On September 28, 2013, the "El Cap at arm’s strength" team will travel to Yosemite, with Marion Poitevin, Live Sansoz, Nicolas Potard, Fabien Dugit, and of course Vanessa François in tow.
A highly-technical project, a human adventure, and above all else a dream-ascent full of hope. Petzl is proud to support this project and wishes the entire team the best of luck.


A look back on the project

El Cap at arm’s strength © Vanessa François
El Cap: The Nose in red, and Zodiac in purple


Climbing El Cap… The idea popped into Vanessa’s head right from the start, just a few months after the horrible accident that left her without the use of her legs. She was still going through intensive physical therapy when "Zodiac" started to take shape in her head as if she was drawing the route for a guidebook. Nevertheless, recovering and putting oneself back together takes time, and a little more than one year after the accident Vanessa started talking about this project with her friends.


The "El Cap at arm’s strength" team

Right away a small group of highly-motivated individuals came together to venture off with Vanessa on this human adventure: Marion Poitevin, Liv Sansoz, and Nicolas Potard. From that point on came a series of discussions, training sessions, trying out different systems, developing the right gear, looking for funding, as well as nights spent on the portaledge during test outings in the Verdon Gorge. Up until today, the day before they leave…
During the time spent in the Verdon Gorge Fabien Dugit, who came out to lend a hand, decided to join the group. Vanessa, Marion, Liv, Nico, and Fabien, quite the dream team! Within this tight-knit team everyone trusts each other and has their specific role to play.

El Cap at arm’s strength © Vanessa François
From left to right: Liv, Vanessa, Nico, Fabien and Marion


Intense preparation

Preparing for the trip consisted primarily of training sessions on the indoor climbing wall at France’s national school for skiing and mountaineering (ENSA) in Chamonix. Vanessa had access to the wall whenever she wanted, and there was always someone present to set up the ropes and assist her.

Two trips to the Verdon Gorge for a little field testing helped to finalize preparations, to work out any potential issues, and to make the necessary modifications.

Kortel Design developed a special seat harness, and Vanessa’s ascending system was improved upon by Petzl. Vanessa "climbs" with the help of ascenders welded to a pull-up bar. Her pulling force is multiplied just like with a hauling system by using a pulley and a MICRO TRAXION.

The challenge was to improve the mechanical advantage so that each pull-up will allow Vanessa to hoist herself 50cm instead of just 30cm. We were able to find a happy medium, which will likely lead to developing an even more efficient system.

El Cap at arm’s strength © PETZL/Lafouche


Climbing strategies

Four climbers with Vanessa, that’s a lot of people. At the same time, there will be plenty to carry and heavy bags to haul. The climbers have discussed a variety of different climbing strategies. In the end the guys, Fabien and Nico, will climb ahead to fix lines for the female rope team, Vanessa, Marion, and Liv. Marion and Liv will take care of Vanessa and haul. Caring for Vanessa also means helping her to leave the anchor to start a pitch and to move her up onto the portaledge at the following anchor once she finish’s ascending the pitch. It means being there to push her away from the rock when the wall is not steep enough. It means being able to raise or lower her quickly in case there's a problem. At each anchor, Vanessa needs to be able to rest on the portaledge, eat, and hydrate.

El Cap at arm’s strength © Vanessa François
Training in the Verdon Gorge


Carrying Vanessa

The crucial point will be carrying Vanessa to the base of the climb, and then bringing her back down from the summit. Once on the ropes, the team is confident that everything will go smoothly; Vanessa is ready and solid. Carrying her, however, is the one unknown at the moment. The team will need to find a few strong young climbers to help them out. That will also be a job for Marion and Liv…

Overall, it will take two days to transport the gear and the team to the base of the wall; four days to climb the wall, with the fourth night ideally spent atop El Cap; and one full day to descend. That is the plan on paper, but it does not factor in bad weather, other climbers on Zodiac, fatigue or a thousand other things that can happen along the way.
Hope for the best and plan for the worst. Then again, Vanessa herself is a force of nature to be reckoned with!

Good luck to the entire team!!!


To learn more about the project