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.

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