Cartoonist, Climber, Ski Mountaineer: Claudio “Caio” Getto

rock climbing, ski mountaineering, CARTOONS and a big fall

I was curious about Claudio Getto’s, or Caio as he is called, views on climbing and how he approaches creating his cartoons.  His cartoons poke fun at climbers, calling out their quirks (of which Caio assured me there are many). We met on a sunny June morning In Chivasso, a small town near his home between Milan and Turin. Over coffee we talked about his perspectives on work, climbing, climbers and other mountain sports. He also told me what he was thinking about just before he lost consciousness on a 30 meter (100-foot) fall he took when climbing.


climbing, ski mountaineering, cartoons-caio - climbing

Caio’s cartoons, are known throughout Italy and to some extent, the climbing world at large, but not all of his work is translated. However, the egos and mannerisms of the climbers captured in the (sometimes R-rated) cartoons aren’t limited to Italians. Those who are familiar with the sport will be able to appreciate many of his creations, regardless of language.  A collection of his climbing cartoons can be found published in the book, Siamo Mica Qui per Divertirci, (We are Not Here to Have Fun).

While recognized for cartoons on climbing, Caio’s preferred activity is scialpinismo (ski mountaineering, backcountry skiing or ski touring, depending on how you want to translate it). He is now working on the drawings for a new book that pokes fun at back-country skiers. Its title is still TBD (he was taking suggestions on last check).


Coffee Talk in Chivasso

Dressed casually in shorts and a checked shirt, topped off by a slightly wild mass of gray hair, he could have passed for a Colorado guy, aside from speaking only in Italian. We met at the train station. Neither of us knowing Chivasso, we went off in search of a café where I could ask him about his book, his cartoons and climbing.

While looking for a place to talk, I mentioned to him that I had changed trains there once before. I had been to the restaurant by the station, which was admittedly not inspirational in its offering, (though I remembered that a glass of red wine was quite cheap and not terrible, but it was too early and hot for that). The train station restaurant suggestion didn’t go over well. Caio didn’t like the look of the place so we kept walking in a direction that seemed right, arriving a few minutes later in a small piazza where we found some outside tables.

The café must be a hot spot in Chivasso; their claim already staked, a high volume group of old ladies, chatted animatedly at the next table. I‘m usually in the minority in my being disturbed by loud talkers in a country where talking at volume, in both quantity and decibels, is just what people do. But today I was not alone in my disturbance, as Claudio gave a slight eye roll and under-the-breath comment on the yelling that was taking place. His sharp humor now made evident beyond the drawings.


The real job

Our interview was thanks to a mutual friend, Paola De Vecchi Galbiati, a former colleague of his. Caio studied architecture under Achille Castiglioni, a famous Italian architect and designer noted for his mid-century objects. When not in the mountains, his time indoors included working for Italy’s largest communications agency, Armando Testa, and as creative director for the communications department of Fila. He considers the agency work his real job and works on the cartoons when he has time.

Cross training: Creativity on Paper and Rock

Over the course of the morning, we discussed the topic of creativity a few times, connecting the “c” word to both work and play. Caio noted that he detests the word “creative” but agreed that this is precisely what he employs. For a word he professes to hate, the meaning behind it fills up his time. Caio’s sharp eye and thought process may be more immediately evident in his day job but he certainly puts these skills to use not only at his agency and in his cartoons, but when climbing too.

As for how he ended up in advertising and rock climbing, he said that both were somewhat by chance. In the case of climbing, one winter when the snow wasn’t so good, he left his skis at home and tried out climbing. By his own account, he’s not obsessed with either of these activities (though obsession can be a matter of perspective).

I’m not an advertising or climbing fanatic. Also physically, I’m not one that is all sinews and muscles. In fact, I’ve never climbed at an advanced level. I am decidedly average. I’m more into setting routes.

For Caio, each of these undertakings provides a kind of cross-training for the others.  From his “real work”, to his cartoons and his time outdoors, he talked about how all are creative in different ways. In particular, he feels that the time he spends setting climbing routes in Valchiusella (see below) is especially beneficial. “It’s definitely a kind of creativity that I apply in a different way than in advertising.”

Having to bring drills, bolts and hammers up a cliff and setting routes for others to climb, provides him with a 360-degree vision of the sport. It gives him greater insights into the world he captures with pen and tablet. “One helps the other. The approach is a type of training, a way of thinking.”

Caio draws often and estimates he spends about half his time on the cartoons. He doesn’t waste time worrying about creative blocks. Neither does he make himself sit at the desk every day. New ideas pop up from his interactions with and observations of others. When they arrive, they are about 90 percent complete in his head before he draws them. Initially, he used pen and paper, but now he works directly on a digital drawing pad.


Curiosity, CRITICISM and climbers

Caio reflected that he is a curious person. Attentive to details, he spends a great deal of time observing the world around him. He shared how he would like to live;, sitting on a park bench, watching how people look, how they move, how they dress, how they talk. He applies this curiosity about people and the insights gained to create his cartoons.

Criticism is part of the equation too. Along with curiosity, Caio explained how he is critical, even hypercritical of himself. He doesn’t profess to be a genius at work or play but acknowledges his strength.

I’m not too self-deprecating and I don’t give myself too many compliments, that’s just not my nature.  I do not believe that I draw well, but I think that I draw better than many people. Where I think I am good is in the ability to synthesize a situation in a drawing. The right drawing with the right joke, this is something that is not easy.


Anchor setting in Piedmont


climbing, ski mountaineering, cartoons Traversella Parete delle Anime 8a+

Traversella – Parete delle Anime 8+ (Wall of Souls 5.13c)

More than the climbing itself, Caio’s real passion is spending his time as a chiodatura, (setting anchors), preparing the way for others to participate. Along with his book and cartoons, he has contributed a lot to the sport, setting over 500 routes (all self-funded) in the small town of Traversella, in Valchiusella in Piedmont. You can read more here (in Italian, but you can get an idea from his drawings) about his work in Traversella.


The (good and bad) culture of climbers- an inexhaustible source of ideas

I asked, why focus on climbers? Since he gets out on the crag himself, he sees first-hand all of the peculiarities of this breed of human. His work includes a dose of self-criticism too. He chooses the activities he knows well. Knowing the culture inside and out is important. If not, the risk is that the work produced becomes superficial. He assured me that tennis players, cyclists, accountants, any group really, has their own idiosyncrasies which could provide fodder for people to poke fun at. Though he feels climbers, with their obsessions, are an especially rich target.

They have their mannerisms, attitudes and idiosyncrasies, their way of speaking. Climbing is full of these. Surely climbing demonstrates an extraordinary amount of particular mannerisms that can make us laugh. There are thousand and thousands. Climbing offers an inexhaustible source.

He laments that magazines show pictures of hard routes and climbers on challenging problems. But they don’t talk about the proper behavior that people should have when climbing. He questions the values and ego behind some decisions of his subject matter; climbers may prefer to spend more on expensive t-shirts rather than buying a guidebook. Citing that while you can climb in a cheap t-shirt, investing in a guidebook might be more useful.


Who gets the fresh tracks?

Not one to mince words (despite a career in marketing) Caio feels that some sports have developed due to marketing and the desire to sell equipment, rather than a more natural evolution. He lightheartedly sites Nordic walking as one such example of sports designed by marketers. He jokes that he should be shot if found snowshoeing. While not a fan of walking on the snow with racquets affixed to his feet, he is not entirely opposed to the idea of snowshoes. He acknowledges that they existed before marketers and allow the many who don’t ski to enjoy the mountains in winter. There is enough space for all, but….

The problem with snowshoers is that there are some who leave their cars, and  who don’t know where to go. So they put on their snowshoes and walk up the tracks set by skiers. This sheep-like following of skiers tracks ruins the tracks of skiers.

Beyond putting holes in the snow and the lack of originality some snowshoers display, his designer’s eye surfaces on his objections. He expressed his disdain especially on powder days when it becomes a brutto (ugly) problem for backcountry skiers. (No friends on powder days is also a problem in the Alps).

The tracks of a ski mountaineer are belle, lineare, pulite (beautiful, linear, clean). His sense of humor was evident when he talked about competing for snow space, but he turned more serious with his sentiments on Italian attitudes. He explained in Italy there is little civic sense. When he comments to others on sharing the back-country he hears repeatedly, “Where is the problem? There is space for all!” He responds that the problem comes from everyone. “Snowmobiles, snow cats, one is worse than the other, there is space for all, but all need to have respect for the other.”


a 30 Meter fall

Caio has had a couple of big falls. One at 30 meters and one at 35 meters . ( for the Imperial minded, those are 100 feet and more). We talked about what happened on one of them and what his thoughts were. While normally one for synthesis and succinctness, he acknowledged that he could write an entire book on this fall. He lost consciousness when he hit the ground. But in the two and half seconds of free-fall (the time it takes to fall 100 feet), many thoughts rushed through his head. He was rappelling down a face and then his rope was gone. It snaked out of his hands in an instant. There was no knot.  He fell 30 meters to the ground.

When I fell I knew that I was going to die.  I had exactly the perception that after a second and a half I would be dead. It was an enlightening sensation. I could write 15 pages on just this. I discovered then that in these situations your brain reasons like fast, like a computer.

Everything that I’m telling you now was concentrated in a micro-fraction of a second. I was rappelling down, continuing with the rope in my hand. And then the rope was gone. At that point, your mind understands.



He went on to explain that your mind perceives the difference in something that you have no hope of controlling. He gave the example of driving a car and even if the car skids, you believe you still have control. You try to steer the car. You may end-up dead anyway, but you try. If the car goes off a 500 meter cliff you know there is nothing to be done. The brain understands this and reasons differently when you believe you are going to die.

I thought of the everyday things that I would not get to do anymore, unimportant things. I thought tomorrow morning I will not wake up, I will not put on my shoes and pants and go shopping, I will not buy bread. I will not go to dinner. It’s all over.

He was surprised at these thoughts of such trivial things, of daily tasks that he thought he would not get to do anymore. He also shared his progression of emotions during these two seconds. First he felt surprise, and then he evaluated how it would all end. Finally, he realized that he accepted the end with serenity. “Vabbè”. OK.

It didn’t seem to faze him that he survived two such impactful (sorry I couldn’t resist) falls. Does he still climb? “Why not?” He is not afraid. He continues to climb and do his work in Traversella. “I know it’s a beautiful thing to live.”


climbing, ski mountaineering, cartoons-caio - scialpinismo


What’s Next? Ski mountaineering book

So, what’s next for Caio? He’s now looking forward to finishing his ski mountaineering book, another world he knows well.  Through this next round of  cartoons, he will point out the quirks of those who eschew chairlifts to make their turns on snow.  Like his book title, “We are Not Here to Have Fun”  his drawings remind us to lighten-up a bit when we get too obsessed with our mountain activities.


climb icon small


Thanks to Rachel Gilbert for her expert eyes!

Facing My Fear of Heights – Indoors

It felt like this:


But in reality it was this:

mission-cliffs-climbing wall crop

A  much milder wall with colored plastic rocks that looked like friendly Fisher Price toys. Still despite the friendly child-like colors, the Milan’s Rockspot indoor climbing gym’s wall felt more like the first image.  Indoor climbing has become a sport of increasing popularity thanks to climbing gyms, and I thought why not give it a try, maybe tone up the arms and overcome, or at least feel more comfortable with a fear of heights. Many friends have enjoyed the sport but I never really thought too much about it. I liked my feet on the ground and foot- ground relationship is one I have actively nurtured through the years, so why now should I want to through a wrench into the happy pairing of my feet and ground?

Since I  like to spend time in the mountains and now the closest ones happen to be the Italian Alps, I have found myself more on the edges of things. Having lived smack in the center of the mountains for many years ( the aptly named Summit County no less, I had somehow managed to steer clear of the edges of things, but in Italy the trails seem to favor edges, so maybe I needed to find a better way than sweaty palms and increased heart rates to deal with them.

I used to get sweaty palms driving over mountain passes, once when driving over Loveland Pass in Colorado, the center stripes on the swithcbacky, high mountain pass had just been repainted and so cones were set in place down the middle of the road to prevent smearing of the lines. These cones, while protecting Colorado Department of Transportation’s artwork, also prevented me from driving more comfortably in the middle of the road, and  I was forced to remain in my proper lane,  too close to the edge for my comfort . This cliff hugging drive caused my palms to sweat and heart to pound and I had to take deep breaths to remain calm and talk myself through this harrowing drive. It was a clear day and the road was dry but it was one of the many instances when I was acutely aware of not having enough space around me even though  I was in a car not trying to balance while walking across some narrow rocky narrow edge.

It’s not that I entirely avoided high spots, I have spent lots of time on chairlifts, but I preferred to lean back while on them, never one to adjust my ski boots unless the safety bar was firmly in place. So what exactly was I doing now with a group of people who seemed to be half my age in the arrampicata aperitivo? (rock climbing happy hour). FYI the happy hour took place after the climbing, a dangling carrot of a reward for dangling off ropes far above the gym floor. Though my friend who joined me (and was also sharing in the non ground contacting nervousness) proposed that a dose of liquid courage could have also been useful before the class.

The Italians are good at making things social and they also seem to enjoy taking classes, so it makes sense that they would combine the Milanese tradition of aperitivo (a happy hour with food and drink) with a class.

I have always been fascinated by stories of climbing and do a fair amount of hiking and other mountainy things, but hiking with an occasional rock scramble is different from using ropes and harnesses. (this is of course for climbing and not a 50 Shades of Gray reference).

The first part of the class allowed us to do some bouldering, no ropes on a relatively low wall , working our way across rather than up the lowest level of this wall, getting used to the shoes which scrunched your toes into a stronger curled position and learning about the basics of how to stand and move, trying to maintain a stable triangular position with two legs and an arm.

Leaving the ground behind

After a bit of time on the bouldering wall with cushy crash matts below it was time to leave the ground. The instructor explained the use of the harness and the safety of the the ropes, assuring us we would not fall. He, dressed in baggy jeans and a sweatshirt had to fix another rope for our grouped and gracefully sprung his way up the wall, Fred Astaire like but moving vertically with carabiners and rope. A group of kids seemed to be running up the wall, not nearly as light on their feet but still sprinting vertically to the top with no hesitation or seeming effect of gravity on the body or mind. These types of moves were not to be mine on that evening.

With ropes fixed, our group of newbies were up. My friend and belay partner took her turn and now it was mine. Feeling pretty good post bouldering, I was giving myself an internal pep talk that I could do this. No lightness or speed accompanied my first ascent. Just deliberation, telling myself to ignore the pain in my toe that the climbing shoes were pinching as my toe was an essential if minimal contact point ( recall I liked my feet to touch things) . But hey, I was moving, I was balancing. I was stretching. I was climbing. Then I looked down. The ground by now seemed quite far (though I was only slightly more than halfway up the wall) I looked for my partner, who seemed to be watching everyone but me. (no doubt they were more appealing to watch, but I did need some slack in the line as I decided it might be time to go down. Going down requires notifying your  belayer so that the tension on the rope can be released to let you descend.  However my request didn’t catch  her attention. So I called her name, and still no response. I  switched from Italian to English and called out again my desire to be closer to the floor.  All the while perched on two tiny pieces of plastic well above the ground. Eventually my partner heard the now more urgent calls of of requesting to come down and they she asked what to do , she  asked if she should let the “rope go”? My response was a quite emphatic no, as I visualized the cord rapidly snaking away and until finally sipping up through the pulley that was my backup should the arms and legs give out.  Telling her to find the instructor to guide her and me to the ground resolved the issue and I started to move down. Still, I was no Cirque du Soleil performer and clunkily bounced off the wall until touch down.

We worked out the distraction issues and tried again. This time on a different route. I figured I should make it up a bit higher this time . Most of my fellow newbies were reaching the top of the wall but I felt quite studly at  3/4  point when I made the mistake again of looking down.  Going up was not a breeze but it was not too difficult either, physically. The hardest part was being up high. There is a reward in looking down , in seeing how far I came, but the reward for me was short lived, as once I looked  to see my progress my  lofty ambition was replaced with affection for the ground.  The return to earth was  slightly less clunky but elegance seems to be a long way off.

Come for the drinks, stay for the climb

The instructor was patient and encouraging and the group friendly, We now had reached the aperitivo portion of the evening and enjoyed a well deserved beer and surprisingly tasty food.(Yes, I know, Italy has good food, so not sure why I was surprised, I guess just not expecting nice prosciutto at a gym.) My friend made a comment which stuck with me “there was no chance to think of anything else” It was true. For me and for many others ( though I suspect more so for those who are not friends with height) it was an activity that immediately and completely was all absorbing. Thinking about where to put arms and legs and how to move. I think there is something to do with a looming  fear is a big aid in helping you to remain in the the moment. In the end it was quite a rewarding experience and I have signed up for more, hoping that I will be able to look down without wanting to come down.

Image credits:

Mission Cliffs

Noun Project- Jeremie Sommet