Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What I done on my holidays

We haul our numerous bags off the cable car and head hopefully up the slope past the dam to a jumble of rocks beneath the cliffs where the best bivis are said to be. We assume they'll all be full due to the jammed car park below but we have the pick of them and settle into the grandest, with some planks as flooring and a steep roof that should really appeal more to the boulderer in me but registers more as shade from the sun which is apparently much hotter than normal at that height. That first day Jeff takes myself and James up a nearby 7 pitch route, Via Fellici, a warm up but still the longest route I've climbed at that point. The climbing is lovely, despite the heat, and I surprise myself by taking the lead on a fantastic 5c hand crack, vaguely testing my very basic jamming skills. Jeff does the harder pitches, particularly a steeper 6a pitch which leaves me and James shaking our heads a little. At the top I am introduced to the vagaries of finding descents in the mountains, the suck-it-and-see of rappelling. A good day but easy under the tutelage of Jeff. Me and James sleep out under stunning star filled skies.

The Saturday we are up early for a hefty enough trek across the valley to the foot of Albignia. We are climbing Tempi Moderni, 11 pitches in the shade on more impeccable granite, and me and James get to see how well we work as a pairing. James is considerably more experienced in the mountains than me,  deliberately winding up Gina by occasionally referring to the climbing derisively as sporto. He is meticulous in his approach to staying safe and not taking short cuts. I am a little more reckless, impatient to try and keep moving quickly, to try and emulate the ridiculous fluidity with which Gina and Jeff move off up the wall. Having said that I found myself loving the systems of effective rope-work and develop my own to "improve" efficiency.

It doesn't help that the route is crowded with numerous parties and us effectively at the back. The climbing itself is lovely, a mix of 4s and low 5s, occasionally magnificent and only briefly scary.  At the top of the route me and James opt to try for the peak, Punto Albignia, which involves a couple of hundred metres of scrambling followed by 4 or 5 pitches of easier climbing to the top. Unfortunately we are no longer in the shade and our water is very low. After the scramble James starts off up the remaining pitches with a glint in his eye, only to run straight into a 4 pitch queue of climbers who seem to be waiting on erosion to bring the peak down to them. I've no doubt James would have waited all night to bag the peak, but I am sun-addled and dehydrated and I suggest descent which James graciously agrees to. Descent to the bivi takes about 2 and a half hours of stumbling and cairn spotting. Dinner is risotto aux bag and is delicious enough to consider importing.

Sunday dawns bright but the cloudless skies are getting boring. After much deliberation the night before we are to try Schildenkrote, a 13 pitch route which is set to be in the sun all the live long day. In addition it has several pitches of 5c/6a, depending on the guide, and I am nervous. On the not-early-enough walk in I baulk at the idea of climbing myself inevitably into sun stroke and Gina wisely suggests we start off up later in the day, so we are back at the base after midday. We are expecting the sun to have left the face after a couple of pitches but accept that it will be very much at its peak on the first and possibly hardest pitch. I start off up the steepening slab already wet with sweat, the slab's features fading with height, reassuring knobbles becoming vague dimples becoming total slab friction climbing. I did the pitch in a bit of a daze and could offer little advice to James following me up, use your feet, I say.

Each pitch is a model of its kind, the blank slabs, the perfect cracks, the flake ladders. The increasing height is merely a background hum that I only become conscious of when I am trying to distract myself from the aching calves and pinched feet of some stances. We simulclimb 4 pitches of 4s with just the perfect amount of flakes to keep it interesting. The 9th pitch is an absolutely perfect 5b slab crack and in my tiredness I ascend it without giving it nearly the reverence it deserves. Above I see Jeff set off up the penultimate pitch, an exposed 5c+ as close to vertical as we've encountered and my mind says flat out no. After quick discussion I hitch on to their second rope and for the final 2 pitches our 2 parties of 2 become a party of 4. By the top pitch my right arm is cramping just taking in the rope. After 6 1/2 hours of climbing we summit, me totally psyched and babbling nonsensically at the others whose more experienced heads are possibly less blown by the situation. It is easily one of my finest climbing experiences. One long rappel and we scree scramble down to the path as darkness falls. Dinner and bed and more bloody stars.

We descend into the valley in the morning, spent, and enjoy all the stuff that tastes better for having gone without.