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The southeast face of Torre Darwin above the entrance to the Cameraccio Valley in Italy’s Bregaglia-Masino. Marked is the line of Via degli Invalidi (V 5.10 A4- bc, ca. 370m, 8 pitches plus scrambling, Berecz-Tivadar, 2007). The historic route Il Naufragio degli Aargonauti (originally 5.11a/b and A5, climbed free in 1996 at 5.12d/13a, 350m, Guerini-Villa, 1977), the first route in the Alps to be graded A5, takes the rectilinear crack system towards the right edge of the picture. [Photo] Thomas Tivadar

Hard new aid lines in the Alps are not in vogue, but one area that still offers potential for European climbers wanting that granite El Cap experience is the southern side of the Bregaglia on the Swiss-Italian border.

Best known for the Piz Badile’s iconic north face, the Bregaglia is a range of two halves. The northern or Swiss sector generally is characterized by grey granite, and rock scars are apparent. The southern or Italian sector, referred to as the Masino after the valley at its foot, sports little glaciation but many beautiful walls of superb golden granite rising from grassy alps. Access to the majority of these is via the world-famous Val di Mello, home to numerous–and often very bold–friction climbs on steep slabs, and, more recently, the venue for a superb annual international bouldering festival.

Two climbers who over the years have put up a number of hard aid lines on some of these walls are the German residents Gabor Berecz and Thomas Tivadar. This summer they added another line to the southeast face of Torre Darwin (2442m). This is a subsidiary summit of Punta Meridionale del Cameraccio (2743m), though in fact it is more of a shoulder on its south ridge. The face lies at the entrance to the Cameraccio Valley, at the far (eastern) end of the Val di Mello.

Their original choice of line proved wet, so they opted for a crack system toward the left edge of the face–left of the existing routes–and progressed in a traditional style, fixing ropes and returning each night to a comfortable bivouac beneath the face. The cracks proved unaccommodating, being shallow, flared and often full of dirt or vegetation. Cleaning produced the occasional good Friend placement, but the worst spots were overcome using beaks. After five pitches up to 5.10 and A3, Tivadar dislocated his thumb and the two retired to the cafes of San Martino for five days, Berecz now hobbling due to problems with his knee joints.

Once back on the wall the pair regained their high point (where it appears an escape left may be possible onto the south pillar), and Berecz slanted up right and climbed the steep compact headwall in two pitches: the Triple Cracks. The second of these was graded A4- bc and featured eleven beak placements and some very shaky Friends. Above, a pitch of 5.9 A1, followed by scrambling, led to the summit.

Returning to San Martino was arduous, as the pair walked down valley with forty-five kilos in each haul sac, then peddled mountain bikes to the village. Joints hurt for days, and acknowledging this, they have called their route Via degli Invalidi (V 5.10 A4- bc, ca. 380m, 8 pitches plus scrambling).

Tivadar’s aid scale may need some explanation to some. Because he feels there is much confusion about the grades used in different areas, some years ago he proposed a system that added letters a to d to indicate the danger/fall potential of a pitch: “a” would have no more than a two-meter fall potential, “c” could be up to 30m, while “d” signifies the possibility of death (“dd” means death potential for the whole party). As a comparison, the crux pitch of Invalidi is comparable with the crux of Atlantic Ocean Wall (also A4- bc) and a little less serious than Zenyatta Mondatta (A4c), both on El Cap.

The southeast face of Darwin has truly historic significance in Italian climbing. In 1977 Antonio Boscacci and Jacupo Merizzi climbed the thin friction slab of Nuova Dimensione on the Mello Valley’s Trapezio d’Argento to produce what was thought at the time to be the first “grade VII” (5.10d) in Italy (now rated VII- or 10c). Much later, it was realized that back in 1974 the enigmatic and highly talented Ivan Guerini, with Mario Villa, climbed the south pillar of Torre Darwin and rated it 5.8/5.9 and A1. In those days Guerini was working blind at the upper end of the grading system and later was able to reassess the route at 10c/10d and A0. He went on to dominate climbing in the Masino during the 1970s and was responsible for exploring many unknown corners of the range, creating a variety of routes, some of which have yet to be found, let alone repeated. In 1977 he teamed with leading activists of the day, Guido Merizzi, Vittorio Niri and Villa to make the first ascent of Darwin’s southeast face, via a line christened Il Naufragio degli Aargonauti. The 350-meter route was described as “dolomite climbing on granite,” featured strenuous offwidths and wide roof cracks led free by Guerini, and difficult aid. The route was graded 5.11a/b A5, remained the hardest line in the Bregaglia/Masino for many years, the most demanding granite climb in Italy during that era, and was the first route in the Alps to be given the A5 grade (many Bongs required). In more recent times, repeat ascents with modern equipment reduced the aid grade to A2, the small number of ascents well surpassed by abortive attempts. Inevitably, it was finally climbed free in 1996 by the extremely strong Simone Pedeferri and Stefano Pizzagalli, who completed the route in eleven pitches and made a variation to the original A5 pitch to create the crux at 5.12d/5.13a. The same pair went on to create an even more difficult route named Nessun Pericolo….per Te (200m, 6 pitches), which joins Il Naufragio below the crux and has difficulties of 5.13b, 5.11d obl. Later, in 1985, Comini and Vilotta added Memorie del Futuro (5.10b A2) up the center of the wall to the left, and in 1991 Ferrari and Stucchi put up a line toward the left edge of the face, starting up a prominent corner system with large roofs. This was named Jimmy (5.10b A2).

Thomas Tivadar (left) and Gabor Berecz bivouacking above Italy’s Mello Valley during their first ascent of Via degli Invalidi (V 5.10 A4- bc, ca. 380m, 8 pitches plus scrambling, Berecz-Tivadar, 2007) on the southeast face of Torre Darwin (2442m). [Photo] Thomas Tivadar