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.