Each time that I book a trip to Europe for climbing, I get so excited. I dream of perfect lines, quality rock and sunny weather. These three factors are what keep you motivated during the long dark winter months slogging away on the training. There’s an ultimate reward for your sacrifice made at the altar of polyurethane resin and sanded wooden rungs.
Not this time though. On one account I feel let down. Although the first two weeks of our trip to Italy were somewhat marred by rain on the odd day, it was negotiable. Our arrival in Orco Valley for the second week however, marked a change in luck. In Orco, Peewee was there to try Greenspit and I wanted to do a link-up project and an unclimbed finger crack that I’ve tried for a couple of years now.
Going back to Greenspit with Peewee was great fun and kind of relived a period of my life. Getting back on the route with Peewee brought back all the memories of good times, frustrated failures and stupid antics with Sheffield mates on the belay. Each jam seemed like an old friend that I’d not seen for ages. All a bit weird, but that’s how it felt.
After showing Peewee some (decidedly dodgy!) beta, I set to work on trying a link up project I’d conjured up a while back called the “Pura Pura Project.” It links hard low-level 8a+ crack climbing into 8b route crack, with the crux right at the end. If Dani Andrada knew what a crack was, I’m sure he would approve. Maybe?! After some work, I did the first section named “The Green Shadow” and started to think about how the whole thing would feel. By that stage a rest day was top of the list as my arms, shoulders and skin were showing signs of wear.
Before taking the needed rest, I wanted to squeeze in a quick bit of time on the finger crack project that Pete and I have tried in previous years. I coud see that the weather was forecast to get a little worse for 2 days, so I ignored the temptation to pace myself and knew time logged on the project would be worth it. The line I wanted to try is a short, but steep and powerful finger crack. It starts at 45 degrees, hits a roof, then kicks back to 30 degrees, before attacking a final offwidth roof crack. Traditionally I’ve not been that great at really powerful climbing, so I was curious to see how my winter’s training had paid off. There were two moves at the crux on powerful finger locks that I’d not even been able to do in isolation in previous years, so this was potentially a great litmus test for improvement.
Pulling into the crux sequence again, two years later, I was still dismayed by the size of the holds. The first finger lock was even poorer than I remembered, but the second matched my expectations. Frigging the gear and moves, I pulled into position to try the dyno crux off the finger lock as a starting point. Holy crap – I could do it! I didn’t expect that. Where my arms wilted in previous years, I now had a morsel of power to do something with. What a revelation. I’m sure that there are plenty of other endurance-based climbers out there like me, who will understand how amazing it is to feel – for once in your life – that there’s some muscle fibres actually doing you a favour! I was like a drug to my ego and my confidence surged. Not long after I had the even harder move setting up into the dyno done and then even whole sequences started to flow.
Feeling positive about our progress in Orco – I’d got some good links, Peewee was cruising on Greenspit – we finally allowed ourselves the rest day. That day marked the turn in weather. At first it drizzled, then it poured and finally it snowed. Everything was drenched – even the roofs were soaked. Morale plummeted as Peewee wallowed in back-to-back double expressos and I, in my jumbo pack of salted peanuts. He was developing caffeine induced twitch every time the word Greenspit was mentioned and I got slowly fatter. Even our photographer Alex Ekins, was chanting in the corner of the bedroom obsessively polishing his lenses.
Before we fell into a crack-deprived coma, we pulled ourselves from the depths of despair to make a decision on what we were to do with our last two days in Italy. We’d not climbed a route for 4 days and time felt so precious. As a last resort we decided to return to Cadarese to either try an unrepeated 8b crack route called “Clenched Teeth” or at the very worst do some training laps on some perma-dry bolted cracks. Adrian Samarra from Hotaches Films had joined us by this stage so I think he was a little relieved that he’d be able to film something more interesting than me and Peewee discussing whether Nico Favresse or Yuji Hirayama was our ultimate holiday bromance.
Back in Cadarese, we found either mini-waterfalls cascading down our routes or cracks running with water. This left me with only one obvious option; to attempt a 7b+ finger crack in a waterfall (I hate cracks running with water). This climbing scenario actually required some very interesting climbing tactics. You had to wear your chalkbag in the front (or it filled with water), you couldn’t look upwards too much (your eyes filled with water) and no horizontal crimps were allowed (they were filled with water). Finally making it to the belay after copious amount of falling and 100% effort I was rewarded with a great feeling. It doesn’t really matter sometimes how bad a route is, or what grade it is. As long as you have a good laugh and try hard. What more can you want?!
Finally just a 12 hrs before leaving Italy, the rain stopped and we could finally try Clenched Teeth (photo below). After a few hours, I had sore fingers and long links done but alas the redpoint crux as the final move made success unlikely on that last hour. I left Italy happy though – I’d met some great local climbers, visited brilliant crags and got to measure up if my training is heading in the right direction. Hopefully, I’ll be returning again very soon.