Spring trip to Italy, with dogs and a van.

15th May 2014

Berdorf spot Reunion Lucy crag-chair Citizen Kane f7c plus Tim and Theo at Cineplex

It's been a bit quiet on my site recently as Tim and I have been away on a great trip to Italy. Here's a round up of how it went.
It was almost a non-starter; the van was packed, the dogs were in and at 8am we were ready to leave Sheff to catch the Chunnel. Turned the key to start the van and...nothing...it wouldn't start. No!!! Why do these things happen at the most inopportune moments? I'd been running about in it for the previous few days and there wasn’t a hint that there was anything wrong. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we finally got it started (there was air in the fuel line) and left at 10am.
We got to Berdorf in Luxembourg that night; this is a lovely crag to stop at on the way to break the journey up and also you get very cheap fuel in Lux- 1.17€/litre for diesel. Bonus!
We had the most beautiful weather the next day and a lovely time just getting into climbing on rock again and really enjoying the surroundings. The crag is bolted sandstone and in an idyllic woodland setting that really set the mood for the trip.
My dream was to be baked in sun for the next three and a half weeks and it was looking as though we had timed it right. In fact just being in the sun (it was about 25 degrees), I realised my body felt so alien. It wasn't used to feeling warm and free of bulky clothing and I couldn't believe quite how long it had been since I'd felt like this.
Unfortunately, the next morning the rain arrived, so we decided to bail and just head down to Italy in the hope of finding better weather further south.
But the rain followed us and by the time we reached Finale Ligure (on the Ligurian coast, N Italy), it was properly lashing it down ‘a la UK style’. Hiding from the rain!
My dream of a tan was disappearing down the drains with the rainwater and van life with two wet dogs suddenly seemed very unappealing.
So we had 2-3 very wet days of moping about, looking at forecasts and generally cursing spring wet weather.
But it gave me time to look at the guide and work out where all the crags were and also we went to look at some, in full on waterproof outfits.
On a tip from a friend, I had come to this new area- Oltrefinale- without knowing if it was any good. And through the mist and cold raindrops, I have to admit I wasn't feeling the love. But suffice to say once the rain stopped, all was forgiven and I started to see that we were in for a treat.
The valley we based ourselves in is called Val Pennavaire and has numerous crags to choose from. The grades range from f4's to mid f8's on good limestone with varying styles.On the left, Tim at a great little crag called 'Reunion' with brilliant routes up to f7a on tufa and blocky orange limestone.Some crags were tufa, some blocky orange rock, some had more classic grey vertical technical climbing; so there really is something for everyone. The other really good feature was that many of the crags we visited had routes that both Tim and I could climb (f5's & f6's and mid f7's & f8's), which can sometimes be a tricky box to tick.

The first week was spent recovering from the shock of not being able to get my shorts out of my bag and sometimes climbing in my jacket but once I got my head round it wasn't going to be suntanning weather all the way, I got into the swing of things. And as the days progressed the weather did warm up and to be honest it was perfect climbing temperatures most of the time. In fact there were a couple of days where we actually hunted out the shade!!
In terms of my climbing, it was a fantastic way to start the year off and gave me a great head start in terms of route fitness.
By the end of the trip, I truly felt like a climber again and had rediscovered why I have been climbing for 20+ years and why it has been mentally difficult to be injured for a long period.
As I expected the grades were pretty tough. Although I could highly recommend this area as a brilliant climbing holiday destination (a variety of accommodation in the valley, a great climbers bar in Cisano sul Neva and 20 mins drive from the coast), it's not the place to head to have your ego massaged but if you a looking for quality routes in all the grades, Oltrefinale is certainly an excellent option.

Tim at Castelbianco on a chilly day, the rope in the background is hanging next to the f7a "Blocca". The picture of me on the left sitting in the 'crag-chair' is at the same crag and you can see it to Tim's left.

So on paper I didn't achieve any amazing grades but I did climb some great routes. As ever I was mainly on-sighting and found this has got me fit. Some of the routes were pretty burly and steep, so it was great to work the whole body, not just the fingers. One day we were at a crag called Antro di Castelbianco, the crag with the shortest walk in; about 50 m from the car! I decided to try a really good looking f7a called “Blocca”. There were a few locals at the crag when I set off up it.  After about halfway, I was getting pretty pumped which I wasn't surprised about as I'd only had a few days climbing at this point and it was quite long and steep. But i quested on fighting the pump and eventually found a rest. I shouted down to Tim "I'm pumped!!", there wasn't much he could do about it but sometimes it feels better to let your belayer know that you are in a bit of a state. So frantically trying to shake out and recover, I looked up at the next section to come; hmmm, it looked a little tricky to say the least. But I got a plan together and once my arms started to feel like they could hang onto small holds again, I set off. At this point I was aware people at the bottom were watching and once I got into the hard section there were shouts of encouragement etc. I was thinking to my self, wow that's really nice, aren't they helpful? I mean f7a isn't that hard in the grand scheme of things after all. So, I somehow managed to do it and got to the top of a good but challenging route. Anyway, when I got down a woman came over (she was trying to repoint an f8a) and said "that was fantastic, well done." I thought,  “well I was pleased with how i climbed on it but i don't think it was anything special” but then she went onto say "and it hardly ever gets on-sighted." "oh" I said smiling. This made me feel a lot better about the tussle I'd had on it and it also gave me a heads up on what to expect in terms of the grading. The next day it took me 3-4 goes to redpoint a long steep f7b+, which I'm sure, would've got a minimum of f7c elsewhere. But as I said, the climbing was so good and I wasn't really bothered about the 'old skool’ grading.

On the left, Lucy redpointing 'Citizen Kane' f7c+ and below Lucy and Buis resting in between redpoints at the impressive crag of Cineplex.

Fortunately, towards the end of the trip, I did red point a f7c+ called “Citizen Kane”, which I was very pleased with. It was a devious route with the crux at the top. When I first went on it, I thought all the holds had fallen off, as I couldn't find any! But after closer inspection and a bit of thought, I remembered that climbing on rock isn't quite as obvious as it seems and sometimes you have to be a bit cleverer to breach a section. It was a very satisfying route to work out and climb, and at an amazing crag called Cineplex that wasn't even in the guide. It's got over 100 routes and gets the shade for most of the day. It even had a little climb for the dogs to do to get up to the vast ledge at the base of the crag. I was pretty terrified watching them but it is unbelievable how agile and delicate (and brave) they can be.

Van life.


This was our first trip away with both dogs in the van and Theo’s (pronounced Tayo) first trip abroad. Buis had been once before on our last trip in the van which was with Kodo (RIP) at the end of 2011 to Berdorf and Ettringen. It was a little stressful at first having them at the crag and all of us sharing the van but once we got the sleeping arrangements sorted (IE. not on our bed!), we started sleeping better and enjoying van and crag life. In fact when we returned a few weeks ago it was quite strange being back in the house and we all felt a bit lost.
Tim was climbing too, which was great. Tim having a bad hair day with the clippers! I had to step in and finish it off.

He has recently just started to get back into his climbing, previously being the most patient belayer in the world, and it was really nice for us both to have things that we wanted to do.
When I climb it's nice that it can be a shared experience rather than just me climbing, so this was a pleasant aspect of the trip.
We got quite into going to Bar Neva after climbing days and my not drinking alcohol until my birthday on 19 April did go out of the window somewhat. But it's something about those balmy evenings after a hard day at the crag, amazing beer selection and the FREE plates of anti pasti with your drinks, that create an irresistible draw; What can I say?There were warmer evenings than this, I promise.
Anyway, we are now back and after really getting into climbing mode, I was determined to keep the momentum going. I want to have a good climbing year this year and it's started well, so I have got my head round the fact that although Peak limestone isn't my preferred medium, it's what I have available and it works my weaknesses. So I've been out a lot since getting back and have red pointed five f7c's (four in a day) at Raven Tor, Cheedale and Malham), which I'm happy with. I'm getting good mileage too, getting down to Cheedale a lot and discovering the delights down there. Most of it is pretty dry and as I haven't done much down there in the past, there's a lot to go at.

So things are good at the moment. Although an almighty thunderstorm has just kicked in outside, pretty impressive as we don't get too many of those and to be fair we have been having an amazing run of weather up here, so can't complain too much.

Let's hope it doesn't last too long, as I don't want the limestone to get wet again, ahh, now I'm sounding like some sort of weirdo obsessed climber, nooooo.....

Cheerio for now and hope you are all managing to get out and enjoy the spring weather too.
Tim loved this little car.