The Great Wide Open – Episode 5

The Great Wide Open is a different climbing video than I am used to because it discusses history, culture and American identity. It speaks about the American Independence day and watching fireworks from “Devils tower“, a laccolithic butte. This is an interesting rock formation. The rock has vertical cracks that are impressive to see.

There are many aspects that I like and enjoy about this video. I like the visuals and I like the discussion of history and opportunism and passion. The segment that I like less is about death. I associate death with scuba diving rather than climbing. Recently I have watched quite a few documentaries about climbing and death. The film Sherpa and one other explored the themes both of mountain professionals and the risks they take and the other looked at climbers and the risks they take. They’re interesting topics but exploring the lives of people who live their passions is more pleasant. One person said “I think too many people live their lives, five days looking forward to the two day weekend and they don’t look forward to their life on the small amount of time we have on this earth.” That’s why I enjoy watching documentaries about this topic. For brief instants we get to dream and to aspire to new things.

There is a lot of attention in the media today about how women look and how they are perceived. The focus needs to shift away from how women look and focus instead on what they can do. Climbing news and videos are one way to achieve this goal. We see women who excel at their chosen sport and this has a positive effect. It takes us away from the superficial and presents us with the concrete. In climbing we notice women for their prowess rather than their looks and this is positive. I appreciate them for their ability  to challenge and overcome their fears. I frequently climbed with someone who was afraid and I would not hesitate to do it again. Enabling others is a good quality to have.

Climbing in Bramois

Climbing in Bramois is a pleasant and practical experience. This is a climbing area with numerous walls and routes. There are single and multipitch routes ranging from 3-4 up to 7 and 8. The climbing area is within a gorge with nice rock on both side and a river running through the middle.  This area has over 150 routes from which for you to choose from. The routes vary in length from 10-40 metres for single pitch routes.

When I was there I climbed around the Africa wall. There are quite a few 5a and above routes. Some of these routes are more instinctive than others. There is one particular route where we had a tendency within the group to go too far too the right and then had to go left and then make it up to a crack. Once the complicated bit was negotiated the rest of the climb was easy. I am still getting used to climbing on rock rather than on an artificial wall or via ferrata.

I later went to another wall a few minutes walk away and that climb was more interesting because it was up a chimney and some bits were mild overhangs that could be negotiated with observation. That wall was fun to climb.

For more information about the climbing walls you can visit this site. The advantage of this climbing area is that multiple groups can be present at once and climb without getting in each others way. You have a variety of climbing routes and experiences and getting around is easy if you don’t mind walking up and down short trails. I will be tempted to climb around this area many more times in future. The climbing season is coming to an end for this year but I do plan on climbing here again next year. With the people whom I drove to the site we climbed until the sun had left the valley.

Strava now has rock climbing, hiking and more

Strava now has rock climbing, hiking and many more sports. Sports tracker, movescount and other applications already allowed you to do this but it is nice to see one more network provide us with this option.

Strava expanded the number of sports you can track
Strava expanded the number of sports you can track

Up until now I had to make sure to go for a bike ride or three per week to keep people updated on what I did. During week days I am likely to go for bike rides. On two to three evenings per week I may go climbing and on the weekend I may go hiking or for a walk. As a result I can track the diversity of my activities.

Strava has updated the list of sports
Strava has updated the list of sports

With rock climbing I would like them to add two or three more fields. I would like them to add an option to add the grade of the climb we did. This would need to use the European and the American systems. It would help us track our progress and even track how hard we worked if we’re wearing a heart monitor as we climb. In effect it could provide us with a way of seeing who else is climbing and whether we match their skill level. In the long run this could contribute to new groups. I have created a group for Swiss Via Ferrata in anticipation of via ferrata practitioners joining the network and sharing their climbs.

Until recently I would only track cycling and running. Now that walking, hiking and climbing have been added I can track a number of new sports. It should result in people using the app more frequently.  It could be fun to see climbing and hiking heat maps. We will see how they adapt the input section to match the sports.


Negotiating Overhangs

Negotiating overhangs is physical, fun and sometimes scary. It is for this reason that the Via Ferrata de Thônes via ferrata section is such fun. It gets your adrenaline pumping as you fight to keep hold and clip and unclip in the relevant sections. It forces you to overcome your fear of being over the void. The third section of the Via Ferrata de Saillon is a challenge for the very same reason.

The video above shows rock climbers at the IFSC World cup negotiating an overhanging wall and trying various techniques to get further than other people. We see how they use heel hooks and go for it before losing their grip and falling. This footage is fun because we see them work to solve the problem in a number of ways and then fall. When they fall the belayer slows down but does not stop the fall so it looks as if they are falling towards the ground. Imagine an ordinary person getting that sensation. It would scare them.

Fear is good because it keeps us safe. It means that we’re thinking of the consequences and we are aware of the dangers. It means that we will only progress within our comfort level. If we have doubt we can climb down to the nearest quick draw and rest. If we ignore that fear then we may fall. By staying in our comfort zone we are safer.

When you’re climbing you know when you have good foot holds and hand holds. You also know how long you will be able to stay in that position. The more afraid you are the more energy you burn. That’s why positioning is important. In the video above we see that one person decided to climb feet first through the overhanging section. Our leg and feet muscles are much stronger than our arm muscles so they allow us more time to think of a solution. With time all of these climbers could have negotiated that section.


A Climbing Two year Old

A Climbing two year old is ordinary. They try to climb on to chairs, they climb to stand up. They climb up the stairs and the swings. What is less ordinary is for a two year old to rock climb like a grown up. As I watch the video below what inspires me the most is to see such a young human climb like a grown up. She learned by watching others and by being given the opportunity to practice at home and in climbing gyms.

This video makes me happy because it is nice to see such a young person learn to climb. If I had been given the support and opportunity, and if the sport had been more evolved, then I too would have started climbing at a young age. I used to climb trees, climb on to garage roofs and occasionally climb rocks from which I could eventually get down. I had to wait until I was more than 20 years old before I could climb my first “dalle”. This child was given access to that world from a very young age. Her first memory will surely be of climbing.

To make this story news worthy they had to add conflict of course. They had to speak about how some people who watch this think that it is dangerous to allow a child to climb. As the mother said “When she climbs in the gym we are watching her and she has 19 inch thick matts to fall on. The playground and the street are more dangerous”. They go on to say that she face planted on a street. Every single child does that. That’s the beauty of being a child. You’re bound to fall, cry, be picked up by your parents, and then a few minutes later start playing again. Climbing when you’re with the right people is no different. When and if I have children I will teach them about snowboarding and rock climbing and snorkelling. I want to pass on my passions. I want them to be the next generation of sports enthusiasts.

Climbing in Saint George – a short drive from Nyon and Morges

Climbing in Saint George is interesting for those living or working between Nyon and Morges. It provides routes from 4c to 7a and above and should cover most skill levels. Access time is a few seconds. You park your car near the lumber yard and a few seconds later you’re at the climbing wall. The image below is to show how short the walk is. It is also there to facilitate your finding the place should you want to climb here. I mention this because Sunday someone said that she liked to go to various climbing walls but that she often found it a challenge to spot the correct location.

The site that you see in this image varies from 4c to 6a+. The gradient is slightly positive so you are more likely to slip than slide. Most of the routes start easily but getting to the end is the challenge. Some of the finger holds are tiny and it’s better to use new shoes. I’m using old worn out climbing shoes so my traction is not optimal so I climb using my heels when possible.

To the right of the image above you have a small path that leads to a nice rock surface that is overhanging. Under this overhanging rock you find traces of barbecues, mattresses and a few quick draws. The climbing here is technical. It starts from 7a onwards so is more interesting for those climbers with the finger strength and endurance to attempt sustained overhanging climbs.

Saint George Overhang climbing
Saint George Overhang climbing

This is a nice location and if you walk further along, to behind the location from which I took this picture there is a cavern. This site looks interesting and yesterday there was an interesting sound. In a nearby valley or clearing Swiss military were practicing with .50 calibre guns. I called it artillery but a former British Marine classified the type of gun.

If I was given the choice between Dorénaz and Saint George I would choose Saint George for climbing because if I’m going to climb a wall by a road it might as well be after a short drive.

For further information on this climbing wall: Saint George

The Third part of the Saillon VF

Yesterday afternoon after two top rope climbs in Dorénaz we drove to the Via Ferrata de Saillon to climb this one. It is a via ferrata that I know well. This time I decided that I wanted to try the third part of the Saillon VF once again. What makes the third part special is that it is marked as TD+, more than very difficult. This is a more technical climb for people who are familiar with the sport.

Looking towards Saillon

The first time I tried this via ferrata I was with a group but climbed it as a solo effort. I went at my speed and I just wanted to complete it as quickly as possible. The challenges were being able to handle the long drop below and the physical demands of the via ferrata. When I climbed it alone I increased my heart rate by a lot and my muscles felt that they were weakening so although it felt excellent it made me skip this portion on two or three subsequent trips.

For a while people would frequently get trapped on the third part and there was a sign reminding people that if they have any doubt they should not do it. If the helicopter is called in it will cost you 3000CHF or more. Imagine all the equipment that you could buy or the holiday that you could enjoy with this money.

Yesterday we climbed the first two parts of the via ferrata with no problems. We went at a comfortable speed and the group stayed as one. When we got to the third part two novices went up and went across to the bridge to watch us climb and we formed an action plan. This time we moved as a team. We went forward and rested frequently. We rested before the overhang and then again after the overhang. We rested before climbing the rope ladder and then again after. Finally we went to the last challenge, the vertical ascent and we rested on a nice slab of rock. We then climbed that final bit and although it is demanding the muscles coped well.

I really like that I found this climb so much easier than the previous climb. I don’t know whether rock climbing, paragliding and the pace helped. I know that in future I will feel confidant about doing part three. My training and this pace paid off.

Gallantry and Rock Climbing

Gallantry and Rock Climbing are a good combination. In Rock climbing the person with more experience or comfort helps the person with less comfort. In some cases it might be helping people walk on trails and in other cases it may be walking at the pace that is comfortable for others.

According to the Merriam Webster website gallantry can be a number of things:

1 archaic : gallant appearance
2 a : an act of marked courtesy
b : courteous attention to a lady
c : amorous attention or pursuit
3 : spirited and conspicuous bravery

According to the Larousse Galanterie is

  • Politesse empressée auprès des femmes.

Rock climbing on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc a few years ago.
Rock climbing on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc a few years ago.

The image above was taken a few years ago on one of the two times we went rock climbing on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc. At the time I was still new to rock climbing, was about to try Via Ferrata, altitude diving, canyoning and a number of other sports. At the time I liked to climb but I did not have the compassion or motivation to belay. I was more selfish, more interested in climbing and having fun than in waiting below and belaying people.

Since then I have learned to be more compassionate, to be more helpful and to be more patient. Within a year or two of this picture being taken we went canyoning as a group in the Italian Alps and several of us jumped from 11 metres in to a pool of water. One woman jumped the same jump that we had just done and came back to the surface screaming in agony. We rushed out to help her. We went to her and kept her afloat. We placed life jackets underneath her to float her horizontally. We placed them under her legs and brought her on to a flat rock.

Rescue services were called in and everyone from the group evacuated the area except me. I stayed there so that she had at least one familiar person next to her. A helicopter came in but could not land so medical staff were lowered. The experience was both really exciting because I was able to observe medical staff at work from up close but also unpleasant because someone was injured and in pain. Glass vials of morphine were broken and given to her as she was prepared to be winched up to the helicopter. We used our bodies to shield her from the downwash from the rotor blades until she was ready to be lifted and transported to a nearby hospital.

The group went for a quick meal and then I drove to the hospital to see this person and wait for advice from the medical staff at the hospital. Eventually she was cleared to take an ambulance back to Switzerland but as it involved waiting for an ambulance to come from Switzerland we decided that we would drive her back ourselves. We were lucky because on that day I was driving a comfortable Mercedes. We flattened the front passenger seat so that she would be more comfortable. I drove more carefully and asked her which hospital she wanted to go to. We brought her to that hospital and waited until she was checked in before heading home. That adventure lasted until about midnight or one in the morning. As I was the person that had driven her from Geneva to the mountains I felt uncomfortable abandoning her up there. I felt that it was my duty to repatriate her.

That is one example where I was gallant but there were other cases. Most cases of gallantry in the mountains are more tame, less extreme. The gallantry that I was thinking about when I was inspired to write this blog post was more pleasant. As I climb frequently I am now growing more at ease with lead climbing, able to negotiate harder routes. I am also more comfortable with lead climbing. The person I climbed with yesterday had taken a break from climbing for a few months. As a result of this she was not comfortable with lead climbing so it was an opportunity for me to climb easier routes and set up the top rope for her to climb.

This worked out well for the two of us. For me it was an opportunity to climb easier routes and build experience and for her to practice climbing routes in safety. She thought that for me the experience was boring but I felt the opposite. It was an opportunity for me to climb more than I usually do at climbing walls. It was also more physically demanding. Usually when you go climbing you lead climb a route and then you come down, pull the rope down and then the next person climbs. In this scenario I would sometimes lead climb a route for myself and then set up another route for her. This means that I had no break between two climbs so it pushed my endurance.

Last summer I had another experience. I was climbing with a woman who wanted to do via ferrata despite her fear. I respect such people because they are not at ease and yet they still want to enjoy the experience. They do not want to look down too frequently and they want you to be close by. They need more coaching to get from the start of the finish to the end.

I did one climb with this person where she was really afraid. A route that I would have found boring and taken 45 minutes to do if I was doing the via ferrata normally took about two and a half hours. It was uncomfortable for both of us, for her it was because of fear and for me it was a mental exercise, to coach her along until the end. There was a moment when I did ask if I could be unkind and she said no so I stayed compassionate, courteous. By the end of the VF I felt mentally tired but the thing that hurt me was when the group that had been enjoying a drink or two while waiting for us dispersed. This was the most extreme case.

Now that I have five or six years of via ferrata I have no problem being at the back of the group to help those that are less confident. I also climb at the rear of the group because I know that when I was still new to the sport I did not like the feeling that I could be left behind or abandoned. It’s also because I know where and how to rest so I do not get as tired. It means that I have reserves to help people when it is needed. In previous years we never needed to use ropes but last year was different. There were at least two or three moments when people were too tired to continue. Ropes were used to help them through the harder passages.

It is an interesting irony that in Bellevaux last year I had seen that one person felt unable to try the second via ferrata so I chose to stay and wait for those doing the second via ferrata to finish. I think some people finished the second VF so I went to catch up with them on the cliff. I climbed fast and hard and found that the group had become stuck on a hard bit. One person had decided that he had enough strength to do both via ferrata but ran out of energy at an overhang. At this point I passed a number of people, negotiated the bit that he was struggling with and helped with the ropes. We were lucky on that day because one individual, separate from our group had ropes and pullies. We improvised a rig to top rope the struggling person. Eventually we got him past the section that he was finding hard.

One of my goals when I lead via ferrata and when I climb with people is to keep them calm and comfortable. When they show signs of stress or fear I try to understand it and I try to coach them, to relax them. I pride myself in the ability to take relative via ferrata novices and help them complete the VF without ever having to call a helicopter or even use a rope. I believe that Via ferrata is a mental challenge where compassion and gallantry are used to get people from the start to the end of the climb. Those of us with experience are there to coach people with less experience to believe that they can complete the challenge.



Getting Up Getu – some impressive shots

Getting up Getu is short documentary climbing video about Alex Honnold and Felipe Camargo climbing a beautiful roof climb. The most spectacular aspect of this video is the size of the arch that they are climbing. In two or three shots you see the size of the rock formations compared to the climbers. The people look tiny.

The rock formations that droop down from the ceiling look interesting. The climbing at this location ranges from 5a to 9c according to one source I skimmed through. There are 250 routes to choose from so this is ideal for a great number of climbers. This was the 2011 location for the Pezl Roctrip.

Getu looks like a beautiful area in china with interesting rock formations, arches and much more. The video below provides you with a glimpse of what else there is to see in this region. It is in the Guizhou province of china and the nearby city is Anshun.

Getu, China from Ryan Deboodt on Vimeo.

It’s kind of like one big double-edged Jian. On the one hand, the country is somewhat of a political and economic threat to the United States and our international prosperity. But on the other, it has the Getu Valley, a dramatic stomping ground of limestone cliffs and arch formations that promise to enrapture even the most seasoned spidermen and monkey boys.


According to a CNN article climbers have been enjoying this location for generations. As I explored this topic further, to find video or more detailed information I came across this:

Dangling from slippery cave walls 100 meters up from the floor below, Luo Dengping maneuvers across the steep rocks and crags in a dramatic high-wire climbing act to the amazement of spectators below.

Luo, known locally as “Spiderwoman”, is the only female member of a troupe of climbers who entertain visitors to the Getu River Scenic area in Guizhou, with their death-defying acts of high-altitude bravery on a daily basis. Source

If I find some videos of traditional climbing from this site I will share them at a later date.


Lead climbing in to the Sunset

Last night I was lead climbing in to the sunset, outdoors, for the third time this year. The experience was interesting. Although I am comfortable lead climbing up to 6a indoors I am less confident when climbing outdoors. The challenges you face outdoors are that you’re looking for bits of rock that you feel secure using rather than a specific coloured hand or foot hold like you do when climbing indoors.

Yesterday I managed to lead climb two routes and I am happy with that. I am getting to grips with placing quick draws as I climb and securing myself. I also have the opportunity to practice threading once at the top, to come back down. On the first route I threaded. On the second route I set it up for top roping.

When I got to the top of the second route the sunset was getting towards its peak but I had no camera to take a picture with. The experience was nice because you start at the foot of the cliff, hidden by trees. As you climb you go through the canopy and get above it to see the sky and undulating wooded landscape. This particular route has you scrambling over a tree to get to the top and there is a nice ledge. Threading is easy when you can stand.

The climbing site is St Loup. It is about twenty minutes from lausanne and is easy to get to in the evening after work if you live near Lausanne. The parking has enough space for about ten cars and you have to walk for about ten minutes before you arrive at the climbing walls. Some of the climbs are labelled with their name. With a guide book you can identify the routes and determine the difficulty.

I apologise for having no pictures from this day of climbing. As we were an even number of people there was no standing around and waiting.