Flash: 3 Climbing Photos to Dream About

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This story originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of our print edition.

Valle dell'Orco, Italy climbing

Photo: Andrew Burr

Climber: Gil Tenne
Route: Cochise (6b/5.10c)
Location: Valle dell'Orco, Italy

Some have described Italy’s sprawling trad climbing mecca Valle dell’Orco as “little Yosemite” (the area even has its own El Capitan and Sentinel with Caporal and Sergent—corporal and sergeant, respectively), but this moniker downplays the grandeur of the area. Situated in Gran Paradiso National Park in Northern Italy, bordering France to the west, the valley hosts more than a hundred routes spread across numerous granite crags. Lines here climb through blocky edges, zigzagging hand cracks, and sharp quartz crystal deposits. Although the rock and style may resemble its California counterpart, the scene is entirely unique. Winding roads take visitors past ancient villages of lichen-covered masonry houses nestled under the impressive granite cliffs that make up the walls of the valley. Some unknowing visitors might be dissuaded by the “No Trespassing” signs on the roadside, but locals will encourage you to “just ignore them.” Very unlike its American cousin, you won’t find crowds in this valley, only quiet solitude. While it’s famous for gear-protected multi-pitch routes, smaller crags have recently experienced a surge of development thanks to new enthusiasm in the local climbing community. Pictured here, the Dado wall is one of these renaissance cliffs. Cochise is a welcome addition, with wandering crack climbing and a bit of dicey face climbing in a neat two-pitch package.  

John Price on Central Pillar Johnston Canyon

Photo: Paul Zizka

Climber: John Price
Route: Central Pillar (WI4+)
Location: Johnston Canyon, Alberta, Canada

Cryophilia is defined as an unnatural affinity for the cold. It describes those who thrive in subzero temps and derive pleasure from numb extremities and chattering teeth. (Many ice climbers might be described as suffering from this affliction.) Cryophilia is also the name and inspiration for alpine photographer Paul Zizka’s series of night ice climbing photographs shot in the Canadian Rockies. Zizka began shooting these unique perspectives last winter in order to bridge his two passions: alpine experiences and astrophotography. “I have always liked shots that convey a sense of vulnerability,” he says. “Adding the night element takes that even further.” With Canadian climber John Price and a few other friends, Zizka spent months chasing clear skies and the aurora borealis at three different ice formations in Banff and Kootenay national parks, just west of Calgary on the border of British Columbia. Due to the large amount of precipitation this area receives each winter and the below-zero temps, the Canadian Rockies offer extensive ice and mixed routes of exceptional quality. Trip opportunities range from the easily accessible waterfalls within the town of Banff to more remote challenges higher up in the parks. It’s no surprise that this photographic process proved difficult at times, and long exposures were necessary. Zizka says, “Retaining sharpness in the climber was difficult, since John had to hold completely still on that very wet and very cold route for long periods of time.” 

Moonstone Beach Bouldering

Photo: Dean Fleming

Climber: Andrea Batt
Route: Unnamed
Location: Moonstone Beach, Humboldt County, California

In Northern California’s Humboldt County, isolated outcroppings of rock dot the region’s 50 miles of coastline. At 100 miles south of the Oregon state line, the area is more reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest’s foggy, craggy shores than the sunny beaches one might picture when thinking of the California coast. Matching the shrouded environment, the climbing itself is a bit mysterious. There are few names, grades, or guidebooks for most of the northern coast, and one must be willing to explore without any sort of tick list or agenda. While some rudimentary documentation exists online, much of the allure lies in the ambiguous nature of bouldering here. Moonstone Beach is perhaps the most well-known sector, warranting a solid entry on Mountain Project and a few pages in Northern California Bouldering, by Chris Summit, but you’ll still need to befriend a resident to find the goods. Local and photographer Dean Fleming , “To climb here, you must have an intimate relationship with the area’s coastline. Rising and falling sand levels can drastically change the problems, and certain climbs are only accessible with specific tides and swells.” Within an hour’s drive of this particular block, one can find polished schist and quartzite at Goat Rock State Park, as well as limestone and sandstone pocket-pulling at Salt Point. Don’t forget to stay alert and vigilant: Locals have seen many a black bear and mountain lion in the region, making this a true adventure climber’s destination.