Two rock climbs in Val Mora
Beautiful Val Mora, on the border between Italys' Valtellina and Switzerland's Engadin and the story of the first ascent of two rock climbs, Gli svizzeri di qua and Mutandenbaum, by Martino Quintavalla
The first time my sister Margerita and I went to Val Mora was in 2006 on a family mountain bike trip. The place was so beautiful and we couldn't help but look around in search of new rock faces. We were 14 and 18 at the time, obsessed with climbing after having climbed continuously for a while, repeating routes and establishing new ones close to home. We knew that the beautiful valley wedged between the Engadine and Upper Valtellina contained some recent routes by Paolo Vitali and Sonja Brambati shortly before and that, in all likelihood, the best rock had already been taken. It's because of this therefore that we were surprised to stumble across a compact gray limestone cliff, apparently untouched.
A few days later, spurred on by our enthusiasm, we set off to cycle to the peak laden down with gear. We identified a possible track and then began one of those never-ending, indomitable approaches between pine trees and up scree slopes that those who've climbed in this area know all too well. Margerita reached the base absolutely exhausted. It was still early and it was chilly. The sun wouldn't reach the NW facing sheet of rock until the afternoon. We had something to eat, munching the usual cereal bars that in moments like those seem a godsend while at home they make you sick and, after having found a good place to start our route, we began to climb. That day we managed to complete only the first two pitches that led up to a beautiful tree-lined ledge. The face above us steepened up in all its beauty: runnels, pockets, small nobs... we couldn't believe we'd discovered "The Rock" in a place infamous for its loose and dangerous limestone peaks! Too tired to continue, we abseiled off and returned home content, because the most beautiful section of the face lay in wait.
After a week of rain we returned and opened the rucksack we'd hidden in a cave. We laughed at ourselves, since our yellow rope and transformed into something green and mouldy, it stank (it would later dry and stiffen into what seemed like a static rope) but after leaving it to dry out for a bit we managed to use it to climb. That day we managed to complete the route with two breathtaking pitches. Superb rock gorgeous, climbing up smooth slabs and run-out pro. As well as intense cold, in particular endured by Margerita who belayed me patiently while I struggled on the last pitch, hauling up the drill and batteries.
We immediately told all the climbers we knew that we had established what was perhaps one of the most beautiful routes in the area, "it's like Wenden," we said, though in truth we'd never been to Wenden before. We called the route , "Gli svizzeri di quà", a play on words that made us laugh seeing that the route is located in Switzerland. I hope no one feels offended by this.
I returned and repeated the route with friends and every time I was amazed I'd placed the bolts so far apart, resulting in real obligatory climbing. We've always based our climbing ethics of the concept of "real obligatory". And when you climb well, you're taken over by a wonderful feeling: thoughts run freely while your eyes gaze upwards and the body follows instinctively, knowing exactly where to go. Bolts interrupt this movement while the rope renders us slaves to an always vertical line, climbing is about a search and this search must be free to move. That's why bolts are always object of much criticism.
Of course, writing is easy, while climbing is a completely different kettle of fish: in fact, I rarely climb as I'd really like to. While other times, especially when the pro is runout, the mind doesn't empty out as it should do, but instead it fills with irrational fears that prevent you from climbing with ease. I think everyone has experienced this feeling and, consequently, sworn at the first first ascentionist.
After that wonderful summer of 2006 we climbed less and less: school, university, various commitments... but the lure of that face has always been strong, so much so that in the summer of 2012 I returned, this time a veteran of Wenden, together with Cristian Martinelli to make the first ascent of another route. And once again the style was minimalist: bolts only where necessary, all the rest trad gear. The result was another beautiful route, slightly easier but just as committing: Mutandenbaum. A new chapter wouldn't suffice to explain the name.
For some these four or five pitch routes won't be stimulating enough to deal with the long approach (30 minutes by car from Bormio + 1h bike / walk). But those who decide to give it a go, perhaps because they're already in the vicinity in summer to enjoy the mountains or the thermal waters, certainly won't be disappointed!
TOPO: Gli svizzeri di qua, Val Mora
TOPO: Mutandenbaum, Val Mora
Valtellina, Valchiavenna, Engadina: Falesie e vie sportive (Versante Sud)