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Mon Dec 08, 2003

Prima sci

Adam was staying until Christmas. I had prepared myself as much as I could, arranging work and buying a car. Unfortunately it had not gone smoothly and the car quickly developed the annoying habit of cutting out at low speeds. Being a bank holiday weekend but not wanting to travel far we agreed to visit Madesimo, just 1 hour from Lecco it offers nice skiing in a beautiful location.

We arrived early on a clear, crisp day. The slopes were icy, not ideal for your first day out but surprisingly quiet. We quickly traversed most of the slopes except for the Canalone. From prior experience I knew it would be uncomfortable on snowboard if icy.

That night the Pash called. Instead of ski touring at St Bernardo they were in Lecco and were soon to be joined by Alberto and Andrea. They planned to stay at my place. With no food in the house we ate out. The following day we returned to Madesimo and parking lower down took the 'Sky Express', a long underground railway straight to the slopes. The weather changed somewhat during the day. Blue skies were replaced by cloud, visibility was reduced but a light dusting of powder made the skiing more forgiving.

The weekends activities had put Adam temporarily out of action due to back problems. The others had returned to Milan, so it was left to Richard and myself to ascend Grigna by its east face. Incredibly in two years neither of us had been to its summit. We had a perfect day for it. Making a late start we left the car as high as we could get it but we were still well below the snow line, which on this side of the mountain remains even during warmer weather. Making brisk progress we passed the last outposts of habitation to stand below the vast snow field leading to the summit ridge. The route was simple, forging a direct line up the slope. As we gained height the effect of the wind on the snow became noticeable as it became as hard as stone. Although we didn't need them we had crampons and full winter clothing. An old chap dressed only in a pair of shorts descended past us.

The summit ridge was really quite exposed but unfortunately spoilt by a little safety fence running its length. In the west Monta Rosa stood tall. The Appenines and Maritime Alps to the south stood proudly above a blanket of low cloud or smog. We followed the ridge to the rifugio and sat down for a bowl of pizzoccheri. We had planned to follow the ridge to Grignetta, but our stomachs were weighing heavily and we lacked both a rope and axe to traverse safely the hard icy snow. Richard had borrowed both boots and crampons for our impromptu ascent, and now we had to see if crampons and boots were compatible. Only just! standing on his toe and puling with all my strength the buckle reached the very last eyelet. With no time to waste and a precarious looking pair of crampons we descended in the changing light.

Sat Dec 20, 2003

Korto Circuito

The Korto Circuito is a series of 4 bouldering events, each one held in a different city. I had wanted to compete for some time so I was very excited when the first event drew near. It was to be held in Genoa at the Sciorba climbing gym. I drove down from Milan with Adam who would be doubling up as my personal trainer and John Dunne look a like.
We arrived for the afternoon heat. I was soon relaxed when I saw that it was not at all as formal as I was expecting. I registered and initiated some warm ups.

My preparation was hardly focussed, but I had at least been doing a little stretching and I think this was valuable.
The heat began at 2.30 running to 5.30 with 25 problems to complete. Chalk was banned in favour of liquid chalk, a weird substance that I hope I never use again. There were 5 catorories of climbs: white, green, yellow, red and black. I started on the whites, some of which were easy and others harder. There seemed to be a considerable overlap between the colours, the harder whites being more difficult than the easy greens. I managed to complete the whites, all but one green and three yellows. The reds were out of bounds for me requiring a considerable step up in performance but I was very pleased, finishing 37 out of 96.

Sun Dec 28, 2003


Nick, James and Helen touched down at Bergamo airport; sometimes presents arrive by air. Adam was of course still here. He had proved himself to be a very competent chef and I had enjoyed having his company for a couple of weeks. Things were looking good and we arrived in Courmayeur at a good time. It had just snowed, the skies were clear and the slopes empty. Swooshing down the slopes we were soon grinning the maniac grins that can only result from skiing. Mont Blanc was clear, the Peuterey Ridge, it's line obvious.

The second day we ventured to Cervinia. Unfortunately high winds had shut the resort. The cold drove us back to Courmayeur where we pulled on snowshoes and headed for Val Ferret. You can't go wrong with snowshoeing in Val Ferret. The ambience is sublime, the sunset sweet, the day was saved. On Christmas day we found good off-piste conditions at La Thuile. The snow was still soft and in many places unmarked by skiers tracks. Lunch in France was ruled out by the threat of having to return on button lifts. The day passed swiftly closing with a competitive slalom race in Wacky Races fashion.

This year we had vowed to have a proper sit down Christmas meal. Following the advice of Johan the Swedish ski guide we had booked ourselves a table at Pierre Alexis. The food was excellent and the choice of grappa large. Skiing the following day was somewhat painful, the slopes more crowded and icy. It wasn't until the end of the day that we started to regain our form. But now it was over, our passes had expired and it was nearly time to go home.

Just one day remained and we had saved it for some climbing. This year was different to the last; it was cold. We had had the usual doubts whether it was worth throwing in ice climbing gear but now we were glad that we had. We arrived in Lillaz to find the Cascate di Lillaz in condition. Helen had not climbed on ice before so Nick volunteered to lead her up the easier left hand variation. One look at the main ice fall convinced Adam and myself to join them. We comfortably soloed up filming as we did. The easy passage finished at a large frozen pool under another impressive frozen cascade. This one was less intimidating than the first so Adam and James led through, I followed pausing to film once more.

We were now feeling more confident. Our one day of ice climbing a year was going well. Passing the first cascade a leash-less German girl topped out. Watching the rest of her party from the top we decided to throw down a top rope and give it a go ourselves. Climbing like this was a pleasure, the central section was fluted and required delicate placements of the ice tools. Another party arrived and climbed the cascade on the left. It was interesting to see someone moving confidently over this medium. During our time the ice fall did lose some of it's air of impenetrability and I think we all left feeling more confident. Hopefully the next time it will be approached in better style.