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.



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.


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.

A Chinese Via Ferrata of sorts

School children in the Chinese Sichuan province need to climb up a via ferrata of sorts to get to school. As I watch this footage it makes me think of the Ladders of Death Via Ferrata between France and Switzerland where smugglers would transport contraband between these countries.

When I watch this footage I believe that it would be relatively easy for the Chinese government to get some European Via ferrata equipment specialists to create a via ferrata and safety gear adapted for young children. In Europe Via ferrata are equipped with “pig’s tail” metal loops through which safety ropes can be threaded. These make it possible to do via ferrata with younger children.

The drawback to via ferrata equipment is that it has certain weight requirements. They are designed for people who weigh between 50-110 kg so if you are too light the “parachute” will not be activated and this can lead to injury.

I like this video from an ethnographic and historical context because it shows us a glimpse of what the infancy of via ferrata was like. It shows us the improvised ladders, agile people climbing on exposed rock and more. We see that the youngest person is kept relatively safe by his father and a rope in case of a slip or fall.

In the news item they speak about developing tourism. The parents live in this remote village of 72 people because the farmland is arable. With the development of tourism the path to school could be improved and made safer. If they develop via ferrata tourism as we see in Europe, the Americas, Asia and New Zealand they could have an additional form of income. I know that I could be tempted to try this as a via ferrata if and when they re-equip it. It’s a nice way to see the landscape and a good reason to visit new places.


Vlogging on a Via Ferrata with the Theta S

Vlogging on a Via Ferrata with the Theta S by Ricoh is not only feasible but interesting. Earlier today I went to the Via Ferrata du Fort L’écluse in the French Region of Ain. This Via Ferrata goes long the nice rock face next to the climb. The purpose of this video is to bring you with me so that you can experience the sounds of Via Ferrata without the climbing experience or a head for heights.

The Theta S by Ricoh is a 360° camera with two lenses. One lens is looking at the person taking video and the other lens looks at what the holder of the camera sees. When the two signals are combined you can export the video as a 360 video to be shared.

The device has a mini HDMI out, a USB port, enough memory for 45 minutes of video at 1920X1080 with a 30FPS shooting range. It is currently one of the more affordable and intuitive devices to use. You can keep it with you at all times and getting material ready for editing takes seconds. The beauty of such a simple and light solution is that it allows for a very quick turnaround time.

You can review the footage instantly
Reviewing footage is simple and intuitive

I was hanging off a cliff when I was taking my videos today but if you’re a normal person you will probably be sitting in a café or some stairs to review the footage. When device wifi is activated and when you download the app you can use your phone as a remote to take videos or pictures and even to watch back the video you have taken in 360° vision. If you’re not happy with the shot then you can repeat it until you are happy. This system is a simple, elegant and all in one solution that is quick and intuitive to use.


Moléson Night – Via ferrata at night

I expect that going to do the Moléson Via Ferrata by night will be like scuba diving in the lake. I expect that on the Moléson night I will see the cliff face in front of me and that if I turn around I will see darkness around me. I suspect I will be able to see certain stars and city lights in nearby towns. I am curious to see how bottomless the void behind me will feel. I also expect a fun ambiance.

You need to sign up to participate and an e-mail is enough. They want your name and address, to know whether you have your own equipment or whether you need to rent and whether you have already tried via ferrata before. Now that I signed up I am looking forward to the new sensation.

This is a via ferrata I have done when it was cloudy, when it was about to rain, with maintenance crew and with friends. I know it well. I look forward to experiencing it in yet another way.

The Bellevaux Via Ferratas

This year I went to the Bellevaux Via Ferratas in June and the area had been damaged by the intense storms and rain from weeks of rain. I went there on Tuesday and the via Ferrata des Cascades was different. For a start there was no water in the cascade. As a result those who were canyoning down the waterfall were dry. It was also much quieter and the sensation from the via ferrata was different.

The section with the slight overhang.
The section with the slight overhang.

Water is dynamic, constantly moving and making noise. As a result it provides a sense of motion and danger. When water is not flowing footholds are easy to find and your focus can remain on the via ferrata. The Cascade is my favourite beginner via ferrata. The conditions I think beginners will appreciate are: 1. Easy access. Within 200m you are at the via ferrata ready to climb and 2. Proximity to the ground. This via ferrata does climb quite a bit but you are never that far off the ground so vertigo will not add badly to how exhausted you are by the end of the path.

This via ferrata has two thick beams you cross over the river and one nepalese bridge (one cable for feet, one cable per hand, fourth cable for the carabiners. There are short bits where you are climbing vertically and then one section where you negotiate a slight overhang. After this you have two more beams and the VF is finished.

The Village of Bellevaux an hour's drive from Geneva.
The Village of Bellevaux an hour’s drive from Geneva.

If you have energy left over you have two more via ferratas to enjoy. These are the Via Ferrata du Chatelard and the Via Ferrata “La Grotte De Cristal”. These are harder via ferratas. In the case of Chatelard the estimated completion time is about one hour and fourty five minutes. I completed it in over fourty minutes so I am not a reference. This via ferrata starts by ascending diagonally for a bit before continuing horizontally a bit further. Hand holds are not always easy to access and there are certain portions where you have an excuse to dyno (propulse yourself) to grab the next hand hold.

The Chatelard is physical but the views of the valley are nice. As you can see from the picture above you have a nice view of the town to the right if you have your back to the cliff and a nice view of the valley if you look to the left.

View from the Nepalese bridge
View from the Nepalese bridge

The Nepalese bridge offers a nice opportunity to admire the landscape. After this point you soon reach the combination point where the medium and hard via ferrata combine. From here you continue towards an excellent tyrollean. I tried it with both the red and the silver devices. With the red device I went fast and only had to pull for the last metre or two. With the silver one which I tried twice the ride is very fast. You hit the wooden ramp running. With a friend we did this twice each.

I strongly recommend that you try the tyrollean if you’re with a group of people that have the required equipment. It’s a highlight of the day.

When I do the third and hardest part again I will write about it. I tried it one or two months ago and did find it fun. I may write about it this weekend.


Tour D’Aï Via Ferrata

Nice View of the Alps from the Tour D’Aï

Tour D’Aï via ferrata is a nice option if you are looking for a view of the Alps and of the Lac Léman region. You can take the telecabine from Leysin to the top and from here walk one hour and get to the base of the Via Ferrata de La Tour D’Aï. This is a challenging via ferrata if you are not accustomed to heights. What makes the views so enjoyable is also what makes the via ferrata itself so daunting.

Best feature

The best aspect of the Tour D’Aï via ferrata is the chimney where you go up at the entrance to a crack. There are hand holds on two rock faces and you can use just one side like I did yesterday or use both sides like I did on past climbs. It depends on your fitness level, comfort and size.

This via ferrata does have one or two overhangs which need to be negotiated. As the clipping and unclipping of carabiners occurs both before and after the overhanging bits they are easy to negotiate.

Once you are at the top of the mountain you can look at the views and have a snack before walking down.

Walking Down.

The first part of the walk down requires sure footedness as the path is narrow. You can hold on to a cable for some of the more exposed portions and then walk down one ladder and later scramble down some rocks. After that you follow the road and foot path down the mountain. When you arrive to the foot of the village you have the option of continuing down or turning left and walking up to Plan Praz. Be advised that Plan Praz is a physical VF where arm and hand strength are necessary.