The Empire strikes back, M11 repeated by Mauro Bubu Bole
"The Empire strikes back", M11 repeated by Bubu Bole in the Haston Cave, Valsavarenche, Val di Cogne, Italy.
|No limits on ice - pushing the limits of modern mixed climbing
The hardest route in the world...
According to the best ice climbers, for the last two years the hardest mixed route in the world was Stevie Haston's X-Files, M10, in Val di Cogne, Italy. Now Haston, regarded by many as the father-figure of modern extreme, has added "The Empire strikes back" to his long list of first ascents, a two pitch route opened from the ground up and freed after a month's gruelling effort.
"The Empire strikes back"
The first 30m pitch is protected by two bolts and weighs in at M9, while the pro on the second, steeply overhanging 25m pitch comprises of 5 bolts, 1 peg, and 2 icescrews. On friable rock and dubious ice axe placements, the long reachy crux is overcoming a 10m 45° section with feet that cut loose. This serious psychological testpiece is very different from and more demanding than the single pitch extremes found in Vail, Colorado, other Mecca of hard ice routes, visited by Haston last winter. On that occasion he put up two new routes, Reptile, M9+ with it's long footless traverse filmed during the ascent, and Unicorn, a continuation after Reptile's crux that leads towards a slender drip, tentatively graded M10.
Bubu Bole and Stevie Haston
Bubu had spent a lot of time in Val d’Aosta recently, repeating Haston's routes and establishing a few of his own. The two met at the Grivel factory, where both work as product developers, and they decided to join forces, thus forming one of the strangest partnerships in ice climbing: the introvert Stevie and the extrovert, Oscar winning Benniniesque Bubu.
Bubu admitted readily that he learnt a lot from Stevie while discussing techniques, and Stevie stated that, at the moment, Bubu was probably the strongest mixed ice climber in the world.
"The Empire strikes back" and Bubu, 1st attempt with Stevie
After onsighting the first M9 (Welcome to the Machine) and the first M10 (Quartier Nors) ever, after having repeated X Files first with leashes and then without, and after having established numerous new routes without leashes up to M9+, Bubu started to look round for something harder still.
It was this quest that led to their meeting, and in February they stood below the route together. Bubu onsighted the demanding and technical first pitch and then set off on the second one, this time with leashes. Certain that all hard sections had been overcome and just two meters from the top, his ice axe placement slipped and he fell 10m. He’d been climbing for more than two hours and decided to call it a day – this route was hard!
Bubu, 2nd attempt: evolution
The Ice World Cup in Saas Fee, Switzerland, was too important to be missed, especially since it was the first mixed comp in the world. Bubu demonstrated his form by placing second behind the French boulder champion Daniel Dulac and then returned to Cogne to be filmed climbing X-Files. He climbed the route twice on 15 February for the camera and later, with his trusty belayer Massimo Farina, he set off on “The Empire..”. Climbing smoothly and securely, he dispensed with both pitches first try. Evolution fullstop.
Says Bubu: "First of all I want to underline that all merit goes to Stevie for having created this marvellous route. We both agree that it’s the hardest route we’ve ever done, a lot harder than X-Files, probably two grades. We feel we’ve both climbed enough hard routes to say that this is M11. I’m happy that I met Stevie who taught me a great deal, and that I managed to repeat the route so quickly. This doesn’t imply though that it’s easy, in any way. I’ve managed to improve and make this next step forward thanks to Stevie and he’s convinced me now to go to America, to see what the routes are like over there.”
Stay tuned to see what happens…
Stevie Haston on "The Empire strikes back" - photo S. Hasto archive
Stevie Haston on "The Empire strikes back" - photo S. Haston archive