Georges Livanos Alias Le Grec, King of the Calanques, Emperor in the Dolomites, 500 first ascents beyond Verticality.
"The kind of man that nothing less than a ton of bricks could keep down: nineteen hundredweight would have been of no use.” Sir Francis Younghusband (The Epic of Mount Everest).
Georges Livanos, born in 1922 from a Greek father and grand-father was 100% from Marseille, he loved to play his own part, that of colourfulness and humour at its best.
One of the aphorisms he always was found of:
"Better one more peg than one man less… especially if that man is me!”
Pure amateur, he put 25.000 pegs, opened 500 routes in the Calanques of Marseille, 40 in the Dolomites, around 20 in the Alps and repeated quite a number of big routes in the Alps and the Dolomites.
Many of the great names of Alpinism did rope with him, Jean Franco, Maurice Herzog, Lionel Terray, Gaston Rébuffat, Jean Couzy,Michel Vaucher, Claudio Barbier, not to mention his Italian friends such as Gino Soldà, Armando da Roit, Beppi de Franchesch, Marcello Bonafede, Menegus, Stenico and many others particularly when they came in the Calanques.
Le Grec wanted to become a tough guy in climbing, for him the Calanques were a springboard to go farther, in the mountains, on big walls. Until 1956, Robert Gabriel will be his rope mate in a great number of first ascents in the breathtaking walls in the North of Italy, then, besides Marc Vaucher and Roger Lepage who will climb with him until he stopped, his wife, Sonia, will be his ideal partner, always ready to follow him on the 1200 meters of rocks on the North face of the Civetta or on the Grand dièdre of the Cima Su Alto.
Climbing on short weekends
Contrary to « professionals » and today’s young climbers, he only climbed during week-ends which during his years started only the Saturday afternoons and during his summer holidays which were a maximum of 4 weeks – in his time no 35 hours week and no RTT - le Grec used public transport: so to go and climb on the Bertagne peak, with Sonia and his friends, they were taking the tramway to Aubagne, then the bus to Gémenos and then walking to the foot of the wall. To go to Chamonix, he took the railways and was driving a Vespa to go to the Vercors, it was the vehicle he used for his work as a sales rep for printing material, with which he travelled up and down the Bouches du Rhône, the Var and Vaucluse during 10 years. He waited until his pal Robert Gabriel stopped climbing in 1956 (for wedding reasons) to find a new rope mate, Marc Vaucher who had a Citroen DS and at last enjoyed the comfort and saving time that a car is giving you. Le Grec never learned how to drive as also he never learned how to swim. For a Marseille man that is really taking the cake! Himself stated that he was « a Sunday climber » and not a true « sportsman » as the young stars of today navigating in the 8th grade! Despite this, his list of ascents is still today amazing and above all of high quality: Oh the Livanos routes! Repeating them sufficed to convince oneself that you were part of the better ones! They were a must : "The one who did without bivouaquing the Livanos pillar at Archiane could consider the big North walls…" …Bruno Fara, Climbing years 1970), that is in the Vercors as in Dolomites, then in the 1950s and 1960s, there were much less French climbers there. This is how he concluded his scoring at the end of 1978, when, aged 55, he stopped climbing after 40 years of activity:
Le Grec was updating his ascents on small notebooks and on greater ones he was putting photos of big routes that he had climbed in the Alps and the Dolomites. Extract from his notebooks:
SCORE end of 1978
Voies Calanques 134.500 mètres
Essais divers 10.750 mètres
Chamonix 8.900 mètres
Oisans 6.600 mètres
Bregaglia 1.500 mètres
Ecole & Verdon 15.860 mètres
Dolomites 64.000 mètres
Total of 242.100 mètres
Calanques 630 voies (500 premières et 1660 parcours)
Voies nouvelles Calanques & Montagne : 56.160 mètres
60 "1rst" (32 of 6th grade - 38 abroad)
"I climbed with around 300 guys, e basta"
"For me the ideal is to start from the bottom, reach the top and come back down. And not too fast..." Au delà de la Verticale
"Le Grec" as a child in Chamonix
Le Grec did his first alpine climb in 1937 when 15 years old with Alfred Burnet and climbed in 1937 et 1938 with Ulysse Simond before taking his own takeoff.
In 1938, he participated in the Chamonix 'fêtes des guides' event and it was Armand Charlet who announced the demonstration by the young trainee Livanos who climbed the grande arête on the Gaillands.
1945, 20 years old, 10th ascent of the Meije South Face (his 1rst « serious » mountain climb with Albert Ouannon, "Pépé") ; the 8th ascent of West ridge of the Pic sans nom (with Righetti), lthe 3rd ascent of the South pillar of the Ecrins (with Jean Franco in 5h"30. 4h15 stops taken off and only 7 pegs).
1946: 2nd ascent of the South face of the Grand Dru (with Charles Magol), 5th ascent of the North Face of the Grands Charmoz (Magol again), attempts the 1rst ascent of the West Face of the Drus stopped by continuous falls of Grand pianos in the attack couloir.
1947: 1rst ascent West face of Grépon (with R. Gabriel, Roger Duchier and Charles Magol) ;
1949: 2nd ascent of the nLeschaux North-east face (with R. Gabriel) and the 1rst complete ascent of the Peigne North ridge (with R. Gabriel).
The Dolomiti years
In the Dolomites, in 1950, "Le Grec" starts with a masterpiece: 10th ascent with R.Gabriel of the Cima Ovest Cassin route.
Robert Gabriel - traverse Cassin Cima Ovest 1950 (Photo Hans Lobenhoffer. Hans, Heinrich Harrer's companion was on Nanga Parbat in 1939 and a prisoner of the English. Impressed at the traverse, he asked to make one unique party. So Gabriel gave his rucksack to one of the Germans and so did the traverse as a ballet dancer: one must always be careful with climbers from Marseille!)
1951: with Sonia and Robert, they make the 4th ascent of the Torre di Valgrande North-east face (1rst ascent and 1rst “sesto superior” by a lady).
4 days later, it is the 1rst ascent of the Su Alto, the “last N°1 problem in the Dolomites”, coveted by many Italians “stars”.
His indestructible and deep frienship with the Dolomiti climbers associated to his 1rst ascents resulted that still today "le Grec" is the only non Italian climber to be part of the Dolomiti climbers gotha at par with his "hero", Riccardo Cassin.
Su Alto, Civetta, Six sup « a 1rst ascent coveted by the best Italians climbers done without any preparation with two bivouacs, “My sixtin chapel”, Le grec will say latter. Photo signed by Riccardo Cassin with his congratulations to the victorious team.
From then on, Le Grec becomes a member of the Gotha of Italian climbers. He will then do many big routes of which many 2nd ascents and 1rst ones not forgetting the many « feminine » Sonia 1rst ascents.
1952: No 1rst mais 3rd and 1rst « feminine » for Sonia on the Vinatzer route Marmolada di rocca South face.
1953: Monte cavallo West Spigolo 6 + (R. Gabriel),(repeated 15 years after in 1968 by Messner which stated it to be then one of the most difficult routes in the Dolomites).
1954: 1rst Terranova North-west face 6 + (R. Gabriel and A. Da Roit)
1956: Torre del lago North-west face ED (Sonia).
1957: 1rst ascent Torre Venezia West face ED - (Sonia)
1959: Castello de la Busazza 1rst ascent TD + (Roger Lepage "Baffo")
Aiguille de Sialouze South-west face 1rst ascent ED (Marc Vaucher "Marcus", Roger Lepage).
1960: Sciora di Fuori West face 1rst ascent ED - (Lepage, Marc Vaucher et Jack Canali, Romano Merendi, Gigi Alippi, Luciano Tenderini).
1961: Crozzon di Brenta West face 1rst ascent ED - (Marc Vaucher et Roger Lepage).
1962: Cima Tosa - Torre Gilberti 1rst ascent ED - (Marcus et Baffo).
1963: During the “high difficulty meet” he organized at vazzoler, he did a “small” 1rst ascent with Sonia, the East face of the Torre di babele (me and J.Brès following) and a more « serious » one : Cima de Gasperi North face ED - (Beppi de Franchesch, Sonia, Jean Belleville, Maurice Negri et Jacques Martin, "la Roche sur Foron's gang").
1964: Palla belluna South face 1rst ascent - 6 sup (Sonia)- Torre venezia North-west Spigolo 1rst ascent ED (F.R. Raybaud) - Torre di babele South face 1rst ascent ED - (Marcello Bonafede)
1965: Crozzon di Brenta East face 1rst ascent ED - (Romanetti et Lepage)
1ère paroi NE Brenta Alta ED - (Rebreyend, Robert Gabriel)
1966: Odla di Cisles South face 1rst ascent TD+ (Sonia) - Cima delle Pope South pillar 1rst ascent ED (JP. Folliet) - Catinacio East face TD (P. Alex)
1968: Punta Agordo South face TD - (Sonia) - Cima dell' Elefante South face ED - (Sonia, Marc Vaucher et Jean Max Bourgeois)
1969: Corno del Doge North-west face ED - (Sonia, Jean Max Bourgeois, Marc Vaucher) - de la Costa Bel Pra North-west face 1rst ascent ED (Sonia, P. Alex) - Torre dei Sabbioni South-west face TD (Sonia, Marc Vaucher)
1970: Monte Giralba di Sopra North-west pillar 1rst ascent ED - (Sonia, Marc Vaucher) - Cima d'Auronzo West face 1rst ascent ED ( Sonia et Marino Stenico) - Cima d'Auronzo West face (Stenico) - Torre Undici South-west pillar 1rst ascent TD - (Sonia, Bourgeois, Foray)
1971: Cima dei Tre West face 1rst ascent ED - (Sonia, Marc Vaucher) - 20 years after his 1rst ascent, he repeats with Sonia the SU ALTO - 6 + no peg in site.
1972: Torre Delle Mede South face 1rst ascent TD + (Sonia)
1973: Casteletto della Busazza 1rst ascent TD (Sonia et les St Pierre) - Punta Gianni Costantini 1rst ascent ED (Eugenio Bien)
1974: Spigolo O Torre Degli Aghi 1rst ascent TD - (Sonia, Marc Vaucher et St Pierre) - Cima dei Tre West face 1rst ascent D + (with same)
1ère face O Cima Dell' Orso TD - (R. St Pierre)
1977: Spigolo O Cima dei Tre ED 1rst ascent - (Bernard Vaucher)
To those routes, one has to add some beautiful 1rst ascents in Oisans and on the french limestone crags, particularly:
In 59, Aiguille de Sialouze South-west face ED
In 61, Glandasse wall - Vercors - ED (Vaucher, Lepage) - Rocher des Heures ED - (with the same)
In 67, Tête du JardinSouth-west face - ED (Sonia, Lepage, Marc Vaucher) ;
arête SE du signal ED - (les mêmes et P.Alex)
In 68, Paroi des Voutes ED (Soleymieux et P.alex)
In 71, Rocher des heures South pillar ED (MarcVaucher)
Le Grec, stops climbing when 55 years old. The following is a quote from his book Au delà de la verticale:
'The eagle doesn't hunt flies' said one of Tartarin's companions. One day, I had myself written to Robert Paragot :
"When you have hunted lions, rabbits look meager. And I will quote "Robert Gabriel:
"If I killed myself in the Calanques or in easy ground, I would not dare go out any more".
“Le Grec” lived to be 81 before he died in 2004.
The Golden Pelmo
“In Auronzo di Cadore
The jury unanimously assigns the ”Pelmo d’Oro” Prize 2002 for their
climbing career to SONIA and GEORGES LIVANOS with the following
“Golden pair on the rocks and in life, they made the Bellunesi Dolomites known to the mountaineers on the other side of the Alps, often roped up with strong Bellunesi climbers and true friends”.
"Pair in life as in climbing, they chose, in the 1950s, the Bellunesi Dolomites to realize some incredible climbs, often roped up with strong Bellunesi climbers ; among them, we remember the unforgettable Armando Da Roit “Tama” from Agordo, then Marcello Bonafede and Eugenio Bien. The most outstanding exploits of the Greek-French pair were made on Cima Su Alto, Cima di Terranova, Torre da Lago, Castello della Busazza, Cima De Gasperi, all peaks situated inside the Civetta Group, but also on Cima d’Auzonzo, Croda dei Toni and Monte Giralba, on Lista and Torre Undici inside the Popera Group. Sonia and Georges’exploits above all made the Bellunesi Dolomites known to the French climbers, which since created a profitable attendance and an invaluable popularization of our mountains."
IL PELMO D’ORO
The Pelmo d'Oro was created in 1997. Attribué par la province de Belluno (Dolomites) aux meilleurs alpinistes qui grimpent dans les Dolomites et participent à les faire connaitre par leur pratique.
The prize is a statute in bronze representing the Monte Pelmo, created by the artist Gianni Pezzei.
The prize is subdivided in three parts:
1. Alpinism in activity – given to Italian alpinists as well as non Italian, it values the classic sport climbing in the Dolomites.
2. Climbing Carrieer – Given to an alpinist not anymore active, from Belluno region or not, who made a significant part of his carreer in the Dolomites.
3. Alpine Culture – Le prix est attribué à un écrivain, un photographe qui par ses écrits ou qui par ses photos ou ses films a illustré les Dolomites et la Province de Belluno.
1963 - High Difficulty Camp with Georges and Sonia Livanos
At the end of the afternoon, everything was ready to get Plathey's body down. We had to heave at least 30 m of slack to at last feel his body on the rope, and 100 m lower, it stuck in the middle of the fully vertical wall on a crimper ! We went down to the Tissi refuge for the night and came back next morning. This time we hove more than 40 meters of slack before unblocking his body and the four of us on the rope. The final part went smoothly. The zip-lines of The Greek and Beppi's friends were professional work. Then we carried Plathey's body from the Tissi refuge to the Vazzoler refuge, before going down to Agordo where his elder brother was waiting. At one stage we came across a priest with his flock and the priest starts shooting at us. Furious, Armando, without taking off his usual toscan, tear off his camera from the priest' hands and crusch it on a rock. His look of steaming rage of the great beanpole he was luckiliy prevented any rebellious reaction from the poor priest. What a man! It is not for petty reasons that the region' inhabitants came to seek him to become their senator several years later. Paul Plathey' parents were able to see their son a last time in a presentable state. It was not much, but at last we had done it. In those days, this attitude contrasted so much with the sickening ways of the rescue organisations in Chamonix, that I felt proud to have been part of this group of benevolent alpinists who did not hesitate to give a full week of their time to take down a dead body and without asking any compensation. So, I started to smoke Toscans to imitater Armando (but the green ones, they are not as strong) and I bought in Belluno a red pullover with a black V, a copy of the one worn by The Greek and the famous "scoiatoli" d'Ampezzo (with the difference that the Master had a "Greek motive" on one of his leaves embroidered by "Jeannot", Marcus's wife and that is impossible to find in a shop).
PS : Sonia reminded me recently that I had borrowed money to Bonafede to buy a jacket in Agordo and that The Greek had to telephone my mother to be reimbursed (this "loan" represented a solid part of the very modest salary of the young guide Marcello was then ; however he had not hesitated even a second !) and that I also borrowed money to The Greek at the railway station, pressing him urgently before the train departure and when he saw me coming back with a set of comic strips, he said to Sonia : "Look what this nit has done with my money !" We did not have the same litterary interests. I must confess that Preuss was not my cup of tea, contrarily to The Greek who had an encyclopedic knowledge of mountain litterature : to have read sir Francis Younghusband when 20, that takes some beatings! A the time, I was always broke, as my mother could not stand me running the Alps. Sonia reminded me also some other similar occurences (that of course I had totally forgotten) which apparently had given me a solid reputation of being a freeloader. However The Greek and Sonia liked me and for me The Greek was the greatest god, the nicest and the most prestigious in the alpine Olympus, and always remained so. The Master knew it well and I guess that with his great benevolence, he tolerated the flailings of his greatest fans. (E.Vola)
Trento FestivalThe climbing stars - Trento Festival 1961.
"Le Grec", (in black suit to the left of Rébuffat), in good position with 1rst row left to right: Claudio Barbier,Gaston Rébuffat, Otto Herzog, Mario Stenico, Michel Vaucher,
2nd row left to right:
Cesare Maestri, Georges Livanos, Toni Kinshofer, Riccardo Cassin, Walter Bonatti, Toni Hiebeler, Pierre Mazeaud
3rd and last row together left to right:
Gigi Alippi, Ales Kunaver, Pier Liugi Airoldi, Annibale Zucchi, Giancarlo Frigeri, unkown, Yvette Vaucher, Sepp Inwyler, Pierre Marchard, René Dittert, Beppi de Francesch, Aldo Klaus, Maria Teresa De Riso, Dino De Riso, Toni Serafini, Toni Masé, John Harlin, Luciano Ghigo, Romano Merendi.
His 2 books: Au delà de la verticale and Cassin once upon a time the 6th grade.
Extracts from Au-delà de la Verticale (Beyond Verticality)
...« Livanos, to the blackboard » The Italian Apine Club review is on my table, I must look as being completely elsewhere while I get up. The teacher sees it : « You don’t even know what we are talking about. Zéro ! »
On the Grands Charmoz North face:
...« Our mixed rope climbs in a perfect ’coeducation’ : I chose thin lines of slabs with no snow, while my partner looks for the ice lines and our personal routes only coincide on the belays…»
On the Requin North face:
..."Far to the left, pegs and slings. Keepsake of the Rebuffat-Couttet first attempt.
On the Leschaux North-east face:
..."We climb a few meters. Flash, explosion: Lightning hits in front of us!"
At the foot of the West face of the Drus:
..."The three of us were not strong enough to climb the route in one go 'at the finish', 'siege' was not my cup of tea, I had the opportunity to accomplish my Dolomitii dreams… It was for me an imperial, compelling call, and I am still astonished that it made me abandon that climb so desired."
..."It is a christian name, of course, the same one as the heroïn of the mighty Tarascon hero. On the evening, we are at Venise. Stop to visit it while the Dolomites are waiting for us? You are joking! We saw a gondola and a pigeon, that was enough. One pigeon who was 'standing' out of the water, claimed Robert, to demonstrate the depth of the lagoon…"
Start to glory…
AU DELÀ DE LA VERTICALE
Riccardo Cassin: Gracie Riccardo, quotation from Georges Livanos's book:
"There has been, there will always be... each time add:'Cassin' ; and until there will be climbers in the super-refuges of the future or, latter (who knows?), on some other planet, names will come back in conversations : Torre trieste, Cima Ovest, Badile, Walker, McKinley, Jirishanca... and those names will slam always as banners. Until there will be alpinists, they will mention the face of the indomitable conqueror who never backed down, who only looked but ahead, with eyes which could challenge all nature powers or reflect all the goodness of a man, a look able to pierce stones, or sweet and wonderstruck as the one of a child, eyes of steel and sky."
Georges livanos in CASSIN, once upon a time the 6th grade (1982)
"To Have or to Have not" Hemingway: another quotation from Georges's book:
"I will quote Gervasutti, as his judgement much more serene, is one of his peers, his rivals, although this competition always was marked with the highest fair-play: 'He is the man that never backs down once the goal is set. Comici and the Dimai brothers climb the Cima Grande di Laveredo North face in several instances, going up and coming down. Cassin would have stayed on the wall a week, but he would have climbed it. Other climbers are certainly more brilliant: so for example, Comici and Soldà. Comici climbs for pleasure, physical and spiritual, loosing often the result at stake. For Comici, climbing is an end. For Cassin, climbing is a mean. One should not judge Comici solely from his ascents ; many alpinists, in this case, would be superior to him. Cassin, in his case, must be judged from his record, and from this point of view, he fears no comparison." "About his litghning victories, the indestructible 'Veni, vidi, vici' has been used. It defines well the indelible iron mark of the Cassin's style. Caesar revised by Hollywood can be seen in the title of a movie full of gunfire of all calibers : 'I go, I shoot and I come back'. So then... Cassin a hero of swashbuckler novels, of western movies? D'Artagnan and Buffalo Bill? Cassin superman of comics? Why not?"
Georges Livanos (Le Grec) in CASSIN, once upon a time the 6th grade (1982)
Vote Livanos!Vote Livanos: one of the best paper Le Grec got and from one of the famous French political journalist! It was in the middle of major political elections.
Yvan Audouard le Canard Enchainé 29 November 1994:
I know. The TV programme I would like to talk to you about is from last week, and with TV the time to forget is shorter than anywhere else. It so happens that talks occur (and even on giant screens) as if nothing had happened. On the other hand, the portrait that last week, the "Mountain" magazine devoted to the alpinist Georges Livanos is not ready to be erased out of the memories of those who looked at it.
I have not rapped anyone. Not even a summit. I am not personally a cliff climber, and often I am quite irritated by some of those "conquerors of the useless" who, sometimes, take advantage of their position to deal a blow on the day to day mediocrity with a bit too much of a "bird's eye view" which risks to be seen as dominating by those condemned to live at the level of the too few daisies of the "métro-boulot-dodo" (Tube-work-sleep). Those same ones start to be looked as "well off" to the several millions of people, without a job, who have quite some difficulty to consider life as a "challenge". Their 'dodo' is so peopled by nightmares and distress that the "elevation" dreams have some difficulty to find their ways through.
However I think that if they have crossed Georges Livanos's look alias "le Grec" (when you have lost everything, TV is what is left to you), they must have found a moment of joy and comfort. In his eyes there is all the irony and humour of someone who never ceased to climb without treading on someone, who never looked to astonish anyone, and certainly not himself.
'Who is - is asked from him - the best alpinist in the world?'
Without hesitating, he answers:" The oldest."
One sees him gripping an overhang, hammering a peg in the rock with the energy of a pneumatic drill: 'better, he says, one more peg than one man less....'
Laughing he adds: 'Especially when this man is Georges Livanos and accompagnied by his wife."
The sight of a happy man who did not conquer his happiness at the expense of others... that happiness, even the unfortunate is able to share.
He gives a nice lesson during this voting period. At this moment the frenzied spiders are charging to get the power, distributing kicks with their feet in the teeth and gums, it seemed to me essential to talk to you about a man who did not become a Star but a Master because he never ceased to be himself and who never had any other ambition than to find happiness on earth. For him and for the others.
This programme, he wrote it directly on the rock. The pathes he 'invented', in climbing terms, are named "routes": in the Calanques, in the Dolomites, and a bit everywhere in the world, hundreds of Livanos "routes". And all those who followed them after him knew they were the most audacious, the safest and the most beautiful.
It seems to me that it would be in the interest of all those who whave gone after the conquest of power to put more Livanos in their schedule table if they don't want to come a cropper. Which would not be that serious if in doing so they weren't taking us with them.
External LinksMy site on Georges: Georges Livanos site in French
I GRANDI DELL'ALPINISMO DOLOMITICO (then select left "I grandi di alpinismo")
Le Grec on TV Mountain,
the Web site of David Autheman, film maker and mountain guide. Essential for knowing the climbing activity in Chamonix and see big classic routes filmed
Le Grec filmed by Jean Afanassieff
Le Grec on Wikipedia
Riccardo Cassin interviewed at 99 years old