It started to rain with two pitches to go, but we managed to finish and rap down before it got too heavy.
|Up high and a bit soggy on the first day. Photo by Adam Brown|
We were never going to manage it, but we had a good laugh trying.
We did go back to it in better conditions later in the trip, Adam and Nic sending it in short order, whilst I struggled manfully... I gave it a good go, and got within one move of the better jams on several occasions, but it wasn't to be for this trip.
|Adam crushing the Kosterlitz, spotted by a crazy Italian... probably the most psyched guy you ever met.|
Next morning we went back to Aimonin - Nic and Ramon to redpoint the heinous slabs of Unna Notte A Thaiti (6c) (which had given them some trouble in the rain the day before), while me and Adam got on a 6c multi-pitch called La Casa Degli Specchi. The first pitch was a fierce 6b+, reminiscent of Test Case at Pembroke, but harder. I let Adam have the lead, and he had a really good go for someone pulling straight on without a warmup, taking one fall going for it with total commitment, before finishing the pitch.
After dogging my way up that I got an amazing traverse under a roof, with wild moves, but which turned out to match the guidebook description "more psychological than technical".
Adam got a really nice flake, then I got an "easy" 4c.
After traversing up a crack line, I was faced with a 15m rising slab traverse, that looked totally devoid of gear. "more psychological than technical" popped into my mind again. As it turned out, after about 10m there was a hidden peg that cheered me up immensely, only to be given cause for thought again by a section of fairly loose rock above.
I'd ran two pitches together, giving Adam the highlight of the route - a 6c crack climb way above the valley floor. He did kindly offer to let me to block lead, but I figured he deserved it for his patience in the first couple of days.
In the end, it was probably a good thing anyway - I doubt I'd have done the first 8m of unprotected climbing from a cam just above the belay. It was desperate on second - I had to dyno to a flatty that looked good from below but turned out to be just about usable. Adam has balls, there's no doubt about that.
I flashed the pitch on second, and was absolutely stoked with that... top rope or not, flashing 6c crack climbs would have been beyond my wildest dreams a few weeks ago - seems I learned a lot in those couple of weekends in Millstone.
Tuesday morning dawned bright and blue. Rob and Lee, a couple of English lads we'd met earlier in the week had size 5 and 6 camalots they weren't using, so they kindly let myself and Adam take them on La Fessura della Disperazione (6a+) - an aptly named 3 pitch off-width crack.
I went for the first pitch - a rising traverse along the rather well defined fissure. After a few meters outside the crack I arranged some gear, dropped my leg in, and started udging along. Shuffling the size 5 along in front of me I edged my way forwards.
It's a strange feeling, relying on one piece of gear to keep you off the ground - and I really had to give myself a good talking to - but eventually made it to a peg half way along and was able to relax and move a bit more freely to the belay.
Adam started pitch two, and immediately found himself in some difficulties... this crack was much harder. It was a pretty tense belay for a while, until he left the number 5 behind and started with the number 6. Knowing he had two bits of gear between him and a factor two onto the belay made life happier for me, and I'm sure for him too.
I started out along the crack on second, and found the number 5 overcammed and totally wedged. It was not a good place to be stopped fiddling around, and by the time I got it out I was already gasping for air... and the pitch was hardly started.
What followed was one of the biggest fights of my life, and by the time I reached the belay I was retching, and thought I was going to vomit.
Facing me now was a 10m vertical chicken-wing off width, which then widened out into a full-body crack. I really had to psych myself to get started, but eventually the nausea subsided and felt ready to go.
I placed a few small cams on a crack out to the left to protect the belay, then started up the crack. It was size 6 camelot all the way. Just below the top of the vertical section, about a meter from the first rest, I reached a widening where the cam would not fit. I was boxed. My fingers were opening, my right foot was slipping, and my brain was red-lining.
Instead of leaving the cam and pulling out to go for the rest, I desperately fought to get the cam up higher where it narrowed again. I almost fell out of the crack with the cam in my hand. I just managed to get it back down in position as my hand and foot gave way, and I sagged onto my protection. So near, yet so far. I was completely spent.
I took a few minutes resting on the cam but didn't recover much, so I lowered down and let Adam lead the pitch. He put on a brilliant show to nail the flash - laybacking the crack and making it easy where I'd blown myself out trying to udge up inside.
Sitting on the belay, I wondered had I tried hard enough... had I given everything I had? It felt pretty close, maybe just too many wrong choices finished me off. I guess it was a hard route to pick for my first off-width.
It beat me up and spat me out, but it truly is an amazing experience - not to be missed.
We finished the day on a beautiful thin hands crack called Incastromania (6a). Adam onsighting it, and I cleaded it on second.
|Adam on Incastromania|
We decided Ramon and Nic should not know how broken we felt, so we did all we could to look fit walking off. In truth, I was a broken man.
Our sandbag worked... the guys got on it the next day. Nic seemed to quite enjoy himself, although Ramon ended up as beaten as I was.
|Nic running it out on the third pitch of La Fessura della Disperazione|
|Ramon gurning his way up the crack|
Karma had the last laugh though - I had tweaked my groin on that attempt, and after laughing at Ramon, as I walked over to the next sector I slipped off the path and pulled it properly.
On the last day, I tried to have a go at a classic 6c multipitch called The Rattlesnake, and although I only made it up two pitches before I had to retire, climbing the Orrechio de Pachiderma flake made it worth having the go, for sure.
|Nicola on the Orrechio... an amazing pitch|
|Rattlesnake finishes up the overhanging offwidth in the middle of the picture... I must go back and try this line again.|
Injuries aside, a great time was had, and I will no doubt be back again. In fact, I think the year long Tour De Mediterranean with Clare may just have found a new starting place... she loves the peak so Orco should blow her away - it's like gritstone on steroids.