What is the relation between Peter Croft, Alex Lowe, Lynn Hill and the wall of “Pinheirinhos” (Arrábida, Portugal)? Apparently none, however...
The other day, I felt inspired. I saw something in the internet that switched a little light inside me. A switch that turns on and off depending on the drift of my enthusiasm. I organized the gear for another new route; I took a picture of it and I stayed there, staring at it for a while. A bunch of incomprehensible metal pieces for most mortals, but some kind of reassuring, tranquilizer syrup to me.
Incomprehensible pieces of metal.
The short film from the web that had excited me was a video about a modern climb of the legendary American climber Peter Croft.
Peter Croft, 53 years old, continues to climb elegant lines, especially in the Californian mountains around Yosemite National Park. What got Peter known to the shy community of climbers was without a doubt the solo climb of the famous route Astroman, in Washington column, Yosemite. It was 1987 and 11 years had passed since the first free ascent of Astroman, a route initially considered as artificial climbing.
Daniela starting the first new pitch of the new route
Peter’s ropeless climb of this iconic line, gave him the status of a living legend. Still, Peter’s sport achievements weren’t enough to focus the attention on this climber. There was another crucial reason, much more important than insipid grade numbers or collections. A subjective and impalpable factor, also shared by some others, in which I include Lynn Hill and Alex Lowe, just to name a few.
Me starting the third new pitch (the seventh if we consider all the pitches of the traverse since the beginning).
Still on the third pitch. We baptized this place as the “Heart’s belay”...guess why!
Lynn Hill, despite her small stature was always keen on sport, but it was as a rock climber that she really stood out.
Still very young, this girl was practically adopted by the restrict group of climbers who, shortly after the climax of the hippie movement, settled permanently in the valley of Yosemite. This group survived as it could, sometimes doing small tasks in the valley, sometimes in exchange of food, to be able to stay in that Mecca, and like this feed their insatiable dreams of climbing.
Daniela, after the crux of the 9th pitch.
Getting to what we called the “Dead rats belay”. On a small platform near the belay, there were two dead smelly decomposing rats!
Lynn Hill was the female presence on a tribe of males, some of them already famous at the time, like Jim Bridwell and John Long. However, it’s worth to mention that she was not seen as the mascot of a testosterone group. To her belongs the first absolute free ascent of the famous Nose, on the 900 colossal meters of El Capitan, after several attempts made by the "strong ones" of the valley. If there was still any doubt about Hill’s abilities, with that achievement they all vanished.
On the awesome beginning of the 9th pitch
Getting to the “Dead rats belay”.
As for Alex Lowe, he was often referred to as "The White Knight", “The Mutant”, or "The Lung with legs" due to his physical and mental strength.
Unlike Peter Croft and Lynn Hill, typical rock climbers, Alex made a stand in alpine terrain. His achievements included extremely difficult ice and mixed climbs, technically and psychologically speaking. One of his most memorable climbs took place in the great Trango Towers in Pakistan, where he opened a Bigwall line, "Parallel Worlds" in 1999. This was one of the many remarkable climbs that showed what a great and versatile climber Alex was. Alex Lowe died buried by an avalanche during the recognition of the south face of Shisha Pangma. With him was a photograph of his two children, which he carried in all of his expeditions.
Daniela on the top of the route. Down there the “whale”…can you find it?
Alex was known among climbers for his courage, grace, athletic skills and above all for his humility. This quality, in my opinion, links with his most important legacy, and somehow it is related to that subjective and intangible factor also shared by Peter Croft and Lynn Hill.
The next day, Daniela and I embarked on a new adventure. On the first day we climbed the first part of a new route on the beautiful wall of “Pinheirinhos”, in Arrábida. We consider this wall as a sort of "our backyard" and on each visit we get more and more marveled with the surrounding natural beauty.
We were determined to face difficulties with a light style ascent, so this time we did not carry our favorite "cheat": the drilling machine. The few bolts we left were placed by hand which was a good reminder of the hardness of the task. Although we used the drilling machine in some of our most recent routes, I think it is very healthy to continue thinking that placing bolts by hand is in the end, more ethical.
A first major traverse beneath an overhanging gothic style arc introduces us to a strange and surreal world. The smooth motion of the blue and clear sea modeling the limestone, suggests an aura of mystery in this unique place. The almost esoteric environment affects our actions. Climbing here requires some additional mental effort, a particular inspiration.
World of shadows.
Daniela, on the first original pitch of the route.
Getting to the first belay, with the sea below our feet. "Deep water soloing" carrying a lot of gear!
The first vertical pitch reveals its secrets in the form of a solid and reliable limestone. We climb unexplored and vertiginous territory, but never extreme in terms of difficulty. In fact, the exaggerated rock patterns, for millennia belonging to the kingdom of darkness, and then exposed to the open air by the eternal action of the Atlantic, were sculpted by geomorphologic processes that created the most beautiful forms allowing us to climb, even with plenty of air under our feet.
A perfect crack to enjoy the first vertical moves on this line. “Finally going up!”
View from the second original belay of the route.
And the last delicate move arriving to the belay.
On the second day of this adventure, we had a nice surprise - dolphins.
It’s not the first time we see these cetaceans heading towards the deep ocean, gracefully rising and plunging. Seeing these beautiful animals always makes us smile. We felt it as a moment of peace and wonder in a world increasingly confused and of uncertain future. Seeing these beautiful animals, makes us believe that the planet will survive, the blue sky will prevail, and the ocean will remain unfathomable.
The dolphins chased by a small yacht who wanted to be near them.
The last pitch of our route proved the most demanding. Precariously suspended in a friend, I just ruined my kidneys to place the last bolt. From this point starts an attractive and aesthetic crack/dihedral. I thought, "Once I jam my hands on it... here I go!". I put my hands on it and…about an hour later...and after much more time spent to overcome a stubborn slab, I emerged on the top of the wall.
We decided to baptize the new line under the name “Dolphins”, a small tribute to life.
Two moments on the last pitch of the route, the most demanding of all.
Two days earlier, after watching the short video of Peter Croft, I organized the gear and I stayed there, staring at it for a while. Suddenly it came to my mind what really fascinates me on climbing, what really motivates me.
Peter Croft’s movie ends with a short dissertation:
"I like to go out to places where there is a lot of unknowns, so what that means is, for one thing it’s...it’s more like adventure, and it kind of keeps you on the edge, but when it all comes together, it seems like magic, it seems like the day is made for you”
On the other hand, Lynn Hill, after her free ascent of the Nose wrote:
“The final realization of this ascent was not only the culmination of my eighteen years of climbing, but it was also symbolic of the kind of values that give meaning and richness to my climbing experiences. Throughout my life, one of the underlying qualities that has inspired me to pursue my vision of what is possible has to do with trusting in what I truly love and believe in. Cultivating such feelings of passion and conviction is what has enabled me to tap the source of my being and access the immense power of the human spirit. "
Alex Lowe, in turn, in a report published in the American Alpine Journal, wrote a simple sentence with a huge meaning:
"The best climber in the world is the one who's having the most fun."
These words that could have been said by some others who I admire (and are climbing on a level far superior to ours), remind me of what I really value and this goes far beyond the numbers, collections, achievements or accomplishments. It even goes beyond of if it’s sport climbing, adventure climbing, bouldering, mountaineering, good rock, rotten stone, grass or debris. What really relates the wall of “Pinheirinhos”, the people, the sea, the dolphins, the sky, the clouds, the mountains, the adventure, can be said as a single word, a word that concentrates a powerful set of values known by the name of ...
The spirit of climbing