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The Frozen Ephemera of Glens and Fjords

Having spent most of my previous winter seasons climbing in the mountains I call home, Chamonix Mont Blanc, the untouched and wild feel of these destinations left me feeling beaten yet satisfied. This winter I have been fortunate enough to travel to two of the harshest yet most captivating places for mixed climbing in Europe, Scotland and Norway.

The Fjords of Norway, from a boat . Photo by Jan Virt 

Climbing in such close proximity to water, especially in winter, feels surreal. There aren’t many mountains that offer this combination of elements which make being there even more special.

I found climbing in Scotland and Norway to be a great experience, unlike anything I’m used to. Here I talk about my 5 main reasons why it was such a great (though sometimes frustrating) experience. I hope you find these useful if you venture into these environments (I really suggest you do)!

1.  A slave to the skies 

The  climates of Scotland and Norway result in pretty variable weather patterns, particularly in winter. One day you can be climbing ice and the next it might have melted away. The skies can be blue when you begin your ascent but you find yourself in a white out at the top. You need to be flexible and able to react to the changing forecast and you certainly don’t plan further than 2 days ahead. Check the forecast the night before and then again in the morning, when looking out the window it might be somewhat different still.

For me being in Scotland and Norway was about having to make quick last minute decisions and being adaptable as a mountaineer. The mountains are lower which means that only one or two degrees change in temperature can make the difference of the first pitch being wet with rain or dry and dusted with snow. 

2. Shifting objectives in the lower mountains 

Over the years I have become accustomed to long alpine routes that require a high level of endurance – where it is more about conserving my energy and making sure I can get through every pitch, reach the summit and make it down safely afterwards. In Scotland and Norway the mountains are a lot lower with less height gain. 

I loved the challenge of trying much shorter yet harder climbs on these lower mountains. There is no battling the altitude, less concern about a long grueling descent nor the lingering fear of missing the last lift. I can afford to spend most of my energy on just 4 pitches, for example, and maybe I lead only half of these. I am not climbing my pitch worrying that if I get too pumped I won’t have enough energy to finish the route, I can climb full power with all my mental energy and push my limits to my full potential. 

Fay climbing in Scotland. Photo by Line van den Berg

3. Evolving one’s repertoire 

When climbing in the higher mountains, I can reliably either use cams or ice screws. But in Scotland for example, the cracks get wet and then freeze, riming up with ice. This is where static protection like peckers and hexes come in good use. Being able to place all kinds of gear makes me feel much more capable of going anywhere and trying to climb anything within my grade in winter. 

The terrain in Norway felt quite traditional, I found very few cracks and was mainly throwing slings around small rocks and boulders. At some points I was even using trees and branches for protection! It was good to have a range of cams which made me feel more comfortable to climb hard as I am more familiar with this type of protection. 

The Black Totem cam proved absolutely invaluable in Norway, it proved to be the perfect size for smaller parallel cracks hidden by powder snow.

4. Same planet yet otherworldly 

I still can’t get over the view when the mountains are situated right next to the ocean, “breathtaking” doesn’t do it justice and you really have to witness it yourself to understand what I can’t express in words. .

In Norway, you can be atop a mountain and gaze out over the fresh, crystal clear, bright blue water, punctuated only by the shimmering, glistening reflections of the mountains – the very mountain you’re clinging to. The brightness of the colours and the sight truly feels otherworldly.

There is a romanticism to Scotland’s lochs, nestling amongst rugged mountains and the glens carved out by ancient glaciers surrounded by craggy hills. When the weather is clear, you can see for miles and wonder at the uninterrupted beauty of the wilderness.

5. Good things come 

This winter has taught me a lot about patience. Nothing comes easily when dealing with such changeable weather.

In the Alps, I am accustomed to winters with day after day of clear blue skies and sunshine. Norway and Scotland, by contrast, have days of perpetual drizzle, not even rain. Instead of procrastinating on my inability to climb, I would venture into the towns and experience the culture they have to offer..

I take for granted that in the Alps I can most likely get a lift up high and climb in a light snowfall without getting soaking wet on an approach. There isn’t that luxury in Scotland and Norway, there are essentially no lifts and the ascents start from the ocean, fjords or lochs.

But the climbing Gods are good and rewarded my patience with regular breaks in the weather that allowed for truly spectacular climbing experiences.

Fay climbing in Norway. Photo by Jan Virt 

So I have concluded 

The anticipation of the climb, constant weather watching and checking gear over… and over… and over…  in readiness are far outweighed once that break in the weather comes.

The fact that it isn’t easy and that you have to play the waiting game ultimately make climbing Scotland and Norway a completely different experience – one that I will cherish and repeat many times to come.

Text: Fay Manners

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Salathe Wall, by Max Didier

A story of our Chilean ambassador, Max Didier, who last year for these dates, embarked on the adventure of trying to free climb the Salathe Wall, in the Yosemite Valley.

Text: Max Didier

Photos: Nicolas Gantz

Max Didier Offwidth

Last September, my colleagues Nicolas Gantz, Carlos Lastra, Diego Diaz and I embarked on the adventure of trying the free ascent of the Salathe Wall.

Shortly after starting the project, an unfortunate incidental ended with Diego back to Chile. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do anything to avoid their departure.

“Diego left for home and with him my hopes of climbing Salathe in free”

I understood that the project was finished at that time and take it immediately to the train station. Diego left for home and with him also my hopes of climbing Salathe in free.

When returning to Camp 4 I did not know if this trip made sense, without my partner it was impossible to make the ascent. Luckily, a friend named Austin quickly joined us in the project, which I put into action again.

On the day of the try we got up at 4 am and started to climb the Freeblast. At 11 am we were in the pitch 12 (Heart Ledges), there we ate something and continue until the pitch 20. We came to rest to “The Alcove” at about 4 pm. A long day but we already had the 20 first pitches liberated.

The next morning we continue early towards the first crux of the route; the famous Boulder Problem, which I was able to sent at the second try. At about 1 pm we were already eating and resting before the pitch 26.

Max Didier Rest

Max Didier Totem Cam

The third day we woke up early in “The Block”. We prepare everything and continue towards the second crux of the route: the Enduro Corner. I was able to sent at the first try. Very happy we continue to the roof where Freerider and Salathe Wall are divided.

I was able to send the roof onsigth and the joy was very high. We were already on the edge of the Headwall and I decided to climb them artificial to save energy and arrive to the “Long Ledge” (our camp for the next days). During the climb in artificial take advantage to read well the lengths. At 3 pm on the third day we were already installed in Long Ledge. We decided to take the fourth day of rest to recover the body and the hands.

That day was wonderful, we woke without alarm on a terrace 800 meters from the ground without worries, just eat and rest. We could contemplate the valley and see from above other teams climbing different routes of the captain.

Bivouac Salathe Wall

The next morning we had breakfast and go down until the next three pitches to begin working. The first is an open dihedral length, slightly overhanging, with broad cracks and slab output with small feet. It took me all the morning to learn the correct sequence.

The sixth day on the wall was incredible. Early in the morning we wait for the light of the sun and went to the first pitch of the Headwall. I heated in a first try and felt that the next try I could chain. I memorized the sequence again and done it without expectations, I passed the dihedral and I could stop on the slab, finally I reached the anchor.

The second pitch is a crack of 40 meters with two small roofs that varies its width from fingers to tight hand. I wanted to give it all in the first try and I started climbing through the hard sections at the edge of falling. I was advancing slowly, becoming more tired, until I found a handshake before the final crux.

Finally, exhausted and without knowing the sequence, I tried to solve twice the exit and in the third attempt I flew. The try lasted 45 minutes.

Max Didier Boulder Problem

I felt the days on the wall and needed to recover my hands to give back to the crack of the second pitch so, after two days of climbing we decided to take rest.

We wake up early on the 8th, have a light breakfast and go down to the anchor of the second pitch. I started climbing with a little bit of anxiety and feeling tired of the days on the wall. The arms and legs did not yield what I had expected and I flew before I even reached the first crux. I understood that I was exhausted but tried the length twice more, without success. Exhausted I felt the impotence of not being able to climb the route. I also felt the mental tiredness of thinking about climb the route for so many days and seeing how my possibilities ran out.

“We had done everything according to the plan. The logistics and the team worked perfectly. My companions supported me a lot and that gave me much joy and tranquility”

When we came to rest we saw that we had food left to try another day. We decided not to surrender and try the crack one last time. We had done everything according to the plan. The logistics and the team worked perfectly. My companions supported me to a lot and that gave me much joy and tranquility. We went to sleep without putting the alarm for the next day. We plan to climb the crack in the afternoon so we have more rest time.

On the ninth day I woke up and looked at the crack, it was strange because I no longer felt that desire to climb it. We have lunch and prepared to go down to try it for the last time. When I was going down the rope, I looked at the route and felt pain in my hands and feet. The body seemed not to recover during the night and the head was filled with thoughts outside the climb. Finally, I decided not to try again. I released the strings and continued the 5 pitches to the summit. The route had won this battle.

Max Didier Fighting on Salathe

We went to summit with the last lights, we ate, celebrated the try and went to sleep. We woke up in the majestic top of the captain after 9 days on the wall, with many feelings. On the one hand a bit frustrated and disappointed of my performance. On the other hand I felt the happiness of having a great learning of humility and tolerance.

Now I just look forward to reviving this beautiful experience with Nicolas and Agustine, and I hope to be better prepared and be able to climb the Salathe Wall.

“Climbing is a sport where progress is linked to experience and that cannot be accelerated”

Today I am training full of motivation, to continue pushing my limits and achieve more ambitious goals. I have seen that little by little everything is possible, you only have to be patient. Climbing is a sport where progress is linked to the experience and that can not be accelerated.

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Story about a very long journey, by Fabian Buhl (FFA of Déjà)

Déjá (8c+) FFA

Story about a very long journey tells the story of commitment and dedication to face the first free climb of one of the most difficult multipitch routes in the world: Déjà, 8c+ (Rätikon)

Words: Fabian Buhl

Déjá (8c+) FFA
Déjá (8c+)

A totally new adventure started when Beat Kammerlander told me 5 years ago that I should check out Déjà. It has never seen a free ascent until then, although he has worked on it intensively between 1995 until 97. On my first glance onto the topo I found out it has been first ascended by my friends Michi Wyser and Andres Lietha (at that time I knew Michi, only).

I met Andres first during the winter 2018/spring of 2019 in Ticino. We spoke about Déjà and he directly offered to support me.

Andres Lietha Déjá
Andres Lietha belaying during the FFA of Déjá

In the spring of 2015, I finally accepted the challenge and decided to analyze the crux sections of the route. After a time of dedication, I can finally find a method that allowed me to imagine for the first time the possibility of “redpoint” the route. The truth is that I have never had to work as hard as with Déjà to get to decipher all the movements of a route of these characteristics.

I went one season after another to Rätikon, often only to play and optimize the movements of the route. Shortly after starting to analyze it, I realized that I needed extraordinary conditions, since the type of climbing did not allow to climb on very hot days, because I would end up slipping.

Fabian during the FFA of Déjà
Fabian during the ascent

In autumn 2018 I decided to dedicate enough time on my agenda to face the challenge with full commitment. I needed to plan in advance the training to take my physical level to the ideal conditions to face climbing.

It took me a lot to acquire the physical conditions I wanted, but finally on October 6 I was back in Rätikon. The truth is that even though the physical conditions helped me during the climbing, the type of route required a precision and such a technique, that I had to memorize all the movements again in order not to make any mistakes. The disadvantage was that I could never try more than 3 or 4 times the movements of the crux, since the crimps are so small that just break your skin.

I knew from previous years that the main priority was to have no any cut. Therefore, I always invested the first try in the hard pitch. After a couple of attempts I was going to concentrate on the rest, which also required a technical and expecial dedication.

“I decided that the ideal conditions for releasing the pitch were one day without sun and a temperature of -2 to 5 °C.”

Having worked all the pitchs I called a couple of friends to come with me to try to redpoint the route, but the truth is that the crux remained a difficult problem to solve. I studied the movements intensely and discovered exactly what time of day and at what temperature I should try. So I decided that the ideal conditions to release the pitch were one day without sun and a temperature of -2 to 5 °C.

The disadvantage of the last season was that it snowed quite a bit, which complicated the approach with my car. I will remember the day before the redpoint for the rest of my life.

We drove through heavy snow until my old car was completely stuck. Not worried about the situation, we made the backpack and went to climb. This would have been a perfect day to free climb Déjà. Unfortunately, the clouds entered and the wind increased considerably.

In the ninth pitch, wind began to stick strongly, which made it impossible for us to keep warm. I tried the pitch a couple of times, but I always ended up falling to the edge of hypothermia. We decided it was time to leave.

I ended up quite discouraged that day, but Andrés told me: “Don’t worry, we’ll come back! Today it is not worth trying.” He was right. While I was doing the rapel, I reflected his words in my mind and relaxed thinking I had all winter ahead.

On the day of the redpoint we made the appointment as usual at 7:42 at the Landquart/Graubünden/Switzerland train station. I got up at 6:00 am and headed to pick it up. That day I did not sleep well and got up with a lot of sleep. Fortunately, at the time I picked up Andrés my motivation increased.

“After four pitches without effort I reached the crux and I could climb it at the first try.”

I have never climbed as much in automatic pilot mode as in that day. After four pitches without effort I reached the crux and I could climb it at the first try. I was surprised that something in which I had worked so long could come out so easy.

Free ascent Deja

I got to the last long and I knew that I only had a 6b+ to reach the top. I knew my story that was already 4 years old would soon end. I climbed the last long and dragged myself to the small rock cave. Andrés got into the cave and I realized that for me it was a story of four years, but for Andrés it was already 27.

I climbed the last easy pitch and crawled into a little rock cave. Andres jugged up into the cave and I realized it was a four year long story for me, but for Andres it was a 27 year long story which got finally finished.

Suddenly, Andrés pulled out a bottle of champagne. Apparently, He had more hope than I did on that day. It was a surreal moment to share the glass of champagne in this unique place. But it was even more the fact that Andrés was in that place 27 years ago to make the first ascesion of Déjà and now he was here after the first free ascent.

Thanks to all my friends for their support, without you it wouldn’t have been possible. 6a+,6c+,6b+,7c,8c+,7c+,6b+,6b+,7c+,7a,8a+,6b+

Celebration FFA déjá
Fabian and Andres celebrating the FFA of Déjà

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“Sense Retorn” (No return)

Totem Cam

Recently realeased at Mendifilm, (international mountain film festival), “Sense Retorn” tells the story of the Totem MT athlete Siebe Vanhee and his the project of opening and FFA of a new route on “Catalunya Wall” in Montrebei (Catalunya).

The film tells how the team, composed by our partner Siebe Vanhee and their friends Roger Molina and Jorge Solorzano, embarked on the adventure of opening a new route on a place where predominates the respect for the #tradclimbing and where the Totem Cam plays an important role due to the peculiarities of this incredible wall.

All of this supported on values like team work and the ethical vision of the mountains which are also the values that orient our activity.


The moments

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