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Words By
Sylvain Thiabaud

It’s the morning of Sunday the 18th of June and we are drinking coffee in the sun with Leon, the hut keeper of Pombie, a refuge in front of Ossau Peak. I am with my friend Matthias and we’re still high from completing a massive long-term project just the day before. The coffee tastes even sweeter this morning thanks to our success.

Our journey here began with a story I heard a while back about the famous Pyrénean moutain guide Serge Casteran who soloed the 3 most famous routes on Ossau in a day! This was back in the 80's! It was, no, it is, an incredible achievment. As soon as I heard about it I  thought: ‘Wow...I'd love to do the same ! (With a friend & a rope of course.)’

1200m of trad climbing, 28 pitches and 20h later, one of my  ‘to do list’ projects was complete.

Our mission started in Toulouse on a Friday. 3 hours of driving brought us to Ossau valley where we made a final gear check before completing the 1 hour walk to the hut. We’re planning to climb the 3 most famous routes on Ossau peak, so we have to climb fast & light and need to put some water & a few things to eat at the start of the second & third routes. This will help us to save time on the day and improve our chances of completing the challenge.

We take Peyreget pass to ‘rockflamme’ arête, soloing together to reach the pass between the small and big peak of Ossau. It's the point where our first route (Embaradère pillar, ED 6c 350m) ends and we want to check the descent from here to the start of our second route before commiting to tomorrow’s link up. It's better than we thought. We build 2 anchors and rappel down to leave water & food at the start of the second route. With everything ready for tomorrow, we head back to the hut for a (small) beer and a short sleep.

We wake up at 4 AM and start the approach at 04:30. An hour and  a half later and we  are at the start of the first route : Embaradère Pillar. We choose to climb with the same leader for the first 4 pitches and change for the next three. Matthias starts and we climb fast. The temperature is perfect and really not that cold for a North Face. I climbed this route a few years ago and back then it was about the coldest I’d ever felt! (The climbing feels a lot easier this time around!)

We reach the top of the pillar and start the descent, comfortable with our dry run from the day before. We are already running a little late on our ‘theoretical’ schedule when we stop for food. To our dismay, we realise that there are four other climbers already on the next route…and they’re really low down. A bad turn of luck, but there’s no slowing us down today. We run down the steep scree to the base of the route. The sun is already blazing and it's really hot here. We take the first, easy pitch as a solo and Matthias practically runs up the second. We are already close behind the other group. Matthias pulls off the wild 7a crack pitch and I join him at the belay.

I start just after the other climbers on the next pitch. We try to explain in our broken Spanish the nature of our project and they finally let us pass ahead. I climb as fast as I can and we pass the two other climbers before the end! The worry of getting caught up behind the other groups has actually sped us up and we finish at the top of the big peak with an hour in hand on our plans.

We head down by the normal route of the peak, a long and boring line that leads us to the base of the South face. An hour later we start climbing again. This will be the final 450m sprint to the finish… if we make it! Fortunately the face is in the shade now & our feet are relieved as they shrink back to normal size inside our tight climbing shoes. I start leading and I'll keep the lead until the summit. I succeed on the crux pitch which is painfully hard… or maybe I'm just tired. A few pitches later, it feels like we are lost but, after some scrabbling around, we finally get ourselves back on route.

Crack after crack passes through our tired hands. No bolts, just a few pitons and an ocean of rock between us and the summit. It's hard! The topo gives a lot of 6a/b for this section, but it feels way beyond that! The night is coming and we climb the last 4 picthes with headlamps. Way out ahead of Matthias, alone in the deep silence, everything contained within the halo of light around me, I have a perfect moment. It’s climbing like this that I truly live for.

Finally we reach the top of the route. No more climbing shoes (that might be my biggest relief)! We’ve done it!

The day isn’t over however and we have to go back to the hut via the ledge route. We walk through the door around 00:30; 20 hours of walking & climbing in the mountains behind us and my project complete. After dreaming about it for so long, completing it feels especially good.

Leon the hut keeper has proved himself a true friend. Two beers and a piece of cake await us on the hut table.

Time to recover, time to drink a beer and dream about new projects…

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Behind The Scenes

Spanish Snapshot

Sylvain Thiabaud is a French climber whose endless passion for climbing keeps him busy all year round.

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