As always, life is too busy to write blog posts. More precisely, I tend to organize life’s events way too narrow to write blog posts. And events, even more precisely, equal climbing trips, as of speaking. With a new occupation on the horizon, I decided to make best use of the students’ flexibility remaining, which means in plain English: Organize as many great climbing trips as possible in a row. Now, I could easily write ten different blog posts about the happenings of the last months, but also I need to move to a new city, which is why I’m happy to type only a few lines instead. But a few lines are necessary, at least, as summer 2015 seems to have a very bad conscience about the rainy something the year before, so apparently, it’s only sunshine and heat this year. Which, for any climber with sense, means an escape upwards, into the greatest rock-faces of the Alps. And escape, we did!
What follows is a subjective list of what I found to be the most impressive routes and the ones I do recommend to anyone without the blink of an eye.
May: Oceano Irrazionale (VII, 525m), Bergell / Val di Mello, Italy
So I feel quite fortunate to claim that I have seen some very beautiful places around the world, especially those where huge rock faces grow out of the earth. I’ve heard people talk good about the ‘Mello’, especially boulderers who, for some reason, think it’s cool to define and find a lot of problems, sometimes even solutions, when they come here. I bet that’s fun, too, but look at the 800m faces of perfect granite just behind those boulders! Wah. What a place! Not even a proper road finds its way into the Mello, half of the valley is a nature reserve without even hiking paths, and waterfalls nurture the crystal-clear Mello river. To call this valley idyllic would be an understatement, this place is beyond idyllic. Coming there in May on the weekend after the famous Melloblocco boulder festival, we basically had the valley for ourselves with only very few other climbing folk in sight. Even if you’re not a climber it is worth going there, simply for you will have a totally new experience of the color green. And it will be a good one.
As of the routes, we had to tackle the big classics, of course, so we started with “Luna Nascente” (7, 300m, E3) and “Il Risveglio di Kundalini” (7-, 400m, E3). Two incredibly fantastic routes finding their way through, I have to repeat myself here, incredibly fantastic granite. Generally, the long Mello routes tend to be an exciting mix between well-protectable cracks and (almost) non- protectable run-out slabs. You’ll learn to trust your rubber here.
On our last day, we decided for the route with the neatest route-name of all times: “Oceano Irrazionale.” First ascended by Ivan Guerini (coolest dude in town!) in 1977, Oceano introduced the 7th grade to the Alps and is for this historic reason more than worth such a name, as is the impressive piece of rock it tackles (“Precipizio degli Asteroidi“). The line is incredibly logic and diverse, leading through perfect cracks (the 5b’s feel like 6c’s here) and roofs up the the ‘Eremit’, a lone tree mid-way the wall. From here, the Oceano gets slabbier and easier, but still some way to go; we just managed to reach the foot of the crag by the very last rays of the day’s light, descending and then going for a horribly tiring 5h drive back to Innsbruck: no fun. Luckily, we all survived and somehow managed to stay on the road before dropping dead in our beds, so now we can keep this journey as a perfect climbing trip in our memories. Mello Love!
June: Le Marchand de Sable (TD+, 6a+, 300m), l’Envers des Aiguilles, Mont Blanc Massive, France
The next course on the menu was crossing pretty much the entire Alps length-wise to get to the Western part and the place where the rock is so good that it plays in its very own category: Chamonix granite. Golden-red cracks and green-orange slabs lure the engaged alpinists up to higher grounds, the ever-strenuous glacier approaches are the price to pay. As last year, Seb and me decided to venture up to the massive walls behind the Refuge d’Envers des Aiguilles for we still had some open tabs there, getting rained out a bit too soon. This year, we arrived at this gem of the alps early in the season, the hut still closed and other climbers rarely seen. We knew that pretty much all routes done by Michel Piola and friends were *****-lines, so more of this drug!
An ultra-classic of the Envers is “Le Merchands de Sable” (Sandmännchen) as it was among the first routes in the alps where a brand-new invention changed the course of our beloved sport: the expansion bolt. Drilled in 1983, the Merchands suddenly opened up totally new grounds for climbers: Slabs, previously not protect-able. And how tricky they still are! Rated with 6a+, a grading that we’d both climb as an easy warm-up when sport climbing, we had to fight pretty hard to hold on to the tiny nobs and crystals that prove to be your holy chance of not slipping down the wall. Ingenious climbing, but this can be said true for pretty much all routes at the l’Envers: We could also do “Guy Anne” (6a+, 370m, TD+), “La Piège” (6a+, 200m, TD sub.) and “Elle a du le Faire” (6b+, 140m, ED-). Beyond all those perfect cracks, thanks for those bolts, Michel.
June: Noli Me Tangare (7a+, 270m), La Maladière, Vallee de l’Arve, France
When driving from Geneva towards holy Chamonix, one tends to be almost too focused on the granite giants straight ahead and thus ignoring the limestone cliffs to the left and to the right. But wait, give them a chance! You’ll soon find out that not only the granite in this area is superb, but so is the limestone. And also here, in the Vallee de l’Arve, Michel Piola envisioned climbs that are of the same quality than the famous ones higher up: Five-star-potential everywhere. Noli Me Tangare translates to ‘touch me not’, but touching, we did. Being incredibly sustained throughout its ten-pitch-entity, namely 6b+, 6b+, 6c, 7a, 6b, 7a, 7a+, 7a+, 7a, 7a, (!!), I found this line to be the perfect on-sight challenge.
July: Tschechenplatte (8-, 200m), Schnittlwände, Speckkarpitze N-Wand, Halleranger, Tirol
Why travel far when the best lines are just around the corner? On ‘the list’ since long, and described as the “best crack climbing in the entire eastern Alps” (I would add: best limestone crack climbing), in July all conditions finally aligned (a few days of hot & stable summer weather, a few days worry-free days to spent bivouacking up in the mountains, personal fitness, and above all, a strong & motivated partner) and we gave Tschechenplatte a go. The route itself is not too long, but very sustained and self-protected climbing in all its six pitches. Put your jamming gloves on, water-eroded limestone is especially rough on your palms. Incredible to have such a line in the otherwise mostly (heavily) brittle Karwendel. But many of the routes here have comparable quality: We also climbed “Hundertwasser” (8, 200m) and “Coach Crack” (8, 200m); priceless experiences, magic place!
July: Comici (VII, 550m), Große Zinne N-Wand, Italy
For the grand finale, the grand-est of all names: Comici, north face of the infamous tre cime; it’s not a regular that when you see a rock face for the first time, you go something like this: “…. uh ….”, but this one definitely causes effect. Again, the weather in July was simply amazing, so there were finally no excuses left, Comici we had to do! A bit scared by the aura of fame surrounding such a big name, we thought strategically and decided to start later than all the other teams to not get into a traffic jam on the route, and climb fast thereafter. Well, we started late, but we didn’t climb all that fast, so we got to ‘enjoy’ the most beautiful sunset from the top of this massive piece of rock, just not too happy to have a horrible three-hour grade III downclimb ahead of us … quite likely in the dark. But what comes up goes down, so we managed to get down safely just with the very last of this day’s light. But what an up-climb it was!
These were the great classics climbed in summer 2015, May ’till July. Summer goes on, but Simon goes back to work now, so the available time for big walls will be more limited. So long, and thanks for all the fish; but even more so, so long and thanks to you restless souls venturing on the above adventures with me! Good times, good times; best of times!