Classic Ice Primer- Chouinard Catalog 1968

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Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 19, 2009 - 04:19pm PT
Wonderfully considered response, Luca.

Was Charlet directly involved in the development of superior pick shape and character to allow his single axe technique to evolve? His name still persists as Charlet-Moser if I am not in error by attribution and I am curious if he had direct commercial involvement during his career?
lucasignorelli

climber
Torino, Italy
Feb 19, 2009 - 04:29pm PT
Gordon:
> I think Desmaison has been very much misunderstood!!

True, he was really doing his own thing when no one else was, organizing the Dru rescue in 1966, getting to be a good friend with Gary Hemmings and Mick Burke, making somehow politicized statements in the 60's, being friendly with you climbers - that was something a lot of members of the local establishment wouldn't like.


>Luca: I saw 'Mort d'un Guide' in Chamonix - must have been in 1976?? - was a lot of it filmed on the south face of the Midi??

Yes, standing for the West face of the Drus, who it turn stood for the NF of the Jorasses (oh my).

The legend says that in Trento Mountain Movie Festival on 1976, when "Mort D'Une Guide" won the first prize, Rebuffat stormed out the theatre screaming "C'est ignoble!!!!" because of the subject matter.

>how many of us would have hacked our way up the Bonatti-Gobbi

Not many Gordon, but this wasn't the point. According to Giancarlo (Grassi), all the new tools point was to go WAY beyond what Bonatti had done!
lucasignorelli

climber
Torino, Italy
Feb 19, 2009 - 04:45pm PT
>Was Charlet directly involved in the development of superior pick shape and character to allow his single axe technique to evolve? His name still persists as Charlet-Moser if I am not in error by attribution and I am curious if he had direct commercial involvement during his career?

"Charlet" (and Bettembourg) are well known families in Argentier with plenty of ties. But Armand (who died in 1970) had not influence om the development of the curved pick. What I'm being told is that "Charlet Moser" got directly influence by Chouinard, who convinced them try the 55 cm shaft, curved pick axe.

Just for the record - Grivel (who invented 10 points crampons in 1909 together with Oscar Eckstein, and, on their own 12 point crampons in 1929) did develop a line of modular (interchangeable) picks few years later as a completely independent design. This said, the idea of a curved pick came first from outside continental Europe - I believe that was YC idea first.
lucasignorelli

climber
Torino, Italy
Feb 19, 2009 - 04:54pm PT
Gordon:
>Don't be fooled by Black Nicks comment that 'we had these three climbs listed that the previous generation had f*cked up and that we were going to go out and do them properly' ... It wasn't quite like that - I just had this obsession with the Desmaison from reading an article about the epic in Paris Match as a school boy, we wanted to do the Amite because it sounded hard, and we wanted to do the Harlin because it was famous. And we wanted to snag the first 'Alpine Style' ascents of the three (Were Harding, Chouinard, Pratt and Robbins less visionary because their walls are being freed now?)

Very interesting point Gordon. And as I'm a curious fellow (you may have noticed this), I did a search on my own database (computers make everything sooooo easy these days!) of notable 2nd and 3rd ascents of classic line made by Brit climbers during the 70's.

Results (which I'll post tomorrow - too tired now!) quite interesting, as it looks like:

1) You were quite discriminating in your climbing choices

2) You were more interested in "cool" lines rather than in famous ones

3) You were actually reading guidebooks

and

4) You did spent a lot of time on MY side of Mont Blanc (Italian) as over 17 climbs I've "extracted" from my DB, only 4 were done on the French/Chamonix side (but on the other hand, new routes seems to have been climbed more often there)
Ain't no flatlander

climber
Feb 19, 2009 - 05:21pm PT
Luca said "the idea of a curved pick came first from outside continental Europe - I believe that was YC idea first."

He indeed popularized it but the first was in use in Germany three decades earlier. At best, YC reinvented an old idea.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 19, 2009 - 08:00pm PT
Can you produce a photo of any of these old ideas, ANF?
Wee Jock

climber
Feb 19, 2009 - 08:06pm PT
Luca: Perhaps what might be abstracted from what Bonatti said is that if a route is first climbed cutting steps then the only 'true' way of repeating the route is also to cut steps ... front pointing up the Bonatti-Gobbi (or the Shroud, or the Triolet etc etc) is not really repeating the route that Bonatti and Gobbi did - you get no idea of the true difficulty of the first ascent. Personally I regret never doing routes like Point Five and (even more) Orion Direct in Scotland cutting steps - I cannot really appreciate the skill, tenacity, courage to have done those routes in that style! Front Pointing has reduced those routes to 'an afternoon cup of tea with granny'! So what if other, later, routes require front pointing - those routes (obviously) do not!

Another point: Tobin and I NEVER WENT OUT TO DO A NEW ROUTE ON THE WALKER ... That was an accident of not having more of a route description than "the direct route up the NE face of the Point Walker". We followed that (paltry) description, where Desmaison followed the most dramatic line of the face but one that had little relationship to that description! Motivations are being ascribed to us (by you and Rick) that we never had!! The only important thing about the line that Tobin and I did is that you CAN follow your nose up that face towards the summit and you WILL FIND a slender but definite and complete line across the ramps!! Irrespective of any difficulties there may or may not be on the route it is, therefore, a really good mountaineering route! And you don't need a ton of gear to do it - no compressors, bolts, cams, abalakovs, hooks, ice-spurs, specialty ice-axes and ice-hammers beyond the sort of stuff Chouinard and MacInnes gave us at the start of the 70's and ordinary crampons! Having a friend like Tobin is useful, though!
RDB

Trad climber
Iss WA
Feb 20, 2009 - 01:37am PT
True alpinism has never been about gear. Alpinism has always been the man behind the idea, his imagination, determination and willingness to suffer.

The best could always do with a any old club with a nail through it and something to help your boots claw up the snow and ice. We've all known them. They are a bright spot in any climbing career,

Bring along a rope gun like Cassin, Bonatti, Lowe, Robbins, Buhl, Sorenson, Blanchard, Twight or any of the dozens of others and you have a fair chance of getting up something, then or now.

If they stay alive and in the sport, the best look for like souls with the strength and brashness of youth and willingly follow them along or help them along to an even brighter and wider imagination.

"Charlet" (and Bettembourg) are well known families in Argentier with plenty of ties. But Armand (who died in 1970) had not influence om the development of the curved pick. What I'm being told is that "Charlet Moser" got directly influence by Chouinard, who convinced them try the 55 cm shaft, curved pick axe.

Just for the record - Grivel (who invented 10 points crampons in 1090 toghether with Oscar Eckstein, and, on their own 12 point crampons in 1929) did develop a line of modular (interchangeable) picks few years later as a completely independent design. This said, the idea of a curved pick came first from outside continental Europe - I believe that was YC idea first.

I have no doubt YC was the first to have commercial success with a curved pick. I too have seen an early northwall hammer with a curved pick and iirc a short axe as well. Still looking for that reference. YC admits himself that he used a number of axes to incorporate what worked into his own design. I also find it interesting that it was Charlet that made the first piolet for YC but Camp ended up producing the Chouinard axes. Must be a story behind that?! I've also cited one reference, Micheal Chessler @ Chessler books, "Chouinard copied the steep drooping pick of European hand made axes, that planted firmly in hard ice or Neve, and made balance and esthetics primary."

I have yet to verify that info but it is not the first I have heard it. My take is the "real" inventors of what we now know as ice/mixed climbing are the Scotts, Jeff Lowe and hooking tools. The guy that made it possible...through his writings, advertising and equipment sales was YC.

Obviously no one took real advantage of the tools if custom axes were available. When you see what was used for tools/crampons/boots on the first really hard alpine ice climbs.....it might well make you shake your head in wonder today.


Wee Jock

climber
Feb 20, 2009 - 03:41am PT
Bloomin' 'eck Dane, 10 point crampons were invented just a few years after the battle of Hastings when Norman Willie did for old 'arold in the eyeball???? Perhaps we can see the design in the Bayeux Tapestry?? Did they have Chouinard Piolets in those days as well? I reckon the Black Prince (not Edward the Confessor - he came before Harold) was the first person to climb the north face of the Grandes Jorasses - Froissart was probably standing in for Luca as the recording journalist. I'll have to check his journals to see if there is a mention!!
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Feb 20, 2009 - 08:50am PT
Yep, and the curved pick was the secret weapon for penetrating armor!


Here's the relevant passage from Climbing Ice:

"On a rainy summer day in 1966, I went onto a glacier in the Alps with the purpose of testing every different kind of ice axe available at the time. My plan was to see which one worked best for piolet ancre, which one was better for step-cutting, and why. After I found a few answers, it took the intervention of Donald Snell to convince the very reluctant and conservative Charlet factory to make a 55-centimeter axe with a curved pick for the crazy American. In those days a 55-centimeter axe was crazy enough, but a curved pick! I had the feeling that modifying the standard straight pick into a curve compatible with the arc of the axe's swing would allow the pick to stay put better in the ice. I had noticed that a standard pick would often pop out when I put my weight on it. My idea worked..."

page 27-28
RDB

Trad climber
Iss WA
Feb 20, 2009 - 11:39am PT
Ok, ok, I didn't make my point very well :) BITD some pretty hard stuff had been done by chopping steps and water ice was generally avoided where possible. But we avoid water ice now on long alpine routes and look for the squeeky snice. We look for perfect conditions...like on the McIntyre/Colton recently?

Alpine climbing has always been about conditions not the tools used. From what I have read of accounts on the your and Tobin's climb, I suspect you felt better armed than Tobin with his curved gear and you with Terros. Flexi crampons all? Correct me if that is a misunderstanding.

Didn't much matter, what you had or didn't have as you obviously brought enough in retrospect. A couple of young heady lads, with more skill than they might have imagined and a distinct lack of gear that one might have expected "a professional" to have available for such and undertaking.

Imagination, determination and a willingness to suffer is what sets the great climbers apart from good climbers. More than a few of those posting on this thread, even if they don't care to admit it in public. History makes those judgements not the players.

YC had the imagination to "reinvent" the ice tool. Doesn't matter if there were similar tools around before him. If they were available, as some of us think, they never fulfilled their potential. It took guys like DR, YC and their buddies at home and abroad to take full advantage of the tools and more importantly to write about the tools and techniques in the popular press.

Jello and Mike Weiss skipped the alpine hammer phase and took the 70cm piolets up Bridalveil for chrimney sake! And that isn't even giving Greg Lowe credit for his avantgarde climbs.

How about the eclectic set up of gear that made the 1st ascent of Ames Ice Hose? On different pitches after a game of rock/paper/scissors it was a leashless 70cm piolet/rooster head, a set of humingbirds and a set of Terros.

In Canada it was just as bad. Bugs came up with the idea of aiders on Terros. But that was quickly dismissed and not "quite" right even there. Things changed really fast in the '70s with ice climbing. All the good ice climbing areas were involved to some degree.

Having been lucky enough to have climbed through the '70s and now once again out happily hooking away, I get to have a unique perspective.

Many here have an even broader perspective, Jack Roberts comes to mind and some of the obvious lurkers on this thread. But anyone who started climbing real ice with a piolet and an alpine hammer will know where I am coming from.

Stuff we use to grade as VI (and I heard a few Canadian's in the early '80s claim there was nothing harder than 4 on thick ice) is now a 5 and maybe even a lowly 4. The down grades are tool specific imo. I saw it coming on the 2nd ascent of Slipstream. Bonatti saw it 20 years earlier.

Bonatti said it wasn't the same climb without chopping steps and he is right. Take any grade 5 ice today and it isn't the same climb with leashless Nomics, super fast placing screws, lwt weight, high tech boots and soft shell stretchy clothing with garden weight gloves. If you know how to use all of them to your advantage it is much, much easier and safer as well.

I think that is a good thing. Proper respect is due IMO for all those that came before us (climbers today) and did at least as much, and some times a good deal more, with less.

"Tobin's season" with all the players involved is a classic example of "more with less".
Ain't no flatlander

climber
Feb 20, 2009 - 12:40pm PT
"Can you produce a photo of any of these old ideas, ANF?"

Contact Gary Neptune. He has the photo. IIRC it's a screen grab from a pre-WWII German climbing film that clearly shows a short shaft with a curved pick.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Feb 20, 2009 - 06:21pm PT
Thank you No Flatlander. Sharp eye, good memory.

Any Boulder locals who could help us nail this down?

Tarbuster?
Wee Jock

climber
Feb 20, 2009 - 08:29pm PT
As far as - no thick ice is harder than 4 - Jimmy Marshall, the famous Scottish winter climber would have agreed with this, with respect to front-pointing. There is an article in Outside mag where a couple of Americans interview him and he talks of 'his granny would be able to do anything, front-pointing'.

DR - I did a fair bit of climbing with a Chouinard axe and little Salewa ice hammer (all metal, curved T section pick) in my first year of winter climbing and reckon that pretty much anything on thick ice can be climbed using them! I did things like Chancer, Smiths Route, Point Five, Zero and Orion direct with them. On mixed ground neither of us used our gear on rock - we used our hands! On very thin (smears and plates of) ice Terrors were definitely an advantage. In soft snow (the cornice) the terror axe was brilliant!. My last season (1979) I used a prototype Chacal and a Simond Mustang curved pick axe. The Chacal had an advantage on thick water ice over the terror, but I climbed mixed ground quite happily with the Mustang!

A good carpenter does not blame his tools!! The adze on the Terror axe WAS a secret weapon, however!!

We both had Salewa Adjustable crampons which seemed just great to me.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 21, 2009 - 12:44pm PT
I posted this Jimmy Marshall shot upthread already but ever tire of it. Negotiating Parallel B gully.

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Feb 21, 2009 - 01:13pm PT
Thanks for re-posting Steve. You're right, there's something so archetypal about that shot. I too never tire of it, and never tire of several other of the Scottish images that have gotten onto this thread.

There's something fine and innocently refreshing about simply tackling with gusto the medium that happens to be right in front of you. The Scots were --still are -- blessed with their rimed-up medium. They attacked it with glee when the world wasn't watching. They made tools especially good for it. Like Wee Jock just said again, "The adze on the Terror axe WAS a secret weapon, however!!" And it was also just a local guy hammering out in his little shop something peculiarly good for where he was. And other local guys without even shops, bent over Primus stoves recurving their picks.

I found the same in the Palisades. Just a kid who couldn't wait to come to grips with what was right in front of me. Happened to be mostly granite, but when it was snow and ice too, there was Don Jensen with his Terror hammer. And then along came YC. He had been around more, picked things up. But he too was just a guy with a good forge and a healthy enthusiasm for "forging" onto the medium we found there, which happened to be flinty-hard water ice.

That's what I get out of "Tobin's Season" too. Head up the Shroud because they could. See with their own eyes ice cutting through overlaps to the summit ridge and just go climb it.

Fun, fun, fun.

History comes later, putting it all in context, and I gotta say I'm proud of the strides this group right here have collectively made toward putting the pieces together into a jigsaw that makes a surprising lot of sense, a lucid story of where we've been.

Carry on!
Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
Feb 21, 2009 - 01:29pm PT
East Side Underground mentioned up thread that the Charmoz had been skied. The subject of the inevitable downgrading of one generation’s ”Last Great Problem” in a few years to an “ Easy Day for a Lady” was covered long ago in a seminal article whose author I forget, but Steve probably remembers. I am more awed by those climbers who chopped, in Luca's words, nasty, brutish (and short?) steps up the Charmoz in the days before front points than modern glisse descents. The cloud of mystery that obscured the peaks then was as forbidding to climbers back in the days before instant information as the technical difficulties.

The fact that the skill and courage of modern climbers or glisse practicioners is almost unfathomable does not detract in the least from my appreciation of the challenges faced by a Brown, Bonatti, a Robbins, a Chouinard, a Whymper, or on the glisse side, a Vallencant or Saudan.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 21, 2009 - 03:35pm PT
Willo Welzenbach's spirit floats around the Charmoz too.

An old photo that I came across in a junk shop looking up that way about a hundred years ago.

Fritz

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Feb 21, 2009 - 04:34pm PT
Re: Grivel 10-points invented in 1090!

Dane & WeeJock: I did some quick research on Lucasignorelli’s post that included the fact that Grivel invented crampons in 1090:

Lucasignorelli on Feb 19: “Just for the record - Grivel (who invented 10 points crampons in 1090 together with Oscar Eckstein”

It was a typo. Lucasignorelli has been slaving over his history links late at night.

From Grivel’s fine website is the following link: showing that modern 10 points were invented in 1908-09.

http://www.grivel.com/Storia/Storia_Det.asp?Cat=R

Here is some of the Grivel copy on the process.


The whirlwind Oscar Eckenstein (1859 - 1921) broke into this rather quiet environment in the early 20th century.. An engineer, brilliant mountaineer, argumentative and a loner, he published two articles in the Ostereich Alpenzeitung, on the 20th. July 1908 and the 5th. June 1909, detailing the results of his research on the manufacture of crampons, their systematic use and the incredible feats they could perform. In fig.9 illustrates his designs. Eckenstein’s real innovation and its importance doesn’t just lie in the technical perfection of the crampons but rather in the spirit of courage and innovation with which he defined their use..... his major contribution has been that of a moral nature. This ultimately consists in the faith that mountaineers laid in his inventions: nobody dared before him, but afterwards everybody trusted crampons. (Manual d’Alpinisme du C.A.F. 1934)

Our hero bought his plans to the blacksmith at Courmayeur, Henry Grivel – who, even though he was doubtful, made the crampons for the “English gentleman”, who had the undoubtable advantage of being able to pay. Success was immediate, so much so that on the 30th. of June 1912 a competition for “cramponneurs”, between guides and porters, was organized on the Brenva glacier.

It is important to note that Eckenstein also introduced a special marking system to judge the competitors’ style in the various trials. This could make it the first climbing competition in the history of mountaineering, even though it was on ice.

Fritz
lucasignorelli

climber
Torino, Italy
Feb 21, 2009 - 04:51pm PT
DR
> You're right, there's something so archetypal about that shot. I too never tire of it, and never tire of several other of the Scottish images that have gotten onto this thread

This one below is my own version of that shot (I'll rephrase it - it probably gives me the same archetypal feel you may get from that Marshall pic)



It's Gianni Comino (one of the our "scruffy lads" - I like the definition - even he was the opposite of scruffy), taken by Giancarlo on August 20, 1978. Third pitch, second step of the Ypercouloir. The perspective of this piture is wrong, as I discovered four years ago when I managed to see this pitch with my eyes - the upper column is weirdly tilted, and overhangs. The "wall" on the left is actually a roof.

The pitch took four hours to be climbed, and Gianni could not put any protection - the ice was so rotten and crumbly (ice cream consistence, in Giancarlo's words) that had to climb it basically soloing. The pitch above took another three hours, and Gianni fell for 40 metres, luckily without consequences. The tool used was a normal 70cm axe. without curved pick.

I understand that all this hype on my part for this picture may sound quite silly (if not even a bit boring) formost of the crew posting here - after all, Jeff did the Bridalveil climb in 1974, and I suppose this kind of stuff was rather commonplace in Scotland by 1978 standards. But for us, it was NEW - nothing like that had even been remotely attempted in the Mt. Blanc range, not even by the French (Gianni had soloed the Supercouloir in 1977). I remember seeing this picture on June 1979 in the Courmayeur guides bureau, and feeling a distinctive tingle on my spine, like "uh oh". It hasn't happened much often afterwards, and almost never in the last 10 years!



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