MelloBlocco 2016: Sun, granite and lots of climbing

The past weekend saw another successful edition of MelloBlocco come and go, the 13th in fact; unlucky for some, but not for MelloBlocco.

This is a guest post, words and pictures by Liam Lonsdale.
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Andy Gullsten watches Michael Piccolruaz pulling off an impressive rose move

There were a lot of strong athletes in attendance, with the likes of Stefano Ghisolfi – an Italian climbing hero after establishing the first 9b in the country; Stefan Scarperi & Michael Piccolruaz from the Sud Tirol region, Jorg Verhoeven travelled down from Innsbruck & Andy Gullsten made the multi-day drive from HELSINKI! In the womens category, multiple-times MelloBlocco winner and crowd favourite Jenny Lavarda returned as usual, Finnish climber Anna Laitinen, fresh from taking a solid second place at the recent Nordic Championships made her second consecutive appearance, Madeleine Eppensteiner made the journey from Innsbruck and multiple lesser-known strong Italian ladies made the pilgrimage to Lombardy to take part tin the competition.

MelloBlocco, held in the Val Masino and Val Di Mello, is famous for the massive array of boulders that are meticulously sought out, cleaned and prepared every year by local legend Simone Pedeferri. This year the climbers were faced with 12 ‘prize’ boulders each (24 in total), two more than the previous couple of years. If you are unfamiliar with the format for the competition, it is very simple: each boulder is allocated a certain prize fund, anyone who tops that boulder is given a share of the cash.

MelloBlocco is also (in)famous for the weather. Every year it rains, for at least one day, more often than not two or three, with climbing squeezed in during the dry spells, the competition becoming a battle of rain-dodging tactics rather than all about the climbing.

This year on arriving in the valley, climbers were treated to a full day of sunshine. Everybody went hell for leather, certain of the rains arriving the next day, trying to squeeze in as many boulders as possible. Day two came and went, another scorcher, wall to wall sunshine, blue skies, and again everybody climbed as much as they possibly could … squeezing out every last bit of energy sure of the conditions worsening the following day. Unbelievably, a THIRD dry day occurred … which is totally unheard of. The top athletes were taking things a little steadier, but not out of choice … out of a serious lack of skin. Could it be possible that MelloBlocco wouldn’t see a drop of rain … possibly for the first time in its entire history??? Day four came, as did the clouds … shortly after lunch time a few very fine drops landed, but nothing too serious and then as the afternoon progressed some showers came. An almost perfect weather window … great planning form the organisers. ;)

This year the Italians took a double win, with Stefano Ghisolfi taking the mens top spot with 8 tops, Jenny Lavarda taking the womens first place. The Finnish competitors at the festival, Andy Gullsten and Anna Laitinen taking second place in their competitions for an extra dose of synergy.

The whole list of rankings is available here: MEN & WOMEN

A point for discussion
MelloBlocco is now a world famous event, with people registering from countries all over the globe including USA, Argentina, Bangladesh & Russia. It is worth noting that many of the climbers in the valley do not register for the festival; they come to the valley to enjoy the rock and the atmosphere — there are estimated figures that suggest for every climber that registers for the event, there are two that are not.

The sheer number of people in attendance is a sign of the success that climbing is having as a sport right now, it is incredible that a bouldering festival in Northern Italy can draw almost 10,000 people in. The popularity of climbing is booming! But what of the impact on the valley?

For sure there are some positive effects, the local economy for example. Businesses do benefit in some small ways for sure, but they’re not crushed by the numbers; in the four days I was in the valley I did not have to wait more than one or two minutes for a coffee and there was no trouble getting a table in the restaurants of Val Masino. Places were busier than normal, but people are bringing their own food and their own beer to the party. My guess is that the biggest beneficiaries of the festival will be the campsite and also the Centro Polifunzionale.

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Anna Laitinen getting high off the deck

For me, there are some overwhelmingly negative impacts, for example, whilst scouting for a boulder to shoot close to the Sasso Remenno bloc (claimed to be the largest boulder in the world and a definite landmark for climbers and non-climbers alike), I couldn’t help but notice the large amounts of freshly laid toilet paper that were around, and trash left by people who had spent the weekend in the valley in the bushes etc. I need to make it clear that I am in no way criticising the MelloBlocco festival, the organisers do an amazing job of organising the event with the very little resource that they have available to them. All official information that was distributed by MelloBlocco listed locations of toilets and also politely pointed out that crapping in the woods, or in the meadows or by the path is not acceptable. I would also like to point out that I am quite sure that the majority of registered climbers (in the region of 3000 people) are not the guilty ones either. I believe that the core climbing community understands how to behave properly in the outdoors.

It is only a theory, but my belief is that the people that did go into the woods — sometimes less than 2m from the path, sometimes ON THE PATH — and did their ‘business’ are a from a different group of people. It seems obvious to me that these people are not used to being in the outdoors, because if they were they would know that this behaviour is simply unacceptable. I would hazard a guess that these people have never been to a climbing festival like MelloBlocco before, that they clearly are not educated as to the etiquette required of climbers in the outdoors. It is my opinion that the people who are behaving in this way are a reflection on the ever growing climbing community, that is coming from an indoor environment and then exploring the outdoors. A sign that a lot of people are unaware of the beauty and delicacy of the gift of nature and the environments that we are so lucky to be able to enjoy. They are people who take advantage of the fact that the rock and the valleys and the crags are just there and they don’t really know any better.

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I wonder how we go about educating people as to how they should behave in the outdoors. I ponder as to how we can inform this new breed of climber, this new generation of participants in the sport that we are all so lucky to be a part of, as to what proper outdoor stewardship is.

Black Diamond are leading the way with their stewardship programme, ‘Rock Project’ and crag clean-ups, doing their best to spread the message that we ALL need to look after our climbing areas. Patagonia generally attack/promote broader environmental concepts, such as the damming of rivers, the destruction of natural habitats etc. The reach of any brand is limited. Should we turn to climbing gyms for the education process? I believe it is climbing gyms that these people will be found in most often. Should gyms be posting information about how to behave in the outdoors? Should their be courses in crag etiquette? How do we avoid these situations in the future? Signage at the car parks? Flyers?

How do we reach the wider climbing community, the people outside of the core, that are dipping their toes into the outdoors?

To finish on a positive note, MelloBlocco, for me, is undoubtedly one of the most wonderful gatherings of climbers I have ever had the privilege of being involved in. The valley is a haven for wildlife, it is picturesque and beautiful and peaceful — even with the festival taking place you can always find a quiet moment. Everyone is friendly, offering a helping hand with directions for crags and blocs, sharing pads and spotting. The festival team of organisers and judges are incredibly friendly and there are always smiles on their faces. It is important that the climbing community supports grass-roots festivals like MelloBlocco. If you haven’t had the privilege of visiting yet, then I would definitely recommend adding it to your trip list for next year!

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About the author

Liam Lonsdale is a professional photographer and commentator based in the United Kingdom. Specialising in climbing and adventure media, he is usually found at a competition or a crag around the world, working with some of the biggest and best names in the business. When he isn’t working, it’s highly likely that you will find Liam either climbing or drinking coffee.

To find out more about Liam & his work, check out: www.liamlonsdale.com or IG: @liamlonsdale FB: facebook.com/iamliamlonsdale Twitter: @liamlonsdale

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