The Fly and the Climber

The Fly and the Climber

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Poem of the G.G.M

The Fly and the Climber

The G.G.M. poem

The Groupe des Grimpeurs Marseillais was created by 'The Greek', Georges Livanos following the example of the G.H.M.

The poem was published in the 1961 G.G.M. bulletin. Its author, André Tête, was a climber with whom I did in 1960, at 18, the North face of the Vignemale in the Pyrenees in a week-end. We left Marseille early Saturday morning, on a small motorbike (mine. My mother bitterly regretted to having let my father buy it for me and sold it off when I went studying in the UK the following year!), drove the 650 km to the foot of the face, reached late afternoon, bivouacked at the foot, climbed the route on the Sunday and were back in Marseille late the same day. Quite a trip, particularly since André was a very tall fellow, near 6 feet 4 and not that light. With our climbing gear, it was quite a test for my small motorbike and our maximum speed never exceeded 90/Km an hour!.

New Wave

New Wave

G.G.M. 1961 Bulletin

NEW WAVE by George Livanos

If the Greek has not yet reached the shores, I was going to say the « last shore », it is quite obvious that he is nearing it little by little (as everyone!) and it seemed that the utmost quietness would see him approach the golden sands, underneath verticality, (preferably nearby Tahiti and with the accessory assistance of some Tahitian girls for the local picture…) yet young bubblings of a new wave were appearing over the horizon.
That the Greek is overswelled is indisputable as the start of a tale in such a sea atmosphere from someone who does not even know how to swim (in the proper sense), it is like climbing the Eiger, solo, eyes blinded and wearing boxing gloves.

The Greek with his remoulded trainers The Greek "technique" with "remoulded trainers" (col. Livanos). Before using the Pierre Allain shoes (the EBs) him and his friends cut pieces from automobile tyres and glued them on the soles of their gym shoes.

But let us come back to this new wave of which Eric Vola (with such a name as far as I am concerned I would be careful…) is one of his brilliant representatives. I know that there are some others but hazard and liking made me one day propose to him to go and do « something » together. This “something” was the « Flake » route at la Mounine. I had done it already twice, the last one ten years back, so I was curious to see it again.

Therefore we had an apointment on a Thursday morning (yes, the new wave representatives and representatives as such have those opportunities!) at the pub of the Grotte Roland. During our walk to the climb I recorded that Eric is a very nice boy, indeed he seemed to know thoroughly one of the most resounding masterpiece of the mountaineering literature… or was it that the same morning he had rapidly learned some bits judiciously placed afterwards in our conversation*.

To reach the foot of the wall, we went to its top, a sluggard way to cut short our return. Our harnesses filled with pegs and, for Eric, his stomach and his pocket with varied provisions, we plunged to the start.

Small addubing ceremony and the new wave dashes off. It climbed with much ease but would it push the respect towards the old celebrities so much to fear imposing them the humble task assigned to the depegger? The leader being already twenty meters above the ground, I advised him sharply not to be embarassed and so he condescended to put a peg in. Another a bit higher up and he reached the first belay. Obviously two pegs for those thirty meters in which the fifth grade abounded was not luxury! My turn now! The first peg is of the tough type: it cost me a liter of sweat ! If they are all of this calibre… I will not take long to change opinion! Oh yes!

I joined Eric on the belay. The chocolate tablet which he had put in one of his pockets is quietly melting, no less quietly he swallows it in one gulp and he goes up again the next pitch which he shoots up it with the same casualness. All go like clockwork, I get up to him, overtake him and here we are on the ledges at the foot of the upper part of the wall. Normally, we would get up a chimney, a “little grade IV” a bit further, but I had always looked at a great crack which would make the route more stylish. Why not offering ourselves a variant? Eric, of course, agrees, yes, but who will go first? We played it heads or tails and spell designated my comrade. It was so hot that I was not unhappy with it. Eric, him, was delighted, however: “If you still want to go…? (always this respect for old celebrities) “If you continue using you, I will then go and screw a serie of pegs which will make you sweat!” This time no need to repeat it!

Several meters of free climbing and the pegs get into action. Obviously Eric does not have the same ease with pegs as artificial climbing is a sort of manual work which you can only learn little by little, even if it is easier than free climbing.

One hour of effort, a good ten or so pegs and it is my turn to come into play. For me, it is a piece of cake, it is depegging “using the swing of a cap”, no need of a hammer, and if you miss the peg, the wind of the cap swing is good enough! The pegs slow me so little that I climb at the speed of free climbing! Blasted Eric! He is doing A3 in A1, him! (But poor fool, it is the reverse that one should do!)

I take the lead and soon we reached the ledge below the crux. It is a tricky pitch, varied and ending onto an exposed belay, so I reserved it to myself as my seventy little kilos of 'Greece' would make a sure enough nice cap swing on belay pegs signed Eric!

The white rock releases a suffocating heat, it is like being in an oven! The first meters are laborious but I took a grip on myself and, stimulated by the presence of the new wave, I executed a recital of free climbing with which I was not too unhappy (the old guard is not yet completely shrivelled…).

Les CabanonsEric - Les Cabanons (J. Brès)

Unpleasant surprise : the pine tree used for belaying has disappeared and we must belay on etriers. I put the pegs in consequently, it is an installation… very much ‘The Greek’, and one needs say no more.

Eric comes up now, with no much depegging problem. In fact, several had been left in place and if I don’t insist that he takes them out, he doen’t insist himself… The comfort of the belay forces him to stay suspended on his etriers below me. The last pitch is without any problem, beyond the fact that it starts with a most tricky turn on the side of a flake which it would be a shame to send down on such a promising partner. The future of the so-called partner darkens sharply when he attempts to take out the first peg of the “Greek installation”. Twenty minutes to extract this peg (and in which state…), ten minutes to break the second, no hesitation to leave the third, and soon after we were at the top.

To the rucksacks, and « drinks »! For Eric, it was rather “to eat!” and he swallowed a camembert as others would with an aspirin pill!

Our first climb went well. There will be many others as if Eric ignores many things, I am starting to forget quite a number. At his contact I learn again that one must dare, Eric on his side, learns that sometimes it is good to hesitate. In other words if we climbed together I would improve and him get worse? Climbing is a question of equilibrium… motorbike also, isn’it Eric?

G. Livanos

* this refers to his book "Au delà de la Verticale"

The new wave on StanageThe same year the "new wave" (E Vola) climbing on Stanage in the typical 'scruffy' attire of the Brits climbers (but with real EBs from Pierre Allain!).

The Greek my master and friend

The Greek dedication to eric

Dedication of Georges Livanos, "The Greek" on his second book 'CASSIN Once upon a Time the Sixth Grade'

To: Eric Vola

Friend (from long ago and faithful which is rare)

Climber (brilliant)

Raver (brilliant)

Smoker (average)

Drinker (excellent)

Eater (not bad, hide out glasses and ties!)

Troublemaker (most honourable)

and also, as things ending with 'er' are many, and then, no... I don't want to have his charming wife Esther getting at me!


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markhallam - May 28, 2012 4:22 am - Voted 10/10

Another interesting bit of history

...and it takes me back seeing mention of PA's, EB's (& weren't there 'RD's' as well?). I just missed PA's but I remember my first pair of EB's.
I don't do that sort of climbing any more so am out of touch - but it looks like they use something like spray on latex these days?
best wishes, Mark


ericvola - May 28, 2012 6:53 am - Hasn't voted

PAs and EBs a bit of history

Pierre Allain who was one of the best rock climber of his generation started as a worker and became a brilliant inventor. Aside the PA which he invented in 1935, manufactured in 1948 as the 'EB', for Emile Bourdonneau, the bootmaker he associated himself with, among others he invented the down sleeping bag, the 'pied d'éléphant', the carabiner using light alloy, the descender (as early as 1943 but marketed only in 1960), the single rope rappel system (quite tricky allowing 70/90 m rappels, using a spring which lets the rope off as soon as you stop putting your weight on the rope). I have known a Swiss climber, Adrien Voillat who with his wife, Rose, and his friend, Theytaz (a Swiss guide) did scores of first ascents of North faces in the Swiss Alps, abseiling down them using the Pierre Allain's system. I met him in En Veau in August 1961 where he killed himself while taking pictures and not climbing!

The RDs stood for René Desmaison, they had leather uppers but I don't remember who was manufacturing them and I don't think they lasted long, similarly the Paragot which had a pink softer rubber sole. PA/EBs won the market. While the main brand was named PA in France, it was the EB in the UK (I guess Emile was not sharing the export revenues with Pierre!). I started using them in 1961 in the UK myself (as seen in the picture above on Stanage - 1961), in France only the Paris climbers used them on the Fontainebleau boulders. In the Calanques and the South, we adopted the light mountain boots, the Terray-Livanos, then the Terray Saussois and this lasted until 'free climbing' took over.

Modern climbing shoes changed all this to the better and the geatest pleasure of climbers. I still remember my first 'Fire' which I bought from the Gallegos brothers in Catalonia in 1981 or 1982 - they had the brilliant idea to incorporate resin in the sole - and my first 'Five Ten', the 1rst asymetric climbing shoes , which made such a change on the Fontainebleau boulders. Suddenly, on friction moves and minute crimpers, I was nearly as good as some of my better climber friends who had more 'ordinary' climbing shoes!

All the best


ericvola - May 28, 2012 3:51 pm - Hasn't voted

L'Angle Allain

Funny you mention the "Angle Allain" as it is one of the the 1rst 6 (now its quotation is 5c although worth a 6a when climbed on its West side) climbed in the forest by Pierre, in 1934, wearing gym shoes with reinforced rubber soles, an early prototype of his following year's invention. The same year, with Raymond Leininger, he climbed the North face of the Drus using a 7mm hemp rope, 60 m long used as a double rope, one ice axe for the two, no crampons and again both wearing their gym shoes with reinforced rubber soles which helped Pierre get up the crux, a two pitches 6a crack nammed now the "Alain crack", the 1rst 6a in the French Alps.

Yes, in his time, Pierre was one of the best "Very pure lights of the rock" as were then named the top Fontainebleau climbers (achieving grade 6 which went up to 6f until this was abandonned for the modern block quotation).


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