Category Archives: Val Daone 2010

Info on my trip to Northern Italy for two weeks

Milestones: The Birthday Tradition

This is part five of a series of posts all about the turning points in my climbing career. From single moves to huge time spans, these are the events that shaped me into the climber and person i am today. 

I’ll be posting a new one every few days so keep an eye on the blog for the latest or, if not, they will appear in one beast of an article at the end of the series. Feel free to comment and let me know of some of your own highlights, i’d greatly enjoy hearing some of your own. 

The Birthday Tradition

The campsite of the inaugural birthday trip to Val Daone
The campsite of the inaugural birthday trip to Val Daone

In Spain, in September 2009, with Steffi and good friend Stu Goodfellow, we met two Italians. Now, if you’ve been on a climbing trip abroad, and met people, i would wager you’ve championed your home climbing areas while listen to others try and encourage you to visit theirs. It’s one of the nicest aspects to travelling like this. In this case, Super Paolo and his girlfriend Stef were from the North Eastern corner of Italy, and an area called Val Daone.

They convinced us (it wasn’t hard) to plan a trip to see them. The next question was when. Now, i can’t for the life of me remember how we came to the decision, and i think it took a lot of faffing with dates but somewhere down the line, we arranged to go for my 26th birthday, much to the dismay of my mother. (“But you won’t have anything to open on your birthday!” she remarked. My reply: “I’ll open the door of my tent to see a beautiful Alpine valley…”)

In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29
In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29

What began is a tradition that i have managed to keep going for the following six years and counting: to spend my birthday in a different country every year. To date, the list of birthday destinations reads Italy, Canada, France, Austria, Spain and Switzerland, with next year’s trip to Finland already in the pipeline.

It is now the highlight of my year and while everything else is very flexible, this summer fortnight is not. Finding places with suitable conditions in June is proving harder and harder, especially as flying to the Southern hemisphere where it’s mid-winter is currently out thanks to costs. I’m also running out of emergency i’ve-got-no-money-this-summer options, although Ireland still remains, as do a couple of others. Sooner or later, it’ll become “…in a foreign country” instead but for now, the tradition continues good and strong, with at least next year all good to go.

Turning 30 in Spain in the middle of June turned out to be a bit hotter than expected. Evening sessions were the way forward
Turning 30 in Spain in the middle of June turned out to be a bit hotter than expected. Evening sessions were the way forward

Mountains of the Mind

On our way south, i had made the suggestion that we should call in on the La Sportiva factory to arrange a visit. After all, i’d rather take half an hour out of our way, than to drive all that way only to be told “Come back tomorrow.” It turned out to be a good idea. However, after pretty much a week of solid rain, i was more than a little disappointed to wake up on the second Monday to find beautiful sunshine and glorious weather. Well, you play the cards you’re dealt i suppose.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get any photos of the factory itself, or indeed at all, as we were unsure of their policy on such things, and too concerned with our smell to ask i suppose. Anyway, the tour was fantastic, if only to those of us genuinely interested in these things, and it was fascinating to see the intricacies of making a rock boot. We followed the line through gluing the sole unit onto the leather, checking the leather for inaccuracies, and finding out that the rubber for the sole is actually put through a washing machine to remove a layer of silicon that sits on the surface! Did you know that each pair of Sportiva shoes goes through 115 pairs of hands? We ended our tour, after having seen their enormous new warehouse, with the shop, where me and Stu (probably not that sensibly) bought matching t-shirts, along with Steffi’s new shoes.

We sped back through stunning scenery, to arrive back at our dry site and hit the projects once again. More work conintued, into the darkness, making me glad i bought an enormous Black Diamond lantern before i left, which is thoroughly recommended! No actual progress, but a bit more info and i felt myself getting closer to my prize.

The next day involved a return to other projects, mainly back over the river and onto my 7a, and the spiggolo for both Steffi and Stu. Their (temporary) failure did put a little damper on my success, but they did return on the Thursday to finish the job, fair play to their perserverence! Stu, especially, deserves special mention for this one, as he continued to push and push until he could take no more. Steffi of course, hadn’t had the first session, but seemingly enjoyed the many attempts that are involved in climbing a boulder project.

After some food, we actually tried a new sector! Down in the forest, we found we were a little more sheltered, and able to crank out some more problems… evidently graded by someone else! While the 7b+ by the site seemed quite dooable, a 6c+ blatantly wasn’t. Ludicrous as this may sound, it was more like 7a+ and took me quite a lot of attempts to begin to get nowhere! This is coupled with the relatively easy climbs nearby, with rocky and dangerous landings that were again very undergraded. As the sun fell, so did my heart slightly, but once again we finished in the dark and returned home to a roaring fire.

…and then the sun shined!

It wasn’t until after we left that i noticed in the guidebook that Nudole was the first sector of the seven in Val Daone that should be visited, which is quite ironic and very true as it’s this sector that we found ourselves living in for a week and a half. As such, on Friday when the weather finally relented, it is somewhat unsurprising that this is the first spot we chose to play around.

Behind our camp was the fantastic 7b+ called Spigolo dell’anguria which i had set my sights on when we first arrived, but i decided to go exploring so we wandered off to check out the boulders on the opposite side of the lake. After a short walk, we got to Bloco 11, with amenable grades for all three of us, and discovered how beautiful the granite in this forgotten valley was. We made quick work of Figus 6a and Taccus 6b+ not to mention the 5c on the boulder as well. The rock was like a zoomed in gritstone, and with my lack of experience of granito, it was quite a shock to the system. For anyone planning on visiting, it’s worth noting that you really need to toughen up your skin and take plenty of Climb On, sandpaper and if possible, spare fingers…

After a prolonged period of sitting on the pads and enjoying the good weather, we finally got of our arses and headed over to Bloco 15, with slightly less problems, but a much nicer landing, and a lovely 7a to get stuck into. We all made short work of the spigolo to the left (although Steffi had by this point gone for a walk) and Stu set to working the opposing arete on the other side of the perfectly triangular bloc, while i plyed my trade on the just-off-vertical, thin masterpiece in the middle. This managed to take most of the day, with neither completing our respective projects, so we headed back to camp for dinner and a bonfire, although en route discovering the power of bouldering pads for carrying vast amounts of firewood, while Stu and myself carried back… a tree.

More projecting followed that evening, with my first real attempt on Dell’Anguria while Steffi and Stu began trying both the direct from my starting hold at 6b and the rising traverse to the right at 6a. I knew we were going to spend a lot of time at this bloc (we had already left the guidebook to fall apart in the rain here) so i was secretly hoping they took their time. Unfortunately that was not the case, as they both managed both problems without too much difficulty.

Saturdays forcast for the afternoon wasn’t great, so we made the most of the (short) morning by heading down the valley to check out La Plana, a forested sector were hoping would shelter us just a little. We managed to get a couple of hours in before we ran away, getting in a little crotch-ripping 6a, and a delicate yet beautiful mantle problem at 6a+.

Sunday was equally poor and we passed the time by going round and round Arco and Riva del Garda (a town, i am reliably informed, entirely populated by Germans) looking for a swimming pool to attempt to clean ourselves, and looked forward to the following day: a trip to the Sportiva factory. Yes, i am very sad.

A slightly belated return

And so, here i am again sat in North Wales, in the rain. Firstly apologies for the lateness of the returning post; coming home has seemed to have left a lot of work, namely cleaning up, sorting out the leaking roof in the house, and generally getting out around Wales again! Since i’ve been back, i’ve somehow managed to cram in canoeing, road cycling, sport climbing and of course, bouldering. Not bad with an injured shoulder…

The last (substantial) message i sent you was being posted from a small tent at the head of the valley, after connecting my phone to my laptop: something that made my day, considering the weather! It managed to rain for the next four days, giving us little enthusiasm, and little to do. We managed to get into  routine involving late starts, lunchtime-breakfasts and eventually heading into the nearest decent village known as Tione. Here we witnessed our first wonders of Italian ice cream and attempting to order coffee in Italy (see the trip report that WILL appear at some point…). After a brief foray into the local library (the following day: we were too late on the Tuesday) we discovered that there was indeed a local climbing shop in a nearby town called Sarche. From there, we soon discovered the famous destination from Arco was just down the road, suffered much less from the weather, and had some excellent limestone bouldering!

However, by this time, Arco was about an hour away from home. Still, it was worth it for the prospect of dry rock! So after our now-typical late start, we piled into the car and make the trek to Arco… only to find it was wet there too. Nevertheless we did find that it is the most splendid of climbing towns, reminding me very much of home, and we enjoyed more success ordering coffee and food, before heading off in search of open shops and a swimming pool, as by this time, now Wednesday i think, we were beginning to honk just a little.

However, after a short time, we found that it had stopped raining, and that the limestone was now dry, so we bought a local guide for a mere 6€ and actually started to climb! While the rock wasn’t amazing, and not a venue i would gladly go back to (for bouldering anyway, the sport climbing looked amazing) it was a welcome change from being sat in our sodden tent doing sod all!

Then, at long last, after three long days of wet weather at camp, we awoke to the most glorious weather you could hope for, as illustrated by Stu here! Our first day, inevitably, involved us playing around the site, although that story may have to wait for another day. Some 500 photos were taken by me, not to mention those by my comrades-in-arms, so there’ll be plenty of updates on this one, and the trip report should appear hopefully sometime soon. Keep checking back to hear more from our Italian Job.

On a separate note, i’m probably going to change the format for the site slightly, in the near future. The original idea of my blog was to give people information on different bouldering venues around Europe, and hopefully eventually the world, so please don’t be surprised if you click to find out it’s all a bit different! That being said, the speed i’m getting through putting the trip report together, it might not be that soon…

The Italian Job

And so, after an epic 1,200 miles spanning two days, we have arrived at our destination… and it’s raining. I’m currently sat in my tent in one of the most beautiful Alpine meadows (I didn’t think meadows actually existed!) that you could possibly imagine to see, and the only view I have is of a small grass bank. Admittedly, I could get dressed, get out of my sleeping bag and have a look around, but the rain continues to fall above my head, and with every thud that hits the roof of the tent, I become more reluctant to move. As I type, Steffi has closed the door of the tent and I’m not really that bothered. It’s just like being anywhere else really.

However, that being said, we’re not anywhere else, we’re in Val Daone, a small valley to the West of Trento in Northern Italy, having already been through France, Germany, Austria and of course, Italy and the views have been tremendous. After the lay-over in London, we left at about 5am, and got our ferry at 8. Through some divine brilliance (which had little to do with me) we managed to collect Stu from the train station in Reims on time and repack the car in the middle of la Gare. Then we were on the road again, rattling along French motorways, before finally deciding to stop for a kebab just after the border into Germany.

It’s always struck me how similar Germany and England seem to be, and this tiny kebab house in a small unknown village seems to have cemented my belief. The fact that it then started to rain seemed to add to it, and by the time we got into Munchen, it was officially fucking it down, to the extent that I couldn’t see the lanes any more. The land of unlimited speed limits may be one thing, but unless you’re happy to do 140mph, it’s a little scary, especially if you’re short one mirror…

After a little argument, involving me being told I need to stop, because I should be tired even though I wasn’t, we pulled off the autobahn and quickly pitched the tent, at around 11pm. A restless nights sleep left us to realise in the morning that the weather hadn’t relented, and we were still in the thick of it. At least we still had fucking miles to go.

It wasn’t too long (I think) before we stopped again for breakfast, again in a small non-descript village for some delicious ham and cheese pretzel and some sort of brilliant mohmstriezel, a glazed doughnut sort of thing with cherries in the middle.

Next stop was a brief detour to the La Sportiva factory to arrange a visit next week. We go on Monday, and while Steffi seems unutterably indifferent to the idea, me and Stu are both super keen. Apparently, there’s one guy who laces all the Sportiva boots, and I can’t wait to meet him! I’ll try and keep you posted.

Then for the final stretch. Even I got bored of saying “We’re nearly there, don’t worry” but after what seemed like an extended eternity (through blistering heat this time, just for variety) we finally drove through stunning mountain passes, looking at deathly drops, imposing cliffs and breathtaking scenery before eventually pulling into Val Daone itself. The campsite we were offered for €5 a night each seemed awful, really, so we drove up the valley and finally found the photo you see below. You might think it’s fake, but believe me it’s not, and that is exactly where we are. Hope you’re jealous…

free camping - the image we had before we went

London Calling

Okay, so i’ve been a bit slack in terms of posting anything on my blog. In fact, in recent weeks, you’ve missed out on my eventual ascent of Utopia Traverse into Left Hand at V7 after 10 months of effort (i have written an article about it, which should appear soon), a quick ascent of a tricky V7 in the Brenin which doesn’t sound like much, but took a little lateral thinking during my training, and a speedy success on Left Wall Traverse V8 at the Cave of Justice. I”ve also had some visitors, cooked some local cuisine (shoulder of Welsh Lamb with Honey and Rosemary glaze, leeks, carrots and roast potatoes for those interested), and been for a walk over Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr in a horrible drizzly shit. At least now you can see why i’ve not been writing!

And now the time has finally come, and i am not in the village. I left at 5pm last night, almost straight from work, and after a brief stop in Birmingham, made it to London at about 3am. On the journey, i managed to figure out some pieces of advice which may be helpful:

1. Stopping on long journeys is not always beneficial, as you can struggle after a long rest.

2. Directions are only any good if they haven’t closed a section of your route!

3. The A1 isn’t that easy to follow despite the fact that it is the A1.

4. Finding your way through Central London is stressful, but not really conducive with the relaxing effect of smoking…

So today, we’ve spent most of the day cruising London, visiting Dalston, Monument, London Bridge, Brick Lane and Mile End. In many ways i’d forgotten how much i love the big City, with it’s throngs of people, hustle and bustle and shops, cafes and pubs on every road. I’ve always felt this but there’s something very magical about our capital, and i normally find it a joy to visit. It’s also a great place to catch up with old friends, and it was nice to share a bagel in Mile End Park with Marta, who i hadn’t seen for over a year.

Anyway, England’s opening World Cup match may have to wait as an early night beckons, before a 4am start to get the ferry onto the continent. Another stop, this time in Reims, will hopefully be the last before finally getting down to Italy by this time tomorrow. Or maybe that’s a little optimistic…