Samuele Scalet 1940 – 2010 - Up-Climbing

Samuele Scalet 1940 – 2010

On January 15, among the cima Marzola mountains, and close to his house in Trento, the great Dolomites climber Samuele Scalet passed away. He was 70, and for some time had been battling against an illness even tougher than an inaccessible mountain wall.

His name will forever be linked to a great mountain of the Pale di S.Martino massif, the Sass Maor, a wild temple. And it’s on the south-east wall of this giant that Scalet, together with Giancarlo Biasin, in 3 intense August 1964 days, found “his” route. The pair opened an elegant and difficult route, with the use of relatively few pegs, considering the length (VI A0 700 m). A masterpiece. These were the years of the “direttissime” climbed with aid and over-the-top use of pegs. But Samuele was far-sighted and his approach was similar to that adopted by climbers 20 years later.
But, as often happens with great visionaries, he was unlucky,  and the epilogue to the pair’s extraordinary achievement will always be marred by what happened during the descent on foot.

His partner, Giancarlo Biasin, slipped and died during a moment’s lapse of concentration. After this tragedy, for a long period Scalet didn’t climb much, dedicating himself to another of his loves, windsurfing. In the Nineties he again climbed a lot and, confirming his advanced conception of climbing, adopted modern approaches to new-routing, while always respecting the mountain and its history.

In 2001, and again on “his” preferred south-east face of the Sass Maor, he climbed for the first time another historic new route. With Marco Canteri and Davide Depaoli he came up with Masada (an acronym of their names), 1260 metres with your heart in your mouth, with very few bolts and difficulties of up to VIII- and A1. Those who repeated the route considered it one of the Dolomites’ finest. Last October the very strong “local” Riccardo Scarian managed to climb it entirely free, with climbing up to all of 8b.

Scalet had started exploring in 1959 on the south face of the Cima Principale di Manstorna, then on the north-west face of the Cima Immink, where he climbed this new route with long difficult free sections, and he continued climbing in this way.

Born in Primiero, in the Dolomites near Feltre, he subsequently went to live in Trento. A mathematics professor, and great lover and scholar of prime numbers, he was also an academic member of the CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) for many years. He had mountains inside of him and he knew how to climb them with delicacy, leaving behind him grand designs to be admired, appreciated and repeated.

Samuele Scalet also published two well-regarded guides with Milan’s Versante Sud:
The “Guida alpinistica alle Pale di san Martino” with S. Zagonel, T. Simoni, M.
Lott and D. Boninsegna, and, on his own, a guide to the same area’s walks.
Masada winter  on upclimbing
mario sertori
An amusing story by Samuele Scalet published on
I chiodi [1]
"I can consider “chiodi” family business. My great-grandfather had a small workshop near to the river, just downstream of the kilns where they produced iron, in via Forno in the village of Transacqua. He made above all hammers and pincers, and big nails and little nails. Everything was faithfully made with the press and then finished by hand.
When the mines closed, the workshop became a mill, but a certain number of boxes of nails were left for such a long time that I could explore them and make my own personal collection, which I guarded carefully.
They were lovely “chiodi” (nails), each with its own head, body and some feature which made it unique. The slenderest always made me think of a school friend who everyone said was “magro come un chiodo”, “as skinny as a rake” you’d say in English but Italians say “as skinny as a nail”, but I liked him and he was intelligent. To use properly “chiodi”, just like anything else, you have to know them well. Taught by expert hands, I learned how to put them in without splitting the wood, without bending them, to bend over the protruding tips where necessary to make them more secure, to extract and straighten them if needed and then to put them back in the right place.
Yes, it was dangerous to leave them lying round, perhaps with the points upwards, or drop them as you went along, so that some passing bright spark picks them up and uses them to scratch the shiny sides of parked cars. Even worst things could come into the head of real geniuses, but bad things you can’t avoid by hiding the nails, only by getting people to use their consciences.
Then one day Granny said Grandad had “un chiodo fisso”, literally “a nail stuck” or in English you say “a bee in his bonnet”. I thought she meant that she was talking about a nail he couldn’t get out, but I quickly realised it meant something completely different and the only thing common to ordinary nails was that it was hard to get out.
“Chiodi mentali”, “mental nails”, even more so than the ordinary variety, you can say are hand-made, each one different from the rest, some good and some bad, and, given that they’re already hidden inside people’s heads, it’s impossible to hide them elsewhere. The real master that keeps them under control is the conscience.
My experience with “chiodi” started to get really interesting when I started to climb in the mountains. With the savings I’d sweated for, I bought a hemp rope, krabs, a hammer and some rock pegs, perhaps five of different sizes, and I hid everything in the attic. My friend Aldo and I studied with interest the various blade forms and different sizes that’d work best in the rock’s cracks. Finally came the day to place them, but the first peg we came across in the mountains had been placed by someone else. In fact, there were two of them, joined by tat.
This was a sure sign that we’d arrived at a stance and were on the right route. What joy! Others had been here before us and had left a sign. Further up, a hold broke and I fell for a few metres until a peg stopped my fall. Probably that peg saved my life. We used them for the descent as well, for abbing off. When we arrived back at the start of the route, all the pegs were gone. You can argue for ever if it’s best to climb a route using few or many pegs. They change the safety of the climb and the sense of adventure that’s a very important part of climbing.
And if we want to complicate things, we can say that pegs can only be placed where there are cracks, which you don’t always find, while bolts are special “chiodi” that can be placed wherever you want using a drill. The ethics regarding the use of bolts lead directly to a discussion on the value of life and of adventure where each person’s conscience comes into play.
Making several plays on words in Italian and with rapid changes of subject, we see that the ethics of climbing ”a tutto chiodo”, “all out”, are those we’ve just described, while “essere inchiodati”, “to be nailed”, means the exact opposite. Putting the two phrases together, we get “chiodo scaccia chiodo”, literally “nail crushes nail” or in English you’d say, “when one door closes, another opens” or “hair of the dog” if talking about drink. Everyone knows that carpenters are the real experts of nails, but despite this climbers, whether we’re talking about “chiodi normali” (pegs) or “chiodi fissi” (bolts), are unbeatable for having their “chiodo fisso” about “chiodi” (pegs).
The most extraordinary thing you can say about “chiodi” is that there are people who can bend them just by thinking. The nicest thing, though, is when a person gets to the end of his career, his most treasured tool gets “appeso al chiodo”, “hung up on the nail”. Roba da chiodi, “stuff for making nails out of”!"
Samuele Scalet

[1] “Chiodo”, “chiodi” in the plural, is the Italian word for nails. It also means pegs or pitons. The word is also used in various Italian expressions, as described in the article