The Italian Job - Scottish stylee

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Graeme Gatherer and Gary Connor - 28/09/2004

This year's trip to Northern Italy was not without mishap but a whole lot of climbing got done too!

First it was back to Cortina in the Dolomites for some unfinished business and after a quick wander round the climbing shops we remembered just how pretentious the place is. To top it off, the car with all our kit in it had mysteriously disappeared and we'd only been in Cortina 20 minutes. Back to the climbing shop where they spoke good English, to find out where our car might be. They pointed out that we'd failed to notice the hundreds of "we'll tow your car away signs", so 50 Euros later and the parking ticket launched into the nearest bin we were ready for some climbing.

After some warm up days on Cinque Torre, Falzarego and Volpera we were ready for our first test- the 16 pitch classic south arete of Tofana di Rozes. We dubbed this mountain as looking like the Buachaille on steroids - its HUGE! That night we bumped into Scott Muir and Dave MacLeod fresh from their attempt on Bellavista (it's a small world) and a few beers were enjoyed. Things could have all gone wrong when the grappas appeared but we stayed strong and managed the early start next morning.

So, 7 pitches and 2 hanging belays later on dodgy pegs and we found ourselves at the "traverse". The guidebook here is very misleading and 20m out on the worst rock ever with no gear above wild exposure we'd reached no mans land and another questionable belay. To top it off we had to reverse the pitch and endure another 10 minutes of sheer terror! The route actually took a very unlikely line through some exposed HVS ground but at least it had a peg or two. Our nerves now in tatters and another three 50m pitches of British 5a climbing before the easy exit pitches we'd already decided the rest of the "holiday" would involve much sport climbing.

The route was memorable to say the least but "character building".

A day cragging with Scott, Dave and Extreme DV Dave (Crag magic man) followed at Landro and we ticked the crag at Colfiere before we were ready for another affair with the mountains. Thing went well this time though and we bagged another 16 pitcher and a couple of wee 4 pitch numbers. Our spirits were rejuvenated and all was forgiven!

We took a quick run (seven hours) up Italy's supposed hardest via ferrata to see what all the fuss was about. A very pleasant day but really just 3 tower ridges stacked on top of one another with the safety of cables all the way.

So, nine days climbing on the trot and it was time to paint the town red. Cortina's locals bar was full and we tried our hand at table football only to be demolished by the seasoned pros. Oh well, if you can't beat them, get drunk and party! Many jugs of beer later and far too many grappas I left Gary stumbling down the road at about half 3 in the morning.

The sun was blazing in through the tent door and I woke still dressed in last night's clothes with the camp site owner getting very excited at me and shouting that I had to get to the "Ospedale" asap. Oh dear, where's Gary?

A litre of intravenous saline and tender nursing care all morning, Gary really had no excuses but a mighty hangover was endured by both of us for the rest of the day. We reckon he didn't make it far from the bar and the locals having never seen a drunken Scotsman lying in the gutter decided to call an ambulance! On to Arco next to chill out by the lake and a do a spot of easy cragging. Being tight fisted we didn't bother with a guidebook and got directions to an easy crag from one of the excellent climbing shops (E9 is the latest brand to be seen in by the way). Well there's bloody rock everywhere and we soon got lost. The easiest looking section on the nearest crag was located and we set about ticking a few routes. The crag turned out to be ridiculously steep and a day's effort in the blazing sun yielded me and Gary's first 7a and 6c+ Redpoints respectively. Not the day we'd planned but good result!

To complete our Italian tour we then made for Val di Cogne where we it was great to catch up with our friend Vivianna and her family and of course Bar Licone, our "local" every January. A brilliant day was had ticking most of the roadside crag at Epinel before Vivi, Gary and myself headed for the Val Ferret near Courmayeur and the modern 10 pitch classic of Venus ou bien Venise.

Gary bagged the first 6b pitch in good style whilst Vivi and I thrutched our way up finding it a couple of grades harder. Several beautiful slab pitches followed but it soon became clear that us Scots were not suited to the "vertical treadmill" that is slab climbing. Both of us found ourselves "running" between bolts on occasion. So the key 6b+ pitch was offered (handed) to Vivi who pulled some brilliant moves out of the bag. This then took us to the upper bastion which provided three awesome pitches through steep juggy roofs and corners. Now that's more like it!

10 abseills later and we were cruising down the path with huge smiles when the legendary Patrick Gabarrou came sauntering past. It got us thinking about maybe doing a route on the Tacul or the Grand Capucin next when I suddenly took a nose dive off the path and somersaulted into some rocks. My pride was dented but so were two of my fingers!

Oh well, holiday cut short. Gary bouldered for a day. I watched!

We were ready to face up to the Rosyth ferry and the legendary in-ferry entertainment that is the Bulgarian dance band.

Two and a half weeks of blue sky, pizza, cheap red wine, a free night in hospital, two broken fingers and nearly 120 pitches of climbing. That's what I call a great trip.

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