The North Face® Athlete James Pearson and Caroline Ciavaldini trained together for possible future projects in a multi-pitch environment in Sardinia: dealing with the ropes, the hauling, working together as a team.
At first the main project was a technically difficult route in the Gorropu Gorge, as well as 3 other routes spread around the central east coast of the island. The route in Gorropu had been equipped from the top (via rappel), whereas each of the others had been established from the bottom (ground up).
“We were so sure the first one would be nicer, with great clean rock and bolts placed at the very best points, and assumed the other ones would be more awkward, dirty and illogical… we were so wrong!” , stated Caroline. “James and I began the adventure with Amico Fragile, a route established over several years by Marco Vago and friends. With just one hard pitch (6b, 6c, 8b, 7b, 6a, 6b+, 6a+), this was to be the most attainable route, but we were soon to learn that even the “easy” pitches around here should not be underestimated – often including huge run-outs over questionable rock! James flashed the 8b, only to fall in the very dirty and tricky 7b above! We still both succeeded on every pitch and arrived to the top at 8pm, 10min before the night. Unable to find the correct anchors to rappel in a near-by route, we paid for our late start with 4 hours of terrifying night abseiling directly back down this very overhanging line, forced to re-clip everything in order to catch the belays. A very scary experience with just one head torch, but we finally arrived back at our van at just after midnight.
The second route, Mezziogiorno di Fuoco, was bolted by the infamous trio of Rolando Larcher Maurizio Oviglia and Roberto Vigiani. They described the route as “perfectly combining beauty and difficulty”, which is tempting to say the least, and with several hard pitches (7a+, 8b, 6c, 8a/+, 7c+, 7c, 7a) also described as expo, Mezziogiorno should be another game.
James and I tasted for the first time a new kind of pressure: every attempt counts, and even a small mistake would stop us from succeeding the route in a day. Even in the first 7a+, you really crush the holds when the rock is breaky, to avoid any careless mistakes. James had an amazing day, on-sighting or flashing all the pitches. I take a few tries more on the harder pitches, but after a giant battle in the last 7c, I also ended up realizing the route in one day! This time we arrived on top of the route with time to spare, ready for the hour long walk back to the van in the sun set.
I can feel it growing… while we both walk through this wild Sardinian land in an exhausted bliss, we are falling in love with these days, where you give everything to succeed, and finish with a real adventure.
Then came the rain, bringing with it soaking wet rock and a halt to all our plans. Our final dream was to make the first repeat of Aria, a long, hard, and incredibly exposed route on the intimidating, overhanging Punta Plumare, and so we spent some of these wet days with its creator Pietro Dal Pra, learning safety and rescue manipulations, in case the worst should happen. Just by knowing how to haul and lower James in the event of an accident, I begin to feel more confident about attempting Aria. When Pietro tells us he would like to accompany us in the route as our “climber-sitter”, I even find myself looking forward to questing off into this unknown place…
Strong of our new knowledge, we all take the boat, the only way to access this remote part of the coast. 40 minutes hiking up a steep lost path takes you to the base of the route, and a perfect bivy, lovingly created by Pietro during the opening of the route. Here we will sleep, under the route and above the sea, far away from the world, the wild pigs our only companions.
On paper the route seems fairly ordinary 350m, 10 pitches, 7c, 7a, 6c+, 6c+, 6c+, 8a+, 8a+, 6c+, 7b+, 7a, but in practice, Aria is anything but ordinary. The route is the only way up this incredible face, and despite several pitches reaching 45m in length, is possible with only 6 quick-draws! Terrifying!
With more in common with a dangerous trad-climb, James offers to lead the harder pitches, and I can’t say I protest. After a few troubles with wet tuffas and a broken hold, we both free all the pitches to finish this amazing day with a very emotional moment on top. We came here hoping to have a good time, to learn a little and get a few advices from Pietro about the route, yet what we found is the key of Aria’s soul. With Pietro jumaring up the route along side us, telling us the stories of the opening, of the falls, and the drilling terrors, we are discovering Aria’s real meaning, as much as we are discovering Pietro’s. Here in Sardinia, on top of Punta Plumare, with the sea at our feet and the wild land behind, we found our answer… between the multi pitches and us, this will be a love story.”
Photographer: The North Face®/Riky Felderer
Athletes: The North Face® Athlete James Pearson and Caroline Ciavaldini
Location: Sardegna, Italy