A jealous lover
Dan is so lucky. Having an extremely flexible schedule at this point, he could stay in the Dolomiti all week while I had to scurry back to work in Munich. I was afraid he would climb the Costantini-Ghedina without me! Though he made reassuring noises, I was afraid my lyrical description of what I expected to find on the route would prove too tempting to ignore, even for a few days. Like a husband jealous of his wife the Tofana, I decided to surprise her. I took Friday off so I could keep an eye on her...AND my friend. Did I tell her I was coming early? No, I did not. Were I to find her in flagrante delicto with another climber I would be glad for the secrecy. However, would my lack of trust provoke her anger? We shall see...
Awkward manuveringsDan seemed surprised to see me Thursday night, with ropes in hand. Did I detect a furtive glance across the valley to that feline object of (now) mutual interest? It was dark. Perhaps a mosquito annoyed him. I took my place in the tent with one eye open. Wondering if tying the car to a tree would be a good option I drifted off...
The next day was cold, with a promise of rain. Our appointment with the Grande Dame would have to wait. "Let's climb the Torre Piccola di Falzarego," I suggested. "And then the Torre Grande, it's only a few more pitches. We'll be off by the time the rain comes." Dan assented. He was keeping it cool.
To climb fast like the Italians we roped up with 25 meters between us, choosing the Comici route on the small tower. Ostensibly seven ropelengths, we ended up belaying only two times. Once after the grade V- crack/dihedral on the first pitch, and again after an awkward move on the ridge crest, around pitch 3. The climb finishes with a fantastic romp up a mostly grade III ridge, with deep views below. My wife and I had climbed this upper part, traversing in from a ramp on the right at pitch 3. It awakened us to the joy of the Dolomites!
A quick rappel, a loosening of the belt holding the rain back, and then continuing up the Grande Tower via the pleasant grade IV West Wall. We climbed five pitches as two, finding the upper part too easy (without the inspiring ridge crest to make up for easy ground), but the lower part had a very nice crack to climb. The rain stopped, and it was only 11 am on the summit. "Well, let's just relax a bit!" We hung around and took it easy. This isn't something we get to do very often. It was nice. We rewarmed our friendship after what seemed a ridiculous contest for the affections of the Lady.
But then...just as we vowed to let nothing come between us, She arrived.
With a bolt of near-pain in my heart I saw as the clouds parted and revealed her crumbling tresses impossibly high above us to the east. She appeared bedecked with fresh snow, and with skirts of billowing cloud playing about her hips and stout legs where she firmly sat on beds of scree. I felt a pang of sadness for Dan, as he seemed gripped with the same conflicting emotions as that tormented me.
Ach, Tofana! Destroyer of Worlds!
In the afternoon we went to climb the "Cengia Martini" route (V) on the Piccolo Lagazuoi. But we left the topo in the car, and decided to climb something anyway. Amazingly, we actually did climb the first two pitches of this route, then we scurried off to the right on gradually scruffier ground to met the descent route. Oh well!
To a furtive embrace
"I dare you."
"I double dare you."
Okay, fine. This my friends, is how an alarm clock gets set for 4:30 in the morning by otherwise sane people.
Tonight our hiding place had a roof, so we didn't need a tent. Crashing into the car, contact lenses smudged into my eyes, we made the short drive up a bad road to the Dibona hut. Though the outer man was still piggish, wanting to nestle back into a stale sleeping bag, the inner man was delighted at the clear sky and Her handsome flanks towering above us. We chose the Costantini-Ghedina route, first climbed by that discerning pair in 1946. Members of the famous Scoiattoli ("Eichhörnchen") group of climbers in the Cortina valley at that time, the routes they put up still ring down through history. On the climb I would marvel at their solutions.
No more need for rivalry, Dan and I would climb on the Grand Dame together! "On belay!" I stropped. He climbed a moderate crack, straight up to an overhang, then skirted it on the left to reach a belay. The rock was cold, and the sun was a long way from touching us. It was 7 am.
My pitch led up a corner system with a few nice hand jams. We had one party just above us, two Italian guys, who now had some route finding trouble at the rightward traverse of the face. They were very nice though, and felt bad for slowing things down. "Hey, you solve the route finding puzzles, we just follow you!" I said. It's good to make friends at belays. This lesson was lost on the pair behind us though. When they had to wait for us (because we waited for the other guys), they stood silently, the leader on belay, hands and feet on the rock, not tied in to the anchor. I got the message loud and clear: if not for you...we would be higher.
Consequently, every time Dan or I would follow a pitch we would race to get away from these "tension-mongers." Oh well, such is life. We are on the Great Lady, and that is enough.
A few more pitches led to a nice grade V face. Dan went up and left. You could also climb a white crack/dihedral on the right. Radek and Shirley went that way on their climb last year. A somewhat loose, easy pitch led to a yellow wall. We watched the leader above us struggle with an awkward rightward traverse to reach the belay. Dan did a fine job leading this, and on following I saw why it was tough: the holds and cracks disappear on a slick yellow wall, climbed via tiny ledges. Then, a rightward traverse is fairly secure, but exiting the yellow rock back to gray makes for a nervous session on sloping ribs. A bit of polish on the rock here attests to fearful passages over the years.
Finally, this pitch stymied our tense friends, who later arrived at the belay cursing, and we were free of their company for a time.
I traversed left for the "crux" pitch at grade VI-. A long traverse over a roof with eye-watering exposure below, it featured good pockets in a rotten-looking seam for holds. Sometimes the pockets had water and mud in them, but mostly it was okay. A welter of fixed ropes and pitons decorated a section that people sometimes aid climb through. But with careful attention to foot-holds, every move is there and quite solid.
I think the real crux comes at a point where you have to downclimb and round a small rib. The holds get kind of loose for a moment and the feet become very tricky indeed. As I climbed across, I looked down to see climbers like ants moving 200 meters below between my legs. The belay was a bit uncomfortable as the party ahead of us still had a man there. Dan came across and we three briefly hung from the three pitons in the wall. Hmm.
The next pitch was really wonderful too. Dan led around the corner and up a grade V corner and crack. Due to confusion with the topo, I found the next pitch a bit alarming, as I had to climb steeply to a yellow overhang with a fixed cam, then delicately traverse left to easier ground. That was a solid V or V+ pitch where somehow I expected something much easier.
Now a series of easier pitches had our three parties fumbling all over each other. It must have been around 1 in the afternoon. The party below climbed over and through our ropes. Then they went through the next party in an alarming gaggle of ropes and people squeezed into a fairly steep chimney pitch. Dan and I called "time out," and decided to stop and watch for a while. We had to laugh at the awkward gyrations the two parties were forced to make as one climbed through the other. We hung out on a ledge and ate sausage, bread, cheese and drank water.
Finally, after a few scary salvos of rockfall from those above, I could climb the chimney and bring Dan up. It was clear where the rock fall came from: you need to make sure to belay before heading up lower angle loose ground, otherwise the movement of the rope can floss off all kinds of rocks. I found a good horn to belay from that kept my rope off of this stuff. I could look across to some parties on the "3rd Pilastro," another climb I want to do now after seeing it.
We switched to 25 meters of rope and short-roped a couple of pitches, at which point it started snowing. We saw one of the parties above appear to lose the route, so we chose a different wall on which to lose the route. I had a ledge of rocks collapse on this section which was scary for Dan to see from the side. Here, in the mist and snow, we met a party coming up the Costantini-Apollonio route. Very nice guys. Funny, he wanted to use my belay, which was a piton and a .75 Camalot. He clipped his own .75 Camelot onto my rack and attached his sling to mine in the wall. "Huh?" He didn't speak much english, but pantomimed that he would give me mine back higher.
Dan and I left, now following the Italian guys from earlier, short roping up through much easy ground with a few harder moves. The snow stopped, the clouds lifted, and suddenly we were on top of the buttress.
Wow, I had wanted to climb this route for a long time, and it actually went quite easily. It was 3 pm, and all we had to do was walk down an actual trail to the car? Wow, that is too easy. Where are the sketchy downclimbs? Where are the rappels in the dark or the bushwhacking? A little crestfallen, we headed down with the others on scree and snow trails, eventually reaching the broad scree slopes that would lead to the car.
I bombed down, John-Muir-like on the scree. Later, I waited for Dan and we took a side trail to get some pictures of the buttress. We walked as slowly as possible to prolong our time in the mountains.
It had been a great date with a sweet lady. Thanks to Dan and the Tofana di Rozes!