IN VALLE D'ORCO
A Story of Routes, Italian Coffee, and Gear Testing
6.5 minute read
In October 2020, Wild Country invited me to Valle Dell'Orco in North-West Italy to field test a new harness they had been developing; I was excited to revisit the granite valley. It had been eight years since my first and only trip to Orco when I climbed Greenspit, the famous 8b+ roof crack, and at the time, I knew I wanted to return for a fun trip. Plus, I had spent the summer climbing limestone and projecting in Spain, so granite was a welcome change. I hadn't tested prototypes with Wild Country before, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but with the temptation of a new lightweight harness, I looked forward to two weeks of climbing classic cracks, thin cracks, offwidths, and also sport routes from technical slabs to more physical lines. After all, what is product testing if I didn't run the whole gambit of climbing sectors spread across the valley?
As I headed to Italy in my van, I questioned what makes a good lightweight harness? I reminded myself that lightweight isn't so much about grams as it is not feeling the harness while climbing. I came up with the analogy that it needs to fit like a custom Speedo, hugging and supporting in all the right places but light enough not to be noticeable or restricting.
When I choose a harness, I first select based on how it feels; I want to feel like I am climbing freely without any restrictions. But I still like to feel my harness around my waist and legs, just tight enough to assure me of comfort and safety without restricting fluid movement. But of course, it needs to comfortably distribute the weight across the surface wherever it contacts my body. Next, it has to be practical for all of my climbing styles, from big walls in Patagonia to sport routes in Spain, so I instinctually check the gear loop design. They have to be quickly accessible, not too much in the front and not too far back. Not only does it need four gear loops, but the front ones have to be stiff to allow unclipping quickdraws or gear quickly. And last but maybe most important to a lightweight design, the leg loops need to be the right size combined with the waist belt, which is always tricky because we all have different bodies.
I was psyched for the next challenge! But first, following in the Italian spirit, it was time for a coffee break in a cute local bar in Ceresole Reale. After all, you have to follow in the vibes and culture of the places you visit, no?
One hour later, buzzing with excitement and Italian espresso, Rava and I racked up below Legittima Visione, a bolted 8a+ stemming corner we could see from Ceresole. Now on my second climbing day and feeling warmed up, I was ready to give it my all for an onsight. This route is far from an easy onsight, though, and I fell before the main crux. I blamed it on the strong coffee still coursing through me but was determined to unlock the moves. Stemming, palming down, both feet right, both hands left, gaston undercling, I unlocked the moves to the puzzle! My skin needed to rest, though, before another onsight attempt.
At this point, when we all gathered back for a big Italian dinner, I was very excited to report on the Mosquito harness. I loved the minimal design, and I could already tell it was just what I wanted for free climbing, even on trad multi-pitch routes with a harness full of Friends, quickdraws, stoppers, beaners, a tagline, etc. Being able to move freely is a priority, and this harness offers me the proper support to do so!
Two days later, with fresh skin and the puzzle laid out in front of me, I returned to Legittima Visione with determination. I climbed quickly, not to spend too much time on the small footholds. In technical climbing like this, the longer you stand on your feet, the more your rubber will deform, and your feet will move in your shoes, so climbing quickly is key for me. I felt like I flew up the route, and even though I messed up the beta I had mapped out, I didn't fall and climbed with confidence. This time as I reached the anchor, I didn't blame the Italians for serving me coffee but thanked them!
These are only two of the climbs I did in Orco over the following days, but there are so many good ones that I have made a small list below to highlight my favorites.
Concerning the Mosquito harness, my first impression did not change after trying it on slabs, crack, face, sport, and trad routes! I even begged the Wild Country product guys to let me keep the prototype. When they said no, I bought them a few extra grappas at the climber's bar Le Fonti and tried to sneak away with it. Unfortunately, they are trained in drinking Grappa, and I had to wait a few more months for my own.
My Route Suggestions:
• Rocky Marciano (8a) - trad, roofcrack
• Penitenziàgite (8a) –Trad - First anchor (7c) offwidth
• Suona Morto (8a) -trad, roofcrack
• Cinquetredici (7c+) – slab
• Gloves of War (7c) – trad, offwidth
• Shitting Bull (7b+) - trad
• Percussioni Lititche (7b+) - trad
• L’attacco dei Cloni (7b+) - trad
• Legoland (7b) - trad
• Non so chi mi tenga (7a+) - trad, offwidth
• End of the Flare (7a+) - trad
• Sitting Bull (6c+) - trad
Written by Siebe Vanhee
Photo by Federico Ravassard
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Stage 8- Fontvieille secret crag
I can't tell you the secret crags, as they are secret because they aren't technically allowed. To find them you have to ask as you meet climbers on your previous days and if you are lucky they may tell you the secrets! France is full of them, and sometimes these are the best crags!
We arrived back home after 25 days of traveling and climbing. It wasn't always restful, but then living with a baby is never restful! Every day brought us load of discoveries, from a wild tortoise to incredible pains au chocolates, to meeting an old friend. Baby Arthur loved it. The minute we stepped back in the house, he was pointing again at the window, asking, "where next?" For James and me, we finish this adventure delighted to have realized that we still have so much left to explore, and it is all less than 100km from our home. This bike and climb trip is only the first!
Arriving in Orco, I met the product team and was handed the Mosquito prototype. I remember my first impression very well, "This is it! This is the harness I want to use on all my climbs, even the big walls!" I thought. But I was just getting started. With great weather in the forecast, I was introduced to Federico Ravassard (Rava), a photographer who knows the area well, and we were sent out to climb stellar lines, put the harness through its paces, and shoot photos.
One of the first climbs Rava told me about as we looked at options for the next days was Conosci te stesso, a 50 meter 8a trad line. This single pitch is huge and intimidating and would make the perfect challenge for an onsight trad ascent. The line starts with an easy 12 meters before a challenging stemming corner with a thin crack in the back. After the crack comes a few face moves before a runout traverse to a mega exposed arête, finishing on a nasty slab to the anchor.
On my second morning, I energetically put on the Mosquito, racked up with Zero's, Friends, and Rocks, and set off without a proper warm-up. I made it to the technical corner placing just a few rocks and continuing to a good rest, where I placed three Zeroes. From here, the traverse starts, and it is a proper runout to the exposed arête. I was already feeling pumped, paying the price for my impatience to warm up, but after climbing back and forth a few times below the arête, I knew I had to commit to the move. Taking the long-ass beta, I went for it, bumping my right hand and foot onto the arête, causing my body to open like a screaming barn door, but I managed to hold on. Turning the corner, I was surprised the technical slab was protected by bolts. With a hesitation of nerves, worried about blowing my onsight, I slowly but confidently smeared the tips of my rubber onto the granite and delicately crawled the last 7 meters. Clipping the anchor, I was ecstatic from the voyage this beautiful line had offered me!
The route is a 7-pitch (8b), and 6-months after having a baby, the idea of achieving this was going to be my “I am back” diploma. When I chose it, I knew I was on my way back to fitness, and I had just figured out a rhythm where baby let me train and sleep a bit. Fitness isn’t everything, though I also needed focus, dedication, and the will to finish such a route. What I experienced as a young mum was a total shift of focus in my life. Every second of the day, part of my mind was on my little one – Does he need anything? Is he in danger? When baby Arthur was 6-months old, I couldn’t write a full text, read a book, or focus. I willingly disappeared behind “the veil of mum.” But I was hoping I would find my fully functional brain again, on top of my late abdominals.