I had heard stories about État de Choc on Le Petit Clocher du Portalet. Vivid descriptions of a majestic prow jutting into the sky, but for some reason it remained off my radar. Last August when my brother Cosmin and friend Lucio Rinetti proposed that we do a long weekend in Cadarese and then a route on the Petit Clocher du Portalet I had to say, “yes”.
It was then that I finally saw a photo of this amazing pillar, a shark fin carving the sky. At once enchanting and menacing. Even the superlative words had not done this mountain justice. I was blown away by the beauty of that pillar in the photo so we had to go.
After a long day in Cadarese climbing cracks, we awoke on day two and drove directly over to Switzerland where we hopped on the gondola to begin our approach. During the approach march the pillar is hidden until the final minutes and at the moment we crested the final hill I knew that the photos could no do it justice. To arrive there was truly mind blowing. Sharp, prominent and intimidating.
By now it was noon-time so the three of us jumped on one of the easier routes on the pillar to sample the rock and prepare for my real goal – Etat de Choc, 7a+ 280m. The climbing that first day was a good introduction and I was super motivated to give the much more serious Etat de Choc an attempt, however my partners felt otherwise. After a day testing out their limited crack skills, they had decided Etat de Choc would be too much of a stretch.
Thankfully, that night two strong friends of Lucio arrived – one with zero crack experience and the other a crack machine – and, since Lucio and Cosmin were set on another line, I partnered with the new strangers.
Standing at the base and gazing up the pillar I tried to envision the sensations of climbing up the distinct and long running crack system leading to the summit. I was standing before my first major crack adventure. As we swapped leads and gained momentum, the climb itself was everything I imagined. Sustained, exposed with no bolts for protection, yet everything in its place for the climb.
On the first crux pitch it was my go. 40m of hand crack with an interlude of run-out slab, finally returning to a larger crack, by which time I had basically run out of useful gear and energy. I unclipped my final piece of gear, a blue #3, and forced it into the crack, tipped out, a mental life saver. I briefly wondered if my seconds would be able to retrieve it and set off into the final stretch, hard fought meters of jams with the pump redlining in my forearms and my calves burning. I gasped, reaching the belay, clipped in and slumped onto the rope. My hardest trad onsight to date – exposed, mental and majestic!
Swapping leads with my partners we topped out, gassed and very satisfied, onto the narrow, blocky summit. Not an ideal place to relax, so we started our descent right away, knowing we’d have to walk down 3hrs because it was by now too late for the gondola!
With tired legs we rejoined Lucio and Cos to celebrate. I was in a daze. My hardest crack and trad ascent to date: Etat de Choc 7a+ 280m.