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As always, flying is far more glamorous to those who don’t do much of it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some high flying exec, who boards a plane for some far flung destination every second week, but when you live on the arse end of the world, flying and particularly, flying for a really long time is part and parcel of climbing at awesome venues around the world. So, it was with the usual trepidation that I boarded my longhaul flight to Milan, praying that there would be some good films and some extra space. I was awarded on my second leg with a full row to myself. Nothing to it really, two valium, an eye mask, ear plugs and whammo, I was in Milan…
Even though I had done the same drive before, I was flabbergasted by the panorama that greeted me as I passed over the border into Switzerland. Brimming with excitement, I averaged somewhere around 160kmh for the majority of the journey and I was by no means the fastest driver on the road. My friend Barti had organised an apartment for us in the town of Chironico, meaning that we could walk to most of the boulders within 15 minutes, which left extra time for coffee and sweet treat consumption. Back in the ancient past, when I was a student or just a povo bastard, climbing trips meant scrounging as best you could, tuna pasta and the occasional beer. It also meant coming home a couple of kilos lighter and falling upon whatever food you could find in the pantry. Not anymore. These days, its all Barolo, Chianti, cheese and chocolate. And not even the cheese with a greenish tinge and a special label. By the time I arrived at the crag each day, I already felt pretty full of lard and my body was already craving more sugar. By day three I was feeling like Amy Winehouse and planning my own trip to the Betty Ford Clinic upon my less than triumphant return to Australia.
All that aside, the trip started well. I got my eye in on the first day, before we headed up to the Gotthard Pass to beat some low cloud. What an amazing venue, Possessing everything that Australia doesn’t. High boulders on a mountain plateau, surrounded by high peaks and a stream running straight through it. I climbed the amazing Suworow, 7b+, a high and compressiony arete, with a sweet final slap for the lip and a beached whale mantle. Stellar start to the day. I also managed to knock off a first ascent down by the river, a big off handed dyno to a good rail and a steady top-out. Probably, around the 7c+ mark. It may have already been climbed, but was marked as a project in the guide, so I’ll claim it anyways…
After that, it was back to Chironico. I had a bunch of things in mind, including a little unfinished business. I had a good lash at Le Pilier, 8a, on the last day of my last trip, peeling off the final move from exhaustion on each burn, screaming in frustration, knowing with each attempt that the opportunity was slipping away. Well, I made up for that pretty quick smart. I reacquainted myself with the moves and then waited for the sun to hide away and latched the finishing jug. Redemption. On the same day, I slunk my way up the weird and crimpy Salut a Toit,7c+, french for Salute the Twat I believe. I was feeling pretty strong, ready to unleash the fury, but then, of course, the rain arrived. We had been assured that October is the driest month in Switzerland, but I call bullshit on that, as it seemed to piss down or threaten to, almost every second day. Luckily, there are so many options for climbing, that if it was raining in Chironico we could always head to a mountain pass which had a very different weather pattern or even up to Brione. And, if worst came to worst, there was always the Arabesque cave, though I had already done all the worthwhile problems there on my last trip.
I was starting to feel pretty strong, but frustrated by the weather on most efforts. Even when it wasn’t raining, it was damp in the air, making everything feel just a little damp and much harder than it actually is. That, or I’m just a complete hack and am nowhere near as strong as I thought…
I spent a lot of time running around the forrest, just trying to find some dry rock worth climbing and was happy enough to get up some 7a’s on some days. I also spent time climbing with an old mate Stuey, a former prodigy and his 5 year old son, who was loving his bouldering. In-between some serious dummy spits, I got to witness him haul his little body up some very impressive lines, including some unrepeatable by adult classics. An enjoyable distraction in between attempts.
I didn’t really have too many projects in mind for this trip and was more than happy to just wait until I spotted something that took my fancy. One of the lines that most appealed, was Le vent nous porteŕa, 8a. A Fred Nicole classic. (As an aside, there is virtually no crag in the entirety of switzerland that doesn’t contain a classic 8a and 8b by the grandmaster of bouldering. He has been so active and has done so many hard lines, it is almost unfathomable that one person could be so good for so long). I jumped on this puppy and immediately liked the moves, I had them dialed down in ten minutes, but just couldn’t get it together in a oner. There is a fiddly starting match, followed by a big slap to the arête and then a weird and tricky drop in on to a small crimp and a jump round the arête to a massive jug. Game over. Usually, once the moves are dialed, I do a problem quickly and I came very close on a number of shots, but ran out of gas and had to call it a day. And then, rain!!! The amazing thing is, everything except the crux hold stayed dry in the wet, so the next day I had another lash, it all felt ok, but I was having the same issue. So, I walked away and had a play around on a few other things with the crew. We had to walk back past it to get back to the ranch, so I decided that maybe I’d just give it one more shot before calling it a day. A quick lashing off liquid chalk and I was topping it out. Sweet, a Fred classic ticked. As always, the trip flew past way too quickly and after no time at all it was home time.
We had one more day of climbing and woke to…. Yep, you guessed it, rain. So, we changed our plans and decided to meet Barti and Tabea near the susstenpass so we could climb there. And it was a great choice. One of the most amazing places that I have ever been. Boulders at 2000meters, surrounded by snow covered peaks and unlimited rock. We also ran into moon athlete, Martin Keller, out to try his highlander project again before the winter set in. Was great to see him back in action after such a serious injury…
Well, that was that really, back in oz now and back at work, ready for the crazy season in the restaurant and back to my beloved grampians next week!!!!
Thanks to everyone for such a great trip, and thanks as always to the sponsors who help make these trips possible. Was amazing to have a crash pad ready and waiting for me upon arrival, so cheers Ben.
Here’s a list of some of the best problems that I did:
Le Pilier, 8a
Le vent nous poterá, 8a
Salut a toit, 7c+
Project 7c+ FA
The real shield, 7c
Auto pilot, 7b+
Serre moi fort stand, 7b+
Karma police, 7a+
Selection door, 7a
Number one, 7a