A Short Walk with Terray

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oldguy

climber
Bronx, NY
Topic Author's Original Post - Apr 10, 2013 - 12:03pm PT
March 1963. I am living with Linnea in an eleven room apartment in Barcelona. The apartment is on the fifth floor, and at the front a small enclosed balcony overlooks the street below, overlooks the lamplighter as he comes at dusk to light the street lamps. He turns a gas valve at the base of the lamp and then reaches up with a long pole that has a flame on top to bring the light to life. Gas light has a soft but warm glow more conducive than electric light to walking quiet streets, especially if your life is suffused with romance. Linnea and I are not usually up when the lamplighter makes his rounds in the morning to turn off the gas.

Royal had written me, giving me the address in Barcelona of Manuel Anglada, one of the better Spanish climbers. Anglada and I got in touch, and he invited me to go with him and some other climbers for a weekend trip to Montserrat, an area north of Barcelona with many conglomerate domes, spires, and faces. As it happened, the great French climber, Lionel Terray, was also in Barcelona to show movies of his climbing and skiing adventures, and he would join us. Indeed, the trip was organized for him, not for me, but Anglada was a good fellow, and we got along well.

We drove to a restaurant near the trailhead. Outside, a very large perron, a glass wine decanter that one drinks from like a bota bag, sat on a wooden pedestal. Most perrons hold a liter or less, but this one held several gallons. The wine was free for anyone who could drink from it using only one hand. Some of the other climbers tried but failed to bring the spout close to their lips. Somehow, I managed to lift it into the air and direct the stream into my mouth. The wine was warm from sitting in the sun all morning, but I didn’t care. I think it may have been more a matter of technique than strength, technique acquired through regular wine drinking. Terray, however, didn’t seem thirsty and didn’t try to lift the perron.

At the trailhead, Terray was the first to put on his pack while the rest of us were talking and kidding around. Then he started up the trail with an unusually measured stride, as it someone had wound up a giant key in his back and set him on his way. His whole body spoke determination, and there was a decided lack of ease or grace. I suppose such an approach might account for his numerous first ascents all over the world. We knew about determination in the States, but it was for the tough times, not for when we could be having fun.

Anglada had planned the trip mainly to show us the area, not to do any serious climbing. The rock was surprisingly solid for conglomerate (one thinks of Pinnacles in California) but also had few cracks. The locals left the pitons on a route so it was hard to tell how good the protection was. One route that we passed under was about a thousand feet high and dead vertical. They told me that all of the belays except one were in slings and that there were 300 pitons and eighty bolts on the route. The fastest ascent had taken fourteen hours. Another thousand foot route, however, went all free in seven hours. Anglada and I planned on climbing it on the following weekend, but things didn’t work out. Instead, we did some short climbs, one an eighteen bolt ladder, but another two pitch climb with few pitons and some definitely interesting moves after a long run out. Again, I wondered about the soundness of the pitons.

At the end of the day we arrived at a large cave where we were to spend the night. The Spaniards cooked food for us, and bottles of wine appeared. Terray spoke a little English, and I tried to talk to him but didn’t find out much except that bong-bongs (he knew about them) sounded very nice in French. A little later in the evening, however, I overheard him say to Anglada’s brother, (and here I translate) “The American is very strange.” Whether his observation was due to some quirk I had inadvertently revealed or whether it was just that I was an American I have no idea. But then I thought Terray was strange, too, so perhaps we were even. It did occur to me, though, that if he thought I was strange he should get to know some of my climbing friends back in Yosemite.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Apr 10, 2013 - 12:46pm PT
Bump for a cool story well told!
My French vocabulary doesn't include 'aloof'.
At least you tried to engage him. ;-)
crock

Mountain climber
The Library Window
Apr 10, 2013 - 12:54pm PT
I think this is the best piece of writing I have seen for a very long time.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Apr 10, 2013 - 01:04pm PT
The locals left the pitons on a route so it was hard to tell how good the protection was.--Trad Old Boy

Fine as frog hair, Joe.
steve shea

climber
Apr 10, 2013 - 01:07pm PT
The frogs just did not warm up to Americans. An old timer in the Savoie once told me they were insecure around us, they felt they could not measure up after our sacrifice for them in WWII. That they were particularly critical around Americans. Great story, well written!
PhilG

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Apr 10, 2013 - 01:18pm PT
that if he thought I was strange he should get to know some of my climbing friends back in Yosemite.
Good story, Joe.
I think in the early 70's the climbers increased in strangeness!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Apr 10, 2013 - 01:18pm PT
Nice slice Joe!

Funny how very insular and cliquish continental climbing was BITD.

Thanks again for sharing your rich experience with us here.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
Apr 10, 2013 - 01:56pm PT
Joe, Anglada contacted me a year or two ago and wanted to get in touch with Royal too. I am not sure RR responded. Josep sent these two images. I gather they did some climbing together and a new route variation in the Pyrenees on Pedraforca. The photo of RR, TM, and Anglada was taken in 1963. And this "short walk" was not as funny as Patey's (grin).

Credit: from Anglada

Credit: Peter Haan

Pedraforca
Pedraforca

martygarrison

Trad climber
Washington DC
Apr 10, 2013 - 02:21pm PT
Terray died in a rock climbing accident in Chamonix 1965. Anyone have any details on this? It seems his partner died as well. Cragging? Wall?
H

Mountain climber
there and back again
Apr 10, 2013 - 02:31pm PT
Great shot Peter.

Terrific story Joe. Is this the start of a new book? You'll be missed in Jtree this year.
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 10, 2013 - 02:39pm PT
I don't think it was Chamonix where Terray died. It was an area called the Vercors (don't know where in France that is). He and a younger partner apparently fell roped together on the descent and were found at the bottom of the crag. This was a rock climb, and not an alpine icy thing, according to my understanding.

I have just finished re-reading Conquistadors of the Useless, which is excellent. Terray has always been a hero of mine, and I have seen his grave site in the Cham. graveyard.
Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
Apr 10, 2013 - 03:05pm PT
Great writing, great thread. TFPU!

"Le 19 septembre 1965, avec son ami Marc Martinetti, Lionel Terray fait une chute mortelle ŕ la fissure en Arc de Cercle, aux Arętes du Gerbier, dans le Vercors."
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Apr 10, 2013 - 03:16pm PT
It was an area called the Vercors (don't know where in France that is).

Gerbier is on the ridgeline above (and a little bit south) of Grenoble, to the west.

Terray died on a route on the east side of the peak, which, is kind of a long ridgeline (classic summit traverse too).

http://www.mountainproject.com/v/gerbier/107582022

Great stuff. Thanks!
Alan Rubin

climber
Amherst,MA.
Apr 10, 2013 - 03:52pm PT
Great story Joe.

Others have mentioned French climbers' (and maybe the French in general)attitude to Americans during that time period. A few years after Joe's walk with Terray, I encountered another version of this attitude.

In the summer of 1967 Utahan Bill Conrod and I were in the cafe in the telepherique station on top of Aiguille d'Midi waiting out a morning storm hoping to get on a route after it cleared. At a nearby table were two quite burly guys with heavy packs and ropes on the floor next to them. After a while they waved us over to join them. They introduced themselves as Pierre Mazeaud (Fr.) and Roberto Sorgato (It.) whom I knew to be two of the top alpinists of the day. Once we sat down they (mostly Mazeaud)began commenting at length, and with no little condescension and sarcasm, on our treasured US hardware, then rare in Europe.Our responses were quickly brushed aside. He was particularly dismissive of our (to our minds) state of the art Chouinard D carabiners. "Zey are much too small, I like ze Cassin Bonatti's---you can get your whole hand in zem"---demonstrating "French free" with his own quite substantial mitt. Soon after, the weather cleared and they went off to their climb, while Bill and I headed off for what turned into an epic (for me) ascent of the Rebuffat. A few years later Mazeaud became notorious for walking out on one of the Everest International Expedition extravaganzas in protest over what he claimed was favoritism towards the despised Anglo-Saxons. Still later he became active in French politics and eventually, I believe, even became a Cabinet member.

The Vercors is a high plateau outside of Grenoble a good ways south of Chamonix, It is "buttressed" by many impressive faces up to maybe 1000-1200 feet in places including Gerbier. It is presumed that Terray and Martinetti were roped simul-climbing an easier section in true alpine style even though this was a Pre-alpine rock climb.

Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
Apr 10, 2013 - 04:07pm PT

The French are traditionally known for being intellectually curious, and Americans... what should I say... a little bit blonde... like Norwegians. I'm talking tradition and not actuality. The white side of the intellectuality is the curiosity and the willingness to think. The black side is intellectual snobbery and a feeling of superiority.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
Apr 10, 2013 - 05:38pm PT
JoeF, it would be good if you could elaborate on your impressions on Terray; he was such a terrific writer and of course luminary alpinist. Pretty Please??
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Apr 10, 2013 - 05:49pm PT
Second.
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Apr 10, 2013 - 05:59pm PT
Third!
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Apr 10, 2013 - 06:02pm PT
Fourth
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Apr 10, 2013 - 06:02pm PT
It is presumed that Terray and Martinetti were roped simul-climbing an easier section in true alpine style even though this was a Pre-alpine rock climb.

Isn't the birthplace of "alpinism" sometimes referenced to Mont Aiguille, which, is really just a busted off chunk of the Vercors plateau?

Pre-alps, but, maybe not "pre-alpine"...

Er something...
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