26 September 2008
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by Antoine Le Menestrel
LA ROSE ET LE VAMPIRE
First ascent: 1986
Route opener:Antoine Le Menestrel
Grade: 8b (one of the first 8b's, if not the first)
Text written between 1986 and 2007
The crag of Buoux is filled with history, from the first routes opened by aid climbing with pitons to the most difficult routes. Among the many stories, I will tell you about my Buoux and its famous route, "La rose et le vampire". Climbing is the story we experience. Life is one pitch. Climbing shows us, through the mirror of the ascent, our own different facets. Height generates a challenge, our climbing partner belays our life. At the foot of the rock lies the choice of a pitch making a wish come true. I choose a universe, a difficulty, an effort, the beauty of a "line", its story.
It is with these needs that my desire to climb is expressed, almost a primitive hunger.Buoux is a magical place. If the wish grows inside of me it means that a story experienced will emerge to the surface of my being, just like champagne bubbles in a little corner of paradise where the Aiguebrun runs all year round.
Life in Buoux began in the Stone Age, 125,000
years ago. The Neanderthals lived here for a
period lasting roughly 90,000 years. In the
Neolithic period, roughly 6,000 BC, after Wurm's
last glaciation, caves were used as burial
places: almost 200 tombs have been dug out
directly from the rock.
During medieval times the Aiguebrun valley was
without a doubt an area for hermits, definitely
influenced by a form of ascetism originating in
Syria: stilitism (from the Greek stylos:
column). These "athletes of God" lived on top of
high columns absolutely immobile. The basins,
staircases, holes for supporting beams and the
water channels could be attributed to them.
After scientific studies it is thought that
those carvings in the rock were made in the 8th
century (era of Charlemagne), during periods of
The rock is formed from urgonian molasse which
dates back to the Miocene period (between 12 and
25 million years ago). It is a sedimentary rock,
made from the succession of stratified marine
deposits: by climbing a metre of rock one
crosses about twenty million years worth of the
earth's history. Buoux's rock is unique and
special: without cracks, it resists freezing and
consequently time. Its Latin name is mola and is
derived from its use for carving out mill-stones
from the rock. The crag's shape is round and
warm, voluptuous and coloured.
In 1985 Laurent Jacob, Jean Baptiste Tribout, my
brother Marc and I, were in search of the most
extreme lines achievable.
It was Laurent Jacob with an inexhaustible
passion for opening routes who introduced us to
the joys of equipping; discovering a line,
equipping it in the best possible way in order
to let other climbers repeat it, finally having
the honour of leaving one's name at the foot of
the route after having freed it. He continuously
perfected his equipment; etrieres, hand
perforator and he would bring pitons with him
which were available to all the other equippers.
We did not want to force a move creating a route
to be done over again just for the sake of it,
instead we tried to adapt to the rock following
the path towards which the mineral score led us
along. It was not about exploiting a piece of
rock, but following the allure of a beautiful
line. It is an honour for us as equippers to be
in contact with a virgin area. There are very
few in the world: they are precious.
Our job as equippers is to tame the naked rock
and to continue nature's creation by
transforming it. This is what I mean by being
creative in adapting to the rockŠ
While we abseiled down, one question tormented
us: would there be enough holds? This was the
The day I descended for the first time, what a
marvel, there were holds, but they were too
small to climb the route at the time. In spite
of everything, the will to climb pushed me to
consolidate a few holds and improve other ones;
nonetheless there is no hold chipped which comes
from nowhere; the rock dictated my work, but I
added a creative part to the moves.
There was no limit between improving the holds
and the size of them! I could only judge from my
own personal appreciation. When I equipped this
pitch I gave it a direction, vertical, and
already in this sense I was the one to intervene.
Successively I worked on the holds till they no
longer hurt. Before the advent of sports
climbing this practice did not exist, rarely did
one intervene on holds simply because there was
no red pointing, but with sports climbing it is
inconceivable to repeat a movement on a sharp
For me, the action of improving holds
represented a lack of respect for future
generations. I would open routes for the line,
the movements, the challenge. I then moved on
from an individual dimension to a cultural
dimension because I linked "La rose et le
vampire" to the climbing community.
The wish to express myself chipping a pitch
would have revealed itself as an end in itself.
You cannot have everything. After this
experience I thought that I had forced the rock
too much: I was no longer creative in adapting
to the rock but I became a creator of routes.
It has been with the advent of climbing gyms
that I have been able to channel this
creativity; in the crags I would have continued
to open routes respecting the playing field. I
started creating moves on the campus board,
which became a clean slate to work on, a support
which gave vent to my unfulfilled dreams
regarding original routes. I thus became creator
of artificial routes and the first international
competition route setter.
This represented a second revelation, because
while I created a route on an artificial
structure I arranged the holds writing a script
with gestures whose drama would be interpreted
by the athletes. This brought me to rank the
sequences depending on the type of difficulty
which I would encounter. I thus discovered that
I was a choreographer!
AVOIDING CHIPPED HOLDS
What I like about free climbing in the
environment is having an intimate relationship
with the rock. The less human intervention there
is, the fewer voluntary acts of creating holds
on the rock, the more my soul can feel in
communion with the spirit of the rock. Instead
chipped holds presuppose a relationship with
whoever opened the route. From then I started to
eliminate holds that I had chipped.
I became intrigued by the game of eliminating
chipped holds at least as much as colouring
pitons yellow and using only natural holds.
Eliminating chipped holds means:
making the rock symbolically more similar to its initial state;
enjoying this purification;
becoming elated by the gestures of a natural movement;
giving birth within us to a creative rushŠ
When sports climbing began we enjoyed painting
the pitons yellow that were no longer needed in
aid climbing. In parallel I realized that I
could no longer stand climbing on chipped holds,
I no longer perceived the pleasure of movement
and its relationship with this mineral.
From this supposition, I started the game of
repeating all the routes of Buoux without using
chipped holds and I wrote a guide from this
game. I ascertained that there are pitches which
are easier without using chipped holds and that
one can even catalogue the styles of chipping! I
added "La rose et le vampire" to the guide of
the re-climbed routes without using chipped
holds because I had intentionally widened a
bi-doigt to make it possible for even short
people to try the route. By intervening on a
hold we act irreparably.
This was a real and true realisation: holds are
the Achilles heel of climbing. A hold is as
precious as a stone, "the precious hold"
connects us with the universe: we go back in
time climbing on limestone. When we start to
climb a pitch we go back thousands of years, and
as we slowly reach the top we get closer to the
I find it just as beautiful that this activity
is undertaken on a few square centimetres of
mineral. If a crazy man or terrorist should ruin
a hold this would be irreparable. After all
climbing is based on tacit consent, nobody has
ever put in writing the ethics of climbing. A
silence which makes our activity exist for ever.
A DREAM CROSS-OVER
This creative attitude allowed me discover the
"Rose's cross-over", a movement which did not
exist in climbing vocabulary: the left arm moves
to reach a hold which is very far away to the
right, so much so that it forces one's head
underneath the right arm; this movement widened
my vision over space and on the world that
surrounds me, creating a relationship between
the belayer and the climber. Thanks to this new
movement I discovered a new dimension in the
world of climbing, which made me foresee the
fact that I would become a climbing artist. It
is a fundamental movement because it allows me
to be up high and to create nonetheless a
relationship with the audience. This movement
has become inseparable from my vertical dance,
therefore I exported it onto the stages and
walls of the cities.
As you have probably understood, this pitch has
been very important for me; it transformed me
and changed the course of my life. The practice
of climbing evolves incessantly and the richness
found in our activity lies in the differences in
our approach, each to his own pitch.
ELEGY TO THE HOLD
The climbing hold is the basis on which our
practice lies, climbing is born with the first
hold and then dies with the last. Without holds
there would be no climbers, we live climbing
between two holds.
Each hold is unique and is part of our mineral
patrimony just like climbing's patrimony of
movement. At the same time it represents the
weak point of this discipline, we can
voluntarily break it, enlarge it, cover it up,
chip it, cover it up again, chip it againŠ
Holds are at the mercy of our will as route setters and climbers.
They have their own life, they wear away with
time, they break off due to our continuous
pulling and just after it rains they become
The tendency of a pitch is to become increasingly difficult and polished.
A hold wears away due to repetitive moves, it is
constantly a victim of its own success. It is
the life of the pitches and therefore we should
be well-mannered to it, accept it for what it
is, clean our feet and climb delicately.
A hold has its own shape, dimension,
orienteering, its colour, it is a note on a
mineral score and we are dancers who interpret
this choreography. We are like stones that
bounce off the holds.
Each hold has its own nearby. The "excluded"
holds do not exist in climbing. A hold connects
all climbers, it is our point of contact on
which we leave sweat and blood, rubber, mud,
chalk and resin. The hold is a carrier of the
unknown, of movement which generates.
A hold is a carrier of surprises.
LE BOUT DU MONDE
The first time I discovered this place was after
having cut down a tree to free the start of
"Fissure Serge". We borrowed a sloping boulder,
almost a launching pad which allowed us to
discover "Bout du monde". A magical place!
Imposing rock boulders inundated by sunshine
decorated the bottom of the pitch which emanated
from their pores a sandy perfume of desert
I still remember: the sun was setting slowly,
the last luminous rays intertwined. I popped out
from a wooded ledge which opened up on to that
corner of the world, theatre of numerous
battles; I was there to climb. All the
liveliness and energy accumulated during the
course of the day projected themselves onto the
pitch. During the different attempts I battled
hard with the same tenacity and anger, with the
wish to succeed in making movement after
movement. Before each attempt I officiated a
favourable ritual. I cleaned the holds. I held
them in my hands, I massaged them with my
fingers to tame them and prepare them for the
effort that was about to happen. I let them gain
confidence till the influx was ready to flow.
I prepared myself on the ground, above me the
sloping boulder was balanced. The equipment was
neatly arranged in a way that did not interfere
with the ascent. I tied myself to my belayer who
held my life in his hands. During my ascent he
unthreaded the rope to his human kite. With a
sharp move I made the rubber on my climbing
shoes weep. All I had to do was to put aside
that cerebral mumbling and go back to being in
symbiosis with the elements: mineral score, the
air, the void and my breath. Every time I fell a
few metres from the ground. I asked myself what
pushed me to try again without a break. Was I
born to free this pitch? I had no choice, the
route was part of me but in any case a lifetime
could not summarize one movement. I felt tiny.
After the first difficult lock-offs, I quickly
reached the crux move holds, a dream cross-over
on an ochre slab which had the conformation of a
painting or of a cinema screen. I tried to fuse
into it keeping my hands on the edge of the
painting. I lacked the feeling of belonging to a
"great day", a state of grace which I
incessantly tried to arouse.
Gradually the shadows grew, only the last ray of
sun remained, the spectacle was reaching its
finale and the actors were exhausted,
frustrated. We would return tomorrow or further
on, for a few days we would leave the pitch to
At the foot of "La rose et le vampire" a cloud
of midges flew over the green chestnut trees lit
by the last rays of light. I could see against
the light, a goat behind a tree just above the
crag; this was a good sign. The difficult
section was overcome in an instant, I had made a
On top of the rose the sun disappeared behind
the crag, this was another good sign. This was
only a stage: the route continued without me.
"La rose et le vampire" is one of the most
famous routes in the world, I am proud of this.
As an artist/climber I consider it a masterpiece
created through the alchemy of a crag, an author
and a movement: "free climbing".
Apart from its climbing this pitch has its own
story, enriched by those who have climbed it.
The vampire is the route, the rose is for you.