Over the last week, Peewee, Alex Ekins and I have continued on the mission of trying out some of Italy’s finest crack climbing. Since arriving in Cadarese, I was immediately impressed with how good the quality was and after talking to the locals, I realised there were many hard crack routes that I’d never even heard of!
After a couple of days warming up on the cracks at Cadarese, Peewee and I went up to try an amazing splitter finger crack called The Doors, 8a+. This route didn’t even get a chance to disapppoint – not even for a single second. It’s an amazing 45m slightly overhanging finger crack that takes in almost every size possible (despite being a finger crack!) and holds back suitors with three brilliant cruxes. Climbing The Doors has to be one of my favourite climbing experiences; hard enough to be absorbing but not too difficult that you couldn’t enjoy it’s beauty and variation.
Wondering what to do next, I asked some locals about suggestions for other good finger cracks and time and time again I heard the name “Profundo Rosso” an 8a+ that Yuji Hirayama had climbed during his trip in 2011. Heading down to the crag the next morning, I couldn’t believe how good the line looked – yes it had bolts in it, no it wasn’t a perfect splitter, but I loved the tsunami wave of rock that it split. Sometimes, ugly is good.
Starting off on the pitch, I had a rude awakening on the offwidth start; oh dear how rusty my handstacking and kneelock technique felt. After 40ft though, it narrows back to hands, but then starts to kick back to a much steeper angle. At the steepest section it pinches down to single isolated finger locks and some occasional edges to rest your poor skin on. Committing to the upper section, I felt reasonably at home and decided to ignore my doubts that I’d not be onsighting 8a+ today. At the last bolt I was faced with the dilemma of which hand to lead into the final finger lock – agh, right or left? Right or left? Lactic acid left me little choice and I stabbed upwards with intuition. I hit lucky and the choice was the right one. I reached up over the top of the crack towards to the belay and found a horrendous sloping pocket….. Dangling on the rope moments later I wondered if I’d made a bad choice, but searching around I found a hidden hold that I’d never have spotted. Oh well! I returned to finish the route the following day on the way to Orco Valley – overall a touch harder than The Doors and perhaps mid 8a+?
Coming back to Orco Valley after 2 years away has been a strange experience. I’d sort of got the “Orco Bug” out of my system, but within 5 miles of valley driving and constant spying of new lines to do I have been drawn in again. This valley is so good, I honestly think it’s the best trad climbing destination in the whole of Europe. Peewee is here with me to do Greenspit and I’m keen to work on two projects. One is the “Pura Pura” Project which I dreamt up a few years back where a long hard crack boulder problem is linked into an 8b roof crack route to create a Dani Andrada style mega 8b+/c crack route. Sure it’s ridiculous, but why not?! The second is a steep finger crack that Pete Whittaker and I have spent a couple of seasons trying, but not succeeded on. Hopefully this last winter’s cellar training will pay off….
When I was first told about a new crack climbing area in Italy, I couldn’t believe it. I was in the midst of a rush of new routing in the Orco Valley and the idea that there could be somewhere bigger, better and with more potential seemed so unlikely in a country with with thousands and thousands of climbers. As I started to be sent photos of this new area in Cadarese I realised the rumours were true. Long, perfect pitches of splitter cracks in beautiful gneiss are set in quiet woodland just an hour or so away from Milan. A trip was planned and just a few days ago I got on a plane to find out for myself.
I persuaded Canadian crack legend Jean-Pierre Ouellet known as “Peewee” to join me on the trip as I knew this place with it’s mulitple 8a crack pitches could be combined with a trip to Orco for some more hard crack climbing. Photographer Alex Ekins has also joined us to bring his blend of Onion-based cooking and superb photography…
Arriving in Cadarese on the first day with low cloud and drizzle, we were somewhat dejected. However, after a tour from two local climbers (thanks Saro and David!) we were shown that this crag is still totally climbable in wet weather. What a dream crag for a Brit! We quickly got stuck into some warm-ups which strangely involved bolted crack climbing. I’m not really going to pass judgement on how they’ve done things here, but it was certainly a weird experience doing a 30m hand crack with only 10 quickdraws on my harness. Perhaps if we had more of this in the UK our crack climbing skills would be better??
The highlight of my first day was doing an amazing steep 7b+ changing corners finger crack, which went at about E6 6b on perfect friend 1’s and 0.5’s. This pitch itself could rival some of the very best crack climbing in Yosemite and I started to realise why recent visitors to Cadarese include Tommy Caldwell, Yuji Hirayama, Nico Favresse and the other mental belgians to name a few.
In the afternoon of the second day, I really wanted to try a route that I’ve heard talked about for a few years now. Turkey Crack was introduced to me as a project by an Italian friend; he told me of an incredible offwidth roof crack that a number of people had tried but no one had yet freed. I was psyched to hear this, but at the time I was training for Century Crack, so my priorities lay elsewhere. When I eventually heard that Sean O’driscoll (the mad Belgian bigwaller) had completed the task I was a bit disappointed, but I knew that I was my own fault for not being more proactive.
Tying in at the start of the route I had some big friends, a full tape job and a vague promise that I might be able to get some Wide Pony action – what more can a man want?! The route travels through a perfect 6 inch roof crack that splits an 80 degree ceiling of rock. At the lip, you’re aware of the exposure as the ground lies 300ft below you – such a position! Climbing the route was a real pleasure and reminded me why I started offwidth climbing in the first place and the cherry on the top was to climb this 8a onsight. afterwards it was great to help the Italian guys with improving their technique and passing on some of the tips that I’ve learnt over the recent years. It’s so motivating to see other people come round to thinking that climbing hard offwidths is something that’s kind of cool to do.
The recent spell on continued cold weather in Sheffield has given me one of the best periods of climbing I could possibly hope for before going away on a trip. Normally as a Brit, you spend the last 4 weeks before leaving to sunnier places cursing the terrible weather and promising that it’s going to be a “one-way-ticket” this time. The whole of March though, has been awesome! Fresh winds, good temps and plenty of time to explore the crags that lie a little off beaten track.
One of those crags that’s a bit out of fashion is Gradoms Edge. It’s often the last to retain the damp and being hidden in the trees, it’s quite hard to get psyched for the lines. They seem so much less impressive when there’s a forest of birch and oak 10m away… Once you get onto the rock though, there are some absolutely cracking lines to do: Moyers Buttress, Spanish Fly, Stormbringer, Eye of Faith. Aside from the old routes, there are also a number of first ascent projects – probably one of the best known being the direct finish to Charlotte Rampling. Having checked this out (yes, I’m too weak) I carried along the edge and thought I’d try the moves on a line I’d heard talked about by a couple of people. The front face of the Crocodile Buttress. Immediately, I realised the climbing was brilliant. Jon Fullwood had already cleaned the holds (thanks!) and so all I had to do was concentrate on learning how to “hug” my way up the leaning prow.
This week I was persuaded by Pete to go out for an early morning session to get the route done, so that we could fit a big crack training session in, in the afternoon. I’d not really worked the route very well, so was falling off the last move on link, but I trusted that Pete would give me such a good belay that I couldn’t possibly fall off. Good logic huh? End the end, we had so much fun at the crag messing around and talking crap that I completely forgot to get nervous and topped the route! Pete made the second ascent the same morning saying it was one of the best routes I’ve put up. Don’t read too much into that comment though……… I’ve established some right choss in the past! Seriously though, I think it’s a nice piece of climbing for those that like gritstone funk.
Going back to what I started saying at the beginning; it’s only 4 days until I head off to Italy with crack climbing legend Peewee Ouellet to go and repeat some trad cracks. I’m so psyched for this trip – I’m partnering up with someone pretty mad and also because of the shear quality of lines in Cadarese and Orco. I’ve been drooling over this video of the incredible looking “The Doors” at Cadarese. We’ll be doing some work out there with Alex Ekins and Hotaches on a couple of projects, so I’m sure their blogs will have some nice pics at some stage…