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.


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.



Via Ferrata and Edelweiss

Via Ferrata and Edelweiss can be combined. I was reminded of this when I was looking at Salanfe’s Instagram account images last night. I saw an image of a chamois and her young and then I saw the picture below of an Edelweiss and I wanted to share that I had also seen Edelweiss.

I saw edelweiss on the Via Ferrata de Rougemont on the 31st of August 2014 according to Google Photos. These are rare but nice flowers that grow in Switzerland. They are also used as a symbol of this country. They are quite small and fluffy with thick petals. They are so rare to see that despite years of hikes, climbs and other sports I have only spotted them once.

A few Edelweiss
A few Edelweiss

“There is a flower known to botanists, one of the same genus with our summer plant called ‘Life-Everlasting’, a Gnaphalium like that, which grows on the most inaccessible cliffs of the Tyrolese mountains, where the chamois dare hardly venture, and which the hunter, tempted by its beauty and by his love (for it is immensely valued by the Swiss maidens), climbs the cliffs to gather, and is sometimes found dead at the foot, with the flower in his hand. It is called by botanists the Gnaphalium leontopodium, but by the Swiss EDELWEISS, which signifies NOBLE PURITY.” Source.

To complete the poetic irony I also took pictures of a chamois on this particular mountain outing. You can see it standing on bare rock with the clouds and valley below. From these two sightings it seems that the flowers are visible in August so that is when we should look for them.

where the chamois dare hardly venture
“where the chamois dare hardly venture”

On the day when we saw Edelweiss it was interesting. As a person who grew up in Switzerland finding an edelweiss had been a decade long project and goal. Other people in our group were indifferent. For me it was a reward from years of looking. For them it was “yeah, so what?”. I was happy and proud when I saw those flowers at the top of that Via Ferrata.


Admiring the Tour D’Aï from the Via Ferrata de la Cascade

The weather was clear so I was admiring the Tour D’Aï from the Via Ferrata de La Cascade. I was in Les Diablerets as I am one of the volunteers at the FIFAD film festival. I turned up three hours before I was needed and as I had all my climbing gear, except the pulley for the tyrollean in the car I drive I was able to put on my climbing gear and go for an individual climb of the Via Ferrata. The weather was nice, the temperature was comfortable and the via ferrata was quiet. Aside from two guys climbing one of the climbing routes I was alone. I prefer to climb with others.

Via Ferrata de La Cascade
Via Ferrata de La Cascade

Via ferrata alone are fun because you go at your speed. There is no need to wait for anyone or rush to keep up. I enjoyed how clear the landscape was. I looked across the valley and I could clearly see the Tour D’Aï and the peak next to it. It is the first time that I notice so clearly the other Via Ferrata.

The Tour D'aï seen from Les Diablerets
The Tour D’aï seen from Les Diablerets

When you climb the Tour D’aï via ferrata you climb from the other side and go to the summit of the peak on the left. When you walk down you walk on that green part. The trail is an alpine one, for experienced hikers. You see that there is quite a drop if you make a mistake. You normally see this mountain from the Leysin side.

The Tour D'aï seen from Les Diablerets
The Tour D’aï seen from Les Diablerets

This image shows the Tour D’Aï in relation to other mountains. When you go to Les Diablerets this image will help you locate the peaks. The shape of that mountain is easy to recognise.

We will see when I try the Rocher Jaune. That via ferrata is higher up starting at 2400 metres and ending at 2450 meters according to one source.


Moléson Via Ferrata by night

The Moléson Via Ferrata by night event is organised for the 13th of August 2016. This is an event that I have been tempted to do for several years. The principal is simple. You wear the usual via ferrata equipment with the exception of a torch. You have to contact the Moléson tourism board either by phone or e-mail and provide them with your information. You will then get a free ride to the start of the via ferrata. They insist on experienced climbers so I assume that they climb the red via ferrata.

The event is not only entertaining for those who are climbing. It should be entertaining for those who watch from the ground. Usually when you watch people climb a route you need to look carefully to differentiate them from the surrounding rock. At this event climbers will be lit up, against a dark mountain so the route will be clearly visible. It will highlight the main route as well as the segment or two that are a little more challenging.

If I was to be free to do this via ferrata by night I would expect the experience to be similar to scuba diving in the lake and caving. I would expect that when I look out at the landscape I would see the cities and towns from the region. Remember that the Moléson slogan is currently “On y voit ma maison”. “We can see my house”. One of the great advantages of trying a via ferrata by night is that you have no notion of how high up you are. You could as easily be 1km up as twenty metres off the ground.

There are three reasons for which I have been unable to do it so far. The first time I couldn’t participate in this event is that I was working on that day and it would involve four hours of driving. The second time I signed up but the event was cancelled due to the weather being unkind. The third time I could not do this VF was due to Leukerbad. I had already committed to the climb and booked a hotel. In theory this year I am free to climb.

If you are thinking of trying it leave a comment.

In August I will be at FIFAD

In August of this year I will be at FIFAD as a volontaire. FIFAD stands for Festival International du Film Alpin Des Diablerets. It’s the international Alpine Film Festival of the Diablerets. I want to participate at this event for three main reasons.

The first of these is that I have a passion for the documentary film genre and adventure films. I really enjoyed going to Montagne en Scène a few weeks ago and I expect to enjoy having the freedom to watch certain of the films at this event.

The second reason I want to go as a helper is that every time I have applied to help at an event I have got something out of it. I have built my confidence. I have met interesting people and I have found new and interesting ideas. In this case I hope to view a number of the films.

The third reason is that I will have an opportunity to spend a week in the mountains once again. I have frequently been to Diablerets for hikes and just once to enjoy a via ferrata. This time I will get to stay for a few extra days and learn to appreciate the town differently. I will have my 360 camera and via ferrata gear with me. Time to ride a tyrolean in 360 right? I hope it won’t rain too heavily. People told me they got wet last time they went under the waterfall.

When I watch an interesting film or hear someone talk about an interesting topic I will try to take notes and write related blog posts. It’s good to share the knowledge and passion with you.

The Moléson VF with the Narrative Clip 2

The Narrative Clip 2 is a specialist camera that can be programmed to take photos at regular intervals whilst you enjoy activities. This is sometimes referred to as life logging. The idea is that you wear the camera either on clothing or place it somewhere where it can capture the passage of time.

For this event the camera was worn around my neck and took pictures throughout the activity. As you can see from the last image I had the Ricoh Theta S on a monopod and the Sony Xperia Z5 compact for other pictures. You do not see that I had a fourth camera with a 30 times optical zoom.

The camera took over four hundred images during this event and I chose just a few. I avoid sharing images of people unless I have their informed consent. I share the images that best represent the pleasant moments.

If I took the time I could rotate this camera to be horizontal and I could capture daily timelapses. Every time I go for a bike ride or a hike it would capture regular images. The camera has enough battery power and you can keep the camera in your pocket until you want to start logging the event. When the event is finished you can place the camera back in to your pocket and head home for example.

An improvement which I have recently noticed is that when you put the camera to charge it can automatically upload the day’s images to the narrativeapp website and you can then select what you want to share.

As cameras get smaller and more portable and as they become more specialised so we have an opportunity to get different types of images. One is for time lapses, the other has a powerful zoom, the third allows us to capture spherical images and the fourth is practical for sharing to social media.


Via Ferrata with Climbing Shoes

Today I tried a Via Ferrata with Climbing shoes. With a group we went to the Moléson which you see in the picture below. This mountain stands in the middle and has fantastic views on to Neuchatel, the Lac Leman, Bulle and more. The drawback is that this mountain is often in cloud due to its location and height.

Heading to Moléson
Heading to Moléson

If you’re still reading despite the mention of clouds then you will see that this is an enjoyable place to visit. It is located in Gruyère, known for its cheeses and the Giger Museum. I don’t think I have visited either of the two latter options. Climbing is more fun.

Today was different. I took the blue easy route and I wore climbing shoes rather than normal shoes because I wanted to see whether the experience was pleasant. At first it was worthless to have these shoes on because of the mud and humidity. They did become more fun as we climbed. The person in front of me was a novice at Via Ferrata so she was fighting for the courage to move onwards and upwards. This gave me plenty of time to get as much contact with the rock as possible. I focused on using the natural rock as foot holds as much as possible and I even tried to use the rock as hand holds. My reservation about safety meant that I did not want to fall with via ferrata gear.

The rock on this via ferrata is perfectly adapted to rock climbing shoes when it is drier. The rock is friable and this provides justification for climbing shoes. Rather than two or three foot holds that you can use with hiking boots (which I usually use) I used slivers and cracks of rocks. I tried not to “felix the cat” too often. That is a term a climbing instructor used South of the Alps when I took climbing lessons and as I like the term I share it.

I have been practicing via ferrata for five years now and I have explored almost all via ferrata within a two hour drive multiple times. As a result I know that I can do them and I know what to expect. This means that I can be generous and climb last. I can help novices and beginners experience the sport for the first time and through experiments such as climbing shoes on a via ferrata I keep myself entertained. Leukerbad and other such via ferrata would be interesting with climbing shoes because of the rock type. They are not essential and I did this out of good humour. I was perfectly happy using hiking boots for the first five years.

And now for desert, a view from the top.

360 photos of Via Ferrata

Yesterday I was up above Leysin climbing the Tour D’Aï via Ferrata. It was an opportunity for me to take 360 photos of Via Ferrata. The beauty of panoramic pictures is that they provide you 360° of vision both vertically and horizontally. It means that you can get a sense of size and scale. You can look at the person exploring the via ferrata and how precarious their situation is as easily as you can admire the beauty of the landscape.

Another great aspect to 360° photos is that you can show specific bits of via ferrata and show where the challenging bits are. “Here is where the via ferrata is overhanging” so that you can assess whether you have the strength and courage to try that section or “Here is how high up you are” and so you get a sense of whether you would be paralysed with fear or enjoy yourself.

Most via ferrata are like the one that you see in these images. You have what I call staples, pedals and occasionally direct contact with the rocks. In other places you have spikes or you have to pull yourself up along the cable. With these images you see how well equipped the via ferrata is and you are not going in to the unknown. This is good when taking less experienced people.

A side effect of 360 pictures is that you capture a self portrait of yourself in situ over and over again. It is by nature of the medium rather than desire.