In March 2010, after noticing the description of the Via dei Ciclamini on my web-site, a climbing route of which at that time did not know the paternity, Simone Gianesini contacts me to tell me he is one of the openers, and to inform me of the availability of a report on the web-site muroduro.
In the exchange of emails and ideas that follows, the opportunity arises for me to join Mario Brighente and Simone, in the realization of a new project. It is about the opening of a new route on the Parete Zebrata, following a line that Mario has already spotted, in the intermediate area between the existing routes Spinelo and El Zugo. As a name for the new route I suggest Nozze d'Argento (referring to my 25th wedding anniversary), and this is agreed upon.
I understand that I am joining two people who already have extensive experience in opening new routes, I have a great curiosity to see how this kind of work is accomplished, and am excited to have the opportunity to actively participate.
We must take care of operating with a minimum risk for other possible people climbing or passing nearby, so we opt for a weekday. Punctual as a Swiss watch, on April 16, 2010, at 8:00 am, we meet at the parking lot of the Parete Zebrata. I can finally meet in person and shake hands with Mario and Simone, with some emotion, due to the fact that I have never before participated in the opening of a new route, and I have no idea of the problems that can arise, or the difficulties to be faced.
The first thing that strikes me is the amount and type of gear that the two friends take out of their car:
In addition to the normal climbing equipment, and a bag full of spits, I notice metal brushes, sorghum brooms, hammers, a hacksaw, a portable drill, a spare battery, and another strange homemade tool. Mario tells me it is used to clean the tunnels.
We load the material in our backpacks and on our harnesses; pleasantly reassured by the calm attitude of Mario and Simone, I follow them on the path forward, up to the route starting point. From their stories, I understand that there is some competition in the identification of new lines of ascent, and not coincidentally Mario has already begun bolting the first pitch beforehand, as a sort of "reservation" for the route.
The objective of the first day is to go up three or four lengths. We do not know how many lengths will be needed to complete the route, presumably between six and eight. It may take two or three days to complete the job.
A couple of notices like this are strategically placed to warn of the possible danger:
We start with Simone securing Mario:
Meanwhile, I watch Mario, burdened by the material and tools, who starts to rise, seemingly without difficulty, the first stretch of plaque, which seems to me extremely steep:
When Mario has reached a suitable spot, and has equipped the first stop, it's our turn. We prepare and begin to climb. Before I and then Simone:
The activity with most priority, during the first climb, is progressing along the route. So the greatest attention is being paid in assisting Mario, securing him and supporting him according to his instructions. It can happen in fact that he needs a tool, or nails, or a fresh battery for his drill:
Mario has previously scanned the wall with binoculars, and then determined with reasonable accuracy the path of the route. But the details are defined on the spot. My curiosity leads me to look closely at the way Mario stops now and then, looking at the wall above him, and deciding which is the best direction to take. I occasionally venture to make a suggestion, and sometimes I guess right, sometimes not, either because of my inexperience, or because I am in a less favored position.
Meanwhile, to save time, Simone goes back on a part of the previous length to perform an initial cleaning.
At the right moment, after setting a new stop, Mario invites us to reach him. Then Simone reaches my position, and we start to climb towards Mario. We can already appreciate some fun passages, some of which difficult, along the way:
In this first day, we establish a provisional stop on trees, located approximately in the middle of the fourth length. It is time to descend. It is at this stage that most of the cleaning work takes place:
With some disappointment, I realize that my two friends, totally absorbed by work, seem to be immune to hunger, and have no intention of stopping even for a snack. Then, with a slight sense of guilt (but not too much), I take advantage of my position at the stop, to silence the rumbling of my stomach, swallowing a few mouthfuls of food.
When, after a few hours of hard work, we finally land at the base of the route, I notice that we have spent the equivalent of a full working day on the wall.
We collect the material, go back to the parking lot, and have a great meal on the comfortable tables:
Bread and salami for Simone, tuna and onions for Mario, with wine of his own production, while for me a sandwich, yogurt and dried fruit, and much water to quench my thirst. And for all, a delicious slice of cake, prepared by Simone's girlfriend.
The exclamation comes spontaneous: "Mmmmhh how good it is, Simone, we recommend that you never leave your girlfriend".
Even more punctual, if possible, on April 21 we meet again, same time and same place. Mario announces, "Today we begin the day with four shots of Spinelo". After a moment of perplexity, and comforted by his explanations, I understand that he intends to climb up on the route Spinelo, which is located to the left of the route Nozze d'Argento. By going up for four lengths, and then traversing, we should reach the fourth stop of the new route.
Simone goes up first, I will be second. Mario, who perfectly knows the route, because it is just another creation of his, often gives us advices on the best way to overcome some of the most challenging steps. It is a great plaque climbing school:
After reaching the fourth stop of the new route, we start to rise again. Someone, to protect his eyes from the sun, wears dark glasses:
While someone else, who also fears the pollen, tries preventing its effects in some way, thus earning the nickname of "the Tupamaro":
Going up, we reach the fifth stop, from which Mario departs quickly along the plaque that leads to the top of the route:
After reaching it, he drills the sixth and final stop:
We climb up too, and reach him:
And then we exchange a warm and heartfelt handshake.
At this point starts the descent and the cleaning work. The work, depending on whether the wall is in itself quite clean or not, is more or less burdensome. Among the activities to be carried out, there is to clean holes and cracks from grass and earth, using a special hammer:
There is also to complete the nailing of the stops and lengths, and place lanyards in the tunnels. Here, looking down from above, I do not understand whether Mario is pointing to something, or having his mind confused with fatigue, is trying to drill the rock with his finger:
The wall shall be cleaned from the residues of earth, grass and dust, using the sorghum brush. The most tiring task is brushing the rock, where necessary, to remove the surface layer of lichens, which would not allow a good grip when climbing:
The fourth stop is properly nailed:
And then we go down:
Throughout the course of time, although we frequently say jokes and laugh, we pay the utmost attention to all the maneuvers we make, given that the environment is anyway a wall, and no mistakes shall be made, neither by fatigue nor by distraction.
And so, at the end of the day, we have spent about eight hours on the wall, again! We feel the fatigue, but the satisfaction is absolutely rewarding.
Before renewing the pleasant ritual of the afternoon meal, we take a souvenir photo:
It might look like any ordinary picture taken after a climb on the Parete Zebrata, if it were not for one detail that betrays the particular nature of the day: the broom hanging from Simone's harness.
After some weeks of rainy weather, we meet again on May 18, with a clear sky, same place and same time. The main goal today is measuring the lengths, and assessing the difficulty. We already know that the hardest lengths are the first one, the second one, the fourth one and the final part of the fifth one. We will try to free-climb them all, but we are aware that it may be a very challenging task .
Since the route is already fully equipped, we don't need all the equipment we used to, and therefore we carry a considerably lighter weight. There are however a brush and a broom for cleaning the last spots, wherever necessary.
The first length is confirmed to be difficult. We have to use all our strength and ability to go through the smooth and steep plaque, with two brief passages where we can not avoid pulling the referrals. Here is Simone while trying with great determination to overcome the second of these, just before the stop:
Mario does not seem particularly impressed by our huffing and puffing:
At three-four meters off the ground, right along the line of ascent, a dormouse has made its nest in a hole in the wall. What a pity we weren't able to photograph it!
Mario free-climbs without much difficulty the second length:
After climbing it up too, I have to agree with him that it is challenging, but beautiful:
On the third length, which is actually easy and fun, we can not help noticing some dirt, that we will remove during the descent:
The fourth length offers no discounts; Simone, who has since become the first climber, resorts to a little trick:
I have to follow his example. After three or four stubborn attempts, all of which end with a slip, I resign myself and pull a referral. Here I am, immediately after that point, with the leg still slightly trembling, clinging to the small roughness of the rock:
Mario, on the other hand, moving a little more to the right, finds a way to free-climb the stretch:
The fifth length is very long, and requires almost the entire length of the ropes. When it's time to tackle the challenging stretch of plaque that leads to the stop, Simone suffers a lot from rope friction. Mario and I, on the contrary, can fully enjoy the beautiful pure-grip passages. Here's Mario, at the beginning of the difficult section:
I willingly go for the sixth length, not too challenging. Here I am on the initial crack:
The length then continues on deep grooves, which allow a good foothold. When two grooves run parallel, it is also fun to use them in splits.
Once at the stop, after the due expressions of satisfaction, we place the route book. I correct a slight inaccuracy in my name, and write the first page:
During the descent, the cleaning is completed, as planned, and finally, at the base of the wall, the designated painter gets to work, trying to give his best:
"Guys, it's done, let's go for a snack, because the stomach is empty and growling!"
"Simone, what kind of cake did your girlfriend cook this time?"
"Tart with Nutella!"
"Mmmhh! My mouth is already watering..."
■ gb, 2010-05-21
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