Bouldering at Ussel in Valle d'Aosta, Italy
Marco Nardi talks about the redevelopment and expansion of the historic bouldering area Ussel in Italy's Valle d'Aosta.
I've just finished an intense period at Ussel, one of the oldest bouldering areas in in the Valle d'Aosta, Italy. Every morning I looked out onto the mountains and saw these boulders, scattered throughout the forest and almost completely forgotten about. Ussel was one of the first modern bouldering areas in the valley and at the end of the '70's it was fairly common to see dozens of people wandering through this maze of boulders and climbing, always, without a crash-pad! Due to their height and difficulties some problems were really dangerous and grades reached about 6C. In the '80's "Rosa Canina" was climbed; at 7A, this was the hardest in the area and completely new compared to previous ascents as it didn't tackle a crack line but instead followed a series of tiny holds up a 30° overhang. With little footholds to speak of, this topped out with a big dyno and, without a crashpad, this must have been a pretty stiff test for that era. At the end of the '80's however this area fell into disuse as other, more famous and far harder areas were discovered.
In summer 2013 I decided the time had come to check it out and discover the area's potential. I realised immediately that the original, historical problems needed cleaning but I didn't think I'd unearth anything new. That summer I spent every day wandering through the forest, until my attention was caught by an 8m high boulder. Its steep, overhanging prow seemed climbable and as I began to clean it holds literally appeared from below the moss. That's how "Amélie" (7B+) saw the light of day, simply fantastic! A series of slopers and precise heel and toe hooks lead to the top of the arete, a difficult mantle and then the final 3 easy metres.
Thanks to this problem I realised that I have to look at the entire area from a different perspective and, armed with a ladder and brush, I began to clean the moss-covered rock and quickly put up a series of new problems, from easy 4A to difficult 7C+. "Revelation" seemed unclimbable at first: to the left of "Rosa Canina" a thin tufa seemed impossible to hold but in the end a foothold appeared thanks to some brushing and the moves became possible at 7C. I also got to work on an old project dating back to the 80's, a boulder located at the top of the hill with a 6C stand start. The sit start had resisted all attempts, probably due to a broken hold, but in the end I finally worked out the beta and sent "Butterfly effect" (7C+). This resulted in a strained muscle, but it's currently the hardest problem at Ussel.
Instead of 40 problems, Ussel now boasts 60 with difficulties ranging from 4A all the way to 7C+. There's still plenty of potential for more and while it's likely that I'll return in the future, at present I'm concentrating on establishing a new area in the lower part of the Aosta Valley...
by Marco Nardi
TOPO: Ussel, Valle d'Aosta, Italy