Georges Livanos "Le Grec"

Georges Livanos "Le Grec"

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Activities Activities: Big Wall

"Le Grec"

img:01 - Georges Livanos after a tough wet bivouac
Georges Livanos after a tough wet bivouac

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

Fêtes des Guides - Grande arête
"The trainee Livanos" on the Grande arête demonstrating "free climbing" in 1938 
Robert Gabriel
Robert Gabriel. Torre di Valgrande. The roof

Unlike the « 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 they walked 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 he 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:

His Notebook

Typical equipment used by Le Grec - Among other equipment, such as the first harnesses essential for their "aided climbing", he invented with his climbing friends, mainly Marc Vaucher, "the engineer and architect", the equivalent of the skyhook and the Rurp way ahead of the Americans (1950+), but they never were interested in marketing their "inventions", but once with the Terray-Livanos light mountain boots, soon leaving Terray to market it.

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
  • Heures 8.900
  • Pitons 25.000
  • Rappels 1.450
  • Calanques 630 voies (500 premières et 1660 parcours)
  • Voies nouvelles Calanques & Montagne : 56.160 mètres
  • 60 "1rst" (32 of 6th grade - 38 abroad)
  • 91 bivouacs

"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

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Le Grec as a kid in Chamonix
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1938 - Fête des Guides

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. 

Le Grec will always keep a very strong link with Chamonix valley and its Compagnie des Guides, he will live in Coupeau happy years as a "retired" climber. 

His Score: 

  • 1945 , 20 years old, 10th ascent of the Meije South Face (his 1rst « serious » mountain climb with Albert Ouannon, "Pépé") ; the 8th ascent of the West ridge of the Pic sans nom (with Righetti), the 3rd ascent of the South pillar of the Ecrins (with Jean Franco in 5h30. 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 of the West face of Grépon (with R. Gabriel, Roger Duchier and Charles Magol) ; 2nd ascent of the 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 Leschaux North-east face (with R. Gabriel) and the 1rst complete ascent of the Peigne North ridge (with R. Gabriel).

The Dolomiti Years

1950, for his first time in the Dolomites, "Le Grec" starts with a masterpiece:  the 10th ascent of the Cima Ovest Cassin route!
They met a party of two Germans of whom Hans Lobenhoffer, had been one of Heinrich Harrer's companions 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!).
img:02 - Cima OvestCima Ovest Cassin route

Photo left from Hans Lobenhoffer: Robert Gabriel - traverse Cassin Cima Ovest 1950.

Su Alto route
Su Alto photo with Riccardo cassin congratulations for its first ascent
Rifugio del Pietro 1953
Rifugio del Pietro – with Sonia, Robert Gabriel and Fortunato (1ère ascent West Spigolo Monte Cavallo in 1953 - VI sup) (col Livanos)
  • 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 will become 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)1rst W face 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 1959, Aiguille de Sialouze South-west face ED.
  • In 1961, Glandasse wall - Vercors - ED (Vaucher, Lepage) - Rocher des Heures ED - (with the same).
  • In 1967, Tête du JardinSouth-west face - ED (Sonia, Lepage, Marc Vaucher); SE ridge of the signal ED - (the same and P.Alex).
    Baffo"Baffo", Roger Lepage belaying
  • In 1968, Paroi des Voutes ED (Soleymieux et P.alex).
  • In 1971, 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

Sonia and Le Grec - Sormiou
Sonia and La Grec on the summit of Sormiou - Calanques
Sonia and Le Grec at their Coupeau chalet
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 motivation:

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."
The Pelmo d'Oro was created in 1997. Awarded by the Belluno province (Dolomites) ato the best alpinists climbing in the Dolomites and participating in making them known to the climbing world. 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 Carreer – 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 –Awarded to a writer who by his writings or his photos and films did illustrate the Dolomites and the Belluno province.

1963 - High Difficulty Camp with Georges and Sonia Livanos

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Jérome Brunet, Carla Da Roit, A Da Roit friend, Marcello Bonafede, Eric Vola, Beppi de Franchesch, Ottilia Da Roit, Jacques Martin, Sonia, Claude Deck, le Grec, Maurice Negri - 1963 Vazzoler
Armando' Black Toscans were hard as wood and so bloody strong that I could not stand more than one puff without getting sick. Armando was a great man, the lord of Vazzoler and Civetta. In 1963 in Vazzoler, during the high difficulty camp which Lucien Devies had asked The Greek to manage, I started climbing with the youngest of us, Henri Paul Plathey who had just been accepted at Polytechnique. We did several climbs together, one with Armando, The Greek and Sonia, the 4th ascent of Armando's route on the Bussaza.
As I was not in great shape (the all too poor welsh weather had not been very favorable to my training) and as I did not want to climb the Su Alto with Plathey, who just had done the Ratti at the Su Alto in 7h30 and who wanted at all costs to climb a 6 sup, convinced Marcello Bonafede to go with him, which the latter accepted but through no will of his own.
The worst storm that Armando had ever seen at his Vazzoler refuge burst on them just after they had climbed the Su Alto roof.Only 180 mètres to go and they would be out. During more than 36 hours, it snowed continuously. In the middle of August, there was 1 meter of snow at Vazzoler. But Beppi (Beppi de Franchesch), The Greek and Armando were confident in Marcello Bonafede's capability to survive in the worst conditions. After two days, the weather was glorious again. I woke up early and just getting out of the refuge I saw  Marcello, coming back, alone, with hollow cheeks, haggard and a look of despair. The dumpers of snow falling on them had blocked their progress one pitch above the roof. They bivouacked.
The following day was worse than ever. The snow was everywhere, it was bitterly cold. Only retreat could save them. Above the roof, Plathey takes first the abseil, reaches the wall only with the greatest difficulties and collapses. Heart attack, he dies. Imagine Bonafede's situation, in this horrendous storm, who hears nothing from his companion and whose rope is blocked. In the end, after several hours, he comes down on the rope using prusik knots and reaches Plathey's body, makes a pendulum with him under the roof to clip him in a peg, manages to get the rope down and bivouak a second time. The third day, at last, he reaches Vazzoler. 
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Su Alto - The roof
For Beppi and Armando, it was out of the question to do like in Cortina : come down using abseils to the body and throw it down the wall. With The Greek and Armando, they organised a rescue to get down the body in the best conditions, for respect of Plathey's family. Beppi asked about 10 of his friends (mountain soldiers) from Canazei (Marmolada) to join us and Bonafedde's best friend, Natalino Ménégus, came also 2 days after. The Greek and Armando organised zip-lines on the 400 meters base of the wall with the 10 Beppi volonteers. Meanwhile, Bonafede who wanted to be first to reach his companion's body roped with Beppi and climbed towards the roof while Ménégus and I, at the foot of the corner were giving away the special long rope while they progressed (the body was 190 m above us so once his body was brought down to us, the rope lenthg was 380 m.
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Vazzoler refuge book

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, tears off his camera from the priest' hands and crushes 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 Festival  1961 - The climbing stars

Trento 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 Mazeaud3rd 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 Books

Au delà de la verticale
Cassin once upon a time
the 6th gradee
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)At school:...« 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."Sonia ?..."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
Georges Livanos 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).
Riccardo Cassin 1938Riccardo Cassin 1938
telling about his 1rst ascent of the Walker spur the day he returned
"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.


In 1994, Jérôme Rochelle, 28, the first climber to have opened a grade 8 route in the Calanques, climbed free and solo (self-insured) the diretissima of the Concave wall, a route opened in 1966 by the Greek and Marc Vaucher. The newspapers picked up the event. Excerpts published by Vertical, which will twice interview Jérôme Rochelle and the Greek in the latter's house, in Marseille, on their respective exploits:

 I was 43 years old, and Marc Vaucher the same, 43 years old, it's not the first youth, huh! But the experience was there. I must have put 25,000 pegs in my career, so I might as well say that we weren't birdbrains... The Concave? It was the big thing that remained to be done in the Calanques at the time. And even in France, there was no such beautiful overhang. Perhaps elsewhere, in the Dolomites, at the Cima Ovest, but the routes zigzag in the strata of the roofs. There it had to go straight. An equation of 150 meters high... And extremely overhanging: 35 meters, it's still not bad, what... It was even huge: we have nowhere to walk! But to be honest, nobody was really talking about going to do that. Except that Marc, my colleague, he really liked to struggle with the equipment. It was like a professional deformation for him: he loved knots, equipment stories and everything that makes aid climbing so fascinating! Me, I said to myself that basically, it would end my career in a beautiful way...

So, we went for it: I must say that this wall of the Concave is quite beautiful.It has style. A black eye, a beautiful corner. An unusual atmosphere between La Candelle and Le Devenson... We went several times, in small expeditions: we went with water and equipment carriers leaving them in an isolated corner. Technically, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't “Pescadou” climbing either. We knew what we were doing, what! It was normal work, diligent of course, but normal. Not refined elegance, not art… but it was ok. A hundred pegs, the three ropes, expansion bolts at the bottom of our pockets… It made our job a little too easy. Where there was nothing, you could always drill a hole and hammer the bolt in it. It's a way to reduce the difficulty... It's almost easy. Finally, the leader did not leave loaded like a donkey, we sampled: “pass me some extra-flat, 10 medium and 5 angles. and forward! We even had wooden wedges, that's to tell you! it makes you smile today, but a wedge of wood holds very well if it is well placed. Still need to know how to, huh! We had the knack.

Here it is: we had the necessary pride, that of being strong enough to go there. A3 or A4, it's not more complicated than that, from this perspective... We did things on a small scale, as tourists. One would hammer in a few pegs, and then it would rain, or it would be cold, so we went back to town [to drink pastis]. Sometimes we went to the foot just to leave equipment. One must not forget that we put in something like 130 pegs over 90 meters. In addition, we were shooting images for the film Beyond the Vertical, directed by Chanard. 

At the end, the journalist from Vertical did ask the Greek his opinion on solo climbing:

In my time, this was not practiced, at least at this level (apart from people like Preuss or Comici). For those who can, it must be exhilarating – I'm talking about the real solo, without rope. Me, I would be scared! » 

He added: “Precisely, fear, risk…” 

“The notion of risk is obviously an important parameter in climbing, as someone said: ‘Risk is like salt in the soup, if there is too much, it is not good, if not enough, it's not good either!’ You have to know how to dose. I put in quantities of pegs which were of no use to me since I never fell. But I probably never fell because I put them in. I have always shown refined caution, not climbing to the limit of my capabilities, to keep some margin in case of a hard blow. You have to know how to be wise in everything. And I saved myself, that's the main thing, I would have missed myself too much" otherwise!

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 a major political election.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 he asked - 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 have 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.
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In the Calanques (photo E. Vola)
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External Links

My 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
My book on Georges and Sonia (March 2023 on Amazon) English version TRUE GRIT Volume I
(French version È Perioloso Sporgersi):

                                 With The Greek and Friends

Foreword by Mick Fowler
  1. Vote Livanos Le Grec
  2. New Wave Georges Livanos and Eric Vola
  3. The Fly and the Climber André Tête
  4. Denise Escande The Chibania
  5. The Machard Knot Serge Machard
  6. Inclassifiable Eric Vola André Tête
  7. The Walker Spur - The dream climb Eric Vola 1962
Georges Livanos:
“There are no bad rock, just bad climbers”
“Great daring makes little careers!
Don Whillans:
Remember, the mountain will always be there. The trick is to make sure you are too.
“There are two kinds of climbers... smart ones and dead ones.”
Mick Fowler:
If we were guaranteed success in everything we tried then life would be pretty boring.”

Foreword Mick Fowler

Eric Vola is a remarkable man, prolific in his writing, his speaking and his quest to enjoy life to the full.  This delightful book of essays oozes the personality of Eric himself. He has a skill in bringing to life memorable moments. Of the contents I would recommend first reading Andre Tete’s essay on Eric himself so as to get a measure of the man. One who can sell computers by eating wine glasses and dine cheerfully on a maggot-ridden jackdaw can be relied upon to build up and deliver essays on a rich selection of climbing stories.

We can forgive the occasional duplication of material where content of the essays overlaps. Each can be read in isolation and that is perhaps the best way to enjoy this book. We can immerse ourselves in the adventures of George Livanos, ‘Le Grec’, who dominated the Marseille climbing scene from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, placed an estimated 25,000 pegs and climbed pitches still graded VI with hemp ropes and homemade rock boots fashioned from lorry tyre inner tubes. And in a completely different vein we can learn of fascinating facts from the tragically short life of Serge Marchard (who has the unusual legacy of a knot named after him) to the remarkable exploits of Denise Escande and Sonia Livanos.

Eric has researched avidly and is a revered climbing historian who knew everyone and everything in an era when mountaineering equipment was basic and activity at the highest level was not as professionally portrayed as it often is today. His climbing friendships spanned the Anglo-French divide at the highest levels and have enabled him to treat us to fascinating stories from both sides of the channel. British readers will delight in his efforts to integrate with the ‘Rosbifs’ and his climbing experiences with the likes of Don Whillans and Chris Bonington.

These essays often make the reader laugh out loud but are also informative and insightful. I ‘commend them to the house’ as a Member of the British Parliament might say.

Mick Fowler (December 2022)


La Grande Candelle, Watercolour Paul-Édouard Vola 2021                                                     A "Pointu" in the bay of Marseille Notre-Dame de la garde at the back




Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-2 of 2

hansw - Feb 4, 2012 2:51 pm - Voted 10/10

Great article!

Thanks Eric for letting us know about “Le Grec”, an outstanding climber from the Cassin-generation.



gabr1 - Feb 13, 2012 8:21 am - Voted 10/10


A really fascinating climber and person.
Thank you for writing about him.

Viewing: 1-2 of 2