I stood there at the railway station of Cadenazzo, Switzerland, when a small red Opel cruised around the corner. The car stopped, an Italian climber got out. We greeted each other briefly and he said, “Lets park your car a little further and pack the bags, we take my car to Valle Verzasca and hike up tonight to the bivouac.” Without many words, I did what he said. Things went automatically, they went with a flow. We packed and before I knew I was sitting in his red Opel cruising the peaceful valley streets of Switzerland towards the biggest wall in Ticino, Poncione d’Alnasca (600m).
The tiny Swiss villages made out of little granite houses surrounded by a lot of grass, rivers, granite boulders and natural forests gave such a peaceful atmosphere. I was impressed by the surroundings. The mountains are special, they make you feel small, they make you noble, I realised it had been to long ago. It was time to climb bigger walls again, find adventure, find excitement, enjoy the freedom and have tons of fun!
He hiked in front of me, quick and with a stable pace we moved our way up the steep hill towards the ‘Scorpio’ bivouac. Soon I realised I would have a lot of fun with this Italian Duracell battery. Quickly, his motivation and drive activated my drive and need to climb some walls. It was Matteo Della Bordella who showed me around Ticino last days. Without knowing each other we partnered up together and ended up making a great team for the next three days.
We had one clear objective, we aimed to free climb the variation of the route ‘Porte Interiori’ on Poncione d’Alnasca. The original 560 meter old aid line has been climbed quite often at a grade of 7b+ - A2 (6b+ Obligated). In 2011 – 2012 Jvan and Michi Tresch and their team added some variations to the old aid line. The variations together with all the original pitches (16 pitches in total) could be climbed all free at a stout grade 8a – (7c Obligated). In June 2012, Jvan Tresch did the first free ascent of his new route. As far as we know, nobody had yet done a first free repeat of this incredible stout, old school (Yosemite) graded route. Freeing this multi pitch, which can count as a standard, looked like a great objective for both of us.
|The first 7c slab pitch|
When we climbed this first pitch free in the third go, we went on. More beautiful technical slab pitches came right after the first pitch at grades up to 7a/+. We made our way quickly up to the big ledge on top of pitch 6. With Matteo, there was not much time for chilling on the grassy ledge, we went on and tried the next pitches starting from the ledge. One very technical and runout 7b+ followed after the ledge. It was a challenge to understand the moves. On those slopy holds, only compression, precision and balance can help you find your way freeclimbing up to the next belay. We figured out the dance and both of us could free also this beauty. The next pitch was short with one tough boulder problem on crimps. After I saw Matteo on it, I could crimp my way through the boulder and managed to do this pitch first go. This was the best that could happen considering that the crux 8a pitch was next. Because trying this boulder several times on the sharp crimps could have destroyed my fingers.
Until that point, I climbed every pitch free. It became almost night. The wall went out of the sun, so the cold hit us. Perfect conditions to try the crux pitch. I put on my jacked and attacked the blank looking granite wall with every 4 to 5 meters one bold! Only after the first bolt, which was 5 meters right of my belayer, I found myself stretched out on some good footholds reaching into the unknown granite wall. With my face close against the wall to keep my balance I touched every square cm of granite to find some kind of weakness, structure to hold on to. The slab climbing from the first pitches was over, it was like the same slabs were in front of me, only this time, they were all vertical! I made a couple of good, far falls and managed to dance my way up to the second bolt, exciting! I never thought I would have been able to even reach this second bolt. When I looked up to the next bold I realised this one was even further away than the last one. The only goal that moment, the only thing that mattered was reaching that next bolt. The only formation in the rockface above me was a tiny one-centimetre roof, which I could use for my thumbs to move my feet up. After a lot of flying with my face past the wall I discovered the right method moving my feet half a meter up in six steps. These incredible moves are all about precision, body tension and balance. Once I crimped the tiny roof as an underclean I could reach very far out to some positive crimps. This time I was in a slightly overhanging position, the next moves to the bolt contained some no feet pulling from one crimp to the next. When I reached that third bolt I was amazed, how was it possible I could have climbed this very blank looking wall? From there on I continued the 40 meter crux pitch to the anchor, every other 4 meters there was a bolt with each time a tricky move. This route is never really over. I felt that if I would like to free climb this pitch all in once, I had to be focussed, controlled, precise and have a lot of self-confidence. That evening, Matteo followed the pitch and checked out the moves. He confirmed my feeling, this was a very tough pitch and graded incredibly tight! I love it!
|Pitch 8 '7b+' before the crux pitch|
That evening we rapped down to the ledge, hiked off the ledge from the side and slept in the Scorpio bivouac again. The next morning we hiked back up to the ledge and repeated pitch 7 and 8 again as a warm up. Looking back at this tactic to sleep in the Scorpio bivouac instead of on the ledge I would recommend to others to sleep on the ledge. It is big and comfortable and you don’t have to walk one hour back and forward to the bivouac. On the other hand, the Scorpio ‘cave’ bivouac is very nice and beautiful. Now it was my time, I was excited for the crux pitch. I really wanted to free it. The 13 hour first climbing day was in my body but still I felt strong. I went for it from the start, soon I felt myself doing the first hard moves up to the second bolt, I was surprised it went so smooth. I arrived at the tiny one centimetre roof and there I screwed up the methods with the feet. But it felt good, I memorised and tried the moves several times and climbed it to the top. Matteo followed again and worked on his turn on the moves. Next we rappelled down to the start of the crux pitch again. I gave it my third go. By now, I was adapted to the granite. Quickly, controlled and confident I did every move perfectly how I remembered. The feeling of finding this right and perfect balance on the rock was incredible. I was in a flow, one with the route and climbed it to the top!
The next day Matteo still had half a day to climb, I was planning to stay the whole week but according to the weather forecast the weather would be pretty bad the other days. Already for two years I wanted to visit Ticino to try the famous 8-pitch route ‘Super Cirill’ (8a). We decided to jump on that climb in Val Bavona on our third day. We were both pretty tired but we had to enjoy the weather now it was good!
|Matteo following the crux (8a) pitch.|
Satisfied and impressed by the beauty of these three first pitches I attempted the next 7c+ pitch, technical corner. Unfortunately I couldn’t climb this one onsight, but I enjoyed finding the right methods for this techy smearing corner! Afterwards I did it second go. Now the crux pitch and last hard pitch followed. It is a twin crack on a pretty steep wall getting into one single crack on kind of an arête. Like the other routes, I also gave this one an onsight attempt. I knew this kind of crack suites my style so I confidently jammed my way up and realised to onsight this crux pitch. We finished the last easy pitches to the top and I happily came down! Besides the 7c+ pitch I could onsight all the pitches of this breathtaking multi pitch full of pure classic routes with each their own style. I highly recommend this route!
|Me, happy to send the crux pitch from Super Cirill onsight!|
The routes I came to Switzerland for this trip I could do in three days, I didn’t expect that. Unfortunately, these three days where the only ones with good weather I had on my short Swiss trip. But it doesn’t matter; I had a lot of fun together with Matteo. He’s an inspiring climber because of his experience and his great motivation! I’m definitely going back for more of the Swiss granite!
|My focus face before sending the crux pitch! :)|
|One of the easier pitches close to the end. Super funky granite!|