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Tue May 06, 2003

Sargdegna 2003

Easter again, and time for the annual pilgrimage to Sardegna, what could be more diverse from last weekends final ski?. I had vowed to return after last years mini expedition to do the Selvaggio Blu. On that occasion I had done little climbing and seen only a small aspect of the island. This time along with the usual suspects was to be the Horn from England. He was interested in the kite surfing potential of the island, so parting on the overnight ferry from Genova to Porto Torres we arrived to be greeted by the rain.

The first problem was to hire a car, this is not all that simple in Porto Torres as most people arrive with a car. All the same we managed to find a local hire company for a reasonable rate. The freak shower passed and we headed directly to the Isola dei Gabbiani on the North East tip of the island. We arrived at mid day and sought out Claudia's tent who we guessed; being a kite-surfette would also be staying here. Not being able to remember her tent we made the logical assumption that being of German origin she would have a green Vaude, our assumption was to be proved justified and we found her little tent in superb isolation at the tip of the island. We didn't think she would mind some intelligent company so we placed our tent right next to hers, headed for the beach and waited for the wind.

I'm not a kite surfer so I can only comment from my first impressions, but it seems such a strange sport. So many seemingly opposing factors need to come together to get it to work. You need wind, but to much wind is just as bad as to little, its needs to come from the correct direction, you need space on the beach and in the water, and then there is all the equipment to layout and prepare: all those lines, pumping up the kites and then only to sit waiting without guarantee of any action. We waited... after all this was one place on the whole island where the perfect conditions were guaranteed. A day or two passed, and don't remember now and then finally wind. Kites appeared from nowhere, the Horn was on the water and I valiantly followed my duties as beach monkey.

Hopes of a successive day were dashed. One day of wind was all we were permitted, so enough being enough and with a whole island to explore we headed down the coast to Cala Gonone. We met here the Pash who were ecstatic at having just finished the Selvaggio Blu, a wild and committing path that traverses the Golfo di Orosei. Cala Gonone is a little sports climbing mecca and now despite the attractions of a perfect beach I just wanted to climb. We headed down to the nearest area; Cala Fuili for some easy routes. Its a fantastic little bay. At its head you find the easy climbs over looking a little beach with its roasting sun bathers, it then stretches back into a ravine with many other cliffs to discover. We stayed by the beach.

The following day we were more adventurous and headed inland to Surtana. Unfortunately I had misread the guide book and it was to late when I realised that in fact it said to avoid the crag in hot weather. Never mind, even if we didn't have a mad dog we would still at least get to the crag. Unfortunately another misinterpretation of the guide book was made and we arrived under an undeveloped wall. By the time we found the correct cliff, which by now was all to obvious and teaming with parties we had lost interest. So, instead we carried on walking to the neolithic village of Tiscali set in a huge cave on top of a mountain. The walk was nice, and we met many people on the way. It was hot, and with full climbing packs a little exhausting.

There is just so much to do in this area, two weeks is simply not enough. We spent also a pleasant evening climbing at La Poltrona 'the armchair' an amazing throne shaped slab just above Cala Gonone. But now it was time to move on, always south in search of new rock, new winds and new beaches. Within 3 hours we arrived at Villasimius. In high season a tourist hotspot, but now it was deserted. The Horn wasted no time in discovering a deserted beach perfect for kite surfing. For my part I was interested in the areas bouldering potential, which according to our guide was good in this area. I must admit I found it a little disappointing, the areas were well spaced out, with only one or two quality problems at each area. Not a place that would warrant a second visit.

An afternoon was spent pottering around the islands capital Cagliari and its fine beach. Without any encouragement from us time was ticking along, so it was again time to move, this time north west to Oristano. We found camping at S. Caterina a little further north; it's huge beach was deserted, so strange, so surreal, where was everybody? It must be quite different to the summer, and it was already really hot.

The climbing areas here about proved elusive to find despite carefully following the guide book description. The first area we tried, 'Castello del Vento' we eventually found following a most improbable 'road' into the heart of the countryside. In fact it was only thanks to a local farmer recognising the skyline captured photographically in our guide book that we found it at all. Unfortunately when we reached it's foot we found it already occupied by a vast cloud of flies making it impossible to even reach the climbs. With no other option than to change area we headed for Monte Arci. Apparently the whole of this crag had been cleaned and prepared by one person. After deciphering the pretty deceptive guidebook map we found it and the routes proved to be technical, vertical and well protected, highly enjoyable, in fact it was just good to be really climbing again.
Now our time was really coming to an end, there was just time first for a brief visit to the roman ruins of Tharros, and then to the area of Osilo near Sassari before completing our circle at Porto Torres. La Muraglia is one of the finest crags in this area. Of the same origin as the fabled Isili the quality of rock superb, pocketed on steep walls. The view fantastic.

A bottle of wine and the magic elevator made the ferry journey back to Genova slightly less tedious. We took away many good reasons to return yet again.

Mon May 12, 2003


Some times it even rains at the weekend. On these rare occasions we tend to stay close to home, so it was to be this weekend with a day trip out to Lecco. We were 8 in total, most improbable but things can be like that sometimes. After a coffee we managed to agree on the Scudi di Valgrande sitting high above Ballabio. The climbing was good, but rain soon arrived cutting short our day. We were now down to 4 the Pash, Claudia and myself. We had but one chance remaining if we wanted to continue climbing before the day was out: the fantastic and ever reliable Galbiate. Ignoring certain negative vibes we arrived with mixed hopes, but indeed it was dry. We managed another two routes before the rain caught up with us. We retired to the Offshore bar to watch the sun set over Lago di Annone.

The next day things were not looking much better, but we headed out to Pradello on the shore of Lake Como. Serge was with us, who after much skiing and ice climbing was beating a baguette to get back on the rock. I have never really got on with Pradello, I think it is a crag were I will never amount to much. Everything seems difficult, and I left losing a shoe.

Mon May 19, 2003

Val di Mello

At last! It had been over a year that I had wanted to visit the fabled Val di Mello, the Italian Yosemite so they say. I had great expectations and I wasn't to be disappointed. Some wise old owls say that May is to early in the season for Mello, with unstable weather and snows still remaining. They may well be right as on Saturday many routes were damp that meant we ended up climbing low in the valley, in the sports climbing area.

But I am getting ahead of myself. My first glimpse of the valley was from the car, vast shimmering granite slabs rose from the hidden valley floor. It was difficult to gauge their scale, but they were big, real big! I was here with a pretty rough looking Serge and Claudia. They had climbed together here before and new what it was about. My English nationality somehow automatically gave me guru trad climbing status, to be honest I was doubtful, one adapts easily to climbing on bolts.

The gentle walk along the valley floor (leave your car in the village and take the bus unless you want a parking fine) following the river opened up views of hanging valleys packed full of shiny granite walls. The valley was green and quiet. The names of the buttresses and routes had evocative names: Precipizio degli Asteroidi, Speroni degli gnomi and Oceano Irrazionale to name but three, the place is simply different. After a bit of soul searching Serge reminded us we were here to climb. It wasn't far to the first route on the Placche del giardino which in turn was soon aborted due a streak of water. Now my turn, I was directed to an adjacent route that looked good. Again slabby with an overlap start. The overlap involved a tricky mantle to gain the slab, and then... nothing I made two bolts before grounding to a halt. There were no holds what so ever, it was like a gritstone slab, and I never did get on with those. I made my excuses and retreated gracefully. It turned out the route was 6c.

The next day Serge encouraged us to try again. He had chosen the route of Cochise a direct line up slabs in the middle of the Dimore degli Dei buttress. We had with us Andrea fresh from his success on 'Luna Nascente' the day before. We geared up and were ready to go when Andrea announced he had forgotten his rock boots. It would be slow climbing as a three and it would take to long for Andrea to go get his shoes, so we resigned ourselves to a walk along the valley. As he was packing things into his rucksack he proudly pulled out his shoes that were there hiding inside his sack! That's so Andrea. The route started with a traverse on trad gear. I got stuck close to the belay, to unsure of myself to pad on up the slab and far enough away from protection to be concerned for my fate. Fortunately my English roots proved infallible and good old fashioned technique came to hand as I lassoed a block.

Pitch two across the lip of the overhang was led by Andrea, delicate but well protected by pegs, the situation was impressive and we were still low down. Now the route took a direct line up the slabs above, first by some really delicate moves and then easing but continuous. It was well protected by bolts as there was no natural gear, the pitch was long and enjoyable. The other pair were ahead of us, and looked encouragingly down upon us. Serge was in his element moving surely over the open and featureless slab. The technical crux of the climb was the next short pitch and it was Andrea's turn. He gracefully took up the challenge but we had caught up with the others as Serge was experiencing the exposure of the final pitch, We waited for the belay to clear before it was our turn. The final pitch now loomed and we approached it with a little trepidation as we knew from Serge that it was delicate and a bit run out in places. Another party descending described it as 'duro'. And indeed it was, spacey friction moves padding up the slab, pure faith climbing. I reached the belay longing for a mouthful of water.

We descended for a beer and sat contemplating the higher cliffs, wondering at the surprises and challenges that they behold. The valley was every thing I had expected it to be. However it seems to have a surprising lack of campsites near the centre. Maybe it limits the number people and preserves the natural beauty of the valley. It seems to be a very Italian thing to stay in a hotel or refuge rather than camping. As a camper this can be quite frustrating.

Wed May 21, 2003

Leaving work early

In the summer things get pretty steamy in down town 'centro citt√°' Milano, so as the nights become drawn out the need arises to escape for an evenings cragging. For the first time this year we arranged to meet early at the metro station of Gobba. All went to plan until we took the wrong road out of town. We arrived at Galbiate later than expected, but still with plenty of time for a couple of routes. Max di Brusson was there already, having arrived under his own steam after we had failed to meet him in town.

There was a cool breeze and the air was fresh, this was more important to us than the climbing which was really just an excuse to get out. I think at this point my mind was made up over the decision to move out from Milan to Lecco. We voluntarily stopped by the bar for a panino and chilled out drink before beating the midnight hour back to Milan.

Thu May 22, 2003

Lost rock boot

Lost a rock boot at Pradello, a crag near to Lecco. Its green, made by 5.10 and fits the left foot. If anyone finds it let me know! Thanks

Mon May 26, 2003

Pocket pulling

Following on from alpine routes of a delicate and exposed nature, or was that just my head?; this weekend by contrast was to be pocket pulling and steep limestone in wonderful Finale Liguria. The partenza was put off until Saturday morning to allow us to visit the Brit Alastairs party. He had friends out from England, and was also planning to visit Finale the following day.

We left early, a little dizzy from the night before, arriving to a perfect day taking immediately a spot on the beach and feeding ourselves. Those of us with built in wetsuits took a dip while others blessed with more sensitive hearts simply reddened in the increasing heat, and its only May.

Inevitably climbing had to happen so mid afternoon I raised the horn and blew it for all my worth. We headed out to Rocca di Corno. I had never climbed here before, but had seen the buttress on many occasions. The view was very fine, looking down to Finale and the ocean beyond. It was still hot even at this late hour, so myself and Claudia started proceedings on a fine looking 6a+ whilst Richard and Alastair took on a classic 5b. The rock was perfect and the climbing interesting but not to difficult for the grade, was this really Finale?. We were working ourselves up to try the classic 6c+ of Rombo di Vento. More overhanging than it looks the time had come and I set off with some trepidation.

The route really starts with a brutal overhang, well protected but reachy powerful moves. It wasn't long before I was hanging on the end of the rope, but got it next time. That was the technical crux, but the crux of the route is probably to keep going. Overhanging climbing continued on large holds, but with tiring arms it was to much. The remainder of the route went very slowly. Claudia followed up singing about Thailand, overhanging rock, large holds in the fading light. We left the crag in darkness and stumbled through the forest to the car.

The following day followed a similar pattern, coffee, gear shop and beach. In the afternoon with just myself and Claudia remaining we went to Kattedrale. A small crag but impressionably steep. Here the 6a's were no push over, technical climbing on steep rock. The hardest route we tried was Fragile 6c, an unrelenting trip up an overhanging wall on large pockets but tiring to a degree with a real sting in the tail. I totally dogged it. Failure!

This was enough, in our fragile state it was clearly time for a beer and an ice cream.