El Topo… This route has been in my head for more than 2 years. Opened for artificial in 1981 by Marco Troussier, it was refitted in 2008 for freestyle.
In 2018, after discussions with friends who had been in the line, I went down to spot the 7c in 11th length because according to them, this climb was "lunar" and harder than the 8a two relays above. To my surprise, I do this length, in my style it must be said, on sight. We are preparing to spot the 8a when a huge thunderstorm breaks out. In the shelter, in the small cave of the relay, we wait for the rain to stop to go up on our stats, all sheepish.
|In 2018, stealth tracking|
I tell myself that it would be a nice goal, certainly achievable. But during this stay, an overwhelming heat overwhelms us and we take refuge in the slopes of Dame Cookie… Another story!
Then two years passed without returning to the Verdon for multi-pitch routes. So when this year, we take the time with Max to stay in this climbing paradise, the idea hidden in the back of my head quickly resurfaces!
Especially since it seems that this season the way is in fashion. Jérôme and Johanna threw themselves into it in project mode and worked the lengths and Johanna did not go far from the sequence at all. Something to discuss approach strategy, key lengths and bivouac optimization with them!
|Identification of L13 8a|
We decide to approach the route by spending an afternoon to spot the 8a located in the 13th pitch. After a survey climb, I chained it to the first try. Then another day, we go down to spot L9 7a expo and L10 7b+ thanks to a 70 m top rope! It's our 3rd day of climbing in a row that day and we no longer hold a hold. Between grumbling, complaints and suffering, we somehow decipher the movements. Then I leave to rediscover L11 in 7c and there again, it's a stampede… I wonder how I could do that on sight… After several attempts, I end up finding some sequences that work and we go back to the top.
At present, we have several possibilities left, we know 6 pitches out of 14. Either we do a day starting from the ground to discover and assimilate the 8 missing pitches including two 7b+ on drops of water in a pure Verdonesque style, or we start from the bottom to attempt the sequence while having half of the route to do on sight (or in a few tries) to hope to have enough skin on the fingers to finish decently! The decision is difficult to make because between the resumption of training and the weather, there is only a 2-day slot left. If we spend one more day scouting, we won't be able to attempt the sequence and will there be another slot on the coming weekends? We therefore opt for the attempt to link the 2 days of good weather and take the risk of failing. But don't we say "To conquer without danger, we triumph without glory"?
We recover a portaledge and after two days of rest and heavy rains in the Verdon, we are ready! The line is mostly on gray wall so dries quickly. The torrential rains of the day before do not worry me too much. But during the abseiling, I become disillusioned when I see that the crack in L10 is soaked. Knowing that we left static ropes up to the foot of L11 and our bivouac gear at the top of L11, we will be forced to pass this 10th length at all costs or else that will be the goal! A lot of pressure before even starting! With so much preparation, I blame myself for not having left another rope in this length and especially for not having anticipated that it could stay wet.
For the ascent, Max starts by doing the first four lengths in front.
L1: 6c+, bouldering at the very start then dropping. Ends with a short, happily runny chimney.
L2: 6b, pretty in an orange wall.
L3: 6c+, an overhang on trays then a small mantle to read.
L4: 7b, a crossing on good holds then some resistive movements on crimps when it comes to going straight up.
Then I take over from L5. This is where the verdonesque difficulties begin. Gray walls and drops of water are on the program for the next four pitches.
L5: 7a, technical and reading. It weaves between the points on takes that are not always straightforward
L6: 7b+, first real difficulty and challenge on sight. It is a crossing to the right on micro blades and drops of water. I squeeze bad catches and manage to get to the suspended belay by doing this length on sight. Secondly, it's almost impossible to work on and Max joins me without being able to look for solutions too much.
|L7 7b+ flashed by Max|
L7: 7b+, second challenge to be completed on sight to keep skin. It all starts with a crossing to the right that I negotiate too low already makes me force then continues with a less hard crack, a wall with holes worthy of Céüse before ending with a compulsory extension movement that I pass at your fingertips. The relay is two meters above on the left but large drops of water attract me to the right. My reading tells me that I will eventually be able to join the relay by going straight up and then crossing. But when I get to the holds that I had spotted, they are untenable, I lose my concentration for a moment and zip for a nice fall! Arf, I'm good at redoing the whole length! That's the game ! From the left, I locate the sockets and it is ultimately not so complex. The hardest part is the extension movement that I can no longer repeat without influx. So I opt for a dynamic movement, difficult to stall. I go back down, rest for 10 minutes and leave. In less than two I'm at the belay without having missed the reception of my dynamic movement! The icing on the cake, Max continues the flash length!
|L8 6c+ of death|
L8: 6c+, length as demanding as the previous one, just less steep. He continues in front but his fingers have already suffered too much. I join him, gritting my teeth and squinting, the sun grazing in the face. Nothing better to find hidden sockets!
We take a short break at the foot of L9. Short because that day there was a crazy wind and we just went into the shade. We are completely frozen! Max has my big down jacket on and I'm shivering in the light down jacket. No time to stop… For once, the climbing conditions on small holds are good but to enjoy and recover, a little less. And I know that if I relax and rest too much, the influx may go away and I won't be able to start again.
I continue in L9, a 7a with 4 squarely spaced points on dubious rock. It doesn't make you want to fall. I go to the mind, I forget the pain in the fingers and it passes.
|Always L7 7b+|
Here we are at the foot of the 10th length, the 7b+ in crack which was soaked the same morning. The objective is to succeed in passing in order to be able to recover our belongings and continue. I have the pressure but I tell myself that if I can't do it if it's too wet, we can always sleep at the upper belay and try again the next day. One more night to dry!
I leave all the same the knife between the teeth while shivering. The first movements will quickly warm me up. Despite the difficulties in understanding the movements a few days before, the influx is present, pushes me and I arrive at the foot of the crux without too much effort. Unfortunately he is still wet. I tell Max about it and saying it out loud makes me waver. Doubt carried me away for a few moments, but I pulled myself together quickly. Even if it means being there, you might as well give everything and try “a muerte” as they say! Impossible to redo the method that I had stalled which consists in changing hands on a bad grip. Wet as it is, the risk of slipping is too great. So I improvise, take a bit of everything that comes, wet or not, and willy-nilly, I move forward and find myself above the crux again on dry holds. I can't believe it, Max either! On the other hand, I gave in this passage. There are still 15m of climbing on better holds but offering physical climbing. It's about managing up to the relay. At the cost of a battle of anthology, resting every two movements, I reach the belay. Suddenly, all the pressure is released! We did it, we won't stumble before reaching our fixed ropes!
Max is in charge of going to collect the things at the upper belay and to bring everything back down to install the ledge at the foot of the 11th length in 7c. The idea is to recover a little and try the 7c before sleeping. With the gniaque, I feel like I can do it because it's not too physical, but I don't have the capacity to continue in the last 8a and chain the whole route in the day.
|The best place|
The time to prepare everything and finally settle down in a lying position is enough to get me out of the fight and chain mode I was in. Relaxation predominates and the welcoming warmth of down calls me. The test will be for the next day. After all, it's certainly more strategic to recover and try with all the odds on your side since the day sequence is compromised.
Life on the portaledge is getting organized and we take advantage of the calm of the gorges to recharge our batteries. A good night's sleep and we woke up to glorious sunshine. More wind and an overwhelming heat makes us gradually remove all our layers. At 11 a.m., we must be in swimsuit mode and lazing around on our luxury deckchair!
It is really too hot to climb and we are forced to wait for the face to go back into the shade. This is the perfect time to soak up the place and appreciate its inhabitants. We observe the swallows twirl at full speed, rewarding us with pirouettes close to the cliffs that even the best airplane pilots would not dare to engage. The vultures prowl peacefully around the area, sometimes hovering three meters under our terrace and observing what prey will make their feast of the day. We know how lucky we are to be able to enjoy this show.
Despite everything, the contrast between our immobility, stuck on this artificial ledge, and their freedom of movement is violent. It helps to stoke my impatience to climb. I constantly scan the time and the evolution of the sun. So that the sun barely hid, I already have the slippers on my feet, ready to do battle. I start cold, after having remained in a lying or sitting position for 6 p.m.!
As I move forward, I become disillusioned when I see that the rain of the previous days has erased all trace of tracking. I have the crux well in mind but the rest a little less. So once it has passed the limit of the fall, the pressure is there so as not to have to climb everything again. I put myself again an anthology fight to join the relay. My climbing sensations were catastrophic, I climbed defensively all the way in fear of falling. I have therefore not at all taken pleasure in this yet magnificent length. The feeling at the relay is mixed, on the one hand I am relieved to have succeeded in this length and on the other, I am annoyed to approach the route this way and I realize that the desire to succeed is in taking over the pleasure of being there...
Max tidies up our camp which I hoist as he climbs. Then he continues in L12 in 6c, a crossing still in the purest style of the Verdon with an immense movement of descent which is negotiated in extension or by a small jump!
We are then in the small niche at the foot of L13 8a. Super comfortable, we can sit down and spread out. My sensations in the 6c were still bad. I put it down to a little hypoglycemia and take a good snack break.
Then it's time to go. The length consists of three parts:
– – a first wall on mono and bi-finger with few feet (about 7b+) then a good rest crossing to the right
– – follows the first crux, the hardest for me, which consists of holding a small two-finger right hand to cross on a lunge with little or no right foot. To succeed, it is necessary to be either very flexible or very good at loading non-existent feet or very strong right biceps. For those who know me, I chose the second option! Then some resistant movements on better holes lead to a dihedral where it is possible to recover.
– – finally the last section is also a crossing to the right where from a left shoulder with correct feet, we stretch to reach a good hole with the right hand. The feet are then rather non-existent and you have to cross on a good hold and transfer the body to the right to reach a saving stratum. The arrival at the belay also requires a little stalling, otherwise you will run into it!
Again, the rain of the last few days has erased all my bearings. I manage in the first section but can't find the foot that I had literally invented and identified with a chalk dot. Without this support, I have no chance of doing the difficult crusader. I try all the same and fall more annoyed than ever: "What's the point of scouting and preparing a route if there's nothing left when you try?" ". Basically I'm exhausted, the skin of my fingers completely grazed makes it more difficult to hold the holds and I have this tenacious will to succeed which obstructs any intuition of climbing. All in all the worst state of mind to overcome an obstacle at its limit.
I continue the length in tracking mode and trying to find the sensations and the appropriate placements despite the omnipresent heat. Going back down to our little cave, I'm a bit exhausted. I explain to Max that I don't have the right mentality to get there, that I think too much about the goal, that I don't feel any pleasure and that all this frustrates me because I am aware of it and I have trouble to voluntarily modify this state of mind. Obviously, he noticed all this and these words will allow me to let go of this objective. I calm down and some time later, I try my luck again.
It's amazing what the mind can do to a performance. I think about movements and only what I need to do in the next 15 seconds. Fatigue is present in the first part but I recover at rest. I find the identified foot and cross without too much effort and continue until the next rest. I don't stop much because it is in these moments that the mind can wander and once again project itself further than two meters above oneself. And then curiously, I'm not too tired in the forearms. I know there is only one section left, that I have mastered it and I want to get it over with. I realize this sequence perfectly, even reworking the takes to leave nothing to chance. The lens is getting closer and I can feel it. I distract myself a little at the end but not enough to fail and clip the relay screaming with joy!
To have gone from such an unhealthy state of mind not conducive to success to this way of tackling difficulties again, that's my real victory that day! Max climbs in turn. The beginnings are complicated after such a long break but he manages to chain the last sequence for the first time! We both want to go out now! He takes the lead and I quickly join him at the top to find Linka who is quietly waiting for us in the niche we have installed for him. She spent the night with some buddies who then came to take her back to the top of El Topo for our arrival. As part of the game, she makes us party like never before and celebrates this good bit of adventure with us!
The video of these two days: