The Melloblocco bouldering competition (or should that be 'celebration'?), has evolved over a few years from attracting a small number of climbers to an international event drawing in a crowd of over 1,500 people in 2008.
This year saw three days of bouldering in three areas of Val Masino and the Mello valley, with hundreds of problems for everyone to go at. Of these, a small number were for the 'serious' competitors, marshalled by local guides who recorded names on a clipboard, to later be collated into a list of who climbed the hardest problems, split into male and female categories. For everyone else, the hundreds of other problems allowed you to try your hand at a whole variety of styles of climbing, with slopers, heel hooking and small, sharp crimps being common.
The atmosphere at the event was tremendous; people climbing 3a and 8a sharing bouldering mats and spotting each other, with none of the elitism that could have crept in.
A nice touch was a day prior to the competition weekend, where families and first-timers were encouraged to go along and try bouldering under the eye of the local guides, with all equipment provided free of charge. This proved to be very popular, and the friendliness of the organisers, initially displayed here, ran through the entire four days of the event.
The Saturday night is devoted to partying, with live music and a disco at the camp-site. An added attraction for 2008 was the slack-lining contest, with the line being strung across the river giving about 25 metres of wobbling to be negotiated. Much to the delight of the audience, no-one made it across and they kept plunging into the icy-cold river with increasing degrees of desperation and style.
So, if you are serious (or not so serious) about your bouldering, would like a few days away in May at one of the best bouldering sites around, and have a sense of humour (essential for the hardest problems and the Saturday night......), then Melloblocco is for you. See you there in 2009.
The event is held in the Lombardia region of Italy, not far south of the Swiss border. The area is known as Val Masino, with the competition headquarters in Filorera and the Mello valley itself starting at San Martino. The area is rich in bouldering and climbing, as well as being well known as a hiking area, where walks take you into stunning mountain scenery.
Travel from the UK
Milan is the closest airport. There are a number of carriers that offer appropriate travel from the UK, with perhaps the most useful being Ryanair. Return flights can be had for around £40.00 upwards, depending upon when you travel and how far in advance you book. An advantage is that, for an additional fee, you can take 'sports equipment', which allows you to take a bouldering mat and/or extra climbing gear with you.
Travel in Italy
The easiest but most expensive option is to hire a car at Milan. Europcar seems to be consistently the most reasonably priced, but a trawl through the web will confirm this for your dates of travel. Around £15.00 or so per day will get you a reliable small-sized vehicle, such as a Clio. Driving time to the valley is about 2 hours 30 minutes.
The other option is to use public transport. A bus or train takes you from the airport into Bergamo, with the easiest option then being a train to Morbegno and then a bus (infrequent service, about 3 per day) up into the valley.
The vast majority of participants who don't live nearby will camp at the main camping site at Remmeno. This turns from an overpriced, peaceful campsite a couple of days before the event to an overpriced at-saturation-point campsite during the competition days. Expect to pay around £16.00 per night for two people and a small tent (plus an extra 2 Euros a time for a shower) and gentlemen, don't expect to be able to sit down whilst carrying out your ablutions, all the gent's WC's are hole-in-the-floor type (as indeed are many across the region). The advantage, however, is location; within a couple of minutes walk of some of the best bouldering in Europe and the same distance to some superb sport routes. It is also the location for the Saturday night party, which hammers on until the small hours and is a great event to attend.
There are other camping options further down the valley in the region of Morbegno. There are also a number of hotels and pensions in San Martino and Filorera, details available on the web.
What to take
Be aware that this is a mountainous region, and as such the weather can change quickly. Be prepared for this (the competition goes on no matter what the weather does!) and have everything from shorts to waterproofs. Evenings can be chilly so a hat and jacket are a good idea.
It is worth having a bouldering mat with you, although the atmosphere is so friendly that you could get away without one, relying on the generosity of others. However the hassle of transporting a mat is well worth while. If you are spending time in the area, you may also wish to take climbing gear with you, as there are many sport (plus quite a few trad) routes in the area. The local guidebook is 'Arrampicate Sportive E Moderne in Valtellina, Valchiavenna, Engadina'. The latest bouldering guide is 'Bouldering in Valtellina, Valchiavenna, Val Masino, Val di Mello, Val Malenco'.
Both these guides can be found on www.versantesud.it
All the information that you need for the competition, pre registering, timetables, plus links to tourist offices in the region, can be found on www.melloblocco.it
About Pete Hill
Pete Hill is a fully qualified mountaineering instructor, living and working in Scotland. He is a course director for the Climbing Wall (CWA), Single Pitch (SPA) and the Summer Mountain Leader (ML) awards, as well as winter courses and running treks and climbs in Nepal. His website is at www.petehillmic.com