Wednesday 25 July 2012


I'm just back from an excellent couple of weeks in the Dolomites. I'm a big fan of Dolomites climbing - the combination of big routes, adventure, quality rock, incredible scenery and good food is hard to beat!

The first week was just Ally Fulton and I. The plan was to climb hard this week then have a slightly more chilled out week the following week, but forecasts for afternoon thunderstorms deterred us from doing too many big routes. In the end, the whole week felt surprisingly relaxed despite getting a fair amount done.

The first route was the Steger Route on the Catanaccio. This takes the strikingly obvious big cracks visible from the valley. Definitely a three-star line, although maybe not quite the same rock quality or interesting climbing as we got from some later routes.

Looking up at the Catenaccio. The Steger takes the obvious cracks leading to the highest point on the wall

Ally loving the chimneys!

Nice exposure on the upper section

The next couple of routes we did were shorter so avoid thunderstorm risk - the Messner on the Second Sella Tower and Via Irma on Piz Ciavezes. Both were really good routes, short by Dolomites standards but longer than most Scottish routes! The Messner felt pretty bold in places and route-finding wasn't obvious, so it would probably warrant E2 5b back home, whereas Via Irma was technically harder but the difficulties were short & well-protected, maybe E2 5c (or maybe even stiff E1) overall.

Wondering if I was still on route on the Messner

Ally pulling through the roof on Via Irma

Next, we headed to the Tofana di Rozes, intending to try the Pilastro. Unfortunately though, the weather was still a bit unsettled so we opted for the easier line to the left, starting in glorious sunshine but, in true Scottish style, finishing in the clag.

The second week was more sociable. I did two routes with my wife, Elizabeth. The Hexenstein seems to be one of the most popular Dolomites routes, being relatively easy, non-serious and high-quality. The next day, along with 2 friends, we did the Delaggo on the Cima Casson di Formin, which was less well known and a little more serious but still very good.

Elizabeth enjoying the Hexenstein
After that, Ally and I made time for one more big route - the Vinatzer (with Messner finish) on the South Face of the Marmolada. I'd wanted to do a route on this wall for years and the Vinatzer/Messner is the classic mid-grade outing on the face. We had ideal weather - clear, settled and mild without being outrageously hot (we are Scottish after all), and beautiful views from the approach.

The view from just above the hut on the approach to the Marmolada
 When we got to the base of the crag, there was another team just setting off up the original start. We set off up the alternative start and, but the time the two lines merged after 3 pitches, we had passed the other team and seemed to be going really well.

Ally starting across the easy traverse pitch (P10 or thereabouts)
We were at the big ledge over half-way up the face by 11am, so thought we'd a good chance of making the last cable-car down. Sadly, the route-finding on the Messner finish was a lot more complex. After much uncertainty about the line, we ended up in a dead end (with loads of tat - we clearly weren't the first!) and had to do a long diagonal abseil to get back on route, costing us more valuable time.

Tricky route-finding on the Messner finish
In the guide, there are 3 pitches on the route given UIAA VI+: pitch 4, pitch 7 and pitch 28. Clearly there was a sting in the tail waiting for us! I ended up getting this top crux: probably E2 in its own right (albeit with quite a lot of pegs in situ) with hard-to-read sequences and mind-blowing exposure. In the end, none of the moves were that hard but when tired, it would be very easy to make a mistake here.
Glad to be topping out, even if we had missed the cable car
From there, it was relatively easy to the top. We ended up missing the last bin by about an hour, but the descent of the ski slope in trainers was straight-forward and we managed to hitch back from the Fedaia pass to Malga Ciampela easily enough.

Descending towards the Fedaia pass

All in all, a great trip and a part of the world that I'll be keen to visit again.

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