“Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.”
25.08.2018 – 2pm: Three glasses of rosé and a lot of chocolate pralines for the dessert. Rain outside the window. My preparation for a probably wet project tomorrow begins more or less here. (The consumption of alcohol fills up my energy stocks, but might affect the stamina by thickening the blood. So let’s keep it low today!)
3pm: Watching the rain radar for the Jaun Valley in the canton of Friboug/CH. No very big hope that La Barrière (The Barrier) could still be dry. 30mm of rain the other night. But: A very dry season and what concerns the temperature: finally I will have the ten degrees less, that I am waiting for since June and that I need for the right connection of my skin with the rock.
8pm: Three more glasses of wine for dinner and ice cream plus more chocolate pralines for the dessert. Unfortunately my skin is still bad from the last attempts in the route two days ago. Sending shape in the Jansegg always means having built up the right amount and quality of skin in a well balanced act of destroying it and letting it grow again. At the best over several weeks. Luckily all the cuts that are still open will “only” hurt, but not affect too much the grip on the rock – unless they will start to bleed heavily.
10pm: We are invited to a friends place and thus continue to drink.
26.08.2018 – 2am: End of the drinks. About ten to twelve since lunch. Meanwhile I had forgotten a little bit about next day’s program: Walk up to Jansegg, climb harder than you ever did before, get all the stuff together to return home and don’t leave too late, nor too tired for the six hours ride back to Bavaria.
4am: I escape into thoughts like: “The project won’t be dry anyway.” We walk home.
8am: The kids get us out of bed.
8:30am: I try to organize breakfast and accidentally take a look into the mirror: A red eyed zombie is watching me. But the weather is great and the air feels like crystal – sheer empowerment of my spirits. The rest does the coffee.
11:30am: We arrive at the Jansegg parking. You can’t see the cliff from here, but I know that up there in the south-south-east sided wall the sun is still in. So no hurry!
12:30pm: After hanging around a little bit we start the approach walk of 30min. By the half of it you get a look at the wall for the first time and so we know by now that it is not entirely wet. Neither is it very dry. But the rope and the quick draws are still up there, so we won’t turn back now. (All the gear accessible from the 7b+ on the left had been stolen some weeks ago and I am running short on quick draws.)
2:45pm: We finally arrive at the crag but I drop behind on the last steep meters uphills. My mind feels dimmed out. When did I feel so weak the last time?
At least I see now that all important holds of the route are dry, the sun has slipped out of the wall, clouds are gathering and a fresh breeze is peeking in. 15° down in the valley, perhaps 7° up here at 1800m and thus 3° with the wind chill. Though we have down jackets, bonnets and two layers of pants we are freezing.
Summer has given up pretty quickly. In a pretty holistic way.
2:50pm: In this state I’ll be unable to climb. So we eat. All we have. Not the best thing to do just before climbing. I feel literally fed up.
3pm: At 6pm at the latest we should be back in Fribourg. Time to go there: 1h20. Thus time to climb here: 1h40. (But I do not realize yet, as we have just one phone somewhere.)
Alone I feel utterly tired, now that I’ve eaten.
3:30pm: I try to wake up, but the slow wave dalta brain potentials don’t even allow me to know where we are. The presence of a wall of rock confuses me heavily, then drags me back into slumber.
3:45pm: I manage to slowly wake up. Take out the cell phone. 3:45pm?!
Time to climb: 55min. I can’t really believe it. What the heck then do we do up here, when we have less than an hour to climb? I haven’t even warmed myself up, the fix rope I had been training on the last week is still in the route and the sun still hides behind a big immobile cloud. I will never have the time to get ready for just a single go. And this is a typical route for the second try, with all it’s rest points, stamina, necessary lactate tolerance and so on…
Well at least I will get back my gear.
Thus, I haul up on the jumar to free the rope.
4:15pm: I forget to unknot the rope before pulling it down. It gets stuck in a narrow carabiner halfway up in the third crux. Thus I can’t do a warm up climb, as the rope is only 25m long.
4:25pm: I am ready to free the rope and warm up directly in the project as far as this is possible.
For the first time today I start to feel a little alive (in a sport related way). My skin is almost a little hard but the grip is good. The upper jump works out directly.
4:45pm: Time to climb: -5min. (I will pay for this at 2am on the highway tonight.) But I don’t want to leave without at least one training go. Testing how much the ten degrees less change in the route and to challenge my skin.
I rest a little and watch the wall. Visualizing the moves. The opening boulder of which I could climb the single moves for the first time only this year (The bolts are in since 2002). And that I could “send” in total only once in ten sessions (to red point Focus Pocus, 9a/9a+, that leads straight out). Eight moves of high end precision, perfect rock and a mono that my finger hardly fits in. 8B/8B+ at least.
Then a bad rest to join the line of pockets leading right up. Some meters of 7c to another not really good rest. 8A+/8B traverse boulder that I know since a long time and that represents the first crux of La Cène du Lézard (which demands 8b/8b+ from straight below up to there). The two lines now go on the same way to the anchor, but the climbing or at least the method has changed in between. (Which is one of the reasons I am still up here :)) Cedric Lachat, who is trying the latter one, showed me how it looks like when someone knows how to jump. (He is solving the last crux that had killed about two dozens of my tries in La Cène by a double dyno.) I can’t really do it his way, but I find another one hand jumping beta that makes it for me as well a little easier. And the difference in between 8A+ or 8A at this point of a route can mean a whole (sending) world.
In short, to leave a “barrier 9b” up here, we both agree that it would be best to replace the 12 moves 8b/8b+ start on the right start by the 17 move 9a start on the left. Resulting in more or less this equation for La Barrière: 9a + bad rest + 9a = 9b
4:55pm: First try: I do four and a half moves (as quite some times before) and miss the one finger pocket (as quite some times before). The right pinch is not biting enough into my fingers.
5pm: By now I feel close to normal. That’s nice, but I should feel great. Aggressive. Optimistic. Strong. I should have rested more than two days from this route, I should have has more sleep, less drinks, lunch four hours earlier… But what counts for me is the siesta. And the grip. And the place.
The eagle circling above our heads, the chamois and the scattered sheep, the baby marmots on the way up here, the sun that shines again on the west sided slopes, the Gastlosen just vis-à-vis and the Matterhorn far behind. (Indicator of really good conditions and extremely dry and clean air.)
The silence of the U-shaped valley. It’s beauty has always been my strength.
5:02pm: I don’t expect nothing. I feel rather small.
But I will be growing quickly.
Sleepiness seems to have fallen with the first try just before. I am more compact. Throwing out the left foot high, getting the intermediate fire stone crimp left hand, lifting the right foot 10cm more. Holding my breath.
Second time in the one finger pocket coming from below! But it isn’t over. Not even this first part. Intermediate right hand, pocket like crimp for the lower three fingers right hand. Lifting up the feet high. And reaching, slashing, falling to the good pocket left hand above my head.
I am not even 5mm too high. But I am in.
9a/9a+ to go.
No reason and no way to deny the possibility of success anymore. But I am only getting slightly nervous. I rather feel the freak-out-mode rising in my body and my mind.
As I hadn’t been pumped at all today, I know that relying on the resting and a smooth and defensive tactic will not lead anywhere. The only way is forward. Attack. Pushing myself through one the horseback of explosiveness. And the will to clip the anchor.
Don’t hide and shrink yourself behind the possibility that there might come an even better one. Another day or later on. Do it while you can.
The air is cool, slightly moving. This is autumn. Finally.
The light is pure and great.
I rest, finish the traverse to the right into the bad under cling rest point where La Cène and La Barrière join each other. It is not hard, but you can loose power, that you will need in the second crux. And as I passed the first boulder only so few times (twice at all), I feel already in this mental mode, that normally gets activated only in free solo or at the last meters of a high end climb and that makes you climb everything with extra concentration. Extra strength and above all: Extra precision. (I only fell out once of a sending go by a technical mistake where falling was unnecessary – in my life.) So I even focus intensively on this nine moves 7c.
And will have to do so even stronger in the next sequence. Because in the next crux falling is normal.
I did it at least 30-40 times when I worked on Des scènes bizarres dans la mine d’or between 2012 and 2015 – having done the 8a before. I did it surely as well 20 times working on La Cène in 2016 and 2017 – having climbed 8b/8b+ before.
But I never have fallen here in a real try of La Barrière (except one time training on the fixed rope which is never really the same). And now I’ve done 9a before.
It thus would be logic to fall at least a couple of times. Especially as I’ve never felt so incapable to rest in the two under clings as today.
5:06pm: So I don’t stay too long. Move on! For the first time I have to shake my arms while climbing the first part of the oncoming crux: When I place the foot lock to my left. When I turn it on toe hook – both hands already in the big open pocket with the mono inside.
Then comes the hard part of this ten moves 8A+/8B boulder. Pushing the finger knuckles of the left hand in the gaston against the ones of the right hand in the one finger pocket to get the stability the non existing foot holds don’t give you. And move you body right.
I don’t get the crucial foot hold down right very good, but the Instinct VS-R will hold it.
Will my biceps hold it, too?
The far move left hand up is the last move of this crux. And the end of so many tries before.
But exactly in this moment when I could have started to think about dropping off – I get this injection that I need – from my mind to my body.
The siesta, the drinks and the pralines pay out. I have built the reserves that I need now during the last two days. And I know how to unleash them (rather by intuition than by sheer willingness).
I feel my right biceps contracting like hell. And see myself doing the dynamic movement in a pretty stable way. Wow!
“Wow! Wow! Wow!”
I save myself into the fair rest point left foot locked above the head, even forgetting to clip (creating an almost 6m gap between the last two bolts). It is the second skip and when the next quick draw unclips for a reason X or Y during the jump, I will ground.
But it won’t.
I can’t be afraid of something so few probable. Not now.
I try to find the eagle above with my eyes. And I try to place the left foot in the best way that it does not hurt too much and takes on the most weight possible.
5:10pm: In La Cène I fell at least 15 times in the jump to come, now. Rather more. In Des scènes… (before discovering the small fragile crimp that has broken meanwhile I tried to dyno here, too) perhaps as many times as well.
But the jump became a little different. The goal hold is still of the same quality, still two meters away from me right up. But it is less right.
And that makes the difference for me who can’t go with both hands at the same time: The pendulum is less intense and thus easier to control.
I trained this last hard boulder six or seven times three days ago on the fixed rope and succeeded every time.
So will I then today!
5:12pm: I do not pray. But in a neurological point of few it surely comes quite close to it. I deepen into the place. The point of time. The action to be accomplished.
The way to fly.
And especially the point to hit. Precise to one centimeter.
And I deepen into the knowledge that this is absolutely possible. Now. This time.
It’s better to be sure about how things will come – If you want them to be coming. If you feel like needing it.
Because tonight I will be leaving home and afterwards you never know about the season and the weathering. (I am 33 years old.) My boy will start school… And remarkably better conditions than right now are impossible. The route can’t get any dryer. Just much more wet.
So I don’t need another high point (that made my climbing life a bright and pleasant for so many years).
I need a red point, now!
5:13pm: I scared the chamois below already before when I screamed out load three times unwillingly after having done the second boulder. Now as I prepare the jump, peeling myself out the hook, onto the two minuscule foot holds, crimping both the two finger pocket right and the open pinch left in order to fly closer to the wall, and as I fly and as I hold and than control:
The chamois run again.
I am sorry to the silence.
But this is just too UNBELIEVABLE!
I’m on, I’m in, I’m almost save. Still in the pendulum. But in control.
I have the left hand waving free. And there are diamonds in the clear blue sky.
As endless as the cosmic space beyond. And as the piper’s melody to which I’m dancing.
5:17pm: The 7b+ does not throw me off. I am almost crying.
We hug and kiss.
All barriers down.
I leave this space to draw a line between the enlightenment of climbing out in the nature with the one you love – and the after match. Quotation. Congrats. Shit storms. Media reproduction (which I love a lot, though, too).
I think it must say enough when I define it as the hardest one I’ve done. With the highest “suit-factor”. And a lot of work behind.
To everyone who does a clean repetition (no cheating towers, preclipping only with prior down climb, no passing three meters above the jump boulder), I’d even give a crate of beer.
So they may learn the art of self handicapping as well.
4 thoughts on “The art of self handicapping – A log book of the hardest ascent in my life: La Barrière (9b) in Jansegg.”
Can you tell us more about this? I’d want to find out more
Details of which kind?