The Cresciano area of Switzerland is famous with climbers world wide – with great rock in beautiful alpine surroundings it is a great spot for a bouldering trip. In this Blog SCARPA athlete Eliot Stephens shares his recent trip to Cresciano and memories of his first sessions on Swiss rock.
It’s now nearing a decade since I first visited Switzerland, and I’m pleased to say it has not lost it’s shine. Waking up to blue skies, snow capped mountains and dry rock in everywhere insight is a magic formula for an enjoyable bouldering trip. Switzerland delivers it almost every single time. Of all the years I’ve visited however, I’ve yet to truly explore the oldest and most classic Ticino area, Cresciano.
It was on my first day on Swiss soil back in 2013, that I first experienced Cresciano. Straight off the plane, we found ourselves driving straight to the crag, ready to catch a few hours on rock before sunset. Within 10 minutes of walking from the car at the parking area, I found myself stood underneath Dreamtime. Talk about peaking too early. The world’s first 8C. Fred Nicole’s most iconic boulder, and one of the most aesthetic out there. I was pretty awestruck, as I think everyone is the first time they come around the corner to it. It’s just this gigantic round boulder perched on the side of the hill. The holds are really unique, and the rock quality is even better. There are no crystals, no flakey holds, no ratty incut edges. Just a line of perfectly sculpted edges and slopers, that whisk you along this feature to a final easy mantle left of the famous in-situ tree. Even the descent off the boulder is legendary; the undignified shuffle down the tree.
Now, what many don’t realise, is that around the back of the boulder, directly behind Dreamtime is another world class problem; The Dagger (8B), and its sit start, ’Story of Two Worlds’ (8C). What Fred Nicole was to the early generation of Boulderers, Dave Graham is to the generation preceding it. Dave has left a legacy of 5 star boulders in Ticino, from the likes of’ Amber’ and ’General Disarray’ in Brione, to ‘Big Paw’ and ‘From Dirt Grows the Flowers’ in Chironico; but perhaps the most important is ‘Story of Two Worlds’, right at the heart of Cresciano. What Tony Lamprecht created with ‘The Dagger’, Dave built on to create Story. It left a boulder totally contrasting in style to Dreamtime, yet equally difficult, and outrageous for the time, back in 2005.
Anyway, back to 2013, I can’t even recall pulling onto any climbs that day. I just know that seeing those two boulders in person ignited something, and made me want to be better; capable of doing them. That feeling continued through that trip, visiting several boulders I’m now able to say I’ve completed in the years since. However, on almost every trip I’ve had to Switzerland since that first one, Cresciano has only been in condition for fleeting moments. As it sits at a lower elevation to the other main Ticino areas of Chironico, Brione and Bavona, it tends to stay much warmer. These warm temperatures also don’t play into the style of the area, which relies much more on friction, on a variant of gneiss that often climbs more akin to sandstone than granite.
So until 2022, I’ve only dabbled at Cresciano, dipping in here and there to pick off a classic, or an evening session to avoid the heat. So to arrive this December to find perfect conditions was a pleasant surprise. Touching holds warmth of the sun. One boulder specifically was La Prou (8B). A techy old school problem that I’ve tried previously, only to realise I was wearing the wrong shoe. Shades of Malcolm Smith and Jerry Moffatt in ‘Stone Love’.
But this time, there was no complaint about conditions, or waiting for the sun to dip behind the hill. A session that would normally last 1 hour, suddenly lasts 3, as conditions lull you into thinking your skin is still good. Walking away emptyhanded and waking up the next day to thin skin, it was clear it was not. Spending many days walking the single path along Cresciano’s hillside, I realise quite how much there is to be seen and tried. From the old school classics such
as ‘La Grotte De Soupirs’ (7C+) and ‘La Nave Va’ (7C+), all the way to new school features such as ‘Iur’ (8B+) and ‘The Great Escape’ (8B), this area has high quality boulders hidden around every corner. I realise that climbers of this
generation have this extra collection of boulders to choose from.
They have the Fred Nicole problems, they have the Dave Graham problems, and then they have the new wave of cutting edge boulders like ‘Story of 3 Worlds’ (8C+) and ‘Crystal Ship’ (8C). Each day I realise how dense Cresciano is, and how this jumble of boulders constantly hides something new, of amazing quality, and often difficulty. These hidden roofs, arêtes or corners that you would never spot from the path, suddenly come into view. From them, often something else can be spotted, and suddenly you’ve seen 5 new boulders that you didn’t know existed. I’m reminded why going to an area and trying to see everything is such a valuable thing!
I’m reminded of my first days wandering up the hill to look at ‘Dreamtime’, which remains one of the best boulders I’ve laid eyes on. I’m reminded that what most often brings me joy in climbing, is exploring a new playground, and sampling everything it has to offer. After weeks of projecting and sitting under one (albeit world class) boulder, I allow myself to indulge, and to simply try whatever I feel like trying. I’m quickly reminded that this is how I most enjoy climbing. Luckily for me, Cresciano will always be a place I’ll have boulders to try. And that makes me excited to return…