Thursday, May 31

France Update

Life here at the base of the mastiff… is not so bad. Ceuse is truly an incredible crag, and the more I get to know the surrounding area the harder I think it'll be to leave. I imagine what it would be like to live here; I'd have a few goats, some chickens and a big garden... Make my own food, hike to the crag daily, just lay around on rest days.  It's the vibe here. French country style living, with one of the Earth's best crags just an hour hike behind you. 

afternoon storms... everyday...
outside our bedroom window
I cruised up to Paris for a few days to pick up Marisa. It's a shocking change from the Verdon or Sigoyer to be back in a big city, but Paris is a one of a kind place so we made some time to enjoy it.
Incredible stained glass inside of Notre Dame.

The Louvre. Painfully huge. Too much to take in but a must for any Paris visit.

As Godly as it seems out here, it's still not beyond the usual buzz kills of the spring. It's been raining quite a bit. I'd say over half the days are rainy to some degree, and while the slabs dry out rapidly, it takes a ripping wind or days sun to dry some pocketed or tufa sections. Some routes have essentially been wet now for nearly three weeks and a few larger storms over the last week have kept the trend going. 

Usually this kind of thing would certainly bum me out, but there are so many amazing routes here in Ceuse that regardless of some rain, there is almost always something dry-- and this being my first time here, I'm stoked to try basically anything.

I've been trying a really cool open project here on the Berlin Wall. It was bolted last year by a Gap local, and since, it's been tried by a variety of French climbers as well as the random passer-by. It's essentially the final open line to the top of the wall and it climbs quite well. It opens with a couple sharp bouldery sections through some decent rock (it'll clean up) and directly into the first crux surmounting a small overlap. This part is really shouldery and powerful. The rest above is on an undercling with smeary feet-- not ideal. From here you gun it through a massive headwall of grey stone without any rest, using tiny pockets and precarious feet for what seems like a hundred feet. There's one bolt of fluff climbing to the chains. It's thrilling and technically very engaging. I've one-hung the route three times now, but a crucial pocket in the bottom is wet, and it's hard to say when it'll dry out. Stoked to try it again!

I've also been sampling Biographie-- a legendary route on the wall of the same name. A hard boulder problem guards the beginning of this stunning route. A few years ago an important hold in the bottom crux broke, making the first few moves of the route significantly harder. I've been able to figure out the moves, but I've yet to put them all together. The rest of the route climbs pretty damn well, although its legacy has left it quite polished. It's a seriously impressive line, and one that I'd really like to climb at some point, maybe on this trip, maybe on the next.

I did manage to take down a really unique climb on the Demi Lune Sector called 'L'Arcadémicien' 8c. It's a relentless blue/grey streak that looks completely blank from below. There are essentially no features in the route, just a spattering of sloper edges and the occasional shallow pocket. It was cool to learn this route because it seemed like every little hold needed to be grabbed a very specific way, and all the rain had completely washed any chalk away, so finding the sequences and grips was a pretty serious adventure.

In between the wet streaks and my efforts on these burly routes I've been knocking down some fantastic 7's and 8's. Ceuse may have a reputation for being a hardpersons crag but the bulk of the quality really lies in the 7a-8a range. I've done too many world class routes to list them all, but it'd be a crime not to reveal some of my favorites (if you have no interest in Ceuse climbing or wish to continue believing that your backyard crag is indeed the best on the planet I would not read on) --  'La Couleur Du Vent' hard for 8a, an incredible blue streak with a punchy and unrelenting ending. 'Berlin' soft 7c+, a boulder problem down low leads to amazing Red River-type pumpy crimping to the top, a crag classic. 'Dolce Vita' 8a+, two distinct boulder problems- one on pockets, one on edges, with a rest between, excellent. 'Petit Tom' 8a, a perfect big brother to Berlin, my favorite on the wall. 'Makach Walou' 7c+, resistant, a little steeper, awesome! (the previous 5 routes are literally right next to one another, and all world class for their grade. Leading me to believe that the left side of the Berlin Wall could potentially be the single greatest stretch of limestone in the world (??!!)). 'Archetype' 8b+, amazing crimp boulder problem up a golden section of wall, all the way to the top. 'L'ami Caouette' 8a, a hard boulder problem down low to a pumpy top out on interesting edges and pockets. 'Angel Dust' 7a+, big, sequential moves up a perfect wall of generally good pockets, with a hint of technical climbing up top, the best 12a on the planet?? 'Monnaie de Singe' 8a+, classical given 8a but few agree, a bit of a black sheep but the moves are brilliant, boulder problem to pumpy top out. 'Cent Patates' soft 7b+, totally different climbing, with great position and cool holds. And lastly, 'Femme Noire' soft 7c+, just about as close to perfection in a climb as I've experienced-- thrilling space between bolts, a nice variety of movement up a striking line for a full 35 meters. Damn. I could easily keep going but I'm sensing that only a few people are dorky enough to be enjoying my fun-list. Email me for the full version. 

Needless to say, Ceuse is incredible, but last weekend we needed a break from all the rain so we packed up and made the beautiful 4-hour drive south to Nice, where a good friend of mine was presenting a short film at the Cannes Film Festival. I'd visited Nice before, but I had totally forgotten about how rad it was. A bitchin' waterfront and a very lively vibe atop a city with origins over two millennia old. It was everything we needed… a break from the countryside, some blazing hot sunshine, and a refreshing change of scenery. We happily returned to Ceuse a couple days ago. Now we'll spend the next week at our bad ass gite beneath Ceuse, before heading up to Chamonix to poke around and check out the Arcteryx Arc'ademy event! 

If you have a few minutes to burn-- check out a cool little video (episode 2) that Arc'teryx made with me during my stay in Canada last summer, with rad footage from the Canadian Rockies... Planet X, Acephale and Lake Louise

I'm very pleased to announce a new partnership with Smith Optics. This is a brand that I've been following and psyched on for many years. They make an incredible product, and have a strong presence in action sports and the outdoor sector alike. They have a killer website-- check out the Smith Lounge for more info on athletes and events, with photos videos and all that. Very stoked to be representing Smith! 

Saturday, May 12


After saying our goodbyes to the Verdon in style-- sunset bottle of wine on the shore of the lake-- we made our way north to Grenoble to check out Nina's hometown. Heading north through lush fields and then abruptly into the foothills of the Alps made for a bitchin' drive. Snow capped peaks emerged in the distance as we slowly worked our way deeper into the mountainous landscape. Grenoble is a really cool hang. Big enough to give you the impression of a metropolitan area, but surrounded with mountains. There's a nice climbing community, a proper gym, a rad nearby limestone crag, and the proximity to Chamonix, the Verdon, Ceuse, etc makes it a favorite spot for many climbers and alpinists.

I busted out for a quick afternoon session with Mike Fuselier at the nearby crag, Saint Ange. A noteworthy limestone cliff, featuring gnarly crimps and cool sloping features on a slightly overhanging wall. The view of the valley below is almost worth a trip in and of itself. I climbed a really nice 8b+ extension that had a cool mix of styles and holds. I also checked out a brand new project with Mike. We both made high points on the route, nearly sending. Just talked with Mike today and it sounds like he took it down this last week with some refined beta, adding yet another 5.14 to this already stacked cliff. Hell yea!
Checking out a cool new route at St Ange, Grenoble in the background ©Ladzinski
Mike Fuselier.. bad ass! ©Ladzinski
I spent one night in Grenoble before picking up a good buddy of mine from Colorado, Elliot Bates, and heading south for Ceuse. Elliot was one of my original climbing partners; we started climbing together way back in the day, when a 12a flash was a big deal and we only dreamt of one day climbing 5.13. Now he reps for Millet, and after a brief company meeting he was able to take a few extra days and meet me in Grenoble. It was cool to catch up with Elliot and enjoy a couple pitches at Ceuse together.

Elliot takes the wheel... 
The legendary Ceuse. The pilgrimage... It has been a dream of mine to visit this mythical area for many years. A crag of immense quality, a top ten list would never be complete without it. So many expectations… it's amazing how much can built up about a place as valuable as Ceuse. The hike, the runouts, the routes, the hang… then suddenly, over the course of a few days your entire preconception is rewritten with perceived reality. 

Three Strings Media... always cooking up ideas.

Conclusion? It's just about as good as they say it is-- Amazing. The landscape is fantastic, the hang and view at the crag is breathtaking, and the climbing is very, very fun. Definitely some of the best sport climbing I've ever done, and I've much much more to experience. The only downsides that I can see are that some of the classics are terribly polished, and many of the harder routes are at least in part manufactured. Also, if you're not willing to climb a good ways above the previous bolt, you will be limited to which climbs you're comfortable to try. Thankfully I tend to enjoy a good ride now and then.

The idea that Ceuse is a hard-person crag is only slightly true. The depth and range of quality 7's is huge here. The 7c - 8a+ grade is massive. Honestly, if anything I'm a little shocked by how few 8c/+ and up there are, though many new routes have gone in more recently. 

I was told by many people to get a taste of the style before jumping into anything too hard, and as much as I am fiending for some project level climbing, I listened. Our first day was spent at the Cascade wall- a brilliant orange and blue streaked wall that gets all day sun, and is cooled slightly by a nearby waterfall. The routes here are medium steep and around 80-120 feet long. My favorites were 'Le Privilege du serpent' 7c+, 'Pieds nus sous les rhododendrons' 7c+, 'Hyper Mickey' 7c, and a nearby super bouldery 'Keket Direct' 8a+. 
Pockets above the mega Colonnettes on 'Les Colonnettes' ©Ladzinski
Day two we got our warm ups in on the Berlin Wall, but were thwarted from a proper climbing day by devastating rain/fog/cold although I did get to do one of the all time Ceuse classics, 'Blocage Violent' 7b+. The last two days we checked out the Demi-Lune and Biographie walls… each wall is more impressive than the last. I did an amazing, 8b/+ called 'La chirurgien du crespuscule' and a very, very memorable 8a+ called 'Femme Blanche' - 35 meters long, 9 bolts… the finish is precarious climbing on brilliant blue stone, tip toeing through smears and runnels well above your last bolt. I thrillingly finished the route by the light of my headlamp. It was scary. 

Biographie wall... ©Ladzinski
Yesterday I did a couple of nice 7's to warm up, moving on to the crag classic, 'Les Colonnettes' 8a before I checked out an extremely cool neighboring 8c, with an unfortunately uninspiring start-- but it's certainly worth it for the top! Can't wait to get back to it tomorrow. I'm stoked to be settling in here and prepared to spend a couple weeks in one spot just craggin', hopefully allowing me time to try some of these wicked hard routes!

Saturday, May 5

Au Revoir Verdon

We usually made our plans for the day shortly after a late breakfast. Partly it's because the weather is entirely unpredictable, but mostly it's because we were taking our time, enjoying each other's company and moving at the rushing pace of the French country-side. It's was a blessing to have an internet-free gite as well. We sometimes watched movies at night, but mostly we would bullshit, drink wine, listen to music and look over the photos and video from the day. It's was impossible to get to sleep before midnight, and equally impossible to rise before 9. Only in the last few days have we felt the pressure of the trip winding down and began busting our asses to get the last of the footage we wanted for the film.

The Verdon is a really special place and we all agree that it deserves a very special film. From what I've seen, the footage is truly incredible- this will definitely be the most beautiful film I've worked on.

Part of what we're trying to highlight in the film is the incredible diversity here in the Verdon that I mentioned before. You really are not committed to any one style (aside from the discipline of sport climbing) when you're here. Over the course of just a few days I climbed in a massive, 50 foot overhanging cave, rope soloed 200 feet of uber vertical technical terrain, and had a go at a towering, overhanging multipitch. If your aim is to amass an endless list of onsights and quick repeats, I would certainly go elsewhere-- The routes here are unforgiving, and have managed to keep their sandbagged grades from the mid-80s without a skip in stride. It's rad, I love it.
I finished up a really cool 8c last week that first climbs 100 feet through a dramatically overhanging, powerful cave (reminiscent of Maple Canyon), before it pulls the roof and without a proper rest fires into a really nice section of cross-throughs, pockets and lock-offs in a brilliant blue streak. It stretched my 80m Airliner to the very end. For nearly a week, Nina and Keith had to take off and they left just Andy and I to hang out in the Gorge. We broke out twin 100 meter static lines and set up some epic rope solos on the incredible Surveiller Et Punir wall. Headphones, nauseating exposure, and 200+ feet of uninterrupted climbing- absolutely amazing!
When Nina returned we set our sights on a bigger objective. We wanted to find a big route that would highlight the height and burl of the Gorge. We asked the local, and one of the most prolific first ascensionist I've ever met-- Bruno Clement, warmly known as Graou. An amazing guy, he suggested a great route for us to take down- 'Dame Cookie' a massive 7 pitch overhanging 8a+ that begins right off the river near the entrance of the Gorge. I went for an onsight ground up but unfortunately failed one pitch from the top. We returned a few days later and I sent all the pitches, while Andy and Keith dangled above, shooting some stunning video and photos. It was a really cool route, a great experience and it really excited me for more long routes in the future. It's the direction I'd like to see my climbing take… the bigger the better! 
mid way through the crux pitch of 'Dame Cookie'
a little love on the wall from the photog... not bad!
a brilliant 7c+ pitch on Dame Cookie
Icing on the cake and in the spirit of the Verdon, I also managed to put down the first 8c in France. Done by none other than J.B. Tribout, 'The Specialist' has a funny story; Tribout was working this climb when a trip to the states came up. Apparently he broke off a key hold and literally took it with him to ensure that no one would steal his route while he was gone. When he returned, he glued back the hold and sent, claiming the first 8c in France and also one of the hardest routes in the world. Turns out, over the years he made a number of enemies, and as some of them repeated the route, they subsequently downgraded it to spite Tribout. Well, I gotta say, there were a few wet holds, but regardless, this thing was one of the harder 8c's I've ever done. Hats off to you Tribout, over 20 years later, your route is still HARD.
The Specialist! classic....
Moustier - a killer hang just outside the Gorge

Now we've packing up our lot, and moved on to the next step- a few days climbing here in Grenoble and then I'm off to Ceuse! It's was an amazing trip in the Verdon, and I'm already planning my return... in a few weeks!