Choreography in stone at the end of the world…
»La Rose et le Vampire« 8b | Buoux
The end of the world is not behind the seven mountains and not at the poles of this earth. It is in Southern France, in the mountains of Luberon, and was a site of pilgrimage for the best climbers in the world in the 1980s the heard of Buouxis is beating in “Le Bout du Monde”, and the idea of vertical dancing condenses in “La Rose et le Vampire”.
“Le Bout du Monde” – the end of the world – is located at the very right edge of the rock world of Buoux, one of the most famous climbing areas of the world. In the 1980s, climbing history was written here, and sports climbing was characterised essentially. Patrick Edlinger, called “Le Blond”, made the news with his spectacular solo tours and difficult first ascents. The limestone rock in the Massif du Luberon near the town of Buoux is up to 200 metres high and had everything that climbers might wish for: delicately chiselled limestone plates, powerful overhangs, holes and strips – as well as a collection of the most difficult routes as they were quite unique in Europe at the time.
When “Le Gang des Parisiens”, a group of young, wild climbers from Paris, turned the rocks of Buoux into their playground in 1984, the era of the Xth degree of difficulty started there. «Yellow overhanging wall without any climbing route on the very right part of the wall» When the brothers Marc and Antoine le Menestrel, Jean-Baptist Tribout and Laurent Jacob finally discovered a yellow overhanging wall without any climbing route on the very right part of the wall, there was no stopping them. One route after the other was placed through the impossible-seeming wall – “Le Bout du Monde” had been found!
When Antoine le Menestrel had opened the route “Chouca” (8a+), named after his dog, which had died just previously, in 1984, this was the starting signal for the development of the most impressive wall section. «Antoine spent many weeks optimising his new route» The next year, Antoine tried to climb a line through the most forbidding part of the wall – and since there were no holds along some metres in the lower part, he modelled one of the most famous climbing points in the world: the “cross-pull”. It became the epitome of sports climbing in the late 1980s; at the time, it was common to change too-small or even missing holds artificially. Antoine spent many weeks optimising his new route – extremely wide pulls at finger holes, dynamic movements at very small shelves –, until he got through in September 1985. “La Rose et le Vampire” still is one of the most famous climbing routes in the world, not least due to the unique cross-pull. It was the first 8b in Southern France, and climbers from around the world came to try it out. Many were sucked dry by the vampire and only few found the rose– as Antoine said: “The route is the vampire, and the rose is for the winner.”
The next year, Antoine continued “La Rose…” – one of his last first ascents in Buoux. Called “La Rage de Vivre”, it is assessed as 8b+– “the pain to live” did not become established in the scene in the same manner that the lower part “La Rose…” did. Antoine felt that the natural rock structures were limiting his creativity too much, and as a logical consequence he started designing routes along artificial walls. He became the first internationally renowned route planner for large climbing competitions that gained more and more popularity towards the end of the 1980s. Today, Antoine is working as a choreographer and dancer for the dancing company “Les Lézards Bleus”, which he founded and with whom he presents a unique vertical ballet: dancing theatre the other way around!
The complex setup of the choreography of “La Rose…” and the difficulty of the individual pulls is reflected in the fact that Tyrolean Anna Stöhr, fourfold overall world cup winner in bouldering and member of the Mammut-ProTeam, took four days to master the route nearly 30 years after its first ascent. It demanded everything from her. Although Buoux has long stopped being fashionable among the extreme athletes, “La Bout du Monde” will always remain a dance floor for the best, and “La Rose et le Vampire” remains the sublimation of dance in the vertical plane of the rock.
United by shared passion
Antoine Le Menestrel
How did it all start?
When we were kids, we used to drive to Fontainebleau for climbing over the weekend. We came to the South, Buoux and the Verdon gorge, from the area of Paris. The Troussier brothers, Patrick Berhault and Patrick Edlinger were the stars there. They called us “Le Gang des Parisiens”. We, that was Laurent Jacob, JB Tribout, Fabrice Guillot my brother Marc and I. We were extremely motivated for climbing!
Did you travel to other climbing areas as well?
We knew that there were Jerry Moffat and Ben Moon in England, Kurt Albert and Wolfgang Güllich in Germany and other good climbers in other countries. When the legendary John-Bachar route “Chasin’ the trane” was climbed on sight, JB and I went to the Frankenjura to climb there as well. It wasn’t about the competition of being better than someone else, but simply about doing it as well. We also travelled to England in order to repeat the most difficult route there at that time “Revelation”; based on our French ethics that allows to work on the individual moves, I was able to repeat this route in one day. The British climbers refused this style, since they always lowered themselves to the ground after every fall; shortly afterwards, I was able to climb “Revelations” solo. By repeating such routes, we were inspired by the first climbers, we got new strength to put our own projects into practice.
What do you personally think about climbing competitions?
My brother and I signed the “Manifeste des 19″ as early as in 1985 (a manifest in which 19 of the best French climbers speak up against climbing competitions; editor’s note.), because we wanted to develop a value of friendly rivalry instead of competition. The wish for climbing competitions did not arise with us climbers, but with the associations and magazines. We feared to lose our freedom and mind-set and demanded consideration. Apart from Edlinger and Berhault, who lived from climbing, we were all amateurs without any financial gain from climbing. I was not willing to put all of my energy into being the best. Therefore, I put my creativity into opening routes along artificial walls.
How did you discover “Le Bout du Monde”?
That was when we had cut down a tree at the start of the “Fissure Serge” route to be able to climb it freely. I saw this magical location for the first time then and was immediately caught in its spell. I named the place “Le Bout du Monde”, because I withdrew there for a while, almost like a hermit, a stylite. I had made an athletic achievement. The climbing scene’s stars were like black holes in the media. I tried to develop further when climbing by meditation and reading poems and mystic literature. I wanted to move away from the performance idea to develop poetic climbing.
And then there was “La Rose et le Vampire”?
“La Rose…” is the most important route in my life. It changed me, both my way of climbing and my further life. Before, the rock inspired me, the line of holds that could be climbed. Here, I wanted to create a route that ran along my very limit. I wanted to transfer my ideas for movements onto the rock and put my creativity into practice. Therefore, I modelled holds as well. It was the last route where I did that. After that, I built all routes on artificial walls.
What does “La Rose…” mean to you personally?
“La Rose…” wakened the artist in me! I could put my personal ideas of unusual climbing movements into practice here. Developing the cross-pull in the lower part of the route has given me a great amount of energy and motivation, “La Rose…” made me an artist. I gradually stopped climbing difficult routes soon after and focused on art and poetry.
But you did continue climbing difficult routes, didn’t you?
Yes, I did open the “Ravage” in the Basel Jura in 1986, one of the first 8c routes ever, and “Il était une Voie” in Buoux, also 8c. After that I only built routes on artificial walls where I could use my own ideas of climbing movements and express my entire creativity of movement.
Is there something which you want to tell the young climbers?
Consume less und be more creative!
Invent climbing in a new way!
Respiration is our fifth handhold!
Make love with the rock!
Find your own way!
Crimp the holds and let it loose!
How was your time with Antoine? What was most fascinating for you?
The time with him was really funny. Antoine is a dyed-in-the-wool enthusiastic climber, I like that. I was fascinated by his being an artist and living that to the fullest.
How did you perceive climbing in “La Rose”? Did you like that?
Climbing in “La Rose” requires lots of strength, which doesn’t usually fit my climbing style. It is sad that there are artificial holds or that there have been “improvements”. However, this should be seen in context of its time; at the time, it was common practice in Buoux.
How long did it take you? What was most difficult for you?
All in all, I worked on it for four days in a row. In the third day, I was able to do some very good attempts, so I returned in the morning of the day of my departure and was able to actually climb the route.
There are two difficult passages for me: Most difficult was the pull across the roof edge, since it is very far for me. The pull after the cross-pull was also very difficult; I had to make certain to properly sort the cross-pull hold, from which you pull away, properly.
How would you characterise climbing in “La Rose”? Also in comparison to the “current” difficult routes?
Short and to the point – I believe that most accurately describes the route. It depends on what area you compare the tour to. It would be difficult to compare it to Oliana, Spain, where the routes are very long. It would probably be most easily compared to Margaleff or partially the Franconian Jurassic.
What do you think about the classification? How would the route be assessed today?
I think the classification is okay. Personally, I would give the route the same rating today.
Why do you think Buoux is no longer fashionable among climbers today?
Maybe it’s because of technical climbing, which is no longer as popular today. However, I enjoyed that there weren’t 300 tents here in the valley, as they would have been 30 years ago – Antoine told me –, but that we could be all on our own, just the six of us, and all because of me.
Tough nut to crack
Most difficult individual move
The picturesque town of Buoux would be only one of many villages in the Massif de Luberon in Southern France – if it wasn’t for the rocks in the valley of Aiguebrun! The walls on the North side of the narrow valley are up to 150 metres high and are some of the most famous climbing areas in the world – French sports climbing history was written here in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Some routes on the long-stretched rock face are legendary – such as the 150 metres high “Pilier des Fourmis” (7a+), climbed in a free solo ascent by Patrick Edlinger in 1983 (!) for his film “Un vie au bout des doigts”, “Choucas” (8a+) and “La Rose et le Vampir” (8b) by Antoine le Menestrel, “Le Minimum” (8c) by his brother Marc and “Acincourt” (8c) by Ben Moon, long the most difficult route in Buoux.
The history of the Falaise du Aiguebrun starts much earlier, though: specifically, 25 million years ago. At the time, a sea covered the region of what is now Southern France. On the shore area, algae and shellfish collected, condensed into sediment and were raised up in the course of the Alpine thrust. Wind and weather contributed to giving the rocky walls their current shape through weathering. If you are climbing a route in Buoux, you are literally crossing 20 million years of geological history – using holes and boards, plates and far-reaching overhangs …
The first traces of human presence in the valley of Aiguebrun are from the Stone Age– about 100,000 years ago. In the Neolithic era, about 6000 BC, the caves of Aiguebrun were used to bury the dead; about 200 graves with burial objects have been discovered in the rocks. In the Middle Ages, the caves in the Buoux rocks were used as the homes of hermits, who practiced a special form of Christian asceticism as stylites; the many grooves, troughs and trays hewn from the rocks were once attributed to the stylites. More recent research, however, has shown that these traces of human presence in Aiguebrun date from as early as the 6th century AD, when people had withdrawn into the protection of the caves.
Across from the wall of Aiguebrun, there are the ruins of Fort Buoux on a ledge. This place was fortified even during prehistoric times. Later, the Celts and then the Romans used the position of this fort to control the passage over the Luberon. In the 13th century, a Medieval castle was built here. It was deemed impenetrable for a long time. In the 16th century, the Huguenots used this castle as a refuge until Ludwig XIV had it destroyed around 1660.
The wall of Aiguebrun reflects the entire history of climbing – from the first routes developed with regular bolts and partially with technical climbing, to modern sports climbing at the highest difficulties. In the early 1960s, climbers from Marseille, first of all Michel Frager, opened up the first routes in Buoux – fully in the style of those times with many regular bolts and stepladders in technical climbing. First, they tackled the castle rock of Fort Buoux – a rock face on which climbing has now been forbidden for many years. The first route at the Falaise de Aiguebrun probably was the “Pilier des Fourmis” (VI, A1, now 7a+), after the first ascent in 1968 by the rope team Coquillon, Coulon and Gay. This Raymond Coulon, the village smith of Buoux, also personally produced the bolts they used to tame the routes. Other obvious lines in the highest wall part of Aiguebrun followed, for example “La Rut” (1971, now 7a), “La Gougousse” (1972, now 7a+) or “Le Fakir” (1975, now 7c+). When sports climbing became fashionable, the climbers from Southern France were the first again to set new standards in Buoux, among them the Troussier brothers, Patrick Berhault and Patrick Edlinger. During these years, classics like “Pepsicomanée” (6b), “TCF” (ta) or “Les Diamants sont eternel” (7a+) were created. Finally, Serge Jaulin and Bruno Fara systematically accessed the walls in Aiguebrun – soon, the first 7cs and 8as were created, followed by “Le Gang des Parisiens” – the rest is known. As is the memorable year of 1984, when the entire climbing world descended on Buoux like a swarm of locusts, after which climbing in Aiguebrun was completely forbidden for a time…
Today, Buoux once again is the sleepy village in Southern France that it was when the first sports climbers arrived 35 years ago – and that is good: the climbing “punk” has moved to Spain, Kalymnos or Turkey. The Falaise de Aiguebrun once again is there for true lovers: the rock is the vampire and the rose belongs to the devotee…
I would like to thank my old friend Martin Lochner for his support in researching climbing history!
Two climbing generations
1985Oktober — Antoine Le Menestrel
2014April — Anna Stöhr
Would you like to try the route for yourself? There’s an easy way to find the start for once! Get the GPS data to find our recommended path to the start of the route (note: differences of up to 10 meters are possible due to measuring inaccuracies).