The Acquired Taste of Adventure: Multi Pitch Climbing
While in Italy, I’m supporting Save the Children, which helps children around the world access nutritious foods so they have the energy to study, play, and grow. For nearly 900 children and adults around the world living in hunger, it’s not about missing a single meal, it’s about trying to survive for days, months, and years without key nutrients necessary for growing bodies and developing minds. Help me raise $10,000 for Save the Children on my Crowdrise page. Donate $27 or more and you’ll be entered into a monthly raffle to win a Marmot tent!
I’m a sport climber. More specifically, I like climbing clean faces with thin crimps and delicate feet, preferably 10 degrees overhanging. I dislike shoving my fists and feet in cracks, pulling on grass part way up a route as the only means of holding on, and climbing through no fall zones. Thus, my preferences don’t lend themselves to moderate multi pitch ‘classics’ (I’ve found that in Italy, the word ‘classic’ doesn’t always mean ‘clean solid rock, enjoyable for climbing’). Now, I’d like to state ahead of time that I’m not labeling all multi pitch routes as distasteful, that’s ridiculous. There are bad sport routes, bad multi pitch routes, bad boulders, bad everything. All I’m saying is that I like to avoid grass ledges, no matter what I’m climbing. And I don’t love cracks.
[Grass rappel, Jon Glassberg (LT11) photo]
However, part of my goal in Italy was to gain experience on multi pitch and traditional routes, things I don’t make time for at home, thanks to tunnel vision for sport routes. While I love sport climbing and plan to continue pushing myself on difficult sport routes, I think it’s important to have an understanding and respect for all types of climbing.
For example, a few years ago, I tried ice climbing (and by try, I mean I top roped one 20 foot tall ice pitch), and found it entirely more difficult than I expected. Everyone assured me “oh you’ll be fine because you have endurance and won’t get pumped”, but what they didn’t tell me was that, of course I wouldn’t get pumped if I couldn’t even swing the ice axes hard enough to stick into the ice, and as a result spent half an hour top rope hang dogging all 20 feet of my new ice proj. Brilliant.
This time around, I was ready to display my best newbie skills with slings slung over my shoulders, cams and nuts dangling from my harness, and even an ATC in tow. My gear loops had never seen so much action.
After thirteen years of climbing, I feel I know enough to be safe (two anchor points at all times, and in fact I do know how to belay with something other than a grigri). However, this doesn’t mean I know anything about efficiency or tidiness, necessities when your day of cragging is spent dangling from the side of a cliff rather than comfortably sprawled in a grassy meadow as picnickers and puppies frolic among the explosion of your sport pack.
The night before our big multi pitch day, I learned a few handy knots, how to coil the rope over my leg as my second followed, and how to manage a belay station with four people. Yes, it’s embarrassing that the figure eight stands alone in my knot-tying portfolio (actually, I learned to tie a bowline last week because humidity was so high that after falling 50+ times off my sport project, I couldn’t budge my figure eight). These basics were taught using the oven door and a bottle of wine as props (only one glass each before anchor building lessons, safety first!).
During our first week in Italy, local climbers convinced Jon and I that Magic Line, the easiest but longest route up the famous Qualido wall would be a good first choice of multi pitch routes for me (while Jon is known as a boulderer, he actually spent the majority of his youth climbing multi pitch routes, so he’s a safe teacher). Magic Line is graded ‘6b obbligato e 1 tiro di A1, 7c in libera’, which means that the route goes free at 5.12d, but climbing 5.10 and A1 will also get you to the top.
After two hours of stair stepping up the “trail” to Qualido (the famous Qualido must not actually get much traffic since the trail is barely matted down spear grass), and four hours spent climbing five of the seventeen pitches of Magic Line, I requested that we rappel down due to the following factors: an unusually hot September in Italy meant slab climbing 5.10 in direct sunlight (read: mega sunburn), low confidence after calling ‘take’ twice on the third pitch of 5.10, and choosing to wear tiny painful sport shoes on a seventeen pitch all day endeavor.
Yes, the list of excuses is long. We bailed, but I came down content with the day’s “accomplishments”. We climbed five pitches, more than I had ever consecutively climbed before. I lead three of those pitches and even placed some cams that I felt confident would hold were I to fall on them. And I felt pleased with my neatly organized belay stations, free of tangles. Three big wins for bailing less than a third of the way up the easiest route in Val di Mello!
[Photo session on La Fiamma, Jon Glassberg (LT11) photo]
A week later, we drove up to Spazzacaldera in Switzerland to climb La Fiamma, a spire with photographical fame akin to Smith Rock’s Chain Reaction. This time, our group of four included Marco, our new Italian friend from the CAMP office, and Rich Crowder, our trusty American friend and cameraman. Under Marco’s guidance, we chose Mosaico (6a+/5.10b), a ten pitch route whose base could be reached via cable car, whose physical difficulty was well within everyone’s ability, and whose aspect would not leave us boiling in the sun. In short, these factors made for a much more attainable and enjoyable multi pitch experience and we reached La Fiamma with just enough time for a photo session and a quick hike/run back down to catch the cable car.
[Thanks for the instruction Marco! Jon Glassberg (LT11) photos]
I’ve learned a few important things from these experiences. Most obviously, I enjoyed setting up belay stations and placing cams more than I actually enjoyed the climbing. I still don’t like pulling through grass in between nice sections of rock, but the technical logistics of climbing high up on a wall are surprisingly fun. Second, I learned that I don’t enjoy ‘epicing”. Once a good sunburn sets in or my feet feel ready to explode, the fun level takes a dive. I enjoy suffering in the sense that I’ll beat myself up over a project that I “should have done by now”, but I haven’t yet learned to enjoy suffering in the adventure sense. Perhaps that will come with practice. Most notably, I realized that I could actually learn to trust my gear placements and attempt traditional climbs that push my limits as sport climbing does.
One of my goals in climbing is to always continue learning. I hope that experiences like those I’ve had in Italy will continue to shape me as a climber and allow me to push my limits, physically and mentally. Being run out and scared on 5.10 is humbling. Executing 5.10 moves on grass covered holds is an adventure. While these might not be the activities I choose to carry out each day, they add value to my life as a climber. Someday, I hope to visit areas that offer that perfect combination of clean faces, delicate feet, and the adventure of multi pitch climbing. Yosemite on the horizon?
[Working art attact, 8c/14b, Screen captures by Jon Glassberg]
As for now, I’m (im)patiently waiting for the humidity to drop at least below 80% so that I can finish a really cool slab route I’m working at Sasso Remenno. The route is called Art Attack (8c/5.14b) and hasn’t seen a second ascent since Simone Pedeferri established it. With one more week, I’m getting nervous and really want to complete this beautiful slab!