Archive for Eiger

Les Grandes Jorasses, from 342 to 2 hours

Posted in Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2018 by xi'an

Last month Dani Arnold, a Swiss climber, climbed the classic Cassin route of Les Grandes Jorasses [in my dreams!] in two hours (and obviously completely free-solo, with no protection whatsoever). This route was opened by Cassin, Esposito and Tizzoni, 1938, is part of the three great north walls of the Alps, with Eiger and Matterhorn, and is graded TD+/ED1, IV, 5c/6a, A1, for a vertical climb of 1200m. It is an extremely challenging and engaged climb, with almost no possibility to escape once started, and climbing parties often take more than a day to complete the climb. On his way up, Arnold passed nine groups of climbers. Here is another video of his in Scotland, when repeating for the first time Anubis, a mixed climbing route on Ben Nevis. (The title of the post is relating to Desmaison’s 342 heures dans les Grandes Jorasses.)

Ueli Steck dies on Nupse [Ueli Steck tödlich verunglückt]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Running with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2017 by xi'an

Ueli Steck was a Swiss climber renowned for breaking speed records on the hardest routes of the Alps. Including the legendary Eigerwand. And having been evacuated under death threats from the Everest base camp two years ago. I have been following on Instagram his preparation for another speed attempt at Everest the past weeks and it is a hug shock to learn he fell to his death on Nupse yesterday. Total respect to this immense Extrembergsteiger, who has now joined the sad cenacle of top climbers who did not make it back…

R/Rmetrics in Paris [alas!]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2014 by xi'an

Bernard1Today I gave a talk on Bayesian model choice in a fabulous 13th Century former monastery in the Latin Quarter of Paris… It is the Collège des Bernardins, close to Jussieu and Collège de France, unbelievably hidden to the point I was not aware of its existence despite having studied and worked in Jussieu since 1982… I mixed my earlier San Antonio survey on importance sampling approximations to Bayes factors with an entry to our most recent work on ABC with random forests. This was the first talk of the 8th R/Rmetrics workshop taking place in Paris this year. (Rmetrics is aiming at aggregating R packages with econometrics and finance applications.) And I had a full hour and a half to deliver my lecture to the workshop audience. Nice place, nice people, new faces and topics (and even andouille de Vire for lunch!): why should I complain with an alas in the title?!Bernard2What happened is that the R/Rmetrics meetings have been till this year organised in Meielisalp, Switzerland. Which stands on top of Thuner See and… just next to the most famous peaks of the Bernese Alps! And that I had been invited last year but could not make it… Meaning I lost a genuine opportunity to climb one of my five dream routes, the Mittelegi ridge of the Eiger. As the future R/Rmetrics meetings will not take place there.

A lunch discussion at the workshop led me to experiment the compiler library in R, library that I was unaware of. The impact on the running time is obvious: recycling the fowler function from the last Le Monde puzzle,

> bowler=cmpfun(fowler)
> N=20;n=10;system.time(fowler(pred=N))
   user  system elapsed 
 52.647   0.076  56.332 
> N=20;n=10;system.time(bowler(pred=N))
   user  system elapsed 
 51.631   0.004  51.768 
> N=20;n=15;system.time(bowler(pred=N))
   user  system elapsed 
 51.924   0.024  52.429 
> N=20;n=15;system.time(fowler(pred=N))
   user  system elapsed 
 52.919   0.200  61.960 

shows a ten- to twenty-fold gain in system time, if not in elapsed time (re-alas!).

speed [quick book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Running with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by xi'an

Ueli Steck is a Swiss alpinist who climbed solo the three “last” north face routes of the Alps (Eiger, Jorasses, and Cervino/Matterhorn) in the record times of 2:47, 2:27, and 1:56… He also recently climbed Annapurna in 27 hours from base camp, again solo and with no oxygen. (Which led some to doubt his record time as he had lost his camera on the way.) A climb for which he got one of the 2014 Piolets d’Or. (In connection with this climb, he also faced death threats from the sherpas installing fixed ropes on Everest as reported in an earlier post.) He wrote a book called Speed, where he described how he managed the three above records in a rather detailed way. (It is published in German, Italian and French,

the three major languages of the Swiss Confederation, but apparently not in English.) The book reads fast as well but it should not be very appealing to non-climbers as it concentrates mostly on the three climbs and their difficulties. The book also contains three round-tables between Messner and Steck, Bonatti and Steck, and Profit and Steck, which are of some further interest. The most fascinating part in the book is when he describes deciding to go completely free, forsaking existing protection and hence any survival opportunity were he to fall. When looking at the level of the places he climbed, this sounds to me like an insane Russian roulette, even with a previous recognition of the routes (not in the Jorasses where he even climbed on-sight).  I also liked the recollection of his gift of an Eiger Nordwand climb with her wife for her birthday! (I am unsure any spouse would appreciate such a gift to the same extent!) The book concludes with Steck envisioning moving away from those speed solos and towards other approaches to climbing and mountains…

As a coincidence, I also watched the film documentary Messner on Arte. A very well-done docu-fiction with reconstitutions of some of the most impressive climbs of Messner in the Alps and the Himalayas… Like the solo climb of the north face of Les Droites. With a single icepick. The film is also an entry into what made Messner the unique climber he is, from a very strict family environment to coping with the literal loss of his brother Guenther on the Nanga Parbat. With a testimony from his companion to the traverse by ski of the North Pole who saw Messner repeatedly calling him Guenther under stress.

Paciencia on the Eiger Nordwand (8a)

Posted in Mountains, pictures with tags , , on September 2, 2013 by xi'an

When I saw this item of news about David MacLeod and Calum Muskett bagging the hardest route on the mythical north face of the Eiger, I could not resist posting this incredible picture. (The route ‘Paciencia’ was first climbed by Ueli Steck and Stephan Siegrist in 2003; they then repeated the climb in free mode in 2008.) It is amazing to see climbers at such levels (one 8a pitch and six 7c pitches!) climbing on such a demanding mountain…

Himalayan fight

Posted in Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2013 by xi'an

“Today,  Everest is too much of a business and there are too many heroes.” Simone Moro

I was reading in Le Monde yesterday about an ugly fight occurring between a team of alpine-style climbers Ueli Steck, Simone Moro, and Jonathan Griffith) and the team of sherpas installing fixed ropes on the normal route to Everest in preparation for the hundreds of clients waiting at Base Camp. The sherpas apparently did not accept the parallel  and faster climb of the three independent climbers to their tent at Camp 3, as well as resented these climbers having completed the fixed rope equipment in a gesture of good will (?). When the latter came down to Camp 2 they were faced by a mob of 100 angry sherpas ready to lynch them and had to be evacuated… Obviously, I have no further details than those I read in various interviews, from Ueli Steck‘s, to Simone Moro‘s, to the sherpas’. So I cannot judge of the responsibility of either side. However, facts are such that the team of three came closed to being stoned to death and that it had to leave Base Camp under a death threat.

This awful story reflects very badly on how much money has perverted mountaineering on Everest: while Steck and his team-mates were working on a genuine mountaineering feat by climbing a new route on a three person team, alpine-style, with no sherpa backup, the sherpas were working for half a dozen commercial companies and the millions of dollars behind (rates range from $50,000 to $100,000 per client!). Preventing climbers from climbing nearby (as long as they do not endanger anyone on the route) goes against the #1 mountaineering rule that mountains (and routes) do not belong to anyone, not even locals, and that faster teams should get priority. As shown in the book Into Thin Air, commercial expeditions have already demonstrated not caring about the #2 rule that one should bring assistance to anyone in danger: helping a perfect stranger down safely rather than bringing a $100,000 client to the top does not seem part of their equation. To be fair, Simone Moro also has commercial interests in the Himalayas through his helicopter rescue company, but I do not think this had anything to do with the current fight, besides being for the general “good—this is arguable, though, given that it gives a false sense of safety to people who should not be there…

Just a note on why I was shocked by this story: Ueli Steck is an amazing Swiss climber of Messner-ian class, who opened new routes in the Alps, Himalayas and Patagonia, often climbing them solo. (See Messner’s interview on Steck’s website, where he states that independent climbers are now perceived as parasites by sherpas.) One of his greatest feats so far is soloing the Heckmair route (the ultimate mountain climb in my opinion, see e.g. Joe Simpson’s missed attempt) on the Eiger Nordwand in 2 hours 47 minutes (it took Heckmair and his team three days in 1937).

The best view!

Posted in Mountains, pictures with tags , , , on February 6, 2011 by xi'an

This Saturday was a very busy day and I am too tired to comment on the meeting before tomorrow but here is a view from Leo’s deck that qualifies  in my agenda as one of the best views in the World as it contains the shapes of the mythical Eiger, as well as of the Münch and Jungfrau on the far left! Difficult to beat, really…