Pizza, Cappuccino, Espresso, Gelati, Pomodori…and Crack Climbing
Italy is best known for its food and great climbing in places like Finale, Sardinia, Arco, and Sicily. But who would have guessed that there is a little gem hidden in the tiny village of Cadarese where you can test your skills in trad-climbing?
In Northern Italy, just before the Swiss border lies the tranquil village of Cadarese nestled in a valley of steep granite and gneiss walls. At first glance Cadarese would not make it into any guidebook as a premier climbing area, looking broken and tree-covered, but as you approach the crag, things change quickly.
The rock hides in a beautiful open beech tree forest, making the contrast between fallen leaves and laser-cut cracks, big layback flakes and solid granite slabs appear stark and magical. The rock is very compact unpolished granite and offers perfect friction and wonderful cracks.
If this area was situated in Britain or in the US, there wouldn’t be a single bolt to be found – but since it is in the middle of Europe, the trad climber’s eye might water at the sight of beautiful cracks with shiny bolts. In recent years many routes had their bolts chopped in a vendetta of crack lovers, the crag has seen a makeover and a pure trad sector has been established by a crew of North Italian climbers adding huge value to the climbing there.
Cadarese is the main and most famous area for trad climbing in the Ossola valley but there is of course much more to see. Within a short drive you can reach several other areas and every line you find in this valley has beautiful climbing and it is definitely worth a trip!
We spent quite a lot of time in Cadarese during the last 3 years and climbed most of the fantastic routes there….so it was time to check out something new. Last fall, as we spent another few days in Ossola, we went to „Cippo“, a crag located in Switzerland, right behind the border.
The climbing there is really different to Cadarese. It’s all about face climbing. You climb on edges, crimps and slopers and you rarely have to jam your hands or fingers into a crack. But there was one line which definitely was outstanding and eye-catching!
„Gondo Crack“ is the obvious line at the „Cippo“crag in Gondo. It was bolted by A. Manini and M. Pellizzon almost 15 years ago and since then it had been an open project. First we heard about this line from A. Manini and after that we saw some great video footage of Tom Randall, who was working this line for a while and also got really close to sending it. Inspired by the stories and pictures we decided to go and check it out.
Like many other possible trad lines in Ossola, Gondo Crack is bolted. This leaves a bit of a sour taste due to the fact that it is clearly possible to climb it on mobile gear. But since people have been trying that route on bolts since 15 years we just had to respect that. You can’t just go there and chop the bolts, it is not our piece of rock. But as the bolts were there already we didn’t head point the route on top rope but used the bolts to work on the route.
All the holds are pretty reasonable and it didn’t look uncompromisingly hard at the beginning. But as soon as you start to work on the crux moves you get to a point where it is really hard to find a viable solution. Every hold seemed to be in the wrong direction…so it was all about body tension and shouldery gaston side-pull climbing. The rock is smooth and the footholds are particularly slippery the closer you get to the top. There is just one single rest before the hard crux starts and after that it’s all about power endurance climbing until the final jug.
Last year we managed to work out out the single moves but we were both far from connecting the hard moves at the crux. We left „Cippo“ with a great feeling, overwhelmed to have such a cool line in our minds. To be honest, we couldn’t wait to come back! One week later we left to Yosemite, which was a good compensation however.
Springtime, best time….In March we finally got back to Cippo. Gondo Crack was one of my biggest goals for this year and the motivation was high after all the time that passed since we left last autumn. We had spent 2 months of winter in the gym for some training and after a trip to Spain we pulled our trad gear out of the closet and headed straight to Cippo. Although the route is bolted, it was clear from the start that we wanted to climb it green-point. Fortunately this time we managed to tame the route relatively quickly, thanks to our Spanish form and the good conditions. After I did the first ascent on bolts, Jacopo sent it the same day just a few tries later.
But the real goal was to climb it green-point and this happened just a few days later in the reverse order. Jacopo did the first ascent on gear and the day after I followed. It was just great. Being motivated for the same route, and both succeeding, was the best we could wish for. The biggest challenge for me was to remain focused on the crux and to not think about the fall.
Having to place the gear means getting pumped and worried when you reach the crux. Mentally it was a lot harder as a trad climb, but that’s exactly what makes trad climbing so exciting and why the overall experience is very pure and intense.
I know, that many may find our approach difficult to understand, seeing that the route is bolted, but for us it made more sense climbing it with trad gear. It’s a really logical line, that doesn’t need the bolts to be climbed. Doing it this way requires more effort, but it also provides far stronger emotions. I don’t think we risked much, but it’s always hard to judge these things correctly. The pro in the first part is mediocre, and honestly, we had no desire to make a controlled fall to test it. The last two pieces of pro are right at the start of the crux, from there there’s the long run-out all the way to the chain. Knowing that that’s where the hard moves are, falling off is always a possibility! The last friend seems good (X4 #0.3), but if that rips out for some reason you might fall to the ground. Personally, were I to find a similar line then I wouldn’t bolt it, but that’s just my point of view. I hope, that our ascent helps spread this “different” approach to climbing, especially in areas like Ossola, which is a true paradise for trad climbing!
pics: Thanks to Richard Felderer and Paolo Sartori