Stefan Glowacz

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If you are searching for a legendary figure in climbing history, look no further than Stefan Glowacz. A strong mind and a strong will, his gentle manners disguise an untameable and resolute mind, tackling a challenging route on a wall, most probably on a remote corner of the world. Three times winner at the Rock Master in Arco (1987, 1988, 1992) and a highly competitive soul, Stefan gave up competitions to travel far and wide in search of adventure. Among the many expeditions, Baffin Island, Russia, Canada, Venezuela, Oman and Brazil, all conducted by fair means and with one goal in mind: freedom in choosing his destinations and in the approach, be it a kayak to Canada, crossing the Antarctic with a sailing yacht or on a canoe in the Venezuelan jungle. An entrepreneur as well as a climber, Stefan founded Red Chili, a successful and highly esteemed company, together with his friend Uwe Hofstädter, twenty years ago. Where does adventure begin and where does it end for Stefan? How did he develop such a passion for the climbing world and the challenges one may be faced up with? Let’s find out.

It would appear that climbing was an obligation for you at the beginning. How did it all start?   Well, my parents were and are proper mountain enthusiasts and moved to the south of Germany because of the mountains you can find there. Both my sister and I were pretty much always strapped to a rucksack and would go on hikes every single week-end in the summer. I cannot recall any seaside holiday, it would always be the mountains. Kids may become fed up with this and stop pursuing mountain activities when they get older, but I was always connected to the mountains. As I found hiking boring, I focused on climbing. I attended an ice-climbing course at first, which I did not enjoy so much, but a year later a rock-climbing course gained my attention. It was exactly what I was looking for and the start of many voyages.

You certainly travelled at length. Your Oman adventure was something quite unique.        Yes, I went to Oman with Chris Sharma in 2014. We wanted to climb this cave in Majlis Al Jin. The resort and the project were indeed quite exceptional, which is why I was interested in it. At the beginning, however, the plan seemed undoable, because caves are usually wet with loose rock, but this is a dry chamber, with no water whatsoever: it’s akin to a cathedral. The only way in is via two holes, and hardly any water can sift through, which is why the rock is solid. The first time I went there, its dimensions really struck me: I had never seen something like it in my entire life beforehand. I rappelled down to check the rock conditions and it was very solid, just perfect for climbing, so we set off with the project.

Why Chris Sharma? Had you climbed with him beforehand?  No, never, though I had known of him for quite some time. He is one of the few climbers of the “young” generation to have inspired me; he is very creative and always pushes the limits. Other climbers may be stronger than him, but his spirit and approach are captivating. When he started climbing, he was fascinated by my achievements in competitions and so we sort of inspired each other from different points of view.

 Will there be more projects with him?I have to say he is so much into sport climbing, but that no longer suites me. I am more focused on expeditions, and Chris does not enjoy suffering for a long time. He is also very busy and wants to set up some business to make a living out of climbing.  So we may do something together again, but certainly no expeditions.

March 2013. You climbed Seven Giants in a Siberia expedition. Quite an unusual destination.  Red Bull talked to me about this place, as Red Bull Russia wanted to organise a competition or a race there. It felt like it was so far away, so remote and so unbelievably cold that it seemed impossible to be able to do something there, so they let the whole thing drop. But I was still fascinated by it and thought I could go and take a look for myself. I was there in December, but it was too early, with not enough snow and ice to move around safely, then it started to be so cold, with temperatures reaching -50 C and so we decided to quit. We returned three months later and it was much better, with slightly warmer temperatures and enough snow to allow us to move around. I would say that getting there is an adventure in itself. If you look at these icy pillars, they are indeed astonishing, but the climb is not technical, neither difficult, and rather uninteresting. The ambience and the setting, as well as the difficulties in getting there, make this a unique experience.

I’ve heard that the locals criticised you for climbing these pillars.  No, that is untrue. They don’t care so much. There is a myth around this area. The older generation believe that there are ghosts in this place and if you venture out, they will get hold of you. They don’t even want to talk about them, but the younger generations are not interested in this at all. The story goes that seven giants once walked across the hill to kill another tribe: one of the members of this tribe was playing the drum, but he was so fascinated by the scenery that he stopped in awe of it. At this moment the giants were transformed into stone. This is one of the seven Russian wonders, so the place is quite renowned among the locals, but they are not so fussed about it at all.

In April 2008 you set off for a trip to Baffin Island, looking for a wall that you were not even sure it existed. It’s fascinating how you decide to embark on such projects: can the expedition itself be more important than the actual goal?  I would say that the climbing is only one aspect of expeditions such as this one, and it’s not the most important one. If climbing is my focus, then I devote myself to sport climbing and go to places like Spain, Italy or France for instance. If you are after remote places and walls, other aspects may well overshadow the climbing, for instance where to go, how to find a certain wall with the features we have in mind. Are there the mountains we expect? Will it be possible to set up a very hard climb? There are so many questions that the climbing then takes a minor role when set into the bigger picture of an expedition. I am a really passionate climber and adventurer at the same time: I would say the latter aspect came into being after my competition career finished and I wanted it to have the same standard of the standard I had reached when I was competing. When I go into an expedition the question of how I get to a certain wall – and how I get back to civilisation – acquire the same role as the climbing itself.

Gaurishankar, Nepal. April 2011. This was the first time you tackled complex projects at altitude.  I had always been looking for interesting projects in the Himalayas. All the mountains I knew did look appealing, but I found all the red tape regarding permits, agencies and so on just too exhausting. I go to the mountains because I want to be free and make my own decisions, though that is not possible under these circumstances. I did not warm too much to the way climbing was conducted down there.

So how come Gaurishankar?  Well, at one point I thought I had to give it a go, as opposed to just be an outside observer. At 7134m, Gaurishankar may not be the highest mountain in the area, but the wall we had intended to climb, the south face, with its 1800m length, was very challenging. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, and not the easiest if it’s your first Himalayan expedition. I guess that’s why I was so nervous at the beginning.

You haven’t always succeeded the first time you attempted a mountain, for instance in Roraima Tepuis in Venezuela or in Patagonia, but this time you did not feel like going back. Why?   Altitude was difficult to come to terms with, I felt a lot of pressure, and realised that climbing a wall like that would entail six days to reach the top and three to come down. All in all you would spend a week on the face. Any minor glitch could prove fatal, and I do not want to risk my life for things like this any longer. Perhaps age and experience teach me this; I believe that life is too beautiful to risk throwing it away on a wall. I came to realise this while I was there.

You often talk about red tape and how stressful that is, in particular regarding permits to go to a certain place. Mountaineers sometimes have to refocus because their permits for a specific goal have been denied. How would you react, were this the case?  I need to be attracted to a mountain, and cannot switch this enthusiasm at the drop of a hat, as you are sometimes forced to do with permit allocations.  When I organise an expedition, I want to go where nobody cares about what I do. I set off and a couple of weeks later I go back to civilisation. That’s freedom in my terms. It happened that we would walk for days before we could see the face of the mountain we had come to climb: if you move forward and never sleep in the same camp, then suddenly your target appears and it’s a marvellous experience. You have to try and build a relationship with the mountain you are courting, and if I don’t feel this connection, I cannot climb it.

What role do your sponsors have in your choice of place?  I have complete freedom in this and were they to guide me in my choices, I simply would not accept it, as it would mean it’s not the right partner for me. For this reason I founded Red Chili twenty years ago. I did not want to be obliged to follow rules, but be free to set my own. I wanted to have something in the background, which would financially support me.

Had you envisaged it would become such a big company? Do you still have an active part in this?  Well, I am not simply the co-founder. My friend Uwe and I we have a 50/50 ownership. He oversees the daily business, but strategic decisions are taken together. At the company grew bigger, it meant I had to invest more and more in it, and I enjoy this fully. It’s akin to an expedition. We started it, in fact, thinking that nobody better than climbers could set up something like this, as it is part of our DNA. When we climbed in Yosemite, we felt the need to climb with sensible shoes, for ours were just terrible, and we came up with our own products.  We tried to get all the necessary information to set up a company, what our competitors were doing, R&D and so on; it was just so exciting, exactly like a proper adventure. And it’s still the case now. If I reach the stage I cannot climb anymore, then I would put all my energy into this. I was lucky enough to lead an independent life, just the way I wanted to, so anything that comes now is a gift.

Do you ever think about your competition days?   After Tupilak, we adopted an overland approach and it was the first one carried out by fair means. We realised that was exactly the way we wanted our expeditions to be led, so we carried on that way for all our other projects and searched for new ideas, for instance Greenland with canoes, a sailing boat to Antarctica and so on.

You make it sound smooth and easy, but you’ve certainly encountered glitches and problems.  Of course, these projects are all tough and hard. I would sometimes wonder “why am I dong this?”, but then you know that you always have to suffer in an expedition, if you want to test your limits. There is no playing around with it.

You were nominated for the Piolets d’Or in 2005 for your route on Cerro Murallon in Patagonia, together with Robert Jasper. What role does this prize play for you?  Well, I am not bothered by it all. You should not search for your goals with the idea that maybe you’ll be nominated for a Piolets d’Or, so this award adds a touch of competition to the mountaineering world, where there should not be. When Robert and I were nominated, I told him that, were we to win the award, we would not go on stage and we would not accept it. We wanted to make a clear statement. I think this prize is a farce; it is not possible to judge achievements in mountaineering, as there are so many different components, such as creativity, performance, risk and so on. Adventure races and climbing, ski touring or trail competitions exist for that purpose.

You have just come back from Baffin Island, after your third expedition there.  What difference was there this time and why did you go back?  Baffin is a magical place for adventure and big wall climbing. The conditions are harsh and logistics can be a real challenge. Our expedition was conceived to be ‘by fair means”, but carrying all the necessary gear for a big wall first ascent was challenging.

… Stay tuned for more!!

 

All pictures cop. Stefan Glowacz, unless otherwise stated.

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Cogne Ice Opening – Climbers on the rocks

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Picture by Hugo Vincent

Cogne. Ice. Opening.   Three words you should be familiar with by now. Cogne is famous the world over for its impressive ice climbing scene, its welcoming atmosphere and the typical Italian savoir faire, and the Ice Opening has been part of it for quite some time now.

The brainchild of Matthias Scherer, put together with the help of Tanja Schmitt and her twin sister Heike, the Ice Opening owes a lot to the guides who make it all happen, helping setting up the ropes and assisting during the workshops, and the sponsors, plus the many other friendly faces who lend a hand.

The event run over three days this year, with enthusiastic climbers defying the cold and having a good time hitting the ice. The evening shows entailed a book presentation with Anna Torretta, Jerome Blanc-Gras, Eleonora Delnevo and Matteo Giglio, and the All about the ice film night: Matthias Scherer showed two videos of a recent, ephemeral line he climber early on this month with Tanja and Heike Schmitt in Canada, and their record ski tour of the Gran Paradiso tour last spring. Mathieu Maynadier brought in stills from the new line he opened in Pakistan, with the film La Scoumoune; Klemen Premrl brought adrenaline with Interstellar Spice, a video on the Helmcken Falls climb he had carried out with Tim Emmet; Jeff Mercier captured the audience attention when he showed Projet Kiruna,outlining a trip he undertook in Lapland with sled dogs, looking for some interesting ice to climb; François Cazzanelli showed three videos of two speed records on the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa (Signal Kuppe) and an expedition to China. Enough to keep us all entertained!

Meeting new people, connecting with ice climbers and cherishing the cold. The Ice Opening is all this and more. With freezing temperatures and crisp, cold days ahead, we can be sure we’re in for a sound ice-climbing season.

Let the games begin…

 

All pictures by Lucia Prosino except when stated otherwise.

The event is sponsored by Black Diamond, Petzl, Grivel, La Sportiva, Camp Cassin and CT Climbing Technology.

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Tour du Mont Blanc with a tent. Yes.

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Waking up to admire the Grandes Jorasses, anyone??

Hiking amid glorious mountain landscapes, contemplating the immense vertical walls of one of the world’s most famous – perhaps too famous – mountains: Mont Blanc. What’s not to like about this venture? Walking along easy, marked paths, facing gentle elevation gains and smiles galore. Well, in truth, the Tour du Mont Blanc is long. Very long. Especially if you carry a 10-kg backpack. Still, we were up for the challenge and set up everything at the drop of a hat.

Organising the Tour is relatively easy, there is a well-established circuit – its website is here  – where you have access to updated information and precious pieces of advice. You then grab a map, sketch out a rough plan and Bob’s your uncle. The average amount of time needed is eight days with 6-8 hours walking per day.

You can choose to stay in huts – some are more expensive than others – or opt for a tent. I don’t always enjoy the noisy atmosphere of huts, where your neighbour is invariably busy with his or her snorathon, so sleeping in a tent was just sublime – when it wasn’t raining, hailing or we had a thunderstorm over our heads, that is!

France is very well organised, in that you can place your tent pretty much everywhere, offering regulated free camping areas with fresh water close by, while camping is only allowed above 2,500 metres in Italy and altogether forbidden in Switzerland outside designated areas.

Wherever we went, we were greeted with encouraging faces, magnificent vistas and silence. Silence is so precious these days that we all take it for granted. Do we still know its meaning? Do we comprehend how vital it is? Maybe not, since we’re all always too busy with social media or interacting with a computer these days.

Complaining about this trend is somewhat pointless, after all that’s the direction society is going, however I invite everyone to experience the beauty of wild camping. Whether in the shade of Mont Blanc or elsewhere, as the saying goes, the world is your oyster, and you know you cannot simply stand aside and let it go past.

Be adventurous. Be Bold.

 

All pictures © Lucia Prosino

 

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New crag in Lillaz, Cogne… great rock and rad views galore

 

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Climbing equals freedom, balance, dedication, strength and the love of nature.

The Aosta Valley offers countless opportunities for climbers of all grades and tastes, with crags set amid stunning scenery.

One such case is the new Marcello Gerard crag set up by the Cogne guide Alberto Silvestri together with Marco della Noce in Lillaz, Cogne. It offers grades starting at F5a up to F7b; you will find engaging routes requiring delicate moves, making for an exciting venture.

Bathed in the sun all year round, this is the ideal place if you want to hone your skills at the marvellous game of climbing.

Proudly supported by the Guide di Cogne and Peakshunter.

All pictures © Sibilla Leonida, except where otherwise stated.

 

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LIllaz Cristina Borgesia

Picture © Cristina Borgesio

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The opening party…  Picture © Debora Bionaz

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Gran Paradiso, a tour in Heaven with Peakshunter.

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Going up Gran Paradiso

Snowy peaks, endless ski descents, engaging routes and a taste for adventure Does this sound like Heaven? Well, it is. This is a world famous ski tour set amid Italy’s first national park, the Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso. Focusing around the only 4,000-metre peak entirely on the Italian soil, the Gran Paradiso (4,061 m), this is a jewel tour that any ski touring enthusiast should have under his or her belt.

Starting in Valnontey and ending in Lillaz both close to Cogne, the tour touches ridges, cols, peaks and superb descents, intertwined with cozy, welcoming mountain huts, the Vittorio Sella, Federico Chabod, Vittorio Emanuele and Pontese, in the Aosta Valley and Piedmont’s Valle dell’Orco. The days are long and the stages can be technical, involving rappels, ridge crossing, the use of crampons and an ice axe, and you’ll have to carry a heavy rucksack. All the efforts and the energies deployed will pay off in the end, however, as the scenery you’ll encounter is among the most dramatic and exquisite in the Alps.

If you are after big crowds and noise, look elsewhere. This is a remote, often wild corner of the Alps, where the cold snaps and the wind often blows mercilessly. It is the perfect playground if you want to test your skills and endurance.

We were given sound advice by our guide, Alberto “Silver” Silvestri, both before and during our tour: vital information, often small pieces of advice which enhance your experience and make it an enjoyable one, whether it’s setting the correct pace or telling you what to wear. Alberto is part of Peakshunter, a team of young, motivated and strong mountain guides who love their jobs and want to share their passion. They organise adventures pretty much everywhere in the Alps and beyond.

If you wear a smile on your face, everything will be easier in life; this is especially true when talking about these guides, who will lead you onto hip and groovy adventures, whatever you’ll choose to do.

All pictures © Lucia Prosino and Amin Raouf.

Sponsored by Dynafit, Pomoca, Grivel, Julbo, Tascapan, Distillerie Saint Roch, Farmacia Dott. Nicola

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Snow, what art thou? Arc’teryx Chamonix Momentum at the Bonatti Hut.

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What happens when you put several skiers and snowboarders together, shuffle in three cool guides, one skilled photographer, a breath-taking setting, marvellous views of Mont Blanc and a cosy hut? Well, ask the latest participants to Isabelle Santoire’s recent venture, two days of Snow Awareness at the Bonatti Hut in outstanding Val Ferret in Italy.

The recipe is a tried-and-tested one: fun-loving folks plus good snow and sunny weather equal big smiles and a cheerful atmosphere. Still, we were not merely there to have fun. People joined the event because Isa is a lively lady, for sure, but we also wanted to learn about snow. Snow, what art thou? Well we all know it’s candid, fun to play with, but can also be treacherous and unforgiving. The core of the event was understanding snow: How do you set a track? What is the best way to reach your goal? Should you simply aim to go from A to B opting for the steepest option? Or follow your feet and your sense of direction? In the Aosta Valley, more than elsewhere, tracks tend to be steep and encourage speed, but you’ll need a strong stamina or love races to fully enjoy it.

Rick Marchant, snow expert and Chamonix-based mountain guide, revealed some tips and skills to make your outing smoother and more interesting. You need to be able to READ snow to make the most of it. What does this mean? Do you have to stop and make in-depth analysis, stratigraphy and all that jazz? Well, that is necessary sometimes, especially when the terrain looks and feels unsafe and there is an avalanche risk. Other times, however, a glance is all it takes to know that that particular patch of snow skies well. Aren’t we after a good time?

Quite clearly, however, the emphasis is set on safety on any such outing, so practice at searching beacons and using probes and shovels was also undertaken under the watchful eyes of Isa and Sam Beaugey, the other guide taking part in the event.

The most interesting evening talk was the AAA discussion, led by Rick: the three big As of snow awareness are Aspect – Angle – Altitude. Bear these three elements in mind and Bob’s your uncle. Consider, for instance, how high the sun is and what angle it will hit the slope you’re about to reach, think about the altitude and the snow level at a particular time of the year; consider the intensity of the wind and what direction it blows, if wind slabs have been recorded and what degree of humidity snow will possess; assess how many skiers are in your party and what weight you will bring on a particular slope. Well, these are only a few of the points you’ll have to consider when setting out on a ski touring walk, trying to make the most of your day and enjoying the run!

See you at the next event!

 

More info on Chamonix Momentum here 

All pictures by Hugo Vincent Photography, except where stated otherwise.

The event was sponsored by Arc’teryx

 

 

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Approaching Col Malatra – Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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On top of the Tete entre deux Sauts.

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Cogne Ice Opening 2016 – Emotions within nature

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Photo Hugo Vincent

 

Ice climbing. The magic of hitting an ephemeral frozen waterfall, defying the elements and living for the moment. Expert ice climbers will tell you that there is so much more to ice climbing than the mere ascent of a line. It’s all about the experience, living here and now, creating strong bonds within your rope party, accepting challenges and facing them head-on.

While the progress in technology, both in terms of gear and clothing, allows you to test your limits, the mountains can always strike back, the power of nature being beyond human control.

What are we to learn from an event such as the Cogne Ice Opening, having now reached its fifth edition? First of all, the human facet is always the most important one: as with any field of life, some people may be more committed than others, but one thing is common to all, i.e. respect for the mountains and those around you.   In Lillaz, where the air is cold and the wind unforgiving, a spellbinding buzz will enthuse and you will find yourself sharing a rope with new and old friends, smiling despite the not so comfortable conditions, hearing motivating stories, and having a good time.

As was the case for the past editions, several renowned and truly respectable mountaineers walked the stage of the All about the Ice movie night this year. From François Damilano to Mathieu Maynadier and Rudolf Hauser, plus Matthias Scherer , the mind behind the Ice Opening. He is usually on stage to present other athletes, while he was asked a few questions by none other than Monsieur Damilano this time, primarily concerning decisions. Matthias showed his spellbinding Anathema film, on ice climbing in Norway, together with his wife Tanja and her twin sister Heike, a mountain guide. When circumstances are harsh and the climbing so committing, the power of the rope party becomes stronger than ever. “I have climbed with Tanja and Heike for so long, that a glance is enough to read their minds and decide what move is next.” Conditions can be tasking in Norway – brittle ice along mammoth lines – so team spirit needs to be high. François Damilano, an endless list of first ascents on ice, including the iconic Repentance, under his belt, recalled his first encounter with Cogne, upon invitation by Giancarlo Grassi, and showed a video which marked the evolution of ice climbing from the beginning of the new century, to the somewhat new dry tooling activities. Extreme alpinist Rudolf Hauser explored the media influence into crafting ice climbing videos, and also illustrated his solo project, climbing two lines in the Hochkogel region in Austria (1000 and 1.400 metres) and linking them with a 20 km run, all in just over 11 hours, in 2014. Mathieu Maynadier, who completed astounding first ascents and expeditions in the Karakoram, Alaska, Nepal, Peru, and many other places, enthralled the public with the first video from the Maewan project. The brainchild of Erwan Le Lann, Maewan is a small boat which will go around the world in search of beguiling projects for four years. This first part involved sailing from north Iceland to Greenland pursuing cool lines to ski, thus having a sailor, a freerider and an alpinist on board.

The world is your oyster, it would seem, for the possibilities are endless in the mountains, if you put your mind to it. The Ice Opening has, once again, brought smiles and adventure, fun and commitment. Could the ice climbing season have started in a better way? I strongly doubt so.  Venture out and explore, listen to your emotions and follow your instinct. The mountains are waiting.

 

The event was kindly sponsored by La Sportiva, Arc’teryx, Petzl, Black Diamond, Sterling Rope, Suunto and Glorify.

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Photo Nicolas Magnin

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John Bracey belaying Nicolas Magnin (Photo N. Magnin)

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Go girls!

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Many people are eager to hit the ice.

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Matthias Scherer interviewed by Francois Damilano

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Photo Hugo Vincent

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Photo Hugo Vincent

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Photo Hugo Vincent

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Jeff Mercier at the dry tooling crag.