Last week, Katherine Choong managed to climb the difficult multi-pitch route La Ramirole (150, 8b) in the Verdon Gorge. In an interview, the strong Jurassic woman talks about her preparation, her struggle on the route and her feelings at the deflector.
Katherine Choong has been drawing attention to itself for years by regularly inspecting hard routes. So in 2017 she climbed in Oliana the two 8c routes Mind control and Fish Eye within just four days. In the summer of 2018, she became the first Swiss woman ever to Cabane au Canada to crack grade 9a. Your latest coup: La Ramirole (150m, 8b) in the Verdon Gorge.
Katherine, congratulations on climbing La Ramirole. Can you briefly characterize the route for those who don't know it?
La Ramirole is a 150 meter long line consisting of five pitches (8a+, 8a, 8b, 8a, 6c+), four of which are in the eighth difficulty level. The tour goes through a heavily overhanging wall in the sector of the same name on the left side of the Verdon Gorges. La Ramirole is characterized by very physical climbing on tufas and ledges.
What attracted you to climbing this tour?
I had a photo of a long time ago Nina Caprez seen in this route. Since then I have dreamed of climbing this line. But I was a little intimidated by the impressive wall and the difficult rating. I climbed a year and a half ago Ultimate demence (150m, 8a+) right next to La Ramirole. So it was only natural that I wanted to try this route.
How did you prepare for La Ramirole?
I only started climbing multi-pitch routes about three years ago. In order to be able to climb La Ramirole quickly, I had to gain more experience on longer and, above all, overhanging routes, especially in terms of rope handling. Everything is more complicated when you're dangling in the air all day.
In addition, our rope team had to be 100 percent efficient so that I could fully concentrate on the route. My partner Jim Zimmerman and I get along really well, and it's thanks in large part to him that I've made this route.
When I arrived in Verdon this year, I didn't necessarily feel in the best physical condition, but I knew I was mentally ready to take on such a challenge.
What strategy did you use when entering La Ramirole?
On the first day we just looked at all the pitches to find out which one we had to work on the most. Then we attached static ropes to make it easier to work on the individual rope lengths.
On the fifth day I made my first real attempt. I fell out of the 8b at the top. I went down to try again but fell again at the top of the hardest pitch. Since we still had a few days before we left, we decided to take a break and try again the next day. On the sixth day I managed to climb all pitches without a fall.
For me, doing four routes in the eighth grade is a lot in one day. Accordingly, I had to manage all pitches on the first attempt of the day. We started early in the morning so that we could take ample breaks between each pitch. Since we were both attempting a redpoint ascent, I abseiled each time to belay Jim on the lead. Once that was done, I climbed back up the Jumar to climb the next pitch.
Video: Katherine Choong on pitch 2
How did it feel for you to be able to climb La Ramirole without a fall?
It was amazing. We had hardly had a rest day since arriving in Verdon and I was feeling very tired. Accordingly, I wasn't sure if I would manage this route. The first pitch felt difficult. It was stressful knowing there were more heavy pitches ahead. But the pressure was generally on my side. Each pitch was a battle of resilience.
It was an incredible adventure to share with my friend Jim. He was also very close to success and it was a nice experience to be able to support him as well.
What are you up to next?
I'll be with the organization ClimbAID, of which I am ambassador, to Lebanon. I have already visited them in 2019 and look forward to seeing everyone involved again.
As far as my projects go, this summer I would like to climb long, difficult routes on the north face of Mount Titlis. I still have the plan, the route Mollasse'son (8c+/9a) in Mollans sur Ouvèze en France to accomplish.
About the photographer
Jan Virt is a photographer, climber and videographer based in Paris. After climbing the Nose on El Capitan in 2018 and moving to France, he decided to pursue photography professionally. Now a full-time photographer, he combines his love of climbing and the outdoors with documenting climbing competitions around the world.
Climbing in the Verdon is an ultimate experience. Almost every climbing tour in the Gorges du Verdon begins with an exposed abseiling point, often with a committed safety device. Oh, and did I mention the impressive Verdon vultures that fly by in formations like fighter jets? Oh yes, it's a rock climber's paradise.
We had been planning a trip to Verdon with Kathy for some time. Just a few days before our trip I came back from the IFSC Climbing World Cup in Meiringen as official photographer. The dates were finally set and I was so excited to hear that Kathy was planning to climb La Ramirole. A solid multi-pitch route set in a mythical cave of the same name.
What really inspires me when photographing climbers in their environment is their dedication and eternal fire blazing in front of my camera. Climbing challenging routes like La Ramirole reveals true talent and personality. It was a pleasure working with such a talented professional athlete as Kathy Choong and her partner Jim. visits www.janvirt.com to discover his full portfolio or buy prints.
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Credits: Cover picture Jan Virt Photography