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.
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 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) ; 2nd ascent of the de la North Face of the Requin (with R. Gabriel and G. Estornel), the Republic ridge (with R. Gabriel, 3/4 unroped) 1948: Oisans, 1rst winter ascent of the Dibona South-west ridge (with R. Gabriel).
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).
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)