Thirty-five years ago, in the mid-70s, a bunch of young, talented and rebellious climbers from northwest Italy who were bored by the state of Italian climbing, had their imagination fired up by reading wild tales of Yosemite. Helped by a young expat Brit, they re-discovered the granite paradise of a forgotten valley in the most remote part of the Gran Paradiso massif. There they re-invented the face of European climbing, helping to start a revolution from which the aftershocks are still felt today.
As often happens, those names - Giampiero Motti, Giancarlo Grassi, Danilo Galante, Roberto Bonelli, Ugo Manera, Mike Kosterlitz and many others - and those crags - most prominently the Caporal and Sergent, junior relatives of the mighty El Capitan - fell into relative obscurity in the following years, as the sport climbing revolution swept across the rest of continental Europe. It is a great credit to Maurizio Oviglia that there is now something of a renaissance in the Valle dell'Orco, and incidentally, a trad climbing renaissance in Italy overall.
Maurizio is well known for Pietra di Luna / Moonstone, his Sardinia guidebooks, but Maurizio started his rock climbing career in northwest Italy, and cut his teeth in the then state-of-art crags of Val di Susa, the rock faces of Mt. Blanc, and the sunny walls of Orco. In 2000 Maurizio published Rock Paradise, a complete guide to Orco climbing - a true labour of love. It was not only a rebrand of the Valley, but also a conscious attempt to bring back historical and cultural information into rock climbing guidebooks, almost 20 years after they've been more or less excluded from the genre.
Rock Paradise (now available only in Italian) re-ignited interest around Orco. Now Maurizio has written a new Orco guidebook - Valle dell'Orco, published by Versante Sud in September 2010, and available in a English edition through www.cordee.co.uk . It deals exclusively with the valley crags - Caporal, Sergent, Torre di Aimonin etc. This excludes anything at altitude or on the near-by valleys like the popular locations of Piantonetto and Valsoera. It was necessary to avoid the book becoming impossibly thick, and of course Caporal and Sergent are by far the best-known destinations at Orco, still, the scope of Valle dell'Orco is a bit less far-reaching than its older brother. As a new version of Rock Paradise may appear sometime in the future, visits to higher valley delights will need to be postponed for the time being.
Right from the cover (a close up of local 'enfant terrible' and controversial climbing prodigy Adriano Trombetta) it is clear that Maurizio did not want to write a conventional run-of-the-mill guidebook. The presentation itself isn't exactly flashy (a tasteful black and orange colour scheme for most of the pages) and the pictures, while gorgeous, are not outrageously so. But, as usual for Maurizio, the content makes this book a stand out. The level of detail is superb and all lines opened in Orco up to 2009 are covered and Maurizio has repeated 99% of the lines.
There is a long general introduction which, besides a detailed climbing chronology of the valley, has an indepth discussion on the type of climbing you may expect here, plus long notes on one of the current hot topics at Orco - namely ethics and bolting. The guidebook is divided in subsections, one for every crag/buttress, each with a general introduction, and detailed logistical info like type of rock, conditions, approach etc. The introductions feature historical notes which are trimmed down from their Rock Paradise counterpart but the photographic topos have been massively improved in respect to that earlier book.
Some example pages from the new guide
All routes are described in detail, with the name of first ascensionist if available, notes on the required gear, and a thorough revision of grading. Grades in Orco are notoriously hard in relation to the rest of Italy (and France). Maurizio has somehow corrected this situation, grading the single pitches for its technical difficulty in relation to the current grades used in Sardinia, Verdon or Mello. Every route an indication of seriousness (from I to VI) and an indication of protection available (from S1 - densely bolted, up to R6 – impossible to protect). This kind of grading is now standard for all Versante Sud guidebooks. There is also a guide to local crack climbing (cracks being the Orco standard fodder) with a grade comparison in the UK and US scales.
Orco's biggest asset is its wealth of undeveloped rock, and the Valley is now in the middle of an undeclared and unwelcome bolt war. However, as the recent and very successful 1st International Orco Trad Climbing Meeting has shown, fashions are changing rapidly even in the bolt-loving and very conservative Italian northwest. The advent of reliable and cheaper cam technology is making people less keen to climb on bolted routes where cracks are available. While Maurizio has made a stand AGAINST indiscriminate de-bolting of established routes, Valle Dell'Orco has a firm leaning toward what's now called the 'trad wind'. While it remains to be seen to whether the new trend will catch on, the signs are good and this new guidebook will hopefully tilt the discussion infavour of a return to 'clean' climbing at the foot of the northwest Alps.
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