The Dolomites

Posted at 16:8:43, 16/6/2004

After 3500 miles of driving and a slightly more battered car, I'm finally back in Edinburgh after a two week roadtrip to the Dolomites in Northern Italy.

We set off from Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon after a manic morning of running around Edinburgh distributing all of Emily's property between a variety of flats, somehow she'll have to remember who has what and where they live when she gets back from her even longer holiday! 40 minutes outside Edinburgh I realised that I'd forgotten my passport so we had to go back again, eventually we were on our way - Emily, Kim, Rik, Paul and I.

On Saturday night we had the wonderful hospitality of Emily's parents, unfortunately we also had to get up at 4am to get the ferry - one of the new SpeedFerries that only cost £80 return, Dover to Boulogne. We arrived at Fontainbleau on Sunday afternoon and I immediately fell in love with the place. Its a magical playground of boulders in a forest, with natural bark or sandy landings, set circuits of problems at all difficulties and obvious lines all over the place. We spent a day and a half there and did just half of the easiest circuit in one small area, plus a load of other, unmarked problems. I could easily have spent over a week and still had loads to do.

We then started driving to Italy and it absolutely poured it down for the whole journey. Arriving in Cortina at 1am we couldn't really see any of the surrounding mountains so it was with amazement that we woke up to see the massive faces and pinnacles all around us... and snow... lots of snow! It seems that there was a lot more snow for the time of year that expected and I was immediately worried that this would seriously affect our plans and force us to go bolt clipping somewhere instead!

The first day Kim and I did the Mazzorana route (IV) on the East face of Piz Popena Basso. As we got to the top of the second pitch, a massive block of ice fell off the top of the crag and hit the rock about 10m to our left. On topping out we realised why - there was about 4ft of snow at the top! Rather than wading in our trainers we decided to abseil back down the route! Meanwhile, Emily, Paul and Rik were doing the Mazzorana/Adler route (IV+) on the same crag, they decided to walk down and get very wet...

Refusing to be defeated by the snow, we headed off to the "training crag" of Cinque Torre to do the Via Miriam route on the South Face of Torre Grande (V+). All five of us were climbing, with Emily and Kim up ahead and Rik, Paul and I behind. The climbing was fantastic, with an amazing IV+ traverse under a massive roof on the third pitch. Unfortunately we managed to get off-route on the fourth pitch ended up doing a grade six which involved some standing on shoulders for Kim and Paul! The problems really started when we tried to get down, partly because of all the snow on what was probably meant to be the descent and partly because the guide book descriptions were so vague. After much faffing and soloing around on scary loose shit, we ended up abbing down the inside of a high chimney in the dark... back at the campsite for 1am!

The next day was a "rest day" so we did an easy Via Ferrata on the Punta Fiames, just above the campsite. Tom then joined us, meaning that we had to do shuttle runs in the car wherever we went! Because of all the snow, we decided to head further South where we hoped to climb in the Moiazza and Civetta regions. After dropping Tom and Kim off in Cortina to get the bus, we went for one last talk with "our man in Misurina" - an Italian guide who's dad was imprisoned in Scotland during the Second World War and who didn't want to leave when the war finished! When her heard where we were planning on going he told us there would be even more snow and gave us lots of ideas for stuck that would be in better condition around Cortina. So... after a morning of squeezing six people's stuff into my car and with Kim and Tom already walking from the bus stop to the new camping place, we changed our minds and moved to another campsite in Cortina!

"Our man in Misurina" had told us that the "Yellow Edge" (VI) on the Cima Piccola, one of the Tre Cima, would not have any snow on it as it is south facing. Emily, Rik and I decided to do that while Kim, Paul and Tom played in the snow and attempted to climb some iced-up Via Ferrata. The route is 14 pitches, most of which is around VS with a few HVS/E1 pitches. The guidebook reckons the climbing should take 4-5 hours (i.e. 3 pitches an hour) which turned out to be totally unrealistic - in fact we found that all of the guidebook times had to be doubled! The climbing was excellent and all of us had some fairly challenging pitches, with Emily running the two hardest together (quite a challenge following that with a massive rucksack and numb hands!). We got to the top at 8pm and started abseiling down... which was inevitably when our problems started! The guidebook told us to abseil for a bit and then follow some ledges, but all the ledges on the west side were covered in snow. There were some large shiny abseil rings, but by the time we got near the bottom it was completely dark and we couldn't see them. At one point I was abseiling down a large iced up chimney in perfect Scottish mixed condition! We got to a snowy ledge that looked like it might be in condition but decided to keep abseiling just in case, good idea really as there was more steep, rocky and loose edges. I finally made the bottom of the snowed up gully, in the dark, with 1m to spare on a 60m rope!

We got back to the car at about 1am and Paul started driving us down the, now deserted, Tre Cima toll road. Tired and wanting to go to bed, he took a corner too fast and slid the car off the road. We were miles from anywhere at 1:30am and the phone reception to call the AA was crap. Suddenly I remembered Andy Kirkpatick showing me a pulley system for hauling bags on a big wall when I was working at Outside, amazingly we were able to pull the car back onto the road. This time we were at the campsite for 3am!

We tried to have a rest day the next day but Emily had too much energy so we went to some little (i.e. "only" 150m high!) sport climbing crags and did a few routes. We then climbed a tower near Misurina which allowed us to do a Tyrolean traverse between the tower and an easier tower 15m away from it... much more scary than the climbing! On the last day of climbing, I climbed the Falzarego Towers (IV+) with Kim and Paul (abseiling down a snowy gully in Tevas is fun!) while Emily and Rik climbed the Piccolo Lagazuoi (VI).

Two days before we left the exhaust pipe fell off my car, on the way to Italy from France the alternator belt broke, Paul ran it off the road and I reversed into a lamppost in the campsite... but somehow it made it all the way back to Edinburgh :-)

Kim has already put some photos on the web, I will put some online when I get my films back from processing.

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