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Photo by Maurizio Oviglia
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The crag Balmanolesca
Photo by Maurizio Oviglia

Trad climbing at Balmanolesca, Italy

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Maurizio Oviglia introduces trad crack climbing at Balmanolesca, Italy.

As anticipated, here is the second of two articles that concentrates on crags ideally suited for beginners who wish to learn how to crack climb on trad gear, without having to climb extreme routes. In my first article I introduced a number of "easy" cracks at the Crack Party sector at Cadarese. As mentioned, although these weren’t particularly they were nevertheless perfect for teaching jamming techniques for crack climbing. Unfortunately there aren’t many simple routes of this sort in Northern Italy and Cadarese is certainly considered one of Italy’s crack climbing gems, so why not give it a go? But if we analyze crack climbing from a learning point of view, and not the athletic performance, perhaps we could include those crack climbs that, in the past, were equipped with bolts as sport climbs. If you climb one of these routes placing your own gear, and doing without the bolts, then the style of ascent is considered a “greenpoint".

This style was defined only a few years ago and was coined by those climbers who wanted to repeat a sports climb using trad gear only, without however altering the original nature of the route, i.e. by removing the bolts at a later stage. One of the most famous examples of greenpoint is certainly Arnaud Petit’s ascent of Black Bean at Ceuse, carefully documented in his beautiful video. For obvious reasons greenpoint doesn’t convince hardened trad climbers (since repeating a route with bolts, even if they’re not used, doesn’t provide the same challenge for everyone, and from a psychological point of view the climbing is less committing). Nevertheless, this style is very useful for those who want to learn how to trad climb with, if necessary, a safe backup (the bolt), when they’re not totally sure their protection will hold a fall.

One of the crags which bets suits this greenpoint style in Italy is Balmanolesca, also known as Balma 1, not far from Domodossola in NW Italy. This is an historic crag, where almost all the climbs were bolted in the ’80s and ’90s. A number of routes climb splitter crags, perfectly suited for learning how to hand and fist jam. Until only recently no one had ever thought seriously about greenpointing these cracks, but in 2011 Yuji Hirayama stunned everyone by climbing Profondo Rosso (8a+) on his second attempt with only 7 friends, so much so that they placed a plaque (which was subsequently removed) at the base of the route to honour this amazing ascent.

In spring 2013 England’s James Pearson then made a greenpoint ascent of A denti Stretti (8b+). Unlike Cadarese, Balma was never subject to ethical debates and the bolts weren’t removed from the greenpointed climbs. However, after Hirayama’s visit, new trad routes were climbed that coexist peacefully with the sport climbs nearby.

Balma is particularly easy to access (you park the car in a meadow at the base) and is located at an altitude of only 600m. Unfortunately it never receives the sun in winter and consequently it remains rather damp, meaning that it’s ideal for spring and autumn. By contrast, as long as it’s not pouring, you can climb a good deal of routes even in the rain. Even if the routes are never simple, it’s an ideal crag to learn how to crack climb on trad gear. The bolts on most of these climbs can be used as a backup if you don’t feel 100% safe.

To get a good idea of the crag I’ve tried to list all the possible trad routes, even the difficult ones. Certainly there’ll be some that I’ve forgotten to mention, but I’ve wanted to include only those that can be climbed with a minimum degree of safety, without becoming dangerous like those on hard grit (an evolution of this sort is still possible). The routes are listed from left to right, the names are written at the base. For further information refer to the guidebook Ossola Rock (September 2014) published by Versante Sud. Have fun!

by Maurizio Oviglia (CAAI, CAI INAL, IA)

1 – ONLY TRAD
6b, 6c, 5c (trad climb)
3-pitch route, not bolted, on the lefthand side of the crag.
Mid-size Friends

2 – VARIANTE AL DIEDRO
6a – 25m (bolted sport climb)
Great climb, ideal for beginners, up cracks and corners.
2 sets of Friends up to #4BD, including micro

3 – IL SENTIERO DEGLI GNOMI
6a – 25m (bolted sport climb)
Crack, flake and chimney. Not straightforward to protect.
2 sets of Friends up to #3 BD, one #4 BD

4 – LA VIA DEL PISELLO
6b+ – 20m (bolted sport climb)
Layback and jamming at the end. Beautiful and athletic climbing.
2 sets of Friends up to #4 BD

5 – MOBY DICK
6c – 20m (bolted sport climb)
great historic climb, wide stemming crack.
2 sets of Friends up to #5 BD

6 – INCASTRO VIOLENTO
6c+ – 20m (trad climb)
Handjam crack, the first 5 meters are intense
2 sets of Friends up to #2 BD, 1 #3 BD

7 – CANNE D’ORGANO
6a+ – 25m (bolted sport climb)
beautiful stamina crack.
2 sets of Friends up to #3 BD

8 – VARIANTE DEL SUCCUBE
6a+ – 20m (bolted sport climb)
Cracks of various sizes.
2 sets of Friends up to #2 BD

9 – SUPERCANNE
6b – 20m (bolted sport climb)
Hand crack.
2 sets of Friends up to #2 BD

10 – INCASTRO ANATOMICO
6c – 20m (bolted sport climb)
Chimney and upside down crack.
2 sets of Friends up to #6 BD

11 – BANANA NOSTRANA
7b – 15m (bolted sport climb)
Violent crack with jams at start.
2 sets of Friends up to # 3BD

12 – PROFONDO ROSSO
7a – 15m (bolted sport climb)
Overhanging jams and layback. Pitch 2 is graded 8a+
1 set of Friends up to #5 BD

13 – A DENTI STRETTI
8b+ – 15m (bolted sport climb)
Extrene climb greenpointed by James Pearson

14 – VECCHIO SCARPONE
6c – 25m (bolted sport climb)
Beautiful corner and crack.
2 sets of Friends up to #3 BD

15 – NEMICO PUBBLICO
8a – 15m (trad climb)
Difficult trad route, 1 peg.

16 – VARIANTE ASCIUTTA
6b – 20m (bolted sport climb)
Difficult at start, then bridging.
2 sets of Friends up to #3 BD

17 – LA SECCHIONA
6b – 15m (bolted sport climb)
Difficult at start.
1 set of Friends up to #4 BD

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NEWS / Related news:
Cadarese trad: 10 crack climbs in Val d'Ossola, Italy
17.11.2015
Cadarese trad: 10 crack climbs in Val d'Ossola, Italy
Maurizio Oviglia introduces 10 trad cracks at Cadarese in Val d'Ossola, Italy, ideally suited to learn how to crack climb.

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