Petzl Rock Trip - Valley Gétû, China
From 26 to 30 October 2011 the 10th Petzl Rock Trip took place in Gétû Valley, China. Many of the world's best climbers took part in the event dedicated to climbing and partying. Gabriele Moroni from Italy managed to free a new 9a while Dani Andrada from Spain freed his impressive multi-pitch through the Great Arch. The full report by Maurizio Oviglia.
Petzl never does things by halves and this time, in the distant province of Guizhou in Southern China, the French company surpassed even itself. The idea that most have of the Petzl Roc Trip is that this annual meeting is an exclusive gathering, reserved to the creme of the climbing crop, and so on the eve of the event the decision to host it in such an unknown and far-flung corner of the earth seemed like a risky gamble. Petzl had been beavering away for several years, had hired climbers to bolt routes with the aim of transforming a small farming village into a new, world-class destination much like Kalymnos. Those invited to establish routes were the likes of Arnaud Petit, Yann Guesquiers, Gerard Hörhager, Daniel Du Lac, Martial Dumas, Dani Andrada and many others. Yet many wondered who would ever travel all that way to take part in the meeting, in a country whose unbelievably hierarchical bureaucracy makese all logistical problems almost insurmountable. And where no one dreams of showing the slightest initiative, unless of course this stems directly from the government.
Petzl's website in the run-up to the event announced that 450 climbers had signed up but in truth, considering the 15-hour flight, the 5 hour coach ride past forlorn villages, no one really believed that so many people might turn up. After the long journey the Petzl banners at the village base camp reassured us that we were in the right place and despite being exhausted we discovered that the hotel accommodation wasn't too bad after all, especially when compared to what we had seen from the bus window. Despite overcast skies we set off climbing that very same afternoon and headed to the nearest crag, a mere five minutes from the village, called Lazy Dragon Cave. This is a beautiful little cave with a river that enters and then disappears, only to reappear about 1km downstream... The atmosphere on the evening of the 25th was relaxed and it was clear that this was going to be an important international meeting. As soon as we arrived we noticed Arnaud Petit cycling past the food shops (how on earth did he pack his bike into his suitcase?) and shortly afterwards we stumbled across his wife Stephanie Bodet. When you're with her in private, stuttering away, the Pakistani saying always springs to mind "Why don't beautiful women need guns? Because their eyes shoot at men like bullets, the cut as precisely as a knife." The small group of Italians consisted of the extremely strong Gabriele Moroni, Rolando Larcher and myself, accompanied by Cecilia Marchi. Main event sponsor La Sportiva was represented by Giulia Delladio and Sandro De Zolt while Andrea Gennari Daneri represented Pareti Magazine.
The French obvioulsy took the lion's share with a massive group: apart from the above mentioned Arnaud and Stephanie, there was friendly Tony Lamiche, Daniel Du Lac with his ever-present, wide-brimmed hat, Enzo Oddo (no doubt he'll be the heartthrob for all female climbers soon), Gérôme Pouvreau, Mike Fuselier and many more. Among the many strong girls there were Melissa Le Nevè and the rather unfortunate Liv Sansoz who had injured herself shortly before the trip. Others I cannot fail to mention are the allstars from America - read Dave Graham, Ethan Pringle and Lynn Hill - from New Zealand in the form of Mayan Smith Gobat, Korea, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands. Switzerland was obviously represented by Nina Caprez, Sweden was in there too, as were Austria, England, Spain (in the form of Sharma, Oleda e Andrada) and so on and so forth... In short, a perfect setting to feel (at least I did) like a complete beginner... perhaps time has come to hang my boot up once and for all, sigh!
The actual climbing proved enjoyable, unfortunately though the weather was permanently dull which meant we failed to fully enjoy these marvels and this left a bittersweet aftertaste. Too bad. Luckily though, as was to expected, the rock inside the caves remains dry meaning we could climb and didn't have to seek refuge in the hotel. Although it would have been nice to beat Sharma at Trumps! The massive caves are amazing natural wonders that alone make the trip worthwhile and despite the curious and beautiful formations and pockets (Gétû is famous for this), we noticed that the rock was dusty, leaving an annoying layer of white dust on your our climbing shoes despite the great brushing done by the Petzl crew. This wasn't the case the crags exposed to the elements, such as magnificent and vertical Buddha Cave and Fish Crag. It is worth noting that the grades and the manner in which routes had been bolted differed considerably from one crag to the next, but this was to be expected seeing that very different teams had bolted the routes only recently and these had very few repeats.
Many tested themselves on the reference multi-pitch through the cave, the stunning "Lost in Translation" (8a, 4 long, run-out pitches) first ascended during a week of effort last October by one of the world's strongest couples, Petit-Bodet. Those who repeated the route included the unusual Italian duo Daneri - Larcher (Larcher took a spectacular 15m fall from the top of pitch 2. After having messed up the final run-out he reached the height of the belay, off route, ran out of holds and let go. The two then set the record straight over the next few days by both onsighting some 8a's), Mayan Gobat Smith and Lynn Hill, Steve McClure with Cody Roth, Sean Villaneuva with Ethan Pringle etc ... In short, climbing's version of Dancing with the stars of world climbing. I tried only the first pitch of this spectacular route, noting that Petit bolts increasingly according to the Larcher-style, i.e. long run-outs and hard obligatory sections. For once we Italians have taught the French something! It was nice to see Rolando, after his big fall, congratulate Arnaud for the run-out and hear the Frenchman reply "You're the one who taught me to do it like this!"
The nearby "Corazon de Ensueno" is based on a different idea, 8 pitches through the massive roof established with the use of aid and often alone by Dani Andrada. Dani provided a spectacular show trying to free it every day and he succeeded on 30 October, belayed by poor Chris Sharma who seemed somewhat perturbed trying to keep up with Dani's excessive power through this terrain. All day long the crowd watched that orange fly stuck to the wall and I couldn't help but think about that photo that Dani had showed me the night before, bolting the horizontal roof one-handed with a heavy Hilti drill. Stephanie was by my side and I couldn't help asking her "Sorry, but surely Dani knows that there are some lighter drill than the Hilti, such as Makita? Bolting a wildly overhanging 8 pitch route with a 5kg drill one-handed must be devastating!" She immediately shut me up by replying "Yes, but Dani hasn't got a normal arm like ours, his is bionic!" In any case, Dani sent the route on the last day, 240m up to 8c which, thanks to its shape and form, is certainly a world-class master piece.
The strongest climbers got their act together on the last day in the Grand Arch, on routes equipped by Hörhager and Fuselier up the overhanging wall past terribly slopy pockets. I have to say they provided a great show and despite the ever-present moisture, the rock incredibly didn't seem too damp, especially if you bear in mind what they managed to send. Melissa La Nevè compared to young Sasha DiGiulian proved remarkable, while our Gabriele Moroni was simply superlative. The French had dubbed him "Gabì" and he seemed more at ease than Oddo and Graham on the treacherous crimps of the super project Coup de Bambou. The world elite estimated this route at 9a and at the end of the meeting Gabriele managed to send the line, adding a touch of class to this splendid Roc Trip which certainly did justice to Italian climbing (read all about the successful send on Gabriele's blog!)
I'd like to to spend a final word on the extra-climbing activities because, as everyone knows, the Roc Trip is also about this, perhaps even above all about this for those who enjoy a party or two... Perhaps the most impressive films were Ganesh about India by Gerome Pouvreau and the film by Tony Lamiche, a man constantly on the lookout for a brilliant idea which gives climbing films a facelift and renders them less boring and standardised. The party and dance on the last evening was impressive to say the least, really well organised, attended by hundreds of Chinese who gathered from nearby villages. Here's a brief summary: the usual dinner of rice and vegetables was followed by Chinese pop music which despite its poor quality sent the Eastern audience wild. Those from the west were stunned and struggled to digest this mix between Plastic Bertrand and a Chinese version of Nino D’Angelo who writhed around on stage. This was followed by the now legendary and ubiquitous Petzl DJ "Lafouche" who played some more familiar techno-house. Things really got going though when Sean Villanueva on the flute and revelation Said Belhaj on the drums improvised a jam session that instantly warmed the western hearts. So much so that even the Russian tapped away to the beat, not having even touched a drop of vodka! Rolando commented that in a hundred years time the villagers will probably still remember this party, and maybe some engraving will be found at the base of the crags or on some bamboo sticks... good luck to those who stumble across these in the future... Philippe Ribiere let loose on stage... check out google images to find out who he is... a living legend!
In short, the party became explosive thanks to the fireworks and booming music. After a brief moment of bewilderment the Chinese began to lose thier heads and invaded the stage (the government had sent a thousand policemen to the event, and then had them recalled because it all seemed quiet). Poor Petzl staff member Erwann Le Lann tried to keep the situation under control but he certainly wasn't helped by the likes of Lynn Hill who improvised a sort of belly dance up on stage together with top Turkish climber Mumin Karabas, or by the three New Yorkers, two boys and a girl, who strip teased up on the cube. The Chinese were in a frenzy and photographed and filmed what rural Gétû had never witnessed before with their "aifons", but then a beer bottle flew onto Lafouche's Apple Mac and the music ground to a halt... damn, just when the New Yorker had stripped down to her bra... At this point the Chinese guitarists mentioned previously launched into a hard rock solo which had little to do with Sean's Indian flute and the Belgian, in order to continue playing, had to isolate himself and pretend he was perched high up on some ledge in Pakistan... But at that stage, well beyond midnight, everything was accepted... even Sasha DiGiulian, completely out of it, jumping around like a grasshopper all across the stage... The organisers later told me that at well past two in the morning they had managed to work away at the aplomb of Sharma, Andrada, Graham and Daila Oleda by making them play the bongos... unfortunately I missed this moment due to jet lag and the full climbing days... have mercy on your humble reporter!
All things considered, this was a great climbing festival. Petzl, with the help of supporting sponsors La Sportiva and Ozark, demonstrated their ability to organise world-class events in the furthest flung corners of the earth, in the most difficult conditions and their ability to create a new climbing area completely from scratch. Of course, the most malign might think they have their good reasons for investing in a market which has great potential... but the fact remains that it was done in the most intelligent, pleasant and least invasive manner possible. What remains of Gétû is a small guidebook distributed by Petzl during the event (and perhaps still available as a pdf on the Petzl website). 250 routes waiting to be discovered in a beautiful, somewhat exotic location which certainly isn't easy to get to on your own. Gétû certainly isn't Kalymnos or Thailand, but perhaps one might conclude that the adventure aspect is finally a part of sport climbing...
Maurizio Oviglia (Petzl Italy, La Sportiva, Vertical International Magazine)