Flashback Melloblocco 2008, a day climbing Luna Nascente
This too is what rock climbing and the Melloblocco is all about: a normal story about a happy day climbing with Patxi Usobiaga and Curt Marazzi.
This is a story we've wanted to recount for a year. It's certainly a normal story, nothing special. One of those which take place every day between climbers. Perhaps this is why it springs to mind every now and then, accompanied by a warm smile. It took place during the Melloblocco 2008 when a champion, Patxi Usbiaga, and one of the most extrovert climbers, Curt Marazzi, teamed up to climb Luna Nascente, the beautiful classic multi-pitch in Val di Mello.
It's worth noting that Usobiaga, the two-times winner of the Lead World Cup, winner of the Rock Master 2008 and first person to on-sight an 8c+, had never climbed a multi-pitch route previously, had never climbed cracks, had never even placed a camming device... But above all it is worth nothing that the two of them, when they returned safely to the base of the route, had that sparkle in their eyes of climbers who had "seen the light". Is this perhaps because climbing offers absolute beauty and pure happiness, regardless of the grade of a route?
A SPECIAL MELLOBLOCCO WITH PATXI
by Curt Marazzi
"No no noooooo amigo! When you set up a belay using camming devices, where both of us are attached, then you've got to make sure that the safety system doesn't break down from one moment to the next. The previous belay where you used just a single Camalot was wrong, but what you've done now isn't right either. You can't use two Camalots connected only to your rope. Use these slings, OK? "Mui bien amigo, now I go" And if the next belays hold up, then today I'll only die of laughter. And there's plenty of that!
What a bloke Patxi is! He really is a good, great bloke. Fun, really fun. Superfluous to say he's a great climber but... two or three things still need sorting out. Like how to set up a belay properly, like how to place trad gear, like the fact that after not even twenty minutes walk-in he seemed as if he was about to give birth... Bravo amigo, this really is going to be a great day!
"OK, safe. Climb when ready."
"Hey Curt, but on this route the pies de gato (climbing shoes Editor's note) are mui importanti eh?"
"Listen here, Basqueman, it's true that you've got E.T. strength, but don't tell me that Luna Nascente in Valle di Mello requires delicate footwork... Come on amigo, give me my Camalots back, there's a bomber placement just above us, let's clip your rope straight away, take these two for the next belay and... off you go! And since you don't know how to place them, what's the point of carrying all this gear? Ma hombre, this time make sure the belay is decent, OK? I've got a family...
"Buena Curt, y vado"
...Luna Nascente, footwork required... come off it! What is certain though, watching how he climbs: the safety margin he has is disarming, despite not placing any gear whatsoever. He'd never climbed cracks before, never even climbed a multi-pitch route, doesn't know how to place trad gear, but looking at him it seems as if he's playing in his garden at home. Bravo amigo, you're really strong... Hey hey hey, what am I daydreaming about? I'm here admiring the Catalan climber, but I don't even know what our next belay will be like.
"No amigo, what is esta cosa? Nos es un belay. Have you never flicked through a climbing manual?"
"Yes Curt, but they don't have any interesting training tables. They are all too easy for me."
"Hahaha... No stupid, what I mean is, haven't you ever seen drawings about how to set up a belay?"
We continue upwards and the higher we get the more fun we have, in perfect union, despite the undisputed difference in climbing abilities. He, powerful, dominates all while I... I scramble up only because I know the route well, otherwise I wouldn't stand a chance. What excites me most is watching the transformation in his eyes as one pitch follows the next. Something has gone click in his brain, I'm absolutely certain. He's discovering a new game, or rather, the same game where he is the undisputed world leader, but with a different pack of cards. Yes, I'm certain, something is happening.
"Hey hombre, this is the last pitch. Non es difficile, esta un poco psicologico ma facile. You can't add any pro 'till the belay, but what difference does this make to you?"
"But, y quanto es psicologico?"
"Un poco amigo. Un poco. Climb this small crack, place a good Camalot, better still, place two since the law of numbers states that perhaps one of them will hold, then mantle onto the slab, this is the boulder crux, then continue on up."
"Ma from the Camalot to the trees esta un poco lungo... I cannot use anything?"
"No amigo, this pitch requires footwork! Hahahaha"
"OK Curt, I'm happy to try."
Off he goes, he climbs the crack, races up it, places two Camalots, mantles onto the slab, climbs another 2 meters then turns to me and says "Is this the crux?" "No, you've already digested it. It's easy now up to the tree, trust your feet... footwork, footwork and up you go."
"Hey Curt, this is a bit dangerous" ... he climbs another two meters "Also a bit psico" ... and continues a bit more then fixes me and adds "Curt, it's also a bit dangerous" ... up he goes... "this pitch is demanding, for me it is the most dangerous." I'm lost for words....
Yesterday I had picked him up from Milan airport at one o'clock. At three we were at the crag and, seeing that he was a bit tired, poor boy, he sent the following sequence: one 7c+ on-sight, four 8a's on-sight and another 8a/b on-sight. "Go hombre, the only difference is that the rock you're climbing today is flipped the other way round!" It's a slab, trust your feet amigo, you're cool man!
"Safe! This time the belay is good." "Huraraaay, good on you! I know it's good because you're hugging a 40m larch tree!" Thinking about it, perhaps now he's the one making fun of me...
We reach the summit, pat each other on the back (I need circa 15 minutes for his), shake hands, say the usual blah blah blah that you all know about. But this time something is different, something more powerful. His eyes! Happy, light, different from yesterday. As if some strange lever had managed to take a locked door off its hinges, a door sealed and rusty due to years of sacrifices, of nerve-wracking pre-competition isolation waits, stressful days at the crag where everyone knows who you are and that's why they always expect the best performance in the world. I'm not sure what it was, but something happened, of this I'm certain.
"Thanks amigo, for me today was a magnificent day. Thanks!"
"Thank you Curt, but what now?" "No no, no need to walk, we'll abseil back to our rucksacks..."
A couple of months passed since that splendid day and in all honesty I hadn't thought about it much until one evening a good friend of mine phoned me and said "Hey Curt, I'm just back from Patagonia, guess who says hello?" "Michelle Hunziker? Kate Moss?..." "No no! Patxi, Patxi Usubiaga" "Wow, and what was he doing down there?" "He told me he wanted to learn how to place Camalots, so that this year in Val di Mello perhaps he won't mess up the belays."
I knew it, I was right! Thanks amigo, you're fantastic. And a toast to climbing!