Life in a tent. Big fun. Or is it?

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I was in Guillestre, close to Briançon, when I slept under the stars for the very first time. A mattress, a sleeping bag and Bob’s your uncle. Watching the moon and the stars and falling asleep listening to grasshoppers in the distance… what’s not to like? Although most people will sneer at my enthusiasm for such a mundane past time, this first experience proved vital for me. It encouraged me, in fact, to try and do more.

I often meet top-rank mountaineer who think that sleeping in a rusty hut at 3800 metres is luxury – read Marko Prezelj’s account on this here and so my latest adventure around Monte Rosa may look insignificant to them, but let’s not forget that, in life, we progress through little steps.

I will not offer you quotes from Whitman or Thoreau about life in the woods and finding your own path. This is not about rediscovering yourself, being in touch with nature or rejecting consumerism. This is about accepting new challenges head on. Sleeping in a tent on a glacier, anyone? Sure, that’s better than sleeping on a glacier WITHOUT a tent – a common, often compulsory option for most mountaineers – but it still needs some preparation, stamina and good will.

I love Monte Rosa, that’s where I am from, where my roots lie, so clearly that felt like home – we were above the Mantova Hut, at about 3500 m, but a hard, snowy ground will put some strain on your back even if you are as happy as a clam. Who feels like going up a 4,000-metre peak the day after? Well, we did and we struggled, but we loved it.  The Capanna Margherita, the highest hut in Europe at 4554 m is simply stunning.

It’s easy mountaineering, that’s for sure, but my happiness was not in the least diminished after reaching it.

The mountains are your oysters.  I encourage you to try and accept new challenges, be they big or small.   You will feel rewarded and will ask for more.

 

All pictures © Lucia Prosino

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Digging up base camp

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A room with a view…

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Marvellous sunset.

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Going up…

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A feather in the sky.

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Oh the joys of getting up…

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Good night!

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Perfect beauty.

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Happy.

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Nature is a work of art.

 

 

 

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Triple bill in Darfo: Mick Fowler, Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson.

Mick Fowler high on Gave Ding

Mick Fowler high on Gave Ding (Photo M. Fowler archive)

 

An apparently run-of-the-mill village where you pass by on your way to the spa, the local climbing crag and the many mountains. Or so it would seem… Montagne al Cinema has been running in Darfo Boario Terme for fifteen years and its list of guests is a who’s who in the world of mountaineering: from Patrick Edlinger to Manolo, the Favresse brothers to Christophe Dumarest, Catherine Destivelle to Leo Houlding. Many names, all encompassing exciting, compelling, fascinating stories.

The first two dates in this year’s edition, where I was the translator, presented two different worlds: Himalayan mountaineering with Mick Fowler and “Once upon a climb”, that is the climbing dream lived by Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson. – check their website here

It would be far too easy to think that Mick, a taxman in “real life”, and Caroline and James, a former competition champion and a highly accomplished trad climber, all pursue their adventures simply to follow their passion. You’ll need far more that mere fervour to achieve their results. Determination, curiosity, organisation, the willingness to “open your eyes” and embrace other cultures, different habits, unusual customs are all part and parcel of their success.

Although, clearly, success is not what they’re after. “Success” to them is, for instance, raising money for Caroline’s and James’s charity, Spot or opening new lines in Nepal for Mick (Mick’s latest achievement, together with Paul Ramsden, was reaching the summit of Gave Ding (6400 m) on 22 October 2015).

What are we to make of all this? How can we be inspired by them? Surely, setting up a Himalayan expedition, opening a new line on Reunion Island or repeating famously difficult routes in the south of France or risky ones in the UK aren’t for everybody, but this is not the point. The point is that, ultimately, grades do not matter: sharing a passion is, in fact, enough to unite people, and their stories set an example of how dreams can indeed come true, if you put your mind to it.

Caroline’s next project is the repetition of the Voie Petit on the Grand Capucin, opened by Arnaud Petit and Stephanie Bodet in 1997 and freed by Alexander Huber in 2005. Born and bred on the tropical Reunion Island, she will have to come to terms with the cold, ice, climbing at high altitude, using crampons and sleeping in a tent on a glacier. Leaving your comfort zone to find adventure often means tackling unfamiliar terrain, and this is a case in point.

Mick is turning 60 this year, but will not give up his yearly expedition. “I would be a very unhappy person, were I to do so…”, so stay tuned for more exploits.

If you are short of places to stay in the area around Darfo, do not miss this little gem. The B&B La Teiera  is cozy, to say the least. Step back in time and enjoy the marvellous hospitality of the owners, who have recently renovated this house perched on a small river, with all state of the art comforts.

See you all at Darfo for Montagne al Cinema 2017!

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Mick Fowler in Darfo

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Chatting with Mick during his talk.

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The magic couple. (Photo The North Face)

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James Pearson on Daddy Cool (E8 6b) on the sandstone cliff of Carreg-y-Barcud in North Pembroke. He flashed the route and made a more direct ascent in the process. (Photo The North Face)

 

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Caroline on Mezzogiorno di Fuoco, Sardinia (Photo Riky Felderer)

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Mick Fowler during his Gave Ding Expedition. (Photo Fowler archive)

 

Colin Haley. A Patagonian Love Affair

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Sunrise on the South East ridge of Cerro Torre as Colin Haley leads the rappel down after a long day of traversing the range together with Alex Honnold – Photo Colin Haley, Alex Honnold

“I’m an old-school crusty alpinist”. Seattle-born Colin Haley greets us with a smile and the devil-may-care attitude, seasoned with sincere modesty, typical of most adventurers. In Chamonix at the Epic Tv shop, Colin illustrated his pivotal, impressive, brave ascents in Patagonia to an enthusiastic crowd. Thirteen seasons in this typically inhospitable territory mean your skin is bound to get thicker and thicker, and Colin’s motivation clearly grew stronger as his objectives came into focus.

Chief among them, the Torre Traverse in a day with Alex Honnold (31 January 2016) and his first solo ascent of Torre Egger (January 19). The latter, first climbed by Americans Jim Donini, John Bragg and Jay Wilson in 1976, is considered the most difficult and seldom-climbed peak of the Patagonian Torre Group.

What motivated him? What drove him to such a challenging exploit? “Finding the balance between motivation and keeping concentration levels high was sometimes tasking”, he admits. Apart from the technical difficulties of the climb itself, the mental aspect is not to be overlooked at all; one silly mistake, such as dropping your rucksack or, God forbid, one rope, and you certainly shuffle off this mortal coil.

Colin is not new to climbing solo: he made the first solo ascent of Cerro Standhardt in 2010 and in 2012 he accomplished the first solo ascent of the north buttress of Mount Hunter in Alaska. Recently, he soloed the California Route on Fitz Roy… and the list could go on and on.

Together with Alex Honnold, the Torre Traverse in a day is most probably one of the most interesting exploits of the season: enchaining Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger and Cerro Torre in 32 hours “door to door” was an outstanding feature. The first Torre Traverse had been carried out by Colin together with Rolando Garibotti over 4 days in 2008, though this coveted project had been aspired to already twenty years ago by the Italians Ermanno Salvaterra, Andrea Sarchi, Maurizio Giarolli and Ezio Orlandi.

Efficiency, competence and a thorough knowledge of the terrain, Colin comfortable on mixed and iced terrain, and Alex excelling on rock, provided the perfect combination for a successful enterprise.

Colin’s interest in his Patagonian Dreams is still very much alive and kicking, though his other big passion, skiing, takes him to other corners of the world. Chamonix in primis. May the steepest alpine faces be next in line to the throne of Colin?

Stay tuned…

A full report in on Colin’s detailed blog

Colin Haley is sponsored by Patagonia, Petzl and La Sportiva

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Getting ready for the talk… – Photo L. Prosino

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Rope soloing the first pitch of Spigolo dei Bimbi – Photo Colin Haley

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On top of Torre Egger, solo! – Photo Colin Haley

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Alex Honnold leading the North Face of Cerro Torre – Photo Colin Haley/Alex Honnold

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The sequence outlining Colin reaching the top of Torre Egger along the Huber-Schnarf route – Photo Korra Pesce

In the company of women. Connect, experience, share. Explore & Be.

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The cheerful group ! – Cop. Hugo Vincent Photography

And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

An outing with 36 women. Wouldn’t that be a daunting prospect?   Perhaps. Not in modern society, however. Women want to explore, share their experience, learn, meet new people, have fun and just be themselves. This is the credo behind Explore & Be, the new venture set up by mountain guide Isabelle Santoire, supported by Arc’teryx.

What is she planning to do? She is organising events, from ice-climbing to ski-touring, climbing and mountaineering, which bring together people sharing a passion for the mountains and who love sharing their enthusiasm.

The latest project was a two-day ski-touring outing in Switzerland, at the cozy Cabane Brunet, above Lourtier. Girls of all ages and competences met to explore new territories and have fun. Longer and shorter tours were organised, with the help of five guides: Heike Schmitt, Ulrika Asp, Julia Virat and Cecile Thomas, in addition to Isabelle. No competitive frenzy, no desire to prove who’s best, just smiles and good times, under the watchful eyes of ever smiling, highly competent guides.

Blessed by glorious weather and stunning scenery, in addition to some skinning up and skiing down, transceiver camps were organised, as well as a stretching session and an informal discussion on women in the mountains.

During these two days, all I could hear were laughs and words of encouragement. And rightly so. Explore & Be is not about setting records: it’s about creating a spark of enthusiasm among passionate folks, bonding with other like-minded people, learning and sharing.

You will see Isabelle and some of the other guides in the Arc’teryx Academy, held in Chamonix from 16 to 19 June. More info here

Explore & Be is planning to hold more events in the future, of various kinds. Watch this space!    And remember: whatever you do, love life.

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Ryoko Amano and Yvette Evers happy on top of Mont Rogneux – Photo Y. Evers

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Getting instructions from Cecile Thomas – Photo L. Prosino

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A room with a view at the Cabane Brunet – Photo L. Prosino

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Happy under the surveillance of Heike Schmitt – photo L. Prosino

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Shadows…  – Photo L. Prosino

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Catching up with the others – Photo L. Prosino

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Marvellous surroundings – Photo I. Santoire

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Marching up… – Photo Y. Evers

 

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Going up… – Cop. Hugo Vincent Photography

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Cecile Thomas leading the happy group – Cop. Hugo Vincent Photography

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Cop. Hugo Vincent Photography

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The happy winners of two Arc’teryx Jackets!! –  Hugo Vincent Photography

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Skiing down – Hugo Vincent Photography

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Smooth. – Hugo Vincent Photography

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Cecile Thomas – Hugo Vincent Photography

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Heike Schmitt and Julia Virat on the way up – Hugo Vincent Photography

A feast for the eyes, a feast for your soul. Explore & Be.

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A mountain is sincere. The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul.      

Walter Bonatti

L’alpiniste est un homme qui conduit son corps là ou, un jour, ses yeux ont regardé. Et qui revient. 

Gaston Rebuffat

I look at climbing not so much as standing on the top as seeing the other side. There are always other horizons in front of you, other horizons to go beyond and that’s what I like about climbing. 

Chris Bonington

 

We could go on and on, and find quotes that match our own thoughts, our own essence, our fears and beliefs, our expectations and dreams. We all go to the mountains for different reasons, but all aspire to having fun.

Even when conditions are dire, the wind is blowing, you have lost your path and a storm is approaching, we need to find a way to enjoy what’s happening.

Clearly, diverse people tackle projects of varying degrees and difficulty, and we do not necessarily have to climb all the 4,000 m., 7,000 m peaks, and so on to feel content. Little things make big things happen. Isabelle Santoire and Heike Schmitt understood this and have been pushing girls (and boys) up mountains for quite some time, accompanying them in their own pursuits, cherishing their joy and, most importantly, smiling with them along the way.

For this reason, when Isabelle asked me to take part in her new Explore and Be project, a girls-only Ice climbing day in Cogne, I immediately signed in. I knew I was in for a fun day, meeting new people, sharing ideas, getting motivated. This is what Explore & Be is about.

I saw some very enthusiastic faces and most girls were so stunned at how much fun ice climbing is. I bet it’s all down to the relaxed atmosphere, where no real competition is felt, but two rules apply: be safe and have fun.   The idea is to connect people with similar aspirations and interests, both men and women, coming from various countries and bearing differing backgrounds.

More events are planned in the future, so stay tuned! And do not miss them!

 

All pictures by Hugo Vincent Photography.

Proudly supported by Arc’teryx.

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Lecturing on ice axes – useful info indeed.

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Love ice, love life. The Cogne Ice Opening 2015

COGNE ICE OPENING MATTHIAS

Matthias Scherer on Hard Ice Direct, Cogne. Photo Angela Percival/Arc’teryx

 

Ice, ephemeral and fleeting, defining our transient life.

Ice, cold and tough, revealing its secrets with relentless resistance.

And then there is the Ice of the Cogne Ice Opening Festival, where old and new friends meet and the keyword is only one: having fun.

Whether people tackle the ice for the first time or want a tougher challenge, there was something for everyone at the fourth edition of this excellent gathering. People from all over the world reserved their places well in advance and have already set aside some time for next year’s event.  What is its secret? People are SMILING at the Opening. Always.

Clinics were organized over two days and people were happy sharpening their tools, despite unusual warm temperatures all over Europe. It’s cold in winter in Lillaz, didn’t you know? You do know now!

And of course there was the All about the Ice evening, with talks and videos, laughs and tears and the joyful expectation of the raffle.

The evening kicked off with Alex Crudo, member of the Cogne Mountain Guides, talking about the guides’ activities and remembering a prestigious member who sadly passed away this year, Albino Savin. A representative of the Gran Paradiso National Park illustrated the climbing ban on three lines in the Valnontey area because of a bird who has its nest there – the lines you CANNOT climb are Monday Money, Gusto di Scozia, Flash estivo, Flash estivo colonnato centrale, Fiumana di Money. More info here                 Luka Lindic  illustrated his way to alpinism, with images of some of his exploits, such as the Integrale de Peuterey, Rolling Stones on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses – which he free climbed – and his expeditions the world over. Jeff Mercier showed two exciting videos of his link up of three hard routes in Kanderstegg, early this year, with Julien Irilli. Klemen Premrl, who last year enthralled the public with his iceberg climbs, showed a video of his exciting Iceland trip, climbing ice with the aurora borealis in the background, in his the Iceland Trifecta. Matthias Scherer, Tanja and Heike Schmitt rounded off the night with the European premiere of their Stormbringer – No retreat  video on their Norwegian trip.

A big thank you goes to all the guides who helped during the event:  Maël Baguet, Jon Bracey, Matt Helliker, Heike Schmitt, Isabelle Santoire, Cecile Thomas, Maciek Cieselski, Titi Gentet, Patrick Pessi, Jeff Mercier, Patrick Raspo, Marco Farina and Alberto Silver Silvestri.

What are we to learn from all these videos and images? One simple lesson: go beyond your limits, tackle new challenges, but most of all, whatever you do, love life. And do pay a visit to Cogne for excellent ice climbing. As usual, you will not be disappointed.

Proudly sponsored by Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, La Sportiva, Glorify, Sterling, Clif Bar and Suunto.

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Many people during the clinics!

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We are never short of girls at the Cogne Ice Opening!!

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Jeff Mercier illustrating his Kandersteg link-up.

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Francois Cazzanelli and Marco Farina talking about their Cerro Torre ascent. I moderated the evening!

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Luka Lindic gets going at dry tooling in Lillaz. Photo Hugo Vincent

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Having fun on Loie! Photo Hugo Vincent

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Jeff Mercier during his Kandersteg link up. Photo cop Rab

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Klemen Premer in action in Iceland. Photo Tim Kemple

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Matthias Scherer during his Norway trip. Cop Matthias Scherer/Arc’teryx

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When ice climbing is a work of art… at the table. Only at Hotel Ondezana, Cogne

Determination goes a long way: Luka Lindič.

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People often ask me what my blog is about. What is the reasoning behind my choices of alpinists and climbers?   I spend most of my time reading, writing and searching for interesting stories related to the mountain world. I am not interested in records or blockbuster exploits. I am, instead, fascinated by people. Faces which tell a story, expressions that go a long way, glances which convey emotions and leave an enduring impression. This is what I find captivating. A passion for the outdoors and a return to the values of respect and gratitude which we should all aim at.

And, of course, I also admire people who can still breathe adventure and find it wherever they go. Luka Lindič is one such character.   Fresh-faced with piercing eyes and a strong determination, Luka belongs to the new generation of strong, motivated, relentless alpinists.

I have already talked about him here on this blog, praising his determination.

This year, together with Marko Prezelj and Aleš Česen, he won the Piolets d’Or for his ascent of the 6515 m Hagshu in the Indian Himalayas. (North face, ED, 70°-90° III, 1350m).    Here is an abstract of what we talked about.

Let’s start with a provocation. Mick Fowler, attempting Hagshu at the same time as you, wrote an article on his experience, sounding slightly annoyed that, because of the very complicated Indian red tape, two rope parties ended on the same face at the same time. Well, that happens all the time, it’s just part of the game. Nobody has the right to reserve the mountain for himself. It’s as simple as that.

True. The choice of Hagshu was also dictated by that very same red tape.                    Well, the whole trip was very, very stressful. We first wanted to go to Tibet to climb Phola Gangchen, but could not obtain the permit. Then we aimed at another peak in India, Rimo III, but got nowhere. We thought Mukut Parbat could be an option, but we had to abandon that, as well. We finally opted for Hagshu, which proved to be the right choice. It is difficult to keep your motivation high, when you start getting ready for a project, you gather information, but then have to abandon everything. And this happened three times in a very short time frame.

Hagshu is called the Matterhorn of the Himalayas. Do you think it deserves this title?     Yes, I do. We were, in fact, surprised when we obtained permits for it. We found very little information on Hagshu, hardly any decent photo at all. At the moment I am was really into challenging climbs, and was not so interested in exploratory expeditions, so my motivation was not so high. Marko, however, suggested we go and explore the area anyway. Then, when we saw the mountain, we were blown away. We thought that somebody must have hidden all this information somewhere. It seemed strange that such a marvellous face had been kept holed up.

In addition to Hagshu, you opened two more routes during this trip.                               Yes, we also opened Lazan (5750m), East ridge, TD-, max M5, 700m (2000m) and Hana’s men (6300m), West face, TD, max IV, 1100m, which were our acclimatization projects. We tried to save energy during these ascents, so as not to arrive to our final goal, Hagshu, already exhausted.

In 2009, you opened a new route on Bhagirathi II (Gangotri region, Indian Himalayas) together with Marko Prezelj and Rok Blagus. During this trip, you are know to have said that “Reality is not what it seems, it is in fact much worse”                                            During this trip, Marko always used to tease me a lot, making jokes of all sorts, especially about my mother throwing tantrums, had she known where I was. As a reply to his jokes, I said that sentence, which became a sort of motto for the entire expedition.

You also added that this experience helped you. In what way?                                         When you stand below the face you are about to climb, seeing the routes for the first time, they often look impossible or nearly impossible. I believe it is worth trying to climb then and having a go at them, going and checking because you can always turn around if things go pear shaped.

In your film Determination, you talked about mountaineers being “actors”. This is a very strong point, Do you still believe it’s the case?                                                                  Well, I would say so. I completely understand that, when mountaineers want to make a living out of their expeditions or deeds, they need to let the media, their sponsors, and people in general know about their projects. We should not forget, however, that alpinism is not a sport like any other one. If you push your limits in, say, football, you do not risk your life, but I think we should adopt a “conservative” attitude in mountaineering and not let it become a marketing game. One can, in fact, easily feel pressure building up, whose consequences may be fatal, if brought to extremes.   The media are sometimes pushing too much in order to have compelling, enticing, captivating stories to tell.   Mountaineers are also often more concerned with producing films and material in general, rather than focusing on routes and faces to climb.

Does this disappoint you?                                                                                                      Yes, it does. It sometimes happens that, if I am in a group of professional climbers, they talk more about how they will shoot a certain section than how they will actually climb it. They do not seem to be bothered by ropes or techniques, but focus on cameras, videos and photographers. I find this quite sad. Skiers and runners seem to be doing the same, too.  Of course I need to produce some material myself, but it may be of a lower quality and not as sophisticated, because I am always more concerned with the actual climbing.

In 2014, you completed the first free ascent of Rolling Stones on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, together with Luka Krajnc. This is a very prestigious and difficult route but, apparently, its choice came by chance.                                                                     Yes, we had decided to tackle the Goussealt-Desmaison route, but then found out the day before that two other parties were attempting that. I thought the experience would sort of change and not feel so serious anymore, with climbers almost running after each other. I like to be alone in a route to fully experience it. We knew that Rolling Stones was a harder option which had never been free climbed before, but we went all the same.

How much gear did you take with you?                                                                           We were very light, with some bivy equipment, but no portaledge, no haulbag. We only hauled our bags in four pitches, which were rather demanding, as we wanted to free climb the entire route. Otherwise we always climbed with our backpacks on.

2012 was an exceptional year for you. Among your feats, you climbed Divine Providence on the Grand Pilier d’Angle, together with Luka Krajnc. This is considered one of the hardest routes in the Massif. How did that feel?

That was a very good experience. I believe the goal is not only to climb one route or the other, but to do it in a certain style. Luka and I wanted to test ourselves on this project, climbing the route free and in one single push. This can be a stressful choice, for there is not room for mistakes. Errors in route-finding or even a minor falls are not contemplated, as they make you waste a lot of time. And when you know you cannot spend the night on a face like that, time is very precious.

In that same year, you went to the Dolomites and opened a new route there (Forest Gump,VIII+, 650m), North Face of Rocchetta Alta, Bosconero) in September, and then went to Iran in December. Was it a good experience?                                                          I have now been to Iran twice and enjoyed it each time. I think it’s good to go to “unusual” places like this, and see for yourself how the situation really is, whether the media report correct news or not. Meet the locals, experience a new culture. We also saw several good climbers down there, which we had not expected at all. Whenever I go to places like this, only good surprises take place.

People say that the quality of rock is not always that good in Slovenia. You felt at home with the typically chossy Dolomite rock I assume.                                                                Yes, I did! And it’s true, Slovenian rock is not the best you can find, so that prepares you for places like the Dolomites. Our route, Forest Gump, proved to be on good rock. I go to the Dolomites at least once a year, because I think it’s one of the best places to climb in the world. There’s such a big concentration of good, demanding faces in a compact area, so you could spend your entire life climbing there.

Luka Lindič is sponsored by Arc’teryx, Petzl, the Alpine Association of Slovenia and VertiKala X

11_New route in Hagshu north face. (Photo by Marko Prezelj)

The route up Hagshu (photo Marko Prezelj)

31_Luka Lindic in Hagshu north face. (Photo by Marko Prezelj)

Luka on Hagshu north face (Photo Marko Prezelj)

36_Bivouacking in the north wall of Hagshu at an altitude of 6320 m. (Photo by Marko Prezelj)

Bivouacking in the north wall of Hagshu at an altitude of 6320m. (Photo Marko Prezelj)

38_Crossing along the summit ridge to the summit of Hagshu. (Photo by Marko Prezelj)

Crossing along the summit ridge to the top of Hagshu (Photo Marko Prezelj)

42_Descent from Hagshu following the Polish route. (Photo by Luka Lindic)

Descent from Hagshu following the Polish route. (Photo Luka Lindic)

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During the Rolling Stone adventure, Grandes Jorasses (photo Luka Krajnc)

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On Rolling Stones, Grandes Jorasses. (Photo Luka Krajnc)