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[TR] Chamonix & Les Calanques - Versant Satanique & others 3/19/2014

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Trip: Chamonix & Les Calanques - Versant Satanique & others


Date: 3/19/2014


Trip Report:

When the weather finally clears in Chamonix after a long two months of shredding powder and storm riding I am so stoked to get out in the mountains on my splitboard and ride some big lines. Usually with a forecast like we saw, high pressure for the foreseeable future, the snow stays good unless we get high winds or really rapid warming. Whelp, it stayed good for a couple days then it all went to shizah. Conditions were only getting worse, wind scoured, gray ice on the north faces and rotten or frozen snow on the south faces.


I had some friends in town who were trying to ride big lines in what I thought were dicey conditions. It’s like when you have friends visiting and you feel pressure to show them a good time, like taking them to your favorite restaurant or bar or showing them a cool local historic landmark, except in Chamonix your friends are expecting you to show them a life changing, adrenaline filled day of riding steeps, experiencing what Cham is all about. It’s pressure to show them a massive line that could most likely kill you or them or everyone. It’s funny how in Chamonix people who visit have this tick list of lines they must ski within a given window in their time here. This is understandable, being that Chamonix is such a historic place and world mecca for steep skiing and ski mountaineering BUT it can be a very dangerous mindset to be in, in a short window of time. Isn't the very notion of a tick list inherently dangerous in the mountains? It's like having summit or powder fever.


For me, I like to ride big lines when they’re in good to great condition when you can actually ride them in good style and enjoy the descent. I spend three months in Chamonix every year to give myself a big window for conditions to be right. Ideally, I’d have five months here. I hate being scared shitless on top of a line, having to sink both tools in and scrape my way down a massive icy, you fall you die descent. For this reason I only really accomplish a couple big descents a season, but that’s ok with me. I’d rather ride something in great condition, have fun and feel good about the way I rode it than to struggle my way down something just to tick it off the list. That’s no fun and it’s fucking dangerous. That said, others may enjoy these types of descents more than me, and others, probably skiers (people with four points of contact rather than one) could probably ski them in good style where as I probably could not. I feel there’s only a certain amount of times one can get away with these kinds of descents before something goes wrong, you hit some grey ice or a rock, you slip out and can’t recover (because everyone knows there is no self-arresting in this terrain), you have a binding malfunction, a rock hits you in the head... whatever it is, and you fall to your death. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not that good of a snowboarder, or perhaps these kind of lines are easier on skis, maybe I have a lower risk tolerance than others... or I’m just a pussy, but I value my life and I think others do too and I want to be snowboarding and climbing for a long time to come, like many of us say...


So, enough of my rant... Feeling the pressure to do something stupid in the mountains in poor conditions, Marq and I quickly vacated Cham and headed to the beach to climb some sunny splitter


We headed to Les Calanques, a national park bordering Marseilles with tons of epic sport climbing from single to multi-pitch to traverses right above the water. It’s absolute paradise, climber or not. We’re still not sure if you’re allowed to bivy here but we did anyway. We watched the sun set from this vista atop Castelviel.




That morning we rapped down the route, Le Muet Qui Rit a 4 pitch 6b climb. I rapped the final pitch and thought I was headed straight into the water. Had to saddlebag both ropes to keep them dry.







Then off we went to watch another spectacular sunset from Cap Canaille, above the small fishing town, Cassis.




The next day we climbed Never mind the Bollocks, on Cap Canaille, 6 pitches, 6c. Cap Canaille is pretty special. I’ve never climbed rock like this anywhere else. It’s a mixture of bulbous conglomerate sandstone and super sticky, featured limestone right above the ocean!







Marq sending the 6c, overhanging pitch. It was pretty difficult since my leg and butt muscles haven’t migrated north yet for the season.




Me, leading the final, spectacular pitch, 6a+. After this we whetted ourselves in the ocean and sunbathed on the crowed beach in Cassis with groups of middle aged french women with their sunburnt tits out drinking wine, eating cheese, telling stories and laughing in the sun.



Returning home to Chamonix my buddies from out of town were trying to pressure me into riding a icy, gnarly death line. With temps in the high 60’s and 70’s in Chamonix, to me, this is clearly climbing weather and with a taste of my first sunny rock for the season, this was an easy call to make. Dave Searle and I headed up the Argentiere Basin to climb Versant Satanique on the Minaret.






We’re so happy! Look there’s even a rainbow!



Dave sending the 4th pitch, the awesome dihedral pitch. Super sticky, beautifully orange, sparkly granite cracks waiting to be penetrated.



Dave giving me an attentive belay on the fifth pitch, super splitter off-width which finished in a beautiful, steep and pretty difficult 6b+ hand crack. I got Elvis leg bad.



As we finished the 5th pitch we talked about who was going to lead the final 6c crux pitch. We were scared. Just as I had decided to send it (I swear!) I checked the time. It was after 5pm and the sun was going off the route... SHIT! There was no time. We decided to bail, but I’ll definitely come back to finish the route, the final pitch looked of the highest quality splitter imaginable.



Then we rode down some refrozen mank which was difficult, by the time we made it to the Grandes Montets pistes half of them had been groomed and we shredded fresh roy then tit high slushy mog’s down to the parking lot. Epic day and stoked to make the most out of terrible skiing conditions in the Alps right now. I almost don’t want the snow to come back!




Edited by Liz Daley
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