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Manolo on-sighting Rock and Blues 8b+ at Kalymnos
Photo by Giuseppe
Manolo on-sighting Rock and Blues 8b+ at Kalymnos
Photo by Giuseppe
Manolo climbing at Kalymnos, Greece
Photo by Nicolò Zanolla
Manolo with his children.
Photo by Cristina
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Manolo 8b+ on-sight at Kalymnos

25.06.2009 by Vinicio Stefanello

On 19/06/2009 Maurizio Zanolla, alias Manolo, on-sighted Rock and Blues at the Olympic Wall on Kalymnos, Greece.

The news reached us throught the grapevine: Manolo had on-sighted an 8b+ on Kalymnos. This isn't a miraculous milestone achievement, we know, but it certainly is impressive when you think about what the 51 year old achieved the other day - read the final report by Mauro Giovannazzi if you still need convincing. It's impressive also compared to the recent peaks of absolute excellence, such as those by Adam Ondra, to name but one. It's impressive if you think that the first 8c on-sight was carried out by Yuji Hirayama in 2004, while the first 8c+ was carried out by Patxi Usobiaga in 2007. On a national level, perhaps the best on-sight result still belongs to Cristian Brenna, back in 2002.

Manolo certainly isn't new to performances at the upper extreme, he is a forerunner of all the limits of modern day sport climbing. And his 8b+ on-sight of Rock and Blues (the first pitch of Galasia Petra, first ascended in 2004 by Daniel Dulac at Olympic Wall on Kalymnos) came about after a series of 8a and 8a+ on-sights, but above all after a great failed on-sight attempt on Nadir 8b/c at Odyssey. Perhaps what is most striking is how in this day and age it's difficult to find a yardstick to measure climbing. So to remove possible doubts we thought we'd best speak to the Magician himself, to ask for a synthesis of everything combined with a vision of yesterday, today and tomorrow...

Manolo let's begin with the route Rock and Blues. Can you describe it to us?
The route is located at Olimpic Wall and is the first pitch of Galasia Petra, equipped and first ascended by Daniel Dulac during the 2004 Kalymnos rock Climbing Festival. Daniel freed only the first pitch and called it Rock and Blues. It's a magnificent wall of excellent rock, 40m high. The first section is slightly overhanging up small edges and is relatively easy, then it becomes vertical and compact on small edges almost all the way to the belay. A match made in heaven.

A detail is missing... the grade. 8b+ on-sight isn't a walkover. Can you confirm the grade?
Perhaps my opinion isn't the most trustworthy... the grade is probably a bit excessive but I want to underline, as always, that it's difficult to comprehend the grade on this style of climbing, above all when you manage to climb a route on-sight. You ask yourself: did I get the sequence right, did I miss an important crimp or foothold? On routes like these you reach the chain with pumped calves than pumped arms so it's hard to give it a right grade having climbed it only once. For me this is even more the case because I'm not constantly on form. Having said that, I managed a series of 8a on-sights during the run up to this climb, and the question was always the same: are they easy?! I didn't climb those never ending and classic Kalymnos routes but instead I climbed the more "orthodox" 30 - 35m pitches which always have that sting in the tail and which, above all, have a hostile angle which has never suited my style. I felt good on Nadir, an 8b/c at Odyssey which I fell off up high. The only other routes I climbed which were similar were on Spartan Wall and here too, honestly speaking, the grades seemed a bit "easy".

Let's talk about "motivation". Why did you attempt it? Or rather, why do you continue with such ambitious aims? Do you want to prove something to someone?
In this case the first answer is very simple: I attempted it because the route is beautiful and Mario Prinoth, who repeated it a fortnight ago, confirmed that the route is really beautiful. The second answer is that I went there that morning almost by chance, because getting my family up all the way to the base of the route that early in the morning seemed excessive, even it was the last day on the island. The sun hits the face at circa 11.00am and at 8.00am the temperatures had already soared to 30 degrees.

So how did it go?
Mauro Giovannazzi had kindly offered to accompany me and when we reached the base we decided that it was simply that route. Unfortunately the wind which had blown during the days beforehand had disappeared and the 6b warm-up was the worst on the island and reminded of some routes in the Dolomites. But the next 7b brought the standards back in line with the rest of Kalymnos. Sensations weren't great nor was I too ambitious when I clipped the quickdraws to my harness, also because the bolts seemed rather run-out and I even added a carabiner for a "retreat". But when I started climbing I set off convinced and really motivated, but at circa half height my motivation started to ebb.., it was hot, I was beginning to suffer and I started to question whether at 51 years of age it was perhaps best to rest at the next bolt, take a deep breath and set off again and enjoy it a bit more.

But you didn't do this. Again: did you feel like you had to prove something to someone?
No!! I didn't want to prove anything to anyone, let alone to myself... but each time I said that I want to give up I heard great and sincere shouts of encouragement from below... this more than anything else convinced me to try to the bitter end.

Let's have a look at the "arid numbers": in all honesty, what value do you attach to them? What rules do you apply when giving a grade and judging them and how reliable are they?
At times grade allow me to select routes which are often indecipherable, they are a useful piece of information. Other times they act as motivation to improve, but I'm not Adam Ondra and some help to steer clear of certain lines. Lately I've been finding it increasingly difficult to be objective when grading, and since I can no longer consistently rely on my physical capabilities I search for parameters to compare with other c"confirmed" reference routes. The only thing I can really do is attempt to compare a route with another which has similar characteristics. I think it's right that someone who climbs a route can give a personal opinion, even if obviously this will then settle down with repeat ascents and the "quality" of the repeater, and I think it's excessive when the grade of a route is given by someone who has never even climbed it.

All this information wouldn't be complete if we didn't mention your 51 years of age. Some might think that you've sold you soul to the devil, or that your personal improvements demonstrate that climbing hasn't progressed all that much... What do you think? Have we reached the limit?
My 51 years of age strike home above all when then express themselves with continuous and frustrating small injuries. But it's strange that my latest hard sends have convinced me that, physical problems set aside, I can still improve a great deal and this in itself is highly motivating. With regards to the climbing difficulties, I certainly cannot generalise, but what is clear is that on certain angles we haven't made great steps forward. Only recently the new generations have shown how stagnant climbing is and how much can still be done.

Perhaps one should talk about different ball games: slab, overhangs etc.. but also crags, multi-pitches and trad. Do you think there'll be a synthesis of these different ways of interpreting climbing, or will this specialisation continue?
I don't really know but one thing is certain: for many people slabs and overhangs are two very very different entities. There are still very few top athletes who manage to on-sight hard routes of all angles. Undoubtedly the increase in explosive power has slowly but surely banalised individual crux moves, and this is the answer not only to improvement but also to routes being downgraded. Having increased margin on the hardest moves of a route results in increased control and more safety on a multi-pitch, but I don't think this is the trend, the future, perhaps it's only a form of emulation or perhaps a parenthesis. I'm certain that progress abounds everywhere but at the top there will always only ever be a few superlative climbers who know how to deal with all situations.

If climbing isn't only about numbers, can you explain the spirit and what you searched for as "pioneers" and what differences there are (and there are plenty) to nowadays?
when I began climbing, climbing was anything but numbers. It was environment, dreams, freedom, wind and transgression. Trad, on-sight and redpoints were still one single word. Climbing then became mainstream and for a period it became a sort of obsession until I forced myself to stand back and analyse myself, to make fun of myself and understand the the time for numbers had passed. But, unconsciously, I was slowly beginning to lapse back until one day my son asked me why, every time I talked about the mountains, I talked about numbers. Climbing then returned to being that stimulating game of research which at times is so profoundly personal that it needs nothing else.

As an observer-actor where do you think climbing is heading?
I think it was Cassin who replied to the question "where is alpinism heading" with a good old "to the mountains". I don't think climbing will head to the seaside but certainly the holds will become smaller and smaller.

The million dollar question: who is (if he exists) the strongest climber in the world and and characteristics should he or she possess?
Well!! Without wishing to make a list, that a terrible generation of climbers is in the making, even if at the moment I cannot see anybody who can hold back that devil Adam Ondra.

Manolo and climbing, a never ending story ;-)
Just ike the question...


A DAY AS... WITNESS
by Mauro Giovanazzi
I received a message asking if I wanted to climb a bit... Certainly I reply! This is followed by a call and we agree to go to "Olympic Wall" because "there's an 8b, but otherwise we can go somewhere else" he says... No, OK for Olympic Wall.
We meet at the roundabout at Kantouni at 7.00am, together with Giuseppe. We walk up the slopes watching out for the sharp bushes... I had never climbed with Manolo and while he climbed the first warm-p pitch I observed his every move... Then we moved on to a 7b.
The friction didn't seem great not did he feel that good, he said. We moved across a dozen meters and above us a wall appeared with an enormous smooth bulge. Manolo asked me how many quickdraws were needed. I answered that perhaps 14 were enough. He didn't seem enthusiastic to take many... then he set off convinced and, after a couple of comments and suffering reached the chain twenty meters higher up.
We descended. Giuseppe and I stopped off at Odyssey to climb another couple of pitches and that evening we met up for dinner to celebrate...
Today as I walked up to the "Grande Grotta" and as I climbed I thought about it all. Despite climbing being my passion (I'm not a fanatic) I fight against a 7c and I find myself thinking: this bloke stepped beneath a smooth wall with quickdraws clipped to his harness, without any signs of chalk (apart from a few seeing that Mario Prinoth had climbed it in a couple of attempts) and he then climbed in impeccable style. He looked, moved left and right, even downclimbed. Complained about the bolts being runout and his age... and after a 40m journey reached the chain. 8b+ a vue, on-sight... there's no doubt his an absolute ace and magician!

Mauro Giovannazzi

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