The end of the world is not behind the seven mountains and not at the poles of this earth. It is in Southern France, in the mountains of Luberon, and was a site of pilgrimage for the best climbers in the world in the 1980s the heard of Buouxis beating in "Le Bout du Monde", and the idea of vertical dancing condenses in "La Rose et le Vampire".
Text: Andreas Kubin
Photographs: Rainer Eder
"Le Bout du Monde" – the end of the world – is located at the very right edge of the rock world of Buoux, one of the most famous climbing areas of the world. In the 1980s, climbing history was written here, and sports climbing was characterised essentially. Patrick Edlinger, called "Le Blond", made the news with his spectacular solo tours and difficult first ascents. The limestone rock in the Massif du Luberon near the town of Buoux is up to 200 metres high and had everything that climbers might wish for: delicately chiselled limestone plates, powerful overhangs, holes and strips – as well as a collection of the most difficult routes as they were quite unique in Europe at the time.
When "Le Gang des Parisiens", a group of young, wild climbers from Paris, turned the rocks of Buoux into their playground in 1984, the era of the Xth degree of difficulty started there. When the brothers Marc and Antoine le Menestrel, Jean-Baptist Tribout and Laurent Jacob finally discovered a yellow overhanging wall without any climbing route on the very right part of the wall, there was no stopping them. One route after the other was placed through the impossible-seeming wall – "Le Bout du Monde" had been found!
"La Rose… is the most important route in my life. It changed me, both my way of climbing and my further life"
When Antoine le Menestrel had opened the route "Chouca" (8a+), named after his dog, which had died just previously, in 1984, this was the starting signal for the development of the most impressive wall section. The next year, Antoine tried to climb a line through the most forbidding part of the wall – and since there were no holds along some metres in the lower part, he modelled one of the most famous climbing points in the world: the "cross-pull". It became the epitome of sports climbing in the late 1980s; at the time, it was common to change too-small or even missing holds artificially. "'La Rose…' is the most important route in my life. It changed me, both my way of climbing and my further life", underlines Antoine. He spent many weeks optimising his new route – extremely wide pulls at finger holes, dynamic movements at very small shelves –, until he got through in September 1985. “I tried to develop further when climbing by meditation and reading poems and mystic literature”, Antoine remembers, "I wanted to move away from the performance idea to develop poetic climbing."
"La Rose et le Vampire" still is one of the most famous climbing routes in the world, not least due to the unique cross-pull. It was the first 8b in Southern France, and climbers from around the world came to try it out. Many were sucked dry by the vampire and only few found the rose– as Antoine said:
"The route is the vampire, and the rose is for the winner."
The next year, Antoine continued "La Rose…" – one of his last first ascents in Buoux. Called "La Rage de Vivre", it is assessed as 8b+– "the pain to live" did not become established in the scene in the same manner that the lower part "La Rose…" did. Antoine felt that the natural rock structures were limiting his creativity too much, and as a logical consequence he started designing routes along artificial walls. He became the first internationally renowned route planner for large climbing competitions that gained more and more popularity towards the end of the 1980s.
The complex setup of the choreography of "La Rose…" and the difficulty of the individual pulls is reflected in the fact that Tyrolean Anna Stöhr, multiple overall world cup winner in bouldering and member of the Mammut-ProTeam, took four days to master the route nearly 30 years after its first ascent. It demanded everything from her: "Most difficult was the pull across the roof edge, since it is very far for me. The pull after the cross-pull was also very difficult; I had to make certain to properly sort the cross-pull hold, from which you pull away, properly." Although Buoux has long stopped being fashionable among the extreme athletes, "La Bout du Monde" will always remain a dance floor for the best, and "La Rose et le Vampire" remains the sublimation of dance in the vertical plane of the rock.