The MelloBlocco Interviews

Some different thoughts from the third edition of MelloBlocco the international boulder meet organised by the Association of Alpine Guides in Lombardy.

Tell us a little about MelloBlocco, what is it and where is it?

Nick / Melloblocco, now in it's 3rd year and attracts over 2000 participants from 22 countries. It was an ideal way to introduce 3 up and coming talented climbers to some of the best in European bouldering. It's was even better way to rub shoulders with some of the best, and friendliest boulderers in the world. The climbing itself is in Val di Mello situated about 11/2 hour North of Milan nestled in a fantastically pretty valley in the Bregaglia mountain range with teetering granite walls overlooking the boulder fields. The format of the event although competitive is informal, at registration you get a t-shirt and map and the you either hike up to the Boulders or queue a while and take the shuttle bus.

We will get onto these three talented climbers in a bit, is there anything for us regular climbers?

Col / The beauty of this event is it's impartiality; the MelloBlocco experience transcends elitism and ability. Turn up and 'bloc' with over a thousand other climbers of all levels. It may sound crowded, but there is so much goodwill and courtesy that no matter what level you are climbing at there will be support and encouragement from everyone around. Climbing is of course the obvious reason for going, but the foundations beneath this are the community and solidarity that can easily be overlooked in an often inner directed sport. MelloBlocco helps re-affirm this with a wonderfully convivial atmosphere, which is why Beth’s dad Alan, Polly’s mum Jeni and Ashleigh’s gran Norma also came along for the experience, without much persuasion. Well, what a team and what a great excuse for a weekend in Italy.

Kenny / MelloBlocco is not about who can pull the hardest; it is about the valley itself. It is intoxicating, it is contagious, it feeds your imagination. It is the valley of dreamers, and as you kickback and allow your dreams to drift along the valley floor, up over the high walls towards the snow white peaks they mix with countless others. For these moments boulderers become big wall climbers hanging in hammocks and alpine hardmen lay in the green meadows with their toes tangling in the river, just hanging out.

You were at MelloBlocco last year but you were saying that you came back this year with an extended team..

Nick / The idea to take the girls had been kicking around for a few months, we felt that we needed to put in a little extra for the effort they had been putting into there climbing over the winter. So although a small company we decided that we would organise a trip for the girls and families to come out and do some bloccing. They did the Bloccing and we would the be chauffeurs, guides and translators for the weekend.

Col / But why should we keep such an experience to ourselves? Especially when there were three young climbers eager to broaden their climbing horizons. It wasn't a hard decision really. Last year sealed it. With everything you could wish for, quality bouldering, stunning setting and a gathering that taught you a thing or two about climbing sociability. We knew we were going back.

How did they get on? it must be a bit different from the gritstone bouldering in the Peak District.

Nick / We left Nottingham in the hottest day of the year and for once wasn't looking forward to getting on plane for sunnier climbs. Were we really swapping a dusky evening on the grit for the stormy Italian alps, in truth we didn't know.

Kenny / The weekend started with a cappuccino; nothing new there, this is Italy and that's just what you do. The Mello valley was there just as it has been for millenia, so nothing new there either. What was new was the group of 3 climbers chatting away around one of the tables in the Centro Polifunzionale; Ashleigh, Beth and Polly, 3 young british climbers with more enthusiasm than skin on their finger tips.

Nick / "Oh My god...oh my god..look at that number plate ...oh my god look at that house, are those mountains...oh my god" it could of been a sketch out of little Britain.....Whatever they thought now wasn't going to be anything like the reaction when they woke up and really saw the mountains. Sure enough....OHMYGOD!!!!!!

How did they get on with the rough granite of the valley?

Col / It didn’t take long for the girls to acquaint themselves with the vast array of problems to hand, or the problems to their hands. The granite slowly wore away at their fingers, uncompromising. Two days of this can grind the toughest of finger tips down, but with such a variety of problems and styles it is hard to stop. Eventually it was becomes almost unbearable, the rock begins to win over, you certainly know you’ve been climbing. Meanwhile, Alan was as excitable as any of the teenagers at the sight of the rock, Jeni and Norma soaked up their fair share of atmosphere, scenery and sunshine. This is what MelloBlocco puts in the mix.

Kenny / This was MelloBlocco and it was to be their first taste of alpine granite, not big walls but bouldering on the large blocs strewn along the Val di Mello. These blocs are both beautiful and unforgiving at the same time, you haven't really got a chance their lines draw you in then greedily consume your fingers, or for the less adept, knees, shins and elbows as well. Your body tells you to pace yourself, but dreams, friendly rivalry and wild enthusiasm all have a way of helping you forget that until it is to late. The girls threw themselves at aretes, slabs and overhanging traverses, it is all there to go at in the valley. Some routes consumed more skin than others such as one of the set routes on the female circuit, an elegant line up a bulging arete to mantleshelf and a highball top out. It proved to difficult this year, the skin was raw but the determination was hardened, the determination that keeps you coming back for more even when your body cries; no, no more, STOP!

Nick / The boulders are littered along the valley floor just up from San Martino, and although some of the boulders nearest the track get pretty swamped the atmosphere is always a friendly and encouraging huddle and you never feel that you can't get on the rock. The girls climbed well the first day and stood up up against some stronger and older climbers. Many times we came across a ripped 20 year old flailing on some heinous crimp only for one of the girls to show them the way using a little more grace and balance than Latin testosterone. To cap the day off, they decided to have swim. With the river having been part a glacier the day before I'm not sure they knew how cool they would be. If there is one thing you do when your young it's learn but you still trust your elders and so even they though they didn't quite believe that it would be warmer the second time they did it anyway. It wasn't the longest swim in the world, but I guess one of the most refreshing. Still it nearly earned them a place on the podium.

Col / What could be simpler, what could be so idyllic? MelloBlocco is aptly named. On a sunny weekend in May, where climbing, scenery and camaraderie infuse to create one of the most blissful climbing experiences there is.

Nick, you were saying the girls nearly got on the podium?

Nick / "They deserve to win" those were the words from Nicoletta Noe one of the organising sassisti. Poly and Ashleighs evening dip had so impressed that even if someone had sent all the problems then she still thought that they should have a place on the podium.

Kenny / When you confine a group of strong climbers together in a steep sided valley it is inevitable that there will be a super human performance at some point, so it would be wrong not to mention the outstanding achievement of the weekend. This was awarded to Ashleigh and Polly who Saturday evening swam in the icy valley river, proof if you needed it that the valley does indeed posses mysterious powers.

So what happens in the evening?

Nick / After a hard day on the blocs it was time to party, and the girls found just a little more about Latin testosterone and the adults a little more about each other, it was a great night just little a hazy from love and vino.

Did you manage to get back on the blocs Sunday?

Nick / We awoke to the crack of thunder, well actually a donkey but the effect was the same just as well as the weather was perfect and not the sort of day you spend moping around the campsite thinking about the night before.

Nick / The morning hotted up quickly for the girls but this was more to do with lack of shirts on the boys than the climbing. They got into their stride later but in a place like Val di Mello it's hard not to get carried away. Eventually the rock wears you down there is nothing you can do about. There is always a climb that's just that little to steep, a hold just to far or a stack of boulder mats not high enough. Time to head of. Trips like this don't feel right unless there is a little drama, and Colin made sure we had something to talk about in years to come but that's another story.

Col?

Col / Ehm! yeah that is another story. With so much climbing in Val Di Mello it could have been so easy to extend the trip, but we had a schedule to keep and it worked out surprisingly well. It may have been a little rushed with the flights and late nights, but it felt like we had been away a week. Simply speaking it is a Friday evening flight from Stanstead into Milan Bergamo, followed by a 2-hour drive north to San Martino and Val Di Mello. Coming back, a late Sunday evening flight.

Nick / We all left the blocs a little sad, some of us even shed a tear. New friends or Old friends it is always sad to leave.

Cheers!