Category Archives: Ice Climbing

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Guest Blog: Pete comes ice climbing

Last year at the end of January, I hosted a weeks ice climbing at Casa Alfredino. Amongst the guests was Pete Derrett who some of you may know from Dicks Climbing in Bristol. It was his first time in the Dolomites and I asked him to write a guest blog about his experience.

Months back we at Dick’s Climbing ran a promotion with Casa Alfredino in the Dolomites and at the time it was mused that we should head over and check it out ourselves, with promise of roadside Ice climbs and long mountain routes the seeds were definitely sown for me. I finally had a chance to head out and see for myself.

Excalibur

The mighty Excalibur. Falling 3 pitches from the South side of the gorge, this famous route is one of the plum lines of the gorge. Floodlit by night, this route is as spectacular by day!

Casa Alfredino is located in Col di Rocca, a couple of hours drive from Venice Marco Polo airport and consists of three floors all fashioned into their own individual lodges with their own community areas and bedrooms coupled with a shared, attic drying room. Fifteen minutes walk or two minutes drive away is Italy’s hidden Ice Climbing gem, Serrai di Sottoguda, a monstrous cleft with water ice routes pouring down along it’s whole length. It had been a funny winter in the Dolomites, no snow meant that several routes which look monstrous in the guidebook simply weren’t there, yet others forming on natural, high volume watercourses were fully formed and ready to go. What this meant in practice was that we had plenty to go at, with plenty more to look forward to next year. There will definitely be a return visit in order!

Catedrale Centrale is a line through the wide expanse of ice you find halfway up the gorge. It has no less than 4 main lines on it with a great number of variations on it and is over 100m in length!

Catedrale Centrale is a line through the wide expanse of ice you find halfway up the gorge. It has no less than 4 main lines on it with a great number of variations on it and is over 100m in length!

 

Jason Bailey starting up Excalibur. Vertical for 40m, 2 different lines and fantastically mushroomed ice characterise this climb.

Jason Bailey starting up Excalibur. Vertical for 40m, 2 different lines and fantastically mushroomed ice characterise this climb.

 

Equipment-wise, it’s your standard ice rack; pair of technical tools, nice stiff pair of  boots and crampons, monopoints were popular amongst our party, and finally as many screws as you can muster, don’t worry too much about the stubbies, you’ll be sinking 22cm screws full depth most of the time, the ice is that fat – I took thirteen screws and was finishing some forty to fifty metre pitches with just one left! Whilst I did sling a V-Threader and cord in my pack, it was soon clear that bolts and tat tied off around trees were de rigueur.

Cascata del Gelato, a short WI3 perfect for warming up or indeed your first cascade ice lead.

Cascata del Gelato, a short WI3 perfect for warming up or indeed your first cascade ice lead.

If you’ve got a mixed bunch of abilities Sottoguda is the perfect location to start; short WI2 ramp routes lead into two of three pitches of WI3 to the top. These give a great introduction to ice and by the end of a week trip I imagine many first-timers will be happy to have a go leading these given the large volume of training they will have been able to pack in. Talking of training do what the Italians do and set up top-ropes and run laps on the routes if you  really want some mileage!

The first WI5 in Italy, Spada is one of the most striking lines you could imagine. 45m and plumbline vertical.

The first WI5 in Italy, Spada is one of the most striking lines you could imagine. 45m and plumbline vertical.

Once feeling a bit more confident there’s several routes of WI5/5+ routes to get your teeth into. Long routes …
Some times though, 100m multi pitch routes just won’t cut it, it’s then time to head out into the mountains.

Jason Bailey high on Cascata Nevere in Val Corpassa on the flanks of Moiazza, a 5mm WI3+

Jason Bailey high on Cascata Nevere in Val Corpassa on the flanks of Moiazza, a 5mm WI3+

Less than an hour hour away, my final day was spent in Val Corpassa heading up hundreds of metres of outrageous virgin ice (be aware that ascent lines are marked in dotted red lines, with descent routes in solid green …) On these routes all the alpine tricks should come out; get ready for some healthy walking in and out, simul-climbing and soloing and an early start to get back before nightfall and into the pub in time for last orders. A real full value day out was had and the views from the top as dusk set in were magnificent, again full marks to Mike from Casa Alfredino for suggesting a top class day out.

Searching out the route.

Searching out the route.

View 1

Looking out towards Sass Bianch after a long day climbing the casacades.

View 2

Approaching the foot of Moiazza after out ascent.

With copious Pizza and Italian wine consumed sadly the trip drew to a close and I took up Mike’s kindly offer of a drive across Western Europe home, Vodafone welcoming me to Austria, Germany France and finally back in the UK. Recharged by time spent amongst the snow and ice, it’s now back to relative normality.

So who would enjoy a winter trip to Casa Alfredino?

Anyone.

– Pete –

Mid season conditions – 10th Feb 2015

Hi all, sorry for the gap in the conditions reports. We’ve had our heads down, working hard on finishing the house off so haven’t had much time to play!

Well firstly the ice. We have until the last couple of days had extremely cold conditions with temperatures staying well below zero during the day and night time temps as low as -16 at this level. As a consequence all the routes in the gorge which have formed are now in full swing and all the major lines are seeing regular ascents. Going up the first pitch of Catedrale sinistra a week ago the placements made by others were obvious and there were three teams on the falls climbing in parallel. The ice was excellent here and as thick as you’d ever need!

We followed this with an ascent of Rugadia, a route with a mixed section to start with – I would say it was in lean conditions at the start, with secure placements difficult to come by as you transitioned from rock to ice – a few rock pieces or a bulldog for a shallow turf placement would have helped here as the run out ended up being a good 5m to a poor shallow ice screw which was only just attatched. Probably a little harder than the grade 4 suggested in the guide. Also the “chains” at the top leave something to be desired.

For a third route that day, we climbed Clessidra 3+, again fully fat ice. James Davis who was visiting earlier in the season attempted this after a heavy snow fall and almost got knocked off by an avalanche triggered by a vehicle crossing the bridge above! So be careful. Otherwise a cracking route. Unfortunately I forgot my camera!

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Cascata Digonera II 3+

A few days later I got out again with my neighbour Federico Sordini for our first route together to climb the easily accessed Digonera falls. This is literally a roadside crag with a walking of less than a minute! At 3+ and two pitches it was an excellent route, with a short vertical section on the first pitch. Previous snowfalls had left sections which were a little aerated and required care, but were on shallow sections so not a problem. The second pitch again had a few areas of fragile ice but overall the climbing was really really enjoyable and it was good to get away from the gorge.

Since then we had another fairly major snowfall of about 25cm last Thursday and Friday. This gave way to clear but fairly windy conditions and today a Foehn wind was in full effect – I even ventured  out in a t-shirt as temperatures were about 5 degrees above. This means that care needs to be taken off piste as the wind sours northern slopes and deposits on other aspects – make sure you assess your routes carefully. Skiing on piste with the recent snows is in good shape

Ice climbing in the Serrai di Sottoguda

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The “Serrai di Sottoguda” or quite literally the “narrowing of Sottuguda” is such an appropriate name for this deep slash in the bottom of Val Pettorina. Relatively unknown to Brits, Sottoguda has long been a firm favourite with Italian climbers. At 150m deep in places this gorge doesn’t catch any sun for several months of the year and really retains the cold. Even in summertime the temperature drops and the air becomes dank and moist as you walk into it. Quite the most perfect conditions for forming the best fat ice one could possibly hope for. Add the huge elevation on either side creating a huge catchment area for water, trees to hold that water allowing it to gently seep as the winter sets in and you are left with a super regular ice climbing venue with a plethora of falls. As the gorge was at one time the only way up to Passo Fedaia, a track was built, needing regular rebuilding after the spring spate. That all changed when in the 50’s and 60’s, an enormous power generation scheme was constructed. The old road became impractical and was bypassed with a series of tunnels and bridges up the valley above the gorge, leaving the gorge free of all but pedestrian traffic and the odd bike.

Parking at the top of the village of Sottoguda leaves one with a 5 minute walk to the first baby ice fall. Not much further on, as the gorge deepens, the falls become taller and more spectacular until you reach the Cathedrale – the unmistakably enormous cascade on the right. It doesn’t stop here – rounding the corner after the beautiful little chapel dedicated to those who died in the war, there are more falls. At worst, it takes an easy 15-20 minute walk to reach your chosen climb from the car park – with the beautiful cascades, it’s hardly a chore!

With free standing pillars, gentle flows, overhanging fronds of icicles you won’t fail to find a challenge. There are routes at WI2 through to WI6+ aswell as a number of modern mixed lines and from 20-25m through to 100m, 3 pitch behemoths, there’s enough climbing here to last anybody for a while. Some you abseil off trees or fixed anchors at the top, others you finish at the upper new road! Typically climbers will need a large selection of ice screws – it’s doubtful that traditional rock gear would be of any use at all, although it never hurts to take 4-5 wires just in case. The ice is usually thick and fat, and stubby screws will be of little use and instead we’d recommend mainly 16-20cm screws with maybe a couple of 22’s for Abalakov/Andreson threads and a main belay screw. Usually we’d suggest 12 screws would be about right, but obviously you will have your own preferences. It’s also useful to have a variety of types – where possible hitting deep ice is best and often the type of screw with a small hanger and a bent wire winding handle like those make by Grivel are invaluable, allowing you to achieve extremely strong placements without chopping away surrounding ice. Of course these are not as neat to rack, so a good mix is what we generally use.

As mentioned above, some retreats are from fixed anchors, but often a single rope will not get you to the ground, so it’s best to carry 5-7mm cord to install Abalakov/Anderson threads. If you forget it or run out, you can get more easily at the local shop, De Grandi sport in Boscoverde, who also hold in stock screws, extenders, crampons, axes etc and also rent equipment should you require it.

For information on routes a great place to start is in the UK Climbing logbooksAs we climb them we will bring you more blogs to let you have the low down! We have also compiled a fairly complete list of ice climbing venues within a reasonable drive from Cas Alfredino:


 

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