In this article UKC regular Jim Titt gives his account of the first ascent of a route on Monte Monaco, Sicily.
Gaston was one of my heroes in my formative days but sometimes he wrote rubbish! I thought it was the pits already and the night was going to be a long one. The wind gusted around the corner, raindrops gleaming in the light of my headtorch. I huddled further into the poor shelter offered by my rucksack and listened to the thunderstorm brewing up on the peak above. I pulled my shopping bag further down over my ears.
A few metres away Scott huddled on his `lying with feet over the edge´ flat bit in a selection of Primark, pound shop and discount outdoor clothing, the luxury of an Alpkit gilet and a proper woolly hat keeping him a bit warmer. My similarly poor summer climbing clothes weren´t really doing the job and being damp didn´t help. A niche in the rock became a fireplace and the local shrubbery was slowly sacrificed to at least warm my upper half as I sat under a small olive tree which reduced in size as the night drew on. As the storm front passed through and the skies cleared at 4 am things got chillier and Scott made a spot for his own cheery blaze, the surrounding area being swiftly denuded of vegetation and the tree shrinking drastically, a folding saw being de-riguer for hard-core first ascensionists. Quite why our down jackets, bags, winter climbing trousers, overtrousers, thermals and two survival blankets were sleeping comfortably in our apartment while we perched on a ledge in summer clothing is hard to work out in retrospect!
The East Face of Monte Monaco has been a bit of a long-term project (though I´ve some older ones tucked away) since I started it four years before. Originally conceived as a fully bolted pleasure-trip for the middle-grade climber wanting a change from single-pitch stuff I started equipping it a few years ago as a roped solo but the project somehow hung around for a while, lugging all the gear up there alone just got hard work.
During the 2009 Climbing Festival I dragooned my brother Scott into being the intrepid leader and we set off with high hopes and a rucksack of bolts and batteries, the plan being to whizz to the top, just bolting the belays and place protection bolts on the next ascent. This plan went awry as night fell at the end of the 11th pitch and after 380m of climbing, an overhanging orange wall looking particularly unappealing in the light of Scott´s head torch ( mine being back in the apartment ;- "if I´m not back drinking a beer by 5 I´m a tosser" will probably appear on my gravestone).
The October evening was warm so overnighting wasn´t going to be a problem but the lack of water was a concern. Much more worrying was the 1,000 climbers at the party with free beer and food which we were missing!
So we abbed off. Into the dark down an 300m unclimbed face. With one 60m rope. And one headtorch. 10 abseils and 4 hours later we hit the beer!
This year we were going to crack it, we even got up early this time! In tune with modern trends we should have gone light and fast, except neither of us is particularly light or fast these days so we hoped cunning and experience would do. And of course there is the small matter of the bolting gear, drill, 4 batteries, 35 bolts, hammer and all the extra´s that someone was going to carry.
Fitness was out of the question since neither of us have been on the rock for months, in fact according to all those definitions we read on the forums neither of us actually qualify as climbers these days! Scott decided to climb in his Scarpa Rockjocks to save carrying descent shoes and I resurrected a pair of mouldering Boreal Aces, stiff as boards and with decomposing rubber. A couple of ham rolls and some chocolate went in with the water as sustenance.
Placing the intermediate protection bolts we made good time as far as the top of the 9th pitch, enlivened only by Scott´s `bombproof thread´ ("the slab wasn´t so bad this time, I laced it up") failing under body weight as I hung on it to drill. From here on we took a new line from our previous attempt and immediately the mountain decided to give us a gentle warning when Scott took a 20 footer as a hold let go, this time the thread held but since it took two 120cm slings to get round it´s not surprising.
From the top of the half height pillar the going looks to be easier scrambling up some vegetated ground for a few pitches to the summit, at least when you are on the ground. In fact from the ground the pillar appears to be at three-quarters height or higher and we should have been near enough the top. We still had 4 hours of daylight and plenty of ill-founded optimism so decided to push on.
Regrettably the easier looking ground turned out to be combination of steep walls with awkward hard moves and vegetation making finding holds and gear placements tiresome and slow. And about another 300m of climbing as well.
A few long pitches on and the skies darkened and the wind picked up as another storm front came in. I grovelled onto a ledge in a hailstorm and Scott decided he needed his afternoon snooze and we huddled uncomfortably for half an hour or so.
Refreshed we took stock of the situation, down wasn´t really an option by now with darkness approaching and the traversing we had done so we pressed on. Climbing a few more pitches with headtorches (we had three this time) as darkness fell we found ourselves in another prolonged shower on a miserably wind-buffeted ledge. With the rain making climbing onwards an increasingly dodgy proposition and the weather obviously deteriorating at the same speed as our physical and mental abilities a decision was made to bivouac. A bolt was hastily placed at our high point and we abbed back down to a reasonably sheltered spot which was to be our home for the night.I got the bit under a small tree where at least sitting was comfortable and Scott had his flat part nearby and we settled down for an uncomfortable night.
The night was long. The night of the 3rd/4th of January was very long!
Morning broke and we awaited for the warming sun to appear over the mountains before creaking into action, the vile and awkward chimney we had climbed in the dark the night before turning out to be just as nasty in daylight. Another two pitches and the climbing got harder, we should have been near the top but curiously what still appeared to be easy ground from below was vertical chimneys and overhanging walls, Scott pressed on, disappearing from view. Clearly things were not easy from the time it took him to get protection in, "30 metres" I called as the halfway marker came on the rope and "4 metres from the top and it´s f****** hard was the reply!
Cold, stiff and knackered I grovelled up the pitch, it was the top and Scott was right. The last move was the probably hardest on the route, stepping left above a 400m drop on some piss holds. A quick handshake and we stumbled off down the track towards breakfast and beer!
645m, 18 pitches,VI (HVS 5a to the Brits). 28hrs inc 9 hrs bivouac.