giovedì 7 luglio 2016

Down Under - Castle Hill

Spittle Hill (NZ).
I still can’t believe I have been bouldering in New Zealand last May. Looking at the map, at the places where I have gone to, it feels awesome to have visited several areas which were only utopia in the past. I still remember myself being in front of the screen, watching climbing videos for hours at the age of 12. I wondered if some day I could have put my hands on Mandala, Shosholooza or many other lines that the Big Up Production could show.
Obviously I couldn’t miss the Big Game film, which made me dream about Castle Hill. Maybe one day, I said, with my dad laughing and kidding. We both knew it would have been a trip too ambitious to realize.  

Then, last May the 8th, I found myself in front of the gate, waiting for a flight to Christchurch. I couldn’t even remember how this experience  would have been imagined back in the years.  Since everything was happening  very quickly, it was hard to realize where I was truly going to. In fact, after three weeks of bouldering in Castle Hill, it was time to leave again. During the outbound flight I could watch the whole Castle Hill basin rolling away from above. There, more than every other time, I could finally realize how special it was being in New Zealand.  

I don’t want to tell or describe the areas too much in the details. I opted to chose four boulders which has been more special than the other ones during this trip. Every boulder matches with unique emotions/feelings and obviously every line has its own story. So these have been my four top moments on the island.

The Big Show (Flock Hill) - FA

Before going to NZ, I spent lots of hours cleaning new boulders, both in Basilicata and Aosta Valley. In some days I was lucky to find gold, other days I was even luckier to climb some of these gorgeous projects. But I must confess I wasn’t able to climb any super hard projects in the first months of 2016.
 I was honestly satisfied about the first half of the year, since I could establish a couple of stunners I was searching for a very long time. It was more like a gems haunt, than a bouldering  life strictly connected to the hard problems. I knew I was going great about the quality aspect, but for sure, I wasn’t doing the best performances ever. Comparing  2015 to 2016, it was actually a fail in terms of numbers. I first didn’t care too much about this, but in some days this aspect started to build in me some pressures.
I admit I felt ridiculous having these doubts. First of all I didn’t realize from where this little pressure could come from. I was totally okay and proud about what I was doing, but knowing that most of community is only fascinated by hard climbs, I somehow disagreed with my inner voice. I couldn’t catch if it was because I wasn’t climbing as hard as before, or simply because I felt I must do hard lines. In the second case, it would have been  more like a wraith pressure coming from external factors.

The big show definitively didn’t change my inner statement. Rather, it probably gave me more push to stay on my current side, to follow my continue energy, doing new lines and just thinking about the beauty of the rock. At least it gave me the feedback I was doing what was really nice to me.
Even this time, any hard ascent would have happened. But on the other hand, I fall in love with what I was doing: its beauty seduced me totally.

During that day in Flock Hill, I was somehow troubled and negative. After a long and easy warm up for my elbow injury, I moved to the boulder to find a proper place to bind the rope. This is usually a crucial and heinous point of the day, since I don’t like the gear and the anchor’s procedures. After spending the usual time being nervous for these, I found a stone where to tie the rope. I wasn’t totally safe, so I asked to Giulia to pull the other side of the rope and the stone didn’t move. So, it was okay after all. J

Once hanged on the rope, I could realize I would have never tried it within that day: I was scary even looking down. I was really insecure and I couldn’t visualize myself on the upper moves, 6 meters high off the ground, with 3 pads and a scary girl at the bottom.  But, almost unconsciously, I forced myself to put chalk on giving it a far touch of hope.  Before seeing the top section, I thought I could have sent this project pretty quickly; but at that point all my certainties were falling apart and I needed to get into reality soon. Anything wasn’t working well, everything felt harder than what I thought here in NZ: the top outs, the style, tie the ropes, the hikes.

 I went for a second top rope go and I begun to hang on the holds, although I kept to feel scary. Since the negative sense was eroding me, I realized I needed help, so I started a long chat with Giulia. She usually helps me a lot in these situations, where I can only see the black side of life. She could find a touch of positive and she shined me that the things weren’t rolling as bad as I thought. I needed patience, she supposed.
That chat gave me a huge help. In fact, the third top-rope session made me get clearer ideas and I was also able to link several moves together, being scary still. I had to face I had a relevant changing after talking with her. I took another break time, where I kept talking about the situation and the feelings which were getting better.

Despite none of us was telling, it almost seemed I was thinking about a go from the bottom soon. We looked at each other and we both knew it was too early for that. I still had a couple of doubts in the upper part, but I opted to skip a further attempt from above. We barely set our three crash pads. I was trusting in her spotting as I had never done before, I breath and I approached towards the starting holds. If I would have failed it would have been a big fall, for sure. But if not, it would have been probably one of the best climbing moment in my carrier. I took the risk and I turned my mind off. After few moves I could feel the right flow coming up. The climb is consistent all the way to the top, but the more I climbed the more I could trust me. I reached the no fall zone where a precarious smear got me scary. That foothold was very high, slippery and small. I pushed my speedster on to it, trusting as much as I could. I reached the mantle and I topped it out.

The Big Show was definitively one of my favorite climbing moment ever. I went down and I looked at both Giulia and the boulder. I couldn’t even image this happy ending few hours before.

The Big Show FA, Flock Hill (NZ).
Biotronic (Quantum field) - FA

An exception in the area. A contender for the steepest boulder of the basin and this could say a lot, considering that the other contenders might be a couple, no more. 

Biotronic has been very important for my trip, my season and probably for my climbing life in general. It is rare to find a hard project to work, with only the holds you need, with compact rock and, more important, something you can enjoy from the first go until the last one. If you also consider it might be one of the best line of the area, all the feelings were going to be positive this time.
Biotronic could summarize all the emotions of bouldering in a full and single and perfect package.  It is very hard to describe the tons of aspects and features I constantly look for in bouldering. Biotronic had, for most part of the features, very high values and it could keep me enjoy the process despite I couldn’t catch one of the move after three long sessions.  That move was hard, balancing and very tricky to me.

When the move finally happened, it felt easier than what I excepted. I can’t tell how happy I was to have figured out such a nice move where the success was made by micro details.
The day later I came back and I quickly repeated the move after few goes. There were very positive vibes that day in the air, but the high upper slab started to worry me more than in every other session. I knew I was close to link it all together, but I couldn’t check the top part with the rope. Knowing I was close, made me aware about the danger and the risk of the upper part. A risk I hadn’t looked after during the previous days.

Hard to hear, but I got to the point of a very radical and miserable decision: I wanted to make a drop off after reaching the grove where you can remove your hands. I know it was going to be a very shameful deal, but I wished to link those moves together. I would have done it drop off for myself, letting the boulder as a totally open project for the next braver climber.
I took this decision and then I rested to execute it in this way. My mind was very relaxed, knowing that I wasn’t going to risk a bad fall. I was climbing very well mentally, because I chose the shortest way of the miserable drop off. I could do the whole first part very well and I reached the groove where I thought to leave the problem.

Obviously, I changed quickly my idea. I couldn’t jump down. Few minutes later that horrible decision, I was only thinking about smearing and trying despite the risk I knew to take. I asked for chalk and Stuart smartly extended my bag with his stick. I chalked my hands, my shoes and a couple of smearing. It was time to do it and didn’t look back anymore. I breath and I could feel myself relaxed enough. I went up slowly, carefully, safely, feeling every smear, every poor texture, every vibes the shoes could gave me. I reached the top and I simply thought how stupid I was to only think about a possible drop off.

Biotronic FA, Quantum Field (NZ). Photo Giulia Paoletti

Kiss the sky low (Flock Hill)

Basically the only repeating performance of the trip and another boulder which gave me back a kind of confidence. It was months that I didn’t try something as hard as this one and that wouldn’t be a project or a boulder I cleaned by my own. A part of mine still needed to climb an hard boulder for the confused reasons I explained before and “Kiss the sky” helped somehow to shake off those negative and wraith pressures.
Right before Kiss the sky, I could grab the third ascent of a beautiful problem named “The little book of calm” and this also helped. 
I could learn that having lower expectations and giving less importance at the boulders could make me a better climber and this is definitively a way I want to take for my future. I did it few times in the past and it worked well, so I promised to myself to be colder and more relaxed in the next trips. 

That day in Flock Hill we experienced a very apocalyptic wind since the sun arose. The pads couldn’t stay. It was cold, annoying and damn hard to climb. Me, Giulia and Stuart needed to switch our turns as pad keepers, otherwise the pads would have flown away. I had never seen something similar. We thought to have seen the worst, but in the middle of the afternoon, when we got to Kiss the sky, a stronger wind came. We set the pads, but they weren’t able to stay on the ground despite our efforts. We could see the water flowing from the pounds about the next boulders. The scenario was unreal.
Then, we finally had few seconds of calm; I was with my shoes on ready for my flash go. I am not a super fan of the flash go, but sometimes I like to attempt some problems in this style. I was in a rush because of the wind; I knew it was going to blow again soon and I didn’t remove my hoodie. I climbed the boulder until the last hard move: a huge span to a decent and rounded sloper behind a blind corner. I missed it for a very little. Probably the rush wasn’t the best thing for the situation and I wasn’t focused as I wished. I fall down and I immediately jumped again on the boulders doing the big moves easily. While I was still checking the exit, Gulia lost a couple of pads. The last holds aren’t so bad, but it seemed to be a weird and balancing climbing. I kept going, while I looked down seeing no pads and starting to be really scary. I reached the slippery top and I needed to get down, but the wind was still making me losing the balance. I reached the bottom and I lied on the pads.

I waited several minutes and then the wind turned into a chill breeze for a while. I started my second go and this time I removed my hoodie. It was probably the key. J Everything was okay: my climbing, the big move, the wind and the pads.

Checking holds on "Kiss the Sky" in Flock Hill (NZ). Photo Bevan Triebels

Cold Fusion (Quantum Field)

Obviously it is not the best boulder on earth, that’s clear. One of those sample of mediocre boulder, but with brilliant moves which simply make you enjoy the entire learning process. 

Cold Fusion may represents Castle Hill in a nutshell: 3 meters of rock with a slightly overhang angle, stand start from a slippery pocket and a nasty edge which is basically one of the few holds that the entire wall has to offer. Bad feet, one of those it is also insanely sharp for your right shoe. Actually they are not bad smears, but every footholds point in the wrong direction. Nearly at the top, there are two opposite slopy features into a deep hole, and then a final illusionary jug before the rounded lip. To cut it short, one of those boulder with all the holds you need: one more would be too much, one less and it would be impossible. Again, another typical boulder that the number lovers are going to hate probably, since it’s only rated as V11.
While you climb it, every mistake can lead to further and bigger mistakes the higher you go, until the point where your position is simply too wrong to keep going and you are off the wall. To reach the beta, the learning process required me a lot of goes, energy and skin. Some mistakes started to be clear after a while, making some small and tiny adjustments for the later attempts.

 After a bit, I could get how similar this boulder is to “La Prou” in Cresciano. Probably harder, since you haven’t anything to pull on. I realized how much important was to put the first high foot to start in the precise spot. This could allow me to adjust the first hold well, so getting higher with my body, finding  the right position and trying the first move in a proper balance. If that foot wasn’t perfectly located, there weren’t any chances to grab the first sloper correctly and I was off. Since the first foot  was hard to place, it quickly became clear how important was the zone where I step on the pad before pulling. If I step good, I could put the foot as I wanted, hence having chances; if the foot wasn’t good, all the other pieces of the puzzle couldn’t match.

I am obviously a fan of these lines, but I need to admit it may get you frustrated. Talking with Stuart between the breaks, we analyzed the body positions, the moves and we also talked about the NZ style in general. We wondered why people don’t go to Castle Hill very often. Cold Fusion was actually a perfect sample to talk about the poor traffic of climbers. I think the area could be hard for someone who takes care about numbers, fashion or quick ticks.

More tries, more rest and more studying from the bottom. Other sessions and other improvements, but still the moves couldn’t come easy. I knew that to climb it, I needed to climb it well without doing any efforts. Other break, other studying.

Then I stepped perfectly on the pad and I pushed on the right foot. It was good, I already knew it was going to happen even if I was only at the beginning. This time no mistakes, every details could just build better adjustments for the next moves and while I was climbing I could think I was going to do it. The problem was somehow solved and I hit the jug.

Just to be sure than anything can’t come easier here, I still had troubles on the mantle, but after a couple of minutes, I could stand at the top of one of the freakiest problem I have ever completed! 

Cold Fusion in Quantum Field (NZ). Photo Giulia Paoletti

domenica 8 maggio 2016

Springtime - Home projects

"Fake class" V12, Valle d'Aosta. Photo Andrea Zanone

It’s sometime good to stop for a while, reflecting and realizing how lucky my hometown position is for bouldering. It's something that I usually underestimate, but in some moments I have the brilliant feeling to note how many good things I can do in a couple of hours driving. Beyond the ultra classic and nowadays very well known areas of Ticino, Valais and Varazze, there are also other little sectors where to go: Isolated locations, where the crowds fortunately don’t like to go and where a climbing day can often turns into a very pleasant day with only  the wild around you. Last year I spent a full and very busy period in April in Aosta  valley, on the back side of my home town, where these little sectors showed me hidden gems, scattered zones, good rock and possibilities to clean new good lines.

During the past year I only had 3 weeks to enjoy these beautiful balance, in addition of  a couple of  cold and good weeks in December. Last April, I was coming from 2 Months in Font and I was heading to the Grampians in May, right 20 days after the trip in the Forest. I had short time, my shape and motivations was extremely high, so I didn’t think about training or other stuff and I spent loads of time in climbing and exploring almost every day. 
This season things rolled differently; I had two months between my usual winter trip and the chasing winter of our summer, my shape wasn’t as good as 12 months ago and I hence needed to balance a bit of training with cleaning first and climbing then. That has been for sure a good time, even if sometimes was hard to manage both things giving 100% on both parts. Besides, I have been also focused on other aspects like a partnership with a new sponsor, editing new clips at home, shaping some climbing holds and make a plan for the upcoming trip to New Zealand and Australia.

Today is the last day at home and I obviously think about the experiences I had on these new boulders. I don’t want to dwell too much with words, since I have uploaded several photos on my Instagram page when something emotional came out.  I wanted to share a little gallery here below, especially for what concerns a very funny, and muddy, cave I have been cleaning in the last couple of weeks. 
It is now time to think about the next trip to Castle Hill and say hello to these places until the next fall.

The new ones from this springtime:
Doppia Fama V12 FA  **
Boiler Arete V10 FA ****
78 % V11 FA ***
Ghia V12 FA *****
Riot in Hell V10 FA (Tinello) ****
Acqua di Gio V9 FA **
Fake Class V12 FA ****
Kinshasa V13 FA ***
Undercut V13 FA ***

Cave project, Valle d'Aosta
Andrea Zanone trying "Raton Matado", Valle d'Aosta
"Kinshasa" V13, Valle d'Aosta

giovedì 17 marzo 2016

Basilicata, February 2016

Campomaggiore, Basilicata
It was one of those lonely night at home, right before the dinner time. January was almost over and a little training loop was coming to an end. It had not been an efficient training loop; for a reason or another I missed the proper pace and I felt sorer than what I should have been. That night was the end of a resting day and I was managing the last things before my upcoming trip: a tour among the southern Italian sandstone boulders. During the journey I would have been alone and many thoughts was making me doubtful. The last time I moved for a long travel was in November. Like it usually befalls, in the previous winter months, I lost energies up on the projects in Aosta valley. I also went to Ticino a couple of times, then I stuck myself into the gym for wide part of January. I felt I needed a little change, so I opted to set the rock climbing a side for a bit. At the end of the month, I felt psyched to travel once again. I needed to check new places, new areas, new stones. But, more than other times, I needed to look for something special, something a bit out of the lines. At the same moment, I also felt frightened to move for something I didn't know. I felt like a bit trapped from the home comfort and by the family warmth of the closest areas, which gave me assurance and safety. I went for the dinner at my Granma's place, like it often happens, and I kept thinking about the travel of the upcoming days.

My grandma asked me a favor for the next Tuesday and I replied I couldn't do it since I would have been off. I explained I was moving to Basilicata, in the southern part of Italy for a couple of weeks or maybe more. She still reminds well, so she knew I hadn't been down there yet. "Why do you go there, are there any special stones?" she asked. I couldn't give her a proper reply. I just said I hadn't no clue about what she asked. That was in fact a true answer. I heard rumors about the area, I asked a couple of opinions and I also checked a bunch of photos, but I didn't know if the trip would have been worthy or not. I was extremely keen to go down and look for new brilliant lines. The psyche was high, but obviously nothing was guaranteed. I could have found nothing, or maybe everything.

I left just few nights later. It was in the middle of the nighttime and nobody was around. The journey was long and the more I went ahead, the more that question resounded in my mind. Who knows if there would have been the things I was looking for. I felt insecure, to be honest. My car was at its last journey. It is a very hold station wagon and since a couple of months it is not totally safe in the highway bends. It somehow could mirror my travel doubts. Why, I asked to myself once again; Tons of good projects were awaits in the valleys next to my place, while I was doing a 1000 km travel for something I wasn't sure to find. I couldn't get an answer, but I kept driving until the next afternoon. I left the freeway in Foggia and the landscapes were absolutely Southern.

In the late afternoon I got to Campomaggiore, the village above the climbing sectors. The little hamlet has a very quiet atmosphere and this gave me somehow a touch of certainty. The B&B was cozy and pretty. The first steps into my room helped me a bit to remove the fears I stored during the journey. I felt home atmosphere and I had the comforts I wished. Even if I hadn't seen any pieces of rock yet, I couldn't imagine the sandstone and I felt a bit more positive. Right before night, all the thoughts went away and I felt serene again. By this time I was there, and the step to move down was completed. I was satisfied to have won once again the home trap and I started to built positive thoughts. The morning later I would have had appointment with Marco, a friend of mine from Potenza who was free to show me around. I sincerely hoped that the answer of my grandma could find a touch of true. Even if the first day would haven't been enough, I truly wanted to clarify those doubts within the end of the stay.

Marco carried me up to the area and after the hike among the cows we got to the first blocs. The quality of the first 2 rocks was pretty high and upper to my expectations. The first one, "Ole'" 7C, presented some spider webs at the bottom and a Font "tortoise" holds at the top. Not only the looking was good, but even the texture was something I really liked. The promises were now a bit higher and I was fading into a positive certainty.

I spent the first days jumping from a classic to another. Michele Caminati checked the zone back in the seasons and many of the boulders he freed have an amazing aspect. "La chiave del Sole" 8A+ has been even better than what I supposed and "Empire state boulder" (again 8A+) went absolutely beyond any expectations.

La chiave del Sole (2nd asc), Basilicata.

Empire State Boulder (2nd asc), Basilicata. Photo Marco Giorgio
Marco had more free time than what we thought and we fortunately went chasing together. We found many things to put in the list; some of those were tall and pure, with a super solid sandstone. If I was satisfied from the classics, I was probably even more fulfilled to see all of these nice virgin boulders. The exploration side was obviously the fact who worried me more, since it wasn't guaranteed at all. I didn't only find interesting boulders to clean, but I also checked different things which are worthy to make a trip back in the next years.

I spent several days of the trip and a good amount of efforts into a specific and beautiful project. This bloc is one of the first you meet on the way up and it features the same Mt Fox's rock; namely the typical famous, and infamous, orange spider-webs conformations of the Grampians. After two intensive and long days of attempts, I managed to get the right sequence and climb all the single moves. The way I was using is very specific, conditions depending and finger strength requiring. It counts a total of five moves, where the crimpy full angle of the fingers is necessary. I hence needed to keep my fingers really close for a long range of time. Being this one of my weakest skills, the experience turned into a hard deal to manage. I was anyway happy to see little improvements day by day; despite the conditions were getting worse and worse and the skin started to be moist after the weeks, I felt I was getting the right feelings on the full crimp actions and I was psyched to see the parts coming together. I kept forcing myself to keep the fist super close, and I surprisingly could see some progresses after a while.

The last cool day was coming and I knew it was the last chance for a good and reasonable session. I woke up early as usual and I was ready under the crimps at 8 o'clock. In the very early morning the area tends to be humid, and, since the boulder is facing south, it quickly gets warm. I so had a good windows opportunity between 8 and 11, when the attempts could have had a sense and it would have been dry, but not insanely hot. Few degrees less could have helped me a bit, but it wasn't time to complain. I began the session and I went actually well in few occasions. I missed the sending before the last move and I could climb the problem in two overlapping parts. 11 o clock came, skin was very over and the sun was covering all the face making the rock burning. I was quite disappointed to miss it, but somehow happy to know what is waiting for my next visit. The doubtful pre-journey questions were a memory only.

Project, Basilicata. Photo Marco Giorgio

Searching for new and exciting lines consisted in the big goal of my trip, mostly during the second half of the stay. I wished to find something very special and, at that point, I knew the chaces were high. During one of the long breaks between the project sessions, I went exploring a lower part of an old sector. Marco had already been there in the past, but he couldn't remember if there were any special things or not. We progressed with quick and secure steps through the known part of the zone, then our steps became slower and the glances left and right were more intense. We went further and we got into another blocs band. We eyed a bunch of great stones in the middle of the forest and we followed an imaginary path to reach them. Coming out of the thick vegetation, we step in front of what I was truly looking for. It was too early to be fascinated, so I opted to give a deeper and rational looking. After several minutes I understood it was very doable, not too hard and I was sure it was going to be a brilliant problem; One of those I have always wished to find in my life. The day was over and we went back to the car, making the appointment for the day after. It was tacit where we were going to go; that line needed to born and we both were fascinated by its beauty. The morning later I brushed an old highball, called "Urban Cowboy" V8, one of the best arete I have ever climbed. Happy from the beauty of this, we were ready to step into the new amazing project. We were cleaning and chalking in a deep silence; both lost into their own thoughts. Just few technical comments seemed to be allowed. The atmosphere was unique. In the late afternoon it was ready, and I quickly started to try the sequences with a couple of pads.

After a session I knew I could have done it and the quality of the moves gave a further touch of beauty. We looked at the clock; Marco needed to be at the gym right after and he had to move around five o'clock. I would have had a further hour, but I really wanted to climb with him. We found the line together, we cleaned it and we were both part of this process. I cooled down my fingers and I started positive. I step through the crux, I went ahead and I reached the upper part, where the prow became very wide and I am at the full extension with my arms. I had some troubles before the exit, but I fortunately got it. I topped it out. I had climbed my favorite line and many efforts had been paid off in few seconds only. The name choosen is "Geometrie non Euclidee". The research could start once again and I felt happy to have found a positive answers to the many pre-journey questions.

The days later, we were able to find other nice looking problems and many other projects I couldn't clean for questions of time. I will think about those for many days, until the next time I will be back in this land. I will definitively start with a more secure approach, but always searching for something new and not very guaranteed. Thank you Basilicata, hope to see you soon!

Urban Cowboy, Basilicata. 
Geometrie non euclidee (FA), Basilicata. Photo Marco Giorgio

Occhio di Bue, Basilicata.

Titanic (FA), Basilicata. Photo Marco Giorgio

Agronomono non Praticante, Basilicata. Photo Marco Giorgio

Basento Ruggente (FA), Basilicata

sabato 2 gennaio 2016

2015 - Top 10 problems

Here is the usual top-10 list of my favorite boulders of the year. It has been a really tough and long choice to draft the best moments/lines I did during the 2015. I saw many shapes, tons of good rock, amazing problems and these are what I suppose to be the best 10 ones of the last 12 months. Enjoy, and sorry for the missing photo at the 7th place.

- 10th. "The Outsider", Grampians (AUS).

Riky on "The Outsider".

- 9th. "The Big Island", Fontainebleau (FRA).

Photo Stefan Kuerzi

- 8th. "Partage/Partage Assis", Fontainebleau (FRA).

Photo Stefan Kuerzi

7th. "Osiris", Tennessee (USA). I unfortunately don't have any pictures of this one.

6th. "Elephunk", Fontainebleau (FRA).

Photo Stefan Kuerzi

5th. "Nichilismo", Valle Cervo (ITA).

Photo Giulia Paoletti

4th. "Appartenance", Fontainebleau (FRA).

Photo Stefan Kuerzi

3rd. "Owning the weather", Grampians (AUS).

Screenshot from the clip

2nd. "Ebano", Tennessee (USA).

Photo Beau Kahler

1st. "Illusion du Choix", Fontainebleau (FRA).

Photo Stefan Kuerzi

giovedì 3 dicembre 2015

The South-Est. My second US trip.

Photo Paul Robinson

Another trip has gone by and another climbing area praises a tick on the list. The South-East of the United States was one of the few outstanding classic zone where I still desired to go. I have been waiting a lot for a good occasion to go to Tennesee, but the chance took a while to come. 

Last October, Paul told me he was going there for the full month of November; The spread out area seemed to be amazing for shooting a section of the new film that Alex and him are producing, “Uncharted Lines”.  I knew It would have been one of those rare occasion to go, because,  for a reason or another, this place seems to be out of the radar for most of the European climbers. Moreover, I would have spent a trip with Paul and Jimmy discovering new lines, developing, cleaning and establishing. I was sure we were going to have a great time. The idea excited me and I got the first cheap flight to head to Chattanooga right after my weekly trip to Sheffield.

The trip basically ran over three different weeks.

Our first week was terrible. Delta Airlines lost my baggage and I hadn’t my goods for some days. The Temperatures were insanely warm, the humidity  was high most of the time and the woods were still thick and green. The summer was giving its last signs.  Climbing was almost impossible, excepted for a couple of days where we attempted to go out, but the rocks were very wet because of the condensation and the high moisture.  The positive side of the deal was that I had time to recover my jet-leg  and to go shopping to get what Delta didn’t give me back. I got some amazing underwear, socks, pants and all the basic stuff I needed.  We also checked a couple of wet rocks in Cumberland area, Little Rock City, Rocktown and some other hidden gems in Chattanooga. The rock seemed amazing  even when it was wet and I couldn’t image how good it would have been once the sky would have cleared up. I was anyway excited.

The second week the weather improved a lot. Sky started to clear up, some decent days came and we saw the first dry rock. Unfortunately to me, skin and shape didn’t seem positive as I wanted. The first never stopped sweating, while my body felt somehow faint.

Before the third week started, I took a couple of days off. The rest worked well and I got some good skin while the first touch of winter was coming.  Perfect timing. The last seven days have been amazing: a lot of climbing, first ascents, cleaning, but also classics, moderates and really amazing sandstone climbing. I have been checking many areas from the southern to the northern Tennessee, with the addition of the classic zone of Rocktown, in Georgia. The South-East  can be considered like “the Font of America”, like some climbers like to name it. The definition is generally appropriated, but I feel  to note some other good points.

What has been special to me is obviously the rock quality and, way more, some of the hold shapes. Most of the times the climbing depends on the quality of these two features. So, if they are cool, the climbing is probably  gorgeous too. It is incredible how the climbing and the sandstone change from sector to sector and how many nice styles of bouldering is possible to have. The texture many times is similar to Font, while in other parts is more comparable to Albarracin, or to Peak District or to Ticino’s granite. Secondly, according to the rock, even the holds package is really various. The boulders are hence really different, but the variety keeps most of the times an awesome quality. And, last thing, the potential is big too.

During the trip I stood several times in front of new blocs; some of them  were still to clean, waiting for some chalk; While other ones were ready to set a first ascent. I obviously love the process of the developing,  since it is probably one of the activities that makes me more excited about climbing. It is something more special and different than the simple execution of a boulder; It is creative, it includes art, vision, inspiration, doubts, vain attempts, efforts, work and so on. It is something that when you complete it, lets an indelible sign inside. I hardly forget good FA experiences. I anyway dislike to go out and climb something just to claim the first ascent or to add a new one randomly. When I look for a new line to clean, it has to stimulate my senses and to be like a white sheet where I can draw my vision, following the “rules” of the rock. It has to be a special bloc to me, otherwise I let it there. Once I see something I know is going to be magical, everything turns on and I usually don’t care about  how many hours of effort I should invest in “work”. Everything is just exciting and motivating. Once the fresh chalk shines for the first time, I just feel alive and satisfied. That’s maybe one of my favorite feeling in bouldering and reaching this emotions in the South East has been sweet.

In two boulders I had been able to transfer my vision and my abstract imagination on the real rock. It first happened for “Ebano” and then, right after, for “Hell was made in Heaven”. By the way, the second one is just next to other two amazing lines freed by Paul and Jimmy.

Beside the first ascents I have made, I tried also some classics. I especially climbed on some good old problems of Jimmy Webb, which were still unrepeated at the date. Before showing some shots of the trip, I would like to put clear that many blocs are in secret areas or on private lands and I take occasion to remind to everyone to put at first the respect of the environment and of the rock, everywhere we go. Enjoy.

Jimmy Webb on "Point of View" V11 (FA). Photo Paul Robinson

Jimmy Webb on "Southern Drawl" V14 (FA). Photo Paul Robinson
"Ebano" V11 (FA). Photo Beau Kahler
"Hell was made in heaven" V10 (FA). Photo Beau Kahler
"Little Foot" V13 (SA). Photo Alex Kahn
Paul Robinson on "King of contortion" V14 (SA). Photo Beau Kahler
Paul Robinson on "Knocking on Heavens door" V8 (FA). Photo Uncharted Lines
Photo Paul Robinson
Photo Paul Robinson

sabato 7 novembre 2015

Voyager, Peak District (UK)

More than 5 years have passed since my first visit to UK. That time, together with Marco, Gabri and Miki we had the pleasure to take part at the CWIF, one of the biggest and best organized competition ever. We were nothing else but a bunch of students, like a drunk of a typical pub had enjoyed to name us. After that good competition at the works, the major climbing center of Sheffield, we spent  a lovely week  on the Peak District’s hills, bouldering on the Gritstone. That was amazing; I will never forget that nice vacation which was actually my longest trip to the date.

Bouldering in the Peak was awesome for my tastes and I wished to come back as soon as possible. What I really enjoyed was  the Gritstone itself, which makes unique shapes and offers a special climbing like the one I usually look for. The gesture is in fact really balanced, you have to dose enough strength and use a good technical approach. I immediately got the deal that you cannot climb so much without using both of these skills. Slopy arêtes, slopy crimps, vertical climbing, pebbles, smears are the major things which features the movements.  These blocs are located in a stunning scenario too; Grey rocks, green meadows, scattered woodlands and beautiful hills. You might wonder if there are any other better place than this; Unfortunately the dark side of the area is the bizarre weather, which is really unpredictable and it changes in a blink of an eye. So you could have a decent week or  remain stuck in the gyms for many days in a row.

Time passed by since that great holiday and I tried every season to plan a weekly trip, but nothing happened. In 2010 and 2011 I got back for a couple of summer days, both occasions were due to a world cup competition.  Actually I didn't look forward  to move to the rocks so much, but however I couldn’t for the terrible heat. England seemed to be set aside of the list, until the last summer when, discussing with Giulia, we were both keen to spend a good time there. For her it would have been the first time, for me the glory moment  to attempt Voyager again.  

Voyager is one of the best problem in all the UK, established by the English legend Ben Moon in 2005. One year later his achievement, he also established the sit, which is currently the hardest thing in the Peak. At least this is what I have heard. The intensive and lasting desire to come back to Voyager was due to a specific reason. In 2010 I missed this problem at the very top, and I had to leave it without the closing send. Back in the days, it would have been a great triumph for my climbing, but not always you managed to roll the things as you would like to. Obviously, Voyager was at the top of my list this time and after a full month of training we only had to fly and keep our finger crossed for the uncertain weather. I have always thought that if you feel good, ready and in a good shape before a performance, you have already made half way to reach your goal. Before sitting in front of the problem, I knew that a lot of work had been done the month before and the hardest part was to execute the problem. It hence was much more a mental effort  than a physical one.

The first day of the trip was damp, wet and foggy, so we waited for one more day. I felt impatient, but on the other side the Sheffield’s atmosphere was really pleasant. The day came, it was cold dry and perfect. I saw Voyager again after many long days of waiting and my eyes started to brighten. I tried to keep my enthusiasm really low. I need to be focused, I felt I didn’t have many good shots to use my good shape. On the first go I fall very high, like in the past. Few minutes later I stood at the top. Obviously, I wanted to try the sit too. I felt happy half and half. Voyager sit, rated fb 8B+, was still waiting for its first repetitions after almost  9 years. This was obviously my goal which I have always kept a bit hidden until the ascent of the stand. I rested and I took a while to realize how many days I waited for. After a bit of relax, I began to work the first part, that counts 5 moves more using the beta I figured out. Beta was clear, so I opted to rest for a second time, trying to make a first go from the bottom. The sun came out, it was warmer but still nice  to attempt. I sat on the pads and I started to climb searching for the flow. I moved to the stand part really well, then I lost a bit this flow in the central section. I reached the crux, where my mind ordered to come back into the good focus. I did it and I kept my body on. I knew only three moves were missing, two of them pretty okay. I fast got to the last, where I missed the stand version in 2010. In less than a second I managed to realize I was on the last move, on my first and probably last go (since it is really sharp) and I was in the same situation of 5 years ago. I was tired and just my mind could have made a difference. It luckily drove my hand to the last decent hold, I brought my feet back on the wall and I only had to move to the jugs. I reached the top, I felt amazing. I looked at my tips, one of them was bleeding. It was really the first and the only possible shot. The loop came to an end and my story with Voyager too.

The day later the temperatures increased a little bit and it was actually the last sunny day of the trip. It rained until the last morning, when  it dried up and I could sent “The Storm” 7B+, one of the best essential problem ever. Another piece of the bouldering history. Time flew like usual and it was time to leave.  I really  want to say a big thanks to Giulia; without her this trip and,  voyager in particular,  would have not been possible on  my own. Hope to come back soon in this country and enjoy the many things we couldn’t visit because of the weather.

Here you can find some pictures of me and Giulia climbing on the Gritstone and at the legendary School Room. 

Voyager sit, Paek District (UK). Photo Giulia Paoletti
Giuly on Cloe's arete, Peak District (UK).

Giuly on Slopy Pokey, Pick District (UK).

The Storm, Peak District (UK). Photo Giulia Paoletti

Feel the Pinch, School Room (Sheffiled). Photo Giulia Paoletti

Feel The Pinch, School Room (Sheffiled). Photo Giulia Paoletti

giovedì 3 settembre 2015

Rocklands 2015

Riverside, Rocklands (SA).

Two  seasons have elapsed since the last time I was in Rocklands, the renowned area in the Western Cape region of South Africa. That trip was actually my first time out of Europe and was also a good reaching  point  for my first year as a full-time climber. I was excited the day I left and the trip was brilliant for different aspects. Despite I didn’t like some sides of the area, like the low quality below the V9 frontier, I remember a lot of positive things: some good boulders in the highest difficulty range, the climate which was often perfect, the breathtaking landscapes and the cost of life which was cheap for us. These things made me keen to come back as soon as possible, even because the potential for new stuff is probably bigger than anywhere else.

The climbing style in Rocklands is anyway really simple. It is way simpler than in every other place I have ever climbed. Nothing is difficult. The only thing you do is to grab a hold, which most of the time is a good crimp, and pull it as strong as you can. Rarely you have to figure out something technical or the climbing seldom offers brilliant moves like spicy arêtes or sequences where minimal details are the key. Everything is basic and repeated over and over. This is something I like and I don’t at the sometime. I guess in some cases is really fun and nice. Even the hardest problems are of course difficult for the strength, but super simple for the reading and for their interpretation. After a while, I miss the true bouldering and the gym style of the area start to get me bored; this is the negative side.

Campground, Rocklands (SA).

Max trying "Pinotage", Rocklands (SA).

"Purple Nipple Clan" 8A, Rocklands (SA). Photo Max Buvoli

This year I booked my flight really late, like one month before or maybe even less. Me and Max, a friend of mine, opted to come down in July and just after booking I immediately planned a program which worked well. I went to Silvretta for a bunch of days before my trip and I could text myself after those 2 weeks training. I felt positive, light and in a good shape. Skin was perfect and this meant a lot to me. I just had troubles on the endurance and some specific moves made my shoulders feel weak; The time between Silvretta and Rocklands was anyway enough to recover this lack.  We landed on the 11st of August and we only have 20 days of climbing ahead. It was short, but it was definitely better than spend another full month in the terrible Italian summer. 

Everything started well  like I desired: I felt light, I got tough skin and I kept going into a positive flow. The first 4 days were brilliant. We first went to 8 days rain sector where I finished the classic “Golden Virginia” 8A and flashed “Monkey Buisiness” 8A+/B.  Everything seemed to promise for a joyful trip. The days after I jumped on some classics I left in 2013 and I briefly tried one of my favorite problem ever i.e. “Black Eagle”. I wanted to check it out to see if coming back later or not. Unfortunately this never happened. After the first 4 days on, I took a day off; I wanted to start working on something harder and to look for some new projects. I had many things I wanted to do and I knew the time was pretty short.

Since the first day of rest, everything started to go wrong; or better I couldn’t fix my problems properly. I started to be sick for five days and  I felt weak in some moments; In the same period I seriously split my medium tip, for an Anthyidral bad use. I started to be stressed at that stage, probably because I knew I was wasting some of the few days I had. I should have simply looked after myself in the coldest nights and use the Antihydral better. Good things for the future!

 I anyway started working on “Speed of Sound”, a problem rated 8B+ and freed by Jimmy Webb. This problem sadly took me all the trip long.

At the first session I still had two weeks ahead; all of them have been spent working on “Speed of sound”.  It took me 4 full days of effort in which I exclusively  tried that line for 6 or 7 hours per day. The first session I had tape on, while during the second day I also split my index. I kept working with double tape, but I knew I had to stop and recover my fingers properly if I wanted to climb it. I had already spent two precious days, so I wanted to finish it before the end of the trip. The routine was like: intensive session on “Speed of Sound”, climbing on easier lines with tape the day after, resting 3 days and then repeat this loop again. Everything was mentally frustrating for me. I knew that after the resting time I could have 5 or 6 goes on the boulder, and then I had to work the sequences with tape on. The third session went good, falling at the very end before starting bleeding. I put tape on my tips again and I could try the end for a while. I figured out a smarter way to climb the upper moves and I knew that if I could have reached that point again, I wouldn’t have fallen anymore. I removed the tape off, I looked at my fingers, I looked at the boulder and I set my mind off until the next session, trying to keep the positivity. I started another resting loop; it was really long to sit on the pads all day, waiting for a bit of skin. The game started to stress my mind more than what I expected: I was in Rocklands and I had spent lot of time on a single problem. I still had time ahead to  check some other stuff; but at the same time I would have not recovered enough to work properly “Speed of Sound”, so I would have thrown away one week of hard effort. I opted to choose the hardest way for myself: keeping on resting and keeping on believing in that ascent. I had no chance: I would have climbed it or I would have basically wasted the whole trip. I got a risk put 1700 €, three weeks trip, 20.000 km on a single boulder problem. A boulder problem that at the end I didn’t like so much, but at the point it was more like a personal game between me and my mind.
"Speed of Sound" 8B+, Rocklands (SA). Photo Giulia Agatea
The third session was on Monday the 24th. Then the day after we went to Campground where I climbed on easier stuff before another resting period. The plan was simple: resting Wednesday and Thursday, try hard on Friday, then resting on Saturday to have the last possible chance on Sunday, before leaving. Doing this I would have had 5 total sessions for Speed of sound, 2 of them still ahead. I honestly thought that one would have been enough, but knowing about another possibility made me more relaxed and positive. Unfortunately the forecast damaged my plans. On Thursday the weather forecasted rain for Friday and Sunday, while Saturday was supposed to be a sunny day with temps between 14 and 24. I knew I only had a couple of shots before starting bleeding and then with tape the sending would have been much harder for me. I hence rested on Friday as well and the pressure started to make me bad. Saturday was the day. I woke up and I immediately went at the window to see if the rain of the previous night passed by. I wasn’t worried, I trusted in the forecast. I wouldn’t have . It was desperately foggy and quite wet outside. I felt nervous.

We had our usual breakfast and we drove to the pass. Going to the Saddle, the sector where speed of sound is, the path takes like an hour. The fog was thick. The rhino was visible at 5 meters only. I have never seen Rocklands in that scenario. I opted to postpone my warm up, praying to see blue sky soon. After a couple of hours I was warming and the fog started to fade off. We went to Roadside to finish my warm up on “Sunset Arete”. Max climbed “Pinch of herb” 7C+, while the sky was fully azure; his send and the clear air made me much more positive than the early morning. We hiked to the saddle in our silence. Beyond how the result would have been, that was my last time on the way. I got under the boulder and I cooled down my temperatures; I sheltered in the shade of the overhang and my skin started to be colder. I made a quick warm up for the exit, re-climbing the new way I checked the session before. I didn’t want to check the other moves to save skin; but I would have liked. Everything seemed anyway good, just the skin was more moist than the last time. I wondered why, but an answer would have not made any difference. Pressure was high and I decided to break it with the first go. I climbed so bad and roughly, missing the middle crux. I rested and I started again. I felt too nervous and my feet slightly shake in the sequence. I grabbed the heinous crack and I got into the hardest move but I quickly hit the pad. My mind was not following my body. I had to stop and set it off. After 45 minutes I sat again under the boulder and the anxiety passed by. I felt my mind was searching for the positive stream and it miraculously found it. I was on, I felt a turning point and I began once more. I had a really bad go, with a quick finger snap in the easy section. I fall down, but I was much happier than ever, because I reached a good flow with my head. I rested few minutes and I started with a even better focus. I reached the crux, I went over and I got in the changing feet. I felt stronger; I was climbing into the flow and the flow lead me to the lip. I did the mantle at half past 4 PM, with only a bunch of hours before leaving. I was happy about all the process. All the resting days have been paid off with a single shot and an intense moment.  At the beginning of the trip I had totally other expectations, definitively much more positive. But the things roll differently many times and I had to change my plans. This experience will make me stronger on the red point mode; and since it is one of my weakest point, it is what I actually needed.

Trip is over now and it has been good to live this “bad” events and to overcome some mental problems. It has been curios to me to see how some aspects has changed between 2013 until and now. I would have never been able to work so intensively on a single problem in the previous seasons and this is definitively a good point. I am pretty excited for the fall in Europe now. I have many projects to do, things to develop and testpieces to repeat. Hopefully the temperatures will drop in the next weeks!

Max trying "Cedar Spine", Rocklands (SA)

Leopard prints in Kleinfontein, Rocklands(SA).

Roadside, Rocklands (SA).

"Time Out" 8A+, Rocklands (SA). Photo Giulia Agatea

"Ulan Bator" 7B, Rocklands (SA). Photo Giulia Agatea

Giulia trying "Demi Lune", Rocklands (SA). Photo Max Buvoli