La Chapelle: Our Challenge with a Multi-Pitch Route

La Chapelle: Our Challenge with a Multi-Pitch Route

We came to La Réunion with a fairly simple objective; to open a new multi-pitch route, ground-up, using as few bolts as possible. On first arriving at La Chapelle we knew we had a potential 7 days to attempt the wall, but all were quietly thinking we would be finished a lot sooner than that. For a while now I have been searching the world for a hard multi-pitch project that can be climbed entirely using traditional protection, including the belays, and with La Chapelle I thought I might have finally found it. The wall looked short and featured, with a clean series of cracks and corners running from bottom to top – the only problem… perhaps it would be too easy to present a worthy challenge? However, at the end of the first pitch it was clear the route would be a lot tougher than it looked, and at the end of the first day, the question was no longer “is it too easy” but “is this thing even possible”! The cyclone polished basalt is so smooth and so compact that free climbing on all but the best of holds proved very difficult indeed. In addition, giant loose blocks sat stacked like dominos on every pitch and the cracks that seemed so clean from below were often full of a strange half-mud, half-stone mix. Last but not least, the wall itself is also extremely overhanging, perhaps by as much as 25m in its 130m height. Before I came to La Réunion I expected to be climbing big run-outs from the last bolt or good gear, sitting on hooks...
My First Route on the Island of La Réunion

My First Route on the Island of La Réunion

June 4, 2013 9:00 am – Ride to Boulder, CO, USA bus station 9:30 am – Bus from Boulder to Denver International Airport 11:00 am – Arrive to airport and check in 12:30 pm – Depart Denver, CO to Newark, NJ 6:30 pm – Arrive Newark, NJ 9:15 pm – Depart Newark, NJ to Charles De Gaulle, Paris, France June 5, 2013 11:00 am – Arrive Charles De Gaulle, Paris, France 9:00 pm – Depart Orly, Paris, France to Reunion Island June 6, 2013 9:45 am – Arrive Reunion Island By this point in the travel I was delirious. I would fall asleep for 5 or 10 minutes and wake up to be completely disoriented. I would almost panic at the feeling of my body, and at my surroundings. I was the last of the team to arrive, and I was picked up from the airport by one of our local guides, Panouille. He took me to the newest climbing gym on the island where half of the team was waiting. I quickly unpacked, and repacked for a week out of camping and climbing. We then drove together up into the mountains to Cilaos, and met everyone else. We organized amongst ourselves and then made the walk into La Chapelle – a beautiful, narrow, and tall canyon. It was always to be the primary objective of our trip, and we’ve managed to establish a difficult 7 pitch route from the ground up. 6 of the pitches have been climbed free, but the most difficult – pitch 5 – which we think is 8c or 8c+, has not been completed....
My first experience of ground up climbing

My first experience of ground up climbing

It’s 7am. Everyone wakes up with own timing and own feeling around this time. I wake up by sounds of boiling water, that is the song for a starting day. We camp out in the middle of La Réunion island, where the nearest town is called Cilaos and our camp site is about 1.30h of hiking from Cilaos. The landscape around us is volcanic, and in front of this camp site stands a 130m beautiful basaltic wall; this time we want to climb up this beautiful basalt wall with the international team. By the way I didn’t have any idea about La Réunion island until I met Caroline, but as soon as I met her I started to know the origin of the island and I was interested more especially in the culture; they are a mix culture. Caroline explained me that the goal of this trip would be to open a new route on this wall with own ideas and multi national team, and I was wondering what was coming up with this mix team on La Réunion island!!!!   I arrived on the 5th of June after Caro, James, Jacopo had arrived and most of things had been prepared by them. The next day on the 6th, Sam arrived from US: all the team members were here on La Réunion Island and we started to hike up for our biggest target of this trip. After we made the Base Camp we started to talk about how to proceed with the new lines. First we checked the wall from the ground. Caro and James have the idea to...
Let’s get started

Let’s get started

So, here we are! We are in la Réunion since two days now, but a lot happened already. It is truly amazing to discover every day something more about the island, its culture and its population. Sincerly I expected a completely different place; somehow I always thought that it would be a tiny island, really far away, but anyways very similar to France and Europe… but actually it is completely different! As soon as you leave the airport, you realize that you are on a real tropical island. It’s very impressive to see how many different people and cultures are coexisting in such a “small” place: you can really feel and understand the history of this island just walking around the streets. The main part of the population is living on the cost, and as soon as you leave the villages, everything gets extremely wild; we haven’t been so far inside for the moment, but I’m really curious to see the wildest side of the island in the next day: I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing experience! On the climbing side, as Yuji and Sam were supposed to arrive later, we spent the first two days trad climbing around the main villages. I climbed just a few times only on trad gear before, so for me it has been a great experience to explore more this aspect of climbing: it is such an amazing feeling to climb your way up to the top without letting anything behind you on the rock after. It is very rewarding and it feels somehow respectful. For me it’s very interesting to...
Landscapes of the Island

Landscapes of the Island

On Monday Jacopo, Yuji and Sam arrived… the expedition will properly start! James and I have been hiking all around the island to find the best walls. Check out below few amazing shots from one of my childhood friend, Thomas...
The Reunion – Surprises and wonders of a volcano

The Reunion – Surprises and wonders of a volcano

Two days in the trip. James and I have arrived in advance to check out our different options: Which canyon, what wall, in which circus, and how to approach? And what better way than asking the help of some local guys? For sure, I should be “a local’… but I have spent very little time on the Island since I left it twelve years ago, and my child’s eyes had quite a partial view… many wonders of my memories turned into pretty little bits of rock, but very few were actually wonders… I hadn’t met “Bulon” before, despite his 25 years on the island. This quiet tanned man is a lover of nature and tranquility. He has been guiding people on the Island for almost forever, and specialized recently into naturalist expeditions. So when I ask him, randomly, “which is this plant”, Bulon always has not only a name, but as well a story! The spider Nefilia Pipiles Today we where hiking in the heart of a circus in  the tropical forest. Endemic plants, endemic birds; the nature in this little place of the south hemisphere has a very unique story…I tried to challenge him with a few geological questions…  We were in front of a great cliff, which… surely will be our goal this next days, and I pointed some obscure mineral deposits… Long story short, I learned of one of the greatest  natural wonders of the Island: As everyone knows on the Island, everything is volcanic! The Island is a volcano, emerged from the deep Indian ocean, and today the highest peak is 3069m. “Piton des Neiges”...
The what’s, where’s, and why’s…

The what’s, where’s, and why’s…

Now that Caroline has explained what we would like to achieve on the island, its my turn to explain why, and what exactly it all means.  Ground up simply means beginning from the floor and climbing to the top.  There are a lot of ways one can accomplish this, but we would like to follow the style of Kammelander, Glowacs, Dal Pra, Larcher,Vigiani etc, in that you free climb everything, protecting yourself with trad gear if possible, or placing a bolt whenever you “rest” on a sky-hook. Pietro dal Pra, one of our mentors in this style…  Tools of the trade… aarrgggghhhhhhhhh Why, you might ask, would we want to put ourselves through this torture, when it would be far easier and much less scary to equip the route from rappel.  The answer is because we feel this process creates more logical, natural, and enjoyable routes.  In our personal experience, the routes we climbed that were equipped from the bottom were a lot nicer than the routes equipped from the top.  They were easier to understand, the bolts were in better positions, and generally made for good fun days out.  Because you are opening from the bottom, free climbing every move as you go, you are living the same experience as all subsequent climbers will have, and this is an idea that we like a lot. The training for ground up bolting begins... To prepare ourselves for this adventure, Caroline and I have been practicing our Trad climbing skills in Italy, as well as trying to learn the necessary techniques and rope management tricks for ground-up bolting.  It’s a lot to take in, and there have...
The Reunion, back to my beginnings

The Reunion, back to my beginnings

The first time you touch rock for your baptism as a climber and then the first years of your climbing life are memories you will remember for your whole life, moments you will cherish. At the time you don’t know the significance when you squeeze into your first climbing shoe… You just entered a new world; a world of passions. Reunion was my childhood place, my baby garden, and what a unique garden it was! A small tropical Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 100% Volcano, and an old French colony, that saw its first human beings only 300 years ago. Since then it has become an island of mixed race and culture, very focused on outdoor sports including running, surfing, hiking, paragliding, and with all that magnificent basalt, climbing! I was just one of the kids of the Island, and I was given my life by great people, teachers and friends, who were ready to give. Now is time for me to start thanking them, and coming back to my Island and showing it to the world of climbing, is my way to say thank you to all those people who gave me a hand. Who gave me a hand, and also created what climbing is today on the Island: a wall on every school, sports cliffs everywhere, and one of the main subjects in school sports! Today, James Pearson and I are going back to my origins, flying 12000km from France to the place where I learnt my life. We will be joined by North Face athletes from all over the world, each bringing a...