As mentioned in April's Peak Area Report, visiting Italian climber Michele Caminati, well known for his super hard bouldering ascents, enjoyed a two month visit to Peak District earlier this year, to try to put down some old projects and enjoy the unique gritstone. Fast becoming a regular face in the Peak District in the winter and early spring months, Michele will be returning again next year for his ultimate project, Voyager Sit Start (8B+), which remains unrepeated since Ben Moon's superb ascent back in 2006. Here's what Michele had to say about his trip:
Sam Schofield: How long was your latest trip to the UK?
Michele Caminati: I arrived in Sheffield on the 13th of February when everything was covered in snow out in the Peak... I left on April 11th, two months have passed and snow was still there!
Sam: How many times have you visited now?
Michele: This was my fifth time in Sheffield. I had two short trips, one in 2007 and one in 2010, consisting of just a few days each, but this is the third year in a row I've been staying for a long period of about two months. It's very important to have time to get things done on grit stone: you need time to get back into it and time to find the perfect conditions to try your projects.
Sam: What other UK climbing locations have you visited?
Michele: I've been traveling a few times to Yorkshire and Northumberland: I visited Caley, Ilkley, Slipstones and Queens crag, but it has been mainly just a single day trip. I was based in Sheffield and the Peak had (and still has) to offer so many great climbs I just did not think about travelling so much. I would love to see more of Yorkshire and Northumberland though, as I love grit stone and sandstone. I've seen great pictures of those places and I will be quite keen to visit them in a future trip.
Sam: What keeps bringing you back?
Michele: I think the experience you get in the Peak, and generally on grit stone, is quite unique. I come from Italy, a country where everything is bolted and when you're climbing a four meter tall boulder problem you're highballing. A place where I'm used to climbing in the woods, hidden by the trees, and where we don't know what moorland is. Plus I've grown up as a climber watching "Hard Grit" and "The Real Thing", and I've always dreamt about the climbs in the Peak District. Now I got to know this place better and I really appreciate its people and its history. I kept coming to Sheffield, because I know lots of climbers and it is so close to the crags. But I would love to see more outside the Peak as well. I think the experience will be similar.
Michele: Voyager has been on my mind since my first visit to the Peak in January 2007, just a few months after Ben Moon's first ascent. I do love prows, and that was the hardest thing in the Peak. It was quite a natural goal to have for bouldering. It took me two years to do the stand start, and now I want to finish the whole line... it's just stunning, and still there... unrepeated!
I briefly tried the sit start last year after I did the stand. I soon figured out the moves but then warm weather came in and I had to stop trying. The problem to me is finding the right conditions for my skin to be hard and grippy from the beginning till the end. The first moves on their own are not too hard, but they make you tired and consume your skin, which is much needed for the final crux, that consists of getting a bad sloper right hand and releasing from a far heel hook without falling off.
Sam: How close do you feel to climbing the problem?
Michele: I was feeling strong on the problem and was falling on the release move from the sit start most of the times with average weather conditions... one time I was feeling super strong, but it was lightly raining! The problem this year has been wind: it was always blowing from east, making Burbage north crag very sheltered and still while on the other side, at Burbage west, conditions were just prime. Voyager is at my limit and I think it's all about skin conditions once you know how to do the moves. I do need wind to get good grit stone skin, but I have not been lucky with that this year unfortunately.
Sam: Are you happy with your tick list from the latest trip (see below)?
Michele: Yes and no, I managed to do Superbloc, Samson and Messiah, which were among the things I really wanted to do, but I've been quite unlucky with weather, especially at the beginning of my trip, and I could not even try lots of routes I had in my mind. I have to say it was way too cold for me to climb with the rope this year and so I stuck to bouldering, but again I could not complete Voyager...
Sam: The latest trend seems to be highballing former trad routes - why do you think this is?
Michele: Well, mainly just because a few of them are so short and gear is so low that I think is actually safer to try them above mats! And having the opportunity of falling off also means having the opportunity to try them ground up. This year has been quite strange and the amount of snow was huge. I climbed ground up on my own Living in Oxford (E7 6c) with just three pads, it would have been crazy doing that without the snow. But it was there and there was nothing much you could do if you wanted to climb a route... especially after a month of bad weather. But it seemed like cheating a little bit!
Sam: Have you been getting on the rope as well? How do you decide between using a rope and using a mat?
Michele: I tried a couple of times to climb with the rope this year, and I did Messiah (E7 6c) at Burbage south, but it was too cold and was really hard for me to stay warm, especially placing gear was desperate. I think it's mainly the height of the route and the opportunity to place gear that makes you choose between mats and rope. I have not seen many padded ascents of classics like Master's Edge, London Wall, Gaia or The End of Affair... that would be proper soloing! But up to 10/12 meters you can be fine above mats nowadays I think.
Sam: When will you be coming back? Do you have any other projects in mind for the next trip?
Michele: I hope to find time to come back next winter, and I will be really uncertain whether to go back in the Peak for Voyager and a few routes or visiting new places up north... everything is a project for me, and it's really hard to decide!
Sam: What would you say to someone who was thinking about making a trip but hadn't made their mind up yet?
Michele: That's simple... just go there, learn and try. It's not easy, but you won't regret it, and above all you won't forget!
Michele's Peak District trip tick list:
- Black Car Burning - E7 6c
- Superstition - E8 7a?
- Samson - 8A
- Simba's Pride - E8 6b
- Messiah - E7 6c
- Rollerwall - 7C
- Super Size Me - 8A+
- Mossatrocity - 7C
- Zaff Skoczylas - 7C
- Superbloc -8A+
- Walk on By - 7C+
- Silk (before the snow) - E6 6c
- White Wand (before the snow) - E5 6a
- Great White (with direct top out) - 7C+