10-Metre Groundfall Potential? ‘Spicy’ New Trad Route Tests Nerves

Climbing
trad climbing
'Shikantaza' in Valle dell'Orco. Photo: Jacopo Larcher

In 2016, Jacopo Larcher climbed E11. Then in 2019, he authored what may be the world’s hardest trad route. Now in Valle dell’Orco, Italy, his newest route required risking a ground fall (onto jagged rocks) from 10m. What keeps him motivated to do scary, hard lines?

According to him, he typically doesn’t pursue anything too close to the razor’s edge. That’s dubious, considering his resumé, but two sources of his psych are certain: beautiful rock and intimate community.

“I don’t do dangerous trad climbs very often,” Larcher said. “I mostly climb safer routes, on which you might take long but safe falls. [But] when I saw this project, I was really inspired by the line and the shape of the wall. That’s what motivated me to climb it and take that risk.”

valle dell'orco

The Italian’s reputation for humility is well-established. He’d be the last person to tell you that it was a big deal when he repeatedly took the requisite, nauseating 15m whipper (on micro nuts!) from the crux holds on Dave MacLeod’s Rhapsody (E11, 7a). But he did. Over and over again, until he’d secured the route’s fifth ascent in 2016.

“Long but safe” — sure.

Valle dell’Orco Shikantaza:spicy!’

That’s not the case on his new route, the short but striking Shikantaza (aka “the Tromba Project”). Larcher estimates the crux at 8a — for a climber of his abilities, not threateningly hard. But doing it requires balancing up slabby, techy moves on tiny holds through a distinct no-fall zone.

That’s because Larcher refused to bolt it out of respect for the Valle dell’Orco climbing culture.

Adriano Trombetta, a local hero in the Orco Valley who actively climbed until his tragic death in 2017, initially projected the line. His vision for what would become “the Tromba Project” was to climb the route without altering the rock. Larcher obliged by trad climbing and assumed the unavoidable risk, noting that Trombetta’s “spirit still lives in the valley and in the memory of his friends.”

Valle dell'Orco

The Orco Valley and dam at Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. Photo: Orlando Tomassini

Technically speaking, cams placed in the jug protect some of the crux adequately. But the subsequent placement is desperate at best. Larcher set a hook (typically an aid climbing piece) on a flexing edge about one finger pad thick and tensioned it to the cams below to make it stay put. Taking a significant fall from the crux, he said, would probably rip the edge off.

Shrugging off the danger, Larcher points out that the crux ends at a big flake, where it’s possible to place good gear. His only concession? That performing insecure moves over garbage protection and a potential ground fall make Shikantaza “spicy!”

Blood Diamond: Larcher’s hardest trad climbing?

Such is life for a traditional first ascensionist. Larcher also parlayed the trip into the first ascent of Blood Diamond. The route is safer than Shikantaza but far harder, demanding long lock-offs and thuggy compression through sequences he called “amazing.”

Valle dell'Orco

On “Blood Diamond.” Photo: Federico Ravassard

Larcher evaluated Blood Diamond as possibly his hardest first ascent (FA) in Valle dell’Orco. That’s saying something for a man who might have authored the most challenging trad route in the world, 2019’s Tribe. In keeping with his style, the Tribe cocktail mixes fear with some actual danger — plus wicked hard moves.

How hard? According to the Italian, giving it a number would be the least important thing about it.

“I don’t want the importance of this climb to be represented — and in some ways diminished — by simply a letter and number,” he told Planet Mountain after the FA. “In doing so, one loses sight of things which are far more important, such as its beauty, or the overall experience one gets when trying to climb it.”

Then, as now, Larcher credited his trad climbing success to his friends and the local community. His sendoff from Valle dell’Orco was right on brand.

Jacopo Larcher

Photo: Federico Ravassard

“A big thanks goes to Andrea (Sommaruga) and Simone from the hut “Le Fonti” for the help, the belay, the work. But most of all, for the warm welcome and the good times! I already can’t wait to go back to Orco, the place is so beautiful, and there is such big potential for new lines!”

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About the Author

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.

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