Thursday, 19 April 2012

Oh and it's raining again!

Loud on your car like bullets on tin, open the door and pulling me in.

Rain is good for catchy songs, not for multi-pitch on giant collonets!

The last two weeks in Sardinia have felt more like climbing in England than the Med! We have had rain more often than not, usually only a little each day, but all those littles add up to a lot, and with the addition of two recent days of torrential downpours, every tufa on the island now seems to be wet!

At first we got pretty lucky, climbing 2 of our projects in surprisingly quick time (you can read more about them at ). Both Mezzogiorno di Fuoco and Amico Fragile rely heavily on collonets in their hard pitches, with Mezzogiorno’s crux pitch being a full 55m of humungus tufa fun. There were a few wet holds here and there, but the weeks of great weather prior to our visit meant the initial downpours had little effect. In fact, we climbed the crux pitches of Mezzogiorno in a violent rainstorm, fortunately sheltered by the overhanging wall above, listening to the rush from the curtain of water just 10m from our backs.

Caro looking up at the imposing Amico Fragile (230m 8b max)

As the days went on, things became slowly worse. Firstly we found El Viaje de los Locos (250m, 8b+) pretty damp, but being stuck in the ever shady Gorropu, I wasn’t so surprised. The hard low pitches were climbable in their current condition, and I managed to free the 3rd (crux) pitch on my first redpoint try. However, the wind in the upper wall was un-real – never have I climbed in anything like it, and we were forced down from the route before making it to the top. The wind was so strong it would literally knock you off the wall! Ok when close to a bolt, but becoming dangerous when 4 – 5m above your last gear, on the ballancy and technical 8a+ slab!

Aria was a route on our list from the beginning, thanks to the glowing testimonial of its loving creater Pietro Dal Pra. The numbers of Aria all add up to make a tough challenge, but it was the photos and description of the crux pitch tufas that made us desperate to give it a bash. Aria is located on Punta Plumare, a giant overhanging cliff directly out of the ocean, a little down the coast from Cala Gonone. Access to the cliff is via either a 2 hour overland hike or a 30min boat ride, and as a result feels rather exposed and isolated even before you start climbing.

Punta Plumare. Aria is the only route up the overhanging central section!

Pietro seemed keen to repeatedly inform us this would not be sport climbing, and that we should approach the route with an alpine mentality. In short, this meant we needed to be prepared for an adventure, and know how to rescue ourselves should any mishaps occur. The reason for this is Pietros strong ethics and even stronger courage when it comes to opening a new multi-pitch. He only equips from the ground up, preferring to run it out to the next obvious clipping point, than place awkward, difficult to clip bolts. As a result, you can climb Aria with only 6 quick draws, which when you do the math, means for a few rather large runouts. For example, the two crux pitches are both around 45m, each containing 6 bolts. With equal spacing, the bolts will be 6 to 7m apart, yet when you take into account the closer spacing of the first few (nobody enjoys falling on their belayer) you have a recipe for some BIG air should you botch the upper sections.

After a refresher lesson on rescuing an unconscious/hanging second, and some very useful other tips from Pietro, we all set off for Aria in a little rubber boat. Pietro wanted to accompany for a number of reasons, including friendship, a wish to revisit a special place, and a desire to keep Caro and I as safe. As we racked up for the first pitch, he told me not to worry, as it was 7c, but with good holds you can really hang on to – in other words, steep, and most likely pumpy. He also told me that the bolting was not too bad, but that I must not fall whilst clipping the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th bolts as he wasn’t sure he could keep me off the floor – great!

Spot the local...

The first 5 pitches passed as expected – no major drama as long as you kept a cool head. After a few hours we arrived at the start of the first 8a+, ahead of schedule and full of energy, things were looking good for a 1 day ascent, possibly even on-sight. Well they would have been, had the pitch not been a waterfall!
From the floor Pietro had checked out the collo’s through his binoculars and warned us that one or two could be a little wet. What we actually found was a dripping, slimey mess, with almost every inch of rock running with water. Hopes faded in an instant as did my desires to go any higher, yet as Caroline and Pietro joked that they were happy it was my turn to lead, it was clear that I was expected to!

With pride winning out over fear, I pulled on my shoes and searched for the first bolt. Every point of contact was soaking, morphing what would usually be a steady traverse towards juggy tufas, into a sketchy, slippery battle against a fall onto the belay. Each new bolt found me breathing a sigh of release. Each new bolt found me struggling to dry ever wetter hands, feet and clothes. Each new bolt found the anxiety growing as I searched for the next and the methods to climb to it.

As I arrived at, and made it through the first crux above a scarily big run-out, I started to think I might actually be able to make it after all. However, the hardest moves lay just above, and as I struggled to rest on the damp holds, chalk now a little better than paste, it came as little surprise when I slipped off just 2 moves higher.

The last section of the route is the piece of climbing that makes Aria so special. Two parallel tufas one meter apart, beginning from almost nothing, becoming deeper and deeper the higher you climb. You start slapping up either side until the pint when you can switch to the inside, literally chimneying up between the two until you reach the belay. Words can not describe the wildness of this final section, wedged between two bottomless tufas, your ropes disappearing to the last distant quickdraw, with nothing but air between your ass and the ocean 200m below!

Sunrise from the base. Just one of the many magical things about this route!

The next 8a+ was significantly dryer and I was able to on-sight it with a giant fight to reach the chain. With almost all the route in the bag, it was tempting to go back to try the first 8a+, as it was probably possible to climb it in those conditions. Yet, despite the possibility of success, the certainty of it being a horrible, uncomfortable, disgusting experience outweighed everything else and we decided to lower off, and come back another day. With routes as beautiful as Aria, they deserve to be treated well. I would rather return to climb the route in the dry, enjoying the pleasured of each pitch, than bear the thing into submission, only to arrive on the summit. Sometimes, the experience is worth way more than the tick!

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