Jude and Ally arrive around 9.30 and the photo shoot is officially on. Although it’s not, because it’s raining. We aren’t planning on this. Our stellar forecast of friendly yellow suns across the Valle dell’ Orco map is in fact a series of scudding clouds that build to torrential showers. If there’s fortune to be found then it’s that the rain comes in before we find ourselves three pitches up on a slippery granite slab, but to be honest, it’s not much solace. After another patchy night there’s frustration in me.
Instead, we spend the morning exploring the upper, alpine stretch of the valley where the Italian Job was filmed, then hazard an exciting river crossing in search of an extreme picnic spot. And amid the hail and snow that comes in on a vicious wind, we eat olives and mackerel fillets and pretend it’s summer.
By the time the last rice cake has blown off the boulder-table, the sun has come out and climbing’s looking feasible again. We head off back to the Sargent and Jude climbs the 6b+ Elisir D’Incastro. In Britain this would be a nationally significant three star classic, but up here in sleepy Orco is seems a tad forgotten, tucked away in a dark granite gorge well out of the limelight. But what a route. The crack soars out of the dankness, splitting a wall at first with fingers, then hands and then – as you pull through the overhanging section – with baggy fists. Jude dispatches it with ease as Ally and I hang around trying to hold the cameras still enough in the gale force wind. By the end everyone’s frozen, including Jude who has too much spare capacity to find the effort of this crack warming. She eyes the 8a on the opposite wall with interest…
With the last light of the day Ally and I set off on a somewhat ambitious attempt at the other uber classic of Orco – La Fessura della Disperazione. It’s a 6a+ offwidth that splits the Sargent, running diagonally across a blank shield of granite in a compelling gash. It feels very much like Yosemite, the climbing burly and insecurely protected by some Camalot 6 shuffling, and some terrifying pendulum potential for the second. After three pitches and with the sun turning orange on the snow peaks opposite, we call it a day. It’s been a 100m wrestling match and we have three more days climbing ahead of us, so prudence overrides ambition and we descend for pizza and beer. But Orco is soaring in our estimation. This place is sensational.