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In the forest beneath Bimbaluna
Photo by arch. Manolo
Winter landscape
Photo by arch. Manolo
Manolo on a new crag...
Photo by arch. Manolo

Manolo climbs Bimbaluna at Saint Loup, Switzerland

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On 20/01/2008 Maurizio Manolo Zanolla repeated Bimbaluna 9a/9a+ at Saint Loup, Switzerland.

So the "magician" is up to his old tricks again. Manolo's class continues undisputed and his "Mago" nickname obviously didn't come about by chance: on 20 January Manolo repeated Bimbaluna 9a/9a+ at Saint Loup, Switzerland!

This most recent performance, just in time for his 50th birthday, didn't pass by unnoticed in a crag which is clearly very much suited to Manolo's style: in 2006 he redpointed Bain de Sang, another historic route which is hovers around the 9a mark -and as everyone knows, nothing can be less precise in climbing than the region right at the top end of the scale.

Bimbaluna was first ascended in March 2004 by François Nicole, the elder brother of the perhaps more famous boulderer Fred Nicole. The grade put forward at the time by François was 9a/9a+ and this was subsequently confirmed by Josune Bereziartu who carried out the first repeat in 2005. Manolo flirted with Bimbaluna over a series of months, carrying out 5 trips to Switzerland before finally getting to grips with this technical masterpiece. In truth things could have turned out differently as Manolo had managed to top rope the route clean on his second day, but injury and nerves made redpointing a frustrating affair.


Manolo, how did your "relationship" with Bimbaluna begin?
It's a long story and I'm not sure if it's interesting... last year my firend Walter had a couple of days holiday and the idea was to climb at Cornalba where I have a project, but the weather was terribly rainy. So why not go to Saint Loup? To the other side of the Alps?

So you set off for Bimbaluna…
In truth I didn't set off to try Bimbaluna. I thought I wasn't strong enough to try the boulder (they say the boulder problem crux is circa 8a/b) but once I was beneath it I couldn't resist: it seemed like my kind of route.

What do you mean? What's the route like?
It has a first easy section, followed by a good rest and a hard and delicate section and then... easy again. perfect for me and on the second day I managed to link it on toprope.

So it seemed like something that could be climbed quickly...
So it seemed. But first a cold, then difficulties in finding a partner for such a long journey (almost 800km from home) with the risk of finding bad weather in loco... things slipped to spring. Then I had a bad shoulder injury which stopped me completely... and Bimba slipped, like many other things, out of all my dreams.

So what happened next?
In autumn my physio told me that it was time to start climbing seriously again and I thought he was joking because I was really afraid of hurting myself again... but I tried to listen to his advice and give things a try. It was particularly frustrating not being able to get up routes, but thankfully I found a new crag and this gave me just the right motivation and enthusiasm.

And so Bimbaluna sprung back to mind...
Well… I had no reference point at all when I decided to return to Switzerland to see if I was still capable of climbing those routes...

So you drove back to Switzerland…
Yes, with Walter once again. we crossed the Alps the day after Christmas.

How did this second session go?
On the first day I tried to see what the route was like. On my second attempt I fell right at the end, excited and surprised to have climbed so high so easily. On my third attempt I didn't have enough skin on my fingers, but strangely there was a bit of strength left for an excellent attempt. This encouraged me: perhaps I could really give myself a fantastic present for my 50th birthday...

So you set off for a third trip...
Yes, I felt good but the weather was terrible and the Swiss forecast was for half a day of respite. It was madness driving across Italy in the rain and snowstorm for a chance which would have lasted just a few hours, but we set off nevertheless. Guido was waiting for me at Courmayeur, and the weather was good on the other side of the tunnel. But the next day it started raining and the route was unclimbable so we returned home beneath a torrential downpour. So much for Swiss precision! The return was even worse with a three hour traffic jam at the tunnel, and snow all the way back home.

When did the fourth tour take place?
A week later: I had a conference in Sestriere and this could be a good opportunity to stop off at St Loup. Guido was free and he kindly offered to accompany me.

So how did it go?
The weather was perfect and so was my fibre. I felt good but I slipped from the final move three times... The next day the weather was still good but I was exhausted so we let it be. Unfortunately at Courmayeur we stumbled across some mad bunch and I think we would have needed a to count the number of bottles. The return from Sestiere was terrible, the roads are horrid and my head seemed like it was in the car's engine.

But evidently the story doesn't end here...
I couldn't get the route out of my mind.... I needed a week to get back in shape and I couldn't forget those slips from the final move. I failed to find someone to go back there and Guido had only a day off, risking it all for a single day seemed exaggerated by in the end we set off...

Now we're St. Loup (for the 5th time) and...
The sky was filled stars and owls hooted in the woods.. perhaps a good sign I thought. I got up at dusk and went for a 20 minute run, just in time for Guido to burn the coffee. Then we set off quickly for a couple of warm ups. I fell off a 6b, so much for the owls!

And Bimbaluna
Bimbaluna was covered in chalk (someone had definitely attempted it the day before) and I got onto the route to clean it and check out the moves once again, then I set off tremendously excited... and with extreme ease I suddenly found myself on the final move, but instead of reaching to the biggest hold on the boulder I lifted up my foot, as if my brain had switched off completely and down I fell once again. This time I got really angry with myself, I've never let a route get to me so much in the past...

Manolo angry... how did it then go?
My partner Guido persuaded me to descend and rest for half an hour to calm down. Back on the ground I took my shoes off and began to clean them like a maniac, then I decided to try again immediately... when I clipped the third quickdraw it was still swaying, I then missed out on a foothold but this time I was really strong and I reached the top... I screamed like a child. Then down and away as fast as possible: it's just gone 10.00am and I want to make use of this early hour and not drive through the fog in the night across the north Italian plain.

Now the decisive question… Bimbaluna's numbers: 9a/9a+?
No, don't ask me about the grade... I wouldn't know how to reply. The crag is without a doubt my style of climbing and perhaps more than a route it could be a boulder problem, but I don't boulder so I'm don't have the authority to judge this. The speed with which I sent the route and a comparison with other routes I've climbed could definitely make me think that that the grade is excessive, but I definitely don't want to say anything and by now I leave this up to others.

But can you compare Bimbaluna with Bain de sang, seeing that you have climbed both?
Despite the fact that they both climb the slightly overhanging wall next to each other, they are very different in style. Bain is less compressed and a bit less bouldery. Bimba practically wraps up into 10 moves and it can be easy for a good climber, but if it gets to your head then it becomes poisonous, this happens at times. Looking back on things, I now believe more than ever before that Bain is very similar to Solo per vecchi guerrieri while Bimba, for me at least, is completely different and on the whole not even that touch and go... if you're strong. Furthermore after climbing routes like these you have the sensation that they are "easy", but this only ever happens once you've climbed them.

Well, you can't not tell us what Bimbaluna meant to you?
For various reasons this route swept me away more than any other and I think I suffered more mentally than physically on it: it was a truly strange experience.

Bimbaluna to celebrate your 50th birthday. Who do you dedicate this to?
I never really dedicate routes but this time I really have to thank loads of people...… La Sportiva with whom I collaborate practically since the very beginning and honestly if I had to buy a pair of climbing shoes then I'd buy theirs. Roberto Giordani of “Montura” who gave me the serenity to recover. Guido Azalea who made me laugh even on the last move. François Nicole who made the first ascent of this beautiful route. And, why not, my family who continues to support me. But above all, truly an enormous thank you to Marco Morelli who miraculously got my shoulder working again.

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