After our failed attempt at getting to Italy in the Desire, and then our failed attempt to go shopping in the Desire we were ready to accept that the driving days of the little saxo were over. Luckily for us our friends Dave and Sandra were keen to go.
Cadarese is just south of Domodossola, which is just over the border from Switzerland in northern Italy. My friend tipped me off about this beautiful crack line there called ‘The Doors, rated 8b. I googled it and found a video of Matteo Della Bordella climbing it after taking all the bolts out of it. It’s sort of amazing that anyone would ever see this line as a sport route, but then again we’re in Italy now, not the peak district. But the route just looked amazing and I instantly had my heart set on trying it.
We arrived in Cadarese and we were at first a little underwhelmed by how the crag looked – sort of vegetated, broken rock and in the trees. But then we got underneath the routes and we were instantly psyched! The routes are a good length, the rock quality is basically perfect and the lines, are well, lines – big corners, beautiful cracks of all sizes up slabs, steep walls and even roofs.
The downfall? The bolts! Having done a philosophy degree I generally like playing devil’s advocate and tend to argue against the staunch British anti-bolting ethic. I don’t mind bolts, I can tolerate them on granite routes, in between cracks and at anchors. I have also been known to argue that in the UK our history of obstinate no-bolts ethic has done a lot to hinder the progression of British climbers. However, all this ‘open-mindedness’ flew out the window when I saw these perfect cracks with a line of bolts next to them. My heart sank and I felt deeply unsettled at the prospect of climbing these beautiful cracks with only quick draws on my harness. Clearly I can’t shake off my British roots after all!
On the first day we did a bunch of these ‘sport routes’, and slowly I eased into the idea of them. We were all climbing them a lot quicker than if we had done them on trad, and Sandra and Maddy were probably getting back into the granite at a quicker rate than if they had been placing gear. That being said, I still felt a little sad. Dave and I did a really cool 8a called ***, which would be fully protectable on trad, and would have made an awesome E8, or 5.13 R. Any Italians keen to chop?
Feeling a little sad I was psyched to sniff out ‘The Doors’, which I knew to have had the bolts chopped. And I was so pleased that it had – what a line! One of the prettiest cracks I’ve ever seen, and close to 40m. ‘Splitter’ enough to look nice, but broken enough to have some really interesting movements.
One problem with Cadarese is that I really do not think it is a summer venue. With expected highs of 29 degrees, we thought we could just wake up early and climb in the cool morning air. Unfortunately, it never got anywhere close to ‘cool’, even in the middle of the night. What’s more – we were also faced with ridiculously humid conditions. All in all, I don’t think I’ve sweated as much as I have in Cadarese since being in Thailand 4 years ago.
So what of The Doors? I was told it was 8b, but I felt like I should try to onsight it anyway. It may not be the best idea if you want to be tactical in terms of saving energy etc, but I feel like trying these things makes you a much better climber over all, and you never know – you just might get lucky! I managed to get past the tricky start and the section of baggy fingers/ring locks, which I was quite pleased with. But then I miss-read the first proper crux and fell off in a sweaty heap. I then went to the top and set up a top rope to give it a proper look. The first crux is really cool, with some thin locks and a big move off a side pull. Then it gets easier to a cheeky sting in the tail with a big move to final jug. All in all, I have to say that this route is, as the yanks say ‘totally bad-ass’.
The next day I warmed up, worked out a few more moves and gear and then went for the lead, take two. My tactics were to climb as slowly as possible. There are enough rests so I knew I wouldn’t get particularly tired, but the main crux would be not over-heating. We had found that as soon as you over heat, you can’t cool down again and you become a hyper-ventilating mess of sweat.
Imagining myself to be a sloth or something, I slowly made my way up the rock, managed to stay clam and therefore reasonably cool, completing the route that try. I really enjoyed the route, but I must say that it would have been much more enjoyable and probably easier, if it had been cooler. And what of the grade? I think 8b or 5.13d is a little steep. Dave and I thought it to be more like 5.13, or 7c+-8a+. We in Europe, are no crack masters and given the conditions, perhaps a visiting American would think it easier? As always, I find anything to do with grades, hard to say.
The next day, our final day in Cadarese, I was feeling particularly tired, but there are actually a lot of cool ‘clean’ lines in Cadarese at ‘sector trad’. Robo-Maddy, always up for ‘one more pitch’, launched herself up a 7b flared-chimney at the hottest part of the day. I really think that her efforts far surpassed mine on the Doors. With her power-screaming, close to an asthma attack and dripping sweat like a shower onto me belaying below, I sort of wished she would just give up and let the suffering be over. But Madeleine Cope, never gives up and she saw herself clipping the chains, a broken, but successful lady.
Every single route I did a Cadarese was good, from 6a to 8b and we left Cadarese content, albeit slightly worn-down, all of us keen to return at some point soon!