We have had a fantastic 10 days climbing in Statte (in the heel of Italy), but one thing that has been proven to me during this trip, is that I am absolutely hopeless at spotting a good route! Generally, I just go with the flow. I enjoy climbing for the places it takes me, the movement on the rock, and the sense of achievement when I do something I think I can’t. I don’t get too obsessed with grades, or the number of falls, or whether I am on a top rope. I don’t particularly enjoy leading, so I don’t do it very often! I usually just get on the routes that Jon suggests and that works fine for me. Whenever I suggest a route, inevitably it ends up being a nightmare in one form or another.
At the same time, I do like to push myself and on this trip I do have two mini goals. One is to tick a 6b+ as that is the hardest route I did last year and I would like to at least match that, and the other is to do a 6c as I have only ever done one 6c outside. (When I say “do” or “tick” or “send” I mean seconding or top roping the whole route without falling off, leading does not have to come into it). My system for achieving this is to just get on any route that Jon does, and see how far I get. Sometimes this is all the way to the top, other times I can’t get past a crux move. This system generally works, and 4 of the routes we have done over the last 10 days really illustrate this.
The first one was a 6c called Fashon in the Settore Solarium area of Statte, which we did on the second day of our visit. This has an initial steep section on good pockets, followed by a tricky traverse and then some very delicate climbing up the face. Jon took his time on it but there didn’t seem to be any desperate moves, so, although I thought the initial steep section was likely to be insurmountable, I gave it a go. I set off through the overhang, choosing a slightly different sequence to Jon, focussing on my feet, and to my total surprise I managed to power through the steep section! I suddenly found myself on the tricky traverse. I slowly navigated this, shifting my weight gently from one foot to the other, and reached the base of the headwall. I had reached the final section and still hadn’t rested on the rope! Was this actually going to happen! I slowly set off up the headwall, using tiny finger holds and almost non-existent smears for my feet; it was a very fine balance between staying on and slowly toppling off. And then I used the wrong hand to grasp the only hold around! It was a small pocket that only fit the tips of two fingers, and I had put the wrong 2 fingers in it! I needed to change hands, but I had nothing else to use and I couldn’t move my feet. In desperation I popped for what I hoped would be a higher hold – it wasn’t good enough, I toppled off the rock and onto the rope. I was so annoyed with myself, I know better than to pop for unknown holds. I re-established myself on the route, went up on the correct hand and slowly but surely worked my way to the top. I was so close! Having not believed I could do the first section I very nearly flashed it. We didn’t get the chance to revisit that route, but I would love to go back and give it another go. It gave me belief that I can do steep walls, and that I can do (the right) 6c.
Buoyed up from this almost success I spotted another 6c on the same buttress (Ho Fatto Fovrte e si e’vrotto). This one wasn’t quite so steep and followed a tufa up to a nice looking wall. I could sort of see what you needed to do in the initial section, and I had belief that I could do it. So I quickly decided this would be my next project. Jon was somewhat more dubious, but I ignored his doubts and chivvied him onto the wall to take the rope up for me. I am not sure he has forgiven me yet! The initial section was fine, going up the tufa was fairly straight forward, the problem came trying to get onto the headwall above. At the top of the tufa the angle changed from overhanging to slightly off-vertical. Simultaneously the handholds all disappear. So it was absolutely desperate trying to get established onto the slab. The whole character of the route changes at the top of the tufa, and you need to climb in a completely different way from one move to the next. Jon managed to on-sight it, but was somewhat taken aback by how hard he found it in comparison with “Fashon”. Needless to say I did not get very far. I reached the top of the tufa and simply could not go any further, no matter what I tried. Not the best choice for a project!
Later the same day we went across to the Capitan Harlock sector on the other side of the gorge. We scrambled up an overgrown path to reach the base of a clean, white cliff, which had small pockets dotted around it but was otherwise smooth and featureless. “This looks fantastic” says Jon. What???? I looked back up along the line of the 6b he was looking at and saw a blank wall with a few small pockets in it. Where were all the little features? Where were the small intermediate crimps and ripples that I always use? This looked desperate to me. He saw my complete lack of enthusiasm and decided to start on another 6b, Hello Spank, which looked almost as bad to me. He started methodically working his way up, doing some quite big moves between what looked like decent hand holds, so I began to relax a bit. And then he got to the one-finger pocket. The middle finger of his left hand disappeared entirely into this pocket, his feet were on tiny edges, and he was making a big move up with his right hand, only using the one-finger undercut. I had visions of his feet slipping, his finger getting stuck, and a bloodied mangled mess emerging out of the pocket. None of that happened of course. He completed the move smoothly, the finger extracted without any problems and he continued to the top of the route uneventfully.
Back at the base he had an enormous grin on his face. “That is probably the best route we have done on this trip” he said. Really? I looked back up the line still not convinced. I put my rock shoes on and tried to keep an open mind. I can do this. The route was every bit as good as he said. It was a consistent difficulty all the way up, and there was always more to use than was initially apparent. Every time I made a move up not knowing what would be there, I found a good pocket or an edge. It was 20m of really enjoyable climbing.
After the success of Hello Spank we went back to the first 6b we saw, Haidi. I was still not convinced and was a bit climbed out by this time, but Jon went up it anyway and made it look like a walk in the park. I began to wonder if I should give it a go, but I was tired and I had my excuses lined up, so we walked out of the gorge after a day which, for me, should have felt great but was somehow unsatisfying. The thought of Haidi never left me for the rest of the evening, and I decided I should really go and do it. There was no valid reason not to. So a couple of days later we were back at the base, and this time with a more positive attitude, I set off up the route. It was every bit as fantastic as Hello Spank. There were plenty of holds and I thoroughly enjoyed the movement between them. Even though the grade was close to my limit, I was relaxed enough to be able to enjoy climbing for the sake of climbing. I loved every minute.
My experience of climbing in Statte has simply confirmed my belief that I should just get on anything and give it a go. That I really cannot trust my first impressions of a route, whether it be good or bad.
On our final day in Statte, I cruised up Grande Messner, another typical Statte climb with a steep section and a roof low down leading to a very delicate headwall on tiny crimps and smears for the feet. Almost exactly 6 weeks into the trip and I got my 6b+ tick!