Stefano Ghisolfi has made an encore: on 28th September, the strongest Italian #climber of all times sent the first repetition of Change in the fabulous #flatanger cave, rewarding us with the same emotions felt on 7 December 2018, when he sent Perfecto mundo in Margalef. The same emotions, indeed, because both routes, one in Norway and the other one in Spain, are graded with a matching, extremely high grade: 9b+. In case you did not know, only four routes in the world share this grade – in addition to Change and Perfecto mundo, there are La dura dura in Oliana and Vasil vasil in the Moravian karst – with only five climbers having succeeded at climbing them. For this reason, as soon as we heard the news, we simply could not resist: we grabbed a phone and spent a good hour talking to Stefano: we clearly paid him compliments, but also wanted to hear everything about his latest, superb feat.
One first, somewhat predictable question: how come you decided to grapple with Change?
«To an extent, I wanted to take advantage of this peculiar year: the World Cup not taking place meant that my summer was free, so why not aim at a fine target, perhaps even going to #flatanger, where I had never been? In short: as they say, to kill two birds with one stone. Still, what could I try in #flatanger, which hosts Silence, the first 9c in the world? “Not Silence”, I told myself. That would be fantastic, but also an extended attempt, seeing how long it took Adam Ondra to send it. That’s why I came up with Change: despite being the first 9b+ in history, it was up there, neglected by everyone; nobody had the courage to have a go at it, after Adam sent it in 2012».
It’s a strange destiny for such a climbing milestone. Why do you think that is the case?
«First of all I think the video showing Adam climbing it does play a part: I believe that those images, those specific, “twisting” movements, the shouting and the extreme effort shown… Well, all this certainly did not help, in fact you’d have thought that Change was an absurd, insane route, almost to be avoided. If you add the complex access to remote #flatanger, which cannot be reached quickly, as is the case with Céüse for instance, and then its 9b+ grade, then the fact that it has been “abandoned” over the years does not come as a surprise».
Still, you did not back off, but solved the problem somewhat quickly…
«My first trip to #flatanger lasted about a month, from the beginning of August until the beginning of September. I then came home for the Italian Lead Championship [which took place on 12th and 13th September and saw yet another success from Stefano, Ed.] and I left for Norway a few days later: I wanted to carry on with the project, making some “serious” attempts. It all went better than I had thought: somewhat unexpectedly, after twenty-five days of “work”, I managed to cross the finish line, so to speak».
Last August you were in good company in #flatanger, since several Italian friends were there. What sort of experience was that?
«Stefano Carnati, Marcello Bombardi and Luca Bana were there, and they were sending one route after the other! I, on the other hand, was struggling with Change, without even knowing how it would end. Of course, I could have chosen easier routes, which I may well have topped – I had never been to #flatanger and it was all new to me – but I had placed a bet on 9b+. Luckily, in the end I won! In any case, that was not the first time that I found myself in a comparable situation: something similar happened for Perfecto mundo. Aiming at really difficult routes means giving up on other ones, putting yourself out there, and I would say that’s right up my street: I see it as a sort of investment to obtain something bigger, just as is the case when you train».
Can you paint a nice picture of Change?
«It’s a 55-metre long journey, with 185 movements, divided into two parts by an intermediate chain. The first pitch is the most difficult one, in itself it is worth the 9a+/b grade. You start with a 7C #boulder move, ending with a small resting place close to the fourth bolt: it is not an extreme section, but still not to be underestimated. The crux is right after that – an 8B+, three-metre long #boulder – followed by a good resting. After that it’s a third, brusque move and then it is sustained until the first chain, which was the aim of the first trip. The second pitch starts with a long, 8A traverse #boulder move, below a roof, while the last part is easier: had it been at the beginning, it would not have been a problem, while being on top means you have to hang in there for another 20-25 metre. Putting the two parts together was a real fight: one hour spent in a gruelling struggle, making the most of all the resting places».
How did you work on the route? What was your strategy?
«I started with the crux #boulder move, which luckily sits a few metres from the ground. Having a go at the rest before tackling the hardest section would have meant very little. I did struggle to an extent at the beginning: I toiled to find my way, which is different from Adam’s, and it took me a few days to come up with a solution. Once the sequence was nailed, trying the first part again and again, I felt ready for some “real” attempts, but also to have a look at the second pitch, which had no quickdraws hanging and alas three hangers were missing, too».
So what did you do? Why were three hangers missing?
«Because of the strong winds, fixed quickdraws may start moving in #flatanger. They move and swing, the nut comes loose, it then falls, taking the quickdraw and hanger with it. Unlike Stefano Carnati, I was unaware of this! He was in fact carrying a couple of spare hangers and he lent them to me (I still have to return them to him), to give me the chance to try the route».
What about the third one? Where did you find it? How did you place them all?
«I retrieved the third one, with its corresponding nut, from a bolt hammered to the cave ground and then left abandoned. Isn’t it extraordinary? I adopted the only possible way to place them: climbing and fixing them one at a time, grabbing a hold with one hand and fumbling about with the other, before clipping in the quickdraws. I now know that these things can happen and will bear that in mind!».
Let’s talk about your second trip: how did that go?
«Once I nailed the first section and tried the second one, I was ready to put them all together: it was a matter of trying again and again. As to how long that would take, I had no idea whatsoever. In the end, it only took me another three days, with one attempt per day: it was impossible for me to do any more than that. On the first attempt, I fell right in the middle of the 8A #boulder move; the second one brought me at the end of it and the third one, once over the #boulder and after having reached a good resting with a knee jam, I carried on until the top. The conditions were not ideal, it was sunny and hot, some holds were still wet, although I had tried to dry them, I was rather tired… but I had processed everything and I sent the route, as is often the case».
What are the differences between Change and Perfecto mundo?
«Grading aside, these route greatly differ, also considering the way I approached them. Change has been a more complex project, where I had to work on individual movements before thinking about the rest: it was clearly a more difficult process, akin to a puzzle that you complete piece by piece. I tried to put all the parts back together only when I could see them clearly. With Perfecto mundo, instead, resolved movements can be performed from the start: at the beginning, you clearly know that you won’t reach the top, but you can have a go, in fact you must do so».
What is your impression of Flatanger?
«It’s a magical place… its cave is incredible, to say the least! You can think about it, imagine it, then seeing it does not disappoint: it’s just as you dreamt it! The cave is not the only scene-stealer, though: the entire landscape is fabulous, pacific and solitary, slowly revealing itself. It seems impossible for #flatanger not to have been part of the international climbing scene until 2012, when Adam visited it».
You will go back there, then…
«I think so, maybe not in 2021 though».
Which route would you like to climb?
«Actually, there are quite a few of them, which I set aside to try Change. Among them all, however, I think I’ll choose Move: a route graded 9b/+ freed by the “usual” Adam in 2013. Not Silence, however, as I’ve said: if I were to try a 9c route, it would be Bibliographie in Céüse, which will surely have more success as a route».
Speaking of Adam Ondra, who immediately paid his compliments to you on social media: have you talked to him after your ascent?
«We had actually spoken beforehand, as well: since bolts are five metres apart in some sections of Change, it’s thus not a consistent line – more than one solution is accepted – I did not want to do something different from him. In the end he was really happy and content that somebody had repeated one of his most important creations, despite that freaky #boulder move».
One last question: what will you do in the next few months?
«Once the filming is done here in Norway – with photos and videos – Sara and I will go back to our Arco home. A nice project at the Eremo di San Paolo is waiting for me: an individual route, that I bolted together with Severino Scassa, its grade at least 9b. In Arco, in the Làghel area, a construction site surrounds King Line, which I would like to share with Ondra, although the crag is currently closed. King Line could even be graded 9c, but for the time being all we can do is wait and hope».
Pictures by Sara Grippo
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