Pompa Funebre, new route by Larcher, Giupponi and Sartori on Monte Pellegrino, Palermo
On 31/03 and 01/04/2011 Rolando Larcher, Luca Giupponi and Nicola Sartori completed the first ascent of Pompa Funebre (150m, 8b max, 7a+ obligatory). The route had previously been started by Larcher, Giupponi and Maurizio Oviglia up the NE Face of Monte Pellegrino (Palermo, Sicily).
Don't let yourself be tricked by the name... as usual there's a reason for everything. Just like there's a reason why hoards of climbers have been regularly heading south to Sicily. After reading the report written by Rolando Larcher, Luca "Gippo" Giupponi and Nicola Sartori about their beautiful new route, and after having admired the photos taken by Giampaolo Calzà and the video directed by Andrea Tosi, probably all your doubts will be washed aside and another climbing-holiday destination will have nestled its way into your notebook of desires..
POMPA FUNEBRE... from competition climbing to forging new routes...
The story of the first ascent narrated by Rolando Larcher, Luca Giupponi and Nicola Sartori
Nicola Sartori: I'd dreamt about establishing a route with legendary Rolando Larcher for ages! We've known each other ever since the first competitions (1985 circa) and at times we've even gone climbing together, but we'd never met up to establish a new route.
"Hey Nick, at the end of March I'm off to Sicily with Gippo, we had originally planned to go with Maurizio Oviglia but he's hurt himself. What d'you reckon? Want to tag along?" is what Rolly asked me over the phone and I naturally said YEES!! He for one certainly didn't need to beg me to come!
"Look, you don't need to give me an answer immediately" Rolando replied in strict dialect "Mull it over, ask Claudia if you can come. There's no rush, I can still wait a while!"
"Ah, no, no. I'll be there, count on me. No problem at all!"
Destination: Palermo. Objective: finish off the project started by Rolando, Maurizio and Gippo up the Rotoli Face on Monte Pellegrino and free this new line. And, if there's time to spare, start a (apparently extreme) futuristic new route in Monte Pellegrino's Perciata cave.
Luca Giupponi: In spring 2009 Maurizio Oviglia convinced me to check out the area he'd visited for a number of years. Together with Rolando Larcher we flew down to Palermo and Maurizio introduced us to his impressive world of rocks, caves, crags and rock faces. During this trip we established Kaos on Monte Gallo and delved in the delights of Sicilian climbing: steep overhangs festooned with holds, tufas and stalactites... We immediately realised that here we could attempt free climbs which back home were simply unimaginable...
Rolando Larcher: During the first ascent of Kaos with Luca and Maurizio we always had dinner at the port and to reach this we had to walk through Palermo's Arenella quarter and past the monumental Rotoli cemetery. This gets its name form the rocks which sometimes rotoli, sometimes roll down from the Monte Pellegrino amphitheatre above. The rock face is impressive to say the least and struck us immediately. Red, with white drips, extremely overhanging with plenty of stalactites and pockets and, above all, completely untouched. After freeing Kaos we had a day and a half to spare so we immediately set off to recce the wall. To get to it we excluded the main entrance via the cemetery as the opening times weren't "flexible" enough and our rucksacks - packed to the brim - would have caught the custodian's attention... So after having found an "alternative" entrance we made our way through the virgin wood which separates the cemetery from the rock face and reached, completely exhausted, the impressive amphitheatre. I was struck not only by how spectacular this place was but also by the stark contrast between the super-urbanised city and this totally wild piece of nature, just a stone's throw away. We had come came across this strange contrast on various occasions in Palermo. Wild, untouched areas are usually located a long way away from us humans, but here all you need to do is leave the main road or jump over a fence to see them. The weather then broke, it started to rain and hail but crag is so overhanging that we managed to begin our climb nevertheless. Two pitches later we were already 20m out. The route still needed to be completed and given the prerogative and the style of climbing, we quickly decided on the name: "Pompa Funebre".
Luca: The name is a combination of pompa, power, which you need for these overhangs, and the view onto the cemetery: Pompa Funebre. We knew full-well what we wanted: the route was too beautiful, we just had to return and finish it off! And to make sure we would, we hid 30 bolts at the base. But in 2010 we failed to return...
Rolando: April 2011. We're back in Palermo, an exotic and interesting city. But instead of doing what a tourist usually does, I fluttered around in the void for hours, hanging off various belays. The surroundings were unusual to say the least: above me a ceiling of stalactites, below me a cemetery and, behind this, a Palermo engulfed by the sea. A truly unique ambient, amplified by two particular friends who shared this uncomfortable fun. Had it not been for the void beneath our feet it would have felt like being in an isolation zone in some competition many years back. At the time Luca and Nicola were two adversaries who I admired and who regularly beat me. Now they were two enthusiastic, fun friends and, thanks to my climbing experience, I could finally get my own back... One swore and untangled the ropes, and so did the other, perched off precarious cliff hangers while I belayed and savoured the moment.
Luca: Finally back here again. Unfortunately one of the original team, Maurizio, couldn't be with us due to injury. Instead we're joined by Nicola Sartori, the king of King Rock. Meeting up after so many years was great. Before we challenged each other in competitions, now we shared the same passion, the same desire to discover new lines. The access to the route is somewhat peculiar: you need to climb through a hole in the cemetery wall, cross a desolate area and scramble up the ramp through the jungle to reach the start... The first pitch climbs stalactites, the second an impressive roof for 50 long meters of climbing.
Nicola: Rolly wasn't joking when he told me that I'd forge the first new pitch... My admittance exam (Gippo had already "worked" with Rolly on other expeditions) was to establish a pitch up the splendid vertical limestone, up this typical Sicilian rock. I was under pressure and really had to perform well!
Rolando: I'd already established the first pitch and most of the second, so I let my partners take over. I hauled the ropes to our highpoint and we set Nicola loose. He belongs to the highly experienced Verona-based group of first ascentionists and the Trento school immediately put him to the test with tricks and new technologies. But Nicola is a class act and he made short work of it all, finishing off a splendid and demanding pitch. He'd passed the test with flying colours!
Nicola: Next up, Luca...
Luca: Our intuition was to attempt a direct line through the overhang and we were proven right: a series of stalactites, pockets, cracks and crimps enabled us to climb an unforgettable pitch. Another two followed: a direct line up a vertical wall and a final pitch, Erto-style. All five stars...
Nicola: While one of us forged the line and suffered, at the belay we never got bored. Fun and laughter were accompanied by background music placed by a fanatic Sicilian who parked his car along the seaside every day with a mega stereo powered by a million watts...
Rolando: Gippo proceeded well, accompanied by our cheers and the music which droned up from a mega stereo from some red Fiat Punto parked by the sea... He now set off up the final pitch, a diagonal corner, overhanging, beautiful. He climbed convinced up the final, marble wall.
Nicola: The last pitch held plenty of question marks in store. Finding the right line was no mean task, Gippo proceeded relentlessly and towards the end he had to fight hard past some demanding moves. The hours passed quickly and his strength began to diminish...
Rolando: At a certain point the holds ran out, Luca began to huff and puff and take repeated falls. After a bit he asked to switch leads and the "oldy", who had hoped for an easy day out... had to get his cliff hooks and start climbing.
Nicola: It was Rolando's turn. I was really curious to find out more about the methods he uses to establish routes. He's been forging lines all over the world for years and has long been my idol! I wanted to find out more about his techniques, how he hauls up the drill, how he uses the cliffs and a thousand other little secrets...
Rolando: I decided to return to a bolt below the highpoint and try climbing left. Although there seemed to be some holds, it was frighteningly overhanging. Due to the late hour I was obliged to climb quickly and with a bolt, a flake and some cleaning I managed to finish the route beneath a cherry tree...
Luca: We scrambled up the chimney and then sat on the meadow in the sun, observing the sea, Mount Etna, the Aeolian Islands and Palermo and listed to the final mass in the cemetery below.
Rolando: We descended, satisfied with the result, our minds already focused on the demanding and fun free ascent which now lay in store...
Nicola: We abseiled off and reached the ground at nightfall. The route was finished! Dead tired but happy we reached the grill house run by the Leone brothers and filled our stomachs to the brim!
Rolando: After a well-earned (and only) rest day spent at the Mondella beach, we returned fresh and rested to our wall...
Sartori: During the competition era we had been rivals and now here we were, all three together to free this unusual overhanging rock face above... the cemetery!
Luca: We gave it a go and... all three of us managed to redpoint the route that same day! What satisfaction!
Rolando: There was just one more thing that remained to be done: a proper celebration for the route which had really gratified us due to its beauty, the demanding nature of the climbing and because it breaches a virgin wall. Add to this the privilege of being able to baptise the wall, which we gave the obvious name "Parete dei Rotoli"...
8b max 7a+ obl.
Soon to come: the next episode with the new route in the Perciata amphitheatre, Monte Pellegrino...
photos and video: Giampaolo "Trota" Calzà
video cut: Andrea Tosi
gear: Rolando: La Sportiva, Montura, Petzl, Totemcam / Gippo: Five Ten, Mammut / Nicola: La Sportiva, Marmot