Climbing Event in La Mojarra, Colombia

In January 2016 our friends at the Refugio La Roca will be hosting their second annual climbing festival. They welcome all climbers to come and experience the beauty and fun of their home area. I cannot recommend a trip to La Mojarra enough. The three weeks we spent there this past spring were some of the best times traveling and climbing we have had. So, for those of you looking for something a little different I urge you to check it out.




Only a few months ago, the Bolting team of Refugio la Roca launched a major exploratory adventure in search of a new climbing area to develop. The search was made along the Chicamocha Canyon; a canyon with more than 108,000 hectares, (one of the largest in the world) formed 46 million years ago and covered in ancient times by a huge lake, which allowed the formation of caves and sheltered marine animals whose fossils still remain.

Every year the route-setting team bolt 30 new routes, in order to promote the sport in the department, generate progress in the unexplored areas of the canyon and give the opportunity to the climbing community to commemorate this discipline, meet new climbers, learn and share stories in this friendly Festival.

During the search, the team discovered an unexplored location, full of wild and exuberant vegetation, with a characteristic rock formation different to all the ones seeing at the canyon. A peculiar limestone with some tufas and a solid gray rock. A Cliff with more than enough rock to have a long period of bolting and fun.

This is the second year of this great festival, which has been given a different theme each year, last year we commemorated the 80s, a time during which the most important ascents were made in the history of climbing, time of spandex, acid colors, mustaches and rock n roll. This year the festival comes loaded with indigenous memory, honoring our roots, patrimony and the first inhabitants of these rocky cliffs, “the Guanes Indians”. The rock climbing festival Resistencia Guane 2016 comes loaded with a great deal of climbing in a spectacular landscape, ending with a closing ceremony full of fire, delicious local food and cold beer.

We invite all our foreign friends and friends of our friends to join us with climbing energy in this second version of our Festival. We wait for you in Colombia, your home…

All the information and the registration is in this link:!campeonato-2016/c1xyo
Escala Colombia, Climbing colombia
Escala Colombia, Climbing colombia

Here is a link to a video of the last event:

In case you missed it….

Below is a link to a blog post about our trip to Colombia this past May

colombia la mojarra yogastills

A Women’s Revolution, Pt.2

My phone buzzed with a text message, it roused me out of my slumber and I reached for the device. Typically I would ignore a midnight message but this being Yosemite I was surprised by the sudden onset of service. It read, “I can borrow a homemade #8. What do you think?” It was from Christina, in two days we would be heading up Freerider and the idea of a cam that size seemed…heavy. We would already be carrying a #6, #5 and #4 plus the standard rack. But, she would be leading the Monster Offwidth and word was that it fit like a charm, better than the #6. Maybe she wanted it. I wondered if it fit in the Hollow Flake, if so maybe I wanted it.

Preparing to bail off Hollow Flake ledge, 2010. Ben Ditto photo

Preparing to bail off Hollow Flake ledge, 2010. Ben Ditto photo

The first time I climbed the Hollow Flake was in 2010 with Hayden Kennedy and Ben Ditto. We were trying for a spring ascent of Golden Gate and had a limited amount of time to go for it. The weather prediction didn’t look promising, predicting 40% chance of severe thunderstorms but we decided to go for it anyway. On the morning of day 2 our reality was quickly brought into focus as Hollow Flake ledge flooded within minutes and quarter size hail ricocheted off of us. We bailed in one of the worst storms to hit the Valley that year. The second and third time I climbed the Hollow Flake was earlier this spring with Christina in a couple of our “training runs,” up Freeblast and parts of the Salathe in preparation for an idea I hatched earlier in the winter.

Steep limestone cragging at Rumenes, Spain. Ben Ditto photo

Steep limestone cragging at Rumenes, Spain. Ben Ditto photo

James Lucas and I had been emailing about this and that and the other but mostly his bid for Freerider. He was hoping that his upcoming sport climbing trip to Europe would get him really strong for Valley season so that he could put to rest his long-time dream of free climbing El Cap. I was on a sport climbing trip myself and was feeling strong, motivated and also dreaming of Yosemite. Each year we go to Europe to get our steep endurance and power going with hopes of returning to Yosemite and having things feel like the true slabs they are. This year would be no different and I, too, wanted to climb El Cap. Aside from the debacle of Golden Gate in 2010 I had only climbed one true wall route on the huge monolith. In 2013 Ben and I climbed the Triple Direct and this was the first time I learned, first hand, of the horrors of hauling.

The Great Roof, El Cap. 2013. Tom Evans photo

Leading up The Great Roof pitch, El Cap. 2013. Tom Evans photo

Free climbing El Cap is one of the reasons I have come to Yosemite but I’m a slow learner and like to proceed with caution, so even though this is my 10th year here it is only now that I feel confident enough to go up on the Big Stone on my own accord, with everything I have learned and am capable of and give it a go. So, I hatched the idea of climbing Freerider with Christina Freschl. I came to this choice in partner because she’s tough, positive, a strong climber and loves offwidths. If she would be keen to lead the wide cruxes I would take the other cruxes. I sent her an email late one night from our rental apartment in Chulilla. In the message I said I wanted to go ground up on Freerider, trying our best and hauling everything over 4 days, would she be into it? To my delight she responded the next day with a YES! That was in December, we wouldn’t be climbing together again until April. It could be a pipe dream but I was willing to take the chance.

We returned to the States in February and I spent the end of winter and early spring around Bishop ticking some sport projects and boulder problems in anticipation of our summer plans.

Making the first female ascent of Peter Croft's Holy Mackerel, Owens River Gorge. 8a+/8b. Ben Ditto photo

Making the first female ascent of Peter Croft’s Holy Mackerel, Owens River Gorge. 8a+/8b. Ben Ditto photo

Short but Stout, Pine Creek.

Another female first on Patrick O’Donnel’s Short but Stout 7c+, Pine Creek. POD photo

In March Christina and I met in the El Cap parking, it was 6am and we were heading up the Freeblast with a lofty goal of making it to the Alcove. I hadn’t done any multi pitch since the Verdon in November and she and I hadn’t tied in together in several months. We had caffeine jitters and jamming cold toes into the cracks hurt more than I remembered. Pitch after pitch passed by and the sun rounded the Nose, lighting our path with an intensity we planned to avoid in the future. I sorted out the 5.12 down climb into Hollow Flake and she followed with great style and confidence as we employed some rope tricks to ensure a safe belay for her. We found ourselves in a good rhythm with each other by the days end and for a first run up the route our high point was just past the 5.7 Chimney pitch.

The Hollow Flake down climb. Christina Freschl photo

The Hollow Flake down climb. Christina Freschl photo

We rapped the route, resorted our gear and made plans to meet again soon. But, life gets in the way sometimes and one or the other of us had obligations and it wasn’t until late May that we were able to meet up again. This time our plan was to jug to the Heart and climb to the Alcove and if we were feeling good we would go further. Through the years many of my friends have freed the Freerider and a common thing I have heard from the shorter ones is that getting into the Monster from the Ear is one of the cruxes for them. I had also heard that there is a lower traverse which takes you direct into the Monster via a route called the Bermuda Dunes. There are no reachy moves here but does involve climbing the entire crack which is the Monster Offwidth, thus adding about 60 more feet of wide to the already 200 feet of wide. With Christina being the offwidth wiz she is it didn’t take much convincing from me for us to take this route. Our rack that day included 1 #6 and 1 old #5. We jugged to Heart, climbed the 5.11c slab pitch, the Hollow Flake, the 5.7 chimney pitch and the other 3 nondescript pitches to bring us to the Bermuda Dunes below the Monster.

Commute to Work - @freschl instagram

Commute to Work – @freschl instagram

She led up the Bermuda Dunes into the Monster with fierce determination and skill like I have seen in very few others. The gapping maw greeted us with overhanging steepness before delivering us into it’s more vertical 8″. It become evident pretty early on the the old 5 was too small for the Monster and was nothing more than dead weight. I wish I had video of her as she struggled with our one 6 as it became stuck in the crack. Holding herself in with sheer power she tagged up the nut tool so she could fiddle the #6 out of the crack. After about 15 minuets of this she freed it from it’s confines and continued to press her way up the monster. About 40 minutes later she was at the Alcove belaying me up. The first 60 feet of the Bermuda Dunes into the Monster were steep and hard and passed over bushes and loose blocks. I was tired before I even got into the real meat of the Monster but I kept thinking about Christina powering her way inch by inch and it gave me the mental fortitude to keep going. About an hour later I joined her in the Alcove.

Following the offwidth master on the Monster. Christina Freschl photo.

Following the offwidth master on the Monster. Christina Freschl photo

Once again we rapped the route and made a plan for our next meeting. Christina is a 5th grade school teacher and May and June had her quite busy. I’m a full-time climber and found myself with plenty of time to spare. I went out with other female partners in preparation for our big outing. I climbed long moderates and slowly ramped up to long harder routes. I also did two trips up to Lung Ledge with 7 gallons of water to stage for our pre-hauling day. I jugged with the water in a bag hanging below me on my harness, and while this tactic is a bit faster than hauling it is hideous and painful. On June 18th we met once again and packed our haul bags for the 4 day event. Sleeping bags, food, rain jackets, extra chalk, jetboil, rain fly for shade,  etc. We hauled this to Lung Ledge where we rendezvoused with the water I had stashed. This was the first time either of us had hauled in a couple of years and the process was slow and laborious. Neither of us are very big people and our combined weight is no more than 230. For either of us to haul alone we needed to employ a 3:1 and big wall maestro Mark Hudon has an improved and nifty jigger system that we adopted for the task. From Lung Ledge I once again led off on the Hollow Flake, climbing it this time in the blazing sun – confronting my worst nightmare and fearing the loathsome heat of the midday sun of June. We left a bivy kit there and then we climbed two more pitches and hauled the rest to there then we rapped the route once again.

On June 23rd at 5am we left the ground and headed up the Freeblast. With us we had the homemade #8. We free climbed to Hollow Flake ledge that day and arrived at our first nights bivy in the early afternoon. The sun was hideous and we quickly set to work on setting up our rain fly to shade us from the heat. We took naps, ate food, drank water. We rose early the next day, broke down camp and headed up towards the Alcove. This was to be a fairly “easy” day but it would involve 4 hauls. This took time and we got caught in the sun. Wanting to save time and make up for a blunder I had gotten us into a bit lower we decided to take the Ear and do the normal traverse into the Monster. The Ear was quite adventurous and I was met with a really reach 5.10 move getting out of the initial crack and into the Ear. Mark Hudon had actually told me about this and had mentioned that he couldn’t make the move. I tried with the obvious beta and I was met with a weird press into a corner with a hold that was 8 inches out of reach. I climbed back down and tried again, I still couldn’t make it. I tried using a very small crimp next to a pin but from here couldn’t use the big left foot ledge and still came up short of the next hold. I fell, then used the pin to gain the next hold and finally made my way into the Ear. I hauled the bags and belayed Christina up. She had an interesting time traversing into the Monster but eventually managed to get herself into it. The homemade #8 was used for the second time that day and proved to be a valuable and useful addition.

Once we were both in the Alcove we unpacked our bags discovered that mice had gotten into out prehauled bag and eaten an entire days worth of food from our oatmeal to our candy bars. What ensued was a re-rationing of days and the best we came up with was about 1200 calories each per day. If we weren’t suffering yet we surely would be soon. That evening we climbed the next pitch and fixed our line. Day 3 we jugged to our high point, hauled our bags and climbed to our next nights bivy on the Block. Between where we were and the Block involved the first real crux of the route, the Teflon Corner or the Boulder Problem. I had been urged to take the Corner. So I did and I got pretty properly shut down. My 5 foot frame could span to the chalked up features but I was too spread out to make use of them. I literally could not move upwards. There is a nice right hand chalked sloper and big foot just to the right of this. Both things were useless to me. On the left wall were palm prints and tiny ticked feet, these were also useless to me. Unable to use the obvious I resorted to my usual tactic of making my own way and this worked for about four moves as I pressed my hands closer into the corner and smeared my feet on nothing at all. Then the tension in my body would give and my shoulders would fail I was back where I started. I attempted this a few times before giving up and pulling through on the hanging tat. I climbed to the belay, hauled the bags and belayed Christina up. Once she was at the belay I lowered into the Boulder Problem. I climbed the boulder problem all the way to its crux end of the left foot kick. It really was quite far and I fell. I tried a couple more times and sorted out the ticky tacky feet and then climbed to the belay. I marveled at the idea that people walk right up that Teflon Corner and decided that I would need to come back and check out the Boulder Problem again. We arrived at the Block around noon and once again set to work establishing our shade. We were hungry and the toll of hauling was starting to show. We ate what little we had for the day, took delirious naps and waited for the shade.

On the block after delirious nap time

On the block after delirious nap time

Later that evening I climbed to Sous la Toit and I was greeted with one of the most spectacular positions on the wall. The exposure was grand and finally we could get a view out to the east. The climbing was pure glory climbing. It was also really exciting to finally see the Enduro Corners. I fixed our line to Sous la Toit and rapped back down. We ate our dinner, shared a candy bar, and let the Milky Way lullaby us to sleep.

Day 4 and I was hungry and felt just generally fatigued! This would be our last day but it would also be a hard day of a lot of climbing and a lot of hauling. We had 7 pitches to the top. We jugged up to our high point and I set off on the first Enduro pitch. I climbed really well until what is the crux of the route a few feet from the anchor. It was 5am and I was already covered in sweat and was experiencing a lack of umf like I have never quite experienced before. I fell, rested then climbed to the anchor. I belayed Christina up, she hauled and I set off on pitch 2 of the corner. By this point I was pretty spent and I did not send this pitch what-so-ever. I hauled the bag and belayed her up. She was also showing signs of being pretty spent and our tactics of each of us climbing every pitch changed. It was now about getting off the mountain.

I set off on the traverse to Round Table. What an incredible pitch! The exposure is pretty full on and the style of climbing is true sport climbing. I reached the ledge, fixed the lead line, and hauled the bag while she cleaned the pitch. We were getting closer, I was feeling more warmed up, still quite hungry and had summit fever. I led off on the next steep 5.11 pitch. I walked our single #3 about 60 feet before finally getting a #4. I was trying really hard, it felt very scrappy and physical and I decided to take the #3 with me. I established myself under this intimidating stemming, smearing roof and pulled around into a techy and thin 5.10 fingers section to the anchor. I fixed the rope and hauled the bags while she cleaned. Then a “Cawcaw” came from above and there was Ben, rapping in to check us out. It had been 4 days since we had seen anyone else and it seemed a little weird to see him there hanging above. He mentioned that he had some food for us up top and my summit fever really set in. Christina came up and racked up for the Scotty Burke. She climbed through the steeper 5.11 part and established herself in the offwidth. Everyone had told us that there is a point at which you must lie it back but she stayed in right side the entire time. It didn’t even seem too hard. She fixed my line and hauled the bags. I joined her and Ben and the next ledge and we quickly ascended to the summit. Bringing the bags up the final 5.6 slab was heinous and once we were on top it seemed so unreal that we had just climbed El Cap.

I took off my harness for the first time in four days, the chaffing on my hips was so raw and red. The heat was so horrendous and I felt like I had just worked the hardest I ever had my entire life. We did not free the Freerider this time but we did climb El Cap. We pushed each other to work hard, we dug deep to keep going, we starved up there but we did our best. It was a great way to experience the route from the ground, checking the pitches and coming to a better understanding of what it’s going to take. We were self-supported, we hauled our own shit (literally) and we made the summit! The walk down nearly broke us and thanks so much to Ben for the food on top. It’s now a week later and I’ve grown more excited about our time up there together. It was awesome to see Christina dig so deep, it inspired me to do the same.

All smiles despite the beat down.

All smiles despite the beat down.

A Women’s

In 1995 I first went rock climbing with a host of other youth and some camp counselors. I had taken a position as a Junior Counselor at a summer camp in North Carolina, an opportunity which came through the urging of my boyfriend at the time and being a 15 year old girl with no other real interest except her boyfriend I decided it was a good idea. Once there I was informed that I was to pick an activity to help facilitate throughout the summer. There were the usual things like beading, swimming, horseback riding, archery, backpacking, but then there was this thing called rock climbing. I had seen some kids climbing on the vertical, wooden wall in the back of the camp and it seemed like a strange but cool thing to do, I signed my name on the sheet. I was taught how to belay, how to make a swiss seat for a harness, how to rappel and how to build a top rope anchor. We went through all the commands, nomenclature and protocol. I picked out a helmet and a Figure 8 and learned the ropes from a guy named Chris. I fell in love with climbing that summer and made a vow to myself to pursue it always.

Summer ended and I returned home to Louisiana. I kept climbing but relied heavily on the skills and knowledge of my boyfriend and other male peers. The climbing community was small and I only knew of two other girls who were interested in it at the time. But, they too relied on their male counterparts to lead the way. Road trips were taken and new crags were explored and as I gained more confidence I grew antsy to start leading. My motivation and determination had me quickly arriving at the skill level of the guys but I still felt that it was something I needed to do with them, I wasn’t confident enough yet to go out with the girls alone.

Through the next 10 years the climbing community blew up worldwide and more and more women were coming onto the scene. I ventured out alone, met new partners and even took out some of my girlfriends to climb. I was meeting more and more females who were keen to go bouldering or sport climbing and these two disciplines dominated my climbing for many years. However, I still found myself looking to the males for instruction on how to use certain gear, or for good spotting at the boulders and for navigating through tricky to find terrain. morning dove

In 2005 tired of leading a “normal” life and wanting to experience some real adventure on the rocks I left behind my boyfriend, my job, my best friend, packed up my truck and headed to Yosemite. I had been there once before but I was still intimidated by the sheer walls of granite, seemingly endless cracks and featureless faces. Even though I had climbed V8 and 5.13 by this time I felt very much like a beginner in Yosemite. I needed to learn the style, the techniques and how to use the gear. Eric Ruderman was one of my first Valley partners, as was Karl Baba, Surfer Bob, Chad Shepard, Eamon Schneider, Jesse Chakrin and Ron Kauk. These guys were encouraging and supportive but would also take the lead at the slightest sign of uncertainty. And even though this was the Big Valley and many women had already made impressive gains for females in the sport there weren’t a lot of women around when I first arrived in Yosemite. I was once again reliant on the men to be the teachers.

Leaning Tower


katie lambert in the buttermilks, california.

In 2006 I met a gal named Sara Vera. She was strong, independent and keen to go climbing. She had a rack, I had a rope and we partnered up for some adventures. We spent hot Valley days hiking up to the Cathedral Spires only to get shut down because we couldn’t find the route, or bailing off of “easy” 5.9s because they were wide, gaping and terrifying. Sometimes we were successful and would summit a dome or a formation and then summer ended and she went back to Idaho. In 2007 I picked Sara up in Vegas and we headed to Red Rocks. We romped our way up the classic Epinephrine and reached the summit just before sunset. We had a great climb but got lost on the summit looking for the descent. The wind blew too hard for us to hear each other and darkness descended all around. With no hope of finding the correct way down in the dark we shared our very first shiver bivy. Tucked under a small bush, covered by the rope, we spooned until first light. We made it down the next morning and had earned a new notch on our belts as women in the outdoors.

Katie y Ben

In 2009 I met my husband in Yosemite and we partnered up for many climbs not just in Yosemite but world-wide. It is with him that I climbed El Cap for the first time, have freed wall routes, learned how to haul a bag, learned how to set-up a portaledge, climbed 5.14, prusiked up stuck ropes, stayed out too long in the rain, thrown tantrums at the crag, cried, got scared and relied on him to finish the pitch. He has taught me so much and has been unwavering in his love and support and has been one of my best partners ever. It’s that old habit I have of looking to the men around me to show me the way. But, in the last few years with the knowledge and skills I have picked up through the years I have been seeking out females to climb with and not just for bouldering and sport climbing but for trad routes, walls and rocky alpine endeavors. In the last few years I’ve met more and more skilled and adventurous ladies out there and my quiver of rad women to tie in with has grown substantially.

Katie climbs through a long traversing pitch midway up Pichenibule.

And these are real women with real lives – they are mothers, they are teachers, they are nurses, they are engineers, they are scientists, they are doctors, they are athletes, they are cooks, they are powerful and they are inspired. I’ve had some amazing times and some very hard times with these ladies but we look to each other to lead the way, we support one-another and encourage one-another. We are women and we are strong and we are capable. The men in my life who have been there to show me the way empowered me as an individual but also as a woman. They saw in me the potential and drive and helped to bring me to the place I am today. Without those men I wouldn’t be the woman I am now and as the woman I am now I am grateful to them for that but I am also jazzed to be out on the sharp end with the ladies in my life making our own way.

This is dedicated to all the women and girls out there pushing themselves in their endeavors and embracing their power as females. A shout out to the following for being psyched and inspired partners: Sandra Horna, Eliza Kerr, Shannon Vallejo, Mandi Finger, Christina Freschl, Sara Vera, Thea Marie, Ann Raber, Caroline George, Beth Rodden, Jill Church Waters, Lisa Bedient, Kate Rutherford, Ashley Helms, Trish McGuire and all the rest.

Fun and quick bouldering clip

The Verdon Gorge

Reposted from:

This is the kind of rock that Katie would dream of as a kid in Louisiana.  Perfection on suvellir et punir The Verdon is known for its top down access, the biggest challenge to the approach can be finding exactly where the top is. Sometime in the 1990s, I became aware of the broader world of rock climbing. Growing up in the Deep South, I wasn’t blessed with endless cliffs or high mountains, and places such as Yosemite, the Dolomites, the Hand of Fatima in Africa, and the Verdon Gorge of Southern France became dream places to visit. I lived with the idea that somehow, one day I might be able to visit those places, and if I was lucky enough, I might even be able to climb there at a level that would make me proud. While I dreamed and trained in a hot and humid garage climbing gym, a lot of classic history had already been made. Those places which had so inspired me were falling out of vogue in exchange for a steeper, more gymnastic type of free climbing. But there was something about the bold run-out, very delicate style of climbing in places like the Verdon that were alluring to me. “There was something about the bold run-out, very delicate style of climbing in places like the Verdon that were alluring to me.” —Katie Lambert Situated on a fault line in the Provence region of France, the Verdon Gorge establishes a border between the high mountains of the Hautes-Alpes and the lush rolling hills and valleys of Provence. Through the ages, the river of the Verdon has carved a canyon through the Jurassic age limestone, creating striking gold and gray walls up to 1,500 feet tall. Realizing that these cliffs were prime for climbing, routes started to become developed in the late 1960s. The first features that were climbed followed cracks, fissures and ledges up the imposing cliffs, and everything in the Verdon was established ground up. Classic and historical routes such as La DemandeUla and Luna Bong are results of this era of climbing in the Verdon. However, if men of staunch tradition could not free-climb their way through sections, then they resorted to aid techniques. This practice, which was commonplace the world over, started to take a different shape when more technically advanced free climbers like Patrick Edlinger, Jacques Perrier, Jean Marc Troussier, J.B. Tribout, Patrick Berhault, and the Le Menestrel brothers started to push the limits of possibility in the Verdon in the 1980s and 1990s. The ground-up, all-trad approach was left behind for bolted faces established from the top down. With a road running the course of the lip of the gorge and every cliff being accessible by rappelling into it, it only seemed obvious to start developing routes in what would become known as “rap-bolting.”

This approach opened the door to possibilities, because instead of having to follow the obvious weaknesses up the wall, the “rap-bolting” approach made it possible to piece together the thin and seemingly blank faces, and with that a new wave of hard free climbing was born. With the rap-bolting also came “hang-dogging,” which involves hanging on a rope to sort out the moves and sequences of the climb in order to free climb the route in its entirety without falls or hanging. Not only were new routes being established from the top down, but previously ground up aid routes were now being free climbed thanks to the hang-dogging and top down “sussing out.” At the time, both rap-bolting and hang-dogging were highly controversial for the “old guard” and brought the ethics of climbing into question, not only in France but the world over. However, these new tactics resulted in not only the development of harder routes but also helped to push the limits of what humans were capable of as far as physical prowess. The dawn of a new era had arrived and technical masterpieces were the result. “In September 2014, my long-held dream of visiting the Verdon Gorge had come to fruition when I met up with Caroline George for a weeklong foray into the miles of blue limestone walls. I wanted to share a quintessential Verdon experience with her, and my list of potential routes to do was seemingly endless.” —Katie Lambert In the Verdon Gorge, one of the most famous routes of this nature was established in the mid-1970s by Stephane Troussier and Jacques “Pschitt” Perrier. The two used fixed ropes from the top to find the line of holds and features that would became the 10 pitch traversing route known as Pichenibule. The route was not climbed all in one go until 1980, when the great Patrick Berhault climbed it at a grade of 6c+/AO (5.11c/A0), which was soon followed by the first female ascent of this rating by Marisa Montes. But it was in 1985 that Catherine Destivelle made the first free ascent of this route at a very sandbagged 7b++ (5.12c++) grade, quite an impressive feat, as this was at the top of the level in those days. Through the years, as the grades started to climb, the ratings of many of the original free climbs of the Verdon have leveled out and Pichenibule has finally started to settle around the more appropriate grade of 7c+ (5.13a). In September 2014, my long-held dream of visiting the Verdon Gorge came to fruition when I met up with Caroline George for a weeklong foray into the miles of blue limestone walls. I wanted to share a quintessential Verdon experience with her, and my list of potential routes to do was seemingly endless. Then she suggested Pichenibule. This route would offer up everything the Verdon meant to me: a test of finger strength, technique, and nerve to try the run-outs. I had been made aware that the crux pitch, if done free, was quite hard. I wanted the odds in our favor for making a team free-ascent of this historical line, so I decided to stick with the style of the area and preview the pitch from the top.

I rappelled into the route with a fixed line and two micro-traxions (self-belay devices). The river raged 1,500 feet below and the walls swept away below me. The exposure wasn’t too bad, but as I looked at the holds on my way down, glistening in the sun, I realized this pitch was indeed going to be hard. I clipped into the belay, arranged my gear, and set off on a solo mission to solve the puzzle. I was greeted with powerful moves, very technical footwork and handholds, which were more like single-finger holds that were impossible to grip in the heat of the sun. I had to hand-over-hand up the rope to easier ground and then climb out to the top. I felt a little overwhelmed by the prospect of freeing this route. A little later in the day, after the sun had dropped below the mountains, I went back down to see if it was any better in the shade. The grip was better but the moves were still hard. The Verdon was showing me that the climbing there was tough, and I wondered if I wasn’t being too audacious. A couple of days later, after better acquainting ourselves with the climbing of the Verdon on the beautiful Surveiller et Punir, we roped up to try our luck on Pichenibule. After rappelling into the wall some 900 feet down, we led out, swapping leads through the run-outs, traverses and gouttes d’eau before finally arriving at the crux 10th pitch. We had timed it all just right so that the wall was now in the shade. Relieved at this, I tightened my shoes, had a few sips of water, double-checked my knot and got reassurance from Caroline that she would give me a soft catch if I fell. Then I set off. I climbed up the bouldery intro sequences to the very reachy and thin crux. I struggled to bring my left foot up in order to reach easier ground, and then I fell. I soared through the air and came to rest a few feet above Caroline. My fingers ached with numbness from gripping too hard and I yelled out in frustration and pain. Despite having fallen, the climbing actually felt achievable, but I wondered if I could do it again. I lowered back to Caroline, tied into the anchor, pulled my rope and set off again. The climbing seemed automatic. I wasn’t really thinking about what to do as much as I was just doing it. Before I knew it, I was back where I had fallen, bringing my left foot up and reaching for the better incut crimp. My fingers latched the hold and I exhaled with relief. I rested there for a little while before climbing the last 15 feet to the anchor. I had done it.,I had managed to free climb the notorious 10th pitch of Pichenibule! I belayed Caroline up and then set off again on the last run-out pitch to the top. As I sat there, belaying her up and watching the clouds turn a beautiful pink and gold with the sunset, I felt really proud to have found the sequence that the greats like Stephane Troussier and Jacques “Pschitt” Perrier had seen as possible, and that Patrick Berhault and Catherine Destivelle had unlocked. I had finally arrived in the Verdon, with a great and supportive partner, and had climbed at a level that made me proud. Katie and Caroline organize their gear after a long day out.

A Little Glimpse of climbing in the Verdon Gorge

Freeing the Verdon Gorge from Eddie Bauer on Vimeo.


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