Over the extended 4th Of July Weekend, Shirley and I got a chance to return for a bit of climbing to the Dolomites. We’ve been thinking about making this trip since our last visit there two years ago. Unlike in 2008 however (when we had 4+ weeks), this time we had just under a week (unfortunately!) to get our fill of the beautiful limestone routes. Though we failed to tick off the main objective of our trip due to weather, we did get a couple of great mid-sized routes in.
Portland to Philly to Munich followed by a quick drive to the South Tirol region of the Dolomites. Shirley was enjoying her autobahn driving experience despite being highly-speed-limited (130km/h) by our tiny Peugeot rental. The idea was to start the next day with a short moderate route for warm up. We picked the Tissi line on First Sella Tower due to the short approach (20 minutes), moderate rating (VI ~ 5.9) and a low number of pitches (~7). Given our experience from two years ago on the next-door Trenker (V-) route, I should’ve taken the guidebook warnings of “polished rock” more seriously. Soon I was cursing my way up polished 5.9 off-widths and wishing I had brought some large cams. Somewhere in the upper third, I screwed up the route finding and we ended up topping out on the (equally polished) Southwest Ridge. Perhaps the last two pitches of Tissi are great enough to offset the quality of the lower 2/3rds, but I still think I’d rather pierce my nipples or have a root canal done sans-Novocain instead.
From Sella Pass, we then drove over to the well familiar Rifugio Auronzo in the Tre Cime Di Lavaredo area in hopes of bagging another classic line there. Two years earlier we were lucky enough to climb two famous routes here: Spigolo Giallo (VI) on the south face of Cima Piccola and Comici (VII-) on the north face of Cima Grande. One that eluded us was the Cassin (VII-, 12P) route on the south face of Cima Piccolissima. Despite the tower’s name, the route is in fact similar in the number of pitches to Spigolo Giallo but with a more difficult climbing and unlike Comici on Cima Grande the crux is not really “French-freeable.” Following a shifted sleeping schedule (jet lag and all), we woke up early and enjoyed breakfast in the refuge. By the time we got to the base, we saw a party of two one pitch up the route. We started up behind them. We ran the first two pitches together and caught up to the lead party atop the large ledge where the business begins. The three pitches above the ledge slowly build in difficulty, starting with a VI then a VI+ and finally the VII- crux. Looking back, I would’ve combined the VI+ and the crux pitches but the party ahead of us was breaking things up per guidebook and therefore so were we. Though apparently many of the European routes suffer from over-bolting (although I have not done enough climbing there to have a worthwhile opinion), Dolomite routes still have this nice adventure feel where essentially all fixed stuff is of the piton kind in various degrees of mankiness. Here too, I found myself at the crux bulge with two pins separating me and Shirley who in turn was hanging at a belay consisting of three interesting looking pitons. After considering things (i.e. taking an extended rest on the 2nd pin), I finally went for it and clipped an old tattered piece of cord 20 feet above with great relief to both of us. The rest of the pitch seemed easier and although a slight drizzle picked up we decided to continue following some discussion. Immediately after the crux pitch, the route does a horizontal traverse for a pitch and then follows easier (mostly V or below) terrain to the summit. Though the drizzle subsided, the wind picked up and so we did not linger much at the top and instead combined our forces on the descent with the two Polish guys from the lead party. Descent went quickly and efficiently.
We spent another night in the Auronzo Hut and then drove to the Marmolada region for a casual yet very scenic hike up to Refugio Falier. Our hope was to bag one of the longer routes on the impressive south face of Marmolada. The remainder of the afternoon was spent reading, eating, and playing with the miniature goats at the refuge. With the 4:15pm deadline for topout (last cable car from the top vs. a painful glacier descent and many miles of road hiking) and many pitches to go, we were out the door by 5am. Unfortunately, the clarity of the previous day was replaced by thick clouds obscuring the mountain. We hiked up into the milky whiteout and waited near what we guessed to be the start of the route for things to start breaking up. By 8am conditions were still not improving and so with heavy hearts we gave up and hiked down. On the walk down from the refuge later that morning, the upper reaches of the south face would momentarily show themselves but overall the mountain remained socked in. Oh well – next time.
On our final day, we drove up to Pordoi Pass in hopes of doing another quick route before heading back to Munich for our trip home. Although we were aiming for Maria Kante on Sass Pordoi’s south face, the two parties already on it when we got to the base convinced us to try something else. Instead we followed a party on a route next door which we later found out was Gross Fuhre (V-, 11P). Fun climbing on good quality rock. What made the experience unique (for us anyway) was the topout: you finish the route on a tourist-loaded terrace next to the cable car station. After enjoying a strudel and some cappuccinos on the summit, we took the cable car down and were at our car 5 minutes later. Not a wilderness experience but quite memorable. That evening we were back in Munich and home the following night. The highlight of the trip home was an exceptionally clear weather over Greenland – quite a sight! I think the next time we visit the Dolomites it’ll be for two weeks.