The early days of climbing featured a bunch of gang-ho individuals who set their sights on higher and tougher peaks. There were no harnesses or grippy, rubber-soled shoes and definitely no grading system, let alone indoor climbing walls with multi-coloured plastic holds.
But there was no shortage of passion and determination, so it wasn’t long before mountain climbers started looking to nearby, valley crags to fine-tune their skills and develop their power. And with that, rock climbing took hold.
Along came harnesses, climbing shoes, dynamic rope, quickdraws and, finally, indoor gyms – places for city-bound climbers to keep their fingers strong and their minds focused on (climbing) problem solving.
In 2021 he won the Lead World Cup – a competitive indoor climbing circuit – and climbed Bibliographie, at the time one of the world’s two 9c rock climbing routes. He is regarded as one of the best sport climbers in the world right now and has joined an elite group of just six climbers notching off 9b+ routes or harder. He is part of the new generation of climbers who found their footing in climbing gyms before transitioning to real rock.
‘‘Climbing is completely immersive. When I first tried it I felt like I was in a bubble. I enjoyed it from the very first moment.’’
And just a few years after giving it a go, he debuted on the Lead World Cup circuit, coming in… 58th place.
‘‘It was a long journey to standing on that podium. I came in at 58 in 2009 and then I won it in 2021. This was my career goal, so I’m happy to win it finally.’’
But despite his competitive success and fame, Stefano would describe himself as a ‘rock climber who competes, too’. Alongside the World Cup tour, he found time – 24 days to be exact – to project Bibliographie, first climbed – and graded 9c – by Alex Megos in 2020.
‘‘I had no expeditions (about Bibliographie), I was just curious to try it and see how it would go. But I felt good on it and actually I decided it was probably a bit easier than 9c, so in my opinion it was a 9b+.’’
Yep, Stefano actually downgraded Bibliographie from 9c to 9b+, and in one clean sweep removed his own name from the 9c climbing hall of fame. He’s now set his sights on Silence, in Norway, the world’s only (remaining) 9c, climbed uniquely by Adam Ondra. So what is it that draws him to climbing such hard grades?
‘‘I like this feeling of what at first seems impossible slowly becomes possible. The route is always the same, it’s just me getting stronger or adapted, trained and focused on my goals. I’m improving myself and I like to push my limit a bit further, to see what’s possible in the future.’’
The past, present and future of climbing are the focus of Stefano’s film Beyond. It looks back at climbing’s mountain origins to the hybridisation of indoor/outdoor training/competing/projecting as it stands today. And it touches on what the future of climbing could look like.
‘‘For me, the future of climbing must be more of a team sport with a common goal. I’m on the wall alone and I can think of things to try, but if you really want to climb harder routes, it’s better if multiple minds can work on a project together, this way we can climb harder things in less time. In my opinion, this has to be the direction we take to push the limits of climbing.’’
‘‘By ourselves we have a limit, but if we work together, our strength is summed up and we can face harder routes and harder challenges.’’
Whatever the future of climbing looks like, one thing is for sure: Stefano will be a leading player.