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On Hellzapoppin', a journey between the rock, sea and sky
Photo by archivio Ivo Ferrari
On Hellzapoppin'
Photo by archivio Ivo Ferrari
Montagna Spaccata and the sea
Photo by archivio Ivo Ferrari
Climbing at Gaeta
Photo by archivio Ivo Ferrari

Hellzapoppin', a journey through the history of climbing Ivo Ferrari


Ivo Ferrari and climbing trip back in time up Hellzapoppin', one of the most beautiful climbs in the Mediterranean, first ascended in 1977 by Gianni Battimelli, Fabrizio Antonioli, Paul Bellotti, Giorgio Mallucci and Cristiano Delisi.

Hellzapoppin' is a masterpiece. A real, irreverent vision, farcical and "nonsensical" and therefore a must, immortal. We're talking about the film, of course. Of that 1941 flick by Henry C. Potter which documented one of the most important and innovative shows on Broadway. But we're also talking of the route, illogical, unique and therefore beautiful that winds its way up Gaeta's extraordinary Montagna Spaccata which rises straight out of the sea. Hellzapoppin' came to life in the late '70s. In that middle period during which a new climbing era was invented which, rightly or wrongly, later transformed into a "sport". At Gaeta, too, the game of climbing began to change and the young "slovenly" Roman climbers were aware of little or nothing of all of this. And so it was a vision - in truth something more akin to a hallucination at the time - of Gianni Battimelli which gave birth to Hellzapoppin', with the heartfelt support of Fabrizio Antonioli, Paolo Bellotti, Giorgio Mallucci and Cristiano Delisi. A route which, even today, is a true symbol of beauty. Its history (as unmissable as the local bufala mozzarelle for which Gaeta is famous) is told by Gianni “Batman” Battimelli on unfinishade.typepad.com/climbing. A must read! Just like this short journey back in time on Hellzapoppin' together with Ivo Ferrari who, as always, accompanies us in search of unforgettable climbing pearls.

A TRIP BACK IN TIME by Ivo Ferrari

I'm in the midst of many "scents and smells", the fishermen have just returned and are unloading their catch, people move around hastily, just curious and there to buy something, in just a few minutes the port quay has transformed into a place to meet others, people push and shove, everyone wants to see, and I... I want to know. I go from one fisherman to the next, the number of fish of all shapes and sizes is considerable, I don't know much about sea fish and I ask, fascinated to find out more. I'm far more attentive today than yesterday, I'm in less of a rush...

Gaeta and its boats, Gaeta and its lighthouse that attracts my children's attention in the dark, Gaeta and its rich history of gunpowder and military sites, I only knew about Gaeta because of its famous military prison, whenever I got into trouble during my military service I'd be told "We'll send you to Gaeta" and... I abseil down to a wonderfully calm sea, it's hot, there still isn't a soul in sight, we're the first, Silvano looks at me as I disappear, swallowed up by the Via dei Camini, the first route established back in 1955 up the "faraglioni" sea stacks. A beautiful route, rich in holds and history, but now we're descending it, our destination is another route I knew and dreamt of "forever". So legendary that even now that my forearms have learned about mythology, I'm afraid of it!

The Sea is a few feet from me, calm as a mirror, I'm only a few feet away, so excited as to seem insecure, I don't know how to swim and even though I'm tied in to a 10mm rope, I really don't feel at ease! The smell of salt covers all the hand and footholds, what a strange place for a "northerner", but as time passes all new places I visit automatically become "strange". It's as if I'm back at school, I don't use books but I learn a lot more easily using my eyes, nose, ears... I know many other students like me, they have different accents, different cultures, but All are engaged in the same field, or rather study the same matter!

A quick tug and the rope slips out of the last anchor and falls next to us, now the only way is up, now I feel more like a sailor than a... Sometimes the in-situ gear, old pegs of a "fantastic" era shows signs of how the salty air keeps track of time. They're corroded, while the stainless steel hangers resist, screwed in to rusty bolts. Everything is great, everything is very unique indeed, we're in some far removed place, fake, like in a fairy tale! I wouldn't be amazed if, as I rack my gear and prepare myself, a huge fish swallows me and takes me for a ride like Pinocchio!

The traverse of Hellzapoppin' is like a scenic journey, if you suffer from seasickness you're bound to vomit! Slowly but surely I begin the "journey", I tightly grip the good holds crush the slopers, I don't look down and traverse off, leaving Silvano hidden from view as the rope follows behind. 1977, 2012, so many things have happened in the vertical sphere, countless climbers have repeated Hellzapoppin', loads, but not me! And today we're alone, today is a "first" and that makes me happy.

I reach the belay, sweating. I'd never be a good fisherman, the sea is too green, too dark... After another short we find ourselves on the famous terrace which the "formidable" Gianni BAT Battimelli had reached several times while creating the route. One could bivy here, a bivy with sea view, comfortable and with a perfect view! Sea, SEA, SEA!

Numerous bolts now make the route more amenable and if you fall your partner - if he hasn't fallen asleep at the belay, baked by the sun and caressed by the sea's music, can drag you out of trouble, but back then? Gianni had placed a homemade peg (a tent peg) and used nuts. I'd certainly have given up!

The pitches that follow are an anthology, the line illogically enters the logic of the face, climbs away from the terrace past a really difficult move, then continues along a curved crack. The more the Sea becomes, the more the void becomes the undisputed master, beautiful, perhaps rightly "unique". We ascend slowly, savour every move, we are lucky, the camera immortalises moments, our noses capture scents, our eyes and minds remember.

The penultimate pitch bring us to a ledge, there a long traverse and a nice forearm "pump" hurl me back on "mainland", among olive groves, oak trees and lush Mediterranean vegetation. I AM happy, finally I've climbed "history", finally Hellzapoppin' is a beautiful day in late December. We shake hands, and just like children we return to abseil and climb two more times. But by now I've become a sea man... Tied in to a 10mm rope of course!

I wish everyone a happy 2013
Ivo Ferrari





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