Third Sella Tower, "Vinatzer" (V+ or VI-), 10 pitches
The best photos in the TR are from Daniel Clifford (Danno)...especially the panorama on the summit of Torre Firenze, see it full size!
Finally a chance came up to climb with my good friend Danno. It would be his first weekend climbing trip, and I knew it would be fun to introduce him to the camaraderie around the pizza, beer and bivy sacks after a good climbing day, and looking forward to one more. There was also a guest visiting from the U.S., fellow Summitposter Garon Coriz. In the car down to the Dolomiti Friday night, we discovered that Garon and Danno had gone to the same high school in Albuquerque...15 years apart! Even had some of the same teachers. Amazing...
We found a good place to sleep around 1 am, then woke up at 6 to begin our first day: It would be the Vinatzer Route on the Third Sella Tower. I had two different topos of the route; Kohler and Memmel advertised the crux pitch as V+ and Mauro Bernardi's newer guide to the Groeden valley as VI-. Also, the first and final pitches appeared to be completely different. I went with the Bernardi topo, because it looked like better climbing on the pitches that differed.
We took double 50 meter ropes, and a medium rack of gear to #2 Camelot. We started up behind one other party at the base. The air was cold, but clear, and it was great to share the beauty of this place with some relative newcomers. Danno had been here before, but not to climb, and that is very different! These rocks were made to be climbed, as we all agreed on several occasions.
The first pitch went up easy slabs then to a short vertical (and kind of wet) chimney. Soon dispatched, I brought up Danno and Garon. Another pitch continued up a faint ramp, then went back left across slabs to a belay at the base of a wide, featured crack. Here the two topos meet up. This pitch was really enjoyable, offering hand jamming, some easy off-width moves, and enough verticality to get your blood pumping. I placed a couple of cams and nuts, also clipping the occasional old piton. Like many Dolomite climbs, this one offered a handjam or hand-hold just when you needed it, and the rock was very solid.
Danno and Garon came up. Danno hadn't climbed outside in about a year, and he was glad that he found that pitch do-able. "Okaaaay, yeah, that's good" he said. He was having fun, feeling rather nervous about difficulties ahead, scrutinizing the topo to best judge his performance against the mark. I was pleased to see the route engaged him so much!
Garon is just a real strong guy, and had no problem with any of the moves. But he also carried our pack with water, food and jackets, and deserves special thanks because on the overhangs the pack was really noticeable!
Garon got a break and left the pack with me so he could explore the next pitch, a nice IV+ crack leading up and left. He brought us to an interesting slab that ramped up into a dark chimney/crack. I took us up the rather blank slab and into the maw. I wasted a lot of time looking for a belay anchor. Finally I cobbled something together. Beyond this, it was a very short easy pitch of IV- to reach the mid-face ledge.
We decided to take it easy and have some lunch here. Danno brought some delicious sandwiches and I shoplifted copiously. My climbing knife came in handy for cutting the thick layers of bread, meat and cheese into equal-sized portions! We admired the Messner Route on the Second Sella Tower. That is totally on the todo list. And the route just to the right provided a different kind of entertainment - it was so over-crowded, that we couldn't imagine how it would be fun. It seemed like 5 people clustered at each belay for many pitches up the wall. But it has some spectacular final pitches on the ridge skyline, so maybe it's worth it!
Abruptly, it seemed like a critical mass of new climbers were arriving, and we should get a move on for the exciting finger crack pitch. Rated V+, or V+/AO(VI-), the difficulties come right at the start with a thin somewhat polished finger crack. I really overprotected it, having to laugh at myself for being so freaked out by the polish on the footholds. I had to rest before making the moves around the corner, having spent too much time hemming and hawing with nuts and slings. Getting through the overhang itself wasn't bad because of the great big holds above the roof, but it felt scary anyway! Above, things continued steeply to the belay station.
An interesting contrast to climbs further north in Austria in Germany, the belays here are usually pitons...sometimes rather old ones that you can get to flex visibly with testing. Gulp. I'm getting spoiled by the cemented ring bolts that seem to exist everywhere in the north! But often, these belays could be backed up with a cam or a sling around a rock.
Danno and Garon came up. "Man, that was hard!" declared Danno. He put me on probationary notice for dragging him up such a steep climb. I pointed out that, despite a rest during the pitch, he climbed it free. "Maybe... wasn't graceful though," he retorted. We then had a good natured argument about whether it really was scary to follow that pitch or if it just seemed scary. I'm hoping that the golden rays of faulty memory will mellow and improve this pitch in Danno's mind!
I went for one more pitch, kind of a long journey up cracks and slabs to a rotten-looking yellow crack that turned out to be okay. Garon took the next, a IV+ number that snaked up more cracks quite steeply and often run-out. It was a great learning experience for him, but pretty exhausting! The last pitch had some grade V chimney moves, then took off across a gray slab for a long ways to a belay just below the summit.
"We made it!"
Like Kings for a Day, we looked around at all the summits, many with people on top or on the walls around. I was happy to add another summit to my collection of Sella Pass peaks. Up till now, they've mostly been on the other side of the road. We saw the Funffingerspitzen, which Theron, Carlos and I had climbed last year.
Danno took some panorama pictures, then we started down. A long vertical rappel got us to scrambling terrain. We continued unroped for a while, getting past several near-vertical downclimbs. Then we opted to short rope, where Danno would go ahead and then tell us if we should belay. At that point, I'd uncoil the loops of rope I had, set a belay around a rock, and belay Danno and Garon down. We did this for about 1 hour. I was really impressed with both Danno and Garon...this was the kind of "4th class" terrain I've written a little article about before. Ironically, it's harder for newcomers to the alpine world than much steeper technical rock. But Danno led us down really well.
After walking by the fingercrack on the long ramp, we reached a large gully, first down-climbing then making rappels over short steep steps. Finally, looking down into a hideous maw of old snow and black holes, we decided to make a full 50 meter rappel. I went straight down the remarkable chute, nearly getting wedged when the walls narrowed. Below, extremely wet and filthy snow coated my ropes and eventually my person. "Yuck!" I said, navigating through blocks of snow covered with 1/2 an inch of spongy mud. Finally I was out, and hopefully by keeping the ropes clear the other guys wouldn't have to go through that.
Indeed that worked, and soon we were coiling the ropes and putting our shoes on. Danno thinks he'll lose a toenail from tight rock shoes.
It was great to walk away and look back at the line, which now looked extremely obvious. It was great to feel a little bit of ownership of such a great climb.
We arrived at the parking lot to discover Dan and Stefan waiting for us. Great! We repaired to Wolkenstein for pizza and lively conversation. We were 4 Americans and 1 Canadian on July 4th, celebrating far from home. The hijinks continued until we went to sleep, making use of a deserted ski lift for rain protection.
Torre Firenze, West Ridge (IV+), 14 pitches
I slept well off by myself in a covered area, but the rest of the party awoke to vague feelings of disquiet and fear. I visited their quarters and recoiled in horror at what I saw! Dozens of strange, larva-like, partially translucent creatures lolled around the sleeping bags!
The creatures had a spiny protuberance from their backside!
They seemed designed to enter your ear canal and provoke madness!
Practically retching with horror, the men stood up in unison, finding a rogue's gallery of the creatures under their sleeping pads, many of them crushed but others still hideously alive.
Stefan had distinct memories of what he thought was a fly on his face, which returned again and again.
No one could identify these creatures. There were neither slugs nor worms, nor actual maggots, but seemed to possess attributes of all three. If you have a guess at what they might be, let me know.
Now well awake, we noshed on Danno's delicious cereal, boiled water on Dan's Jetboil, and partook liberally of bread from Stefan and Dan. We lingered for more than an hour, swapping beta for different climbs. Danno, Garon and I were off for a mellow day on the Torre Firenze, while Stefan and Dan would climb the Vinatzer, our glory of the day before.
Soon we were hiking up above Wolkenstein, on a trail through forest and meadows to a new hut called the Juac Hut. It was very picturesque. From here we took a trail up the mountain, then cross country through forest and meadows to get below Torre Firenze. We were a little confused for a while, but then we came to scree slopes and could see people going up a different way to reach the peak. I believe our newer book has a new and strange approach.
We set up a short-rope system, and headed up easy terrain together. There was a cluster of people above, and they sent a few rocks down on us as they made a traverse around the rib. With some belaying and scrambling, we were soon set up at a belay for the grade IV traverse around the rib.
This was an interesting pitch, I found it pretty fun, and also enjoyed watching Danno and Garon on it. "That was scarier than anything we did yesterday!" said Danno. Ah, the joy of traversing: you don't really get a top rope.
After that I had a hard time sorting out the next belay position. I didn't have our topo so we shouted back and forth a few times about vague features. Eventually we sorted it out and I was above the crux move of the climb, IV+ (also advertised as A0!).
Now Danno led the next pitches, first an easy grade III that went up and to a tree belay out of sight. He placed a couple of good nuts too. This was his first outdoor lead, and he loved it. He took the next one too, from a piney tree belay back off to the crest and a grade IV crack. I was impressed, also because I thought following the crack was kind of hard.
Then Garon led a pitch up a nice crack just right of the crest, followed by a low angle intrusion on the ridge that allowed us to walk up to the next steep part. Here, Danno led up a steep slabby face. He had to down-climb at one point because he climbed into a blank area. Another good lesson for the leader!
Garon and I followed this pitch and two more, doing our best to stay on the crest. At this point, it was possible to scramble easier terrain on the right, whereas the left side of the ridge was a large vertical cliff. Another party came and passed us by making do with grassy loose rock on the right side. But we came to climb, darn it!
Eventually we reached a knife-edged ridge and broke out the second rope so Garon could lead a full 50 meter IV- pitch right on the ridge. A little bit apprehensive, he set out, tempted by the easier looking terrain on the right side, but once he got on the crest proper he had good rock and protection. A scary and mental lead, he was tired after this! But he did a great job.
I led the final two pitches, ignoring the topo when it suggested veering off to the right on grassy rock, and going up the steeper ridge crest. The grade was entirely moderate though (III?), and this provided a fun exit.
On top we admired the view, though we were sure it was going to start raining hard at any minute. We shared the summit with another party for a while, then quickly went down on a trail that led around a rib then up to the Stevia Meadows. Garon wanted to bag a local high summit, and it looked like a few hundred feet above on a meadow was a high point that would provide grand views. We dropped our packs and hiked over there.
The sun came back out for a bit, and we had a great time looking down at our route and across to the Sella Pass and the Sassolungo, my first big climbing experience in the valley. What a peaceful, lonely, happy place to be! We hung out about 15 minutes here, then decided to mosey before the weather broke.
We romped down to the Stevia Huette, ate some Kaiserschmarm and drank beer, then followed the "Wolkenstein Express" trail down. Just to have a little more adventure, we left the trail at the point that seemed right for a 30 minute cross country journey through forest to reach our cars off to the west. Climbing up and down through the trees to avoid steep slopes, eventually we wondered if we made the right choice. But after a particularly lovely stretch of fairy tale forest with heathered boulders, shafts of sunlight and rolling hummocky ground, we reached the trail about 10 minutes walk from the car.
This day had been especially fulfilling for Danno who wanted to get some easy leading under his belt. And Garon got some more very exposed leading to hone his skills too. I loved the companionship, the relaxed pace, the sun and meadows around us. Thanks guys for two great days!
We dropped Garon off in town, because he would meet up with Dan and Stefan for a couple more days of climbing. Dan and Stefan successfully climbed the Vinatzer Route, though the combination of a stuck rappel rope in the snowy gulch and a thunderstorm made them very late coming out. Another reason why trad climbing is adventure climbing!