So there we were – sitting around the kitchen table shaking our heads in a merry disbelief. Ahead of us lay a stretch of free time we’ve never faced before: 8 weeks! It was finally here. We had spent the last few months prior trying to decide how exactly to burn it – use it for going back to some familiar places around the western United States and trying to dispatch some of our bigger goals or try something different? Though initially leaning toward the former, in the end (and with the suggestion of our friends) we went for the latter. Yes Sir! A two-month circuit of stamp-collecting conventions it was going to be!!
Our climbing trip started with a whole shitload of driving (two shitloads in fact!) and little climbing. Drove down to California only to fail. Drove back up to Portland. Picked up our dog Blondie and spent the next three days driving the 3000 miles to the east coast where Blondie would spend the summer with my parents. A week into our trip and the only thing we really succeeded on was climbing my parents’ roof (to fix a leaky tile) – a project that I initially felt would go at 5.7 R (slab) but the roof material proved too slippery and the challenge was eventually solved A0-style ala FA of Lost Arrow Spire. With this boost in our climbing confidence (not to mention a sealed leak) we set off for Europe via Newark, Amsterdam, and eventually Venice where we spent 3 days sightseeing while being squeezed to death by the crowds. Finally we picked up our tiny rental car and my brief Euro-driving career began and ended in the rental parking lot where I stole on take off and endured much verbal and sign language abuse from an irate Italian driver. From here on, Shirley did all the driving in Europe with her superior manual transmission skills. Later that day we were in Castelrotto planning our first day of Dolomite climbing.
Wish to thank Gabriele, MVS, Fred & Moni, & Gangolf for great Dolomites beta here on SP! Also, wish to thank Teochristopoulos & Irma Weber for an excellent Meteora page without which we'd never know that this magical place existed!
Note: My Dolomite route ratings & pitch counts are quoted from:
Classic Rock Climbs in the Dolomites by Anette Kohler & Norbert Memmel. ISBN-10: 1898573344; ISBN-13: 978-1898573340. Link.
08/19/08. Via Del Guide (IV, 4P) & Via Miriam (V+, 4P) on Torre Grande
Given that our previous limestone climbing experience consisted of about 20 feet of climbing – all in Sedona, AZ where the three tower’s we’ve done have a 4-8 foot tall limestone band embedded in the sandstone – we had no idea what to expect. We set our expectations low as we rode the chairlift up to the Cinque Torri Group above Cortina. A grueling 5 minute approach brought us to the base of the “IV” route on Torre Grande/Cima Ovest. Rock is solid (despite the appearance from afar), grippy and well-featured. Scenic if crowded summit. Before heading down, we also got on Via Miriam next door. Nice route as well even if the first pitch is very polished. Things went well till I screwed up on the final pitch following a dead end line of loose pegs (felt harder than the expected grade V…). Mistake was corrected shortly at the cost of a nut (not mine fortunately!) and we were hiking down to the car making plans for the next day.
08/21/08. West Face – Vinatzer (V+, 13P) on Third Sella Tower
…which turned out to be two days later as a brief system rolled through South Tyrol. Finally though, there we were at Sella Pass at the crack of dawn. Well almost. Shirley’s pick for the day was the Third Sella Tower with its nice-looking “Vinatzer” route. The advertised 20-minute approach followed by 13 pitches of climbing and a tower summit were irresistible. A sizable crowed was already assembled at the base when we arrived though it would prove to not be an issue as most would either be quite fast or would bail after the first pitch or two. The climbing was fun if not terribly sustained. I had this feeling as though I were free soloing given the interesting fixed pegs…a persistent nagging that would take me a few climbs to get rid of. The advertised crux finger crack pitch was probably the highlight of the route. The rock quality deteriorates near the top, at least visually but no holds broke. Soon we were enjoying our tower summit and less so the largely free solo downclimb of the easier “backside” of the tower (exposed and stressful!). We ran into a trio of friendly Italian climbers and joined forces on the rappels while shooting the breeze with Mossimo.
08/23/08. South Face – Trenker (V-, 6P) on First Sella Tower
On the 22nd poor weather once again kept us from climbing. We drove around scoping out approaches to some climbs that have recently made our list. The following day more questionable weather brought us back looking for something short at Sella Pass. Though we were planning on doing Tissi on south face of Sella One, a light drizzle steered us to the easier Trenker line next door. Climbing was largely forgettable but the crux 10 feet were very polished and the on/off rain was not helping. As we got back to the car, skies opened up and we were driving back through sheets of rain.
08/25/08. South Face – Tissi (VI-, 15P) on Torre Venezia
With bigger plans for the day, we got up at 4am and were driving the narrow roads in the dark. First light at Pordoi Pass and…snow on the ground! The copious rain turned to snow overnight just above the pass elevation. Plans were altered. We ate breakfast and headed south instead. Having done no homework on “rifugio’s”, we started the 90-minute approach hike armed with sleeping bags and foam pads (I’m a Dolomite idiot). Halfway up to Rifugio Vazzoler we ran into Denis from France. Denis was on his way back down to the car to retrieve their forgotten guidebook…we offered him ours and he graciously took Shirley’s pack all the way up to the Rifugio…running (Denis was in top shape and Shirley was not protesting too hard either). Denis and his partner were also headed for the Tissi route on Torre Venezia for their warm up line and so we agreed to start an hour later the next morning. The south face of the tower is beautiful and so was the climbing. The initial pitches went quickly esp. as we had the French team two pitches above saving us any route-finding efforts. The advertised “40 meter traverse” pitch (crux) was spectacular and ended at a nicely exposed semi-hanging belay. From there, the upper half of the route steepened progressively and the exit chimney pitches felt a bit strenuous. The descent raps are painstakingly marked (with spraypaint) and went smoothly. Soon we were eating warm pasta in the Rifugio and washing it down with cold beer. Must NOT get used to this! We bid farewell to Denis and hiked down to the car that evening.
08/29/08. Pillar Rib (VI-, 18P) on Tofana Di Rozes’ South Face Buttress 2
We wanted to climb one of Tofana’s handsome south face buttress routes since laying our eyes on it from Cinque Torri on day one. But of course, after our Torre Venezia climb more shitty weather rolled through the Dolomites. As the storms were clearing, I got the worst case of indigestion (the cheese-rich diet I guess) that kept me bed-ridden with labor pains for an additional day. As the storms and indigested cheese cleared up, we headed out to Rifugio DiBona and climbed Tofana’s 18-pitch Pillar Rib (a.k.a. Costantini/Ghedina) the following day. Fun climbing with a spectacular traverse pitch midway up the route. Most amazing part was perhaps the fact that for the first time the top of The Buttress was not enshrouded in thick clouds. In fact we had perfect weather and the only “crowding” on the route was a pair of friendly Austrians behind us. Nice top-out on the rib and a mostly straightforward descent.
09/03/08. South Arete – Spigolo Giallo (VI, 15P) on Cima Piccola
We had visited Rifugio Auronzo (at the foot of the famous Tre Cime Di Lavaredo Group) twice before on this trip – each time the weather proved to be shitty with even shittier forecasts. Each trip also sets you back 20 Euros for the privilege of driving the Rifugio road! We got quite a good view of Cima Piccola on those trips – enough to make me nervous about our route: yellow (implying poor quality) rock and a steep-looking face. Quite an intimidating sight. Hard to believe it goes at about 5.9. We were sitting around in Castelrotto and checking the weather forecasts on the web. Finally, on September 2nd the forecast was calling for a weather window the next day. Out of excuses we drove out to Rif. Auronzo with hopes of getting on Spigolo Giallo (Comici’s Yellow Edge route) the following day. Despite the uninspiring evening weather, we woke up to clear skies with clouds confined to valleys below…this would not last of course. Two pitches up the route the clouds began creeping up out of the valleys and soon we were climbing largely through milky whiteness which would occasionally present a clear window. Behind us was a team of two Italians and though they spoke little English and we spoke even less Italian, the conversation flowed and we hit on a wide variety of topics. The climbing was quite good even if it was less sustained than we initially expected. The two crux pitches though steep were well featured and even better protected. After about 14 pitches we topped out on the “foresummit.” Though the route was done and the weather seemed to be deteriorating, we gave into the summit fever (spurred on by our Italian companions) and did the 70 meter pitch to the true summit. As we started the descent rap’s, weather moved in: rain and 20 foot visibility. Fortunately, the descent proved simpler than the guidebook description (many raps straight down to gully then hike out) and only once were we not able to locate the rap ring in the milky fog needing to leave a sling on a chock-stone. With poor forecast for next day, we headed back to Castelrotto with our dream-route plans temporarily on hold.
09/06/08. North Face – Comici (VII-, 16P) on Cima Grande Di Lavaredo
Two days later the forecast improved. We were once again looking at a day-long, decent weather window in-between systems. A 5 am wake up call at the now familiar Rif. Auronzo…but the motivation faltered in the morning cold and so we slept till 6:30 in our rental car outside the Rifugio. Finally at the base of the route, we found two parties starting up – oh well, that’s what we get for our laziness. Additionally, a localized system seemed to be dropping rain on us…wait, it turned out to be the run-off from the upper portion of the wall (steep wall)! The rock was cold and wet in places. Two Brits were in the lead followed by two Italians. All of us were moving at about the same pace (& in similar style – i.e. yarding liberally on fixed pins through the hardest and often wet stretches) and so no major cluster f’s were encountered. About three pitches up, another party started up the route (and one more started up the 5.12a Directissima line next door!!). It turned out to be two young local climbers casually and quickly cruising the line. About six pitches up they passed us. Midway up the route, the Memmel & Kohler guidebook shows the original line taking a leftward turn following easier chimneys but also indicates a direct finish. As the first pitch of the direct looked nice (crack), we followed the South Tyrol team up it. After about 55 meters of an aesthetic but progressively widening crack (with almost no fixed gear and no large cams on my rack), I belayed Shirley from a decent ledge. Above us, the direct variant turned into what looked like an unprotected squeeze chimney. I was tired and so opted to traverse back left in hopes of catching the original (likely easier) finish. This required some sketchy free moves and an A0 penji. One long but easy pitch brought us to the base of a dihedral running with water. Despite my doubts, I soon found several fixed pins and so we followed the vertical stream. Going was probably easier but our stress level was fairly high as rock was very slick and pro opportunities were limited. Three pitches from the top we saw the British team a pitch above us…and saw the two Italian teams off in the distance on the direct finish (guessing the non-English guidebook might recommend the direct…). The final pitches, though advertised as being somewhere around IV+, felt harder as I seemed to have little left in my forearms. Finally, we topped out on the chossy and narrow ringband. The ringband traverse to the south side of the mountain was stressful – loose rock would offer no pro possibilities and so we unroped for what was essentially just a scary hike. We were tired. As it was about 6pm, we opted not to scramble up to the summit in fear of missing dinner hour at Auronzo. The descent down the south face line though seemingly complex, went well though in one spot we were happy to catch a glimpse of another team to set us back on track. We slept in the Rifugio one more night hoping to climb Paterno the next day – mostly to get a nice panoramic of the north faces. Of course, by morning the weather window closed on us and Tre Cime was once again engulfed in milky whiteness.
09/09/08. East Face – Steger (VI-, 18P) on Cima Catinaccio
Two days later, we were still tired from the Cima Grande outing – especially mentally. We’ve gotten weathered off (before even getting on!) Cima Catinaccio two weeks earlier and it seemed like a good fit: nice looking long line but with mostly easy climbing. Hike in to Rifugio Vajolet where we got an individual room this time! Very nice – nobody but us to snore all night long. Next morning we were at the base by 7 when two friendly Canadians arrived. We let Jesse and Graham from BC go first looking for an even easier (route finding-free) day. Both the pitches and the conversation flowed. Climbing is not sustained but the exposure and position were nice. I thought the last two pitches (a face and a chimney) were the most fun. Later in the evening, we joined Graham and Jesse at the Rifugio for dinner. We also met a couple at our table from Bellingham, Pitkin and Betsy. As we all had cascadeclimbers.com avatars, it was like a cc.com get together (of cc.com irregulars). Next morning we hiked out with Pitkin and Betsy making plans to go climbing together in Smith later in the year.
ITALY TO GREECE
Our time in the Dolomites ended all too quickly – we still had so many ideas on our list... But it was time for some warm and sunny (so we hoped) cragging. We drove back to Venice and caught a flight to Thessaloniki via Zurich. Arrived in Thessalonki at 2am and slept in the airport terminal till the car rental place opened up at 8am. After that it was a quick drive to Kastraki and the famous Meteora. The scenery is out of this world – countless towers directly above the village and some of them sport monasteries on their summits. The rock looks like granite from afar but of course is not. A curious conglomerate – smooth rocks (ranging from thumbnail- to TV-sized) embedded in something resembling concrete. Stuff seems quite solid for the most part as we’d find out later. Out of our motel window we could see some of our objectives and were itching to get started in this new playground. We spent the afternoon walking around the village of Kastraki and the next-door (touristy) Kalambaka. We immersed ourselves in the local culture over a large taverna dinner (tzatziki, Greek salad, Alpha beer, and much souvlaki) and bled many Euros on the two-volume Meteora climbing guide book.
09/13/08. Eiertanz (VI- A0, 5P) on Kelch & Ostkante (VI, 4P) Doupianifels
In the morning we headed for the short but very cool looking Kelch tower. The highlight of this one involves a wild (A0 for most, incl. me) and wide step-across a chasm on the final pitch – very much reminiscent of Sedona’s Mace and Oak Creek Spire. Good fun climbing and enough to whet our appetites for more of this stuff. On the way out, we also did Doupiani’s popular Ostkante route as it was right next to the road. Easy lower pitches and one steeper headwall pitch. Much edging and nubbin pinching reminiscent of Red Rocks or Smith face climbs. Another good route. A rich dinner and a liter jug of wine ended the day.
09/14/08. Sudwestkante (VI-, 6P) on Heiliggeistwachter
Though we were planning on Traumpfeiler route, the approach trail brought us right past the base of this obvious line. Two pitches of scrambling, one pitch of steeper but very positive knob pulling (…I said “knob pulling”) and one “VI-“ move to set the grade and we were on the summit. We found the rap ring – the fact that it was a single piece of hardware no longer seemed to bother us; the fact that it was on a flat slab made it a pain to lower the knot and later pull down the ropes. The weather turned stifling hot and so we called it a day.
Unfortunately, the next day we woke up to rain. Rain!? In Greece in Spetember?! WTF – just our Pacific Northwest luck. Did a sightseeing drive tour all the way out west to the Ionian Sea via the scenic towns of Metsovo and Ioannina.
09/16/08. Via Scorpion (V- A0, 2P) on Spindel & Nordostweg (V+, 4P) on Heiliggeistwachter
Unsettled weather continued in the morning – we slept in and decided to scope out some approaches. By the time we got to the base of the very-much-phallic-shaped-Spindel, rained stopped and blue sky was showing. Decided to give the aid line a go. Free to first belay followed by a bolt ladder to the summit. Nice views of the surrounding formations and a cool rappel from the top of the very-much-phallic-shaped-Spindel. Some on/off drizzle rolled through and we took it as a sign to do more approach scoping. We checked out the start of Traumpfeiler but again once we were there the sky looked promising. We went for the “other” route on the Heiliggeistwachter Tower just next door. Though the first two pitches are not too hard, the moist lichen made them quite thought provoking. The whole line had the ambiance of a Columbia Gorge climb back home though the rock was solid. As we topped out, the skies opened up and it started pouring. Despite having lowered the knot, the wet ropes made the pulling job into an afternoon project in the pouring rain. Finally we collected our junk and were tossing down dolmas and two liters of table wine at a taverna a short while later.
More rain next day and so again we took another driving trip, this time SE to the scenic Pelion Peninsula on the Aegean Sea.
09/18/08. Traumpfeiler (V+, 9P) on Heiliger Geist
This route is a real piece of eye candy especially when you first see it driving the road up to the monasteries – steep and tall. We saw two or three parties on it our first day and knew we’d have to give it a try. Knowing its popularity we were at the base at the early hour of 8:30 in the morning. Two pitches up, two more parties showed up showed up below. The route was indeed great fun: steep but very friendly climbing. The OW crack is well featured and much easier than it looks from below. Awesome views esp. looking down the OW crack pitch and your second! We combined pitches 3 & 4 and 5 & 6 which sped up the outing. The top of the Heiliger Geist (Holy Ghost) formation is a huge sprawling meadow. We hiked the length of it, signed the summit book and rapped down, passing an outdoor church on the way down. Not exactly something you see on Moab towers… On the hike out we spotted the famous Wahnsinnsverschneidung or Corner Of Madness line – apparently the prettiest crack line in Meteora. Indeed, it looked quite nice from below.
09/19/08. Sudostwand (VII-, 6P) on Doupianifels & Archimedes (V, 5P) on Pixari
We woke up late – the copious amounts of wine that we’ve been consuming with every dinner might have been to blame – and couldn’t quite make up our minds as to what to go for. Finally, we decided on trying the 3/3-star Sudowastwand route on Doupiani Rock…the 30-second approach was hard to argue against. Great fun route. The lower five pitches are sport bolted and the VII- crux was quite friendly as well. Most of the route consists of low angle nubbin pinching and some slabby footwork. Somewhere on the route, a fist sized chunk came off in my hand but I managed to hold on. The route kept giving to the end with the final pitch feeling quite hard for a “V+”. We rapped the route and 10 minutes later were sitting in a taverna sipping fine Greek coffees followed by even finer Greek “Mythos” beers and again trying to decide what to do with the afternoon. As good as the local pool sounded, Shirley was pushing for more climbing and so we ended up at the base of Archimedes route on Pixari formation. Shirley thought it would be a good afternoon stroll (not to mention it provides a nice counterbalance to all the phallus-shaped towers we’ve been climbing lately) but I was a bit suspicious of a chimney route put up in the 70s. Looking up at the route did not ease my mind as it looked like an overhanging chimney/OW system. Indeed the first pitch turned out to be a free solo and though easy, set the tone for the rest of the route. By pitch 3 I was wishing I had brought something bigger than my 4.5 Camalot. One or two protection points per 140-foot pitches were not exactly what I had in mind for this “afternoon stroll”. For something that is V+, the chimneys seemed exhilarating. We topped out but ended up not on the guidebook recommended rappel (bringing the guidebook along might help perhaps…). Three double rope raps, some bushwhacking and we were back in one of the tavernas in time for dinner. I had many cuts on my back and my tailbone was bruised and swollen thanks to the conglomerate rock with its many protrusions not visible to one’s ass side when climbing these unique chimneys.
Next day: rain. The day after: more rain…We spent our time in local cafés drinking large quantities of Greek coffee, sightseeing the monasteries, and even doing a bit of web surfing.
09/22/08. Westkante (VI-, 5P) on Ypsiloterafels & Hypotenuse (VI, 6P) on Sourloti
We woke up to chilly temps and bleak looking skies but no rain! We hiked into the Ypsiloterafels base with hopes of doing its west ridge route. The approach hike was unpleasant – densely overgrown wash that someone has been using as garbage dump. The route itself was forgettable – one move of VI- (maybe?) and the rest was an easy scramble…not that that’s really so bad on a morning where the rock (and the moss on it) were wet and slick from two days of rain. We ran the route in 3 pitches, topped out and found ourselves in the photo crosshairs of two dozen tourists across the gully on the monastery terrace. We rapped in drizzle and headed for lunch. In the early afternoon, the first patch of blue sky showed. We quickly made our way to the base of the beautiful Sourloti formation and got on Hypotenuse - a 6 pitch face climb that traverses the impressive face from one corner to another. Very fun climbing and a great position with the red roofs of Kastraki below us. Four pitches up the drizzle started…and then subsided so that we actually had time to hike to and sign the summit register. As the story (guidebook) goes, an enterprising sheep herder once hauled up his entire flock up to this summit (easiest line is graded UIAA V I think) for a season of grazing! We pulled the ropes and once again a full-on downpour began.
09/23/08. Hartetest (VI+, 4P) on Kumarieskopf
We woke up late and by the time we were at the base, sun was shining brightly. Good thing too since those mossy holds on the first pitch have dried off. Pitch one of this thing is probably the first time in Meteora I got this uneasy feeling – sparse bolts and very questionable looking rocks (most seem to protrude out a bit too much …). I still felt like I could potentially deck right before clipping the 3rd bolt. Thankfully nothing popped but I arrived at the first belay with some doubts about continuing. The appearance did however improve as we looked up and so we gave it a go. The crux third pitch turned out to be some of the best climbing we’ve sampled in Meteora! A highly recommended (if short) route that felt pretty satisfying for something that is bolted.
Next day we got on the Corner Of Madness but of course it started raining midway up the already-plenty-slick pitch 1. We bailed. The next day, more f…ing rain! Formations were totally socked in clouds. What a shitty weather pattern!
09/26/08. Linie Des Fallenden Tropfens (VI, 6P) on Sourloti
Partly cloudy skies and towers running with water, their green mosses shining, greeted us in the morning. We sat in the café getting tight on caffeine while watching Sourloti’s beautiful south face running with water. Finally by 2 we could take it no longer. We headed up and the sun started shining brightly. Indeed by the time we reached the upper pitches where the route follows the watercourse, things were mostly dry and quite pleasant. A beautiful line on a beautiful face even if not quite as fun as the traversing Hypotenuse. We rapped the line and made plans to return for one last outing on the face in the morning before leaving Greece…but of course, by morning it was once again pouring. Disappointed, we headed to Thessaloniki to catch the flight out.
A layover in Munich allows us to go downtown and hit up an Indian joint for some spicy food (finally). After that it’s a short flight to Wroclaw, Poland where we spend a couple of days visiting my Grandma and Aunt. We toy with the idea of climbing The Monk but opt for some pub-hopping instead following the arrival of my sister and her husband from London. Good wholesome family times come to an end all too quickly and the long journey home begins. Wroclaw to Warsaw to Amsterdam to Newark…wait, what’s that? Northwest flight no longer exists? OK, Amsterdam to JFK it is. Happy reunion with our dog (nice seeing my parents too :) and the near 5000-kilometer drive back to Portland eats up the remaining 4 days (we were tired from jetlag) of our vacation.