venerdì 3 settembre 2021

- Bohuslän

There are a few magical places that I discovered in my climbing life where I can simply come back over and over without ever getting bored of. For bouldering there has been Fontainebleau, for sport climbing Céüse, for multi-pitch Verdon and for trad climbing the Peak District. Two years ago I discovered a new place that definitely deserves to be included in the list: Bohuslän in Sweden.

The crag of VRÅNGARÖ

In this region you will see red granite cliffs everywhere you look, being it on the beautiful coast full of fjords or coming out of the woods that cover the little hills of the inland. The rock is fantastic: perfectly smooth, with a wide variety of shapes and, of course, cracks. The climbing here is mainly trad, with just few anchors here and there (most of the time you have to build your own), and bolts just where is not possible to climb with gear. Most of the routes here are not just splitters that eat your gear: the cracks tend to be flared and intermittent, so you can get less intuitive and more distant placements. I think this place is a perfect mix between the “friendliness” of the crags we have in northern Italy, like Cadarese or Orco, and the “boldness” that a place like the Peak District can have. In fact is not unusual to see people top roping a route before going for a lead attempt on some of the harder lines (like in the Peak District it’s often possible to access the top of the crag from behind).

Hassan Chop,7a - Granitbiten, 6c - Backdraft, 8a

My first visit was in 2019, just a short stop of a few days on the way to Flatanger. We climbed at the crags of Hallinden and Skälefjäll, and we had some nice temperatures and decent weather. During that first visit I had the pleasure to climb, besides easier stuff, Veckans Värsting, 8 (7b+), and Backdraft, 9- (8a), that proved to be a good introduction to the climbing in this place. On the last day we had some rain and we just managed to visit the beautiful crag of Ulorna, without being able to climb: it was enough to start planning a new and longer visit the following year!

So in August 2020, after all the pandemic madness, we prepared to drive again to Sweden, this time equipped with more gear as well as crash pads. Unfortunately we were not so “lucky” with the weather, the sun was hitting hard every day and temperatures soon rose up to +28°: it was definitely more pleasant having a swim or eating an ice cream than climbing on granite. The first days I worked the moves on the scary Electric Avenue, 9- (8a) but I decided I was too hot for me to consider a lead attempt, so I started to look at something different, and I found an interesting line at the crag of Vrångarö, a short 8b called “Crassostrea Gigas”, placed just in front of a small beach where we could relax and swim.

Crassostrea Gigas, 8b - Vrångarö

This route is mostly to a highball with a crack in the middle, where is possible to place two cams. The first crux is getting to the crack and is climbed above pads, the next one is managing to place the gear and get past the flared crack itself, the third one consists of slapping a slopy rail that leads to the top. I worked the route for a few days and while being able to do all the moves, I always got too sweaty inside the crack and could not get past it starting from the beginning. As a small consolation I managed to climb a new boulder on perfect rock just right of this route, and I called it “The Holy Pinch”, 7c+.

Another route I tried without success on that trip is the offwidth Presenten, 8 (7b+). It’s a short overhanging offwidth that goes from a tight #5 to a tight #6 in the first part, and follows with some wide fists (#4) until you turn the lip of the overhang and the difficulties are over. It doesn’t look so hard when you look at it and, given the grade of 7b+, I thought I could even flash the thing if I were lucky. That was a huge error of judgment and I ended up sweating to death even trying to aid up the thing. After two days of efforts I managed to find a good sequence and to do all the individual moves, but I was still far from the possibility to climb it, and my body was begging for mercy.

Presenten, 7b+ - Änghagen

We spent the last days visiting around, discovering new crags, and trying to climb as much nice stuff as possible. A few evenings we enjoyed bouldering under the shade of the trees at the crag of Häller where the rock managed to keep a decent temperature throughout the day. We were already dreaming of coming back with better temperatures the next year as we had too much unfinished business!

the town of Fjällbacka

This summer, for the third year in a row, we packed our car and drove up to Bohuslän, hoping to find better conditions for climbing than in August 2020. Sometimes is nice to come back to the same places: you get to know the little secrets; you get to know people better and you start to feel at home. This place although is so big I will need to come back a few more times to be able to see most of the stuff it has to offer.

Ramsvikslandet Fykan

At the beginning of the holiday I had two goals in my mind: Crassostrea Gigas and Presenten. This time the temperatures were much nicer, always around +20° during the day, and it was much easier to climb, like it was during our first visit in 2019. It did rain a few times, but it was always possible to get some climbing done before or after the showers. The first thing I tried was Crassostrea: although the moves felt easier straight from the beginning, it still required three days of work to make it happen. It is a bit scary above the pads and placing gear gets tiring on a real lead attempt!

The route is hard, but it didn’t feel as hard as something like Greenspit in Orco, which is very different by the way, and probably deserves the “+” in the grade. After that we started climbing some easier offwidths, to get in the right mood for “Presenten”. At first we went to see Skrubbsår, 6+ (6b+) at Hunnebo Klåva, a nice wide crack in a flared corner, and then the classic Offline, 7+ (7a) at Häller. I obviously failed at both on the onsight, but they went smoothly on the second go after I understood how to do the crux.

Skrubbsår, 6b+, Hunnebo Klåva - Offline, 7a, Häller

It was now finally time to try Presenten, the route that spit me out the previous year, and the route for which I trained for this winter in the self-made offwidth I made in my garage. I had already climbed earlier in June Penitenziagite and Glowes of War in Orco, both given 7c, but I knew I was going for something a bit harder with Presenten. Luckily I did remember how to do the cruxes, and I managed to climb the route on the 3rd go of the day, even if I already planned to come back at least once for it. It seems all the lock down winter training in the garage paid off! Or is it thanks to the new TC PRO prototypes of La Sportiva? Who knows.

I haven’t done as many offwidths to be able to understand how the grading system works, probably nobody knows, but I can say something like Turkey Crack (8a) in Cadarese, Glowes of War (7c) in Orco, and Presenten (7b+) in Bohuslän should be reversed in order when it comes to difficulty, at least for me. After Presenten there were not many days left, but I still wanted to try another classic line here in Bohuslän. The options were Crackoholic at Ulorna and Electric Avenue at Skälefjäll (the one I tried last year), both 9- or 8a. I decided for the first one as it seemed a bit shorter, safer, and easier to work in just a few days.

the crag of Vrångarö - Ibens bock & Crackoholic at Ulorna

The first day working on the route was hard: I managed to do all the moves in the upper part quite easily, but I really struggled with the lower crux, that I managed to climb just a few times and not even starting from the beginning. I also tried the famous route in the corner on the left: Ibens bok, 8 (7b+) and I soon realised it was way too thin for my fat fingers, there were a few moves I couldn’t do, even trying to smear my feet all the way up every time possible. I have to stop trying anything that involves jamming my fingers in a #0.2 crack size. It’s totally pointless and I must accept this.

The next day on Crackoholic I tried to put on some stiffer shoes, I revised a bit my foot sequence and eventually I managed to climb it on top rope, mimicking gear placements as I was climbing. I was planning to come back another day for a lead attempt, as the sun was about to hit the wall, but in the end I set off anyway, just to test the fall on the lower crux. Surprisingly I didn’t fall and found myself at the top of the route! I haven’t got any footage unfortunately, so I link you a video of the route above.

Ramsvikslandet Grosshamn

The last two days we went for more offwidths: a classic one called Laybacksprickan 7 (6c) at Björkberget, which is a nice hand/hand sized crack, and a new one called Squeezebulb 7 (6c) at Hunnebostrand, a short chickenwing size sort of chimney (wide #6). I managed to onsight both, which is rare for me, so I was quite satisfied! We also had time to go back to Häller for some bouldering one last time before leaving, where I climbed “Lone Wolf” 7c+/8a, which I briefly tried the year before, but was too hard to do in the heat.

Squeezebulb, 6c, Hunnebostrand

August 2021 has been good with weather: not too rainy, not too hot. We finally managed to enjoy Bohuslän for 11 days, which is definitely not enough, and I strongly recommend you to stay longer if you can! ;) We will definitely try to come back to this place again, as it has so much to offer. Probably the best period for a visit are springtime and autumn, when temperatures are a bit cooler and you don’t have to constantly escape the sun.


For those interested in this place I’ll link this film called “Crackoholic”, like the route. It explains a lot of its story and its ethics, and don’t worry: not all the routes are as scary as the ones you will see in the video! There is plenty of easy and safe, and even hard and safe routes to do as well. See you next time Bohuslän!

giovedì 8 aprile 2021

- Virgolo Cracks

Quest'anno è stato un anno veramente particolare per chi come me era abituato a viaggiare un  sacco sia per arrampicare che per lavoro. Trovarsi chiusi in un comune che nonostante sia circondato dalla natura comprende ben poco di quest'ultima all'interno dei suoi confini è stato ancora più difficile.

Per fortuna un piccolo monte con un po' di rocce lo abbiamo anche all'interno del comune di Bolzano, e il caso vuole che sia proprio dietro casa. Così da un anno a questa parte le esplorazioni sono state parecchie, in un primo momento in cerca di blocchi, ma con il passare del tempo sono riuscito a trovare anche una piccola falesia che mai era stata presa in considerazione.

Photo: Claudia Amatruda

L'accesso non è certo tra i più semplici e nemmeno il posto tra i più comodi, ma la fortuna ha voluto che in pochi metri di parete si concentrassero ben cinque linee in fessura che aspettavano solo di essere pulite. In fin dei conti l'ambiente della parete è perfetto per chi ha voglia di avventura, o comunque qualcosa di diverso dalla solita uscita in falesia.

Così a Novembre ho iniziato i lavori di pulizia. La roccia è talvolta ottima, qualche altra un po' meno, le fessure si presentavano poi spesso parzialmente ostruite da sassi o terra. Ci è voluto un gran lavoro per preparare tutte le linee, e uno forse ancora più lungo per preparare i sentieri e le corde che consentono di arrivare alla base della falesia e spostarsi da una fessura all'altra.

Non so quante volte ho fatto avanti/indietro carico come un mulo per il ripido sentiero di Virgolo, quante ore a martellare per togliere i sassi dalle fessure e quante a segare arbusti. Per mesi praticamente tutto il tempo libero che avevo a disposizione non lo ho dedicato all'arrampicata ma alla pulizia. E' la prima volta che dedico così tanto tempo a qualcosa che non sia un mio progetto. Qualcosa che in fin dei conti è più per gli altri che per me stesso, dato che i gradi di queste vie non sono certo elevati.

Photo: Tristan Hobson

Sicuramente comunque mi sono divertito a preparare e salire questi itinerari, non difficili ma certamente avventurosi. Ho messo infatti solo le soste, e salire dal basso con le protezioni, richiede sicuramente più sforzi di quelli che il grado suggerisce... soprattutto la più larga "Fessura del Gufo" che necessita di parecchia attenzione e sangue freddo.

Photo: Tristan Hobson

Vi lascio quindi una piccola guida per andare a scoprire queste fessure. All'interno troverete tutte le indicazioni necessarie all'accesso e le informazioni sul materiale che è necessario portare per arrampicare. Vi prego di rispettare la roccia e la natura, la falesia potrebbe vedere anche la nascita di qualche itinerario a spit al di fuori delle fessure, ma vi prego di contattarmi se foste interessati allo sviluppo. Buone arrampicate!

Le vie:

-Mezzogiorno di fuoco, 6a+
-Larga ma non troppo, 6b+
-Fessura del Gufo, 6b
-Variante delle Civetta, 6b+
-Black Mamba, 6c
-Fight Club, 7a

lunedì 23 marzo 2020

- Greenspit

My personal story with Greenspit starts back in 2012. At the time I was mainly a boulderer, but being one of the first Italians to have done some hard gritstone routes during my visits in the Peak District I was invited to the international trad climbing meeting promoted by CAAI in Orco valley. At the meeting climbers from all over the word would team up to climb the most famous trad routes in the valley, and it was a great occasion for me to discover something new... in fact all the experience I had was placing one or two pieces of gear to protect a tall boulder where it's best not to fall!

In that occasion I met Pete Whittaker, and one day together with him and a small crew we went to Greenspit, as he'd done it the previous year and wanted to take a few pictures on the route. That day I also tried Greenspit myself; back then I was probably stronger than now, but I knew nothing about crack climbing: I obviously found the thing desperate! I could just do a few of the initial moves, which are by far the easiest, but I was fascinated. From that day I decided I wanted to learn how to crack climb, to see if one day I would also be able to climb Greenspit. (At the time probably the hardest crack in Europe and the icon of this climbing style)

So I began my apprenticeship climbing as much as I could in Cadarese, at the time a newly developed trad climbing crag in Ossola valley. With lots of pilgrimages over a couple of years I managed to repeat all the classic lines such as "The Doors", "Book Cake", "Turkey Crack" and "Mustang", building confidence in my jamming skills and gear placement. Now time had come to go back on Greenspit!

It was in 2015 or 16 when I went back on the route and started to try it properly. I have to say everything was difficult: first of all it was not easy to find somebody willing to come and try it (there's almost nothing else to climb nearby), and secondly it was quite a long way from Parma to Orco valley. Three long hours driving, which I've done a few times there and back also in a day. I have to say I could see progress: I was now able to climb efficiently through every section, but there was especially a thin one near the end where I really struggled to jam due to my big hands. It's not even the crux, but every time I got there from the beginning it would just spit me out.

Then it came 2017, a year that changed my life quite a bit. In March during a new trip to the Peak District I had a ground fall while I  was climbing "The Elder Statesman" at  Curbar. I fell from something like 14 meters, the rope got cut by the sharp edge of the arête, and I found myself on the ground together with my belayer Claudia whom I hit on the way down. The results were broken heel and wrist, and it took four painful months of rehab before slowly being able to climb easy stuff again. In the meanwhile I also decided to move to Sheffield to live with Claudia, and of course that put a temporary stop to my story with Greenspit. A stop which I feared could be permanent, as my wrist never recovered completely from the injury, and its limited flexibility makes me struggle a lot with undercuts, such as the key finger lock on the route!

At the end of 2018 we moved back to Italy, precisely in Bolzano, and the desire of climbing Greenspit came back to my head as strong as ever. Will I be able to do all the moves on the route again? A short session with a friend was a happy surprise for me: I could still do every move including the crux! Fortunately it doesn't involve jamming every finger in the crack, the index stays out, so I don't have to bend the wrist all the way.

The season was almost over, so I had to wait until spring 2019 to come back and try the route seriously. Bolzano is even farther than Parma from Orco, 4 hours and 30 minutes drive, so this time I had to organize everything in advance. The first occasion was Easter holidays. I Planned one week in Orco together with Claudia, but I just managed to try the route for three days before it started to rain heavily and we had to leave the valley.

During those days I met Matteo della Bordella and Francesco Deiana who had just climbed the route placing the gear while climbing. It was not just inspiring to watch, but it also helped me a lot: a better beta using a small crimp instead of a jam, and better gear strategy that saved me from placing one piece at the start. Pretty useful stuff! I was now able to climb the route placing all the gear without too much effort, and on my best go I fell doing the crux from the beginning. It was a shame I was forced to leave the valley earlier, this time I felt really close to victory!

I then managed a couple of short sessions in summer, but warmer temperatures didn't help and I was still falling at the crux near the end of the route. So I decided to leave it for next autumn, trying to plan a longer stay in the valley: I needed to try the route with fresh body memory, but also some time to recover in between sessions, as it's quite intense on your skin and bones.

So last October I finally had the opportunity to stay in Orco one week. Conditions were perfect but it was quite cold and I found out I could not just warm up on the route as I usually did. It would take me at least three tries before getting warm enough, and by the time I was already exhausted . Time was running out, just two days remaining to try the route, I had to change something! So we thought about climbing some easier routes in the sunny crag of Bosco before going to Greenspit, and it turned out to make the difference. On 9th of October I finally managed to climb the route with the gear already in place, and two days later, on Friday the 11th, I did the redpoint placing it all on lead.

I don't think that placing gear makes a huge difference on Greenspit, but it makes it for sure a bigger challenge. There's more that can go wrong when placing friends: you may drop them or they might get stuck. The result is always a waste of energy, not to mention you have to get them out as well! In addition I had to skip a placement near the crux (I could barely clip it if already in place) and do the exit relying on a single piece, which made everything more thrilling...

I have to thank a lot Paolo Seimandi for all the help and the beautiful pictures. Without him probably Greenspit would still be a dream for me! Now I feel very happy, but at the same time empty, I'll have to find something else that keeps my motivation so high... I'm sure it won't take long though!

lunedì 17 aprile 2017

- Peak 2017 - The Elder Statesman

The last two years I didn't manage to travel much. Apart from some short trips to Ceuse, Albarracin or Verdon, I spent most of my time climbing near home and I was starting to miss that feeling of extreme freedom a long trip gives you. This year, as I had some changes in my life, I felt it was time to hit the road again and come back to a place I was missing so much: Sheffield and the Peak District, where I have some of my best memories.

Short stop in Font on the way to Sheffield...

Fortunately a friend would help me, and a plan was made. Getting to Sheffield for the CWIF and remaining there a couple of weeks to get the most I could out of gritstone. Then back to Fontainebleau on my way home, where I would join Italian friends to spend the last week of my holiday.

The Cork Stone - Photo: Claudia Amatruda

The CWIF was fun as usual, and it was a pleasure to compete in the Wild Country team together with friends. I soon realized this time I was there just for fun and no longer had the competitive spirit or will to succeed I used to have back in the years... all I was thinking about was getting back on the Grit as soon as possible!

Burbage Valley infrared

The first days after the competition were quite chilly and rainy, but I still managed to get out for some bouldering sessions in the evening, to get the feeling back with this strange rock and with proper English weather too! I also tried to get back to Voyager once... but it was still dripping wet :(
Weather improved quickly, and it soon got nice and warm... time for some routes?? I had many in my mind I wanted to climb, and I was lucky to meet Claudia, who was off from work, to go climbing with.

On the way to Voyager...

We decided to get to Millstone as a first day to get some practice with routes, as both of us haven't been trad climbing for quite a long time. I spotted a rarely repeated E7 by Ron Fawcett called "Scritto's Republic", while Claudia could test her skills placing gear on the classic crack of "Embankment 3". As we first got there the wall was still dripping, but the heat was crazy and the sun quickly dried everything.

Claudia on Mark's Roof Left Hand

After a couple of top-rope inspections to check the gear and the moves I decided to give it a go. It was quite late, the temperature had dropped a bit and the sunset light made everything orange, exactly like four years before when I climbed the nearby Master's Edge. I set off, but at first I could not commit on the crux of the route way above the two tiny pads we had and jumped off. "Well, here we are again, I know this feeling...". Five minutes later I found myself past the crux and above the first unsecure piece of gear: I didn't work the top part that well and I forgot I had to change hand on a mono!!! Easy on top-rope but on lead it's totally different ;)

Scritto's Republic - Photo: Tom Randall

I somehow managed to close my eyes and do that, and I was now past my last runner which I did not trust too. Just one more tricky move before better holds, but this time I could not make the position work: "How did I manage to get to that pocket!?? Shit!". I was already in the state of mind of taking a fall when I managed to jam a finger in a small crack just below the pocket and reach it with the other hand... what a moment! "Yes, this is Gritstone as I remembered".

Sunset from Curbar Edge

After an easy day soloing at Stanage I decided to step up the game a bit and went to Curbar to finally try "The Elder Statesman" HXS 7a. I had this line in my mind since I saw James Pearson's video on it. With only three ascents to date and a cool scary dyno at the top it seemed the perfect mix of something hard but not too dangerous I could start with.

The Elder Statesman - Photo: Jake Thompson

The first day was quite frustrating: I managed to hold the dyno something like two times out of five, but I still struggled to get into the jump position from the crack, that looked just too far away... at the end of the day I managed somehow to do every single move but with such an effort it would have been nearly impossible to stick the jump. The next day the unexpected happened: thanks to a new pair of Otaki shoes and a better sequence I managed to do twice the crux on top-rope, so after Claudia worked Elder Crack I didn't think twice and went for the lead before it got dark!

Victory!Photo: Mike Hutton

On the lead everything went smooth, I was not too scared and I was focused on the moves. I still did not know whether I would hold that jump or not, but I gave it a real try and I soon found myself screaming with joy at the top of the crag! I could not believe it, I've done the route and as usual I didn't have a single picture of it...  Yes pictures... I had already planned to have a small shooting for Wild Country out on grit, so why not getting back on this route? It's really stunning and I would have loved a picture on it.... "Yes, I'll get back the next day". I was almost disappointed I didn't have the chance to test that scary but "safe-ish" fall!

Photo: Jake Thompson

The next day weather was quite grim: dark clouds on the horizon and a strong wind blowing at the top of the crag. "Do I really want to do this again?" Anyway I made people come here, now it was time for action. I set up the belay and did it once more on top rope, then back on the ground to sort out gear and get ready. It was quite cold. We arranged to have some slack as usual, as I was worried of hitting hard into the wall on the right if the rope was too tight. That's all I was afraid of... I trusted my gear and knew it would have been a long sideways fall, but nothing too dangerous.

my wrist after surgery

Once I got established in the jump position I was quite cold. Friction was good, but I was not feeling confident I would do it again. I tried, but could not stick the good crimp this time and I found myself flying horizontally towards the right wall. I remember thinking: "I'm not in the best position to hit that wall..." then something happened, and I was lying on the ground in pain. It took me a while to realize what happened. The rope cut. I hit Claudia, and we both fell on the ground. I was feeling a strong pain to my left hand and when I looked at it I saw it had collapsed into my forearm, very bad looking, but I could still move my fingers. The right ankle was also painful, I probably broke that as well, but it just didn't look as bad as my hand.

at Hard Grit Live event

Luckily for me Edale Mountain Rescue Team came quickly and they carried me till the car park where an ambulance took both me and Claudia to Northern General Hospital in Sheffield where I had an operation to the wrist the next morning. Claudia suffered several bruises but she was fortunately fine. My friend James managed to get in touch with my parents who took a flight to London and got there the next day.
I have been lucky. I just didn't think that could happen to a rope, and I didn't even know Steve McClure climbed it with three cause of that when he made the first ascent... you always learn something.

Claudia on La Coquille - Fontainebleau

I stayed in hospital three days, and they discharged me just in time to be at the Hard Grit Live event in Sheffield, which was quite fun! ;). Then I drove down with Claudia and my parents to Fontainebleau, where my friends were waiting for me... this time not for climbing together unfortunately.
I have to thank the rescuers, my parents, and everybody who helped me. Special thanks to James and Claudia for their help: without them I wouldn't have had the opportunity to live this experience and tell you this story. Yes, it's been a positive experience anyway. This trip gave me back feelings I had almost forgotten and made me realize once again how much I love this place and its climbing. It will take a few months to recover now, but I can't wait to be back... there are still a couple of routes I miss on the Hard Grit tick list! ;)

Above is the video of the fall. Be careful of what can happen to a rope in that situation. You live and learn.
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