I first met Manu Moreale (online) about five years ago when I asked for his help to rescue the Minimalissimo website after an unnamed agency created a shit-show that left me down a similarly named creek without a paddle. Since then, we have worked together on various projects and built a solid friendship in the process. And about three years ago I was introduced to his brother, Ivan. He is a super talented graphic designer and we worked together on a couple of small projects. I then discovered that Ivan is an avid climber and at the time, I was just getting into the climbing scene too. Since then, we have chatted almost daily about design, our climbing exploits, debates, and sharing our admiration for some of the world's best athletes, how they compete and how they tackle real rock projects.
So we decided that we should organise a trip. Originally, I had planned to visit Italy in spring 2021 in hopes that we were emerging from a global pandemic and experiencing some semblance of normality. With everything booked, I got sick (food poisoning) right before I was supposed to travel. By the time I was due to fly out, I was still in no condition to embark on a physically demanding climbing trip. So I decided to cancel. Plus, Covid restrictions were still pretty tight at that point, and although I lost out financially, in hindsight, it was probably for the best.
One year and three vaccines later, I was scheduled to fly out to Venice in mid-May. Ivan had prepared and researched loads of climbing spots for us to explore and I was super hyped to get out there. Then my lovely partner returned from her Italian trip two weeks before I was set to leave and she tested positive for Covid. Brilliant. Yep, I got it too. So I was pretty wiped out for about a week, but I had one week left to fully recover and obviously test negative. I made it, but only just. I was on my way to meet two good friends whom I'd never met in person.
Flying into Venice is beautiful and quite unique. I've experienced that a couple of times now and it doesn't get old. The good vibes, however, soon relinquished when my baggage didn't arrive with me from Munich. A great start to the trip. It was eventually found and delivered to me a day later, so disaster averted. Courtesy of a gracious taxi journey by the ever-relaxed Ivan, I arrived at a remote farm in Cividale del Friuli. A stunning little place that is so green, quiet (besides the birds, farm animals, and church bells), and serene that it was impossible to feel stressed about anything. 10 days of beautiful weather, nature, intense climbing, and new discoveries were upon me.
My excitement was slightly dented when Manu explained that due to a Salone del Mobile-related work load, he was totally snowed under with client projects. And since Salone had moved to early June rather than the typical April, my visit was poorly timed. It was unfortunate, but also unavoidable. So although we managed to enjoy a couple of meals together and talk about new projects and ideas, it was a short and sweet encounter. Next time, Manu, next time!
My expectations for this trip was to receive a masterclass from Ivan—a far superior climber than I—and visit some beautiful new locations. The first climbing session was on rope and it wasn't even in Italy. We decided to take a drive over the border to Slovenia in a tiny village called Osp. The temperature was sitting at 30ºC and I was facing a challenging first experience with outdoor rope climbing. Given my inexperience and the level of difficulty with this crag, we thought top-roping would be the best way to ease me in. Even so, the climbing felt brutal. The rock was sweating, my skin was sweating, and my shoes felt like I was stepping on a wet floor. So I was over-gripping like a maniac and expending a huge amount of energy. I only climbed two routes and I felt like I just trained for an entire day. This climbing trip was fully underway.
Waking up to about 20 itchy mozzie bites from the previous day in the forest, it was clear that nature saw this tourist coming. We hit Premariacco (the pronunciation of which I perfected by the end of my trip) on the Natisone river for some bouldering. Ivan had already scouted out several projects for me to tackle and maybe one or two for himself. Dozens, if not hundreds of giant yet smooth surfaced boulders scattered down a river are so much fun to walk over, under, and between. I felt like a 10 year old again. So we made our way to the first project and it was one Ivan had climbed a year earlier. A gorgeous looking rock with lots of tiny finger pockets. After trying his beta (a term used for which holds to use and sequence of movements to make) for a while, it just wasn't working for me. So I tried to find a new one that suited me and after a few minor adjustments I got it dialled. Send, Swim, Survive (6C): done! I'd be back another day for the next project.
Not all our climbing was outdoors. We regularly crossed the Slovenian border to train at a small but awesome climbing gym called Društvo ekstremnih športov (DEŠ). It's a super friendly place run in a part-time capacity with good vibes, a nice mix of climbing styles (without grades), and if you climb hard enough, you might just get a free glass of beer at the end of your session. I think we trained here for about 10 hours over the course of my trip and this was when Ivan could give me lots of advice about my climbing technique, asking me to re-climb boulder problems until I did it with more style, less power, and better precision. I always like to try something myself first, but I rarely get it perfect, so taking on board tiny details to improve my climbing efficiency goes a long way. And much of it translates to real rock. So I'm looking forward to hitting up this gym again next year.
Return to Premariacco
We returned to the Natisone river in search of a new project and we came across a gorgeous 55º overhanging boulder that was about five metres high. So we studied and cleaned the rock and found a couple of interesting lines; one for me and a more challenging one for Ivan. After finding a good beta, I managed to climb my problem within about three attempts. 13 moves on pretty good holds, but also moves that suited my height quite well. I think this is my favourite boulder I've climbed. From the discovery to the send, it was a beautiful process. So I decided to name it Form Follows Fiume (6C). The mood was high and I was psyched to see Ivan also send his project. His took a bit longer to find the best sequence, but after a few tries, he also sent his and it's an even more beautiful line than mine, albeit with a much scarier final move and top out. But Ivan made short work of it and named it Form Follows Fear (7A).
Return to Slovenia and Drnulk
Our next adventure took us back to the ever-green Slovenia and the stunning location of Drnulk. There is a crag within a forested canyon with plenty of interesting routes to climb. There is a range of difficulty here and it gave me a great opportunity to sport climb a few simple routes along with a belaying masterclass by Ivan's partner, Katia. Although these easier routes are not physically demanding, I am still really inexperienced with this type of climbing, so it was a good mental challenge for me. Battling fear is the biggest obstacle but when you become hyper-focused on how you move, the fear soon disappears. I can't say that will always be the case because when I get to the point of trying harder routes with a bigger chance of taking a few metres fall, the fear will probably kick in hard. But as I continue to improve and grow my experience, the fear will inevitably subside. Right? Shit, I hope so.
Closing out the trip
Given the beautiful weather, Ivan and Katia thought it would be a nice idea to have a BBQ on the Natisone river. After gathering wood and getting a little fire going, the three of us (+ Alice the happy dog #alicecanefelice) enjoyed a really easy dinner with good wine while listening to the river as the sun set and the bugs descended upon me. It was a tranquil end (except when I stood on and smashed a wine glass) to a very physical trip and a good moment to reflect. I felt like I saw and experienced a lot in a short space of time, but there is still so much more to see and plenty more rocks to climb that I am bound to return for round 2. Or maybe I should just move out there! Or maybe just invest in a little holiday home to stay for a couple of months per year. Easier said than done, of course.
Holidays come and go and many of them blend into one another with very little distinction when we look back. Yet, some trips are unique. Some will be remembered vividly for many, many years. I get the feeling this one will be one of those. And I have to thank Ivan, Manu, Katia, and Alice for that. It was sincerely a pleasure. Grazie Mille!