Draw the Line #1: Travelling at altitude between France and Italy
Unbelievable but true! Taking our "mountain" athletes and our community onto the summits together was a daring gamble. Using polls, votes, quizzes and various kinds of "calls to action", our followers were invited to take part in the mountain travels of our athletes. Together, they "drew a line" that took them from Chamonix to Cervinia, adapting en route to tricky weather conditions in the spring of 2021.
Mixed climbing, steep slope skiing, cliff climbing and mountaineering were all on the menu concocted for this first edition of "Draw the Line". And for a menu like this to be full of flavor, the ingredients must be chosen with the greatest of care! So for the finest dining experience we took a group of renowned athletes, among the best in their generation in their respective disciplines:
- Mathieu Maynadier, an international mountaineer and super-versatile when it comes to climbing.
- François Cazanelli, a "fast & light" mountaineer, former ski mountaineering top-level athlete and record holder of the Intégrale de Peuterey, among other things.
- Symon Welfringer, a talented new-gen climber.
- Vivian Bruchez, skier of the peaks and virtuoso master of vertical slopes.
- Mathéo Jacquemoud, mountain guide, former ski mountaineering world champion and mountain exploring machine whether on skis or paragliding through the sky.
While this list of athletes would have been enough to attract the crowds for a mountain film festival, the real headliner of the "menu", the one that made this project so unique, was the presence of the entire Julbo community alongside our athletes, in other words, YOU!
And it didn't matter whether you were a connoisseur of the peaks or had any mountaineering experience, absolutely everyone had the opportunity to give their opinion on the route our athletes were going to take.
Starting point: Chamonix
On Thursday June 3, 2021, in front of the Aiguille du Midi cable car station in Chamonix, the weather's looking cloudy. For several days, the forecasts have been highly changeable, caused by a westerly airstream creating lots of instability in the mountains. Not the ideal conditions for heading into the peaks… But come hell or high water – or snow and fog – Draw the Line is definitely happening and Mathieu Maynadier opens the proceedings. He finds his two distinguished "guests" – Mathéo Jacquemoud and Vivian Bruchez. The first poll is open, with a choice between two gullies on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi, at an altitude of over 3,800 m. On the footbridge at the starting point of the first belay, the three climbers check out the results of the poll. It will be the "Vent du Dragon" gulley, graded TD-M5; in other words, "Very Difficult" in mountain speak. The first 50-meter pendulum abseil immediately sets the tone!
Throughout the five pitches of their ascent, the three athletes allow the community to experience the invigorating and rocky atmosphere of their travels. A journey accompanied by laughter and song, but most of all by the sound of their crampons and the blades of their axes on the rock faces and ice sheets!
! So for 6 hours straight, Mathieu, Mathéo and Vivian "bow" to the first choice offered to the community. And good news for them, this option was as interesting to show to others as it was to climb.
On exiting the route, standing on the Cosmiques ridge, Mathieu Maynadier explains: "It was a great route, with some nice variations. We didn't do anything super-amazing but we had fun. A great day among friends." Vivian and Mathéo, who are slightly less practiced in the art of gullies, smile broadly. The sentiments expressed by Mathieu appear to be shared.
At 4.30 pm, after a quick snack in the Aiguille du Midi tunnels, it's time to pack up some of the gear and put on their ski boots to head over to the Cosmiques mountain hut. The famous "Aiguille du Midi ridge" is a formality for Mathéo and Vivian who carve beautiful turns in the snow with disconcerting ease. Once at the hut, there's not much time for lounging around as they need to check the weather forecast for the next day, sort photos, save video images and approve possible options for the upcoming days.
After a meal accompanied by laughter and stories, Vivian embarks on a Q&A session with the online community. Because Draw the Line is also about sharing experience and advice.
Finally, just before they go to bed (early nights are the norm in mountain huts), the second poll is published. Do you prefer the Contamine-Negri route or the Gros Rognon? The results will be out tomorrow...
Friday: hide and seek with a sea of clouds
At 5 am, the alarm clock brings a restless night to an end for many members of the team. A night at 3,545 m is an unpleasant experience when you're not acclimatized!
It's Friday June 4, and it's already light outside at this time of day, but the sky's still not clear. The mountains are swathed in thick cloud with visibility down to 20 meters... So it's a waiting game. Which isn't easy for everyone; Mathéo is already bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to strut his stuff! Around 6.30 am, everyone springs into action and 30 minutes later, skis on feet, the three athletes learn the results of the previous day's poll. It will be Contamine-Negri, a mountaineering route that's skiable for these kind of mountain folk. Steep slope skiing, with master Vivian Bruchez in the team – the day promises to be "visually pleasing"!
After a short approach on skis, everyone gets ready for the 600 m of elevation gain that awaits, on slopes of up to more than 50°. Mathis Dumas and Jordan Manoukian, project photographer and cameraman respectively, will be supervised by a guide and also follow the route to bring back fantastic images. Below, Aurélien Colin will stay in touch with the whole team to bring the day (or rather the 4 days) to life through Julbo Instagram stories.
Shortly after crossing the rimaye crevasse, the clouds invite themselves back to the party. It's impossible to go on. Vivian uses the opportunity to give an "abalakoff" tutorial, or how to create a belay anchor in the ice. After half an hour or so, the sea of clouds is under their feet and they can continue to climb. The filming conditions are ideal, almost idyllic! On the descent, it's Mathéo Jacquemoud who starts things off, followed by Mathieu Maynadier who's less used to steep slope skiing but solid on his boards nonetheless. Vivian brings up the rear and carves turn after turn in his inimitable, super-fluid style.
The team reforms at the bottom of the route, all smiles once more, after their amazing vertical exploits. Mathéo and Vivian as "guests" of the project leave for Chamonix, while the rest of the gang ski over to the Vallée Blanche before donning their climbing skins to reach the Torino hut on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif.
In the afternoon Mathieu Maynadier gives advice on what equipment to take for "mountain skiing", lots of Italian coffee is drunk, and two other Julbo athletes turn up: Symon Welfringer and François Cazanelli.
Symon, a highly talented young climber, and François, a wonderful host with an impressive CV, arrive midway through Draw the Line and can't wait to get stuck in. The weather continues to be gloomy but it doesn't take long for our athletes to come up with ideas for a challenge. Once again, the community is polled, and a pull-ups contest on a wooden beam is organized. The competition is fierce and Mathieu Maynadier wins it by a nose from Symon who's keen to take revenge! In less encouraging news, the forecast for the next day looks really bad. No poll for that night as we await the morning to see what's possible given the weather.
Saturday: improvisation in the Aosta Valley
What was predicted comes to pass... At 6 am, the weather is not only bad but positively dangerous. Lightning rips through the sky and thunder rumbles around the mountains. A far from harmless situation at an altitude of 3,500 m. Despite the snow, no one wants to get their skis out! After multiple coffees in the Torino hut, the athletes then appeal to the community to help them find a "fall back" idea. Several interesting proposals are offered: go to the thermal baths, go to the indoor climbing wall in Courmayeur, and go home! But Draw the Line isn't about to give up when things have been going so well.
François suggests heading to the Valtournenche valley to do some cliff climbing. This option is chosen so we pack our bags. After descending from the Pointe Hellbronner mountain by cable car, we collect the cars and set out to our new destination. Despite the change of plan, the athletes continue interacting with the community, offering a critical poll for the lunchtime menu: pizza or pasta! Pizza just wins it and so with bellies full Symon, François and Mémé (Mathieu Maynadier's nickname) take on the Barmasse cliff, one of the training grounds of the local boy. 7b routes allow for a gentle (sic) warm-up, followed by a sequence of increasingly difficult pitches, up to 8a+... The afternoon is all about competitive challenges and lots of different polls with Instagram followers, the most epic being Symon having to climb a 7c route in mountaineering boots two sizes too big instead of his regular climbing shoes! It's almost too easy for him.
At the end of the day, it's off to Cervinia a few kilometers away for a cosier night than their previous ones, and best of all a wonderful table at the family restaurant of the Cazanellis.
But fatigue from the first three days is setting in so François takes the initiative and suggests two fine routes for the next day. The poll is posted at 9 pm and the team head off for some shuteye, but not without trying a dram of the local grappa first!
Sunday: a north face conclusion
On the fourth day of Draw the Line, wake-up time is almost a lie-in: 6.15 am! But the Julbo community doesn't appear to want a second-rate finish. Following the latest poll, the grand finale will take place on the north face of the Breithorn mountain at an altitude of 4,125 m. After taking a series of ski lifts, the team splits into two groups. The athletes and community manager will head down the north side to reach the bottom of the route by gravity. The photographer and video maker will don skins and climb 800 meters to reach the summit of the Breithorn before they too pass over to the north side via a bit of abseiling.
When it's time to attack the route, the "local Ferrari" (François Cazanelli) tells everyone not to hang around as the sun is already heating up the face. This small group splits up again and after some on-the-spot impressions published as Insta stories, the athletes start the climb. The north face consists of two main ridges, one of which is the "Triftjigrat", the route chosen by our team to reach the summit. Symon, who's not yet acclimatized to the altitude, is tested to the limit by Mémé and François. Fortunately, the scenery is stunning, helping him forget the lack of oxygen! Despite going at a fast pace, the three athletes allow the community to experience the reality of the route's challenges by regularly sharing videos. After 4 hours of ascent, they reach the summit of the Breithorn, all of which is filmed by the production team. A few last selfies at the top, and then it's skis on to enjoy a descent of more than 2,000 meters that takes the team directly to the restaurant of the Cazanelli family!
And so Draw the Line comes to a close with a fantastic finish on one of the "4000s" usually regarded as one of the easiest in the Alps, but whose north face is a serious mountaineering challenge.
A shared adventure
Five athletes and thousands of people in the mountains: this pretty much sums up the first instalment of Draw the Line. Behind the practical jokes and exploits of our five climbers, the Julbo community showed up in force to follow, interact, ask questions and ultimately draw the line with them.
The menu was mouth-watering on paper and seeing it happen in real life on the ground was even tastier. Devising a collaborative project in the mountains, given the potential difficulties of this environment, was a fine challenge. And one that really was carried out hand in hand (or phone to phone) by everyone. We therefore want to thank all the people who followed the project and, of course, our athletes and the production team, for their 24/7 involvement in the event.
Stay tuned because another Draw the Line edition will be out soon... We look forward to seeing you there.
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