Location: Baule's crag' (1850 m), Vette Feltrine, Italy
Route setter: Maurizio Manolo Zanolla 2009
Last climb: Alessandro Zeni, 2/11/2021
Eternit is a route developed by Maurizio Zanolla on the Baule crag. An extremely smooth wall, seemingly impossible to climb, in the middle of the Vette Feltrine near Rifugio Boz.
I approached this route for the first time in 2010. On that long-ago day when I tried the route, I wasn’t at the skill level to be able to free climb it, but I remember that I nevertheless managed to complete the moves. The positive feelings on that attempt led me to believe that sooner or later I would be able to climb it. A dream that, unfortunately, was destined to be shattered.
After a few scattered attempts between 2011 and 2013, one day the news came that Alessandro Lamberti had gone to try the route and had found it altered. How was that possible? At first I thought it was a joke, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then the day came for a new attempt on Eternit, and, as always, the excitement was sky high, until I ran straight into the harsh reality. The route was indeed no longer the same: many holds had mysteriously disappeared, and others had been smoothed out. Some holds were no longer there, and still others had become as shiny as marble. Suddenly, the dream was destroyed, as was my interest in this route, which I abandoned with great regret and deep sadness.
But it’s not in my character to give up on a dream. So, attracted by the beauty of that wild and remote place, I returned to climb on that wall a couple of times. Every time I put my hands on Eternit, I was overcome by a sense of profound disappointment.
Probably the hardest thing in life is to lose something beautiful after getting to know it. That’s how it was for me with Eternit. Beautiful moves that I once was able to do now no longer existed. I understood then that I was not ready to accept those changes and that at that moment the route had lost all its appeal for me.
The years passed, and in the meantime in 2014 I joined the High Mountain Military Section of the Army Sports Center. The possibility of focusing solely on climbing and having teammates with the same passion next to me allowed me to significantly improve both my physical and mental abilities. But by now I had set Eternit aside and shifted my attention to other high-difficulty routes, both on crags and in the mountains. In this way I was able to continue to improve over time.
Until 2020. A year that probably none of us were prepared for, when COVID-19 hit us like a bucket of cold water. Suddenly all travel was limited to a radius of 30 kilometers. The situation became difficult, as I was no longer able to organize climbs in the mountains with my army teammates, with whom I was training for a new project.
I needed a goal that was stimulating and that would help me maintain the high level of fitness and skill that I’d achieved up to that point. I looked around and quickly realized that I didn’t have many difficult projects close to home. The only thing left was Eternit.
I knew that Adam Ondra had come to attempt the route on several occasions, but without success. This surprised me a bit, but regardless, it seemed that he had managed to set up almost all the moves. So, intrigued, toward mid-November 2020 I told my girlfriend for the first time that I wanted to take her to climb in a beautiful place, where the air was thinner. A place to take refuge and climb, even during this time of a thousand restrictions. I took her to Baule, and I remember that her face lit up that day. Those eyes, blue like the sky, reflected the enthusiasm that I had felt the first time I went up there. Seeing her joy was the magic that managed to change the way I saw things.
We were alone, in a beautiful place, surrounded by complete silence. The only living things to visit us were eagles and chamois. I looked at her, I told her about that whole sad story that I had buried for some time, and she answered simply: “Try again! What do you care about all this? We’re here, you and me, so have fun climbing like you always do, and get rid of those pointless worries.” It will seem absurd, but I’d never looked at it from that point of view. So, with a new outlook, I threw myself back onto that wall that I hadn’t touched for years and that my mind had by now completely forgotten. Having to find new and more difficult techniques now no longer weighed on me. It had become a challenge between me and the wall — nothing else mattered anymore. With this new lightness, after just two days I was able to make every single move on the route and to give shape to a dream that I thought had been destroyed forever.
On the third day I began to make some real attempts, completing the first part of the route called “O ce l’hai o ne hai bisogno” (“Either you have it or you need it”), which was initially graded 8b+ and had now become 8c/+. After that first part, a bit excited to be so high already, I lost concentration and fell. But the good thing was that I was finally happy and motivated. So I looked at Ilenia and said with a smile: “Apparently, I finally have some, but for the upper part I think I still need more!”
On the fourth day we were literally immersed in a sea of fog. The conditions were so bad that I couldn’t even get through the first part.
Then came the fifth day. A crisp breeze rose from the valley floor. I felt incredible energy flowing through my entire body, and when I set out I didn’t even realize that I was already at the top, ready to put it all on the line with that precarious balance, poised between success and failure. But once again, emotion took over and suddenly my mind was disconnected from my body, I stiffened, and I botched the move. Gravity made its presence felt, and in a split second I found myself hanging on the rope 5 meters below, trying to figure out what I’d done wrong. That day, despite not having succeeded, I was happy because I’d never I come so close to success before. Finally, all this wasn’t just a dream anymore. Now I knew I could do it!
But once again, fate had decided differently, and that same late-November night a heavy snowfall fell on the Vette Feltrine, covering the Baule crag and with it all those dreams, which had to go into hibernation until spring. Unfortunately, though, the mountains had other plans that winter, and for the first time in many years they decided to keep that white blanket until late May, preventing any possibility of access to that wall protected from the cold and wind.
By now, June was approaching, the trees had turned green, and the warm sun melted all those meters of snow. But now the temperatures were too high — to the point that I was no longer able to regain those feelings of lightness and grip that I had the previous year. But the appeal of that place had not diminished, so when I came home from training with my teammates, I returned to Eternit. I tried again for another three days during the summer: one with my girlfriend; one with a friend, Camilla; and one with my older brother, Gian. I knew deep down that I would never be able to climb the route in those hot and humid conditions, but at least it was a good way to keep in shape, brushing up on the moves a bit.
During the rest of the summer, though, I began to prepare for other projects — many, too many ... to the point that they all proved too difficult for me to be able to climb them in a day or two of attempts. So I found myself bouncing from one place to another, trying to do a little bit of everything, but without actually completing anything.
Fall arrived, and I’ll admit that seeing time go by like this, without being able to complete anything I wanted to do, was in some respects a bit frustrating. I was in shape — I had no doubt about that — but I realized that I needed to slow down and regain my balance.
So in October I decided to take two weeks of vacation and go to Sardinia with Ilenia, with the sole aim of climbing and having fun. No more difficult projects. I climbed practically only on-sight, or at most I made a few attempts. I simply felt the need to let everything go and rediscover the beauty of the motion, nothing more.
I returned from Sardinia without too many expectations, and as soon as I had the chance I returned with Ilenia to Eternit. That day, the conditions were truly phenomenal; the humidity was very low, as were the temperatures. But that night, for some strange reason, I hadn’t slept much, and some nutrition error from the day before was immediately making me pay. My energy was limited, and I fell when I was still on the first part. But I started again immediately, and, almost incredulous, despite everything I reached the chain. That day I admit that I got very angry with myself for wasting a golden opportunity, for not paying attention to those details that often make the difference. Details that probably would have caused the day to turn out differently.
I’ve never found it useful or constructive to complain following a defeat, but at that moment the disappointment was such that grumbling seemed the only way to let off steam, and Ilenia (alas) found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. After a good half hour, I realized that it was probably time to stop, reorganize my ideas, and accept having to come back again. I knew that the following day Ilenia would have to leave to return to work in Friuli and that I would not be able to abandon this project once more and then have to start all over again. The good thing was that she noticed my slightly dejected look that evening. There was no need to talk about it. She looked me in the eyes and said: “Go and do it — you’ve got it now!”
That sentence made me understand how deeply she believed in me, in my passion, however pointless it might seem, and it was the spark that made me feel invincible and gave me a strength I didn’t even know I had. So two days later, on November 2, I went back to Eternit with my brother Gian.
Unfortunately, the conditions were not what I had hoped for, and once again we were surrounded by clouds. But the temperatures were very low, and after doing a warm-up lap to review the moves I felt in incredible form, on one of those rare days when gravity seems to recede to zero. Gian immediately realized that something had changed in me, and although I was not entirely convinced, he insisted on positioning a video camera to film the climb, even if the thick fog hindered visibility. I started on Eternit and everything seemed easy, incredibly easy! So much so that almost without realizing it I found myself again fighting on those final rock edges. My feet seemed glued to the wall.
I was there, at the end, and that raising of my feet above my head was the last obstacle between me and that distant edge. I wound myself up, gripped that last strip tightly, and stretched to the edge. A liberating cry broke the silence and reverberated down below, a cry of profound happiness! Yes, I had climbed Eternit!
After descending, I was trembling from the accumulated adrenaline. I couldn’t believe I had succeeded, that I had done it ... despite everything! Gian was even happier than I was, but all of a sudden he stopped and looked at me and said: “It’s a shame that with this fog you can’t see much in the video, and as luck would have it, now the fog has cleared! If only you had started 5 minutes later ... You did it so easily! We still have many hours of daylight ... Come on — try again now. That way you’ll also have a good reminder of the climb!”
Inside, I found it absurd to think I’d be able to do it again, but I did still feel a lot of strength in my fingers, so I said to him: “Why not? At worst it will still be good training.” Challenge accepted!
I pulled out the rope, put on my shoes, and started again. Lightened by the fact that I had already freed the climb, I trusted my feet completely and, climbing even more smoothly than before, I completed the first part again and went on, higher and higher, until I passed the rope through the chain again! I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t done the route once, but twice on the same day!
I must say that it was incredible for me, and even now, looking at those videos again, I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe my mind and body had reached a perfect balance. I had rediscovered the beauty of climbing and had let all my worries go.
To sum up, and to try to shed some light on the age-old question of grade, to climb Eternit I made a total of 23 attempts, and I believe that now it can be classified roughly as a level 9a+, even if, in my opinion, in its current state it’s a grade more difficult than it was in 2010 when I tried it for the first time. So this is the grade, the same difficulty that I proposed when I freed Energia Cosmica, which I think is the route that comes closest to Eternit in style and difficulty, even though I needed a good 62 attempts on Energia Cosmica.
I conclude with a small thought, a thought that captures what this climb meant to me, not only as a sport climber but also as an Army Sports Center athlete. In life, someone or something often gets between us and our dreams; there will always be obstacles to overcome. At that moment there are two possibilities: either you give up and accept defeat without trying, or you accept the challenge for what it is, testing yourself and accepting the changes. Rebuilding a dream is not easy, but if you succeed, the happiness will be even greater than before!
So believe in yourself, surround yourself with the right people, fight for what you believe in, and always dream big, because if you believe in it you can do it!
Finally, I would like to thank all the people who helped me make this dream come true!