To describe a day like that of today we need all our 5 senses… and only that may well not be enough.
To start with our view must be inclined with your eyes looking upwards. But looking up with your eyes isn’t enough because if you are under a boulder that starts with a 50 degree overhang you have to really throw back your head, lift up your chin so much so that you open your mouth to be able to see the top of the boulder. And then there’s the top out, you can’t see it properly if you are directly under it, inevitably you must take 4 steps back and only then will you see it, there it is, the slab after the rock over.
Once you are on the slab, the bulk of the hard work is over and the rest of the route is all in a satisfying view. Today the colours have such a wide spectrum, there are enough to complete an artist’s palette, and that is the magic of autumn. The blue however is predominant. Partially for the clear blue sky and partially for Matteo’s blue eyes, even those are so blue and so clear.
The protagonist of the story that we are telling you is Matteo Manzoni, from the class of 2000. A guy that has been climbing for a few years who alternates from bouldering on rock and at competitions. He is in the Italian national team and in his palms he already holds a few titles and trophies. Today however, we are not talking about competitions. The alarm clock went off early because the objective is a trip to Val Masino to try a project that entered into Matteo’s head a few months ago and has not left his thoughts. Just one year ago it seemed unreachable and impossible. However over the last month an idea on how to solve the problem has entered into his head, changing the traditional sequence that could just be successful.
The smell of this autumnal day is that of the forest undergrowth, moist earth, mixed with the smell of chalk, both liquid chalk that Matteo uses before every try and powder chalk, used also to clean the holds before trying the boulder. His boulder. In fact at least for today it is only his. No other climber will get in the way of his attempts. Maybe because it isn’t for everyone: “Unita di Produzione”, is not a boulder problem that is likely to be tried without specific preparation, it has no aura of reverence that only the historic boulders in the Val di Mello have. Simone Pedeferri, the architect of boulders in the entire valley, is an artistic route setter. With absolute precision, and a certain flair, he seeks outs boulder problems that are hidden in the vegetation, that simply just getting there and then cleaning the boulder takes time, work and dedication. However once they are ready, they offer boulderers unique experiences and days just like this one. The boulder problem “Unità di Produzione” is found right behind the Remenno boulder, it’s hidden, north facing, it’s sheltered from the elements and it’s in the shade all year round. It has a certain appeal because it was first freed by Cristian Brenna in 2001 and has a very short list of repeats among which the name Chris Sharma stands out.
The taste on the day of Saturday the 24th October is that of mixed sesame seed bars and hot mint tea prepared at six in the morning by Matteo’s dad Davide. A sweet and sugary taste full of fatherly love. Davide knows how important this challenge is for Matteo, he knows because he went through it all as well, he has climbed all his life and was one of the pioneers of bouldering in the Orobia area. Only a father like this knows how to stay close to him without putting on pressure because he knows that the anxiety that he has to perform does not help, he knows what to say, he knows what it is like to be in Matteo’s shoes and knows when to take it on himself to pick him up and get him to try again.
Exactly the same as what he did when Matteo was a baby, and still today with the same enthusiasm and with a little bit of humour; Davide jokes and says: “But how can you like sport like this?”. It is also helpful to play it down, to ease the tension and try to not think too much about the fact that Matteo has been trying the first three moves for a few hours that are going well but he is always slipping off the forth hold. After abseiling down to clean all the holds one by one and improve the grip of the holds, Matteo has put on his climbing shoes and has started his attempts on the lower section of the boulder. He has understood that that hold must be taken well and now, on his dads shoulders, he is trying to memorize the exact point where, on the inside of the hold, he feels the granite crystals and this way he won’t miss it when he tries is from the ground.
Without a shadow of doubt, out of the five senses, touch is the one that wins over the other four today. It is with the hands and feet that you climb, that you feel the holds, that you memorize the sequence, with what you touch every little hold on this granite; it is the hands that test out the grip, they are filled with chalk and it hurts so much when you get a flapper. Hands and feet marked by attempts, and as more time passes the situation worsens, there is nothing worse that scraping your fingers where the skin is already thin and sore. Matteo holds on and grits his teeth. Once again he puts liquid chalk onto his hands that by now, being the afternoon, his fingers don’t fully extend anymore. You can see in his face he is annoyed because every attempt was shattered at more or less the same move. Before pulling up his feet onto the arête, the left hand that is crossed with the right slips off. Every time the same. And he comes out with: “It’s all useless, we are only wasting time”. He puts his hood up over his head and who knows what he is thinking. Then he gets up, he takes off his jumper, he puts his climbing shoes on and without even putting on more chalk he says: “I will have one last try”. By now it’s almost 4pm, the sun has already gone behind the hill to the west and a cold gentle breeze has picked up, you can hear the sound of the climber’s quickdraws with the rope on the Remenno boulder while they’re cleaning the routes and the empty stomach that begins to rumble. No one denies one last try.
Matteo starts, the first moves, done by the book, this time are a bit scrappy. But he holds on. His foot slips. But he holds on. He loses both feet two times. But he holds on. He puts his hand on the fateful cursed hold. He sticks it. He sticks it!! A deep breath, he knows he mustn’t lose his calm, otherwise he will lose everything. He breaths again and precisely puts his left foot on that hold that just a second ago was under his hands, he then pushes with all his might and rocks over onto the slab, it’s not all over yet, he must still climb well and stay calm. Matteo is an intelligent guy, after all he is a guy who knows how to solve a Rubik’s cube, his climbing slows down, his eyes can already see that blue sky above but his feet must continue to climb well. He breathes louder, two little crimps allow him to move to the left, he matches the last slopper on the top out and he’s done it, he has closed “his” boulder.
Have we forgotten about the hearing? Absolutely not. The sound of today is a liberating scream of joy that at 16:02 ripped through the sky and that was heard all down the valley. A scream that flushes out the tension that has built up in a day of attempts, that clears the curses and despair and which certifies the victory. Even his father Davide mixes joy and pride together: “Those who don’t do this sport cannot understand how much joy there is when you close a boulder problem”. And the sighs of joy take over from puffing, the smiles take over the annoyed expressions and the light feeling takes over the anxiety. A day that Matteo will put in his memory bank in which only a sixth sense may have helped him: have one last go.
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