Category Archives: Alpine climbing

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Via della Rampa del Torso, Ciavazes, IV+

Ciavazes is a spectacular place to climb. Situated a stones throw from the Sella Pass and directly opposite Piz Pordoi’s enormous NW face, this is Dolomite little Big Wall climbing at it’s finest. Attainable by any competent Hard Severe leader who can move quickly, the route covers 325m of rock from the bottom of the cliff and finishes at the Cengia dei Camosci, the half way terrace. Above the rock tends to be loose and crumbly, thus not worth continuing, so the norm is to follow a small precipitous path off towards the Sella Pass. With a walk-in of merely minutes, this is a climbing paradise.

Approach

Drive along the road from Canazei to Sella Pass and you will pass beneath the very very obvious cliff of Ciavazes, facing due south. The road at one point passes a matter of 150m from the base of the cliff. Here you will find numerous parking spots with glorious views over Val di Fassa. Pick a spot and set off up the steep hillside towards the cliff through pine and spruce trees. Within a matter of minutes you will find yourself on the screes below the cliff. Via della Rampa climbs a profound left facing corner. It is in the shade for a large part of the morning as it is oriented to the south west. You will most likely need to contour around the mountain to the right to reach the base of the entrance gully, passing il Piccolo Micheluzzi and numerous other routes. After kitting up, climb up into the gully to some obvious cracks which stay just right of the actual corner.

What to take

As the route climbs mainly medium sized cracks, nuts in larger sizes are useful. Infact I carried a full set of rocks up to size 13 on a whim and they proved very useful. Sizes 0.4-1 Camalot were also useful, a few slings for belays and the odd flake, plus extenders, 50m double ropes and you are ready to go. As always, carry a waterproof, and if you will be returning along the terrace, approach shoes as the walk down is long and loose in places.

The climb

The route is characterised my mainly shallow angled climbing with a few harder moves inbetween and is not sustained in nature. It does however attain some splendid positions. It is quite long and for climbers who are a little stretched at the grade, an ascent would require a steady and determined approach. That said, retreat is facilitated by regular belay bolts and you can abseil the route in a matter of an hour or two. Just be aware that this is a popular route in high season as it’s the easiest on the face, so abseiling may be complicated by other parties.

  1. 25m IV Climb the cracks to a steepening below a narrowing in the gully, pulling slightly left to a belay ring.
  2. 30m IV Above there is a steep but reasonable crack which after a few meters relents.
  3. 35m IV- Above you climb up an obvious, which you climb using holds on the left when they disappear in the crack. Now you find yourself in a gully, climb this keeping right until on the right side you will find a ring bolt.
  4. 35m IV- Above there are three cracks, of varying looseness. Climb the right hand line which is more solid than it appears, until you can step right into a large bay. In the middle of the bay you will find a ring bolt.
  5. 40m IV In my opinion, this is the crux of the route. Climb up the bay easily, ignoring tat at the top of a crack to the left. The base of the bay narrows into a gully, simultaneously steepening. Clip a poor peg just above a vertical step, (preferably placing something to back it up below) and then climb a steep bridging corner to it’s end and a belay.
  6. 40m IV Climb the wide crack above, using holds to the left when the crack becomes more difficult, until you can step out to the left. Now climb up to a ring bolt on your left.
  7. You will find yourself at the base of another bay with broken rocks above. Climb this directly to a small overhang with a red peg above it. Pull through and then follow a crack up a corner to a steepening where a flake to your right leads to a belay above the abyss. One of the best belay positions.
  8. 85m III+, III, II Climb the ramp more and more easily to reach the Cengia dei Camosci

Descent

If necessary, abseil the route (for example in early season when snow may make returning along the terrace difficult) using the ring bolts, just be extremely careful as any rocks knocked off funnel directly down the line of the route – if anybody is climbing below you have a very high chance of hitting them. Or walk westward along the terrace along a small path. This leads somewhat circuitously towards the Sella Towers. Eventually you have to down climb and abseil back to easier ground and from there return to the base of the cliff.

Via Delle Guide, Cinque Torri, IV+

If you are looking for a simple route to warm up on, with fixed belays and some additional bolts en route, this 4-5 pitch climb is a great place to start. It’s easy to access, easy to retreat from should bad weather arrive and the descent is well marked and bolted. It also gets you operating at a modest altitude to help you adjust to the lower level of oxygen (even though it’s not much less) and if you are moving well should allow you to climb another at a similar grade nearby on the same day. It’s also a great option out of season when the towers are less crowded and because it is south facing can be completed in early spring (mid to late March) given the right conditions.

Approach

There are several ways to approach the climb, season dependent.

  1. Park at the 5 Torri ski lift car park on the road from Cortina to Passo Falzarego. Take the lift either as a single or a return (12-16 Euro). Once at Rifugio Scoiattoli, the towers are a 150m away, walk down the path and find the bottom of the route which climbs up the arete of the closest tower. This option allows you to ski down in spring.
  2. By foot in 1.5-2 hours, by waking from Passo Falzarego, the 5 Torri car park or up the road to Rifugio Cinque Torri, or from Passo Giau.
  3. With a car you can drive to Rifugio Cinque Torri, although this is only possible when there is no snow and outside the month of August , when the road is closed between 9.30am and 5.30pm. During these hours a Navette bus service runs.

What to take:

There is a reasonable amount of fixed gear on this route. A set of nuts is useful, maybe 3-4 cams (BD #0.5-#1 most useful), some slings and of course extenders. In Late July and August it’s still worth taking a waterproof as storms frequently roll in during this period.

Climbing the first pitch of Via delle Guide, Cinque Torri

Climbing the first pitch of Via delle Guide, Cinque Torri

The climb:

The pitches are quite short and relatively easy after the second pitch although there are a couple of sections which are a little steep and airy. This only adds to the route in my opinion and really makes you feel as though you are climbing something worthwhile. Belays are on large, solid ring bolts, are frequent and obvious. Indeed the crux is also protected by such a bolt.

  1. 20m IV- After starting up a shallow groove in the arete of the tower, step right and climb towards an obvious overhang. Just below this you will find a number of bolts to belay.
  2. 25m IV+ Now climb right across a ledge to a break in the overhangs past a peg and then a bolt which denotes the crux of the route. Pull through the overhang (harder if you are short as the holds are quite high up) and then up past a bolt where you could belay if required or continue up a crack to a bolt below a large yellow corner.
  3. 25m IV- From the bolt, climb diagonally right up grey rock to a further overhang, bolt on the right, and another on the left. Step left over the void to pull through and then directly upwards to find a ring bolt.
  4. 40m III From here a number of routes are possible as you find your self on a wide slab. The correct route follows a series of corners and cracks up leftwards, you will find a number of ring bolts on the way, although it is easily possible to reach the summit of the tower from here in a 40m pitch.
Via delle Guide

Via delle Guide, IV-, IV+, IV-, III

Descent:

To descend you have two options. During the summer and when there are others on the route, it is imperative to follow the ring bolts down the northern side of the tower. However, if there is nobody around in early or late season, it’s easy enough to descend the route so you stay in the warm and don’t have to tramp back through the snow to your skis.

Other routes to consider at Cinque Torri:

Via Del Camino III

Via Normal, Torre Quarta Bassa and/or Alta, III+, IV-

Via Lusy Pompanin, IV-

Via Olga, V+

Via Myriam, V+

Fessura Dimai, VI-

Via Finlandia, VI+

M.Speciale, Piccolo Lagozuoi, VI-

M.Speciale is a fantastic 300m route which climbs to the top of Piccolo Lagazuoi on a very direct line. Its difficulty is a little discontinuous, but the crux pitches especially are really quite special, certainly some of the most fun climbing I’ve done of that grade in the Dolomites. It is airy, with highly pocketed and water worn grey Dolomite on the hard sections and is broken by a terrace at mid height from where you can escape to the right should you need to.

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Topo showing approach and descent, and approximate line of route

 

Approach:

Approach is fast and easy from Passo Valparola, where you park in a lay by opposite the old fort. Follow the Kaiserjaeger Path towards the base of the Lagozuoi and after climbing for some 15 minutes, strike out directly to the base of the wall up loose scree. The route starts at an obvious chimney near the lowest point of the buttress and to the right of an overhang.

What to take:

There are a great number of threads on this route, many of them equipped with tat of varying quality. Stiff Kevlar cords and dyneema slings to thread these are useful. The rock is a touch tricky to place gear in, so a limited rack of a set of nuts and a few cams (0.4-1 Camalot) are useful. Double ropes are advised should you need to retreat during a storm as the pitches are quite long.

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Close up of the route. The best pitch is up the black water worn rock near the start.

The Climb:

After a short easy chimney the route strikes out leftwards in a determined fashion across a rather blank wall; it has just enough good holds to make it relatively easy. There are a number of pegs to protect, but a few nuts also help. Shortly a  belay in a shattered niche is reached where there is a peg belay. The next pitch is fantastic; steep and featured, it looks intimidating from the start. However you soon realise that you can follow a line of jugs which breech the wall and a couple of small overlaps. In a 35m pitch you reach a belay, again equipped with pegs although there are plenty of alternative placements should they be needed. It’s a small belay and not ideal for more than 2 people.

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Federico climbing the steep, exposed and utterly excellent first pitch.

 

From here you climb more easily to a terrace which is crossed. This the point at which escape to the right is possible, just be careful not to knock off rocks as there are a number of busy routes which climb the wall beneath it. All being well though, belay at the back of the terrace beneath a steep wall. Here you climb a fairly obvious weakness in the wall to a hanging groove. You reach another loose terrace with few good belays. Retrospectively I would search for something close to the edge of this terrace as the rock at the back is loose and shattered and provides little real security.

 

Federico larking around on the terrace. What a spot.

Federico larking around on the terrace. What a spot.

Climbing leftwards across this terrace you will approach a steep wall beneath a large black bulge. Climb until you find a rampline which leads back right wards into an open corner beneath the wall and belay to a thread and nut. Now strike out boldly leftwards, climbing through a first overlap and then a smaller second one with some difficulty. You will reach a ledge leading leftwards – do not be lured along this but instead climb quite directly to a hidden peg and from there to a large ledge. Here arrange a runner for your second and traverse the ledge leftwards to a peg belay beneath a crack in the overhanging wall above.

Looking into the abyss from the last belay, just before the short hard crack.

Looking into the abyss from the last belay, just before the short hard crack.

Climb this crack with some “urgency” to yet another loose terrace and belay. The exit of the climb is on the left, across scree covered ledges, at first quite steep and exposed but quickly giving way to an easy path.

The Descent:

The descent is certainly not easy. You must be sure footed and comfortable with quite tricky scrambling. According to the guidebook we had, after traversing ledges rightward, you find some pegs for an abseil. We never found this, and instead followed first a large terrace and then increasingly narrow ledges eastwards across the mountain until we reached a large slope above the East face of Piccolo Lagozuoi. There we picked up the top of the Kaiserjaeger path which is equipped with a bridge and cables to protect exposed sections. We followed this directly back to the carpark in around 25 minutes, the whole descent taking about an hour.

Sass di Stria, Spigolo Sud, IV+

The Spigolo Sud or South Arete of the Sass di Stria is a magnificent and highly attainable goal for the aspirant rock alpinist. Over looking the famous Passo Falzarego it affords not only excellent climbing, but stunning views and an extensive insight into the history of the area during the descent. With a minimal approach it is great as an introductory climb if you’ve not experienced Dolomite rock yet.

Looking out over Passo Falzarego towards Tofana di Rozes, Cinque Torri, and Averau.

Looking out over Passo Falzarego towards Tofana di Rozes, Cinque Torri, and Averau.

Approach:

Only 25 minutes drive from Casa Alfredino, park either at the Lagozuoi cable car station or at the Fort museum at Passo Val Parola. From the cable car station follow the road towards the pass and vice versa from the pass. About midway between the two there is a small rock gym area just south of the road on the very foot of Sass di Stria. Walk over to this from where you will see an obvious path leading around the eastern flank of the mountain. This ascends quite steeply through scree and scrub until the South Arete is reached in around 15 minutes. If you go a little further you will reach old trenches which are interesting to look around.

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What to take:

As with most trade routes in this area there is extensive fixed gear on the route. So 10 extenders (slingdraws are useful), a few 120cm slings, a set of nuts and sizes 0.5-1 Camalots will suffice. Of course it’s assumed you will carry a small pack with a rain proof and something warm in case of a summer storm!

Shortly before reaching the Arête, at one of the numerous beefy ring bolts enroute.

Shortly before reaching the Arête, at one of the numerous beefy ring bolts enroute.

 

The Climb:

Six pitches at a fairly sustained grad of UIAA IV or around Hard Severe / 5.6. The initial pitches start easily climbing out of a gully onto a rib. Belays are denoted by large steel ring bolts which are usually painted with a red blob and are frequent – you can easily run some of them together.

On the arête looking out over the mountains.

On the arête looking out over the mountains.

The route follows this rib for a couple of pitches and it slowly becomes more and more acute to form a sharp arete. At one point an improbable and exposed section leads up the left side of the arete just when you think it should go right; the difficulties are short lived but exciting. This leads to a chimney and large ledge where upon if you look right you will see an enormous leaning flake with a passageway behind it.

The hidden passageway. Continuing direct at this point is apparently about UIAA VII!

The hidden passageway. Continuing direct at this point is apparently about UIAA VII!

Climb up to this and through the hole to the other side. Here you find either an easy exit at grade III or a more testing direct line up a groove at V- which is well worth the effort if you have the ability. This deposits you directly at the summit cross where you can sign the summit log.

The summit - it's a great place with room for a nice lunch and tremendous 360 views.

The summit – it’s a great place with room for a nice lunch and tremendous 360 views.

Descent:

Trenches from the war extend virtually to the road from the summit. From the cross go down westwards where you will find the first one. If you have time, take a head torch with you so that you can explore the war tunnels. If pressed for time it takes maybe 45 minutes to reach the car park from the summit. The route is reasonably obvious bar little side trenches, but if you get lost, climb up out of the trench to help you reorient.

Some of the trenches with their wooden ladders. Although classed a Via Ferrata, there is very little one could call climbing, bar a few ladders.

Some of the trenches with their wooden ladders. Although classed a Via Ferrata, there is very little one could call climbing, bar a few ladders.

 

Flower Power, Tognaza, 6b 7L

UkClimbing logbooks

The Dolomites are made of Dolomite right? Any idiot knows that – the clues in the name. Only it’s not necessarily – Marmolada the highest mountain hereabouts is Calcarious Limestone, a cousin of Dolomite, but a fundamentally different beast. There’s agglomerate like that seen on Via Ferrata delle Trincee. But what many don’t know is that there is a whole region in the south west of the range which is entirely Porphyry and Granite – two igneous rocks which are utterly different to the surrounding areas.

Two summers ago whilst driving over Passo Rolle my eyes almost fell out of my head. Not at the stunningly impressive Pale di San Martino (which at the time was shrouded in a cloak of mist) but at the crag on the other side of the road. Unable to stop I resolved to return the following day which we did and together we roamed through the  Scottish Highland-esque landscape. With stunning views over the valley we enjoyed the stark differences in vegetation and the way in which the topology leant itself to small ponds and lakes in contrast to the often bleak arid Dolomite altiplanes we were used to. Of course I wanted to find out more – surely the cliff I’d seen must have rock climbing on it? Indeed we passed a fantastic looking mountain called Colbricon which looked equally stunning.

Mike surveying the crag from the road - 250m of solid igneous. BOOM.

Mike surveying the crag from the road – 250m of solid igneous. BOOM.

Recently returning to the mountains after a month in the UK, I found myself climbing with my good friend Mike Stoger, trying to showcase some of the best crags that surround the house. On the last day, wondering what to do to provide some adventure and finding myself in a bookshop, I came across a copy of the 2011 edition of “Lagorai, Cima d’Asti” by Versante Sud. For anyone familiar with these guidebooks, it is of the normal excellent standard and covers the Lagorai region, of which Passo Rolle is the North-Easternmost corner. I purchased it for 25.50 Euro and off we set.

One of the most attractive things about going to the Lagorai from Alleghe is the stunning drive. First Falcade, an attractive traditional village with old Feniles which soon give way to thick forests and then Passo Valles. Here the landscape changes – a river bubbles down by the side of the road and the woods open out a little. The mountains become a little more rolling and the bare earth of landslips becomes a rich dark brown. Climbing to Passo Rolle the road winds out of the woods across alpine pastures with little sign of anything vertiginous – then you crest the pass and that all changes. First the huge steep walls of the Pale come into view, pale and unforgiving and then seconds later the object of our desires Tognazza, a broad 250m high cliff of Porphyry. The Pale dwarfs this cliff but what is striking about it is it’s obvious quality when compared with what you would find only 1km across the valley.

Parking at the ruined Malga Fosse 1km below the pass, the walk-in is a brief although brutal affair. It starts easily enough with a walk down through a meadow until you have to go back up the otherside, up a steep boulderfield. Still, 15-20 minutes will see you at the base of the cliff. Clearly not as steep as the limestone cliffs or the rest of the Dolomites, Tognazza is delightfully faceted, with cracks, slabs ribs and aretes and deep, perfectly formed diedres.

Pitch 2 - this is what dreams are made of.

Pitch 2 – this is what dreams are made of.

 

We picked our way to our chosen route Flower Power, a 7 pitch 6b, one of 9 recorded routes on the cliff. The start is well marked – a small stainless steel plaque has been screwed to the rock. Although the topo says small to medium friends are required, in the 5 pitches we climbed, we never needed to place any – the route is well bolted with high quality stainless expansion bolts. I could not vouch for any of the other routes, but this certainly sets a precedent. The pitches are long and varied and the climbing quite sustained.

I set off up the first pitch which starts steadily and builds to a steep, balancy couple of 6a moves through an overlap and steep narrow slab above. With your gear below your feet, just take a deep breath and make the move. Up and right across some grass, a few more moderate moves bring you to a belay.

The second pitch is spectacular, first weaving through a short dihedral and then following a blunt rib and crack with some extremely fine positions and fantastic climbing. Hidden from the belay it’s airy, delicate, powerful, and just plain fun in equal measures.

The subsequent pitch is again totally different, climbing a thin slab (not correctly marked on the topo, but 6a according to another I’ve found). It’s delicate  to start with and then, whilst pulling further right it becomes very well exposed as it reaches a tall arete for the second half. The last few moves before the belay are exquisite as you balance your way up, shifting your weight to take advantage of the small dishes and edges.

The view to the Pale di San Martino - you can just make out Mike climbing the 6a slab pitch at the bottom!

The view to the Pale di San Martino – you can just make out Mike climbing the 6a slab pitch at the bottom!

A quick 5b pitch leads to a soaring crack line graded 6b. To my mind this was not really very hard, certainly not 6b if you’ve climbed a crack or two in your life – maybe if you’re crimping your way around the main event it is? Certainly there was chalf on the small edges either side of the crack when we did it. However that aside, what a phenomenal pitch – if it were gear protected it would be a fantastic HVS/E1 pitch with bomber gear all the way, but as a bolted outing its just plain fun.

And alas that is where the daily rain stopped play – we scampered back down the abseil piste, getting hit by heavy rain as we got to the penultimate station. Down we went, and off to Malga Rolle for a well earned Weiss beer. I can’t wait to go back – the routes on Colbricon look utterly fantastic!

Comici Route, Falzarego Towers, V-

The Comici Route on the Torre Piccolo di Falzarego is a great route with a short 45 minute approach and the grade V- climbing concentrated in the first pitch and which if you like can be bypassed. Otherwise it is mostly IV and is ideal for those looking for the next step up from Sass di Stria.

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Approach:

The walk in is easy – leave the car at the Lagozuoi cable car lift station. From the back of the carpark a path winds first through a boulderfield, then through the stunted pines of the tree line towards the ruins of a World War 1 Field hospital, well worth a look. The Falzarego towers are two modest but satisfying looking peaks, the Picolo being a fine pointed summit, separated from the Grande by a deep cleft, some 4-8 metres wide. To reach the base of the route, walk steeply up and left behind the hospital to reach more or less the lowest point of the buttress where you will find some earthy ledges to gear up, although it might be easier to do so at the hospital where there is flat ground.

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What to take:

Gearwise, you can afford a slim rack; there are so many pegs, that I rarely found myself reaching for nuts. Indeed, we had one small set and Camalots 0.4 – 1 (grey – red) and never felt the need for more. Slings are useful for the numerous threads as the insitue tat although frequent is usually faded and untrustworthy.

Standing in the ruins of the field hospital one gets a sense for the isolation and desperation the men must have felt in a sport like this.

Standing in the ruins of the field hospital one gets a sense for the isolation and desperation the men must have felt in a sport like this.

The Climb:

Comici, one of the great pioneers of the Dolomites lends his name to a vast number of routes on an equally vast number of peaks – it’s rare to find his routes disappointing and he is renowned for his bold, aethetically pleasing lines, not to mention their difficulty with many still presenting a serious challange for the aspiring alpine rock athelete. The line on the Falzarego towers does not disappoint, which after a couple of pitches gains the arete of the tower providing great positions. The start seems to have a number of variations at differing grades; we spotted at least 3 different ways to reach the first belay. But as this is a practice area, the route is often marked with red or green way markers, and is very extensively equipped with pitons and cemented in bolts. The third pitch is no less than spectacular, leaving a niche and climbing briefly and steeply up a corner one reaches the top of a flake – step out across air to continue up the arete, which after another 2 pitches leads to the small summit of the tower.

Attacking the first grade V- pitch. The difficulties are not sustained and are found in the groove seen here.

Attacking the first grade V- pitch. The difficulties are not sustained and are found in the groove seen here.

With excellent rock through out, bar the odd loose flake, this is a great introduction to the area. If there is a chance you might feel the need to retreat, or weather is looking a little less than optimal, the belays are mostly bolted, some with new glue-ins, some with cemented rings. Route finding is mostly very straight forwards with waymarkers helping frequently when you are unsure, as does the fixed protection. I would say that a UK leader comfortable leading a multipitch HS would not struggle unduely with this route.

From the top of the third pitch should it be needed, abseiling to the western side of the ridge should see you to an escape route.

Felix Idiens climbing high on the arête with Autumn snows on Averau and Nuvolau behind him.

Felix Idiens climbing high on the arête with Autumn snows on Averau and Nuvolau behind him.

Descent:

The descent is worth mentioning – once you reach the summit climb quite steeply down the far side of the tower – rings and gear are easy to find so it’s easily protected to a shoulder where you will find three curled steel staples. We used the largest and highest as this was the easiest to access and a 25m abseil landed you at the top of the gully descending between the two towers. This gully is a little tricky in places with two down climbing sections, but could be abseiled with sufficiently long ropes should there still be winter snows in the gully from a ring in the side wall of the gully. Once out of the gully there are two further down climbing sections but they are straight forwards if a little exposed.

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