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: