Interview: Bernard Vaucher


Bernard Vaucher
Bernard Vaucher

I met Barney in Kapeteniana – Crete, where we climbed together some routes.  Astonished by  all the climbing stories he shared with me I knew I had to make an interview of him…

  • Tell us something about yourself Barney.
climbing above the sea at the Calanques
climbing above the sea at the Calanques

My name is Bernard Vaucher but in the climbing circles, everybody calls me by my nick name «Barney». I probably ought my love for the mountains to my two grandfathers. One was Swiss. He was not a climber himself but his brother who was born in 1900, was a real mountaineer (same generation with all the great climbers of the period between the two world wars) and had a great influence to me! My other grandfather was an English man, who lived in India for 20 years, so he often spoke about Everest and the people going there to climb. Thus, I had a background before I started climbing. However, it wasn’t before I watched a film about Matterhorn that I really started climbing. I engaged in climbing by myself because at that time very few people used to climb outside the big cities. I was trying to find climbing partners in my college but after one or two times on the cliffs they would stop because they were scared and prefered looking after girls, though I wasn’t sure that there was less danger!  At the age of 18 though, I joined the local club and then I started climbing more often around Marseilles. It was in the club where I met 5 – 6 other strong climbers with whom I became friends almost immediately, we trusted each other completely! At that time there were no bolts on the routes so we had to learn first how to protect ourselves and how to recognize the sound of a peg which we could trust! Soon we went climbing on big routes in the Alps. The first season we went climbing in the Alps,  with my friend Michel Tanner, we climbed the «Bonatti pillar» on the Dru!

  • How did you met «Le Grec» (George LIvanos)?

I first met George in 1969 through Michel Tanner parents, (Robert and Susan) who were very strong climbers. They were very close friends of George and they had done together the hardest routes in the Calangues in the 40’s. So I was invited in some kind of fest «Le Grec» was organizing after the climbing season in the Alps for the «survivors». I was very shy there because George and Sonia (his wife) were like the King and the Queen of the fest (I am joking)! So for 5 years at the end of each season we went to this fest and we were sharing with everybody else what we had accomplished in the Alps or the Dolomites. After Michel stopped climbing in 1973 I didn’t dare to attend that meeting again. I met George again in 1977, in the Dolomites. The electric current between us was great and he asked me to climb with him! Actually it was his last big climb there. He was 55 years old by then and stopped climbing shortly after. For me a privilege! I was very proud I had the chance to climb with him! So that day of July 1977, we made the first ascent of «Spigolo O», a new route on Cima dei Tre.

Cima dei Tre
Cima dei Tre

I remember that in the first pitches the protection was good but as we went higher, we couldn’t find any good rock to place pegs. At the end George used 2 not so good pegs for the belay and he climbed the last pitch (hard grade V) with no protection and with big boots! Since then George was like a father to me! Jacky (my wife) and I were there when he died on 21 May of 2004. His wife Sonia is now living in a house for old people… This is very sad!

Jacky, barney, Grec, Sonia
Jacky, barney, Grec, Sonia
  • How many books have you written?

About 10… Two history books about climbing («Des rochers et des hommes. 120 ans d’escalade dans le Calanques» and «Les Fous du Verdon»), several guide books and two novels. Now I am in the process of writing another one about the Dolomites with Catherine Destivelle as my editor.

  • How many routes have you opened?

Around 100.  Maybe 60 in the Calanques, about 12 in the Verdon, some in Corsica and in other areas we visit, 2 virgins peaks of 6000m in the Himalaya (in the Karakoram), 3 in Sahara, 1 in the Dolomites (with George). Most of them multi-pitched routes.

Barney climbing
Barney climbing
  • What is your opinion about modern sport climbing?

Sport climbing helps to raise the standards! The grades explode thanks to sport climbing! But I am more attracted by the things they do on Yosemite and Dolomites walls! I prefer long routes to short. That is the true challenge. When I was young, it was the spirit of adventure that drove everybody into climbing and it still is, I think!

  • How come you visited Crete?

I always wanted to combine climbing and tourism but now I getting older and it is not easy to climb long routes on high mountains so Crete looked like the perfect destination! After a search on the internet I found Philippe’s Bugada guide books about Crete, I bought one and as I knew him, I contacted Philippe who gave me a lot of information and… here I am!

  • What do you think about Crete as a climbing destination?

Oh… it is fantastic! There are plenty of crags here for every level! There are caves and overhangs for strong climbers (with Orang-outang arms) or moderate slabs for old climbers like me! In my opinion the best area is Agios Ioannis! There you can find moderate routes of 2-3 pitches, on good rock and wonderful view to the Libyan sea!

  • Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I have been climbing for more than 50 years now. What I enjoy most is climbing with good friends from different countries around the world!  It is a life that I really enjoy!

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