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Monday, July 29, 2013

Southern France - G4G project II

The second installment of G4G Project (my girls highline team featuring Jelena Schradi, Ancee Kucharova and myself) took us to the sun and stones of Southern France. This trip was especially interesting because Jelena brought her 8 month old daughter Liv along for the adventure.

The trip began for me with hitchhiking. Ancee and I packed our bags and set out from Prague, Czech Republic. We knew it would be a 2-3 day mission to get to southern France, which was 1400 kilometers away. I had hitchhiked the same route one or two times before, and was looking forward to the advantage of being two girls, hoping we would have a quick journey.

It was cold and rainy when we departed from Czech Republic, however after a few rides and a full day we stopped for the night. The gas station we ended up at was a hitchhikers dream; surrounded by lush German forest and plenty of grassy spots to set up a tent. We slept on a gentle slope, and it rained all night. The next morning we started in the usual slacker's relaxed way. We awoke when the rain subsided and packed, ate bread and cheese and began our journey again. We were close to the borders of France and Switzerland, and this is a place where the highways get complicated and one must be sure they get a ride in the right direction. Switzerland for whatever reason can be a difficult place to hitchhike so we tried to stay en route to France. By the end of the day, a nice father transporting his young child took us along. The poor baby was crying almost the entire drive. Late in the night he left us at a gas station and we spent another night in a tent by the highway.

There is a city in southern France that consistently leaves a bad taste in my mouth: Orange. Not only had I been stuck there for 7 hours one time, but the characters I met were less than savory. My ride to Orange the year before had also played a Duffy cd on repeat for 3 hours, and when my friend Helmar and I were finally rescued from the toll where we stood thumbing, the nice young guy informed us that Orange is indeed a terrible place with at least a few racists in the population. Naturally, Ancee and I ended up in Orange after dark. We tried to get a ride but the characters that appeared were not the types we wanted to get in a car with. Finally, by midnight we had given up. We cooked a dinner outside in the wind, and the kind security guard allowed us to sleep on the floor by the coffee machines. It was a restless night under fluorescent lighting, and around 5am people began flooding the Latte machines, looking quizzically at the two girls in sleeping bags snoozing in the corner. We were so relieved to leave Orange, and happened to find a ride going direct to Montpellier. This was not quite on the route but we had wasted many hours in Lyon, France and wanted to finish the day with friends, so I called Alain and Manu Barbet who welcomed us in with whiskey and coke and a warm bed. The next morning Alain put us on the highway towards Marseilles, and within an hour we were close to our destination. Many buses, footsteps and waiting later, and we had joined Jelena, Julien and some other friends. So, finally the highline trip began.

Jelena had been in the area for a week scoping potential highline spots. A skilled female highliner by the name of Chloe had joined our group for the first week, and so we were a team of five (including the baby Liv.) Ancee and I arrived in time to walk a beautiful line over the water, about 40 meters in length, suspended between a tree and a rocky outcropping. Since I had just taken a break from highlining I needed to get back to my level as quickly as possible, so I wore a swami for my on sight send of the line, scaring myself just enough to work hard and be sure not to fall.

The first project we established all together was a great line just off the road on Route-de-Cretes. Two crusty towers poke up off the down hill slope, overlooking the sea.

The tensioning side is an interesting rig, Jelena used a naturally formed hole in a lower boulder as the anchor, a-framing over the top of the tower. She used about 10 meters of slings and an extra 2m to backup to a bush. The other side was my mission, and it was a choss pile. I only blame myself for the experience as I volunteered to do the static side, but it was good mountain goat training to say the least. From around the back I scrambled up through dense bushes (mostly the sharp poky kind) and found myself above the tower we would anchor from. I had a rope, so I fixed it to a small juniper tree and using some sharp chossy rocks as directions, rappelled down a short overhang. I used the rope as safety and gingerly walked across the ridge to the anchoring tower. We needed quite a lot of slings for it, 15-16m total and in order to sling it and attach the slackline I had to rappel down a couple meters.

I used an even smaller Juniper bush to hang from. I regretted not having enough padding and used some broken branches to lift the slings away from the sharp limestone choss. While hanging I pulled up the gear on an extra 20m rope, trying my best not to knock down more rocks. The line was 45 meters in length, and about 25 meters high. Due to the windy conditions we opted for a rope backup rather than double webbing, and Chloe managed to get the first ascent. Jelena had just returned to the sport from pregnancy and fought hard on the line, giving it her all. Ancee, recently recovering from an ankle injury, also struggled but managed to have some really good tries, almost walking the entire thing save a few meters.

I walked the line on-sight full man despite a very distracting wind. The weather was beautiful otherwise, sunny and bright with a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean Sea. Our team returned to the line a second day to enjoy some more walks, and I had a go in a swami, walking it FM. After a few weeks break from highlining, it felt good to push myself and work my muscles back into shape. All of us girls spent solid time on the line, which was not so easy as it was heavy and long.

The next day we had a rest, all donning dresses and going to the Cassis beach for a dip. The water was beautifully turquoise but cold as hell so I only swam for 5-6 minutes but felt better for it. The beach itself was a shit show of tourists so our visit was short lived, but we had fun nonetheless.

The highline that followed was thought to be a new project by Jelena, but as it turned out Lukas Irmler had already done it, though in the end he had rigged it a bit differently than we. It was also off the route-de-Cretes, a beautiful alcove that jutted out on the cliff edges, at least 100 meters above the ground. The gap was 62 meters long, a challenging length but within reach of our group.

We rigged with my lightweight setup of type-18 and aeon backup. This location was beautiful but especially grueling due to the fact that there are no tall trees to hide from the sun under. This meant that we were baking all day, every day. We bivied near the line the first night, enjoying a view of the golden lit city of Cassis, next to an outstretched dark blue Sea. The wind was harsh and Ancee's plan to sleep in a hammock on the line failed, and she soon was sleeping near us on the ground.

The next day we all had more tries on the line. I completed a full man send of the beautiful line, enjoying the exposure immensely.

Jelena's boyfriend Julien BASE jumped off the cliff as I walked, sailing down to the fields below. Chloe spent a lot of time on the 62m highline, as it was just within reach of her ability. She would cruise out with certain stability but the middle seemed to be the most challenging transition zone.

The second half of the trip was with a smaller group. Chloe returned to her home and it was just the core G4G girls and the baby Liv. We moved from the campsite to sleep in a rural parking lot. We thought we had chosen a good corner to pitch our tent when we heard a rustling in the bushes, and were shocked to discover a giant black boar rummaging through the trash can. This boar was no small creature, she stood at least a meter tall. The trash cans were metal surrounded by wood paneling, and the boar jumped up on her hind legs and began prying the wood paneling off the bin. We moved across the parking lot to sleep, but Ancee and I definitely felt vulnerable and continued to peak out of our tent as the boar roamed around. The next morning we had survived the night of the boar, but our laundry had not. Our wet clothes stretched out on a rock overnight had disappeared; and it was either a creepy guy we had seen in the morning or there is now a very well dressed boar roaming Cassis.

The next day two girls came to join our trip; Capuscine and Laure Millot. We were now a crew of 5 girls and a baby, something very unusual in the highline world. That night we slept in the cave off of Route-de-Cretes. I thought it was a secret place but some young people from Cassis appeared and threw a party inside. They barbequed and drank, and we hung out with them briefly, waiting for their departure so we could sleep in the dusty dark place. I had slept in the same cave before on my first trip to the Calanques, and it was just as special. The chandelier, the picnic table and the candles were all still there. In the morning we sat on the man-made front porch overlooking the Sea, and I am sure we thought that life is beautiful.

We returned to Cap Canaille to rig a shorter highline that had been established there. It was about 20 meters long. We were shocked to find 14 bolts in total, sprinkled all over the rock surrounding the line. Very few were logically placed, many were right on the tourist path in thin layers of rock that sounded hollow and disappointing. We hammered 2 bolts completely in so no one would use them since they were unsafe. There was likely just a layer of rock over dirt and to tension off of them would have potentially been disastrous. We managed to rig the line despite the gnarly bolt situation, though the strong winds were less than motivating. The line would have been a beautiful solo however the wind was not a condition supportive of that endeavor.

We de-rigged early in order to swim in the Sea again. The next day was windy again so we opted out of a highline mission, climbing instead. The routes we chose were beautiful short limestone ones, complete with crystals through most of them. We felt like princesses. At the end of our highline section, we raged with 6 girls and managed to rig and walk 6 highlines, 3 of which were completely new.

After two weeks our trip in the Calanques was over. We carpooled back to Montpellier, where we met our friends the Barbet's once again for waterline adventures.

Alain took us to some of the most beautiful spots in the area. G4G continues to be a raging crew of girls who love highlining. Hopefully 2014 will be another trip to the USA together!

Thank you to Alain and Manu, my French family! To Jelena for her hard work in finding the highline spots for our team, to Deuter for the backpack support of G4G, and to Nico for producing the film (to come soon!)

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