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Sun Sep 07, 2003

Lecco and it's clubs

Dear Journal,
I finally got around to renewing my subscription with CAI. Of course living now in Lecco I thought that it would be simple to do it here. In fact I had to return to Milan, renew it there for this year and fill out a form so that the president of the Milan section can transfer my memebership to Lecco for next year! Fortunately, as the Lecco secretary was delighted to tell me I can still use, and take part in the Lecco sections events and facilities.

Apart from CAI there seems to be two other groups in Lecco: the Ragni and Gamma. It seems to join the Ragni you need to be invited and have some kind of alpine pedigree. This safely rules me out. As for Gamma, I don't yet know.

Sat Sep 13, 2003


It was a perfect opportunity to finally use the fantastic yellow boulder mat that I had received on my birthday. Cresciano, Cre-she-ano, of course I had heard of it, I had seen the pictures of Freddy Nicole on the super hard Dreamtime and now I was to get to see it in real life. Just one thing stood in my way, the super early start to get myself down town Milano.

Lecco station 06:45, the chilly early morning light didn't do much to warm the early birds lined up on the platform. I filled the time reading about Walter Bonatti and his solo travels. The train pulled into central station where I had arranged to meet Claudia, or rather Claudia had arranged to meet me. Claudia had forgotten to wake up. Advantage to the early bird.

Arriving at Cresciano we met Claudias friends, they had driven up from Finale, and were on the way back to Germany. Two I had met before, two were new to me and then there was Welsh Phil from Cardiff. We had with us two guides to the area, the rather general 'Bloc Notes' and the more useful 'Cresciano' guide. The photo diagrams were good once you had found the relevant boulder but the maps were not particularly easy to follow. The boulders of Cresciano run along a steep hillside and are shaded by trees. It was a hot day, but we managed to remain cool, even through midday.

I had bouldered both on the gritstone of the Peak District and on the sandstone of Fontainebleau. This was granite, it was rough and it was sharp, my fingers soft and weak. Starting with caution since none of us had a good comprehension of the grades, we soon learnt that it was quite different in respect to the french sports grading system. Even the 'easy' problems seemed hard. I guess it was a matter of getting used to the rock, and the style of movements it required.

We were climbing in the 5b - 6b range. There seemed to be a good selection at this grade, with aretes, traverses and slabs. Foot work was important, there was a lot of slap, slip, smearing action going on. Once again I regretted not changing my rock boots for a pair with more subtle rubber. By the end of the day we had under our belts a collection of routes, and a wealth of experience.

On the second day we couldn't resist a peak at Dreamtime. What a stunning line, and unbelievable to think it could be climbed. Instead of being motivated to climb harder our level went down a little. Perhaps we were tired, the problems became more frustrating. My feet were once again crying out to be released from those torturous shoes. I made a point to listen to them.

Sun Sep 21, 2003

Granita and sheep shit

I had already written off the weekend due to work commitments, but this didn't count on a call from Richard at his most persuasive. Actually I had been sitting down far to long and the opportunity to do something active was just what I needed. Richard's proposal was for a route on Medale overlooking Lecco, a fine cliff reaching 450m at its highest point and hosting climbs of 8-11 pitches mostly in the easy to mid grade range.

Over an early breakfast we choose the Anniversario route; a friend had done it the day before. We hoped to make a quick ascent but an early error left us on steep, loose and vegetated ground. It had already taken us 2 hours and we were out of position. Like goats we made a descending traverse before finding the large well defined path that most normal people choose to take to the start of route.

Our route looked good from below, the first pitch of 5a took a slender pillar. Richard had calculated that I was to go first, this way I had the 6a+ pitch higher up. From the start the pitch was more difficult than I had expected, well protected but thin moves just before the belay made me think how difficult the harder pitches would be. Richard's theory was that Medale was in fact a testing ground between the two Lecchese clubs of Gamma and the Ragni, and therefore the routes were graded somewhat competitively. Richard led through and we arrived under a small roof. My lead, and I took the obvious line around the roof, Richard followed and we stood together under a steep slab.

At this point we realised that we should have made a significant traverse left. We were off route with a competitive pitch of 6c above. Richard helpfully remarked that my feet were smelling like sheep shit, an accusation I am sure made to make light of our situation. Fortunately we could traverse left from this point, my lead again. Back on route, and at the foot of the crux pitch. My lead, somehow Richard's calculations still applied despite our errors. The pitch was fair until the final 6 metres. By now the heat was telling, I may as well have swallowed a scuttle full of charcoal for my throat no longer conveyed fluid, my tongue stiff as stone, my lips welded tightly shut. And my feet were uncomfortable. I looked woefully around before slumping onto the protection. Things didn't improve. I had lost hope completely. Finally I aided up on the gear, frustrated and angry with myself, and of the mountain. I wanted to go down, it was no fun anymore.

Richard came up looking surprisingly untroubled. He gleefully told me he was accustomed to aiding, and then, after glancing at the next pitch politely offered me the lead. The idea of the overhanging 6a above didn't really appeal to me at the time. The only thing I could think of was a cool granita by the lake shimmering below. We stood around on our little ledge until it became apparent that Richard was as unlikely to go down as he was to go up, my lead. In fact the pitch actually was ok, significantly easier than the previous, even if i did pull on the sling through the overhang - I was in no mood for messing around and I had already lost my bella figura.

We were now in a fabulous position surveying the full extent of the cliff. It was really steep, and looked even bigger than from below. We now had 3 easy pitches to the summit, just as well because we were out of water. The pitches were not of the same quality as the rest of the route. The rock had become a little shattered.

We slumped on the summit, exhausted, dehydrated and dreaming of granita.

Sat Sep 27, 2003

Rockmaster 2003

Woo, had it really been a year since the last appointment! To celebrate I had invited over the Chunk, who in turn had invited his girlfriend, Liz. We met as usual at Bergamo airport. The worst of the long summer heat had past, it would be perfect climbing weather.

We had wielded our mighty powers of time control and stretched the weekend out from Friday to Tuesday. By Friday afternoon we had arrived in Arco, mounted the tent and were ready to dip ourselves in the Zoo camping pool. The lime green haze shimmering over the pool soon put a stop to that nonesense. Since it was a cool, bright evening we headed out to climb instead. Why I lose my sense of direction in Arco I don't know. One has only two choices; North away from the lake or South towards the lake. It shouldn't be difficult, but it is like the poles get reversed every 2 hours or so. We drove around a bit, waiting for the poles to settle before we eventually ended up at Massone. Ok, no points for creativity but having only an hour of light we were pushed for time. We climbed a couple of easier routes in the first sector, polished, they seemed a touch tough for their grade.

Saturday was to be 'the' climbing day whilst Sunday was absolutely reserved for the final of the Rockmasters. Saturday morning we prepared ourselves by first visiting Riva del Garda, it was windy, a bit chilly actually but it didn't stop us taking a nice walk, drinking coffee and commenting on passing strangers. Now ready for some exercise we headed out to Passo San Giovanni. Unfortunately our drive was greater than that of our car. Hesitant to pull away, 1st and 2nd gears were missing. This was a problem. The area around Riva is somewhat hilly and hill starts in 3rd are not easy, but fortunately a clear road allowed us to maintain momentum up the hill to Nago where we pulled over and called assistance.

The verdict was decisive. Our knight of the road took our car away leaving us with a tent for one and a half people to be shared between three. A quick call to Avis proved somewhat unsatisfactory, they suggested flagging down the next passing train to the nearest Avis office open on a Saturday afternoon, which was... Verona airport!! Now, let me explain in case you don't know. Verona airport is not close to Arco, and how one would go there by train I did not know. Since we had the car for just 4 days it was a considerable inconvenience, obviously I couldn't go Sunday because of the competition, I had to go now. A couple of more calls were made to make sure I had understood well, this time it was suggested I take a taxi, still not as good as someone delivering the car, but it seemed it would be the only way.

1 hour later and I had enjoyed a 125euro taxi ride. I collected my new car and 1 hour later I was back at the campsite sipping wine. Slick, but not satisfactory. Is it normal that one has to collect there own car in a case such as this?

Things got better. Finding the competition timetable we saw that the women's bouldering event was just minutes away. Obviously it was not to be missed, and we had a front row view. The problems were set by Jackie Godoffe, each completely diverse and as entertaining for the spectators as for the athletes. A new name from the French; AlizÈe Dufraisse small in stature but strong and technical made a big impression and passed through to the final with Olga Bibik and Guilia Giammarco. The final problem became a bit drawn out when none of the remaining athletes managed to finish the problem. It seemed no one knew how to solve the issue not even our unstoppable front man Andrea Gennari Daneri, who twice proclaimed a winner only to look on in dismay as the competition continued regardless. So the girls continued climbing, until at last it was agreed that Olga Bibik had done enough.

Sunday, and at last a time to relax. Liz was up late, a competition virgin, it had already taken it's toll on her. The Chunk and myself went straight into the competition arena. There were already quite a few spectators so we quietly laid out our roll mat and turned our heads towards the wall.

We got underway with the worked difficulty competition. So how worked was it?, well I understood they had had 20 minutes on the route. And how difficult?, the men's route was 8c/+. Chabot won, his combined height greater than his closest rivals Puigblanque and Mr‡zek. The little austrian Angela Eiter won the womens event ahead of Muriel Sarkany and Sandrine Levet, and at only 17 years old, wow. During the course of the day we realised that whoever was in charge of the sound system had a very small music collection. The Red Hot Chilly Peppers was one of his favourites, then there was.. err.. no, nothing else comes to mind. After lunch it was the mens bouldering competition. Mr Calibani put in a good performance which pleased the crowd, just pipping Kazbekov and Dulac. Again Godoffe provided 4 testing challenges, the last of which stopped all in their tracks. My favourite event was next, the duel. Two climbers on adjacent but identical routes, first to the top wins. But it's not just about speed. The routes are climbed onsight, they are difficult and it is very possible your competitor may fall. It is best when you have two competitors of very different statue; Levet against Sarkany for example. It's like cat and mouse, do you go fast, or slow and steady. Chabot got it wrong, climbing fast to the roof, before fluffing the sequence and allowing Patxi Usobiaga to take victory in the first heat. The final pairs were Eiter vs Sarkany and Mr‡zek vs Usobiaga, another great match. Eiter took her 3rd victory of the weekend, and Mr‡zek was just to quick for Usobiaga.

Not many people stayed for the presentation, in fact competitors seemed to outnumber spectators. Each winner had his or her national anthem played except for the Czech Mz‡rek who received his prize to the sound of 'We are the Champions' played by popular rock combo Queen. Afterwards we met up with Gili, an Israeli who was staying at the campsite on a solo climbing trip and having problems finding partners to achieve his target 8b. Obviously we were not well disposed to help him with that problem, but we could take him for a drink. We hit the after event party, well a gathering in the bar in the centre of town. A small kiosk offered cheap beers each coming with a raffle ticket. For all the tickets we had we were sure to be in with a chance. There were some great prizes on offer: A North Face tent, jackets, numerous rock shoes and rucksacs from Cassin and others.

I walked away with a pair of womens shorts.

Monday and today we would climb. This time we arrived at Passo San Giovanni. And hey what a great little spot, sheltered from the sun, and convenient. My confidence was running high having seen the competition so I went for my obligatory 7a in high spirits. First attempt went with a couple of rests and just one move that I didn't manage to do. The Chunk stepped forward and had a stab. He solved the crux but a pie excess prevented him from seeing the top of the route. My turn again, and guess what.. I did it. I was very satisfied with my first red-point. We left just after lunch, we had to return to Lecco and there were flights to catch the following day. The evening was spent eating pizza in Bellagio on lake Como, very nice.