Federica Mingolla talks about her journey to "Itaca"

The climber from Turin talks about what led her to repeat “Itaca nel Sole”, a 200m climbing route with difficulty up to 8b on Caporal in Valle dell’Orco, the climbing temple of the 80s and during the Modern era of climbing.

Text by Federica Mingolla


It was 2016 when Adriano Trombetta first took me to try the climbing route, "Specchio".  It was a time of continuous discovery and evolution of my vision of climbing, a period in which my attention was moving further and further away from the indoor walls to concentrate on rock, in particular granite. I remember that the Orco Valley opened up before my eyes at one of the most enthusiastic moments in my climbing life, revealing all its stories and beauties, including Itaca nel Sole. A name that seemed to have been invented for a truly unique climbing route, on which one could read everything that climbing had written in all those years of change on the climbing walls. When Gian Carlo Grassi, Danilo Galante, Gian Piero Motti and his companions climbed for the mere sake of climbing, annoying and upsetting the opinion of the more traditional Turin mountaineers.

It was 2016 and I had recently climbed “Il Lungo Cammino dei Comanches” and “Tomahawk Dance”, on Caporal, two extremely difficult routes of rare beauty that had demanded so much of me. My way of climbing and approaching climbing had changed when I started to climb on granite, allowing my consciousness to grow and my body to come into symbiosis with that smooth, vertical rock, suggesting to Adriano that the time was right to take me to try "Itaca", the symbol of the “Nuovo Mattino” and the last journey of Gian Piero Motti who in 1975, armed with courage, decided to climb those untouched mirrors that are the soul of Caporal. Finally, even the last line, the most aesthetic of all, was climbed on a journey that, like that of the Ulysses, to which it is inspired, ended leaving behind a void and a sense of melancholy.

It was necessary to know how to restart taking all the good of what had been, just as the “Nuovo Mattino” was giving way to new ideas and new ethics but too many things had changed and Motti, having finished his journey and having reached Itaca, decided to leave, never to return.

I remember my first attempt of “Specchio”.  We were under the first length of 8a, it was very cold and Adriano was thrilled at the idea that I could free climb it on the first attempt. As for me, I thought the idea was crazy, and reason proved to be on my side when I gave up, hanging on the rope at the last difficult movement, which requires a small launch to the terrace where the length ends. I could see the abyss of Caporal below me and I saw Adriano's eyes resigned to defeat. I wasn't ready yet.

Less than a week later we were back again, trying the second shot at “Specchio”: an 8b climbing route that I also like to call "the Monster". I remember it as an intense and quite pleasant day. Everything I thought I had learned from crack climbing, seemed to have disappeared in those 15 meters of vertical wall without holds. In those few hours spent on the small ledge I kept trying, hanging on the bolts in the hope of being able to find a solution of continuity from one to the other, but without great results. Adriano held the rope for me and reassured me that sooner or later I would find the solution, but perhaps the time was just not right. For the next three years I never did manage to find that solution despite the many attempts made. Conclusion: no positive results and a scorching heat that caused even more confusion in my mind. Then, one day, Adriano suddenly left and my willingness to believe I could ever accomplish it, vanished with him.

I never stopped thinking about that perfectly smooth golden wall. The two rope lengths often came back to mind and I talked about the route with exasperated exaltation on many of my presentation evenings, remembering my smiling friend in the place he loved most.

This year Andrea Migliano, a companion of a thousand adventures including the last trip to America, reminded me of how this snow-poor winter had created the ideal conditions to go climbing at Caporal. From that day his words began to invade my mind every day I saw the sun shining in the sky, and Itaca came back into my thoughts. I felt good despite the season more oriented to skiing and ice than to climbing, but the flame had rekindled within me and this meant a lot to me.

So I soon found myself again under the “Specchio”, with a great friend by my side and the desire to get back in the game. The fear of being rejected was great but this time I felt that something was different and after only two attempts I managed to conquer the first 8a wall. I had never experienced such a beautiful sensation before. I felt alive for the first time in a long time, and I realized that there was still a chance that I might succeed. One week later, we were still there, my attention turned to the 8b pitch, the almost blind crack that won't let you breathe, the "Monster" that until then seemed unsurpassable was there in front of me, and I finally felt ready to tackle it.

Since every breath up there is equivalent to losing ones balance, I decided to tackle it holding my breath, immersed in a tunnel of handholds, finally finding the solution of continuity I had been looking for years. Suddenly it all seemed clear, difficult but clear. A second attempt with top rope helped me to climb fluidly, linking the movements, even if I still couldn't understand how to put the rope in the quickdraws.

On the third attempt I set off aggressively, perhaps too aggressively and was punished by missing the last difficult sequence. I was extremely tired and I smiled at Andrea who seemed almost more disappointed than me. I explained to him that it was my mistake, that it took time and that I would try again the next day.

On March 20, I wrote the last word on my travelogue. I finally reached Itaca and it was as beautiful as it was absurd to be able to climb that length with such simplicity, when until a few years ago it had seemed completely impossible to me.  It is a fact that the longer, more difficult journeys are the ones that teach us the most and remain more vividly in our minds.  I will always remember this journey and the person with whom I dreamt in vain of finishing it. However, when plans suddenly change, you have to change with them and continue anyway, curious to discover how it will all end.

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