Free Itaca nel Sole, Valle dell'Orco
Cristian Brenna and Marzio Nardi free the historic Itaca in Valle dell'Orco. The photos and story by Andrea Gallo.
The Orco valley has long been regarded as the birthplace of modern free climbing in Europe. In June 1975 it was Italy's version of California, and a select group of climbers-mountaineers began to revolutionise the hitherto closed world of Italian alpinism.
With their innovative ideas and ideals, the likes of Gian Carlo Grassi, Danilo Galante and Gian Piero Motti climbed lines previously regarded as irrelevant, ascending routes that did not reach high mountain peaks. To climb was the name of the game, nothing more, nothing less, for the pure pleasure of climbing, without acts of heroism or rhetoric. Routes enshrined in history such as Sole Nascente, La via della Rivoluzione, Il Diedro Nanchez and Il Lungo Cammino dei Comanches, were created, as was Itaca nel Sole at the hands of Motti and Morello - a beautiful line, above all for the two smooth pitches, at the time aided, that soon became known as the "Mirror".
The early '80's saw a rise in standards, with climbers reaching the mythical VII grade and the development of areas such as the Val di Mello, Finale and the Valle dell’Orco.
Itaca became an instant classic, but the Caporal walls proved to be too smooth. Interest therefore shifted elsewhere, but the explosion of "free climbing", destined to become "sports climbing", left its mark. Or rather, a provocation.
The Valle dell’Orco, temple of clean climbing and rigorous ethics, saw off the genial challenge of Marco Pedrini from Switzerland who, abseiling from the top of the routes, placed the first bolts on the smooth vertical walls, thereby connecting pitches of pre-existing routes. This is how Arrapaho, which shares Itaca's final two pitches, came to light in 1984. Marco hypothesised a free line up the mirrored Specchio, but since the second pitch looked so improbable, soon gave up hopes of an integral ascent.
The walls to the left and right of Itaca witnessed the passing of new climbers and styles: climbing from the ground up with drills, extreme aid climbing, mixed routes, trad routes, up to the latest developments when the next generation started to re-evaluate the old aid lines as splendid challenges to be freed.
Mangas Coloradas and La via della Rivoluzione are freed in this manner in 2002 by Massimo Farina, while Rolando Larcher freed Colpo al Cuore that autumn. Incredibly though, the walls of the Specchio, the most fascinating on the entire face, seemed not to attract the climbers attention. That is, until May of this year, when Marzio Nardi and Cristian Brenna teamed up to form a strange partnership. The first is a boulderer, the second a competition climber renowned for his fast hard ascents outdoors.
And a boulderer is what was needed to resolve the final three meters on the first pitch of the Specchio, when the thin crack - which throughout the entire pitch magically allows you to proceed upwards - suddenly closes, leaving you just inches away from the ledge. And so a dyno is needed, where you tweek the crack and spring upwards like a human missile. It's one of those dynos that is usually done close to the ground, with crash pads and spotters at hand, but here these are not wanted. Instead, a few pegs and bolts, in good and bad condition, inherited by the mythical Pedro. And this is the 8a pitch, freed by both Cristian and Marzio.
To date the second pitch has only been freed by Cristian; the wall steepens and the crack gets harder. Footholds are few and far between and according to Christian this is a solid 8b, protected by a series of apparently good pegs. As we all know though, at times appearances can be deceiving.
by Andrea Gallo
ITACA NEL SOLE
Caporal Valle dell'Orco, Gran Paradiso
FA: Gian Piero Motti and Guido Morello, June 1975
Length: 180m - 5 pitches
Grade: 8b max in libera
Arrampicate classiche, moderne e sportive nelle valli del Gran Paradiso by Maurizio Oviglia Edizioni Versante Sud