ICE, CRACKS AND PANCAKES
Stormy but swell.
Back from two months of adventures on the new continent, full of crumbly snow and blood-flecked cracks. Part one takes place in a remote part of Alaska, in the Neacola Mountains, where few people have ventured, chiefly because of the particularly harsh weather there. And so we set off with France’s National Mountaineering Team for a three-week self-sufficient expedition to one of the local glaciers. After our aircraft left us on the glacier, we took advantage of the fine weather to do a first recce of the subrange. All these virgin faces soon wowed the whole group, and each of us came up with a tasty project. For a flavor of the local mountaineering, four of us headed off to try and open a route up a virgin summit just opposite our camp, but the complicated snow conditions and the incoming bad weather prompted us to turn back at the two-thirds mark. In fact, bad weather would turn out to be the dominant feature of our trip...
When push comes to shovel.
As mentioned, snow and wind were on the menu nearly every day we spent on the Neacola Mountains glacier. A typical day would begin with the surprise of seeing your tent entrance blocked by half a meter of fresh overnight snowfall. Clearing snow might seem like a kind of amusing activity when you’re a kid, but with age you soon realize that shoveling the white stuff isn’t any fun – unless it’s to make a snowman.
In mountaineering terms, we seriously optimized a gorgeous sunny day by skiing around The Citadel, the area’s iconic peak. Skiing between crevasses, all roped together amid these huge snowy expanses, was an incredible moment. Later, we opened a second ski route with Mémé. Early one morning, we decided to go for it despite the bad weather – conditions weren’t so awful... And in the end, we had to make do with these two great days’ skiing.
But that is not my takeaway from this tremendous escapade. Spending two and a half weeks in the middle of nowhere with these seven rascals from the National Mountaineering Team; not bothering about tomorrow’s weather, watching the snow fall and the wind blow… well, all of that has its own kind of charm!
Home is where the ledge is.
After our snowy wanderings, we decided with our buddy Raphaël to take the road way down south, to an awesome array of granite walls.
It would be a voyage of discovery for me, and a trip back to his ‘roots’ for Raph. We had nearly two weeks to enjoy those Yosemythical cracks.
After a few days’ draconian sharpening-up to shift the excess Alaskan blubber, we were ready for some bare-hands climbing.
Our first great experience was on Astroman, the route that gives you an overview of Yos in all its splendor, including the famous chimneys. The pitch of Harding Slot (a narrow chimney that’s extremely tricky to navigate) is etched in my memory – I was quite literally born again.
We then took revenge on less crack-littered but more technically challenging pitches near Final Frontier (8a max) – a radically different but equally esthetic style, with small holds we were comfortable with.
A few single-pitch routes and a decent rest later, we prepped our packs for a five-day climb on Golden Gate (7c+/8a max) on El Capitan!
A committing chimney, the perfect splitter, sideways edging – we ran the gamut. This wall is clearly one of most beautiful bits of rock in the world.
Every day, the exposure got scarier. We took the Portaledge up for a gorgeous starry night, our asses dangling over the void.
We settled into a pleasant kind of routine – except for the pain from our blood-stained fingers, which grew sharper daily. During these five days, pack-hauling was a very different task: it felt like dragging a fattened ox at the end of your trail line.
The climbing was incredible, but with all the big-wall logistics, it was often hard to make the most of it. In fact, the most restful moments were when we were climbing.