I’ve just got back from a fantastic week in Northern Italy. I was attending an International Meet with Tom Randall (route setter at The Edge in Sheffield and tradaholic) in Vall dell Orco, North West of Turin. This area was a real eye opener for me, it’s full of granite cracks and slabs (I managed to steer clear of the slabs!), all mainly trad where possible- there are some pegs and bolts but they have tried to maintain somewhat of a trad ethic. The majority of the routes are multi pitch, so you can go and get your teeth into something and have a great day out.
We were so lucky with the weather, everyday apart from Friday was sunny and warm. It made the area seem more idyllic and the climbing beautiful.
I have to admit, the climbing was a bit of a shock to the system though. Due to the BBC filming all summer, my body wasn’t used to climbing let alone hard core granite. Granite has never been my forte, so when I was put on two relatively hard routes on the first couple of days, my body got quite sore.
The way these meets tend to work is that the organisers will partner you up (hopefully) with similar climbers, so your standards are close. You can be in groups of 3-4 with a host to point you in the right direction.
On Sergent, Day 1, my German partner Paul took a nasty fall. We were on a 7b crack called Cannabis and Paul (from Saxony) completely went for it leading this desperate crack, lobbed off and unfortunately pulled a peg out. It was a bit grim, he hurt his knee and wrist and was slightly scuppered for the rest of the week. Not a great start to the week. In fact everywhere I looked, people were falling left right and centre. It was quite a funny sight actually, nobody really hurt themselves and they were on the slabs. I think it was a bit of a shock for everyone. A pitch I really enjoyed was a 7a crack at the top of Cannabis, it was a splitter hand crack that reminded me of Indian Creek- awesome fun.
The next day I was partnered with a hotshot Italian mountain guide, Roberto Vigiani, we had been put on La via della Rivoluzione at the bigger wall of Caporal. Again, there are lots of classic routes here that I will have to go back and climb one day. This route had a 7c+ pitch on it, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind, as the 7b on Sergent had felt beyond me at the moment. Oh well in for a penny, in for a pound (should that be euro??).
We climbed three nice pitches up to the crux pitch which were pleasant and then the fun began. Roberto was leading and did a great job on the first half but then the difficulties really seemed to kick in. I.E. The holds seemed to disappear! The pitch was a weaving seam up a wall that petered out into an almost groove with barely anything to hold onto. Fortunately this pitch was aidable, so Roberto could clip the next pieces of gear (usually a drilled peg or bolt) and have a rest and look around to work out the moves.I actually enjoyed having a go at this pitch, it suited my climbing style. Technical, not steep but just about enough holds to use. Some of the moves were giant and I don’t know if I’d be able to work out a way round them but the majority of this pitch was great and felt like a real work out for the fingers. My tips were very sore by the end. It was good to climb something hard and not feel totally rubbish. But 7c+, phew! To onsight this would be very hard, the grades seemed quite interesting to say the least.
This went for the next pitch which was 7a+/7b, oh my goodness- it was desperate. I had to aid a lot of it, it was a weird traverse that again didn’t seem to have very many holds on. Even Roberto was pulling on the gear, so it didn’t make me feel too bad. Especially as he had onsighted the 7b pitch on Cannabis the day before.
By the time we got to the next pitch, a lovely 6a crack corner thing but quite steep, I felt bushed. In fact I only just made it up the 6a ( which in reality was more like E2 5c), it was hilarious, it felt like a real battle. But I was actually quite pleased with myself, as I could easily have slumped on the gear at some points. Anyway, it was a great day but pretty tiring, so I was determined to try and drop the grade a bit for Wednesday.
I also love going to new places, I think it would’ve been easy to go back to Sergent and Caporal for the week as there are so many must do routes there but I lucked out and went to a new crag seven days in a row.Wednesday and Thursday were lovely days. I went to Scolglio de Mroz in the Pian Tonetto valley and Ancesieu in the next valley over. Both these walls had longish walk ins which I’m sure was good for me but in my tired state felt quite hard work. They were fun though, especially up to the Mroz, there was a squeeze through a boulder choke that we had to get 7 people and rucksacks through. The route was lovely, I climbed with Luis from Portugal and Ceresa Damiano from Italy. Because of various factors I led all 6 pitches, none were long but every one was different and high quality. The rock seemed to have more features than in Orco and was great to climb on. It was a lovely day climbing ‘Impressione di Settembre’ 6b. Then Thursday was another great day on an impressive wall called Ancesieu. This thing was massive, between 10-15 pitches long and very steep. It just has to be climbed. I was climbing with local host Christian Turk, who had done the route before, so let me lead all the pitches, which again was great! This route Panorama su Forzo, was technically harder than Wednesdays and felt very absorbing in places. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to finish it, we did 5 pitches, then had to ab down. But up to that point every pitch had been different and great climbing. This place is impressive and I would love to go back and do a route to the top. The weather was starting to cloud over a bit too, so maybe the rain was coming.
In the evenings we were split into two groups and went to separate restaurants. There must’ve been 25-30 in each group and we went to a different place every night. This was always great fun and the food was good. Although, I was one of the only veggies and I don’t think they really had much experience of catering for this. I ended up with bread and cheese quite a few times, the cheese was lovely but it’s not really want you want for a main meal. It’s funny I was expecting salads and fresh veg but the meals were very ‘white’; pasta, potatoes and meat. I had some spinach and tomatoes on my last night and it was lovely. I’m so used to eating a lot of veg that just eating stodge for a week was a bit weird. But I guess being up n the mountains, that’s all they have. I can’t complain, there was plenty of wine and some nice puddings!
Every evening there was some sort of slideshow or talk after dinner, so the evenings were long- which I think is why I got quite tired as the week went on. It was nice to have things organised but I think Mauro (the main organiser) realised that it would’ve been just as nice to sit longer in the restaurants and chat more. Tom and I arrived very late on the first night so we missed the opening ceremony and all week I kept spotting people I’d never seen before, it was quite difficult to meet everybody on the meet. But was also fun, to keep discovering new people.
Friday it rained pretty badly, so a large chunk of us went sport climbing down the valley at Bosco. Although I was tired I didn’t want to miss out on a new place and also it was limestone (although not as I know it).
I climbed with Jan from the Czech Republic and we had a really fun day. The climbing was very different, lots of slopers and not too steep but steep enough to get pumped! There were plenty of routes to choose from and it was a great venue for a rainy day. My body felt even more tired of course and I tore my left lat because of my injured shoulder. It’s very strange, I seem ok on trad but as soon as I start pulling on sport routes, the injury comes to the fore- I must get it sorted out! In the afternoon there was a talk about the new guidebook which I have to say is very good and big bonus is in English but it was probably the first time I have been to a talk about a guidebook! Then there was a raffle of prizes that the organisers had been donated for the meet. The grand prize was a bouldering pad and guess who won it- me!! It’s always nice to win things through luck of the draw but I decided to do a redraw as it wasn’t very practical to take it back on my easyjet flight. The excess baggage would probably have cost more than the pad, oh well. I think one of the Belgians won it afterwards.
Saturday was the last day, we had an official closing ceremony in the morning, then went en masse to some big boulders at the bottom of Caporal. They are single pitch routes and again I climbed with Paul from Germany and we went for the cracks and off widths. We had a fun time and I got my knee stuck in an off width for a while which was entertaining but to be honest it wasn’t a great venue. My psyche was low by the afternoon, so I headed back. It was a long walk but fortunately I got a lift about half way back and then promptly fell asleep in the room.
Apart from climbing everyday, there had been various parties in welcoming rooms towards the end of the week. The Czechs had come with a good supply of their local beer and spirits and the big group of Belgians had brought a large amount of Belgian beer, which I have to admit is my favourite. So Friday night was a late one with probably a little too much alcohol consumed- hence the not feeling too awake on Saturday.
On Sunday, Tom and I went to a small crag called ‘Droide’, not too far from the accommodation. It was a funny place as there were lots of cracks that had been bolted. It all seemed a bit strange but I still enjoyed the climbing. The weather had improved and even though I was dog tired after 6 days climbing and partying it was great to be out. Tom had picked up a cold on the last few days but was soldiering on very well, young Peter from South Africa who was there seemed to have it bad too. I kind of knew that there wasn’t much hope of me avoiding the cold, especially because my immune system was fatigued from the week.
So I am sitting here now with a drizzly nose (a bit like the weather back here in the UK) and an aching head but feeling very uplifted from such a great week. I have been on quite a few of these meets now and they are always great experiences. I love meeting new people and finding out about their ethics and climbing and I love going to new places. Going to 7 new crags was brilliant for me and my soul.
Just a little word about Tom Randall before I close. Tom wasn’t a stranger to this area, in fact this was his 6th visit. It seems he discovered this place a few years ago and fell in love with it. His passion is cracks and he trains specifically to get better at them. He has even built different sized off widths in his cellar to torture himself on- they are all horizontal- he’s mad for it.
Anyway, Tom has climbed quite a lot of new routes in Orco. Frustrated with the lack of new lines in Britain, he has taken himself abroad and climbed some plumb lines. This is actually pretty unusual and the Italians absolutely loved it. They really held Tom in high esteem and almost treated him like a ‘rock’ star. It was funny to watch his embarrassment but he dealt with it very well and even gave a talk at the annual meeting for the Club Alpino Accademico Italiano, which was a large affair with a discussion on ethics at the end. Although the rest of us International Meeters weren’t invited, it was all in Italian. So Tom really flew the flag for the UK over there.
A big thank you to Mauro Penasa and friends for all the organisation and making a great fun week and for helping me to discover more trad venues abroad. And it was great to meet all the International Climbers; I hope we all meet again on a crag somewhere someday.
Now I’m back for a few days, hopefully I’ll recover from this cold soon before heading over to Chateauvert in Provence to coach for a week for Katherine Schirrmacher. I’m sure it will be lovely over there and the sun will have a healing effect, I’m looking forward to it.
Oh, also, Climbing Great Buildings finished last night. It was a fantastic series to work on and I have had lots of contact from various people saying how much they enjoyed it, so thank you all for that.
Paul on a fantastic HVS crack at the Sergent cliff, Vall dell Orco.