wishing I had more time.

I tried to make the best of my few days there and I'm pretty confident that I did-- I checked out a rad project, broke out my beloved Maverick, climbed a couple sunny days in Estes and got a few good training days in as well.

I'd been meaning to check out this project in Clear Creek after my buddy Peter Beal brought it up a while back. It neighbors a really cool 13d called 'Interstellar Overdrive', a Tommy route that was one of my first of the grade a number of years ago. I really liked Interstellar and I was stoked to hear that a new line was bolted to its left. I spent a sunny Saturday fighting the crowds at the popular Wall of the 90's and despite some unexpected heat was able to climb on this rig a few times and sort out some interesting and unique beta. If I had more time I would have certainly gone back but with only a few days left I didn't make it. If D Woods somehow doesn't get to it soon, then I certainly will when I return in June. 

I had to stop off in Estes as well, my home away from home in Colorado (where is my first home again?) and enjoy a couple days of shockingly good weather for April. The high peaks are looking quite bare of snow already and the valley felt like down-right summer sans the hoards of tourists. I'm sure they'll have another couple of heinous storms on the way at some point, but earlier this week I was amazed with how nice it was. Marisa and I did a long route on Lumpy and baked in the sun. The next day we hiked into one of my favorite crags, the Monastery, for some good training laps. I repeated 'Third Millennium', 'The Quickening' and 'Psychotomic' a few times… some of my favorite routes of all time. 

certainly one of the best 12d's in Colorado if not the nation
Before I knew it I was frantically packing up and doing my best to get mentally prepared for France. This trip really snuck up on me, and although I've been planning, training and looking ahead to it for months, it still just... came up. I rounded up my gear, meticulously trying to pack my way under the allotted 50 lbs limit. With my giant bright yellow Metolius duffle ready to roll, I made my way to the airport on Thursday morning, tired from all the fun of the previous week and stoked for the next step. 
packing up, in every color of the rainbow

later Colorado! see you in June

Tuesday, April 3

Goodbye Vegas

Yesterday as I drove north away from Las Vegas I could remember, in shocking detail, how it felt 3 long months ago when I first arrived back in Sin City. I remember first seeing the lights of the strip as I passed over the apex, southbound on I-15, so excited for the long nights ahead. I remembered forcing myself not to use my iPhone whilst finding my way back to Summerlin, in an attempt to prove that my Vegas coordinates were still running strong. I remember first opening the door on a familiar house with familiar stuff and smiling, familiar faces. I was so stoked to be in Vegas again. 

It's funny how short, or how long a trip can seem. Here I am back in snowy Boulder and it's like I never left- all of my Boulder memories are fresh, except, what happened to the Christmas tree? But when I look over all that happened in Vegas I'm shocked that it was only a quarter of the year. I fell short of my climbing goals unfortunately, but I easily filled in the void with other life experience -- it's important to remember that climbing is only part of it. Vegas was sweet, as it always is. Something tells me that I'll be back before long and it'll be like nothing changed... I'm psyched already!

As with every time that you're preparing for a move, it's been a hectic week. I managed to get back into the hills and bolt another rad looking route, but, just like its neighbor it'll have to wait until my return. For the first time I've got bolted projects lined up and ready for me over in the East and here in the West. It's super motivating!

yeah, seriously I ate like a cowboy. can o beans on an open fire.
I also escaped Vegas and spent a night out at Mt Charleston hanging out with some good friends and climbing. I really dig the scene and the climbing up there. It feels like the mountains (a completely new ecosystem from the desert) and it features a cool variety of climbing styles and angles. I was very pleased to finish up 'Direct Hit' 14a which wound up being kind of a battle. The grades at the classic zones are definitely not soft, and this extension to 'Screaming Target' 13c was no exception - a killer power endurance route without rest on edges and pockets. I was stoked to clip chains so that I could enter into a busy weekend (Red Rock Rendezvous) without worry. I also flashed a really nice 13a called 'Warlords' before packing up and heading to the Rendezvous.

Sunrise Panorama of Red Rocks photo. me looking all ridiculous as par usual
It was rad to see some friends, hang out and catch up with everybody at the Rendezvous. This is a very well organized event, with well over a thousand attendees - which for a climbing event, is HUGE. I had clinics both days that both ended up going really well. On Saturday I had a full group of motivated climbers and banged out some footwork and technique skills, many top ropes and even a few leads at a great little crag. Sunday I had a small group so I teamed up with buddies Misty Murphy and Bill Ohran at a sweet crag, secluded from the wind and sunny. Rad. Thanks so much for everyone that came out and made this killer event possible! hopefully there was nobody in the portajohns when they blew over on Saturday night... the wind was kinda heinous, no lies. Also, lastly, big thanks to Metolius for bringing me out to this rad event. Good times.

I had one (or two) more drinks with some of the Vegas crew on Sunday night before I packed up early and hit the road yesterday. I've got a little more than a week to chill out here in Boulder before I take off for 2 months in France. Damn... crazy life! I love it.