Balma1 is a small granite crag found in Valle d'Ossola, near to the Swiss border in Northern Italy. After falling out of fashion for many years, a visit by Japanese climbing legend Yuji Hirayama saw the first trad ascent of Allessandro Manini's Profondo Rosso, 8a, bringing the crag back into the limelight with Profondo Rosso receiving both trad and sport repeats. However, the hardest route at the crag (also Manini's), A Denti Stretti, 8b+, remained untouched as either a sport or trad venture until James Pearson visited the area recently.
On arriving at the crag, James found cobwebs in the cracks of A Denti Stretti, but decided to go for an onsight effort as the route looked to be well protected.
James further describes his onsight try on his blog:
"I thought I would fall during the initial finger cracks, but I surprised myself by passing this section and making slow and steady progress up the crack. There were a couple of really tricky/awkward sections in the middle of the route, but I managed to somehow scrape my way through...
I surpassed all my wildest expectations by arriving at the final boulder, and for a few moments began to think 'I might actually do this thing! Well, that thought didn't last long as the final boulder problem reared up to slap me in the face, I was off, ripping my top gear in the process and taking a rather large fall."
After pulling up the rope and trying the move in isolation a few more times, James lowered off "with big respect for Allessandro Manini". Upon reaching the ground, James met Allessandro at the base of the crag, motivating him to come back and try and give the route potentially its first repeat since Allessandro's First Ascent in 1995.
A few days of crack climbing in Yosesigo saw James in poor physical condition to go back onto A Denti Stretti, but with a wet forecast ahead, it was unclear whether he would get another opportunity to do so.
After falling lower than on his onsight attempt, and with more attempts thwarted by bad conditions, James accepted that he would not climb the route cleanly that day. However, a last attempt "for training... Then [I] climbed to the top and it all felt easy! [I] lowered off and went for a beer", in doing so completing the first trad ascent of the route, and possibly the first repeat also.
James explained how he managed to climb the route when tired and in poor conditions:
"It's funny how you can sometimes make your best performance when you least expect it, when you feel tired, or weak, or just don't care anymore! I think that is exactly the point, at least for me. I have never been good at coping under pressure; if I put too much time, attention, or focus into one moment then I often crumble! A lot of my best achievements have come once I let go of the goals, or more precisely, consider the goal to be so far away that it is practically unattainable. Once there is no goal, there is only climbing. There is only you, making moves, and you just have to make enough of those moves in a row, and don't let go!"
British Wideboy and all-round crack-master, Tom Randall commented on James' ascent:
"It's an incredible route. I was chatting to James out there trying to get him psyched for crack climbing! It's probably the hardest trad crack in Europe at the moment, so good effort. Italy has massive, massive potential for this stuff."
James is sponsored by: The North Face, Wild Country, Edelrid Ropes, Adidas Eyewear, Eat Natural.