Vertical Life was lucky enough to catch up with visiting Italian boulderer Niky Ceria while he was in the Grampians for six weeks. We shot of a few photos of this total crusher in action, and discovered a little more about this super passionate boulderer, who has been attempting to live as a full time professional climber for the past couple of years. In person, Niky is lovely guy, and very thoughtful, while seeing him in action was quite eye-opening, particularly watching him dispatch V13 in an hour so after repeating the cruxes of numerous other hard boulders for photos. After he left Oz, he answered a few questions for us by email.
For Australian climbers who don’t know a lot about you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Yes. I am a true bouldering and nature lover; I put my passion into the rocks and the contest which surrounds them. I am 21 and I live in a little village up in the Northwest of Italy. I like travelling, listening to music, tasting sweets, watching photos, videos and staying quiet by my own most of the time.
How did you get into climbing and, more specifically, bouldering – after all Italy is mostly known for its sport climbing?
I had a various phases during my climbing career. Obviously this change doesn’t regard the level only; I think it’s more due to the ways to see the climbing and also to the reading of my needs.
I started thanks to a bright inspiration from an artificial bouldering wall in France. I was seven and every holiday when I saw this building I became crazy. The colors of the holds made me happy and the challenge of the first tries was very exciting. I wanted to know more about this, but since my parents had never heard about climbing, we had some troubles to find a proper place where to practice it. At nine my parents registered myself to four lessons for learning about sport climbing.
On the rock I didn’t feel at my ease, but it was probably due to the gear, the ropes and the cliffs, which have never inspired me. In fact I didn’t keep on going after that.
A year later a new indoor wall opened close to where I live and I simply fell in love. I officially started on March 2003 and for two years I basically pulled on plastic holds. From 2005 I started to compete until 2011, when I took part to my last international event. In the first years, I barely went outside and, during the few times I went, I mostly did sport climbing and not bouldering.
In 2008, together with my brother and a good friend of mine, we started to frequent the bouldering spots more and more. Only at that stage I realised about the good things that the rock could give. The rock passion started to come on; from 2008 the outside days became more and more frequent and, in 2009, the competition side started to fade off. From the middle of 2011 I quit competing and now I only do outdoor bouldering.
What is it that you love most about bouldering?
I love many aspects of bouldering. It deals with a wide aspect of climbing and I actually find it complete. I love the shapes of the boulders first; even if they are awful, they are anyway better than an awesome cliff for me. A boulder is something little, something cozy that you can admire and, most of the boulders, can perfectly fit into my sight. I love it because it is one of the purest ways to climb and the gesture is really intensive and short. I prefer this approach rather than the long routes. You have to get mad in the details and your goal is to climb a line and not to stop at an iron chain. I love it because you can climb free and alone, and, as I said, you can also stand up on what you climb. I really like to see a beautiful line and connect this beauty to a climbing sequence that I imagine. I also love the discovering side. I like to spend full days to clean a stone and to complete it with the chalk spots and a possible sequence. There are many factors that make it great; I would say that it is the full package itself that makes it special to me.
Was there something in particular – a problem, a photo, etc – that brought you out to Australia?
Australia, or better Grampians, bounced in my mind since many years. Christian Core was one of the first who told me well about this place.
A few years later the boom of the climbing web broke out. I know it is really trivial, but many times it gets easy to be inspired by videos or photos on the internet. The clips about Grampians built in me a little inner voice who says: ‘Damn, I want to go there soon or later. Better soon than later.’
Probably also the rumors about the high rock quality led me to come here. Then there was the Australian charm, too; I knew I was going towards a totally different atmosphere for a European guy like me.
The fact that Grampians are less crowded than Rocklands is not a surprise and this was also a good thing I considered. Climbing is for me a good way to stay in contact with the nature. If it is crowded it loses half of the magic. These are basically the things I considered more before coming here.
You climbed a lot of problems while you were out here, can you give us your top five (and a brief description of why)?
Honestly and objectively, Cherry Picking (V13) in Buandik has no rivals in the Grampians. It is only ruined by the chossy rock in the exit, but it can easily be one of the best line I have achieved this year and probably one of the top in my all time ascents.
The Wave Rock (V12) in Trackside is special too. A smooth and perfect rounded dihedral which starts from a perfect jug and lead into a few poor holds. You only have the necessary structures to execute the ascent. It was too hard for me and one single move rejected me all the days I tried.
Then I would say Dave Kellerman’s The Outsider (V11). If you take the line itself and the movements it is nothing special: it is a simple traverse on a crack, just more than a metre high off the ground. But man, the look of that boulder is quite impressive. The rock is just a bit crumbly in some parts, but in most of the boulder has a perfect fine grain and that makes really unique features. I really enjoyed it because it looks like an abstract paint made by the Australian wildness.
Fourth, I’d suggest On the Beach (V13) at Trackside. It seems like someone shot at it with a cannonball and what remained were few holes which make pinches and perfect sculpted crimps. It is also pure, the rock is one of the best in the north and it climbs good.
Then it might be Owning the Weather (V14) in Mt Fox. The right side of this boulder is amazing. The first time I was under it I couldn’t believe how some features were awesome. The left side is nothing too special, but the left angle makes it wonderful. The climbing is a really good balance between physical compressions and little technical details. I have been always impressed by the colors and the “drawing” it has on the right part. They are incredible.
Can you tell us about your new problem, Il Mancino di Bristol (V14)?
Il Mancino di Bristol was an already brushed and attempted project to the right of Rootarted (V12), in Buandik. The upper part was still a bit dirt but after a quick brush I could begin to work it. The line took me three days to get over; I spent one of them to find the correct beta, then another two days to link it together. The boulder is a logical, wide and smooth prow, which sit starts and climbs into the slopey features of the boulder. At half of the prow, I came with both hands on the right side and I reached the upper slopers on this side. From there, it continues towards left, but your body is located on the right side of the boulder. The higher you get the harder it becomes. The first six moves are really easy and they climb smoothly. After those, you have a medium-difficult part of two moves, where you should get the holds as perfect as you can to go into the crux, which are the last two moves. The first one is a reach to a side-pull edge, while in the second you have to get the last hold beyond the lip. I would say it looks better than it climbs.
We know that one of your main goals for the trip was climbing Nalle Hukkataival’s Owning the Weather, you managed to climb it but it wasn’t without a struggle – how did it go down?
You are right, it required me some efforts, especially on the mental side. The first right hold seems quite clean, but it lacerated my skin many times. The difficulty was to built a proper skin for those holds and since I am having a negative period with my skin, it was tricky. The first session went pretty well and I managed to complete all the moves on the first part, which I thought was the hardest. The upper part was still an enigma, since it was raining few minutes before and I couldn’t get on it cause it remained soaked. But honestly I didn’t worry too much.
On the second day my skin was really soft, but I was confident after the previous session. I quickly did the upper missing part and I started to work the bottom again. After two really bad goes, I got a split on my medium tip. Game was over that day. After setting it aside for a while I came back with a better skin, but not with the proper temps (15°C). The story was the same: I couldn’t get the good feelings of the first day. At that stage it faced like a big challenge for me:
- I had to come back one day totally relaxed and mental free (reckoning it was the third session of the trip and the stress started to come on).
- My skin should have been much better.
- I should have to find a cold day where the temperatures would have not passed the 11°C.
- As the sun usually shines it around 11.30am, I should get to it before 9am super in order to be ready and have at least two hours of time.
- Considering its difficulty, during the time I would have waited for the first four points, I should have kept my physical shape pretty high.
- Once I got all these things together I should have taken profit and I hadn’t many chances to fail.
My ‘battle’ was basically upon these six points. I came back four days before leaving, with cold temperatures and fortunately enough skin. My expectations were lower, but I started to try the first move. All the skills I hope to have come together in a flash and after four goes I went really close to stick the second move (crux). The subsequent try I got that sloper and I climbed into the flow until the top. It was a big surprise as I was considering the ‘battle’ lost until few minutes before. I have been quite happy to repeat this one.
Did you think that the Grampians lived up to the hype that you’d heard prior to coming out here? What were the best and worst things?
I would say no. In my opinion, the place is too much overrated by the media and by the hype I heard before coming here. It has been quite a bummer upon this side, since my expectations were really high for this place. The problem is that I didn’t climb on anything beautiful under the V11, simply I could not find anything, or almost. Up to V11 there are some really great things to climb, but not as many as some other areas that I have been to. With this, I am not saying Grampians suck. Conversely, the Grampians are really nice and my expectations were maybe too high. I simply don’t locate this place at the top of my favorite areas and I reckon the hype is too high for what I found. This is just a personal view.
Personal best things: colours of the rock, features, possibility to climb while in Europe is summer time, it’s nice and not crowded at the same time, good potential for new lines, isolation from the human rumours.
Personal worst thing: overvaluation, mediocre place around the boulders, weather, medium/high concentrations of drop-off and poor lines.
Do you think you will come out here again?
I really hope so. As I mentioned on my blog page, this trip had been planned like a first check visit. First of all, I would like to come back with a better logistic and staying closer to the boulders. Secondly, I would really like to make a discovery trip over here. Many say the potential is still big and I would like to be part of this process, which is one I really like. This time I hadn’t enough time or good logistic to make an approach based on developing/searching/cleaning; but next time I would direct my trip more in this way. I would like to try The Swoop Wave (I unfortunately tried it only once at the end of the trip); I still have to see the Valley of the Giants in Halls Gap and some classics in the northern burnt areas. It rains a bit too much, that’s true, but on the other hand the season lasts quite a lot. So, there are many good aspects to plan another trip here in the future. ‘When’ is a question still to be answered.
You can read more about Niky’s trip here, including all the problems he did while in the Grampians (he just updated his blog with a final post about his trip).