Wednesday, 31 August 2011

New Dawn Fades

The difference between clean and dirty on this wall is immense, and should have been expected on an alpine wall of this exposure, parts of which rarely get wet. I spent a long time cleaning the 4th pitch and checking out the moves, thankfully to find that it was not so bad. Sure it is hard, sure it is a little scary, and there are parts where one must be very cautios with large chunks of rock. However, there are holds – positive pieces to grab with hands and feet, success will be more dependent on personal strengths and stamina, than positive relations with the Onyx, god of friction.

The 1st pitch. The end of the crux boulder leads into 30m of delicate and sustained finger layback/slab! (Photo Riky Felderer)

After feeling satisfied with Pitch 4, I returned in the evening shade to try Pitch 1. The difference was noticeable from my earlier tries in the morning sun, nothing incredible, but enough that I could start making small links and better understand the subtleties required. I worked out all the sections from bolt to bolt on the upper crack, and after a lengthy amount of time, solved my problem of the bottom boulder...

Read the rest of this post along with more pictures over at my new site -

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Since Canada I have been in real adventure mode; exploring, questing, learning, suffering, progressing and resting, usually in the middle of the mountains, with no phone or internet. The reason - Joy Division, a 20 pitch route on the Qualido wall, Val Di Mello. The result – sore muscles, sorer skin, and a fast track course in Big wall bumbling.

A Brief History of the route...

Climbing on Qualido dates back to 1978, and as expected, a whole host of mixed (aid and free) routes appeared over the next few years. 1989 was a very productive year, witnessing the birth of 3 major new lines, TRANSQUALIDIANA, LA SPADA NELLA ROCCIA, and MELLODRAMA.

The challenge then turned to freeing the routes, and by 1996 the wall saw its first 8b in the form of FORSE SI, FORSE NO from the Czech alpinists Igor Koller, Peter Machai and Miro Piala. At three pitches long this may not seem like the most significant contribution, but its importance (and difficulty) should not be underestimated, as it opened the possibility for a free route of the entire wall, through the most obvious and beautiful central dihedral.

The next big advances in free climbing on the Qualido came at the hands of Simone Pedeferri and other members of the Leco Spiders. After freeing LA SPADA NELLA ROCCIA and opening BLACK SNAKE, Simone set to work on JOY DIVISION, a combination of FORSE SI, FORSE NO, 8 new free pitches of MELLODRAMA, and the classic path of Melat. After 20+ days of cleaning, bolting and exploration, Simone was able to free the route over three climbing days, lowering to the valley floor to sleep between attempts.

I first learned about Joy Division after the 2011 Melloblocco. At the time I had ideas of beginning a journey into multipitch, but very little experience, and so I really had no idea of how the difficulty of these things added up. It sounded like fun, and I liked the idea of doing something really big so I made rough plans to return later this year.

Caroline and I in Les Chemins du Katmandou, Pic thanks to Francisco Taranto Jr

After completing a few “training” projects in various different styles, like Les Chemins du Katmandou in France (short and hard), and Lucifer’s Lighthouse in Canada (longer but easy) I figured I was ready to give Joy Division a shot. I wanted to try to repeat the route in as good a style as possible, climbing onsight and ground-up wherever I could, making the whole thing ideally in one push. I guess it is good to have very high hopes and expectations, but there is also a lot to be said for being realistic about your chances and ability. For those with any experience of the wall, this onsight in a day dream would have sounded as crazy as I now feel – a good indicator of just how unprepared for such a challenge I was.

Through my whole life, I have always been one for jumping in at the deep-end, which granted, has caused me a lot of failures, but also taught me to learn fast and think on my feet. I have never been fond of starting at step one, learning the basics and progressing gradually from there, instead I preferred to focus on anything I needed to know to stay alive, then jump in around step 6 or 7, often falling on my ass, but usually getting back up again.

The Qualido Wall, with the arrow showing the first belay. (Pic - Riky Felderer)

Joy Division has so far been one of these experiences. I set off onsight, and by the third bolt was sat on the rope, with no Idea of how to climb the featureless rock above. The thought the rock might be dirty had never entered my mind (testament again to my inexperience), so after hours of cleaning the smears and crystals on the first pitch I started again, to find it just as perplexing as before. A 45m 8b granite slab! I hadn’t climbed anything this side of vertical for way too long. I could not manage the individual moves – linking the pitch seemed further away than the moon.

20 pitches to the top, and I’m stuck in the 1st – great start. The onsight dream is dead, I accept this will be ground up at the very best and so continue through pitch 2 and 3. At 7b and 7b+ these should be a relative stroll, but I only manage to onsight the 2nd by the skin of my teeth, and fall once in the crux of the third – booooooooo hooooooooo.

Simone Pedeferri on the beautiful "corner in-a corner" on the 2nd pitch. (Pic - Riky Felderer)

The 4th pitch is supposed to be the monster! Simone spent the morning telling me to be cautious for the climbing is hard through big loose blocks. He warns me that the ropes pass through the line of any falling rock, and that the chance of cutting a cord is a real possibility. 8b (possibly + or even c according to Simone) with a chance to fall to the floor from 100m fills me with dread, I get Caroline to move the belay to the shelter of the corner, and I set off with 3 ropes (2 lead lines and a tied off static) for an extra bit of safety. Again, the rock is dirty, and there are certainly some big hollow blocks that don’t inspire confidence, but a cautious mix of free climbing and A3 hooking leads me to the sanctuary of the 4th Belay. From here we rappelled, fixing lines to the floor to allow for easier cleaning and working the following day.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Newfoundland Expedition Reports

And we begin...

Wow!!! One month since my last post! So what have I been up to? Keep reading and find out...

Blow Me Down is 1,300 feet of granite rising directly out of the Atlantic. Situated in Devils Bay, a wet and windy place indeed on the South coast of Newfoundland, Blow Me Down is several hours from the nearest road and civilisation, accessible only by boat.

Like my Chad Expedition from 2010, Blow Me Down was the brain-child of Mark Synnott, a very experienced American climber and alpinist. Mark has climbed in more crazy places around the globe than I know exist and has a reputation for guaranteed memorable times, be it from epic or adventure. I was psyched to travel again with him, and placed all my faith in his knowledge and experience, neglecting my own research figuring he would likely have everything covered...


I said before leaving that my main aim for the trip was to learn. To learn from two of the most experienced big wall climbers in the world how to be fast, efficient, but above all else safe. Mark and Alex are obviously wildly different climbers, with different focus’s, objectives and strengths. I had climbed with them both in the past, but never in a big wall environment, and was excited by the prospect of watching them work and picking up some secrets.

One of many unexplored cliffs in the area...

The next few weeks would turn out to be possibly the least productive of my climbing life. Raging winds, torrential rain and perpetual fog would allow for only 2 full climbing days in 10. The rest of the time was spent in base-camp, sat on our ass, staring at the sky and praying for it to clear. Good weather was the one thing Mark couldn’t secure, but thankfully, as expected he nailed everything else. The soggy grimness was much better than it could have been thanks to a TNF 2 Meter Dome and a plentiful supply of food.

Base camp scene... soggy :(

There are really not so many new stories to tell from the trip, instead I will re-post some of the expedition dispatches in case anyone missed them over at The North Face blog.