Dolomites, 14th-27th September 2004

Fairytale mountains, wartime tunnels, astounding views, and lots of loose rock! We spent a couple of days in Venice to wait out the rain, then headed up to Cortina for some climbing. We spent Wednesday and Thursday in town and driving around the area, as it was still raining. We learned the hard way that a latte is actually a cup of warm milk, then ate much pizza and drank Latte Macchiatos. By Friday things were looking much better

Friday morning at La Rochette campsite


We headed up to the Cinque Torre (which sit at about 2200m) for a gentle warm up - partly because there was fresh snow on many of the higher peaks, and a distinct chill in the air


On the Guides' Route, Torre Grande. It has a reasonable first pitch, but the other three are quite scrappy. I suffered a bit from the rope drag, as I had a cracked rib acquired a couple of weeks previously in a terrifying, unprotected, ground-fall from a bunk bed in Glenshee


... and the abseil descent


The Guides' Route takes the obvious pillar in the centre. Two climbers can just be seen near the very top, and two more are standing at the base


The Cinque Torre. Whilst they are very photogenic and impressive they are all but lost amongst the surrounding scenery, and actually feel quite small and tame. They have been formed by landslips, in a very similar way to the Quiraing or the Whangie back home


Croda di Lago from beside the Cinque Torre


The NW corner of Torre Barancio - too good a line to ignore - so we climbed it later, at the end of the holiday


Torre Lusy leaning against Torre Barancio


Tofana di Rozes - one of the most impressive bits of rock I've seen!


Croda di Lago, after the cloud lifted that afternoon


The next day we headed up the Falzarego Pass to climb the Hexenstein (Saas di Stria).


We stopped briefly to play hide and seek with this marmot


Jenny half way up the Hexenstein South Rib


Near the summit


A mouse?


The Marmolada, viewed from inside a wartime chamber carved under the summit of the Hexenstein


There's an easy walk off from the summit back down to the pass. It goes through a series of trenches which were used to defend the pass during the First World Wat


The next day was Sunday, and we opted for a climb with a slightly longer walk in, in the hope that we could escape the crowds. The shadowy corner system on the right between the trees is the line of Cima Cason di Formin NW Corner, on the Croda di Lago ridge - a brilliant 7 pitch route. It is very sustained at Severe / VS and involves much chimneying, bridging and wall climbing. There were two other pairs on it, but they soon vanished into the distance of course


High in the corner. Belays tended to be in caves, where the belayer was sheltered from any falling debris


A ledge just above the main corner system - the main climbing done now


Scree slopes above the corner system, looking for the escape gully mentioned in the guidebook. Once found, the gully turned out to involve some climbing on dirty rock at about Severe, then an entertaining squeeze through a boulder choke to gain a col. The guidebook says to then descend a 'scree gully'. This turned out to involve Moderate downclimbing on shattered rock, and an abseil from a single bendy peg, and was every bit as serious as the route itself. We slept well that night!


Now feeling that we needed a bit of a rest, we headed over past Arabba to do Via delle Trincee on La Mesola. This via feratta involved a brisk walk in up the hill (there's a téléphérique, but it wasn't running that late in the season), then a steep 'scramble' up a wall and slab onto a ridge, which it then followed for some time


It turned out to be quite good fun, with good situations


Towards the end the ridge narrows and there are many wartime ruins to explore before heading back down


On Tuesday it was time for another climb. We drove past Misurina and walked in past the Tre Cime to the Patternkofel, then headed up an incredible military tunnel inside a ridge to pop out at the base of a via feratta up the mountain. At this point our route headed off up the North ridge. We picked the wrong line and had to climb 2 pitches of Severe rubble - so loose that gear couldn't be placed in most of the cracks as they just expanded to let it fall out! We rejoined the route where it steepened, and had great views across to the Tre Cime


Nearing the top of the Patternkofel Nordgrat. The route itself wasn't that great, with the difficulties being few and unsustained and much of the rock being very poor, but the situation was breathtaking. The final pitch and a half scramble easily along a knife-edge ridge (the picture above) to the summit, and the cloud was pooling on the opposite side from the sun giving us great Brocken Spectres (but I didn't get a photo of them). The Drei Zinnen hütte, seen through the edge of the cloud in the photo above, is the size of a fairly large hotel


The summit


After sharing our sandwiches with this Alpine Chough we headed down the via ferrata to the tunnel and back to the car


Another day dawned, and we drove back over to Misurina and walked in to climb Il Gobbo, the lesser of three towers. In this picture Torre del Diavlo looms above the col on the right and Il Gobbo is the pinnacle to the right of that. Torre Leo is hidden behind Diavlo


Torre del Diavlo is the peak in the sun to the right of the pass, and Il Gobbo is the one right of that


Looking back to the Tre Cime from Il Gobbo. Despite appearances, it turned out to be bitterly cold - sub zero, with a biting wind. Jen led the first pitch up a slab. She couldn't feel her fingers at all, so I took the next pitch up the chimney-gap between the towers to a ledge on Torre del Diavlo. The wind was funneling through the gap and making eerie (and quite loud) moaning noises - I wondered if this had anything to do with the names of the towers. The next pitch began with a bold step across the gap onto a slab on Il Gobbo, and looked quite exciting. However, it was so cold that we weren't having any fun, and I abbed back down to Jen and we both abbed from there to the pass and went for a walk instead


At the pass we met this mutant chough, which had a pair of midgets growing from its back


The day proved to be far from wasted - the walk through the pass and back down had some of the most spectacular scenery we'd seen


The weather wassn't very good on Thursday, so we went for a look at the Lagazoui Tunnels above the Falzarego Pass. We took the cable car up to the top, then descended several hundred metres inside the mountain in the tunnels used by the Austrians to defend the mountain and pass and by the Italians to dig under and blow up the Austrian position


Home Sweet Home on the Martini Ledge, out of range of the Austrian artillery


A window looking out at the pass


The next two days were too cold for climbing up in the mountains, so we did a couple of via ferratas instead. On Friday we went up VF Michielli Strobel, on Punta Fiames - a peak that towers to the East of the small town of Fiames (a few kilometres North of Cortina)


On Saturday it was one on Col Rosa, a small peak to the North West of Fiames


Looking South East from Col Rosa across at Punta Fiames


We wanted to finish on a high note, so despite the cold we headed back up to the Cinque Torre on our last day, intent on the NW Corner of Torre Barancio. We had to get our tent dry first, though


Arriving at the corner we discovered that Jen had left her belay device behind. I gave her mine, and brought her up using Italian hitches. The route was shaded and bitterly cold, but gave extremely enjoyable climbing up a perfect line on good rock with good protection. I thought it felt very had for IV, but maybe that was because I couldn't feel my hands. A group of climbers can just be seen gathered around the base of a slab opposite, frolicking in the warm Autumn sun


At the top of the corner the route moves onto the tower wall in an extremely exposed position. The rock is much poorer here, too, and the protection is only adequate. A long (45m), slightly overhanging abseil took us back down to earth from the summit, and proved quite interesting without a belay device. Our ropes jammed on something and we couldn't retreive them, despite trying for some time. As one was due for retiral and we wanted to upgrade to 60m ropes anyway we abandoned them, too knackered to face prussiking back up to try to free them. This was certainly the most expensive climb we've done!


Two climbers on Via Olga on Torre Grande - one to go back for, I think


Our last views of Tofana di Rozes over the Cinque Torre


We treated ourselves by spending the last night in a warm apartment before driving back to the airport and heading home