|MOUNTAINJOURNAL, THE MAGAZINE OF ALPKIT.COM|
Just some stuff about where we have been and what interests us.
The trip was cobbled together at the last moment. Christmas was being spent in Southern Germany and so I thought that if I went out a few days earlier I could meet Ken in Switzerland. No great plans but maybe we could get some ice climbing done and generally spend some time in the mountains. We finally decided on Val Ferrera (Pad people will know this as Magic Wood), knowing that there was a free(ish) campsite and that there were some ice falls in the surrounding valleys.
I caught the train to Chur where Ken picked me up on-route from Italy before driving back towards Val Ferrera. The campsite is easy to find and should be a model on how communities cope with outside interest in their local environment. They have created a small but perfectly formed campsite which in summer boasts a portaloo, wood pile, fire pit and a wood chip floor. In winter we were greeted with well.. nothing. Heavy snows the week before had built up, the campsite covered in half a metre of snow so there was nowhere to park the car. The campsite had been built due to problems with visiting climbers in the area, so we knew we couldn't just pitch up anywhere, it was clear we were going to have to dig our way in.
To be honest it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. We had some snow-shovels and we just dug a car sized notch from the side of the road leaving enough room so that a snow plough wasn't going to take of the front of the car. We then created little runnel to where the tent was going to go and then flatened the snow to put the tent up.
It was time for a brew, and as usual ken pulled out some gas canisters totally incompatible with his stove (even with the two types of adapters we had bought him). This time I was ready; there was going to be no repeat of the incident earlier on in the year. I had brought my XGK and I was going to have hot food. As always things are not that simple; I had the stove but no fuel. I tried to syphon some fuel out of the car with my hydration tube. The tube didn't quite reach the tank so all I sucked in was vapour. After a few attempts I thought my heart was going to pack in. A trip up to Splugen and back soon filled the fuel bottle. Despite the extreme cold, with the camp set up we had a cold but comfortable base from which we could climb.
We had to escape the suffocating heat of the Italian pre-alps. Somewhere high, with wind, open valley, rock, raging torrents and a festival atmosphere. Welcome to TAB2005. Now in its 15th year this regular event in the French climbing calender is organised by Francois Lombard in the village of L'Argentiere la Bessee.
TAB takes place over 4 days and is a mixture of culture, competition and chilled out bloccing. We got going Thursday evening with some performance art and an amateur video show projected against the climbing wall. Friday started early with the open climbing competition. It was going to be a long day, it was hot despite the constant wind and the final was scheduled for 8.30.
The weekend signalled a move to Ailefroide. The boulders are strung out along the length of the valley and it never felt busy. Saturday night we were treated to a night time flood lit exhibition climb with DJ on the Surprise boulders. We had all the top french guys out, Daniel Dulac, Tony Lamiche, Gerome Mayer et al, but where were the girls!?
For two entire days Val di Mello reverberated to the sound of a slow melodic bloc rocking beat. Snow topped mountains cut a sharp line between the clear azure sky and the lush green forests. Families and climbers nursing sore fingers lay back together and listened to the stream flow by as the days passed without the rush of modern life. Sounds too good to be true?.
Well if we hadn't been there for ourselves we would probably agree. Mello Blocco is an international bouldering event held over the weekend of the 7-8 May. Part competition part social event it attracted happy bloccers of all shapes and sizes. For the experts there were marked problems dotted around the valley, for the rest of us more than 250 problems at all grades. A beautiful and incredibly accurate hand drawn map by Simone Pedeferri reflected his local knowledge of the area, it is sure to become a collectors item. The attraction of Mello Blocco is its setting, hidden boulders amongst the trees, large and open kid friendly areas and of course the stunning vertical walls of Val di Mello itself.
The event was well organised and despite the large numbers seems to be embraced by locals who even make available the blocs that stand on private ground. With an estimate turn out of more than 1000 visitors their support is crucial, this surely will have been the climbing event of the year.
The easter break is the perfect time to drop in to Cala Luna. The tourist season for the Italians is still a couple of months away, so you can find empty crags and desolate beaches with temperatures that don't melt your gelato before you can raise it to your lips. Cala Gonone, once only reachable by boat has a secluded feel, but once you get used to the opening hours you can find pretty much everything you need in town. The climbing is varied, pure short sport climbing routes to long, adventurous sea cliff climbing.
Cala Luna was sadly damaged by a torrent of water caused by heavy rains last winter. The beach was all but washed away along with the bar which watered many thousands of tourists each year. The beach is expected to return in due course, but for now it has lost its idylic aspect.
What do you do with a couple of spare days on the way home from the Munich ISPO show?. Well if you are headed in to Italy you couldn't do worse than showing your face in Val Gardena - or more specifically Vallunga. It is easy to find just look out for the peak of Sassolungo (3181m) standing like a sentry over the entrance to the Dolomites. Under its gaze skiers swoosh around the famed Sella Ronda, a 26 km tour around the Sella group.
A cross country skiing piste traversing Vallunga makes access easy, although for some of the higher routes the approach could be considered long. We had two days of perfect weather. It was cold with clear skies. Walking deeper into the valley you are rewarded by the sight of slender ice falls bisecting glowing yellow walls.
For us it was eye candy, way out of our league, but we found what we were looking for at the head of the valley - easier angled 3 pitch lines we could hack away on.
We had heard that Magic Wood was somewhere on the Swiss side of the Splugen pass. We thought this was enough to go on, it wasn't. 3 days later we were better prepared. The guys from Arcteryx had given us directions; "follow the signs for Avers" they said, and we did.
The first thing you should know about the Magic Wood is that there is a river between you and it. Unless you want to get wet, take a harness and use the conveniently provided cables to slide across to the opposite shore. Avoid using your best karabiners, they are made from soft metal! Once established just wander around in the woods discovering the boulders. You don't need the guide, but you can get it from the hotel further up the valley. The woods themselves are really beautiful. The ground is covered in soft vegetation, but watch your step, you wouldn't want to fall down some of the massive holes between rocks. A lot of the climbs are in the higher grades and there are many high-balls to go at. If that's your thing take a big crash mat.
It stays cool even during the summer, and better still there is a free campsite. This has been provided to avoid access issues and it seems to be working well. But as the locals plead, please please please only use the campground provided. No wild camping or shitting in the woods.
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