Friday, 11 April 2014

‘L’Oeil De L’Elephant’ Via Ferrata on the Rocher de la Chaux

If you read our last but one entry of the ‘red’ Via Ferrata we did on the elephant rock, you will note the subtle difference in the title. The ‘red’ Via Ferrata was ‘la tete de l’elephant’ (the head of the elephant),
the one we did today was the harder ‘black’ Via Ferrata, ‘the eye of the elephant’.

The start....
It was just Jackie and me today, as Si is in Belgium, having got a three month job contract, Cassie had accountancy work to do on her chalet finances in readiness for a meeting with her accountant next week (although Pauline, Jackies mum, was teaching her to bead this morning) and Eddie, who did the last VF with us was away.

On the way up....
We dropped Pauline and the car at Si and Cassies and set of up-hill on another glorious day of blue skies, no wind and a temperature of 20⁰C. The steepness of the up-hill climb blew the cobwebs away and got the heart beating, but it was pleasant woodland with impressive views and got us warmed up ready for the climb.

Jackie heading up after the group of four
We arrived at the start to meet a group of four people all geared up and ready to set off, but were relieved to find they were doing the ‘red’ VF that we had done before, leaving the ‘black’ route clear for us. It’s a common start, but within a very short time (about 30m) the two routes divide, the ‘red’ route going left and the ‘black’ going straight up into harder overhanging terrain, this is going to be interesting!! We watched them go up and left, Jackie then setting off on our route with me in hot pursuit.

Moving up into hard, overhanging rock
Plenty of exposure (that's Si and Cassies chalet down there!)
Very quickly the rock was leaning out above us and our hands were gripping hoops that were further out than our feet, immediately draining strength as forearms began to complain, further compounded when the lanyard karabiners needed re-clipping at a rope junctions, meaning hanging on with one hand whilst fiddling with the karabiners. The outward leaning rock seemed to continue for quite a while, with only brief periods of part rest, when feet could be positioned on adjacent hoops to partially take weight off the arms as a traverse occurred. On those occasions we could see only hoops disappearing round a corner on the lip of an overhang with absolutely nothing below, other than the ground hundreds of meters below. This was an exciting route and was no time to lose your nerve!

Underneath 'the plank'
At one point we found ourselves below ‘the plank’, which was the exciting bit on the ‘red’ route and, after climbing up a little and positioning ourselves to the right of ‘the plank’, the leader and his partner of the group of four appeared round the corner ready to traverse it. We were close enough to watch them and take photos, he wondering out loud what the weight limit might be on the wood, ‘one person at a time’ I said, she making a choice remark on seeing what she had to do. All very amusing for us, but then our attention re-focussed on our route which was, after all harder than theirs…let’s concentrate!

Duncan, the leader of the group of four, stepping onto 'the plank', followed by Hillary, his partner
Jackie moves across 'the eye' towards the overhang

Starting the overhang
OK, 'smile', alright then!
After traversing some more, away from them, on vertical rock with massive exposure below and a big overhang above, we saw the first of two escape routes, which was a line of hoops leading up to the ‘red’ route and obviously set for those people who could stand the exposure and energy sapping overhanging rock no longer. We pressed on past the escape route and soon Jackie announced after seeing a plaque fixed to the wall, ‘ah, this is the eye of the elephant then’. Mmm, the overhang above was its eyebrow then! After traversing across the face, the hoops seemed to go up, through the overhang and on up out of sight. This is going to be a bit of an arm pull then! Watching her move up and out, hang on with one hand to re-clip at a very ‘interesting’ point, I pulled out the camera and invited her to ‘smile’. ‘No’ she said in a tense voice, so it was at this point I realised this must be quite serious! After following her up I understood how she felt. 

The difficult part
The hoops that we were hanging on appeared to be just glued into drilled holes in the rock and, on the overhang the hoops were fitted underneath and round the outward leaning rock, so that we were pulling on the hoops as if to pull them straight out of the rock. How good was that glue? This was really not time to think about that, there was nothing else but space below, the glue just simply had to be good enough! Even after moving up the rock continued its outward lean and forearms continued their complaining!

Relief after getting past the worst
I was very grateful to Jackie for realising that, when she came to a point where she could take the weight off her arms she had to continue on as, being behind her, I was then on an overhanging bit and wanted to get through it to easier ground. Had she stopped, my energy would quickly be sapped, but she would move on allowing me to get to the easier bit. Good team work!

The worst was now nearly over and after some more vertical and slightly less vertical we could see we were nearly at the top, so a few more moves that seemed much easier, but were probably most of what the ‘red’ route comprised of, we got up and over, onto easier ground and then the top.

Someone with a sense of humour!
Final moves...
Fantastic views, a bite to eat and drink, we laid back and thought of what a great route it was, while waiting for the other group of four to complete the ‘red’ route.

On the top
They arrived, we exchanged email addresses, took photos and left them to enjoy the views while we set off down. It’s a long, steep descent through the forest on a sometimes indistinguishable path, occasionally equipped with a steel rope for support on the really steep, slippery bits, but after about half an hour we were back down at Si and Cassies chalet having a good old chat about how exciting it was. 

Followed by the other group of four
Fabulous views!
Followed by a long walk down
Cassie was thrilled having learned her beginners guide to beading from Pauline, had a number of test pieces partially completed and seemed to have found a new hobby. Fabulous day for all and we were back in time for a cold beer followed by a swim and then tea and afternoon cake!

Back at Si and Cassies we spotted three other people doing the 'black' route we had just done. Can you see them?

Here's a zoomed in view. The leader, top right, is in the eye of the elephant, just about to go over the 'eyebrow' overhang

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