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!
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+).
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 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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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!
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.