Vans, Cracks Snow and Beer

27 hours and 7 countries of driving and finally we are in Bondo in the Swiss Alps of Bregaglia. We can see the sun setting on the north ridge of the Piz Badlie and it looked as good as I had read about, but first things first, food! The only restaurant we found didn’t have an English menu, so wow did we order wrong. 14 Swiss Francs for basically fried eggs and ham did not fuel us well! It’s ok we thought, we can stock up in the morning at the village shop. The next morning, the shop doesn’t open and we remember it’s Sunday, no chance.

Aidan and I generously split our last sandwiches with Rich and Hannah and we begun the long slog up the base of the Piz Badlie. Arriving at the bivi spot by 1pm we ate the rest of our feeble sandwiches and decide to head up the 1,200m North ridge. We know this is the descent for our target of the Cassin route the next day and learning the route will really help tomorrow when abseiling down. 1.30pm – 2pm seems not exactly an alpine start for such a big route, but by 4.45pm we were near the top and spied the descent. This helped a lot as our friends who didn’t suss it took nearly 5 hours to get down. That’s tip 1.

A lovely bivi and a sleepless night saw us set off on the Cassin route at just after 7am. 2 parties ahead quickly became 1 as we passed them early. We had split the little food we had left for the route between us. Aidan and I had jelly babies and a few wine gums and Rich and Hannah 5 ginger nuts, maybe not quite enough! Tip 2, go to an open shop!

The party ahead were a guide and client and they moved fast. They were a blessing and a nightmare rolled into one. Route finding was easy behind them, however two terrifying rock falls kicked down were extremely scary. We were very lucky that nature called for Aidan, therefore stopping us for a few minutes. If this had not happened it would have been a direct hit. Tip 3, get on the route first! I’m learning. The rest of the route went well and a fine decent finally took us back to the van tired, hungry but happy. Tick!

Van issues slowed us the next week a little but we still managed plenty of climbing; some less famous big routes along with some shorter routes on the brilliantly named “Bio Pillar”, all based around glaciers and a huge dam - bizarre and spectacular scenery! It was time for phase two of the trip, the Val de Mello on the Italian side.

Val di Mello has amazing steep cracks and very bold runout slabs. We eyed up the classics once again and we headed for Luna Nascente. As with classics there were already about 4 teams ahead of us, damn our lazy morning! So we chose the equally fine if considerably less protected Polimago. This climb featured full body squeeze chimneys, amazing comer cracks and an epic 15- 20m unprotected traverse - huge fall potential but we joined Luna Nascente high on the route without too much trouble, brilliant!

That evening we discussed the next plan, we needed to take one of the vans to a garage down the valley and also fancied using the ice gear we had brought all this way. So we headed down and round, dropping the van off on route, to the Bernina range. Here, there are plenty of snowy peaks which all summit close to 4000m. We chose the North Spur of Central Peak on Piz Palu (3905m) which contains 250m of easy angled snow ice, followed by around 10-12 pitches up VS, and then snow/ice for a further 200m to the summit. The joy of climbing up here is the fact that a lift can take you right up to the glacier making the approach easy, but the tight fisted Brits that we are realised it would cost at least half our return petrol money - so we started walking. Admittedly we did load Hannah onto the lift with the bags, a little easier.

A real Alpine start lead us across the glacier and up the ice slopes quickly and we were soon on the rock ridge. The only issue was the wind, it was blowing hard. The guide book states that dry conditions are best for the rock so the wind and snow were not ideal. Big boots, gloves and jackets were needed all day meaning the cruxes were hard. The final snow slopes burned the legs but we trucked on (or Aidan pulled me!). The descent was long down a snow ridge but some huge bum slides helped speed the process. As we arrived back it started to rain, hard. Pay to stay in the hut? It looked expensive. A lovely 2 hour walk down in the rain and dark following the lifts path got us back to the van and beer. 4 in the van that night made to a lovely cosy evening.

We had 1 day left before the long journey back and an obvious classic yet to tick, Oceano Irrazionale. We had to leave for home by the early evening the next day so Oceano nearly felt a little too bold an undertaking to take on as we had heard of good climbers getting benighted, struggling on the wide cracks and having epics just to get on the route. So we set off at 7.30am, fixed ropes lead us to the route easily and by 9.30am we were on the rock and the route went well (we do love the cracks!), summit before 1pm. Tick! Rich advised us of the new ab stations which avoided the huge walk off and we were back at the Van by 3.30pm and well in time. A great end to an awesome holiday. Classics ticked, beers drank and lots of fun had. Now roll on Scottish winter!

James Turnbull works in the Outside Rock Room in Hathersage.

By James Turnbull

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The Climbers Club Lundy Meet

For the most part of the week Lundy was enshrouded in mist proving the folly of its landmark lighthouse which remained resolutely hidden from view. Constant winds battered sea cliffs and frustrated climbers alike. Our appetite for favourable forecasts consumed endless hours of waiting although the luxurious accommodation of Millcombe House slightly compensated.

I had two secret weapons. The first was ‘Mowgli’ Steve, my climbing partner, who made possible the ascents of two classic E3s, Wolfman Jack and Ice. We also made an adventurous foray onto the 100m multi-pitch Ulysses Factor. The wet conditions on the serious and unprotected 1st pitch traverse made a mockery of its HVS grade. My second secret weapon was ‘Cordee’ Richard, my drinking partner. The nearby Marisco Tavern taunted our inactivity with the temptation of yet another beer. This was partly fuelled by the worrying entrapment on the Devil’s Slide by the overhead thunder and lightening storm.

Perhaps the most memorable day was when eight of us braved the weather and walked to Gannet’s Rock at the north end of the island. Some donned wetsuits to set up a tyrolean and go for a swim, some made the perilous journey across the rope and scrambled to the summit, while others photographed the antics of seals watching climbers watching seals. A school of dolphins and a peregrine falcon completed a worthy day.

I had hardly scratched the granite surface of a multi-starred tick-list but there is always next year…

Chirs Harle is the manager of the Outside Book Department in Hathersage.

By Chris Harle
The 'Book Man'

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Chris Harle
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