Joy Division 800m 8b by Zangerl and Larcher

Tuesday, 14 September

Babsi Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher, two of the world's leading big wall climbers, have done a variation of the 800m 8b Joy Division in Val di Mello. The FA was done by Simone Pedeferri in 2004. Here is the full story from Jacopo. (c) Alpsolut Pictures

"Val di Mello is mostly known for the “Melloblocco”, the famous event which had been for many years an important meeting point for climbers from all over the world. This big “party” was a unique opportunity to meet other people with the same passion, enjoy the beautiful valley, climb on some old classics and a lot of new boulders especially brushed for the event. It was something special for many people and so was it for us, as it was the place where Babsi and I met.

Three years ago I got to witness for the first time the valley outside the event; it was a strong yet beautiful contrast with how I knew it. I was astonished by its quietness, the kindness of the local community and, last but not least, by the incredible amount of climbing it had to offer! It doesn't matter if you want to go bouldering, cragging, trad climbing or enjoy some longer routes: Val di Mello has it all!

This June, after our trip to Norway, got cancelled due to the Covid restrictions, we started to look for a place closer to home where we could enjoy some longer granite routes. Val di Mello immediately came to our mind! We packed everything in the van and we drove there without a real plan, as we were overwhelmed by the number of routes in the guidebook! We had some ideas in mind, but we first wanted to get a piece of advice from the local legend Simone Pedeferri, who basically freed 95% of the hard (on not only) climbs there. After a good coffee and a chat with him at the Bar Monica, the meeting point for the climbers in the valley, we opted for checking out the Qualido, an impressive 800m granite wall. Simone has obviously climbed a lot of routes there and in 2004 he freed a combination of two old aid lines (“Mellodramma”, “Melat”) and “Forse si, forse no”, calling it “Joy Division” (800m - 8b max). Even if the route had just one repetition (James Pearson), we heard a lot of positive things about it and we opted for checking it out. We also had to make some filming for a documentary project about the “life on the wall”, so we thought the route and the wall would be perfect for it.

Unluckily we had just 2 days time, so we hiked up to the wall with the idea of checking the first pitches, which were also supposed to be the hardest part of the route, before having to drive back home. When we reached the wall we were both amazed by the beauty of the place and we quickly realized why a lot of friends were thrilled about it! The cherry on the cake was definitely the freshly renewed “Hotel Qualido”, a big bivy spot situated just below the wall; you really can’t wish for a better place where to stay.

The wall gets in the shade after 2pm so, as it was too hot for climbing in the sun, we had plenty of time for observing the wall from the bivy, trying to understand the line of the route and dreaming about other possible projects. We realized that just before the last steep part of the wall “Joy Division” makes a big traverse to the right to finish on “Melat”, skipping two really steep aid pitches of “Mellodramma”. We started to wonder if it could have been possible to continue straight through that section, instead of exiting right. Obviously, the only way to know it was to climb up there and get a closer look at those aid pitches.

The first pitch of “Joy Division” is probably the hardest, and definitively one of the best of the entire route. An easier start gets you to a really technical traverse on small crystals, which ends with a 20 meters perfect crack. The climbing is really insecure and hard to control, making this pitch a real head-game until the very end! The next pitches follow a crack in a big right facing dihedral and, even if they are rated only 7b/+, are really hard! I’m sure they won’t get downgraded ;-) On the 4th pitch “Joy Division” starts to follow the aid line “Mellodramma”; it’s pretty easy to tell it, as the newish bolts leave the place to some really rusty handmade ones. This pitch looked impossible at first, but once we found out the tricky betas, it felt not too bad and the moves are really cool. We checked some easier pitches, which were still hard(!) and drove back home.

One week later we were back at the base of the wall, armed also with some aid gear, as we wanted to check out if the upper pitches of “Mellodramma” would go free or not. Just before the last 7c+ pitch of “Joy Division”, we wrongly climbed too much to the right, following an obvious dihedral which led to a hard slab followed by a steep crack: an incredible pitch! We thought it was the most obvious line, but, speaking with Simone, we later realized that we ended up on the neighbour newer route “Con un piede in Paradiso”.

Unaware of the mistake we climbed up to the ledge where “Joy Division” traverses on easier terrain to the right and started to explore the possibilities for a more direct exit. From below the original steep aid pitches of “Mellodramma”, our original goal looked impossible, so we started to play on another line. Even if it was climbable, we quickly realized we didn’t have enough time for free climbing it, so we opted for finishing on the route we wrongly ended up on before, as it climbs straight to the top of Qualido. We were aware of the fact it wasn’t the original end of “Joy Division”, but for us it was the more logical way to finish the route, being also more sustained. We have to mention that the route was put up years later Simone freed JD and at the time there weren’t any other routes on that section!

After a couple of rest days and filming in San Martino, we hiked up again to the “Hotel Qualido”, ready for giving the line a real try. As usual, the plan was to both lead the hard pitches (8a or harder) and swing leads on the rest. We started in the late afternoon and, accompanied by two filmers (Hannes and Juliane), we climbed the first 5 pitches and set up our portaledge. It felt so good to hang on a wall again after all the lockdowns, and it reminded us how much we like to “live” on the wall :-)

The next day we had again a slow start and climbed up to the ledge, where we spent another night before to climb to the top on the next morning. The last pitches were amazing; after some really technical slab pitches, you get to enjoy some perfect long and steep cracks, which lead you to the top of “Il Martello” of Qualido, the iconic huge mushroom on the top of the wall. The perfect end after three days without falls.

Looking around from there you quickly realize the potential that place has to offer, as all you can see are big beautiful granite walls. That area looks so wild and beautiful from there! Even if we left with some projects behind, we had such a good time up there, getting to climb an amazing route, connecting with the local climbing community and see the valley from another perspective we were used to. It still remains a very special place to us and a place we’ll definitely visit more and more in the future. A big thanks go to Simone and Monica for the warm welcome, all the help and info! So what did we climb? We don’t know how to call it, but it was definitely a Paradise of Joy!"

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