Dolomiti Super Summer

2 Sep

As good as the Mt Blanc massif is, four trips in a row seemed a bit much and so at last we got around to making a two week pilgrimage in August to the Dolomites. Managing to nail two of the best weather weeks of the summer, we were lucky enough to get nine full days climbing in, with only two weather-enforced rest days and one due to shear knackeredness!

In amongst it all, looking north from Cinque Torri towards Col dei Bos and the South Face of Tofana di Rozes

In amongst it all, looking north from Cinque Torri towards Col dei Bos and the South Face of Tofana di Rozes

 

Tales of harrowing runouts and loose rock horror-shows are synonymous with Dolomite climbing, so we eased ourselves in gently with a day at the friendly Cinque Torri, warming up on the enjoyable Via del Diedro (IV+).

The north face of Torre Seconda and the unmistakable corner of Via del Diedro

The north face of Torre Seconda and the unmistakable corner of Via del Diedro heading straight up the middle

 

Embarking on the stepped roofs and corners of Via del Diedro, the perfect introduction to the Dolomites

Embarking on the stepped roofs and corners of pitch 1 – the perfect introduction to the Dolomites

 

An unusual perspective on pitch two after Debs had negotiated the roof-come-chimney

An unusual perspective on pitch two after Debs had negotiated the roof-come-chimney

 

Three excellent pitches later saw us abseiling off the tiny summit and consulting the brilliant Rockfax guide on the next route. The classic Via Myriam (V+) seemed like an appropriate choice – a cunning line weaving up a steep cliff at an amenable grade.

The south and east faces of Torre Grande. Via Myriam starts behind the small brown tree and heads up cracks to traverse left beneath the large roof at half height

The south and east faces of Torre Grande. Via Myriam starts behind the small brown tree and heads up cracks to traverse left beneath the large roof at half height

 

Debs dances through the steepness and the polish on the first pitch of the Dolomiti rite of passage, Via Myriam

Debs dances through the steepness and the polish on the first pitch of the Dolomiti rite of passage, Via Myriam

 

The climb winds its way up a natural line through some very steep terrain for the grade. Over the next few days we came to realise that this is a recurring theme thanks to the blocky nature of the rock and abundance of holds. The descent was rather exciting as well…

Dramatic scenery unfolds beneath the bubbling clouds of an afternoon thunderstorm

Dramatic scenery unfolds beneath the bubbling clouds of an afternoon thunderstorm, as seen from the summit of Torre Grande

 

The bonkers free-hanging abseil into the chasm between the cloven halves of Torre Grande

The bonkers free-hanging abseil into the chasm between the cloven halves of Torre Grande

 

Day two found us wanting a longer route but still intent on finding our feet, so we shimmied up the South Arete (IV+) of Sass de Stria over a couple of hours in the morning. Its a nice feature with a handful of interesting pitches, notably the final polished corner, but it served to get us moving fast. After a very cool descent through WW1 trenches we enjoyed some chilled sport climbing on the popular east face crag of the same mountain.

Next day, in a bid to escape the heat, we made for the shady north face of Punta Col de Varda and the line of the Comici/Northwest Corner (V-). The contrast in temperature combined with a stiff breeze served to give this route a much more serious feel and although the climbing was excellent I did think it was under-graded. Mind you, I did get stuck in a squeeze chimney for quite some time.

Punta Col de Varda north face with the clean line of the Comici/Northwest Corner just left of centre - at least you can't get lost on this route...

Punta Col de Varda north face with the clean line of the Comici/Northwest Corner just left of centre – at least you can’t get lost on this route…

 

After the horrors of the squeeze chimney below, Debs settles in for three excellent steep pitches. The Sorapis group looks on behind

After the horrors of the squeeze chimney below, Debs settles in for three excellent steep pitches. The Sorapis group looks on behind

 

The Falzarego Towers are home to a number of classic routes of moderate length on a sunny southerly aspect and as a result can be exceptionally busy. A leisurely start saw us the victim of their popularity but eventually we headed up the superb Comici South Arete (V-). Barring a slight route finding error on the second pitch (don’t trend too far left off the first belay) we made good time and agreed to tackle the longer and harder Dibona (V+) the following day.

The mighty Falzarego Towers - the Comici follows the left skyline on Torre Piccola while the much longer Dibona takes the central depression and slabs of Torre Grande on the right, culminating in the infamous chimney

The mighty Falzarego Towers – the Comici follows the left skyline on Torre Piccola while the much longer Dibona takes the central depression and slabs of Torre Grande on the right, culminating in the infamous chimney

 

No warmup for Debs as she bridges up the crux pitch of the Comici South Arete, straight off the deck

No warmup for Debs as she bridges up the crux pitch of the Comici South Arete, straight off the deck

 

Surreal silhouetted scenes on the approach to the Dibona on Falzarego Grande, while Cortina hides beneath the clouds below

Surreal silhouetted scenes on the approach to the Dibona on Falzarego Grande, while Cortina hides beneath the clouds below. We were too gripped to take pictures of the penultimate chimney pitch but it can be adequately protected with cams and the in-situ pegs, be prepared for a fight though!

 

After five great weather days rain finally stopped play, but the rest only served to psyche us up for something a bit bigger! Feeling well prepared we went for the Southeast Arete (V+) of the Primo Spigolo, on Tofana di Rozes. This monstrous buttress is such an imposing feature and the climb takes a devious line up corners, faces and aretes through some improbable terrain.

Even on such a vast and complex face, the compelling line of the Primo Spigolo Southeast Arete is perfectly picked out by the morning sun

Even on such a vast and complex face, the compelling line of the Primo Spigolo’s Southeast Arete is perfectly picked out by the morning sun on the right of the image

 

Primo indeed! An amazing piece of mountain architecture that begs to be climbed - what a line!

Primo indeed! An amazing piece of mountain architecture that begs to be climbed – what a line!

 

Despite the difficulties of pitch 3, we both found the true crux of the route to be the rising traverse and technical wall of pitch 7. We may have not taken the easiest line but the thin climbing on shallow scoops and pockets combined with the amazing exposure provided a stern test!

Debs heads for the arete on pitch 4 after exiting the huge corner system. The towers on the upper part of the route loom above.

Debs heads for the arete on pitch 4 after exiting the huge corner system. The towers on the upper part of the route loom above.

 

Mega exposure on the technical traverse of pitch 7. Despite the grading we both thought the thin climbing on the black wall above constituted the crux of the route

Mega exposure on the technical traverse of pitch 7. Despite the grading we both thought the thin climbing on the black wall above constituted the crux of the route

 

Halfway up and relishing the steep juggy goodness and amazing positions of pitch 8. A route-finding error just above led to some very exciting down-climbing...

Halfway up and relishing the steep juggy goodness and amazing positions of pitch 8. A route-finding error just above led to some very exciting down-climbing…

 

Golden evening light on Tofana de Mezzo, enjoyed on our descent from the Primo Spigolo

Golden evening light on Tofana de Mezzo, enjoyed on our descent from the Primo Spigolo. As the sun went down the views and the light got better and better

 

Sunset on Croda da Lago as seen from the walk down from the Tofana

Sunset on Croda da Lago as seen from the walk down from the Tofana

 

The forecast was stellar for the rest of the week, so knowing time and the weather were on our side we had an easier next day back at Cinque Torri and scampered up the imposing corner line of Via Olga (V+). The rock quality and climbing is superb and it comes highly recommended as an alternative to the busier routes there.

No mistaking the line on this one! Excellent sustained climbing on the first pitch of Via Olga, a great shady route on which to beat the heat

No mistaking the line on this one! Excellent sustained climbing on the first pitch of Via Olga, a great shady route on which to beat the heat. The second pitch breaks out of the corner line on an exposed traverse right to the arete in an outstanding position

 

Feeling well equipped after such a variety of routes, we strapped on a pair and hatched plans for the big one. We always had the ambition of climbing Cima Grande, but wanted to build up to it and get some Dolomite experience before committing. It was pretty clear that even if we frigged the cruxes, the Comici in a day was going to be beyond us, so the Dibona (IV+) it was!

The big one - early morning light reveals the monstrous Tre Cime. The Dibona Arete follows the edge between the north and east faces of the central tower, Cima Grande

It’s big – early morning light reveals the monstrous Tre Cime. The Dibona Arete follows the edge between the north and east faces of the central tower, Cima Grande

 

The start of pitch 4 and we're still all smiles! Cima Piccola, the small one, provides an incredible backdrop

The start of pitch 4 and we’re still all smiles! Cima Piccola, the small one, provides an incredible backdrop and is home to many classic climbs of its own

 

A different perspective on Cima Piccola from higher on the Dibona, with climbers just visible on the summit

A different perspective on Cima Piccola from higher on the Dibona, with climbers just visible on the summit

 

The Dibona has some truly spectacular situations and feels pretty out there, but the continuous rockfall and steady stream of guided parties and euro speed demons made the experience fairly stressful. There is so much loose rock that I can only recommend starting way before 6am and climbing fast to try and stay ahead of the pack.

Nearly there! An easy but exciting traverse leads to the exit gully and on to the Ringband - a pitch to savour

Nearly there! An easy but exciting traverse leads to the exit gully and on to the Ringband – a pitch to savour, but not for too long

 

Top blokes Adrian and Gwain kept us company on the climb, as we leap-frogged each other and shared route-finding responsibilities. Their good natured banter took the edge off some very serious situations and it felt at times like we were the only teams actively trying not to knock rocks off!

Looking west from the summit of Cima Grande on to the east face of the mighty Cima Ovest

Looking west from the summit of Cima Grande on to the east face of the mighty Cima Ovest

 

Stunning views south from the summit of Cima Grande towards Cima del Cadin and Lago di Misurina

Stunning views south from the summit of Cima Grande towards Cima del Cadin and Lago di Misurina

 

Summiting was an incredible experience and for a few brief moments all stress and the need to keep moving evaporated. We sat in stillness and marvelled at a panorama of alpine splendour, only the occasional squawk from some friendly chuffs breaking the silence.

 

 

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