My friends Javi and Arkaitz – our Hike Pyrenees guide for Refugio week – have been working for 2 years on a climbing documentary. They have filmed 6 ascents of some of the most impressive walls of the Pyrenees. Each ascent was made with 6 of the best current traditional climbers of the Cordillera. One of those climbers is Christian Ravier, who has established hundreds of routes in the Pyrenees during the last 3 decades.
Christian Ravier, as well as many other current traditional climbers that are exploring the Pyrenees walls, has been strongly influenced by the achievements and the mountaineering attitude of two other great climbers: his father and his uncle, Jean and Pierre Ravier – known as the Ravier twins.
In order to pay tribute to these two climbers and also to understand how they influenced the history of the climbing in the Pyrenees, Arkaitz and Javi asked them to be part of their documentary. That’s why some weeks ago we went the three of us – Arkaitz, Javi and I (as the French speaker of the party) – to visit and interview the Ravier twins.
Jean and Pierre Ravier are now 82 years old. They have been some of the greatest French mountaineers of their generation but something makes them even more special: they are not “alpinistes” but “pyrénéistes”. Indeed, despite their great passion for mountaineering and their indisputable talent for climbing, they didn’t explore the Alps nor the Himalayas but the Pyrenees being that way faithful to their first mountaineers’ love.
Between 1950 and the mid 70s, the Ravier twins opened 200 climbing routes in different part of the Central Pyrenees – mainly on the French side but also in Ordesa Valley, where there are some of the most spectacular and steepest wall of the Spanish Pyrenees. That was possible because they took a new step forward for Pyrenees climbing, finding new itineraries in places where previous climbers didn’t dare to think that is was feasible to assent. They put the Pyrenees on the map as far as climbers were concerned – previously the top European climbers had concentrated much more on the Alps. One of the most curious facts about the Ravier’s achievements is that they totally ignored the progresses of technology and climbing techniques that developed from the 60s in order to make climbing safer.
They did use rope in order to attach one to another, but their techniques and equipment were so precarious that a fall of the lead climber would have meant most of the time a lethal fall for the two of them. For current climbers, used to modern equipment and safety protocols, it is hard to believe that these two climbers were able to achieve all their climbing projects and did not have any serious accident, despite the lack of security and the difficulty of the routes they established, without using in any moment climbing shoes.
The Pic du Midi d’Ossau could be considered as “Ravier’s mountain” as they established many of the climbing itineraries of this unique peak. One of the first itineraries they established in the Midi d’Ossau were the “Sud Est Classique” in 1953 and it is still one of the most beautiful climbs that this mountain offers.
It was a real privilege for us to be able to chat with these living legends of the Pyrenees mountaineering.
The treat that they gave us during the day we spent with them helped us to understand, as much as the narrative of their experiences, the way they approached and lived their climbing achievements.
Curiosity, humility, trust, passion, determination, patience and brotherhood – rather natural for these twins – were some of the qualities and values we could feel and appreciate knowing this two casual but extraordinary people.
Also take a look at our article on Rabada and Navarro – another one of the Pyrenees most famous climbing partners.