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Ossola: the italian crack climbing paradise!

I had heard a lot for many years about Cadarese, I dreamed about it, but I had never took the time and the chance to visit it. Riky, a good friend of mine, who helped a lot to develop the area, kept on talking about it, telling me the big potential and all the 5 stars routes that were there. Well, if you compare only the grades with a “normal” sport climbing area, the routes are supposed no to be very hard there… I thought that normally I should be supposing to warm up on those grades… but I soon realized that I was wrong ;)

When I first met him during our trip to “La Reunion”, I had no glue of what crack climbing was; I tried to jam for the first time there and I remember how much I struggled on a 6a crack pitch…luckily I lay-backed the whole way up, otherwise I would have fallen off for sure! ;) That feeling of being “unable” to do something that was supposed to be very simple annoyed me, but at the same time gave me the motivation to learn this “new” aspect of climbing.

When I came back, I immediately started to look for a place where I could learn how to crack climbing, but it didn’t take me too long before I realized that Indian Creek was exactly what I was looking for. We booked our flights, we started this new game… and we quickly got addicted to it.

That’s basically the story of how I got into crack climbing.

There is not so much crack climbing around where we live, so except for some stuffs in Ticino,  we basically always just travelled to the US to improve our jamming skills.

One evening of this summer, after another day spent hanged under the rain in Tre Cime, I got fed up with that weather and I suddenly jumped into my car: direction Cadarese! I had heard so much good feedbacks about it, that I had to check it out by my self.

Within a night, I changed from the choosy wet rock to the perfect and dry granite: the long drive was definitely worth! I was lucky,on my first day I had the best guides for those areas (thanks Riky, Andrea and Stefano), that decided to show me Yoesigo, a less known, but 5-stars wall close to the more famous Cadarese. It was funny, already during the coffee break at the bar, talking with them I felt like back in the US!

After a long hike we finally reached the wall; I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw tons of  perfect 40 meters long splitter: it was the paradise…and way closer to my home than Indian Creek ;)

I teamed up with Andrea, the super local of that area, which started directly on a 45 meters long hand crack…placing just 4 pieces of gear; I immediately understood why everybody was telling me not to ask him about the gear I had to use! I felt a little bit rusted, as I hadn’t crack climbed in the last 6 months, but I enjoyed every single meter of that line; I felt like in a new playground.

They showed me around and we spent the day laughing, climbing, and re-climbing, the classics of the sector. It felt so good to do something different after so many weeks waiting and struggling with the weather in the Dolomites; I could immediately found my motivation again. We ended up the day top roping a really crazy off width, which ends with a 15 meters long chimney, where you can just crawl inside, literally without seeing any “light” ;) It was fun! I really would like to thank the guys for the welcome and for the huge work they did there!

Everybody left and on the next day Riky decided to finally show me Cadarese. At the first sight from the parking lot, the walls don’t look so nice; you can basically see just different big ledge systems with some good looking rock in between… but it doesn’t seem anything special compared to Yoesigo. Riky had to leave in the evening and I planned to stay for 4 more days, so I was a little bit worried for the next days as I didn’t know if I would have found someone to climb with… but just after some minutes (and in the evening), a lot of friends showed up by chance: that was a perfect timing! So we ended up to be a really big crew and we spent the next days climbing and hanging out all together.

As I was wrote before, the walls didn’t look so good from far, but once I got close to them, I realized how good the area actually was. There are really a lot of good lines and still a big potential. Riky guided me around, and already during the hike he showed me some possible projects; I immediately fell in love with a slopy outstanding arete between the first two sectors, which looks pretty much impossible to climb, but incredibly good looking. I promised to my self to have a look on it during the next days…

We warmed up on a tricky corner and we moved on to the main trad sector. Riky kept on talking about “Mustang”, a thin and short crack, that he brushed some years ago and which is supposed to be on of the best of the area….for sure, at least at the first sight it looked like that. I went for an on sight attempt, but failed pretty quick, just at the end of the first tricky part… I forgot that it was different from sport climbing ;)

The moves were really cool: after a first technical stemming section, you have to layback and jam in a really thin crack, finishing with a dynamic move to an horizontal break.What a route! While the others were climbing, Riky showed me some other lines around and than I quickly jump back on “Mustang” as it started to rain. Luckily everything felt smooth and I was able to clip the chain just before it started to rain too heavily. So we spent the rest of the day hanging out and having dinner all together.

The next day I was pretty tired and I decided to rest and hang out with the others. In the afternoon, the project that Riky showed the day before immediately came back to my mind; I run down to the car, took a static rope, some gear and a brush, and I rapped down the line. It was way steeper than it first looked! At the first sight it seems to be impossible, but I slowly started to find some really thin and sloppy holds, which could make it possible to climb. I got over motivated for that and I spent all the evening, and part of the night by headlamp, to clean it and aid my way down to the ground. The idea of maybe climb such a proud line just on gear excited me. I went back to the campground over stoked about that project.

The next day Riky showed up again and we spent the morning doing some filming. In the afternoon we hiked up to what is for sure the most famous line in Cadarese: “The Doors”. I remember that I first saw that  crack in a video, where Matteo (Della Bordella) climb it on gear (definitely the more logical way) after having chopped the bolts. It looks so good, that it’s impossible not to want to climb it. Michele (Caminati) and Gianluca (Boldetti) were also there trying it, so we hang out a little bit together and than I went for an o.s. try. Unsurprisingly I fell on the tricky section in the middle… I suck so much in on sighting cracks!… but once again on the second go everything felt smooth and easy :) It was definitely a cool end of the climbing day, but I still finished the evening brushing my project.

I spend the last 2 days brushing and starting to try the new line on top rope, which is going to be really hard! After two evening of tries I could do just a few moves, but I was confident about more with colder conditions.

I left Ossola as I had to go back to work, but I was sure that I would’t have to wait too long before to make another visit to the valley.

So, after the first route setting period, I drove back to Cadarese for two days, to work a little bit more on the project and make some filming done. Together with Riky and Michele, we spent the first morning taking some footages and climbing on some really good new lines. In the evening I hiked down to work again on the project; I made a small progress, but it was still too warm to hold those thin and slopy holds.

The weather was supposed to be very bad during the next days, so together with Riky and other friends, we decided to drive to a “new” area, where they were starting to bolt and clean. We started the long hike in the rain and fog, without any expectations and with random gear in the backpacks. We couldn’t see much cause of the fog, so when we arrived there I was pretty surprised to see so much rock coming out from nowhere! I wasn’t so motivated for clipping bolts, so I started to walk around looking for some trad lines. I stopped just 10 meters from where we put all our stuffs, when I saw a short, but really good looking line, with some crack features on it…”it should work on trad”, I thought. Riky was climbing close to it, so he put up a static rope and I started to clean it and check the protections. I could place just really few and small gear, but the rock looked bomber; at the first sight it looked easy…I thought it should be something around 7a+…a first easy part and a little section at the end…but it ended up to be a lot different. I decided to first try it on top rope, as there are some points where you can’t fall and I wanted to check out the gear placements better. Luckily I did like that! The first “easy” part was already hard and it took me half an hour to manage to do the upper section…it was pretty hard for 7a ;)

I had one more lap on top rope, placing the gear, and I barely did the last long moves. It was late and the only small protection on the hard section is tricky to place, so if you fall from there you hit the ground; I started to hesitate about having a go from the ground, but as I wasn’t sure to go back there, I decided to give it a go. First I was a little bit scared, but I managed to focus just on the climbing and everything went well and felt smooth. I don’t care about grades so much anymore, but it wasn’t an easy one :)

To end a day like that is always good, it definitely should be more often like that! That exactly the summary of what makes climbing special in the last period: good friends, new rock, adrenaline…and no bolts.

After that I flew to Kalymnos to join the TNF Kalymnos Climbing Festival, which was a lot of fun again. It was great to see the “legends” climbing and to hear their stories: it was really inspiring.

When I came back I had to set one more week and than I finally went back home to Babsi :)… but only for 2 days! We decided to go climbing somewhere and, as the weather seemed good there, we ended up in Cadarese again. She had never been there before, so I tried to guide her around to show her the best lines. She obviously made a quick work of all the classics (machine!) and I started to made some really good progress on my project. We climbed for days in a raw, and everyday we did some new lines to warm up, the classic “Grazie Riky” (and “Django” for me), it was a lot of fun….”easy” cracks could be really hard sometimes! I’m really glad that, thanks also to the colder conditions, almost every “piece” of the project came together; I still have to do 1 1/2 move, but at least it’s getting real. I can’t wait to go back to Cadarese and try it again!

We spent the last day filming “Super Cyrill” in Ticino; I climbed it back in the spring and it was really interesting to see how the crack pitch felt easier after some time spent in Cadarese… I’m slowly learning how to jam :)

I really want to thanks all the people I met/climbed with during my visits to Ossola, I had an amazing time there! Thanks BABSI, Riky, Elena, Gnerrone, Andrea, Lilli, Michele, Gianluca, Tambo, Spini, Bruno, Gio, Camilla, Fabrizio, and all those I forgot. See you soon.

Now after some more setting, I’m recovering from another finger injury… I just hope it will heal soon, ’cause I have a lot of projects to climb!

Have fun.

A wet summer…

If I think back to the last months, there are three simple things that come up in my mind: rain, fog, … and hot tea.

When I quitted the competitions- circuit, after having spent a lot of time in that secure world, I started to feel the desire of climbing in the mountains, which for me have always meant adventure. Exploration. A way to get out of my comfort zone.

I felt that step was necessary for my personal evolution.

After having taken some “slaps on my face”, I quick realized that it was a completely different game; I needed to get some more experience, before to adventure myself on my dream lines.

The time passed and I started to feel more secure on what I was doing; I was ready to pursuit my dreams.

During the winter, I planned to dedicate the whole summer to try to climb some of the lines, which I’ve always seen as a possible turning point in my climbing “evolution”.

I had a list in my mind and I was ready to commit.

But sometimes, when you are too focus, you forget that there are other elements, definitely stronger than you, which could change your plan. The bad weather is definitely one of them!

So, my ideal climbing trip in the alps, turned quickly into a waiting game and a battle against wet rock.

Anyways, I started the game, and I had to play it.

I’ve always seen Tre Cime as a good example of alpine climbing: the steep and cold north-faces, the choosy rock and the poor protections were the perfect playground to see if I was ready to pursuit my dreams. The only disadvantage should be the big crowd of tourists, but I swear that I haven’t seen a lot of them with this weather ;)

At the end of June, together with Babsi,  I hiked for the first time in the snow at the base of the wall; Cima Ovest was behind the clouds and it was freezing cold, but we were stoked to begin our project. We were still a little bit warm from the approach and we started to unpack the gear; it was just after a bunch of minutes that we realized how cold it actually was. We had two down-jackets and we were still trembling. We started to hesitate a little bit; the first pitches of “Pan Aroma” are not very hard related to the one in the roof, but the poor protections, the choosy rock and the numb feet started to worry us. It was a weird feeling: my head wanted to do something, but my body didn’t answer.

It started to snow and we decided to hike back to the car. I was pissed off with myself: I left without having tried, probably it was the best decision, but one part of my head still couldn’t accept it.

Even if I was angry, I felt attracted by that place; everything was calm and white, and the snow made everything wilder.

We arrived at the car and we prepared a hot tea… I couldn’t know that, but it was the first of many.

While driving back home, I convinced myself that it wasn’t so bad: the season was long and we had just to wait a little bit. I was positive.

We came back the week after for another day. The conditions were pretty much the same but this time we didn’t rest after the hike and we started to climb immediately to keep our feet warm. I was proud that we didn’t escape again! It was my first time climbing on the north face of Tre Cime and as soon as I started to grab the rock, I realized why everybody was speaking so bad about its quality. Everything is moving and even if the first pitches are not so hard, it was pretty scary. We couldn’t feel our fingers and toes, but it was so cool just to be there. When we reached the big roof, we were both freezing, so we fixed our lines and we escaped to the car. We prepared an hot tea and drove back home.

I was glad that we checked out the first pitches and I couldn’t wait to try to climb on the famous roof.

The plan for the next time was different; it was pretty tiring to drive every time 7 hours, so we decided to stay for a longer period and to camp at the parking lot. I was sure that it would be a quick work and I was confident to climb it just after a couple of days.

This time it was again freezing cold, but at least it wasn’t snowing or raining. We jugged up on the fix lines until the belay of the first hard pitch under the roof, and we prepared for climbing. It’s such a weird sensation to be up there below this immense piece of rock: you feel kind of oppressed and for the first time since I’ve started climbing, I had the impression that there were a “real” obstacle above me.

Babsi climbed and aided her way up to the middle belay, just after the crux of “Bellavista”. From there we could finally see what our two “projects” looked like! I prepared my self and I started on the big traverse of “Pan Aroma” (when you lead it, you start from the lower belay). The pitch is nearly 60 meters long, with few and well spaced bolts in between, but from what I heard, it shouldn’t be too hard. It was kind of annoying to climb with completely numb fingers, but I slowly made it through the first bolts….it was pretty exciting to climb on the lip of this immense roof,  leaning below it for a couple of meters, just heel hooking above my hands.

But after the second bolt I began to struggle;  I couldn’t find the holds and I took a big whipper.  I jugged up on my lead line, as I was hanging more than 10 meters below the roof, and I got ready for climbing again. I could see some white chalk marks, but there were no holds. I tried another time, but I ended up again way below the roof; and the same happened on the next tries.  I was surprised, as I heard that that pitch was not so hard and it doesn’t have too hard sections after it splits from Bellavista. I tried everything and I finally found a sequence which could be possible, but involved two hard cross moves on some muddy holds; there was rubber on some footholds on the right, but nothing where I was trying. It seems like something broke off… It was really annoying and tricky to try the sequence as the bolts are too far and, as I couldn’t climb through that section that day, I didn’t reach the next one.

After a lot of tries, we lowered down and drove back home.

Some days later I read on the net, that during the last season 2 holds broke off the second crux of that pitch, and nobody could climb it again….that’s why it was so hard!

As soon as I could, I drove again to Tre Cime, ready to try the new crux. Luckily Alessandro was motivated to come with me; we used to compete together in the youth competition and I hadn’t seen him in a while: it was pretty cool and weird to hang out together up there after so many years…that’s crazy how things change! That day the muddy holds were a little bit drier; after some more big whippers, and a huge one missing the jug on the side of the next bolt, I managed to climb through the new crux :) The last 35 meters weren’t so hard and I finally reached the next belay. It was a huge relief!

The new beta involves some powerful and hard moves, but unluckily also some really slippery holds!…in my head I thought…” that’s not so bad…I just have to wait for better conditions”…but I couldn’t know what was waiting us :(

I came back on the next day with another good friend, Sandro, to try the last hard pitch, before to leave fast due to some work. On the paper it should be the hardest pitch, but actually it wasn’t so bad. It’s pretty short and tricky, but once you find out the right beta it shouldn’t be a problem. It was just a little bit sketchy to reach the second bolt, as the first one popped out. I checked it out once and we rapped down as we both had to leave.

It was end of July and I felt ready and confident about a serious go from the ground; I was sure it wouldn’t take to long…. but exactly at this point, the nightmare began!

The weather turned from bad to horrible; it was cold, rainy and foggy… we basically couldn’t see the Tre Cime for weeks. We didn’t want to give up: we had started the game and we had to play. It’s crazy how stubborn we could be when we want to do something; everybody was saying that we were crazy to spend the whole summer there by those conditions. Leaving would have been the easiest and more logical solution… but I wanted to climb that piece of rock!

We basically moved to Tre Cime parking lot and camped there in our small Caddy for weeks, waiting for decent conditions. It was pretty tiring to live there for so long, cooking on the ground in the rain, and waiting in the car when it was raining… luckily the guys of the Auronzo hut welcome us really friendly every time we escaped there from the cold: thanks again! Also for the “special” tea ;)

I didn’t want to try again the single pitches by that weather, so I often belayed Babsi trying the crux pitch of “Bellavista” in the morning and than we went sport climbing down in the valley in the afternoon. After a couple of weeks, the weather seemed to get better for a couple of days, so I decided to give it a try. It was really cold in the night and when we woke up the ground was completely frozen…for sure not the best conditions, but at least it wasn’t rain! I climbed the first pitches and after a couple of hours we reached the big roof. It was always pretty scary to lead the lower part of the route, as the rock was soaked wet and it was too easy to slip off the wall. Everything is pretty chossy and the protection are really bad, so it’s highly recommended not to fall!

After a good rest I started for the crux pitch. The holds were a little bit slippery, but I managed to climb through the crux of  Bellavista and I reached the rest. Everything felt pretty smooth and after some minutes, I started for the long traverse. I climbed fast and surprisingly I managed to hold the muddy holds and go fast to the big jug… but when I was jumping to it, I made a stupid mistake and I went for a very big fall: F%&”£!!!

I jugged up and got ready for another try. Also this time everything felt good, but when I pulled on the crux hold, I slipped off the wall. Pfffff, I had to start again! I gave it another try, but it ended in the same way. That was really annoying! We rapped down and hiked back to our “hotel”. I knew that I would had to wait a long time, before the next windows of good weather.

The following weeks were horrible: everyday was cold,  foggy and rainy. Babsi kept on trying the crux pitch of “Bellavista” and made some really good progress on it…but I’m sure that with decent conditions she could have done it way before. We sport climbed down in the valley and I kept on waiting for a try. It was unbelievable, it rained 28 days out 31 in July, and 27 in August.

At one point I made a desperate try, but by those conditions I kept on slipping off the crux..when not even on the first traverse of “Bellavista”.

The time was ticking, as I had to start to work at the middle of September.

At the beginning of the month the good weather kicked in for 3 days: I knew that was the last chance. We got ready to do our attempts, and somehow we could feel a little bit of pressure due to the short time left.

The forecast didn’t make any mistakes and we left the car under the sun. That day the wall was pretty crowded, as also Dave Mac Leod and his film crew were there to try/film his new route. Also Riky and Klaus were with us, in order to film my attempt.

I climbed the first pitches without many problems, except for a hold that broke off the 4th pitch, but luckily it was just a couple of meters above the belay, so I took a long, but safe, whipper, and I started again. We reached to roof and I aided through the first pegs to dry and chalk up the hold, before to make a real attempt.

The conditions weren’t so bad, definitely the best so far, and I felt confident about the next pitch! I started and climbed the first crux without problems; after some shaking on the jug, I started on the traverse. I felt strong, but as soon as I pulled on the crux hold, I found my self  under the roof again: F%$&! I couldn’t believe that hold was soaking wet again! I rest and made two more tries, but they all ended up the same. I was super frustrated. I gave up for that day, but I still tried to climb through the crux for the film: no way. Every time I grabbed that hold, I slipped off the wall.

The next day we had to film some other stuffs, but the conditions were pretty much the same.

The day after Babsi made her first try from the ground on Bellavista. She climbed super well, but she also got stopped pretty high on the crux pitch from the wet holds :(

After another week of bad weather we came back, but she got stopped again from the wet holds and kept on slipping off the wall. That was super frustrating for both.

So, after 2 months of waiting, struggling and 3/4 tries, that was the end, I had to go back to work. I think I’ve never spend so much time on something, definitely not in terms of tries, but of energies and motivation. Somehow it was really stressful and demanding, and at the end of everything, I felt completely empty and tired. It demanded so much effort, that I was almost relieved to leave. Anyways I feel that I’ve learned a lot from this experience, not to give up and escape, to fight for a goal… and I can’t wait to go back there next year!

As someone says, the journey is the reward! :)

A big thank to Sandro, Ale, Giulio, Klaus, Riky and all the stuff of the Auronzo hut: it wouldn’t have been the same without you