Thursday 13 October, at 10:37 am The North Face® Athlete James Pearson successfully achieved the ascent of the Qualido big wall line called Joy Division, one of the hardest granite multpitch in the alps.
The route itself is hard, demanding and very fall-offable, especially in his 1st, 4th and 7th pitches After 15 days work spread over three months and, James was finally ready to climb the line in one push, leading all the route with no fall for more than 800m, 22 pitches, a bivy and two days of granite climbing.
“The summit made all of the hard work and suffering worth it. The top of the “hammer” of the Qualido is a magical place, and one that if I am honest, at times doubted I would ever see.”
James first took the decision of climbing this big wall in August, when conditions seemed to be good, long days and ok temperatures. But one thing is to say it, an other is to be there.
“I had heard about this wall from various people including Val di Mello local and first ascentionist Simone Pedeferri, and it seemed like a great adventure. I decided to pay the line a visit in early August accompanied by my girlfriend Caroline and grand ideas of a fast ascent. I completely underestimated what was to come!”
The condition, length and the logistic of a big wall have to be well studied, but the first overview took James into a bad mood about the possibility of a successful ascent. The rock was not perfect and the condition of an east face notoriously difficult, with hot mornings and cold afternoons. Finally, the top of the Qualido is at 2700m, where the weather conditions can change quickly in every part of the year, switching temperatures from 0 to 30°C! Not extreme, but enough to hurt the chance of freeclimbing 8b on a big wall!
A climb of this nature needs patience, time and a little bit of luck! So after the first hit on the wall James decided to go back home to train specifically for the climb, with plans to return when things felt right.
“I spend a lot of days training in the gym, and outside in the Zillertal whenever the weather allowed. I tried to work on longer technical pitches, and climb many pitches in a day, attempting to simulate the challenges I may face back at Qualido”
After a 2nd August inspection on the wall, even with the terribly warm conditions, James could understand that the hard pitches could be climbed.
“There were lots of up’s and down’s! I began to understand the subtleties of the harder pitches but conditions were too bad to allow for a full attempt on the line. The 4th pitch, rumoured to be the hardest, seemed attainable to me, but the first pitch, with its 40m of sustained and technical crystal smearing seemed so far beyond my ability I started to question my reasons for even trying.”
After an extended separation from the route, James returned in early October to spend a few more nights in the Qualido Hotel. This time partnered by Frenchman Nico Nastorg, James hoped to take advantage of an incredible band of high pressure that was extending the alpine climbing season much longer than usual. The first few days passed as planned, with the pair exploring the last little details of the route, before a storm rolled in and forced a premature retreat.
Three days later the storm passed. The snow melted, the sky was blue and the pair headed back to the wall for what was likely their last chance of the season. A little after first light, the first 8b was done! Whilst climbing this pitch on his first try was a huge relief, there was a long, long way still to go.
“The first pitch is the most difficult in isolation for me. The style is sustained lay-backing up a thin finger seam with only bad smears for your feet. I could fall on any move, and knew that success would not be dependent on pulling harder, but staying absolutely focused for the entire pitch. With every attempt, my skin would take a beating, and with so many hard pitches waiting above, I knew I needed to climb it quickly.”
This description of the first pitch can be applied fairly accurately to the entire route. On paper, the level of the individual pitches might not seem so high (I know because I made the mistake of imagining the individual pitches as sport routes during a days climbing). However, when combined together one after the other, the sustained, complex, and delicate nature of the climbing completely exhausts your body and mind.
Knowing that you could quite easily slip of one of the many delicate crux moves, and in the process, invalidate all the hard work before it, is a difficult thought to deal with. Each of these moves steals precious skin from your fingers, and energy from your muscles – It breaks you down physically and mentally.
I was suffering a lot during the first section of the wall with strange cramps in my hands and arms. I would arrive at the top of each pitch unable to open my fingers and wonder how I was going to continue. Without the support of Nico, I think I would have been finished, but somehow we continued upwards, focused only on one pitch at a time (even the 7a+’s on this wall are desperate!), and eventually, most of the hard climbing was done.
When the climbing became trad, I felt more in my element, and the final 7c+ passed with relative ease. From here on there were just a couple of very bold 6’s to climb in the dark to reach the sanctuary of the bivy. A long cold night, and even colder morning took us to the summit the next day – what an amazing view! I have to thank Nico, Riky, Pietro, and Caroline for the real support in all the process!”
Joy division climbs parts of three existing routes on the Qualido Wall: “Forse si, Forse no”, “Mellodramma” and “Melat”. The complete line was first free climbed in 2003 from the local hero Simone Pedeferri, and since then the route has seen various different attempts expecially in his first part (the Miro Piala and Igor Koller 3 pitches called “forse si, forse no”, 8b.) Pedeferri’s ascent was climbed over 3 different days, and finally James has climbed it in one push.
Photographer: The North Face®/ Richard Felderer
Athlete: James Pearson
Location: Qualido Mountain, Val Masino – Italy