Wednesday, 27 January 2010

THE INTERVIEW

In the summer of ’93, I found myself at the Tosa Pedrotti hut, in the middle of the Brenta Dolomites, with a long, rainy afternoon ahead. The previous day I had had my fire baptism of the Via Normale at the Campanile Basso: after such an extreme climb (that anyway took an entire day, getting back to the hut in the night), a rainy day was perfect to restore my body and soul, forget the terrifying experience and go back to the rocks the following day for another historical feat. As anyone knows, the only way to spend time in an alpine hut is to drink grappa and read climbing magazines, and that’s exactly what I was doing. In one of these magazines, an article caught my attention: a climber, unknown to me, Tadej Slabe, had climbed to short, very hard routes with strange names in the crags close to Trieste. An 8c and an 8c+, I kept on reading. When I finally read about his training regime and strength feats, I immediately found a new idol: 3 one armers on 1,5 cm edge, 1 one armer on 1 cm edge with 3 kg on.
Almost 20 years after, I find myself on a January Saturday, on the train to Trieste. Tadej awaits me at the train station to spend some time together, climb, that’s for sure, and chat about climbing, grades and rock.
He’s taller than me, and has no more his famous moustache “too white!” he tells me. We sit in a bar for coffee and cake, while his wife and daughter finish the shopping. I know that Osp and Misja Pec are close, but it’s almost two o’ clock and I wonder how much time left we will have for climbing today, tomorrow it will be snowing. I’ll understand very soon, that Tadej doesn’t need much time.
While we walk back to his car, he tells me about his past as a competition climber: when he started competing he was already a bit too old, 31… , and he feels that he could have done better; naturally, there weren’t any climbing walls, so the Federation put just for him some resin holds on a vertical concrete wall, but he mainly trained alone, at the old castle in Lubiana. Now every gym in every city or village in Slovenia has a climbing wall: I think about Italy, then I think to something else. In the car I joke “I can’t even remember how to tie in!”, so he tells me about the two times he forgot to tie his knot. One time he fell just a few meters, rolling backwards and hitting the head “I could see inside my head! From the hit my eyes got pushed in!” he laughs, but the other time he fell from 12 meters, badly fracturing a leg and spending one year before walking properly again “but it was fine for climbing, because in climbing the legs bear less weight that in walking!”; call it will power.
We get to the car park, he packs and gets on the path, 200 meters slightly uphill; I am left behind after few steps, and when I finally get to the walls, he’s already in a small cave, tank top and shorts (at the car park it was 8°) and tells me “I put the rope on my project and then we’ll find something for you to climb!”. Right, I think, he books the route and then we warm up. Yeah, right. Three minutes after our arrival, Tadej warms up in the cave, campusing between edges in the roof, then he ties in, he gives his wife the belay plate and casts off on his project. How hard is his project? You will know soon. I find out that his wife, Barbara, always belayed him on all his projects, but when she climbs up to the cave she’s elegantly dressed and has no harness: well, she doesn’t need a harness, Tadej put a bolt at the base of the route!
It’s difficult to read the moves, he knows them well and climbs very dynamically, with no compromise, cutting loose to save on time, very precisely. After some 30 seconds, he falls, dynoing to a hold that is barely visible in the chalk. He comes down, waits one minute and then he goes again. He does again all the first bit, he sticks the dyno, then adds some moves and falls again. He comes down, he changes into his pants and there we go, it’s time for me to climb some other route. What? Two minutes worth of climbing and he’s done? I was waiting for a full day at the crag, getting home at night! This is Tadej. He is super busy, a university professor, a researcher, with dozens of work projects all around the world, from China to Brazil, and now has little time to dedicate to climbing. “here, it’s perfect for me. It’s my life line, half way between work and home, I can be here in no time, and when I’m here I climb little, two, three goes on routes as difficult as possible. It’s also a good training!”
While I scramble my way up a small overhang, we talk about his project: it’s doing “Sanjski Par Extension” 9a, “without the good holds”. That’s what he says. Without the good holds. Tadej is 51, he climbs 8c with no warm up and skips holds on 9a. now his idea of “as difficult as possible” is a bit more precise to me, at least in terms of numbers.
Then, something funny happens. I leave a top rope for a nearby route, that sadly is a bit diagonal. No problem, says Tadej. He solos part of the route, trailing my rope, and pass it inside a chemical bolt. He downclimbs and hands me the rope. I am puzzled, how can I get to the chain? I can’t pass through the bolt. I ask him. “Oh, yes – he says – that’s how I’m used. After that bolt the route is easy, there’s no need to get to the chain!” I love him.
After dinner we sit at the table, wine for me, tea for him – rings a bell… - and we talk for hours.
He used to play basketball before, then he saw climbers doing traverses on the walls of the old castle in Lubiana, and he gave it a go. He discovered that he was “quite good quite soon”, entered the national team and became very well known: when he bolted the first multipitch route that climbed the highest wall in Osp, the national television broadcasted a live show that followed him in the first free climb of the route. He starred in films about climbing and documentaries. He kept training at the old castle, where he still goes “because there are endless possibilities of super hard campus projects under the main arch!”, and when he finished university, he spent two or three years climbing full time, until getting a scholarship. Naturally, with this also came responsibilities and he started focusing on training, having less time to dedicate to climbing. Still today, in all his offices all around Slovenia, he has all he needs to train; when he didn’t, he used to get up at 4 am to train before work (he still gets up at 4 every day to go to work early, and at 6 30 in the weekends…), at his parents’ house there was some heating plumbing on the ceiling, a simple tube for everyone else, a pull up bar for him. So he started to do pull ups: without any training knowledge, he started doing series of 10 pull ups every minute, for 70 minutes. “But I soon discovered that it was useless for me!” he laughs, and tells me that he understood that power was the way to follow. Fingerboarding and pull ups became his mantra, with the results that you read before. I ask him if he has a pull up bar or a fingerboard in his office now, and he says “a fingerboard, but it’s the same, I can’t tell the difference between a pull up bar and a small edge. My fingers are still strong.”
Luckily he didn’t have any bad injury, because he has no patience. As soon as the pain disappears a bit, he starts training again: he reckons that training and climbing are two different paths, that go on together but independently, and each one has a meaning and a dignity in itself. I strongly approve with my head.
He’s sorry that he couldn’t do as well as he could have in comps, he used to feel a lot the pressure: “it’s just a matter of getting used to it! I am not a natural born competitor, you know, but I’m tough, I’m determined and when I have a goal I never give up. If I knew that I have to do 10.000 pull ups a day to climb my project, I’d say no problem, I can do them”. He trains at home after climbing, and at his office, where he does “one armers on edges very other day. I sit all day in front of my computer and it’s boring. That’s a good way to also release the tension”; he climbs on rock or on plastic “at least five times a week”, few tries on routes as difficult as possible. So he faces his projects from many angles: reps on specific, hard sections of the route; specific bouldering indoors and fingerboarding “I always have projects!” he laughs, and I think about Jerry Moffatt and “stay hungry”.
Problem: when he started, the hardest routes were VI+. He did some alpine climbing, but he soon realized that he wasn’t into it. “that wasn’t climbing anymore, that was something else, also connected with staying alive. I was interested in climbing as a sport discipline, in being athletes”. So I ask him whether he progressed constantly or by big leaps forward, and he says “both. Physically, I progressed constantly, but mentally I had big leaps forward.”, for sure, physically he was already strong enough to climb very hard, but the idea was needed, the vision of bolting walls that seemed impossible to climb “my neck kept bending backwards, from the vertical to overhangs to roofs”, while everyone kept telling him that he was crazy, that it was pointless to bolt such routes. They were wrong. The small cave in Misja Pec was dubbed “Taddy’s cave”. So he bolted the impossible routes, and adds a low spit as a belay anchor for his wife to belay him without a harness “this cave can be a very romantic place in the morning, when the sun comes out from the trees and shine in” his wife smiles, embarrassed “without her, nothing of this all could have been possible for me”.
He wanted to find out what was possible to climb using natural holds, without chipping, and he reckons that yes, his routes are pretty hard “I prepared a lot to climb them, anyone else who wants to repeat them has to prepare a lot”, and he tells me that Fred Nicole, visiting, told him that the three hardest routes in the world, at the moment, were “Action Directe”, “Bain de Sang” and “Za Staro Kolo”.
Curious as a cat, I ask him about these particular names: “Sanjiski Par” (“Dream Couple”) and “Za Staro Kolo…” (“For an old bicycle and a small dog”), and the answer is a beautiful story, they are dedicated to his wife. The dream couple, in those years, was supermodel Schiffer and magician Copperfield, and he thought “if they are a magic couple, we can be a magic couple!”, while the other name is taken from one of his wife’s poems, translated and published in half Europe. Chapeau. Naturally I want to know which routes, in the world, he would like to climb, and the answer leaves me puzzled: he knows nothing about climbing news now, he hasn’t even time to check the Internet, “But that guy, Ondra, when he’s on the wall he IS on the wall. You’re not pulling him down.”
Then, THE question: “all your pictures show you climbing in shorts. Were you against lycra?”. Luckily he laughs “of course I had lycra! Also because I had sponsors and I needed some room to show their logos and brands, but my favourite climbing uniform is shorts and a tank top, just as today!” yeah, sure, as today and the following day, when we arrived at the crag at 9 30 with 2°… “when I was young, the Jugoslavian govern used to have a special project for strong athletes in all disciplines, and so I got some money. I also had sponsors, but I had to plan my season with specific goals to make it even. Now I am much more free, I do it all for myself”. He tells me that sponsors helped him a lot not only with money and gear, but also by showing him their trust, demonstrating that they believed in what he was doing, that they found it worth. There were also some pages in the main newspapers, just for the climbing news, where everyone could read about the latest ascents and climbs. “this was very important, because it made climbing visible to everyone, not only to climbers, so maybe someone could have gotten interested and tried. Now it’s not like this anymore, all information is very specific and targeted, also Interned isn’t of much help. There are magazines and websites, but they are dedicated just to climbers, non climbers don’t know them. It’s more difficult to make our sport known now.” An interesting point.
I ask him if someone in particular inspired him at the beginning of his climbing career. He tells me that yes, there was someone, but for him they weren’t real idols, but more just stronger climbers that he was chasing! He wanted to close the gap. Then he exclaims “the route was my idol!”, to climb an impossible route and dedicate all his self to climbing it. This is so beautiful to me, and I understand that I am in front of a man that actively pushed the discipline forward, not only in pure difficulty, but also in the mentality, and did this in complete isolation from the rest of Europe. Naturally, he met everyone and climbed with everyone, on rock or in comps, but he also lost “too many friends in the mountains”.
It’s dark now, and out of the window I can no more see the lake in front of Tadej’s house. It forms when the heavy rains or snow melting push too much water in the depths of the earth, and the valley gets flooded and many roads are cut off.
I ask him about the biggest technical innovation in climbing, for him. “the rubber”, he says quickly, when Boreal created the Fire model that Jerry appreciated also. He worked with Boreal for many years, and he still uses many different pairs of shoes “I understand quite soon which kind of shoe is the best one for each one of my projects, and that’s a very important part for me.” While we discuss the various brands, his wife enters the room with “Rock Stars” by Heinz Zak in her hands. Personal dedication to Tadej from the author on the first page, and big, two pages picture of him climbing “Za Staro Kolo” with Barbara belaying: we run through the entire book and he knows everyone, he recalls memories, they are familiar faces. The last one is Gullich. “it’s a tragedy. Imagine what he could have done.”
Looking back to the past, I ask him about his regrets. “well, I would train less and climb more, especially on sight. Then I’d do more comps and more bouldering. Oh, and I’d study philosophy!” naturally, he wouldn’t change a single thing in his past, he’s happy also about his mistakes.
It’s getting late, and my questions are close to an end. “what did you feel after climbing a project?” “I was happy and satisfied, for one minute. Then I already needed another project, harder.” “and what if you fell near the top?” “I used to get angry! Maybe I could yell at Barbara that she didn’t belay well, and so we would have an argument, and the entire crag would become silent! Everyone climbing in silence!” I laugh and understand how deep is their history, tying together love, passions.
“and now?” “I still have so many projects! I don’t feel any decrease in power, my fingers are still strong. When I climb, I still feel without weight”.
Sunday morning, early, heavy snow outside. Dammit, I think, I wanted to climb. Full breakfast, then we all go out, -3°, I think about the journey back. At the roundabout just outside of Trieste Tadej turns right, and I know that we are going climbing; after all, it’s not snowing in the cave and it’s 2° now!
On the path he quickly leaves me behind again, so I pretend waiting his wife. When we get there he is already at the base of the route, shorts and tank top de rigueur, he blasts two goes on the project, then he asks me if I want to climb “Sanjski Par” 8c, or “Za Staro Kolo” 8c+. I obviously choose the easy option and, with 4 sport routes on my back in ten years, and no warm up, I cast off on “Sanjski Par”. Ah ah! Tadej says that the moves aren’t difficult, it’s just hard to link them, while I bite my tongue not to swear at full volume, and try to stay attached to the wall, my feet clamping and squeezing everything in sight not to cut loose. I fall after few moves, but I think “in Rome do what Romans do” so I get down and I start again. Locking and dynoing I manage to put some moves in a row, but still the image of how Tadej was climbing that section, the easy one, of the route, blows me away. I keep on pulling until the cold, the pump and the thought that he and his wife are just waiting for me, make me call it a day, fighting the desire to spend the whole day on the route. I am happy. I enjoyed it. It’s just my style and I put together some decent links, I feel very close to Tadej’s vision of climbing, very far from his power.
Train station. I can only thank them for their kindness and hospitality. One last photo, it’s time to go. I am truly happy. I know a great person, not only a great climber. He opened both his house and his mind to me, and he made me a big gift by offering to try his routes. This has no price. I know now, that they really are the “Sanjski Par”.
We shake hands, then just before getting in the car, as if he just remembered something very important, he asks me “where are the hardest routes, in Italy?”
I smile and think that we’ll meet again. Thank you Tadej.

video

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

PICS FROM SLOVENIA

Tadej on his project, "Sanjski Par Extension Without the Big Holds"!!!
Hero and man.
View from the house.
The route.

Monday, 18 January 2010

PAST AND FUTURE

As previously announced, I spent the weekend with super wad, super kind man Tadej Slabe. He is still a beast! I watched him climb, and I got immediately psyched, so, being a naturally shy guy and having sport climbed two times in the last ten years or so, I tied into the rope and set off on "Sanjski Par" 8c.
Yes my friends, I went there and gave it a go. I didn't do it, just in case you were so foolish to think I had more than 0,01 of climbing it in the session.
The route is super short, powerful and really fun to climb: I was so at ease in the place, on the route and with Tadej that I actually led it. Being two meters from the ground, I think, helped. I also had a look at the nearby "Za Staro Kolo" 8c+ and noticed that all the holds in the first wall face the wrong directions, down, diagonal, not one hold is usable straightforward. I was blown away.
Now I want to go there and climb "Sanjski Par". Excellent. I have two pages worth of bouldering projects and now I also want to climb an 8c in Slovenia.
Oh well, that's fun.
While I was trying the first part of the route, his wife exclaimed "Lorenzo you're strong, you have iron in your arms!"
I immediately found new power for another go, without thinking that iron gets rusty!!!
Then after two or three goes to understant the first part of the route, we went away and I had another moment of glory, just thanks to him. We had gotten very early at the crag, on a cold and damp day, so when all the other climbers arrived we were already there, in the cave, pulling. When all the others were just warming up, we packed and left. As we were walking down, I felt so good: I was with a super strong climber, I had been seen putting together some moves on a 8c and I was a complete stranger. The misterious stranger.
Dwarf on the shoulder of a giant, I shone in the way down, cheering everyone around.
Naturally, I perfectly understand the idiocy of my thoughts and feelings. I understand my egotic need of appreciation from others. But in that few meters of path, for once, I didn't feel a complete and eternal punter.
And this have no price.

On a lighter note, this is a preview of The Guru's new book on training.

A NEW TRAINING FOR CLIMBING BOOK+DVD (work in progress) from Climbingtraining on Vimeo.



Friday, 15 January 2010

THE JOURNALIST

Tomorrow I will take an early train to go to Slovenia and interview power monster, old school wad Tadej Slabe.
He's been one of my idols since when I read his training feats on a old italian magazine in a hut in the Dolomites. I had been climbing for just one year at the time, but I immediately recognized the power in the man. It's not a case that two of his 8c+ routes from the early '90s saw the first repeat after some good 15 years.
Why do I want to interview him? First because he's an absolute wad, and second because everyone has to know that he's an absolute wad. End of.
My small painful problem is slowly getting better but still I can't properly train. So tonight I did two easy circuits, the hardest being a whopping 6b+, that made my forearms the size of Popeye's.
After what seemed an eternity I had partially recovered and I did some fingerboarding. My front two are getting decent, my middle two are getting just weak instead of baby weak, and my back two are still useless on their own. Oh well, put together, these four little bastards still allow me one complete pull up, on a 1 cm edge, with 40 kilos on. Easily. I know it's nothing compared to the strong ones, but considering that I haven't properly fingerboarded for months it's still something.
The best thing about this old school training, is that it's also quite impressive to watch. Still, when a girl started talking to me while I was there putting away iron plates, at first I was a bit puzzled. She asked me a few questions in "sincere" awe, all smiles, and I was at ease, playing it cool. Then everything became to crumble. Absolutely without a single care in the world, she asked me if she could touch my back muscles, and I couldn't believe what was going on. People in the gym looked at us in disbelief, and I can understand that: I was literally being sexually harassed. Still, the really incredible stuff began when she asked if those were my biggest muscles, or if I had some other "big muscle" (sic) out of sight. The funny thing, if there's one, is that beyond the evident embarassment, my body was racting on its own.
I let you imagine the rest. Life is crazy sometimes.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

STEEL NERVES

After friday's session, I went again to the gym on saturday, with a happy bunch of pullers. It's been one of the best sessions ever, with smiles, bulging biceps and puffing all around, along with much abuse, a good part of which was directed to myself, just because when someone screams "Footless, Lore!" I go footless. I trust my friends. I was a bit worked from the night before, but I was quite sparky, and ended the 3 hours session with some footless bouldering, the highlight being a campusing and downcampusing a green on the 60° wall.
The night ended chez Luca, where there was a cool party with many people, especially girls, and a lot of food and wine. I was very happy and flirted around.
Until here the happy news.
The sad news are that the training and the party aggravated a physical problem that I had been suffering from in the last days, turning the situation into a very hindering and painful problem. Sunday wasn't enough to recover, so I had to cancel monday's session and I only went today, doing a very light session of fingerboarding ans system training, plus a couple of easy ciruits.
So the main problem for me now is keeping my calm, because I can't train properly and this is not good for Font. I will take it as easy as I can, because I really need to fully recover for the Font mission.
Then I think that training or no training, I will get to the forest with a body only made of steel and a heart: I will devote both to the forest. My heart to love it, my steel to destroy it.
Love and destroy.

Friday, 8 January 2010

THIS TIME IS FOR REAL!

Well, the much dreaded work came and went. I went to school last monday only to wait for the two students the whole morning: they didn't come, so, given that they were impossible to contact, I spent the week waiting for a call from school in case they arrived. Again they didn't, so I took advantage of this to rest some more and do some boring stuff like going to the back and other bullshit. But monday 11th it will be for real: I will really start working again, so I have to ready my mind for that.
The good thing, naturally, is that during this week I've had time to train properly. I started the new cycle that will bring me to Font. In this week I have done system training for the fingers on small crimps and slopers, one foot only boulering, and both static and dynamic exercises. Also bouldering. Tomorrow a big team should gather at the gym to do some pulling and I will be there despite a monster session tonight: the aim will be super quality. Hard hard things with long long rests. We will see, I'm eager to climb with some friends I haven't seen in a while. Luca was there tonight also and provided some really good vibes, trying hard on some problems and dispatching quite a lot.
Apart from that there's really nothing to report. I am thinking to Font all the time and I am already super psyched for many many reasons that I will at some point explain, then main one being the presence of my girlfriend, after too much time, in this trip.
This time is for real.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

MOM, I DON'T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!

After far too short holidays, tomorrow I start working again. I am a bit disappointed about that, because work is work and is less fun than climbing in the sun, but the bills must be paid, that motherfucker cat of Arrostino must be fed and the gym subscription must be renewed.
So, back to school.
The last post was titled "Go Ahead", and yesterday ahead I went. All alone as usual, I went to Amiata to get some climbing done. I firstly stopped at Tepolini to check the infamous traverse that I am adding moves to every time I go. I got down with pads and all and I found the crag literally dripping, maybe due to the fact that it had rained the whole night, who knows. Bummer anyway.
So, I took the car and went under the welcoming arms of the Chiesina roof. Super dry. There, after a brief warm up, I did some things, one being "Bengio's Problem", one of the many variations established there, that I managed to flash a few months ago with much pleasure. I made a poor, small vid of it.
Semi warmed up, I naturally tried the roof, but the first hard move this time didn't go, I think because my fingers were already a bit achey and because I had slightly tweaked my back again. This disappointed me alot, it was a long time since I last missed the move a few times in a row, but I pressed on, exchanging the first fists with Caminati's project. Yes, you got it right, power monster, super wad Caminati has a project there. It shares the first hard bit of the roof direct, then all of a sudden, cuts left.
The wonder boy reckons Font 8b.
Will this be my first Font 8b? I don't know. It's quite close to home and I can work it on my own, and that's a bonus, but as the drawback the crux revolves around a full span dyno that Michele did only a few times... Nightmare.
I did all the moves bar the dyno, for which I still have to sort the footholds out. I also solved another tricky move: when you get the first good RH edge after the first hard move, then you get the pinch LH, but from here you have to switch RH from edge to undercling to charge the dyno. That's hard. Michele hooks far right, I can do it but then I swing too much so I opted for a frontal approach, feet low and big big tension. Next time I will try the dyno, then I know what to do to top it out, still not a gimmie.
At this point of the day the roof had knocked some power out of me, and the cold wind had sent the energy levels a bit on the red. It dawned to me that maybe this same wind could have dried some holds in the traverse, so, with not much daylight left, I took everything and I went there again. I firstly went down with just one pad, rags and chalk. I started drying the still wet holds, and it appeared doable. I put the rags in the seams and went back to the car to get the other pads. It was very doable.
I thought about Keith under "The Geck". I knew I only needed one good go. It was getting a bit dark and very very cold. I sat down and fired the bullet. I failed, my feet cut loose and my fingers let go, both for the strain and the pain. Instead of trying it right away, I thought I'd better sort things out before the good go that I was expecting. The last move, a dyno from a painful slot to a perfect sloper, is strenuous at that time, and the hold bites your fingers alot. I found out a small undercling. I adjusted the hand sequence to use it and tried it: a small part of the undercling's lip broke and projected me on the - luckily - perfectly placed mats. I did the move one time and then it was dark.
I thought again about Keith. Let's do it.
To gain some precious minutes, I already packed my bags, then I sat down and fired the problem. Happiness. I have added another move to this already hard problem, I went half a meter further, half a meter closer to the full traverse, which is now only a light year away. Doing this last variation that I did yesterday, nothing is left on that boulder but the full traverse, so I'd better get myself a space ship and start closing that distance.
So this bouldering year has dawned under the sign of disappointment, committment and progress.
And that's just perfect.

video

Saturday, 2 January 2010

GO AHEAD


It's january the 2nd.
The sun is shining and I go climbing.