So Im writing this long overdue post whilst back in Scotland, but Im pretty sure nobody was on tenterhooks for the next installment, so my challenge is just to remember what went on!
So a long time ago, in a european country far, far away….I had made an arrangement to meet up with the very psyched Greg, formerly of Edinburgh, now a resident and climber of New Zealand rock and ice. He hitched his way down from Strasbourg and I picked him up in a town just down the valley from Mello.
On arrival he was already keen to get stuck in, enquiring as to whether I wanted to hike into the bivi for Monte Qualido the next day! I suggested a warm up of a day or so shorter routes to get his hand in to the local style. At the Sasso Remenno ‘boulder’ (actually a huge square block 40m to a side and 20-30m tall) we fired enthusiastically into some cracklines, some trad, which I thought should serve as a taste of the style to come. Unfortunately, it transpired at this time that Greg had never climbed on granite before, and his crack-climbing experience was limited to smooth basalt. The stated technique for basalt hand-cracks was to place both hands in jams, and then just slide them up the crack in turn to make progress. Well, one crystal-lined, uneven (but otherwise very good) E1 crack later (Fessura della S) and it looked as if Greg had taken a cheese grater to the backs of his hands. Too late to say “perhaps we should tape up for this?”
Hard lessons were learned from the leisions, which developed into scrungy, inch-wide ‘scobies’ over the subsequent days. It reminded me a lot of my trip to Yosemite in 2009, where skin loss and crushed expectations were the theme while I got schooled in the strange art of granite cracks. I went from a reasonably confident 5.12 leader, to swearing and getting pumped on 5.8’s. I could sympathise with Greg’s pain in Mello. It was pretty clear we were not fit to head up the 700-900m of 6b+ minimum cracks that was Qualido’s north face.
Thinking to avoid hand-pain, we got on some slab routes, which were nightmares in full sunshine! Our poor toes….
…and finally learned our lesson by heading for ‘Oceano Irrationale‘ E35c, with full tape gloves. The long approach is definitely worth it to reach this soaring, eye-catching line. The first crack pitches are a great value and plumb straight, with more width than I expected. This was followed by a brilliantly exposed, yet delightfully shady, crux beneath the roof. The stated technical crux followed, but is an anticlimax. The upper easy pitches are enjoyable to start with, but gradually deteriorate into steep vegetation. Dont let this put you off, its a great line in its lower half and definitely worth the effort.
We warmed-down with a day back on the Remenno block, and watching out for the stupidly fit Kima sky-runners, who were scampering along the entire ridge-line of Val di Mello. Nice one Greg, thanks! Hope it didnt hurt too much!
Greg left to try his best to heal-up before his imminent trip to Thailand, while I skirted the south of the alps, heading back to my old Torino stomping ground, and Valle Orco, the ‘little Yosemite’ of Italy, home to splitters galore. Nathan was finishing up in Chamonix and keen to come down and get on the hardest classics of the valley. And I was looking forward to getting dragged up something rediculous!